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Great Driving Trips of New Zealand: North Island

Driving Itineraries of the Best Sights of the North Island, New Zealand


View of Tongariro National Park from Lake Taupo

View of Tongariro National Park from Lake Taupo

Image Courtesy of Malene Holm

Of New Zealand's total of nearly 90,000 kilometers of roads, more than half of these are in the North Island. With a huge variety of scenery and places to visit (many of them quite remote) travel by car or campervan is the best way to make the most of your trip. Here are some of the best driving routes in the North Island. Most can be driven in a day, although with so many things to see en route it is usually worthwhile to extend the journey over two or more days.

Total driving distance and the approximate time to complete the journey are also noted here. Click the link in blue to see a full description of the route, with things to see and do along the way.

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Day Trips Around Auckland

Although Auckland is New Zealand's largest city, the open countryside is not much more than thirty minutes away in any direction from the city center. To the west are dramatic and wild beaches; to the north are beautiful beaches and seaside towns such as Orewa. The south and east also have beaches and rural areas. And of course there are the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf such as Waiheke and Rangitoto.

Auckland to the Bay of Islands (150 miles/240 kilometers; driving time approx. 4 hours)

The Bay of Islands is the jewel in the crown of Northland, the northernmost province of New Zealand. With 144 islands in the Bay and many gorgeous beaches (along with a great climate all year round) it is a worthy excursion, and one often overlooked by tourists. This drive passes through many interesting towns, such as Warkworth and Kaiwaka, as well as Northland's main city, Whangarei. There are also many possible side trips to beautiful beaches and places of historical as well as natural interest.

The Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga (150 miles/240 kilometers: driving time approx. 4 hours)

The Far North of New Zealand is one of the most remote and beautiful parts of New Zealand. The narrow stretch of land to Cape Reinga is flanked by beaches on either side; on the west is Ninety Mile Beach, long (although not ninety miles!), straight, and able to be driven upon by vehicles. The lighthouse at Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the country is a special place to Maori and the views from there are unforgettable.

Cape Reinga to Dargaville (216 miles/ 347 kilometers; driving time 5 ½ hours)

Driving south again from Cape Reinga, stick to the western side of the North Island past Kaitaia and you pass through some memorable and historic country. The area is filled with reminders of the magnificent kauri forests that once covered most of the northern half of the North Island. In this area are the largest remaining stands of virgin forest, notably the Waipoua Forest, which contains New Zealand's largest remaining kauri tree, named Tane Mahuta.

Dargaville to Auckland (112 miles/180 kilometers; driving time 2 ½ hours)

This is a beautiful part of the New Zealand, seldom seen by tourists. It passes through rich farmland and many reminders of the kauri logging industry that once thrived here. There are magnificent views of the Kaipara Harbor, the largest harbor in the country.

Auckland to Taupo via Rotorua (315 kilometers/195 miles ; driving time 4 hours)

Head south from Auckland and take in the geothermal areas of Rotorua and Taupo. Rotorua is also renowned for its rich displays of the Maori culture. Taupo is the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere and has a wide variety of outdoor activities to enjoy.

Coromandel Peninsula, Thames to Whangamata (170 kilometers/105 miles: driving time 2 ½ hours)

Beautiful beaches and forests - that is what this remote part of the North Island is all about. The roads are often narrow and winding due to the volcanic terrain, but it's understandably a favorite holiday spot for Aucklanders.

Whangamata (Coromandel Peninsula) to Tauranga (90 kilometers/56 miles; driving time 1 hour 20 minutes)

Continuing down the east coast, pass through the old gold mining town of Waihi and into the orchard-dominated land of the sunny Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a thriving city and Mt Maunganui beach is one of the finest in New Zealand.

Auckland to Tauranga (203 kilometers/126 miles; driving time 2 hours 30 minutes)

An alternative route to Tauranga from Auckland, this passes through the pretty towns of Paeroa, Waihi and Katikati. A feature is the magnificent Karangahake Gorge which divides the Coromandel and Kaimai mountain ranges.

Tauranga to Whakatane (95 kilometers/59 miles; driving time 1 ½ hours)

This sweep of the Bay of Plenty takes you through the small towns of Papamoa and Matata. The coastline to Whakatane is virtually one continuous sandy beach and offers many opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing.

East Cape (Coastal Route) from Whakatane to Gisborne (334 kilometers/207 miles; driving time 4 hours)

This is undoubtedly one of the most scenic stretches of road in the country. This area is steeped in Maori history, with a string of small and traditional Maori settlements all along the coast. This is a remote and hauntingly beautiful part of New Zealand.

East Cape (Inland Route) from Gisborne to Opotiki (144 kilometers/ 90 miles; driving time 1 hour, 45 minutes)

Return from Gisborne through the dramatic Waioeka Gorge, which follows the river between steep and dramatic forested hills. There are many places along the way to stop for a picnic or walk. Opotiki is a small yet interesting town.

Taupo to Wellington (Inland Route) via Tongariro National Park (230 miles/370 kilometers; driving time 4 hours, 3o minutes)

The dramatic and remote central North Island is dominated by the Tongariro National Park and the mountains of Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe and Tongariro. Further south there are the small farming communities of Taihape (dubbed the Gumboot Capital of the World) and Bulls and the small city of Palmerston North.

Taupo to Wellington via Napier (285 miles/460 kilometers; driving time 6 hours)

Although not the most direct route between the two cities, Napier makes a great diversion. Napier is not only New Zealand's art deco capital, but it is also at the center of the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand's second largest wine region.

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