North Island trips

Thermal Explorer Highway

4 Days
457km
284mi

Route

Auckland Central to Napier

Highlights

  • Geysers and mudpools
  • Natural hot springs
  • Art Deco Napier

Best time of year

All year

Journey through the centre of the North Island on the Thermal Explorer Highway.  This drive begins in New Zealand’s largest city, where marine adventures are a specialty. A riverside drive takes you to Hamilton, a city known for its gardens, riverboat cruising and free flight aviary.

The antique town of Tirau is an interesting stop on your way to Rotorua, where you can explore geothermal attractions and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. An hour further south is the trout fishing mecca of Taupo, which sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake. Your final destination is Napier, a place to enjoy Art Deco architecture and fine wine.

Info

In March and April, Hamilton's skies are dotted with hot air balloons

Photo by Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

Day 1

Auckland - Hamilton

1 hr

32 mins

127 km

79 mi

Auckland

Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is situated between two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.

As you cruise down the southern motorway, suburban scenery gradually gives way to the farmland of South Auckland. The Waikato River will accompany you for much of your journey through the green countryside.

There are several worthwhile detours on your way to Hamilton. Head east to Hobbiton Movie Set, or west to Raglan, New Zealand's most famous surf beach. If you've plenty of time, you might like to make the trip to Waitomo Caves, where you can see twinkling glowworms and try blackwater rafting. Waitomo is 1 hour south of Hamilton.

The city of Hamilton is carved in two by the mighty Waikato River. Attractions include gardens, and a giant free flight aviary at Hamilton Zoo. Excellent restaurants and cafes can be found at the southern end of the city’s main street.

Auckland city from Mt Eden

Start in Auckland Central

This is the heart of Auckland, with a relaxed Pacific vibe by day and a night-time energy shared by the inner-city suburbs that surround it.

Balloons over Waikato River

End in Hamilton

The city of Hamilton is nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato River and is known for its walks, gardens, cafes and nightlife.

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