There’s no doubt that a self drive itinerary is the best way to explore New Zealand, and with some of the country’s most amazing sights within just a few hours of Auckland, there’s no trip too short to fit in a road trip or two. Whether you’re here for business or pleasure, our team at Auckland Airport will have you on the road in a rental car and heading for one of our five favourite road trip destinations in no time - pick one or combine them all into one epic New Zealand north island road trip itinerary.
Want to take a trip to Middle Earth, but can’t seem to find a copy of Bilbo’s map? It’s easier to get there than you think - just plug Hobbiton into Google Maps, and you’ll be given directions straight to The Shire, a two hour drive from our car rental branch in Auckland Airport. While you might not find any hobbits or wizards at the movie set in Matamata, you will find the very same round doorways so recognisable from the films, along with a tavern where you can whet your whistle and enjoy a Gandalf-worthy lunch. Even the trip there will have you feeling as though you’re in the realm of trolls and elves, with rolling green hills and lush farmland providing scenic views almost the entire route. Just make sure you book tickets in advance - there’s more than a few Lord of the Rings fans out there who flock to this iconic spot.
Block your nose and wind your windows up tight, because before you see the amazing geothermal attractions the region of Rotorua has to offer, you’re going to smell them, and it’s a sulfuric scent that takes some getting used to. Adjusting to the odour is well worth the trouble though, and by the time you’ve spent an hour or two soaking in a private thermal spa overlooking the lake at Polynesian Spa, you won’t even notice the smell. But relaxation isn’t the only reason to make the three hour Auckland to Rotorua drive - you’ll also find jaw-dropping natural sights awaiting you. From the boardwalks of Waimangu Volcanic Valley you’ll see steaming creeks and startling blue pools, while in the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a grand geyser known as Lady Knox erupts just once a day.
The shortest road trip on our list, the drive to Piha is easily doable on a day trip from Auckland at only an hour’s drive from the city. A summer escape popular with Kiwi residents, the coastal town is home to dramatic black sand beaches, rugged cliffs and a few good spots for “fush ‘n’ chups” (fish and chips for the uninitiated). Along the way and while you’re there you can explore the surrounding Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, with plenty of hikes that will take you past creek beds, waterfalls and swimming holes if the waves of Piha Beach are a little bit too daunting.
Take at least a few days to explore the stunning Coromandel Peninsula, especially since the long winding road up the eastern coast is one best driven at a snail’s pace. Once you’ve reached the rip, adventures to seek out include the walk to the impressive cliffs of Cathedral Cove, longs soaks in the thermal pools of Hot Water Beach (though be warned, you’ll have to dig your own) and a hike to the top of the Pinnacles for views of the entire peninsula. Take the perilous 309 Road from one side to the other if you dare, a scenic route well worth the tight turns and single lane stretches for the waterfall stops and forest scenes along the way.
The drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands is as much about the journey as it is about the destinations, with endless charming towns, scenic views and pristine beaches to stop and take in along the way, meaning the three and a half hour drive might end up taking an entire day. Once you arrive in Paihia, join a daily cruise, charter a yacht or just hire a kayak to explore the 144 odd islands and their secluded swimming spot in and around the bay, and hopefully meet an abundance of maritime wildlife. Back on land, experience Maori culture at Waitangi treaty grounds and walk amongst the giant Kauri Trees of the Waipoua Forest.