North Island Circuit

10 DAYS

2063 km

Highlights

  • Coromandel beaches
  • Geothermal Rotorua
  • Coolest little capital

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Satisfy your desire to see the best of the North Island with this 10-day round trip through some of New Zealand's most fascinating places.

Travel from Auckland, the vibrant 'city of sails', to the seaside villages of Coromandel. Experience Tauranga’s sunny lifestyle, steaming geothermal attractions in Rotorua, and the vineyards of Gisborne and Napier. Explore creativity in Wellington then head north to discover the mysteries of the Whanganui River. Stroll through gardens in New Plymouth and the magical underworld of Waitomo, before returning to Auckland.

Day 1: Auckland to Whitianga

The Coromandel
Driving Creek Railway, The Coromandel

By Destination Coromandel

The Coromandel

COROMANDEL

White sand coastline, abundant marine life.

Highlights

  • Driving Creek Railway
  • Thames gold mining history
  • Coromandel art galleries and craft shops

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 20 min | 208 km via SH1, SH2 & SH25
  • By ferry: 2 h | to Coromandel Town by Fullers

From Auckland travel south towards Thames. Along the way take time to visit Miranda, where relaxing hot springs and a bird sanctuary will get you in the holiday mood. Founded during the Coromandel gold rush, Thames is scattered with relics of a gold mining past. The local museum tells the region's rich history.

Continue along the coast through a procession of Pohutukawa fringed beaches to Coromandel town. Here you'll find a charming mix of craft shops, hiking trails, and a narrow gauge railway through native forest. In the afternoon, head to Whitianga, taking time to explore the beach settlements of Whangapoua, Matarangi, and Kuaotunu along the way.

Day 2: Whitianga to Tauranga

Bay of Plenty
Sunrise on Mt Maunganui, Bay of Plenty

By Bay of Plenty Tourism

Bay of Plenty

BAY OF PLENTY

Spectacular beaches and an active volcano.

Highlights

  • Mount Maunganui - voted NZ's best beach
  • Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach
  • Evening kayaking with glow-worms

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h | 184 km via SH25 & SH2
  • By bus: 5 h | via Thames by Intercity or NakedBus

The road south from Whitianga gives you the chance to see two of Coromandel's must-do attractions; Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Be sure to visit Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig your own spa in the sand.

Whangamata, one of the country’s most attractive surf towns is well worth a visit. From here, you can take a day trip out to Mayor Island, an offshore dormant volcano that has become a wildlife sanctuary. Other towns of interest include Waihi, Athenree Gorge, and Katikati, known for its numerous town murals.

In Tauranga, boat charters offer fishing, snorkelling or dolphin watching tours. Alternatively, stay ashore and explore nearby Mount Maunganui.

Day 3: Tauranga to Rotorua

Rotorua
Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua

By Destination Rotorua

Rotorua

ROTORUA

Mud pools, adventure and unique Maori culture.

Highlights

  • Maori culture and historical sites
  • Walking in Okere Falls Scenic Reserve
  • Geysers, bubbling mud and hot pools

Proximity

From Tauranga, it’s short trip Rotorua, the geothermal heart of New Zealand. Along the way, the charming towns of Te Puke and Paengaroa make for interesting distractions, before you begin the climb over the Mamaku Range. Okere Falls Scenic Reserve, near Lake Rotoiti, has a picturesque walking trail to a series of thundering waterfalls surrounded by lush native forest.

Everywhere you look in Rotorua, the earth is alive with volcanic activity. Spend the day exploring the many geothermal attractions from bubbling mud to erupting geysers. In the evening, relax at the Polynesian Spa or immerse yourself in a cultural experience at Te Puia, Mitai or Tamaki Māori Villages.

Day 4: Rotorua to Gisborne via Whakatane

Bay of Plenty
White Island, Bay of Plenty

By Rob Suisted

Highlights

  • White Island volcanic tours
  • Tikitiki's ornate Maori church
  • Friendly coastal towns

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 40 min | 270 km via SH30 & SH2
  • By bus: 5 h 15 min | via Whakatane by Intercity

EXPLORE WHITE ISLAND

Learn more about New Zealand's only active marine volcano.

Read more

Whakatane is one of the sunniest towns in New Zealand with a great mix of activities including a museum, observatory and numerous Maori historical sites. Just offshore is White Island, a spectacular active volcano that you can visit by boat or helicopter. 

There are two routes to Gisborne from Whakatane. The drive around East Cape is beautiful but challenging, you may want to break the journey with a night at Te Araroa. Sights on the way include the beautiful Maori church at Tikitiki, hot pools in Te Puia Springs, and a historic 660-metre wharf in Tolaga Bay.

Alternatively, take the shorter inland route and spend more time in Gisborne, where good wine and fantastic surf beaches abound. 

Day 5: Gisborne to Napier

Hawke's Bay
Hawke’s Bay Food and Wine Classic, Hawke's Bay

By FAWC

Hawke's Bay

HAWKE'S BAY

Discover wineries, wildlife and Art Deco design

Highlights

  • World-class food and wine
  • Cape Kidnappers gannet colony
  • Beautiful cycling trails

Proximity

Napier is famous for its distinctive Art Deco architecture. In 1931, a devastating earthquake nearly levelled the city, and it was rebuilt in the style of the times. The architects added Maori motifs to many buildings, giving them a distinctly New Zealand flavour. Every February, Napier celebrates its Art Deco style with a festival of all things 1930s.

