Themed highways

Thermal Explorer Highway

Experience New Zealand’s awe-inspiring earth forces on a road that leads to volcanoes, ancient caves, shooting geysers and bubbling mud pools.

Beginning in Auckland, New Zealand's largest population centre, the Thermal Explorer Highway takes you through the Waikato region then on to the geothermal city of Rotorua. After Lake Taupo you have the option of detouring to Tongariro National Park, then it's over the hills to the wine country of Napier and Hastings.

  • Minimum length: 450km
  • Add 30km for Matamata, 290km for Waitomo and Tongariro
  • Minimum duration: 3 days
  • Start: Auckland, finish: Napier.

Thermal Explorer

 

Auckland

Camera Sky Jump in Auckland

Sky Jump in Auckland

Camera Sky Jump in Auckland

Sky Jump in Auckland

Your first stop on the Thermal Explorer is Auckland, where you can treat yourself to shopping and fine dining, or escape to holiday islands and vast scenic reserves.

Rangitoto Island
The dormant island volcano of Rangitoto erupted from the seabed around 600 years ago. It’s Auckland’s most recognised geographic feature, and a haven for native wildlife.

Sky Tower
Standing 328 metres high, the Sky Tower is the largest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Begin your volcanic adventure with an adrenalin-pumping sky jump.

Hamilton – Waikato

Camera Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, Matamata

Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, Matamata

Camera Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, Matamata

Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, Matamata

Hamilton - Waikato is an emerald-green farming region with a few tricks up its sleeve. Home to hobbits, ancient caves and New Zealand’s most famous surf beach, you’ll find it a captivating stop along your Thermal Explorer journey.

Waitomo Caves
Deep beneath rolling green hills a labyrinth of caves lie secret. Gaze up at glow worms on a pitch-black boat tour, or pull on a wetsuit and crawl, float and swim through the limestone underworld.

Hobbiton Movie Set & Tours, Matamata 
With the first of three Hobbit films set for release in December, Tolkien fever is gripping New Zealand once again. Journey through the heart of the Shire to Hobbiton Movie Set, the place where Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures all began.

Rotorua

Camera Pohutu Geyser, Rotorua

Pohutu Geyser, Rotorua

Camera Pohutu Geyser, Rotorua

Pohutu Geyser, Rotorua

Rotorua, on the Volcanic Plateau, is one of the world’s most lively geothermal areas. Beyond its bubbling mudpools and relaxing thermal spas, you’ll find Rotorua rich in Maori culture, and overflowing with wild adventure activities.

Geothermal activity
Here you’ll see (and smell) wafts of steam, simmering cauldrons and boiling mud pools. At Te Puia you can watch the famous Pohutu geyser shoot scalding water 30 metres into the air.

Maori cultural experiences
Attracted by the benefits of geothermal energy for cooking and warmth, Maori settlers arrived to Rotorua around 600 years ago. As a visitor, you'll have the chance to learn about the culture, enjoy the amazing performance art and discover the smoky succulence of hangi (earth oven) food.

Lake Taupo

Camera Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

Camera Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

Lake Taupo is actually a massive volcanic crater. This picturesque playground offers a myriad of water activities and geothermal attractions.

Huka Falls
The Huka Falls are New Zealand's most visited attraction. For an up-close look at the falls with thrills, splashes and spins included, try a Hukafalls jet boat ride.

Tongariro National Park
Lake Taupo neighbours the looming volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, also known as Mordor. Discover the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand's most popular day walk.

Hawke’s Bay

Camera Bike the vines, Hawke's Bay

Bike the vines, Hawke's Bay

Camera Bike the vines, Hawke's Bay

Bike the vines, Hawke's Bay

Sunny Hawke’s Bay is known for its wines, architecture and scenic cycle trails. There’s plenty to see and do, but at the end of your Thermal Explorer adventure, you may just like to sit back and enjoy a glass of excellent sauvignon blanc.

Wineries
In Hawke's Bay you can kick off your shoes and dine alfresco amidst the vines. More than 40 vineyards are clustered around the river plains, and many have fine restaurants on-site.

Art Deco Napier
After a massive earthquake in 1931, Napier was rebuilt in pure Art Deco style. Its beautiful buildings, tree-lined streets and interesting shops make for a great day out.

Where to next?

Hawke’s Bay doesn’t have to be the end of your journey. You may like to venture back up to Auckland via the Pacific Coast Highway, or continue south on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.