Driving New Zealand: Road Trips For The North Island

26 March 2015
Read Time: 3.3 mins

Is there anything better than the wide open road? Driving holidays are perhaps one of the best ways to explore any given destination, but New Zealand’s North Island entices self-drivers with a generous offering of exciting landscapes and cultural fun. So, feel the wind in your hair and turn up the tunes because it’s time to hit the road with these North Island itineraries.

 Auckland's iconic skyline


Ground Zero: Auckland

When it comes to the North Island, Auckland is without a doubt the main hub. Home to an international airport, this gateway to the north is perfectly positioned for those planning to self-drive across the island. Most destinations, whether heading north or south, are within easy driving distance, and the city itself is teeming with sights to see and activities to do.

 See if you can find Frodo's house in Hobbiton


Itinerary 1: Hobbits, Gardens And Caves

This itinerary is your chance to surround yourself with the natural splendour of New Zealand’s North Island. Start your journey in Auckland. As the largest city in New Zealand, this metropolitan centre features a fine selection of shopping, dining and entertainment options.

From the city, head two hours south to Middle Earth. High rises slow transform to the lush rolling hills of the Waikato River Valley. You’ll soon discover exactly why Peter Jackson chose Matamata for filming the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Walk through the Shire, while a guide provides engaging commentary on the set, location and films. You can stay the night in Matamata or head to Hamilton for the creature comforts of the city.

 Hamilton Gardens are a paradise for green thumbs


Start the day three off with a visit to the Hamilton Gardens. Far from a typical city botanical garden, this is a collection of individual gardens that showcase horticultural habits form around the world. What’s better is this award winning attraction is completely free! From Hamilton, head an hour south to the Waitomo Caves. Marvel at delicate mineral formations before setting adrift via boat to relish in the serenity of the incandescent shimmer of thousands of glow worms across the roof of the cave.

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 Glow worm gazing is par for the course at Waitomo


Itinerary 2: Islands, Culture And Spas

One of the biggest highlights of the North Island is its heady blend of history and culture, and this itinerary offers a chance to delve in head first. Starting Auckland, it's worth spending a morning exploring the islands just off the coast of the city. Rangitoto is perfect for nature lovers with a volcanic hike and lava tubes, or try a morning discovering the heritage of Devonport.

Day two will see you departing Auckland for the geothermal surprises of Rotorua. The journey will take approximately three hours, though a sweep of mountain views and charming towns along the way promises an engaging ride. Rotorua provides a full day of exploration with bubbling mud pots, gushing geysers and thermal pools. It is also home to Te Puia – a cultural centre where Maori culture is front and centre. Learn about the culture through traditional ceremonies, songs and performances before enjoying a Hangi dinner.

 Explore the lava tubes and caves on Rangitoto


Overnight in Rotorua provides a chance to rest after a full day of cultural exploration. Day three is dedicated to reviving with a trip to the city's famous thermal spas. There is a wide selection to choose from, including Hell's Gate geothermal mud baths or the warm pools of the Polynesian Spa that enjoy view over Lake Rotorua. The minerals detoxify while soothing warm waters (and mud) rejuvenate.

 Delve into the rich Maori culture in Rotorua


Itinerary 3: Gondolas, Bungee Jumping And Fishing

When it comes to adventure, New Zealand is among the top destinations in the world. Jumping, speeding and zipping activities are all available with the itinerary emphasising opportunity to seek out high octane thrills.

Begin your journey in Auckland where the Sky Tower offers a chance to dip your toes into the more adventurous. Glass panels on the floors of the elevator and observation deck floor allow a bird's eye view, while the SkyWalk and SkyJump provide the chance to walk around and base jump from 192 metres up.

 Make time to visit the Maori rock carvings while fishing Lake Taupo


Day two will see you Rotorua bound in search of more daring pursuits. This North Island city is packed with opportunity for those that love to push the comfort boundaries. The city is home to such thrill seeking attractions as Skyline Rotorua, Agroventures and Off Road NZ where you can indulge in downhill luging, ziplining at speeds of 80 kilometres per hour, bungee jumping and four wheel driving through thick forest courses.

Spend a portion of the morning exploring Rotorua if you like as day three's destination is only an hour's drive. Taupo is home to Lake Taupo, the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand. It's also the perfect spot to slow things down just a tad. Cruises are available to take you out on the lake to cast your line in hopes of reeling in a trout. Take the opportunity to relax and swim in the crystal clear waters and see the Mine Bay Maori rock carvings.

The return trip to Auckland offers more opportunity to discover the land and all of its spoils. Alternatively, head south for Wellington. It's four and a half hours, but provides the chance to see such highlights as the Wanganui National Park, historic Wellington Cable Car and Wellington's famed culinary scene.

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Carlie Tucker

Travelling is for discovering the unexpected. From fantastic meals in ramshackle joints to stumbling upon a best kept secret, I love those fortuitous travel moments that couldn't be planned if I tried.