- Pohutu Geyser in Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley Right
eXplore Central North Island – Ultimate Experience!
It is easy to combine the touring routes to experience the diversity of this compact region. Tick off a number of New Zealand must-dos, and get up close to the culture and lifestyle of kiwis and some of the locals’ favourite spots.
Auckland > Waikato and Hamilton > Rotorua > Taupō > Ruapehu > Hawke’s Bay > Tairāwhiti Gisborne > Bay of Plenty > Auckland
11 Days / 10 Nights
DAY 1: Auckland Airport to Hamilton
Follow the Thermal Explorer Highway south through the rolling green hills and pastures of the Waikato region, home of the New Zealand dairy industry. Hamilton is a great place for your first night to relax after your flight and to settle into the relaxed road trip of discovery that lies ahead. Be sure to take in the splendid Hamilton Gardens, where the focus is on the cultural meaning and context of gardens over time. Cornerstone Alpaca Stud is a great place to get the rural feel of this productive region. And take a walk along the river paths of the mighty Waikato running through the heart of the city, before sampling some of the local gourmet delights.
Drive time: 1 hour 40 minutes
DAY 2: Hamilton to Rotorua
Heading south, stop off at Over the Moon Dairy in Putaruru (you can’t miss it) for some delicious local cheeses for your journey. Make your way to Waitomo Caves where you can experience the amazing array of limestone caves – from peaceful glowworm viewing to adrenalin-fuelled adventures. Take the time to visit the stunning Marakopa Falls and the Mangapohue natural bridge, before heading off to Rotorua. En-route you should visit the pristine blue springs on the Te Waihou Walkway. Rotorua, the heart of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, and Maori cultural experiences, has a wide range of accommodation options. You will be within easy reach of the beautiful lakes and hotspots in this place.
Drive time: 3 hours
DAY 3: Rotorua to Taupō
For a change of pace this morning, check out OGO , or River Jet and Velocity Valley for a taste of the adventure activities for which Rotorua is renown. And no visit is complete without a restorative soak in the famous Polynesian Spa, on the shores of tranquil Lake Rotorua. In the afternoon make your way south to Taupō, visiting Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Wairakei Resort along the way. Lake Taupō is New Zealand’s largest lake and dominates the views from this picturesque region. Taupō is well-served with accommodation options, including Huka Lodge, one of New Zealand’s finest luxury properties.
Drive time: 1 hour
DAY 4: Taupō
You have the day in Taupō today, time to visit the spectacular Huka Falls where the Waikato River powers through a narrow gorge. For an thrilling up-close view of the river, check out Taupō Bungy or the Cliffhanger Extreme Swing. There are many adventure activities in Taupō, and also some cruisier pastimes such as a scenic flight with Taupō’s Floatplane and a voyage with Chris Jolly Outdoors to view the famous Mine Bay Maori Carvings. You could easily spend several more days exploring this area.
DAY 5: Taupō to Ruapehu
Head south this morning to Ruapehu , home to the Tongariro National Park, sitting majestically at the southern end of Lake Taupō. This dual World Heritage Park is home to superb winter ski-fields, althuogh it is worth riding the new Sky Waka gondola at any time of the year for the stunning views atop Mount Ruapehu. The region also offers some great hiking and walking adventures. Possibly best-known is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often described as New Zealand’s greatest day hike. It is a challenging journey across a remarkable volcanic landscape, best experienced with a knowledgeable local guide from Adrift Tongariro. Further south the Whanganui River winds its way through the remote and untouched Whanganui National Park, best experienced by boat to the intriguing Bridge to Nowhere, by kayak or canoe with Taumarunui Canoe Hire and Jet Tours or on one of the cycle ways. There are plenty of places to stay including the grande dame, Chateau Tongariro Hotel.
Drive time: 1 hour
DAY 6: Ruapehu to Napier
Completing the Volcanic Loop, perhaps with a refreshment break in Waioru at the National Army Museum, then head east to Hawke’s Bay along the Thermal Explorer Highway, across the high volcanic plateau. Arriving in the stunning Art Deco capital of Napier in time for tour of the city, or maybe a visit to the National Aquarium and a stroll along Marine Parade. Stay in Napier and savour the outstanding culinary options from the region, known as the food-bowl of New Zealand thanks to its fertile soils and wonderful fresh produce. Pair that with the wine of the region and you have a winning combination.
Drive time: 4 hours 20 minutes
DAY 7: Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay enjoys a mild and sunny climate, perfect for getting out to explore the wineries of the region, maybe on a guided or self-guided cycle tour with Takaro Trails Cycle Tours . As the topography is quite flat it is easy and enjoyable to get around by bike on the numerous cycle trails. Or for a more active day, check out the options with Mohaka Rafting, from leisurely float trips, to full-blown whitewater escapades. On thing is for sure, the famous Church Road Winery is a great place to spend part of the day.
DAY 8: Napier to Gisborne
Head north today from Napier around the bay to Tairāwhiti Gisborne, the first place in the world to see the sun rise. Your journey through this region will be one of discovery, as the first Maori explorers and also Captain Cook arrived on these shores. Also very popular for surfing, so this is a good place to hire a board and maybe take some lessons. The Rere Falls and Rockslide are also worth a detour (45 minutes) to cool off and have some simple fun (and a picnic perhaps). You will go past the Eastwoodhill Arboretum, 135 hectares of New Zealand and northern hemisphere temperate forest tree species, an important global repository of biodiversity conservation. Great walks too. Gisborne is the principal town in the region, also known for wine-growing, Chardonnay being the dominant variety here.
Drive time: 3 hours
DAY 9: Gisborne to Whakatane
Enjoy the morning in Gisborne, although if you would like to view the beginning of the new day with a guided tour to the summit of sacred Maunga (Mount) Hikurangi , you will need to be up early and perhaps opted to have spent the night in one of the towns up the coast. The Pacific Coast Highway continues around the rugged and remote East Cape to the stunning Ohope Beach and Whakatane. There are some great places like Tolaga Bay, Te Araroa and Hick’s Bay where you can overnight to break the journey for a slower pace. Overnight in Whakatane to be on hand for a visit to one of New Zealand’s must-dos.
Drive time: 5 hours 30 minutes.
DAY 10: Whakatane to Tauranga
This morning, board your full service comfort catamaran for the voyage with White Island Tours to one of the world’s most accessible marine volcanoes, Whakaari, also known as White Island for its ever-present white plume. You will be guided on a walk around the active crater and learn of the geology and history that makes this place so remarkable. It is a short drive from Whakatane to Tauranga, the sophisticated capital of the Bay of Plenty, famous for its long white sand beach and surf culture. Waimarino Glow Worm Tours is a great way to spend the evening, pick up from most accommodation.
Drive time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
DAY 11. Tauranga to Auckland
Enjoy the morning in Tauranga with a walk up Mauao overlooking the stunning Mount Maunganui Beach, or out on the water with Bay Explorer before making your way to Auckland. Mclaren Falls Park is a tranquil spot to reflect on the epic road trip you have just completed, and all the experiences that will stay with you as you depart our part of New Zealand.
Drive time: 2 hours 30 minutes.