6 Road Trip Stops on New Zealand’s North Island

by Bianca Ohannessian

You could easily spend months exploring the New Zealand’s North Island, and that’s not to mention adding the stunning South Island into the mix. But if you’ve got limited time, some form of wheels and a sizeable supply of snacks to work with, then these six stops will transform a quick week in New Zealand into a road trip to remember.

  1. Auckland

Auckland is most likely to be your point of arrival and the starting line for your road trip around the North Island. It’s perfectly positioned within easy reach of beaches and forests if you can’t wait to get out there and enjoy the great outdoors. However, you might want to factor in a bit of time to explore the capital city too.

There are two yacht-filled harbour areas to explore, coffee shops, restaurants and art galleries. All the city culture and activities you’d expect from a capital. You can also take a trip up the 328-metre Sky Tower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city and beyond.

  1. Coromandel Peninsula

Just outside Auckland, you’ll find the wild beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula. Rugged mountains and deep gorges are veiled in lush green forests. Sandy stretches of soft golden sand make it a great place to relax and recuperate after a busy stint of sight-seeing in the city. Try Hot Water beach where you can bathe in the simmering natural pools.

Follow a hiking trail through the trees and look out for exotic species of birds. Or explore the coastline in a sea kayak. At just over two and a half hours drive away from the city centre, you could even be back in Auckland in time for dinner.

  1. Bay of Islands

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Hop in your car and head north from Auckland, and in just three hours you could find yourself in the beautiful Bay of Islands. With around 144 islands scattered across the area and a thriving marine life, there’s lots of exploring to be done.

If you’re a fan of watersports, this is the place for you. The Bay is great for sailing, sea kayaking and surfing. Try Sandy Bay which has good surf for a spectrum of skill levels. Or you can join a boat tour to watch wales and wild pods of dolphins frolic in the waves.

There are plenty of picturesque sandy coves to discover too. Check out Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock formation. Or go in search of the towering Kauri trees in the area’s ancient forests.

  1. Waitomo Caves

Drive towards the west of the island to the tiny town of Waitomo. The main attraction here is the magical Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. This unique species twinkles on the walls of the network of underground caves as a river runs beneath. What is essentially glowing specs of worm poo clinging to the cave walls is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever encountered.

Sign up for caving or a black water rafting session to experience the caves in all their glory. Not as hard core as the name suggests, some of the black water rafting routes in Waitomo can be a tranquil way to take in the enchanting natural surroundings. You’ll glide through the dark caves gazing at the constellations of glowing dots.

There are also options to explore the glittering stalagmite formations, Glow-worm Grotto and surrounding forest area by boat or on foot.

You’re also just an hour’s drive away from the famous Lord of the Rings film set if you want to stop off and see the hobbit holes of Hobbiton on the way to your next destination.

  1. Rotorua

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One of the most active geothermal spots in the world, Rotorua sits on the Ring of Fire. It’s impossible not to notice the eggy smell of sulphur as you approach the town.

You can take a walk around and see the bubbling mud pools and geysers fizzing, including the impressive 30-metre eruptions of the Pohutu Geyser that happen several times throughout the day. Or visit a natural spa, like the Polynesian Spa, to enjoy the mineral-rich warm waters while lounging around in an open-air pool.

Aside from all the volcanic activity, Rotorua is also an important area in terms of history. There are cave paintings dating back an incredible 30,000 years. There are also plenty of opportunities to get to know more about traditional Maori culture with intricately carved red meeting houses and special experiences at places like Tamaki Maori Village.

If you’re feeling peckish after all that excitement, Fat Dog is one of the most popular (and most colourful) places to eat and drink in town. The walls are decorated with local art and among their menu of award-winning coffees they serve up cappuccinos topped with rainbow-coloured funfetti. What’s not to love.

  1. Lake Taupo

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The clue is in the name; it’s a lake. A big lake. The town of Taupo is built on its banks and is surrounded by picturesque countryside, waterfalls and tiered rock pools. It’s a great place to get out doors.

You can explore the area by kayak with a paddle across the lake. Or by horse with a trek over the rolling hills. Or, for something more extreme, you can see the area from the sky with a casual this-kind-of-thing-happens-all-the-time-in-New-Zealand skydive. There’s also the Taupo Bungy which will give you beautiful yet fleeting views of the lush countryside and Waikato River below – if you can keep your eyes open.

While you’re in the area, you’ll also be close to Tongariro National Park where you can see dramatic peaks and bright blue volcano lakes. It’s a protected area both for its natural beauty and importance to preserving Maori culture.

And if these six stops weren’t enough to inspire you to book a ticket to New Zealand right away, then Murray’s Flight of the Conchords tourism posters are sure to do the trick. All that’s left to do now is plug in this playlist and put your foot on the pedal.

Follow @rockskippers on Instagram for road trip and adventure snaps.

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