Road Trip Itineraries #2 - The Heartland Loop

A journey from white sand beaches to underground caverns, waterfalls, mountains and thermal wonderlands, the best of the central north island in 10 days!

Auckland to Miranda

This isn't a race, so be sure to jump off Auckland's Southern Motorway before you hit the Bombay Hills, and head west into the rugged Hunua Ranges in search of the dramatic Hunua Falls. Start as you mean to go on with a dip in the pool at the base of the falls, before continuing on the back roads through to Mangatawhiri and on to Miranda. Famous for its hot springs Miranda is also a birdwatchers paradise with extensive tidal flats attracting up to sixty different species of migratory birds each year.

Coromandel Peninsula

Further west and just over an hour from Auckland, lies the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, where you could easily dedicate 3-4 days to exploring this kiwi holiday hotspot. Start off by delving in to the facinating gold mining heritage of Thames and the Kauaeranga Valley, or explore the many colourful artist studios and potteries dotted throughout the region. The Rapaura Watergardens, located just off the Thames Coastal Highway are well worth a visit as is the famous Driving Creek Railway and Pottery north of Coromandel Town.

After exploring the far north of the peninsula, which isn't complete without a walk to New Chums beach, the adventurous can backtrack from Coromandel Town and take the 309 gravel road inland. This route takes in the renowned Watergardens, as well as Egan Park, perfect for a picnic and a swim, before emerging on the east coast.

A scenic boat cruise or kayak trip is perhaps the best way to take in the islands and seacaves of this picturesque coastline, of which Catherdral Cove is undoubtably the highlight. There is also plenty of diving and deep-sea fishing available from the busy seafaring town of Whitianga, where fresh seafood dominates the menu.

Don't miss the chance to dig your own hot pool at Hotwater Beach, before taking the scenic coastal road south through Whangamata, Waihi Beach and Bowentown with its historic pa sites.


Tauranga to Maketu

Say goodbye to the Coromandel and hello to the Bay of Plenty, and the bustling harbourside city of Tauranga. Soak up some history with a visit to Elms Mission House, the Bay of Plenty's oldest European heritage site or take in the infamous Battle of Gate Pa site of 1864.

Across the harbour lies the coastal resort town of Mount Maunganui, where the extinct volcanic cone Mauao, meaning 'caught by the light of dawn', dominates the lanscape. There is plenty of boutique shopping on offer, but a hike to the top or around the bottom of the Mount, is far more rewarding.

Continue west through to Te Puke, the Kiwi Fruit Capital of New Zealand, and be sure to take the short 15 minute detour to the coastal town of Maketu. Here you can take a guided tour to soak up the towns rich Maori heritage as you work up an appetite for a famous Maketu pie.


On the road south again we enter the thermal wonderland of Rotorua. Located at the heart of one of the world's most lively fields of volcanic activity, Rotorua's unique sulphuric smell takes a little getting used to, but you'll be captivated by the many of boiling mud pools and steaming vents that pepper the landscape.

Rotorua also offers perhaps the richest display of Maori culture of anywhere in New Zealand and a cultural display at one of the living Maori villages will leave you spellbound. Other iconic attractions include Rainbow Springs Nature Park, offering a fun and educational nature experience for all ages, or check out Agrodome for the ultimate New Zealand farm experience. Or if you have a thirst for adventure you can raft the mighty Kaituna River with River Rats Rafting and Kayaking, and tackle the highest commercially guided waterfall in the world.

Activites to try:

  • Rainbow Spring Nature Park, Rotorua
  • River Rats Rafting & Kayaking, Kaituna River Raft 
  • Agrodome, NZ farming experience 

Lake Taupo

Next up is Great Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, set against a back drop of the impressive volcanic peaks of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. The lake itself was formed some 2000 years ago by a volcanic eruption so big it was said to have darkened the skies in Europe and China.

There's a wide range of waterborne activities to keep you busy, plus fantastic hiking and fishing opportunities in the surrounding forests and rivers. The cosy township of Kinloch, just a 20 minute drive from Taupo, offers a sandy beach and great mountain views. Taupo is a year round destination however, with the four fantastic ski areas of Turangi, Ruapehu, Turoa and Whakapapa all within an easy one to two hours drive.

And you simply can't leave Taupo without checking out New Zealand's most visited natural attraction, the impressive Huka Falls, just 10 minutes north of the city centre. With more than 220,000 litres of water pouring over the falls every second, it is a sight to behold. For the ultimate vantage point be sure to take a jet boat ride right to the base of the falls with HukaFalls Jet. After all this adventure rest up for the night at the Beechtree Suites, part of Heritage Hotels Boutique Selection, and ensure you are ready for the homeward league of your journey.

Activites to try:

  • Hukafalls Jet, Waikato River.

Lake Taupo to Ruapehu

Skirting the eastern edge of the lake we head towards the Ruapehu Region and the remote township of National Park, which marks the southern-most point of your journey. National Park Village is a perfect place to base yourself for a few days, waking up in the middle of the Tongariro National Park away from the hustle and bustle.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is consistently rated as one of the world's top 10 day walks and the professional staff at Adrift Guided Outdoor Adventures will ensure you have the safest and most memorably experience possible.

To the East, just 15 minutes from National Park is the North Island's largest skifield Whakapapa, or head 45 minutes South East and try out the slopes of Turoa.

Activites to try:

  • Adrift Outdoor Guided Adventures, Tongariro Crossing
  • Whakapapa skifield 

Waitomo to Raglan

From here we turn north through the lush green farmland of South Waikato, before arriving at the spectacular Waitomo Caves, just an hour south of Hamilton.

After exploring this fascinating cave system, with options for all ages from sedate glowworm tours to black-water rafting adventures, we head north again and let the adrenalin subside in the chilled-out coastal settlement of Raglan, just 45 minutes west of Hamilton, and famous for its left-hand surf break.

Back to Hamilton and it's a quick 1.5 hours drive home to Auckland and the end of a riveting Central North Island adventure.

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

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