Auckland to East Cape Loop Itinerary

9 DAYS

1600 km

Highlights

  • Coromandel beaches
  • Urewera National Park
  • Geothermal Rotorua

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Discover surf beaches, bubbling mud and tranquil lakes on this 9-day loop journey through the east of New Zealand's North Island. 

From the forests and coastal towns of the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, follow East Cape road past historic sites to Gisborne. Savour wine in Napier and explore the geysers and hot springs of Taupo and Rotorua before returning to Auckland via Hobbiton and Hamilton

Day 1: Auckland to Whitianga

The Coromandel
Cathedral Cove, The Coromandel

By Alistair Guthrie

The Coromandel

THE COROMANDEL

White sand coastline & abundant marine life.

Highlights

  • Explore the world famous Cathedral Cove
  • Snorkel Orua sea cave
  • Dig your own hot pool at Hot Water Beach

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 35 min | 169 km via SH1, SH2 & SH25
  • By bus: 4 hr 35 min | by Intercity

Leave Auckland and head south towards the Coromandel Peninsula. Miranda’s hot springs and bird sanctuary is a good place for a break along the way.

Founded during the Coromandel gold rush, the historic township of Thames is a great place to learn about New Zealand’s gold mining past. There is a local mining museum, and gold mining relics to discover on many of the hiking trails. 

From here continue on down the peninsula to Whitianga. Some of the highlights here include surfing, surf casting and beach walks or catch the ferry to the south side of the harbour – a short taxi ride will take you to Cooks Beach.

Day 2: Whitianga to Tauranga

Bay of Plenty
Beach life in Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty

By Chris McLennan

Bay of Plenty

BAY OF PLENTY

Spectacular beaches and an active volcano.

Highlights

  • Mount Maunganui - voted NZ's best beach
  • Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail
  • Evening kayaking with glowworms

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h | 184 km via SH25 & SH2
  • By bus: 5 h | via Thames by Intercity 

The road south from Whitianga takes you within a short distance of two must-do attractions, Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Be sure to visit Hot Water Beach at low tide when it's at its best.

Further south, Whangamata is one of the country’s most attractive surf towns. For a fun day trip head out the nearby wildlife sanctuary on Mayor Island. Other towns of interest include Waihi, Athenree Gorge, and Katikati; known for its numerous town murals.

Tauranga is one New Zealand's fastest growing cities and packed with things to see and do. Boat charters offer big game fishing, snorkelling or dolphin watching tours. Alternatively, stay ashore and explore nearby Mount Maunganui.

Day 3: Tauranga to Whakatane

Bay of Plenty
White Island, Bay of Plenty

By Tourism New Zealand

Highlights

  • White Island volcanic tours
  • Maori historical sites
  • Dolphin and seal nature tours

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 10 min | 89 km via SH2
  • By bus: 6 h 30 min | via Rotorua by Intercity
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for day trips and tours

DISCOVER WHITE ISLAND

Learn more about New Zealand's only active marine volcano.

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From Tauranga, it’s a short journey on to Whakatane, one of New Zealand's sunniest towns. 

The biggest attraction here is the active volcano 48 km off the coast. White Island can be visited by launch or helicopter and you can even get out and walk on the volcano's surface.

If islands of steaming sulphur aren't your thing, why not visit the beautiful Mataatua, Te Manuka Tutahi, meeting house. Carved in the 1870s by local iwi, Ngati Awa, this building was given to Queen Victoria as an expression of goodwill. In 1879, it was dismantled and sent to Sydney for an international exhibition, from there it travelled around the world not returning to Whakatane until 1996.

Day 4: Whakatane to Gisborne via Te Araroa

Eastland
Surfing, Gisborne, Eastland

By Paul Abbitt

Eastland

EASTLAND

Maori culture, delicious wine and surf beaches.

Highlights

  • Friendly coastal towns
  • Tikitiki's ornate Maori church
  • 600m Tolaga Bay wharf

Proximity

  • By car: 5 h 20 min | 373km via SH35
  • By bus: 3 h 5 min | Gisborne direct by Intercity 
  • By : Bus route does not go via Te Araroa.

Today involves a beautiful but challenging drive around East Cape. If you've got time, spread this trip over two days, with an overnight stop in Te Araroa. 

Sights on the way include the Maori church at Tikitiki, hot pools in Te Puia Springs, and a historic 660-metre wharf in Tolaga Bay. There is also plenty of uninterrupted beach for swimming, walking, surfing or fishing. 

Alternatively, take the shorter inland route via State Highway 2 and spend more time in Gisborne, where you can surf to your heart’s content, experience Maori culture and gain a new appreciation for Chardonnay.

Day 5: Gisborne to Wairoa via Lake Waikaremoana

New Zealand
Te Urewera National Park, New Zealand

By Chris McLennan

Highlights

  • Te Urewera wilderness area
  • Morere Hot Springs
  • Onepoto Caves

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 30 min | 202 km via SH2 & SH38
  • By bus: 1 h 30 min | Wairoa direct by Intercity
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for tour options

TE UREWERA WILDERNESS AREA

One of the North Island's most beautiful wilderness escapes.

