Road Trip Itineraries #4 - The Eastern Escape

This trip offers everything from beautiful rolling countryside, waterfalls and lakes, forests, geysers and fresh water springs to bareback horse riding!

Wellington, Wairarapa to Hawkes Bay


Driving from Wellington, at the base of the Rimutaka Hill at Kaitoki is part of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail referred to by Lonely Planet as "one of the hottest travel experiences of 2015". The trail takes you along the old railway track through tunnels and forest. Returning to your car is great fun because it's downhill all the way.

Martinborough and Greytown are quaint places to visit for shopping and dining and Martinborough boasts over 20 boutique wineries, many of which are accessible on foot or by bike. We recommend leaving yourself in the capable hands of Martinborough Gourmet Wine Tours, who provide all-inclusive wine tours, including tastings, gourmet lunch and transport.

A highly recommended detour and just an hours drive south from Martinborough, are the Putangirua Pinnacles near Cape Palliser. Walking tracks let you enjoy this outlandish landscape, used as a filming location in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After your morning walk, stop off in at the small seaside settlement of Lake Ferry on your return to Martinborough, where the Lake Ferry Hotel is renowed for its Fish n Chips and its relaxed setting.

Back in Martinborough, continue north to Masterton, from where we recommend heading due east towards Castlepoint (1hr), with its spectacular stretch of coastline including a reef, lagoon, sand dunes and a lighthouse. Twenty minutes north of Masterton you’ll also find Pukaha Mt Bruce, a fantastic wildlife breeding centre and home to the rare white kiwi!

From Mt Bruce, continue on to the small town of Mangatainoka, home to the Tui Brewery, an iconic brick tower standing proudly in the middle of nowhere. Pull in for a tour and tasting of one of New Zealand’s most iconic beer brands.

Hawke's Bay


Boasting some of the best weather in the country, the Hawke’s Bay is a magic region - one of the oldest wine-growing regions with over 80 wineries, cycle trails abound from mountains to coastline and vineyards, as well as showcasing Napier’s stunning Art Deco architecture, a result of the rebuild following the devastating 1930’s earthquake.

A drive out to Cape Kidnappers is a must, home to two Gannet reserves. The Plateau colony is the main place for viewing the nesting gannets and for great panoramic views. Here you’ll also find the prestigious Cape Kidnappers golf course. And be sure to drive or walk up Te Mata Peak for spectacular 360 degree views of the region, including the Tuki Tuki Valley, coastline and surrounding vineyards.

Wouldn't you love to say you've visited the longest place name in the world? Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapiki- maungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, is a hill in Porangahau named after one of the area’s famous Maori chiefs.

Activites to try:

  • Martinborough Gourmet Wine Tours
  • Puaha Mt Bruce. wildlife breeding centre

Hawke's Bay to Whakatane via East Cape


As you're heading towards Gisborne, veer off to Te Urewera National Park, New Zealand’s third largest national park and the spectacular and remote Lake Waikaremoana.

Back on track, Gisborne is the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand as well as renowned for its great surf beaches; it's also the gateway to the East Cape, a 334 kilometre journey taking in some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and untouched coastal scenery, all the way to Opotiki. It’s such a tranquil, preserved part of the country. Stop off at the many beautiful beaches along the way, watch the locals gallop bareback along the beach or saddle up yourself. Within Gisborne, head up to the Kaiti Hill Lookout for a panoramic view of Poverty Bay and the city and at the foot of the hill is one of New Zealand's largest carved Maori meeting houses, Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae. Don't miss the chance to feed stingrays, kahawai, mullet and occasionally kingfish on Tatapouri beach.

Hike the Cook's Cove Walkway, just south of Tolaga Bay, to where Captain James Cook took aboard supplies and repairs to the Endeavour when he landed in New Zealand in October 1769. Stop off at Tolaga Bay to walk down the longest wharf in New Zealand at 660 metres.

East Cape is the most easterly part of the North Island and the first point to see the sun rise. Climb the 700 steps of the East Cape Lighthouse for magestic views. In Te Araroa, relax under New Zealand's oldest Pohutukawa Tree, around 600 years old!

Having rounded the Cape, and just 7kms from Whakatane, you'll pass through Ohope, with its 11km stretch of white sandy beach. At the west-end of the beach is a hidden treasure, Otarawairere, a secluded small beach abound with Pohutukawa trees, pebbles and crushed shells. Accessible by foot or kayak only.

As you're heading towards Gisborne, veer off to Te Urewera National Park, New Zealand’s third largest national park and the spectacular and remote Lake Waikaremoana.

Rotorua


From Whakatane head south to the thermal wonderland of Rotorua with its 18 lakes and three major rivers, many of which have their own natural hot pools at the water’s edge - a picturesque drive as well as an opportunity for some exercise and wildlife spotting. If you’re into fishing, you really can’t go past the region for its fresh water trout found in the lakes, rivers and streams.

A night or two at the centrally located Tuscany Villas, part of Heritage Hotels Boutique Selection, will see you fully relaxed and rejuvenated for the final league of your journey.

A must see are the crystal clear freshwater springs at Hamuranā which flow into Lake Rotorua. It's also worth checking out Kerosene Creek and Hot 'n' Cold Pool, two of a number of geothermal hot pools that have free public access.

Get the adrenaline pumping with a jet boat ride to Rotorua's Mokoia Island with Kawarau Jet. Rising 180 metres above the surface of Lake Rotorua, this bush clad lava dome is home to approximately 25 Kiwi and features heavily in many local stories and historical events. Endangered bird species flourish in this wildlife sanctuary and the foreshore is littered with natural hot springs.

In the heart of 350 acres of lush farmland, yet only 10 minutes from Rotorua city centre, you’ll find New Zealand’s Agrodome, wowing visitors for over 40 years with it’s world-famous Farm Show – starring a cast of talented animals. Rotorua is also a mountain bikers paradise with Whakarewarewa Forest (The Redwoods), providing a network of trails to lose yourself amongst these towering giants.

A night or two at the centrally located Tuscany Villas, part of Heritage Hotels Boutique Selection, will see you fully relaxed and rejuvenated for the final league of your journey.

Rotorua to Auckland

Continue north on the Thermal Explorer Highway, and look out for the Tukorehe Scenic Reserve, just 6km south of Tirau. Otherwise known as Fitzgerald Glade, this is something of a roadside oasis with tree ferns and towering native Tawa, Rimu and Mataī trees. Further on, the beautiful Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park is a veritable Noaks Ark for plants, having sat high above ancient oceans of ice and sea.

Check out the setting of the Shire in Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton movies in Matamata and the Hunua Ranges offer an alternate and more picturesque route back into Auckland, with a great swimming hole to be found at the base of the Hunua Fall.

Say goodbye to the sandflies and hello to Lake Wanaka.

Activities to try: 

  • Agrodome farm show, Rotorua
  • Kawarau Jet, Rotorua 

For more road trip ideas, read the next article in our Avis Big Break series, "The Southern Sun". 

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