Experience outdoor adventures, geothermal wonders, arts and culture and food and wine as you drive from Auckland through the centre of the North Island to the country’s capital city of Wellington.
This 10-day itinerary takes you through the lush Waikato, to the bubbling mud and spouting geysers of Rotorua, into the majestic alpine scenery of Tongariro National Park, around the boutique wineries of Martinborough and on to vibrant Wellington.
Heading to Rotorua from Auckland, there are two main routes to choose from.
You could travel through the picturesque town of Cambridge, which is known for its tree-lined streets, and head out on Lake Karapiro for a jet boat adventure with Cam Jet, or check out the wildlife at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. Or, if you have Tolkien fans on board (or anyone who loves a bit of behind-the-scenes movie magic), then take the road to Matamata where the world-famous Hobbiton Movie Set™(opens in new window) lies a short drive outside town, amongst the rolling green hills of the Waikato.
Either route will then take you through Tirau, with its antique and homeware stores, and you can add a little side trip to Putaruru and take Te Waihou Walkway to find the beautiful Blue Springs. From here it’s just 45 minutes to Rotorua, where you’ll find plenty of options for campervan-friendly accommodation for the next three nights.
Rotorua has a great selection of cafés for breakfast (try Fat Dog or Artisan Café) then plan for a day of adventure, culture and natural wonders.
Explore the trails that wind around the bubbling mud pools and spouting geysers at Te Puia, watch the master carvers at work and take part in the Māori cultural experience before feasting on a hāngī cooked in a hot pool for lunch.
At Skyline Rotorua(opens in new window) you can ride the gondola to the top of Mount Ngongotaha then luge down the twisting trails, or try the zipline or sky swing.
Agrodome is fun for all the family too, with a farm show and tour that includes hand-feeding alpacas. For dinner, Eat Streat offers plenty of options, or the popular Night Market held every Thursday has street food of every kind.
Stay at Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park near Whakarewarewa Forest ready for tomorrow’s adventure.
Whakarewarewa Forest(opens in new window) is just five minutes from downtown Rotorua and offers short walks, hiking trails, horse riding, mountain biking and more. You’ll find all the information you need at the Redwood i-SITE Visitor Centre(opens in new window).
Look up, and you’ll see Redwoods Treewalk(opens in new window) – an incredible 700m of suspension bridges high in the century-old Redwood trees, with glowing lanterns by New Zealand artist David Trubridge dotted throughout. Enjoy the Redwoods during the day or visit at night to see the lanterns illuminated and a spectacular light show.
After a day in the great outdoors, relax at Secret Spot Hot Tubs(opens in new window) in a bush setting on the forest edge or head back into town to the lakefront outdoor thermal pools at Polynesian Spa,(opens in new window) There is also limited overnight campervan parking directly across the road.
It’s just an hour to Taupō from Rotorua and on the way you’ll find the volcanic valley of Waimangu where you can see the world’s largest hot spring, as well as the stunning bright blue Inferno Crater.
There’s lots to see and do in and around Taupō and its lake. For adventure, take your pick of parasailing, skydiving or even a bungy jump.
Huka Falls is a must-see – you can watch the pounding white water from the viewing platforms, take a cruise to the Falls, or jetboat the rapids for the ultimate experience. Book a spot at Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort, which combines a campground with a waterpark and thermal pools.
An early morning walk at the lakefront is a beautiful way to start the day in Taupō – you can watch as rowers cut through the glassy water and boats head out for some early fishing. Dig your toes into the sand at the water’s edge and you might even find some warm spots! From here it’s just
45 minutes to Tūrangi on the banks of the Tongariro River, just outside Tongariro National Park.
Tūrangi is famous for rainbow trout – you can try catching them on one of the many fishing trips available or learn more about them at the National Trout Centre.
Thrill-seekers can try rafting on Tongariro River too. Half an hour south is Whakakapapa Village, at the foot of Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park. Book a campervan site at Whakapapa Holiday Park for a great place to base yourself while exploring the region.
Tongariro National Park is an incredible experience at whatever time of year you visit.
The DOC Visitor Centre in Whakapapa Village is the place to learn more about the area and its wide range of walks and hikes. Choose from short walks, Tongariro Crossing day hikes or multi-day walks like the Northern Circuit and Round the Mountain tracks. Mount Ruapehu is the North Island’s highest peak – take in the views on the Sky Waka Gondola or hit the ski slopes in winter.
Experience High Tea at the iconic Chateau Tongariro Hotel or visit the ski village of Ohakune and have your photo taken next to the giant carrot.
Further on is Taihape, known as the “gumboot capital” of New Zealand – be sure to get a photo next to its giant gumboot sculpture.
Stop for lunch in pretty Fielding or take a detour to the sweetly scented lavender gardens of the Herb Farm Café. The Manawatū region is famous for its beautiful gardens(opens in new window) with many open to view.
Get outdoors on one of the many walking trails in the Manawatū Gorge(opens in new window), or enjoy a round on New Zealand’s oldest golf course. Palmerston North Holiday Park on the banks of the Manawatū River is the perfect stop for the night.
Although you’re heading to wine country today, the iconic Tui Brewery is well worth a detour to the village of Mangatainoka near Pahiatua for a tour and tasting.
Back on SH2 is the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, a captive breeding sanctuary where you’ll see wildlife up close, like cheeky kākā parrots and giant eels.
Martinborough is just an hour from here and joining a wine tour is the easiest way to experience the wineries dotted around the village and its surroundings. In November, the annual Toast Martinborough(opens in new window) wine and food festival draws thousands of people to this region. In the heart of Martinborough you’ll find boutique shopping, as well as fine dining at the historic Martinborough Hotel.
Book a site at the Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park and make the most of your night in Martinborough with an unforgettable star gazing experience.
After leaving Martinborough, stop in at C’est Cheese in Featherston for gourmet goodies to stock the campervan fridge.
Then it’s over the Remutaka Hill as you travel into Wellington. Get up high for a view of the city, either from the top of Mount Victoria, or ride the Wellington Cable Car. Grab a coffee and walk the Wellington waterfront, or explore the stylish fashion and homeware shops around Lambton Quay, or the quirky stores and cafés of Cuba Street, Hannah’s Laneway and surrounding area.
The capital is a foodie’s delight with gourmet food producers and a range of eateries from fine dining to cool urban bistros. It has a vibrant café, bar and cocktail scene, and is regarded as the hub of New Zealand’s craft beer movement. Stay at Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park(opens in new window), just 15km outside the central city.
As New Zealand’s capital, Wellington is home to major attractions such as (opens in new window)Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, which has an array of permanent and visiting exhibitions, guided tours and fun-filled discovery areas for kids.
Tour the Parliament buildings and then see history up close at the National Library of New Zealand where the Treaty of Waitangi is on display, as well as other documents that helped to shape New Zealand history.
In nearby Miramar, the magical world of Weta Workshop awaits. Go behind the scenes to see how the special effects for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies were created. Then for some real local wildlife head to beautiful eco-sanctuary Zealandia or visit Wellington Zoo.