Auckland to Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Hobbiton, return – 2-3 days
From mountains to lakes to beaches, this short North Island road trip offers you some of New Zealand’s finest scenery and access some incredible outdoor activities.
Heading south, Auckland city disappears behind you as you travel through farmland and then hit bush in the hour and forty minutes to Karangahake Gorge. Once you reach the start of the gorge, keep your camera at the ready: the drive through the tree-clad gorge is breathtaking.
A great short stop is the Karangahake Tunnel Walk. Park in the main Karangahake Carpark to access. Top tip: take a flashlight!
If you arrive at lunch time The Bistro at the Falls is a great pit. They do gourmet takeaway too. From there you wind your way through the hills down to Waihi and along the coast to Tauranga. This takes about an hour, though you might want to stretch your legs on a beautiful beach on your way.
Tauranga and Mount Maunganui
The approach to Tauranga has an urban feel, it’s the largest city in the Bay of Plenty. A mini-metropolitan hub set on beautiful coastline. Home of good coffee and gateway to adventures on the seas; fishing, sailing, kayaking or diving. But there’s plenty for art lovers too. With a peek into the burgeoning arts scene with a visit to the Tauranga Art Gallery.
Whether you’re looking for luxury, eco, budget or backpacker prices, there are some wonderful places to stay on the first night of your road trip. Settle in for the evening with a glass of NZ wine and watch the sun go down over the water.
The next morning, welcome the day in style by climbing ‘The Mount’ to see the sunrise at nearby Mount Maunganui. It’s a lovely little beach town known for its surf and friendly vibe, perfect for a café breakfast before getting on the road.
Kaimai Ranges – McLaren Falls Park side trip
If you are staying the night in the Bay of Plenty, Waimarino Kayak Tours run an evening glow worm tour in McLaren Falls Park that we hear is unforgettable. It’s fifteen minutes from Tauranga on SH29.
You’re heading inland today. An hour’s drive from Tauranga, Rotorua is tucked in beside a range of lakes, boasts some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, and specialises in adventure activities and tours. The region is famous for its geothermal activity, one of the first things you’ll notice is its signature sulphur smell.
Here you can see bubbling mud and the eerie beauty of an otherworldly geothermal landscape. Bathe in hot pools, be pampered with a spa treatment, steep yourself in Te Ao Maori (Maori culture), ride some of New Zealand’s best mountain bike tracks, and select from a range of eateries and accommodation.
Hell's Gate hot pools are worth a visit just for the name. A surprising number of Rotorua’s hotels and motels even have thermal pools on the premises. Perfect to unwind after a big day.
If you’re living it up in a campervan, or have a tent in the back of the car, twenty-five minutes south of Rotorua is the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, Springs and Spa - a great place to park up and kick back.
If adrenaline is your thing, Velocity Valley is the place to be.
Matamata and Hobbiton
The road from Rotorua brings you to a gentle green landscape dotted with sheep and cows, famous for being the home of Middle Earth: Matamata.
Book ahead to ensure your table at the Osteria Group’s Italian eatery, with delicious options for every dietary requirement.
Replete from a lunch to remember, next stop is a short drive through bucolic farmland to Hobbiton. No visit to the area is complete without a tour of the Shire. It's hugely popular for good reason. Be sure to book ahead.
Your two-hour tour ends with a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. A fitting way to end an epic little road trip.
And back to Auckland
From hobbit holes to the City of Sails is an easy two-hour drive making this one of the best road trips from Auckland. Especially in one of our zippy little compacts!