As you travel south, explore historical sites, tranquil beaches and dramatic geothermal attractions. The urban pleasures of Auckland city mix with creativity in Coromandel, Maori culture in Rotorua, and a delicious variety of gourmet food and wine throughout.
Start with the historic Treaty House at Waitangi, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and New Zealand was born in 1840. Immerse yourself in the Maori culture with a live kapa haka performance. A short ferry ride takes you to charming Russell and nearby Okiato, the first capital. The capital lasted just a year at Okiato before it moved to Auckland in 1841, and finally Wellington in 1865.
Wonderland of islands, marine life, kauri forests and Maori legend.Read more
Spend the day exploring the very top of the North Island. Travel to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea meets the mighty Pacific Ocean. On a good day, a white line of foam stretches across the ocean showing where the two bodies of water meet. Maori consider this place sacred, here spirits of the deceased leap into the ocean to return to their ancestral land.
From Cape Reinga, make your way to Ninety Mile Beach where you can sandboard down giant sand dunes and dig for fresh shellfish. On your return to Paihia, be sure to stop at Mangonui, known for its delicious fish and chips.
As you make your way south, take time to visit some of the interesting towns you pass along the way. Kawakawa must be one of the few towns in the world known for its public toilet. As the last building designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser, it is a masterpiece of glass tiles and imagination.
The subtropical city of Whangarei lies on the edge of a beautiful harbour. You’ll find stylish cafes and restaurants, as well as museums, art galleries and shops.
The beach town of Whitianga is the ideal base for visiting the Coromandel's must-see attractions.
Cathedral Cove is a picturesque photo spot made famous by the Chronicles of Nania: Prince Caspian. At Hot Water Beach a natural hot spring lies beneath the sand. If you arrive within 2 hours of low tide, you can dig a hole and create your own natural spa. Coromandel is also the home of two spectacular marine reserves, making it a perfect place for snorkelling and diving.
Go behind the scenes of New Zealand's real Middle‑earth film set.Find out more
The road south takes you through surf town Whangamata and the dramatic Karangahake Gorge. Karangahake Gorge walkway is a fascinating look into the region's gold mining history. After the gold mining town of Waihi, you'll find yourself amid lush farmland on your way to Matamata.
It's easy to see why Peter Jackson chose this area to play The Shire in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Visit Hobbiton Movie Set to see how Peter Jackson bought this imaginary place to life. From here, it's an easy journey on to Rotorua.
Add a night in Tauranga: 4 h | Whitianga to Tauranga & 1 h 25 min | Tauranga to Rotorua.
In Rotorua, geothermal activity breathes through every part of the city, from bubbling mud to erupting geysers.
Adrenaline junkies will love Rotorua's range of adventure activities, with bungy jumping, mountain biking and zorbing just a few of the activities on offer. In the Whakarewarewa Forest, you can climb into the forest canopy and discover a whole new world with a Redwood Treewalk.
The road to Taupo is dotted with unusual, volcanic geography. A side road takes you to Orakei Korako Thermal Park, where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. Other activities along the way include Huka Falls and The Kinloch Club, a world-acclaimed golf course.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and ideal for a spot of fly-fishing and a huge range of water sports. If you've got time, take a boat cruise or kayaking tour to visit the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay and learn a bit about the region's history.
The major entertainment on the road from Taupo to Napier is the fantastic scenery. There’s a bit of everything - rugged hills, beautiful valleys, gentle plains and huge vistas. Hot springs in Tarawera are a good rest stop along the way, as is the Waiarua Falls lookout.
Napier is famous for its distinctive architecture. In 1931, a devastating earthquake nearly levelled the city. It was rebuilt in the style of the times and is now considered the Art Deco Capital of the world. Beyond the city, explore the region's vineyards on a self-drive, chauffer driven or bicycle tour. Or, visit the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui.
Vineyards, pinnacles and beautiful coastline.
Your journey today takes you through some of the North Island's most charming provincial towns. Just before Masterton, you will find wildlife sanctuary Puhaka Mount Bruce; an essential stop for nature lovers. Carterton is a good place for paua shell souvenirs, while Greytown has many beautiful examples of Victorian architecture and a quaint museum.
With over 25 boutique vineyards, Martinborough is a place of exquisite wine, gourmet food and upmarket B&Bs. You can walk to most of the local attractions from the town square.
Add a night in Palmerston North: 3 h | Napier to Palmerston North & 3 h 55 min | Palmerston North to Martinborough.
From Martinborough, climb up and over the Rimutaka Range with great views in every direction. Cyclists may want to try riding the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, which follows the old railway line over the range to Wellington.
Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Be sure to visit the national museum, Te Papa, while you're here. Other attractions include the Wellington Cable Car, the Houses of Parliament, Zealandia and Weta Workshop. Dance, theatre and musical performances are also a Wellington speciality and a great way to end your New Zealand journey.