Auckland Loop via Bay of Islands, Rotorua & Tongariro
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Auckland’s stunning harbour is the centerpiece of New Zealand’s largest and most international city. This is the ‘City of Sails,’ boasting more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. Forty-eight dormant volcanoes are located around the city, including Mt Eden, from which you can enjoy superb views of the city. Alternatively, get a superb city from from the top of Sky Tower, in the city center. If you have time, jump on the ferry to Rangitoto Island, where you can climb to the summit of this extinct volcano in the middle of Auckland harbour. Great restaurants abound, including in swanky Viaduct Harbour, on the edge of the city centre.
Auckland to Bay of Islands
Head north from Auckland, up the Hibiscus Coast towards New Zealand’s winterless north. A scenic mix of lush, rolling farmland and stunning golden coastline characterises the route up to Paihia and the Bay of Islands. In Paihia, find yourself presented with an abundance of options, from exploring the nearby historic townships of Russell and Kerikeri, to taking a cruise on the bay to visit Hole in the Rock. Just out of town are the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, historic scene of the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Those with more time can make the visit to the northern tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga, with possible stops at 90-mile beach and the ancient Kauri forests at Puketi en route.
Bay of Islands
Enjoy a relaxed day in the immediate vicinity of Paihia; exploring a kaleidescope of ocean vistas and historic attractions – or alternatively take on a wider exploration of the delights of Northland. Those happy to clock up some distance can travel to Cape Reinga, at the northwesternmost tip of the North Island. Those wishing to explore 90-mile beach can take daily tours departing Paihia. Alternatively, head west from Paihia to Waipoua Forest – the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri Forests in New Zealand.
Bay of Islands to Auckland
Make your way back south to Auckland. Take a walk to view the impressive Whangarei falls, and consider detours of the main route – such as heading from Waipu out to Mangawai Heads, taking in glorious coastal scenery and tidy seaside villages. If you have little more time, consider a detour to Waipoua Forest on the west coast to see the largest Kauri Tree (Tane Mahuta) in New Zealand (about 5 hour drive). Estimated to be between 1250 and 2500 years old, it is the largest kauri known to stand today.
Auckland to Hot Water Beach
Make a morning departure from Auckland, making your way directly to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, and the extraordinary Hot Water Beach. At Hot Water Beach, a natural hot spring directly under the sand allows you to dig your own private spa. This is one of the most amazing free, natural experiences in New Zealand. Also on this beautiful stretch of coastline is the impressive Cathedral Cave, which can be visited by sea kayak or by taking an enjoyable walk.
Hot Water Beach to Rotorua
Drive your way down the scenic east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, before turning inland to visit the impressive Karangahake Gorge, an original site of New Zealand’s gold rush. Take a walk to explore the old mine shafts, before returning to the route south. Lord of the Rings fans will want to stop by Hobbiton before continuing to Rotorua. Those that skip Hobbiton may have time to go rafting or to take a mud spa, before attending a fantastic Maori cultural performance and dinner in the evening.
Rotorua to Taupo
The amount of time on the road today is relatively brief, leaving more time to explore some of the many attractions in the area. Between Rotorua and Taupo are the popular Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu thermal areas. At Wai-O-Tapu, the Lady Knox geyser is induced to erupt daily at 10:15am. Closer to Taupo is the unmissable Huka Falls, where in spectacular fashion over 200,000 litres of water squeezes through a narrow passage every second – the falls are New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. On the shores of the deep blue of Lake Taupo, the township of Taupo can offer either relaxation or adrenalin. Taupo offers skydiving, jetboating, kayaking, bungy and many other adventurous activities.
Taupo to Tongariro National Park
Drive your way along the striking blue waters of Lake Taupo, arriving after about an hour at the amazing volcanoes of the World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park. Drive your way up to Whakapapa and enjoy some stunning walking in this alpine wilderness. During the summer months, walking the Tongariro Crossing is highly recommended, as it is regarded as one of the world’s best day walks. Note: this is a full day walk and preparation is essential.
Tongariro National Park to Waitomo
From the wonderful alpine wilderness of Tongariro, drive down from those scenic heights toward the rolling green farmland of the ‘King Country’. From the volcanic region of Tongariro, you’ll now be entering an ancient limestone region best known for its vast cave systems, displaying stunning arrays of stalactites and stalagmites, and occasionally illuminated by glow worms. Experience this for yourself at Waitomo Caves, where numerous tours allow you to explore this underground wonderland. If you have some time, make the visit to the beautiful Marokopa Falls.
Waitomo to Auckland
From Waitomo Caves, make your way through the Waikato, back north toward Auckland. You may like to make a detour to the laid-back coastal town of Raglan, where you can experience some of New Zealand’s best surfing and check out the stunning Bridal Veil Falls. Those looking for a colourful experience will want to visit Hamilton Gardens – one of New Zealand’s finest. Of course, its always an option to head straight back to Auckland and check out some more of the city attractions, such as Mount Eden or Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World.