Thermal Explorer Highway

4 Days


Auckland Central to Napier


  • Geysers and mudpools
  • Natural hot springs
  • Art Deco Napier

Best time of year

All year

Journey through the centre of the North Island on the Thermal Explorer Highway.  This drive begins in New Zealand’s largest city, where marine adventures are a specialty. A riverside drive takes you to Hamilton, a city known for its gardens, riverboat cruising and free flight aviary.

The antique town of Tirau is an interesting stop on your way to Rotorua, where you can explore geothermal attractions and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. An hour further south is the trout fishing mecca of Taupo, which sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake. Your final destination is Napier, a place to enjoy Art Deco architecture and fine wine.


Rotorua's famous Pohutu Geyser shoots hot water and steam up to 30 metres (100 feet) in the air

Photo by Destination Rotorua

Day 2 / 4

Hamilton - Cambridge - Rotorua

1 hr

27 mins

108 km

68 mi

Hamilton - Waikato

The short trip south takes you through prime Waikato farmland. Cambridge township is located in the heart of the Waikato's affluent horse breeding district. It has a relaxed country atmosphere, lovely tree lined streets and many well preserved heritage buildings.

On your way to Rotorua you’ll come across the town of Tirau, known for its antique shops and animal-shaped corrugated iron buildings.

Enjoy plantation pine forest and a refreshing patch of native bush, Fitzgerald Glade, before you encounter the unusual terrain of the Mamaku district. Mini volcanic cones dot the landscape, some showing their solidified lava core.

Rotorua, on the Volcanic Plateau, is one of the world’s most lively geothermal areas. Here you’ll see (and smell) wafts of steam, simmering cauldrons and boiling mud pools. At Te Puia you can watch the famous Pohutu geyser shoot scalding water 30 metres into the air.

Attracted by the benefits of geothermal energy for cooking and warmth, Maori settlers arrived to Rotorua around 600 years ago. As a visitor, you'll have the chance to learn about the culture, enjoy the amazing performance art and discover the smoky succulence of hangi (earth oven) food.

Hot Air Balloons over Hamilton

Start in Hamilton

The city of Hamilton is nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato River and is known for its walks, gardens, cafes and nightlife.

Be greeted with a Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting, in Rotorua.

End in Rotorua Central

Entertaining in any weather, Rotorua will captivate you with its shooting geysers, intriguing Maori villages and thrilling adventure activities.

Time & distance calculator