The Perfect Auckland to Wellington Road Trip Itinerary
Most New Zealand visitors flock to the South Island for their holiday road trips, but if you’re leaving the North Island off your itinerary then you’re missing out on some impressive scenery, quirky cities and unique experiences that you won’t find by heading straight to Christchurch or Queenstown. Think Lord of The Rings Middle Earth backdrops and Hobbiton village, Volcanic scenery, natural hot pools, incredible Maori culture and history and New Zealand's largest lake. It is not to be missed!
So, whether you add it to an epic South Island adventure or enjoy the North Island all on its own, we’ve planned the perfect road trip from Auckland to Wellington. Road trips don't have to be long, laborious full days of driving the state highway and eating fast food from service stations, you can see beautiful landscapes, soak your feet in hot springs, hike mountains, explore caves and appreciate the culture. Sound like your kind of adventure? All that’s left to do is book a one-way car rental from our branch in Auckland.
New Zealand's North Island: Road Trip from Auckland to Wellington Drive Itinerary
These are our top highlights from Auckland to Wellington that you absolutely must stop and see rather than driving straight through. The North Island in New Zealand is a stunning place to drive around so plan your itinerary wisely to give your legs a stretch at some natural wonders:
Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula - 189 km, 2 hours 45 minutes.
Coromandel Peninsula to Hamilton - 181 km, 2 hours 45 minutes.
Hamilton to Rotorua - 108 km, 1 hour 30 minutes.
Rotorua to Lake Taupo - 80 km, 1 hour.
Lake Taupo to Tongariro National Park - 92 km, 1 hour 30 minutes.
Tongariro National Park to Hawkes Bay - 164 km, 2 hours 30 minutes.
Hawkes Bay to Wellington - 326 km, 4 hours 15 minutes.
Arrive in Auckland
Don’t think of Auckland as just your car rental pick up spot, because New Zealand's largest city is a destination in its own right, with a trendy food and shopping scene worth adding a few extra nights to your trip for. In between eating your fill at the downtown Auckland likes of highly acclaimed Japanese restaurant Masu, hip oyster bar Depo and weird and wonderful ice creamery Giapo, you can shop ‘til you drop at the World Class designer mall, Britomart.
Take in the views from The Sky Tower of the Auckland landscapes, from black sandy beaches to expansive harbours and pristine waters. You could go skydiving or whale watching, take a day trip to the pristine Waiheke Island and end your night stargazing on Great Barrier Island and learning about the Maori culture of reading the night sky.
If you are feeling adventurous before your Auckland to Wellington drive then you should attempt the 16km Coast to Coast Walkway, seeing the beautiful beaches, native bush and magnificent scenery along the way. Plus, you would have total bragging rights for having walked from one side of New Zealand to the other!
Stop 1: Coromandel Peninsula
Travelling East for the first stop rather than going South straight from Auckland to Wellington is completely worth it. Hopefully you’ve also planned your New Zealand road trip in the summer months, because the aqua seas and white sandy beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula will have you wanting to dip more than just a few toes in. If not, Hot Water Beach might still appeal. It is exactly what it says it is, a hot water beach with warm spring water bubbling up from just below the sand which makes for a cosy spa bath, even if you do have to dig it out yourself.
Cathedral Cove is known as the most picturesque place in the region, offering pristine waters under a rock dome. Explore the beach, sea caves or go on a diving adventure to discover awesome marine life like moray eels and crayfish.
If fishing is your vibe then you're in luck! The Peninsula offers many bays to explore with wind protection so you can focus on catching the abundant kingfish or the elusive Tuna or Marlin. Beyond the hot water beach and coves, the region offers plenty of hiking, waterfall chasing and breathtaking views from the peninsula summit.
The highway 25 road along the Coromandel Peninsula twists and loops around the summit, offering some of the most amazing views from your car window and earning it a place on our list of New Zealand's most scenic roads.
Stop 2: Hamilton-Waikato
Lord of the Rings fans won’t want to leave this stop off the self drive itinerary - a visit to the Hamilton-Waikato region is a visit to The Shire (Hobbiton village). It is the original LOTR and The Hobbit movie scene, a remaining intact set completely open to visitors, and you don’t even have to be a hobbit or wizard to stop by. We strongly recommend booking overnight on your Auckland to Wellington itinerary so you can spend a full day here if you are, like us, the biggest fans.
If you’ve still got some time up your sleeve then just over an hour’s drive away are the Waitomo Caves. An equally magical underground cave experience where you’ll float underneath a ceiling of twinkling glow worms in total silence. Or, check out the impressive Waikato river, New Zealand's longest river which starts in the volcanic mountains, flows through Lake Taupo and out to the Tasman sea.
Base yourself in Hamilton town centre, New Zealand’s fourth biggest city, for the best accommodation, craft shops, beautiful botanic gardens and dining options in the region.
Stop 3: Rotorua
Block your nose and wind your windows up tight, because before you see the spectacular geothermal valley Rotorua has to offer, you’re going to smell it, 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 the Polynesian Spa, you won’t even notice the smell. No road trip is complete without a spa we say, and what better than natural hot springs?
But, relaxation isn’t the only reason to make it a stop on your New Zealand road trip itinerary - 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.
