Top New Zealand road trip
We’ve curated the ultimate New Zealand road trip, encompassing wine-growing regions, cultural and historical sites and places of unforgettable natural beauty.
Auckland to Northland and the Bay of Islands
Follow State Highway One north from Auckland to Kerikeri, catching the car ferry to Russell at Opua then returning to State Highway One to the far north and Cape Reinga. Continue on State Highway One to loop back south to Auckland through the Waipoua Forest.
Departing from Auckland allows you to take a three-day round-trip to the warm, sunny north before heading south.
As one of the first landing places of voyagers’ canoes from East Polynesia, and the site of early European settlements, Northland is often referred to as “the birthplace of New Zealand.”
Spend a day driving north to Russell, the first capital of New Zealand, a picturesque little town accessible by car ferry from Opua.
The Duke of Marlborough hotel has been a Russell institution since 1827. The town is rich in both history and fresh seafood.
A day trip to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, takes in otherworldly landscape. Its important place in Maori history and spirituality make it a fascinating and, some say magical, place to visit.
Make sure to pass through the Waipoua Forest on your return to Auckland and visit Tane Mahuta, the largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand.
Auckland to Taupo
Follow State Highway One south down the heart of the North Island, bypassing Hamilton by opting for Highway 1B to Cambridge. From Tirau take State Highway 5 south through Rotorua and the Thermal Explorer to Taupo.
Snaking through the heart of the upper-North Island is a great way to observe the rural backbone of the country.
Departing Auckland takes you through seemingly endless suburban sprawl until you reach the Bombay Hills, where farmland begins.
You might stop for lunch in quirky Tirau, a town famed for its arts, crafts and buildings made of corrugated iron.
Continue on, bypassing Hamilton but pausing in Cambridge (coffee, wineries and crafts) until you reach Rotorua. Here, you begin the Thermal Explorer Highway, which showcases the active volcanic and thermal area.
You’ll travel from the mudpools of Rotorua right through to captivating steam vents and boiling rivers that appear in the native forest to Lake Taupo’s numerous thermal pools.
Spend a night at one of Taupo’s many resorts, and make sure to spend an afternoon enjoying one of the natural spas. Debrett’s is a favorite.
Taupo is home to natural attractions and high-octane sporting activities –- whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, fly-fishing and boating on the 660-square-kilometer lake.
Visit Huka Falls and enjoy some of the country’s best food at the prestigious Huka Falls Lodge.
Taupo to Wellington
Return to State Highway 5 travelling East to visit the Hawkes Bay. Leaving the Hawkes Bay take State Highway 2 south through the Wairarapa to Wellington.
The stretch of road between Taupo and Wellington takes you through the best food and wine New Zealand has to offer.
Take the long road and turn off into the art deco town of Napier, enjoying Hawkes Bay’s reputation for great restaurants and vineyards. Favorites include casual dining at Pipi Café and sampling any number of the wines produced in this, the second-largest wine region in the country.
In Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, spend a late night or two taking in lively cocktail bars and great dining.
Wellington is home to Te Papa, the national museum, an essential stop. The City Gallery is also popular — it showcases local artists.
Wellingtonians are notorious for their coffee obsession, so sample a single-origin, locally roasted cup from one of the many, many cafés that line the streets. Favorites include Supreme and the cozy Fidel’s.
The central business district is compact enough to walk end-to-end, meaning you can leave your car at your hotel.