When you’re in the city of Auckland, head south and follow the road. Once you set your heading, it doesn’t matter the direction you choose or what you want to do that day, because in a very short while you’ll soon discover something magical.
Geothermal wonders and national parks to the south, black-sand beaches to the west, with ancient forests, glistening golden sands and world class surfing to the east. In between lie picturesque towns and villages alongside lakes and rivers and all surrounded by volcanoes and rainforests. When touring, beauty isn’t exceptional in Central North Island New Zealand—it’s an always changing, everyday reality.
One of the best ways to discover Central North Island New Zealand is by car. A road trip allows you the freedom to stop when you want, move at your own pace, and follow your fancy around every curve in the road. In the Central North Island, nowhere is far with the landscape constantly transforming. A road trip is a great way to enjoy a taste of all the variety and experiences that lie within a few hours’ drive of each other. You can learn more about Goway’s vacation packages to New Zealand on our website.
The Touring Routes of Central North Island New Zealand
In Central North Island New Zealand, there are three touring routes that reward travelers with a variety of natural landmarks and cultural stops along the way. The Pacific Coast Highway takes in breathtaking coastlines and stunning wine regions including The Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti Gisborne, and Hawke’s Bay. The Thermal Explorer Highway showcases the geothermal pools and geysers of Rotorua and Taupō, as well as underground wonders and the rolling green countryside of Waikato finishing in Hawke’s Bay. The shorter Volcanic Loop includes the alpine landscape and two national parks found in the Ruapehu region. No matter which route you follow, or whether you detour to follow your own interests, you’ll be rewarded with a great vacation, and some incredible natural highlights. Join them all up for the ultimate North Island experience!
Explore the Central North Island of New Zealand Self Drive
MODERATE | SELF-DRIVE: Discover the rolling hillsides, sandy beaches, and gorgeous harbors of the Central North Island on this road trip from Auckland. Follow the Pacific Coast Highway to stop at Rotorua, Napier, and Gisborne, and enjoy cultural and natural highlights in Tongariro National Park, Hawke’s Bay, and the Bay of Plenty.More Details
What is there to see on a road trip in Central North Island New Zealand?
The Coromandel Peninsula
Get ready for majestic coastal views in the Coromandel peninsula. This coastal region about 90 minutes to the southeast of Auckland is famous for its golden sweeping beaches and forests. Hike 2 mi/3.2 km to the famous rock archway of Cathedral Cove, lounge on the sandy beaches of the east, dig your own salty spa at Hot Water Beach, or cycle through the forests of Pohutukawa trees to the west. The Coromandel offers a relaxed and majestic slice of nature in Central North Island.
Bay of Plenty
A little further to the east of the Coromandel lies the Bay of Plenty, a gently curving coastline that is one of the top holiday destinations on New Zealand’s North Island. Base yourself in the city of Tauranga and enjoy day trips to the beach town of Mount Maunganui, where you can soak in hot springs and hike alongside the extinct volcano. Hit up sandy Waihi Beach or kayak through a canyon illuminated by glow worms on the Wairoa River. Don’t forget about Ohope Beach to the east, which is one of the region’s best-kept secrets—although if you follow our advice, it won’t be for long!
It’s very special when the sun hits Tairāwhiti Gisborne, located to the southeast of the Bay of Plenty. Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the morning sun of a new day, which is fitting, considering that “tairawhiti” means “the coast upon which the sun shines across the water.” Hike up Mount Hikurangi for the most spectacular view of the sunrise you’ll see anywhere in the world. History buffs will love to dig into the region’s noteworthy landing areas. This is where the first Māori explorers landed in the 14th century, as well as where Captain James Cook made first landfall in 1769. And don’t forget about the wine! Wineries abound, specializing in white wine such as Chardonnay, Viognier, and Gewurztraminer.
On a culinary journey? If you’re looking for food and wine, you’ve come to the right place. Hawke’s Bay boasts over 70 wineries and countless farmers markets and restaurants that take advantage of its natural bounty and temperate weather. This is the sunniest and most comfortable part of New Zealand, as well as the driest, making for excellent winegrowing conditions. It's the site of the nation’s first winery, Mission Estate, which opened in 1851. But Hawke’s Bay offers more than food and wine. Napier delights with its extensive art deco architecture. Cyclists will find dedicated trails to discover—with a winery or two along the way to quench a thirst or showcase the gastronomic bounty of the region. And birders can head to Cape Kidnappers to see the world’s largest gannet colony.
If you’ve ever wanted to deep-dive into Māori culture, Rotorua is the place, with cultural experiences abounding, which allow you to learn and engage with the fascinating indigenous culture of New Zealand. There are many other must-dos in Rotorua while on your Central North Island road trip. Explore otherworldly geothermal parks. Experience rejuvenating spa and wellness therapies as you soak in hot springs and marvel at mud pools and sacred geysers. Get out to the surrounding forests for some thrilling adventures as you mountain bike their extensive, world-famous tracks, explore the many great walking trails, or visit the stunning lakes in the area. Rotorua is well known for its manaakitanga or Māori generosity and respect, which extends throughout the region.
More of an inland sea than a lake, Lake Taupō is an awe-inspiring volcanic wonderland. Fishers from across the world head here to fly fish and bag trout in the adjoining rivers. But the natural activities go far beyond fishing. Spending time on the lake is a must do. Be sure to visit the Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings. Huka Falls, the most famous waterfall in the nation, lies to the north of the lake and thunderously feeds the Waikato River, while the surrounding landscape is home to New Zealand’s most notable volcanoes, including Mount Ngauruhoe, which stood in for Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.
If you’re looking for the great outdoors, you’ve found it in Ruapehu. No matter the season, you’ll find something to keep you occupied in the open air. In the winter, you can hit up some of New Zealand’s best ski fields. In the summer and shoulder seasons, you can hike, cycle, and even jet boat along the Whanganui River. Tongariro and Whanganui are two of New Zealand’s most exceptional national parks, so no matter which one you choose, you’ll find a place that showcases the pleasures of New Zealand’s famous outdoor lifestyle with trails galore. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a popular full-day alpine hike option. Passionate guides will take you over moon-like volcanic surfaces and alongside mineral-rich pools.
Hamilton and Waikato
What do black-sand beaches, boutiques, and Bagginses have in common? You’ll find all these in Hamilton and Waikato to the immediate south of Auckland. On the west coast, black sand beaches and world class surf breaks bewitch the eye. To the east, Matamata is the gateway to Middle-earth and the Hobbiton Movie Set, where you’ll find Frodo’s Bag End just like it was in the movies. There are glow worms that light up an underground world in the Waitomo Caves. You’ll find award-winning gardens and laneways and boutiques in Hamilton that are the envy of other similarly sized cities.The coursing waters of the Waikato River offers a stunning backdrop for day hiking, cycling or city café culture.
All within a day’s journey from Auckland, Central North Island offers convenience, comfort, unexpected flavors, and a whole lot of everchanging beauty. When you’re ready to discover your own slice of natural beauty on a tailor-made vacation to New Zealand, get in touch with a Goway Destination Specialist or your trusted travel advisor.
30 May 2023, 4:50 p.m.