Be amazed by the world famous Pohutu geyser, the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere right here in New Zealand! Not only that, Rotorua is the place to truly experience and appreciate Maori culture. With over a third of their population Maori, the highest of any region in New Zealand, you can book Maori culture experiences, dinners and performances to really learn about our traditional ancestors.
Rotorua is a world renowned mountain biking region with many trails from beginner to advanced. So, if you want to stretch your legs out of the relaxing hot springs then hire a bike and check out what all the hype is about. With so much to do when you visit Rotorua, it would be worth booking a few days here on your Auckland to Wellington trip.
Stop 4: Lake Taupo
The south island isn’t the only place to find adventurous activities - New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupo, is where to head if white water rafting, jet boat riding and sky diving sound like your idea of a holiday to-do list. We couldn't think of a better Auckland to Wellington road trip stop than the pristine blue waters of Lake Taupo, could you?
Just make sure you squeeze in a more leisurely kayaking or stand up paddle boarding trip to check out the impressive Maori carvings hanging over the crystal clear waters of the lake, they are truly worth the trip! Don't worry about the exercise as you can soak your sore muscles in one of the thermal hot springs in the region after.
Stop 5: Tongariro National Park
Situated on top of three volcanoes, Tongariro National Park was New Zealand's first national park and is home to the most impressive and dramatic scenery. Even if you’re not a dedicated hiker, the 19km track across the National Park is well worth the effort, taking in stunning views of snow capped mountains and emerald lakes. Taking 6-8 hours to complete, the hike is easily doable in a day, and there’s even shuttle services available that will drop you at the starting line so you can jump straight into your rental car at the end.
Not quite up to the challenge of a 19km hike? There’s plenty of shorter walking trails in the area as well, including a quick 20 minute stroll to the cascading Tawhai Falls, or a walk to the edge of Mead’s Wall, one of the filming sites for the Lord of the Rings with epic views of the valley below.
Even though the last volcanic eruption occurred in 1996, two of the three are still the most active composite volcanoes in the world so it is advisable to check the volcanic activity report ahead of visiting, even if it's just for a short walk.
Still, this stunning National Park is number 1 on our list of Best National Parks in New Zealand so you know it's awesome!
Stop 6: Hawkes Bay
Leave your rental car at your B&B to explore the Hawkes Bay region, because with over 70 world-class boutique vineyards to savour, you will be glad you don't have to drive. Connected by over 200km of flat cycling trails, you’re better off on a bike for an adventurous day of vino tasting.
In between tipples, you can explore the Art Deco architecture in Napier, visit the gannets at Cape Kidnappers farm and ride (or drive) to the top of Te Mata peak for panoramic views of the lush green pastures below. Not only that, Cape Kidnappers has a legendary golf course designed over the rugged landscape to give you a challenging course with spectacular views at every hole. Stay in a Cape Kidnappers luxury lodge to truly make the most of your Auckland to Wellington road trip.
If you are lucky enough to time your trip right, you could attend the outstanding Food and Wine Classic (F.A.W.C) festival taking place twice a year. Sample pop up restaurants, street food, local produce and award winning wine with the hub of the community. But, don't worry if you can't make it to the festival because all year round, Cape Kidnappers restaurant serves up farm to table exquisite produce, innovative dishes and delicious wine all year round.
Final Stop: New Zealand's Capital City of Wellington
Affectionately known as the ‘windy city’ by locals who regularly get blown about in the seaside hub, Wellington was also named the ‘coolest little capital’ by Lonely Planet - so as long as you hold on to your hat, you’ll find plenty to do here before dropping off you rental car and heading home.
Said to have more bars and restaurants per capita than even NYC, New Zealand's Capital City certainly isn’t short on places to eat and drink, so you can fuel up on spectacular food. Also known as the craft beer capital city of New Zealand, you can smash a craft beer trail starting on Cuba Street and collect a free t-shirt at the end for bragging rights.
If you are a Lord of The Rings buff then you are in luck, head to Weta Workshop in Weta Cave to see movie memorabilia, collectibles and replicas. Join a behind-the-scenes tour and see how props, costumes and models were made for the trilogy.
Make sure you hit all of New Zealand's Capital cultural attractions like the Te Papa interactive National museum, the Wellington cable car, luxury Lambton Quay shopping centre, a night tour of Karori Wildlife sanctuary and completing the walking tracks to Mount Victoria summit.
Completing your North Island Auckland to Wellington drive in the art deco style city of Wellington will be a highlight for sure. You can't visit New Zealand and not fall in love with this vibrant and stunning capital city.
Auckland to Wellington Epic Summary
If a self drive holiday with volcanic valleys, hot springs, Maori culture, pristine lakes and water sport adventures sounds right up your street, then our Auckland to Wellington itinerary is for you! A hire car should not only be about getting you from A to Z, it should be about making memories and connections in between.
Don't feel like your New Zealand adventure needs to end here either. Wellington is the gateway to the South Island so you could keep your rental car, jump on the Cook Strait ferry and keep driving South to discover more New Zealand magic. With car hire locations in Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown, you could not only nail an Auckland to Wellington trip, but tackle an epic South Island tour too.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car have over 9,500 locations across the world and love connecting our customers to culture, adventure and experiences through a simple hire car. That's why we have also planned an Ultimate South Island Road Trip to inspire you. Go on, you know you want to!