The Top 7 Road Trips from Auckland
Looking for a getaway? Thank goodness you live in New Zealand! Amazing sights, quaint beach towns, and epic hiking are never more than a few hours away in our beautiful country.
Auckland is an ideal base since it lies right in the heart of it all. From here, three or four-hour road trips from Auckland can take you to some of the best sights. People come from all the world over to see this landscape, but you only have to hop in your car. Pretty neat, right?
Trips Along the South Loop
From Auckland, you can pick whether you want to drive south or north. Heading south, the island fans out with destinations on each coast.
Hamilton was titled the “Most Beautiful Large City” in New Zealand in 2020, and it’s easy to see why. It sits on the Waikato River’s shores, making it an attractive and popular spot for New Zealanders to explore. Many national events are held here, like the National Boat Show and National Car Show. Several music festivals roll through town annually, including the Soundscape Music Festival and the Opus Chamber Orchestra.
One of the biggest draws is Hamilton Gardens. This 54-acre park is located right on the shore of the river. There are 21 gardens in the park, each representing different civilizations’ arts, beliefs, and historical styles. There’s an Indian Char Bagh Garden, an Italian Renaissance Garden, and a Chinese Scholar’s Garden.
Hamilton is a great place to explore in general. The city has almost 100 kilometers of paved bike paths, 21 kilometers of off-road, and 28 kilometers of riverside journeys. It’s a lovely city to enjoy the local food and take a stroll along the river.
If you’re looking for the quintessential surf town, look no further than Raglan. About 48 kilometers west of Hamilton, it sits at the foot of Mount Karioi on Whaingaroa Harbour. Besides excellent surf, you’ll also find Ngarunui Beach, with its unique volcanic black sand.
The area around Raglan is some of the most stunning in the nation. Don’t miss the hike to Bridal Veil Falls, which starts from a car park about 20 minutes south of town. Farther west, you’ll want to check out Wild Coast Ruapuke, which features horseback riding on the beach. The Te Toto Gorge Lookout is another great spot that overlooks this beautiful coastline. For those looking for a bit of a challenge, the hike up the Mount Karioi Summit Track is one of the tougher ones you’ll find.
Back in town, the Raglan Wharf area is the place to find the perfect fish and chips, art galleries, and coffee shops.
Three hours and 230 kilometers south of Auckland is Lake Rotorua and the city by the same name. They lie in the middle of the island, inland from the famous Bay of Plenty beaches. The lake is formed in a volcanic caldera, and the area is known for having geothermal activity. It’s a popular spa destination.
There are geysers and mud pools. The Art Deco-styled Blue Baths have been open since the 1930s. Also, don’t miss the Rotorua Museum of Art and History and the botanical gardens. Rotorua is often called the North Island’s adventure capital–there are also over 100 kilometers of mountain biking trails in the surrounding forests. If you’d like to get a little wet, the Kaituna River has excellent whitewater rafting. Skyline Rotorua operates a gondola ride up the mountain is panoramic views. You’ll find a restaurant, mountain bike, hiking trails, and a zipline park at the summit.
On the way to Rotorua, you’ll pass the turn to Matamata and Hobbiton. This is where the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit were filled. You can spend the day living like a hobbit in the Shire. There are guided tours, a cafe, and a gift shop.
4. Mount Maunganui
Located on the east coast, Mount Maunganui is known as New Zealand’s summer playground. The town is right on the main beach and sits at the foot of the mountain by the same name, locally called “The Mount.” It’s a gorgeous area with lots of hiking, surfing, and casual walks in town.
5. Coromandel Peninsula
On the way north from Mount Maunganui, you’ll pass the Coromandel Peninsula, which is well worth the stop. It’s here that you’ll find Cathedral Cove, one of the prettiest hikes you can take on the North Island. The cute beach town of Pauanui is worth a stop, too.
The Coromandel Forest Park dominates the peninsula. There are more great walks and hikes in this park than you can count. The favorites are the Pinnacles Walk, also known as the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail. Start your trek at the Kauaeranga Visitor Center. Even if you don’t feel like hiking, the drive is scenic and fun.
Trips Along the North Loop
The Northland has some of the best scenery, and road trips from Auckland around the Twin Coast Discovery Highway can be made in a loop or an out-and-back.
Less than an hour north of Auckland on State Highway 1, you’ll find Wenderholm Regional Park. It’s a peaceful beach park with lots of kayaking and SUP possibilities. It is generally a pleasant place to stop for a picnic with campgrounds, barbecues, and several walking tracks.
Continue on the highway northbound to get to Mangawhai. This pretty coastal town has lots to do, from surfing to hiking to shopping. Tour Te Whai Bay Wines, or take a boat out for a day of fishing. The area is a foodies delight, with cheeses, local honeys, olive oils, wines, chocolates, and coffee all grown in the area. Don’t miss the local arts and produce markets and the magical, quiet walks.
For the best views of the area, head up the Mangawhai Cliff Walk, where you’ll see panoramic views from the clifftops. The 235 steps up to the top may seem excessive, but the views are totally worth the trip.
Often called the capital of the Northland, Whangarei has coastal walks galore and any seaside activity you can imagine. Head to the Town Basin for riverside strolling, museums, arts and craft stores, and cafes. Here you can get a lay of the land before setting out to the countryside.
Inside a former quarry, you can tour what is now the Whangarei Quarry Gardens. They’ve got a forest hike and waterfall, with lots of native and exotic plants. Whangarei is also a great place to go if you’d like to check out some of the diving options around the islands and bays. Mount Parihaka, overlooking the city, is the place to go for panoramic views of this pretty seaside town. Finally, don’t miss Whangarei Falls, a beautiful spot that is surprisingly easy to get to.
Heading back to Auckland, you can choose whether you want to head straight back or make a loop by crossing over to State Highway 12 on the west coast. There, you can stop by the town of Dargaville and see the beautiful Kai Iwi Lakes. It’s the perfect summertime stop with swimming, fishing, or kayaking. Or, if you’ve got even more time to spare, head all the way north and check out the Bay of Islands or Cape Reinga.
Auckland’s central location makes it an excellent base for land adventures. Whether you want to head north or south, find the perfect place to stay Bachcare.