Auckland to Wellington via Rotorua


696 km


  • Waitomo Caves
  • Geothermal Rotorua
  • Wellington's cuisine



This straight-down-the-middle route takes you through the volcanic heart of the North Island.

Explore the subterranean labyrinth of Waitomo Caves and the spectacular geothermal and Maori attractions in Rotorua and Taupo. Travel through Turangi as the volcanic plateau gives way to farmland. Discover beautiful Kapiti Coast before ending your journey in the city of Wellington, New Zealand's vibrant capital.

Day 1: Auckland to Hamilton & Waitomo

Hamilton - Waikato
Waitomo Cave, Hamilton - Waikato

By Waitomo Adventures

Hamilton - Waikato


Magical caves, surf beaches and hobbits.


  • Waitomo caving experience
  • Culture & history at Waikato Museum
  • Surf Raglan's left-hand break


  • By car: 2 h 40 min | 199 km to Waitomo via SH1 & SH39
  • By bus: 4 h 10 min | by Intercity 
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for Waitomo tour info.

The inland city of Hamilton is dominated by the mighty Waikato River running through its centre. River boat cruising, walking trails, botanical gardens and a giant free flight aviary are just a few of the attractions the city has to offer. 

Further south, Waitomo is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface resides a vast network of caves. There are many ways to explore this underground world from a relaxing boat ride through a glowworm grotto, to a more adventurous journey deep into a lost world.

After your caving adventure, stop at Otorohanga Kiwi House and meet our national bird or head out to the coastal town of Kawhia, where hot water bubbles up through the sand.

Day 2: Hamilton to Rotorua

Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua

By Destination Rotorua



Mud pools, adventure and unique Maori culture.


  • Learn the how to perform the Haka
  • Watch geysers erupt and mud boil
  • Thrilling adventure


  • By car: 1 h 25 min | 106 km to Rotorua via SH1 & SH5
  • By bus: 2 h | by Intercity 

Your journey to Rotorua will take you through a mixture of farmland, lakeland and forest. Along the way stretch your legs with a walk in the beautiful Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, the southern-most range of the native kauri tree.

Rotorua is a town alive with volcanic activity. Explore the region's fascinating geothermal areas from bubbling mud to erupting geysers and learn more about the region's history with a trip to Te Wairoa - the Buried Village.

The city is also a hub for adventure, so if thrills are what you're after there's plenty to choose from with top mountain biking trails and a growing range of quirky and bizarre adventure activities such as the OGO, shweeb or luge

Day 3: Rotorua to Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo
Orakei Korako, Lake Taupo

By Destination Great Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo


Teeming with outdoor activities and water sports.


  • Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park
  • Kayak to the Mine Bay Maori carvings
  • Thrilling Hukafalls jet boat ride


The road to Taupo is packed with fascinating landscapes and volcanic geology. Orakei Korako thermal park, in particular, is known for its dramatic geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud.

As you near Taupo you will pass the Huka Falls, where the Waikato River enters a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock, turning it into a torrent of raging water. Stop to admire the falls from above or climb aboard the Hukafalls Jet for a thrilling ride into the foaming blue water. 

Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, making it the perfect spot for water activities of every kind. Spend the afternoon exploring the lake by kayak or paddleboard. 

Day 4: Taupo to Palmerston North via Turangi

Rafting in Mangaweka, Manawatu

By Destination Manawatu



The heartland of New Zealand.


  • Whitewater rafting in Mangaweka Gorge
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Trout fishing in Turangi


  • By car: 3 h 10 min | 242 km via SH1 & SH54
  • By bus: 3 h 50 min | by Intercity

Make your way along the eastern edge of Lake Taupo to Turangi, New Zealand's trout fishing capital and home to some famous fishing spots, including the ‘Tailrace’ (believed to contain the world’s fattest trout). If fishing isn't for you, spend the morning exploring nearby Tongariro National Park or rafting the Tongariro River.

As you continue your journey south the landscape changes from volcanic plateau to dramatic river valley and finally farmland. Along the way, small rural towns each display their own unique personality. End the day in Palmerston North, home to a wide array of galleries, gardens, and theatres. Rugby fans, in particular, won't want to miss the New Zealand Rugby Museum.

Day 5: Palmerston North to Wellington

Kapiti Island Nature Tours, Wellington

By Ian Trafford



A mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.


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


  • By car: 1 hr 50 min | 143 km vis SH57 & SH1
  • By bus: 2 h 14 min | by Intercity via Foxton

Today's journey south is rich with natural wonders and wildlife encounters. First stop Shannon, home to the Owlcatraz Wildlife Park, a sanctuary for the shy native Ruru owl, often called 'Morepork' for the sound it makes. 

An easy detour from nearby Levin takes you to beautiful dune lakes, surrounded by wetland and lush native forest. Further south you'll find Kapiti Island nature reserve, where many of New Zealand's endangered species can be found.

Your journey ends in lively Wellington, where you can enjoy the myriad of cafes, restaurants, museums and live music venues that Wellington has to offer. 

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 →