I begin my journey on Auckland’s west coast, 40 minutes from downtown, with a stroll along the vast stretch of volcanic black sand framed by dramatic rocky terrain at Piha beach.
The surrounding Waitakere Ranges Regional Park boasts over 250 kilometres of walking and hiking tracks through lush native rainforest, past cascading waterfalls and a magnificent coastline.
Auckland is the perfect place to start my North Island road trip and less than an hour out of the city, heading south, I pass through the pristine green pastures of Clevedon. The scenic route to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula is a gorgeous drive via peaceful paddocks and coastal wetlands.
I’m driving through the ‘Ring of Fire’ – a route marked by many volcanic landmarks on a six-day, 880-kilometre trip.
First stop, the famous Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel. I visit before low tide to dig my own hot pool in the sand that fills with warm geothermal waters, then head to the seaside town of Whitianga to embark on a scenic boat cruise to the magical Cathedral Cove.
Back on the road, a spectacular drive along the coast presents a procession of beaches fringed with pohutukawa trees. Arriving in the Bay of Plenty region, from Whakatane I explore the crystal-clear waters of the bay and visit New Zealand’s only active island volcano, White Island.
Just 50 kilometres offshore from Whakatane and accessible by boat, helicopter or seaplane, the island is a moonscape of iron oxide reds and vivid sulphur whites.
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Gently rolling hills take me to Rotorua where I find sparkling lakes, stunning scenery and world-renowned geothermal attractions, including the colourful Wai-o-Tapu (or 'Sacred Waters') in one of New Zealand’s most extensive geothermal fields. A visit to the famed Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser is like nothing I have ever experienced before.
Soaking in the thermal waters of the Polynesian Spa is the perfect way to relax before continuing my journey to the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, Lake Taupo.
Lake Taupo was created nearly 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption so big it darkened the skies in Europe and China. I stop at Orakei Korako to explore evidence of the lake’s fiery birth in the geysers, steaming craters and boiling mud pools.
Heading north, I stop at the 2014 International Garden of the Year, Hamilton Gardens, and then enjoy a charming cruise up the Waikato River. I relax, surrounded by the tranquillity of this waterway that runs through the heart of Hamilton city (which I later discover hosts a vibrant dining scene).
The final day of my New Zealand driving adventure starts with a stop at Hobbiton™ Movie Set near Matamata to explore the magic of the real Middle-earth™, before heading back to Auckland.
This journey has taken me through a number of landscapes, from coast to country, and to some of the most other-worldly places on the planet.
Words by Ben Rogers