Beyond the city, Hawke's Bay is a region of vineyards and orchards. Hire a bike and explore the easy cycle trails that connect wineries, beaches and picturesque landscapes. For nature lovers, the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers is well worth a visit.

Day 6: Napier to Wellington via Masterton

Wellington
Pukaha Mount Bruce, Wellington

By Positively Wellington

Wellington

WELLINGTON

Mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine.

Highlights

  • Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre
  • Classic New Zealand wine trail
  • Art and culture in Wellington

Proximity

  • By car: 4 h 20 min | 230 km via SH2
  • By bus: 5 h 25 min | via Kapiti Coast by Intercity

Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is a must-do on your way south. The centre is home to a variety of native New Zealand wildlife, including a rare white kiwi. Other attractions along the way include the Wool Shed in Masterton, Paua World with its great selection of souvenirs, and Greytown's charming assemblage of boutique shops, art galleries and antique stores.

In Wellington, you'll discover a lively combination of culture and heritage. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Delve into the many museums and galleries, sample local craft beers and experience the quirky culture of New Zealand's capital city.

Day 7: Wellington to Whanganui

Whanganui
The PS Waimarie., Whanganui

By Whanganui District Council

Whanganui

WHANGANUI

Rich history, untouched landscapes and art.

Highlights

  • Paddle-steamer Waimarie
  • Rich history at Whanganui Museum
  • Kapiti Nature Reserve

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 35 min | 194 km via SH1 & SH3
  • By bus: 3 h 40 min | by Intercity

The route to Whanganui is lined with wildlife encounters. Offshore from Waikanae is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve for rare birds - book tours to the island with a licenced operator. Further north, Levin is home to a thriving clothing industry and many factory outlet shops. Nearby two beautiful dune lakes, provide a watery home for wading birds.

As one of the country's oldest settler towns, Whanganui has a long history and some beautifully restored heritage areas. The city's true spiritual heart is its river; Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. There are multiple ways to explore this beautiful area, from jet boat to paddle steamer or kayak.

Day 8: Whanganui to New Plymouth

Taranaki
Egmont National Park, Taranaki

By Rob Suisted

Taranaki

TARANAKI

 Surfing and a perfectly formed volcanic peak.

Highlights

  • Stunning Mount Taranaki
  • Hiking in Egmont National Park
  • Small museums and quirky art shops

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 15 min | 160 km via SH3 or SH45 (coastal)
  • By bus: 2 h 50 min | by Intercity

As the road heads west from Whanganui, keep an eye out for small museums and quirky art shops. The rural centre of Hawera is home to New Zealand’s largest milk factory and an interactive dairy farming attraction.

From Hawera, you can take one of two routes, follow the coast and have a beach view all the way or take the inland route via Stratford and enjoy the green serenity of farmland. Either way, the dramatic volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki will dominate the landscape for much of your journey. 

Beautiful parks and gardens decorate the city of New Plymouth, which is a hub for art and culture. Be sure to check out Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Puke Ariki.

Day 9: New Plymouth to Hamilton via Waitomo

Hamilton - Waikato
Waitomo Caves, Hamilton - Waikato

By Shaun Jeffer

Hamilton - Waikato

HAMILTON - WAIKATO

Caves, surf beaches and hobbit holes.

Highlights

  • Glow-worms in Waitomo Caves
  • Whitecliffs walkway
  • Seaside villages

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 15 min | 241 km via SH3 & SH39
  • By bus: 3 h 35 min | by Intercity

Today's journey begins with a procession of seaside villages looking out to the Tasman Sea. Whitecliffs Walkway is a fabulous hike if you have the time. At Awakino turn eastward and travel through a mixture of farmland, forest and rugged mountain country.

The gateway to Waitomo Caves is the rural town of Te Kuiti, which plays host to the annual NZ sheep shearing championships.

Waitomo is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface, lies a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Some caves offer an easy walk; others are more challenging and require specialised caving equipment.

10: Waitomo to Auckland via Hobbiton

Hamilton - Waikato
Hobbiton Movie Set, Hamilton - Waikato

By Fraser Clements

Highlights

  • Detour to Hobbiton Movie Set
  • Hamilton Zoo and free-flight aviary
  • Waikato Museum and gallery

Proximity

HOBBITION IN 360

Go behind the scenes of New Zealand's real Middle‑earth film set, without leaving home.

Read more

From the Waitomo, the trip to Hamilton takes you through prime Waikato farmland. Detour to Matamata to see the Hobbiton Movie Set exactly as it appeared in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies.

In Hamilton, the mighty Waikato River brings a unique beauty to the city. Local attractions include gardens, museums and a giant aviary at the Hamilton Zoo. 

In Auckland, you can’t miss the extinct volcanic cones that dot the landscape, 48 in all. With two huge harbours, and plenty of other attractions such as harbour cruises, beautiful beaches, forest walks and tempting cuisine, Auckland is a great place to end your journey.

Driving in New Zealand

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

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