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, 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. Whether you add it on to your south island adventure or enjoy the north island all on its own, we’ve planned out the perfect road trip to take from Auckland to Wellington - all that’s left to do is book a one way car rental from our branch in Auckland.
Don’t think of Auckland as just your car rental pick up spot, because the New Zealand capital is a destination in its own right, with a trendy food scene worth adding a few extra nights to your trip for. In between eating your fill at the 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 Britomart, take in the views from The Sky Tower and attempt the Coast to Coast Walkway - bragging rights for having walked from one side of New Zealand to the other for anyone who completes it.
Hopefully you’ve 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 - warm spring water bubbling up from just below the sand makes for a cosy spa bath, even if you do have to dig it out yourself. Beyond the beaches, the peninsula offers plenty of hiking, waterfall chasing and breathtaking views.
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, with the original Hobbiton movie set open to visitors, and you don’t even have to be a hobbit or wizard to stop by. If you’ve still got some time up your sleeve, 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. Base yourself in Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth biggest city, for the best accomodation and dining options in the region.
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 it a stop on your NZ 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.
The south island isn’t the only place to find adventurous activities - 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. Just make sure you squeeze in a more leisurely kayaking or stand up paddle boarding trip to check out the impressive Maori rock carvings hanging over the crystal clear waters of the lake - you can soak your sore muscles in one of the thermal hot springs later.
Even if you’re not a dedicated hiker, the 19km track across Tongariro National Park is well worth the effort, taking in stunning views of snow capped mountains, emerald lakes and some of New Zealand’s most impressive scenery. 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 walks in the area is 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.
Leave your rental car at your B&B to explore this region, because with 70+ world-class wineries joined by over 200km of flat cycling trails, you’re better off on a bike - and not just because it means you can sample more vino. In between tipples, you can explore the Art Deco architecture in Napier, visit the gannets at Cape Kidnappers and ride (or drive) to the top of Te Mata peak for panoramic views of the plains below.
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, the city certainly isn’t short on places to eat and drink, so you can fuel up on spectacular food for a day of vintage and boutique shopping, then wind down at one of the many craft breweries around town.