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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.