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There are two routes from Gisborne to Waikaremoana and Wairoa. The inland route takes you past Te Reinga Falls and Hackfalls Arboretum, one of the largest private collections of trees in New Zealand. The coastal route provides access to Morere Hot Springs and the fabulous beaches of the Mahia Peninsula.

Formed over 2,200 years ago due to a landslide, Lake Waikaremoana is now the gateway to Te Urewera wilderness area.

There are plenty of ways to explore this stunning forest, try horse trekking, kayaking or hiking - the Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. Onepoto Caves are also a highlight and nearby Aniwaniwa has a small museum that tells the story of the area. 

Day 6: Wairoa to Taupo via Napier

Hawke's Bay
Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui, Hawke's Bay

By Tourism Hawke's Bay

Highlights

  • Cape Kidnappers gannet colony in Napier
  • Mine Bay Maori carvings in Taupo
  • Natural hot springs

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 30 min | 258 km via SH2 & SH5
  • By bus: 4 h 45 min | by Intercity

MUST-DO EXPERIENCES IN TAUPO

The Great Lake Taupo region is perfect for outdoor adventures.

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In 1931 a devastating earthquake nearly levelled the city of Napier. It was rebuilt in the style of the times and is now considered the Art Deco Capital of the world.

The region is also known for its vineyards within easy reach of the town, many are linked by a series of easy cycling trails. Another attraction is the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers.

From Napier continue on to Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. Taupo is the perfect place to get out on the water. Take a boat cruise to the giant Maori rock carvings in Mine Bay or hire a kayak and discover the lake for yourself. Onshore activities include mountain biking and hiking. Spend the evening relaxing at Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs.

Day 7: Taupo to Rotorua

Rotorua
Whitewater Rafting, Rotorua

By Chris McLennan

Rotorua

ROTORUA

Bubbling mud, shooting geysers and hot springs.

Highlights

  • Rafting, bungy and ziplining
  • Geysers, silica terraces and boiling mud
  • Mountain biking trails

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 5 min | 81 km via SH5
  • By bus: 1 h 35 min | by Intercity

The short journey to Rotorua is packed with activities. Just outside Taupo, you'll find Huka Falls, a world-acclaimed golf course, and the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station. Nearby Orakei Korako Cave & Geothermal Park is home to some of the country's most remarkable geothermal features.  

Rotorua is alive with geothermal activity, bubbling mud, steaming vents or erupting geysers are everywhere you look. For adrenaline junkies, the region also offers a plethora of quirky and bizarre adventure activities such as the OGO, shweeb or luge.

Alternatively, you could take a trip to Hell's Gate and spend the day relaxing in mud baths and sulphur spas.

Day 8: Rotorua to Cambridge via Hobbiton

Hamilton - Waikato
Hobbiton, Hamilton - Waikato

By Sara Orme

Highlights

  • Hobbiton Movie Set
  • Antiques and art shops
  • Cambridge Museum

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 25 min | 96 km via SH5 & SH1
  • By bus: 1 h 5 min | Cambridge direct by Intercity 
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for Hobbiton tours

HOBBITION IN 360

Go behind the scenes of New Zealand's real Middle‑earth film set.

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Today you'll explore the fantasy world of Middle‑earth when you visit Hobbiton Movie Set, with its community of lifesized hobbit holes.

Enjoy a guided tour around The Shire as your knowledgeable guide entertains you with behind the scenes stories of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Stop for a pint of Sobering Thought Ale at Green Dragon Inn or grab a light lunch at the Shire’s Rest Café, before heading on to Cambridge for the night.

Located in the heart of the Waikato's affluent horse breeding district, Cambridge is home to lovely tree-lined streets and beautiful heritage buildings. Spend the afternoon shopping for antiques and art or attend a local horse show.

Day 9: Cambridge to Auckland via Hamilton

Hamilton - Waikato
Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton - Waikato

By Sandy Austin

Highlights

  • Hamilton Botanical Gardens
  • Hamilton Zoo
  • Vibrant nightlife in Auckland

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h | 147 km via SH1
  • By bus: 2 h 50 min | by Intercity

MUST-DO EXPERIENCES IN HAMILTON

Rolling green hills, limestone caves and surf beaches.

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Not far from Cambridge you'll find the city of Hamilton, New Zealand's fourth largest. Hamilton is dominated by the mighty Waikato River running through its centre. Riverboat cruising, walking trails, botanical gardens and a giant free flight aviary at the Hamilton Zoo are just a few of the attractions the city has to offer.

Spend a few hours exploring Hamilton before taking the short journey up the motorway to Auckland.

Explore Auckland's central city on foot, by public transport, or with an organised tour. End your journey with a meal at one of Auckland's many dining precincts such as Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct, Britomart or Ponsonby Road.

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Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

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