Auckland Loop via Hot Water Beach, Tongariro & Waitomo
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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 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.