Experience the very best of the North Island on this 17-day round trip journey starting in Auckland.
From urban delights to long sandy beaches, geothermal attractions and subterranean mysteries, this journey takes you from the top to the bottom of the North Island and plenty of places in between.
As you continue north, you'll pass the small town of Kawakawa, famous for its public toilet. This structure of mosaics, copper and cobblestones was the last building designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser.
Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands or a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.
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.
The backcountry route to Dargaville takes you past the awesome Waipoua Forest, home of New Zealand's largest kauri trees. Not far from Dargaville, Kai Iwi lakes are beautiful dune lakes that make a popular camping spot. Travel across the river plain from Dargaville to Matakohe’s kauri museum, where you’ll discover a fascinating history of kauri milling and gum diggers.
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city is situated between two harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.
Leaving Auckland, 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 and see how this imaginary place was brought to life.
Travelling southeast through forest and farmland you'll approach Rotorua. Sitting squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activity is part of this city’s past and present. Explore the geothermal areas, discover Maori culture or try one of the town's many adventure activities. Rotorua is entertaining at any time of the year.
Today you could choose to spend the day enjoying some of the many activities in Rotorua, before making the short drive to Whakatane. Popular activities include mountain biking, rafting and new adventure sports like zorbing.
Alternatively, you could head straight to Whakatane and visit New Zealand's most active volcano. Take a boat or helicopter to White Island to explore the steaming vents, vast craters and abandoned sulphur mine. Apart from the volcano, Whakatane's attractions include the museum, an observatory and Maori historical sites. In summer, you can also go dolphin swimming.
There’s a lot to see and do as you drive around the edge of East Cape. Including Tikitiki's ornate Maori church and the historic 660-metre wharf at Tolaga Bay. For those preferring a shorter drive, take the inland route direct to Gisborne along State Highway 2.
Gisborne is a sunny city with a reputation for good wine and fantastic surf beaches. There are more than 20 vineyards in the area, with many specialising in Chardonnay. Near the city centre, you can visit Kaiti Beach where the first European landed in New Zealand.
There are two ways to approach the trip to Napier. The inland route takes you past 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 Mahia Peninsula. Both roads lead to the town of Wairoa, memorable for the lighthouse in its main street.
Napier is famous for its distinctive architecture. After the devastating 1931 earthquake, the city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the times. The architects added Maori motifs to many buildings, giving them a distinctly New Zealand flavour. Beyond the city, Hawke's Bay is a region of vineyards and orchards.
Enjoy the clean, green Wairarapa scenery as you drive south. Carterton is a good place to shop for paua shell souvenirs, while Greytown has many beautiful examples of Victorian architecture and a quaint museum.
Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. The downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy the myriad of cafes, restaurants, museums and live music venues that Wellington has to offer.
The Kapiti Coast route to Whanganui has a lot going for it. Offshore from Waikanae is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. Whanganui itself has a long history. Take time to explore the restored heritage areas, or take an expedition on the river. You can also ride the historic elevator to the top of Durie Hill.
Carry on towards the volcanic plateau of Tongariro National Park. Turangi is small but well placed for adventures in the park. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in particular, is regarded as one of the best day-walks in the world.
From Turangi follow the eastern edge of the lake to reach the town of Taupo. The drive is very scenic and there are many picnic opportunities along the way. Where streams run into the lake, you’ll often see anglers trying their luck.
Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake and offers an exciting array of outdoor activities both on and off the water. Visit the awe-inspiring Huka Falls, relax in the hot pools, or take a boat cruise or kayak trip to see the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay. Like nearby Rotorua, Taupo is geothermally active; check out Craters of the Moon or Orakei Korako to see steam vents and bubbling mud pools.
The route to Waitomo passes through farmland, lake land and forest. Keen walkers may enjoy the beautiful Pureora Forest Park, while trout fanciers can try their luck at Lake Whakamaru. After the township of Te Kuiti, you'll turn left towards Waitomo.
The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region, is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Choose your level of adventure, from guided walks and gentle boat rides to black water rafting, caving and abseiling into the abyss.
If you're in the mood for detours, head west to Raglan, a beautiful black-sand beach that's a favourite among surfers. Or you can spend your time exploring the river city of Hamilton. The city has lovely botanic gardens and an amazing free-flight bird aviary at Hamilton Zoo. Just north of Te Kauwhata on State Highway 1, you can turn off to visit the Jade Museum – the place to stock up on New Zealand Greenstone (pounamu) jewellery and gifts before you head home.