Central North Caves and Volcanoes Itinerary

4 DAYS

602 km

Highlights

  • Geothermal Rotorua
  • Waitomo Caves
  • Botanical Gardens

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

This 4-day inland route to Wellington reveals some of New Zealand’s most fascinating geological features.

Travel from geothermal Rotorua, to the underground wonders of Waitomo and on to Tongariro National Park with its immense volcanoes. Discover the secrets of New Zealand’s longest navigable waterway in Whanganui and finish your journey with a taste of culture in the country's capital, Wellington.

Day 1: Rotorua to Waitomo Caves

New Zealand
Take a boat ride into Waitomo Caves to see twinkling glowworms and ancient rock formations, New Zealand

By Corin Walker

Hamilton - Waikato

WAIKATO

Magical caves, surf beaches and hobbits.

Highlights

  • Stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms
  • Discover the lost world
  • Pureora Forest Park

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 10 min | 166 km via SH30
  • By bus: 2 h 30 min | by Intercity

The city of Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Take time to explore some of these fascinating geothermal attractions. Rotorua is also a great place to experience Maori culture with a visit to Te Puia, Mitai Village, or Tamaki Village.

From Rotorua, it is a short journey to Waitomo Caves, where subterranean adventures await. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region, is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Some caves are open to the public and easy to walk through others require specialised caving equipment.

Day 2: Waitomo Caves to National Park

New Zealand
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

By Graeme Murray

Ruapehu

RUAPEHU

Tussocky desert, rivers, lakes and volcanic cones.

Highlights

  • Whanganui River
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • New Zealand's first national park

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 50 min | 144 km via SH4
  • By bus: 2 h | by Intercity

As you travel south from Waitomo, you'll pass through an area known as the ‘King Country’.

The region got its unofficial name during the New Zealand Wars when colonial forces invaded Waikato, driving the Maori Kīngitanga south to a tract of remote forest in the western central North Island. Taumarunui, on the edge of the Whanganui River, is a good place from which to explore the area.

From here, it's a short trip to National Park village, the gateway to Tongariro National Park. The park is home to three imposing volcanoes and multitudes of outdoor activities including hiking, skiing, and rafting. Many regard Tongariro Alpine Crossing as one of the best one-day walks in the world.

Day 3: National Park to Whanganui

Whanganui
Whanganui River valley, Whanganui

By Ian Trafford

Whanganui

WHANGANUI

A mighty river and forgotten landscapes.

Highlights

  • Whanganui National Park
  • Forgotten World Tours

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 40 min | 122 km via SH4
  • By bus: 2 h 20 min | by Intercity

From Tongariro National Park, there are two ways to get to Whanganui. The long and winding way via Pipiriki takes you into stunning Whanganui National Park. Highlights include the Bridge to Nowhere, Kawana Mill and the Pipiriki museum. The more orthodox route is via State Highway 4, which wanders through a world of rivers and gentle hill country.

As one of New Zealand's oldest settler towns, the picturesque river city of Whanganui has a long history. Take time to explore the restored heritage areas, and then check out the various options for an expedition on New Zealand's longest navigable river.

Day 4: Whanganui to Wellington

Wellington
Mount Victoria, Wellington

By Julian Apse

Wellington

WELLINGTON

A mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.

Highlights

  • Kapiti Island nature reserve
  • Museums and art galleries
  • World-class craft beer

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 30 min | 193 km vis SH3 & SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 22 min | by Intercity

There are several interesting stops on the way to Wellington. Browse antique shops in Bulls, spy on wading birds around the Manawatu river estuary or visit the beautiful dune lakes near Levin. Offshore from Paraparaumu is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare native birds.

In Wellington, you'll find a city full of culture and character. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Wellington is well known for its range of fascinating museums and art galleries. A visit to Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum is a great way to end your central North Island journey.

Driving in New Zealand

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

View the route below

You may also be interested in...

Recommended Trips →

Travel to NZ →

Visas & Immigration →