This exciting 12-day route will give you a taste of the upper North Island's beauty and culture.
Enjoy urban delights and harbour cruises in Auckland, tranquil seaside towns in the Coromandel Peninsula and marine adventures in Tauranga. Travel inland to the geysers, boiling mud pools and craters of Rotorua and Taupō. Explore caves and Hobbit holes in Waikato, then cap your journey off with a visit to Northland for dolphins, giant kauri trees and plenty of history.
Whether you want relaxation, retail therapy, art and culture, or an escape into nature, Auckland will not disappoint.
Hike the island volcano of Rangitoto or explore the wineries and art galleries of Waiheke Island. There are plenty of harbour activities to try, such as sailing on an America’s Cup yacht, kayaking, or jet boating. Alternatively, head out to Auckland's west coast where the lush native forest and rugged black-sand beaches will make you feel like you've stepped into the wilderness.
You may like to indulge in a little inner-city culture. Enjoy the designer shops and delectable cafes of downtown Auckland, and visit the city's many museums and galleries.
The historic township of Thames was founded during the Coromandel gold rush. It’s a great place for walks – around the town, through the bush and on the mangrove boardwalk. Visit the local museum to discover the history of the area.
The road to Coromandel Town clings to the edge of the coast. You’ll enjoy amazing views and a constant procession of beautiful beaches fringed with Pohutukawa trees. Formerly a gold-mining and timber town, Coromandel is now a haven for artists, craftspeople and conservationists. There are several good walks in the area and a railway enthusiast has created an hour-long train trip at Driving Creek.
The vibrant beach town of Whitianga is home to a fishing fleet - expect to eat some excellent seafood while you’re here. It's also your beautiful base for visiting two of the Coromandel's must-see attractions.
Cathedral Cove is a picturesque photo spot, and at Hot Water Beach, you can dig your own natural spa. You can see both these attractions in one day - but you'll need to time it carefully, as you need to be at Hot Water Beach within 2 hours of low tide to access the naturally heated water.
The prosperous city of Tauranga sprawls along the edge of an attractive harbour. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants here for you to enjoy. This is also a good spot for big game fishing, kayaking and harbour boat cruises. Nearby Mount Maunganui is a destination for surfing and beach walking.
If you'd like to visit New Zealand's most active volcano, Whakaari White Island, tours depart from the small coastal settlement of Whakatane. It is 1 hour 20 minutes' drive down the coast from Tauranga, so allow yourself enough time to get there before your tour begins.
If you're a film lover, take the detour to Matamata to visit Hobbiton Movie Set, the place that starred in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Wander among hobbit holes and enjoy a mug of ale at the Green Dragon Inn before carrying on to Rotorua.
If you don't venture to Matamata, it’s a quick drive from Tauranga up and over the Mamaku Range before descending towards Lake Rotorua, which is actually a large crater filled with water.
Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activity is everywhere in this region. Take time to explore the geothermal areas with clouds of steam and bubbling mud pools, or soak in naturally heated hot pools and rejuvenating mud at one of the many health spas.
Rotorua is also increasingly becoming a hub for thrilling adventure from the familiar such as rafting, jet boating and mountain biking to the slightly bizarre such as zorbing and the shweeb. Nature lovers will enjoy the Redwood Forest canopy tour. At night, the forest comes alive with 30 specially designed lanterns.
If you haven't had your fill of geothermal activity yet, the trip to Taupō today offers more opportunities to see geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. Side roads lead to Orakei Korako and Craters of the Moon.
The resort town of Taupō sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake and is the perfect place for water activities. Kayaking, paddle-boarding, boat cruises, jet boating and fishing are all popular activities. If you have extra time, you might like to plan a hiking adventure in nearby Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand's most popular day walk.
Today you make your way from Taupō to the twinkling glowworm caves of Waitomo. Along the way, trout fanciers may like to try their luck at Lake Whakamaru. The beautiful Pureora Forest Park, home to several rare bird species, is also well worth a visit.
The Waitomo area is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this limestone region, is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glowworms. Depending on your thirst for adventure, you can take a walking tour and boat ride through the caves, raft through them on a rubber tube (known as blackwater rafting) or abseil down into the darkness.
As you travel north to Hamilton, stop off at the kiwi house in Otorohanga to meet New Zealand’s national symbol.
Hamilton City is a good place to stop for lunch; at the southern end of the main street, you’ll discover a wide variety of excellent restaurants and cafes. Local attractions include the beautiful botanic gardens and a giant free flight aviary at Hamilton Zoo.
The Waikato River will accompany you for much of your journey north to Auckland. You’ll see side roads leading to Waingaro Hot Springs and Raglan - a surf resort on the west coast. Spend the night in Auckland before making your way up to Northland.
The route you're taking today is part of the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, with lots of lovely towns to enjoy along the way. Puhoi is known for its gourmet cheese; the wine district of Matakana also makes for a pleasant detour.
Whangarei is a subtropical city on the edge of a beautiful harbour, where you'll find stylish cafes and restaurants, as well as museums, art galleries and shops. If you have time, take a trip out to the coastal town of Tutukaka, gateway to the Poor Knights Islands.
Continue on to the Bay of Islands where you'll find a hub of beautiful scenery and fascinating history.
Catch a cruise to the outer islands, enjoy a dolphin-spotting safari or take a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. In Kerikeri, you’ll find galleries, vineyards, gourmet food shops, golf courses and historic sites such as the Stone Store and the Mission House.
On the west coast of Northland, Waipoua Forest is home to New Zealand's largest kauri trees. Trounson Kauri Park is another opportunity for tree gazing. From here, you'll travel south to Dargaville, a town established in the 1870s, during the heyday of kauri milling and gum digging. Nearby, Matakohe’s kauri museum, tells the region's fascinating history.
For an alternative route back to Auckland, turn right at Wellsford, heading towards Helensville. You'll skirt along the Kaipara Harbour and pass through the wine district of Kumeu before arriving back in the 'City of Sails' and the end of your journey.