Auckland to Auckland: First to see the sun
Auckland to Auckland
Est Driving Time11-19 days
There will be time spent relaxing in hot pools, hours of staring out at vistas as you try to commit each scene to memory, days spent relaxing on beaches and walking on New Zealand’s best hiking trails, and adrenalin-pumping adventures scattered in between. This trip is suited for any time of the year thanks to the North Island’s mild temperatures and sunny days. It’s one where you will regularly wake up to be some of the first in the world to see the sun of the new day, and one where you will regularly go to sleep with a smile on your face as you think of what you discovered that same day.
Take a look at our New Zealand driving safety tips, book an Auckland motorhome rental and you'll be on your way... #LetsGoMotorhome
Leg 1 Auckland to Coromandel
Est Driving Time3 hrs, 30 mins
If you gathered up all of New Zealand, boiled it down, and called it a city, you’d have Auckland. It’s got the best of everything the country has to offer, all in one location. There are endless cafes, bars and restaurants to visit, hundreds of kilometres of walking tracks, dozens of wineries, countless thrill-seeking adventures to be had, and more sights to see than all the postcards in the country combined. Before leaving the city, take some time to experience some of Auckland’s finest. Try a wine-tasting tour on Waiheke Island, a cruise in the harbour on a sailboat (it is called the City of Sails, after all), or a walking tour of the Waitakere Ranges just 45 minutes from the CBD.
When you do manage to tear yourself away from the city (it might take a few days), head south on State Highway One with your Auckland motorhome rental. You’ll eventually take a left just prior Pokeno, but before you do, make the short detour to stop off at this tiny town to stretch your legs and try one of New Zealand’s best ice creams. The store ‘Pokeno Takeaways’ has been listed as one of the top five ice cream shops in the country - and there’s nothing more Kiwi than a quick stop for one of these cold treats on a road trip.
Firth of Thames
Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a bird watcher, the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, just 30 minutes from Pokeno, is a powerful sight. New Zealand is something of a birder’s paradise, and you’ll see why as you step into this feathery, bustling centre. There are often more than 10,000 shorebirds in the area, including many rare and endemic species that you will only ever find in New Zealand. It’s likely that you’ll spot countless more birds on your East Cape motorhome road trip, so this is a great place to stop and learn about what you can expect.
Are you ready to relax? Just five minutes down the road you’ll find the Miranda Hot Springs in the small town of Miranda on the Firth of Thames, which are thermally heated mineral pools that will have you melting with happiness and warmth. There are three pools, including a children’s pool, as well as an adult-only sauna pool that’s kept at a slightly higher temperature. For those keen on a little privacy, there are also four private spas for hire. The hot springs are open from morning ‘till night, so give yourselves at least a few hours to enjoy this blissful experience.
Thames, located further along the coast, is a historic mining town that dates back to 1867 when gold was found nearby. These days, you can check out the old buildings in town, stroll along the shore, and take the walking track along the Thames Coastal Walkway. To really understand more about this town’s golden history, try out the Goldmine Experience at the northern end of Thames. Take the guided tour of the operational 19th-century Stamper Battery for a chance to try your hand at gold panning, and for a realistic look at what the site was like in its heyday. You can also walk yourself through a self-guided tour for a look at the museum, video presentation and mining relics.
For the rest of the drive to Coromandel Town, along the western coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, aim to travel during daylight hours. Not only does this promise to be a particularly spectacular route, but it’s also a lot easier as the final part of the road is not well-lit at night.
Leg 2 Coromandel to Whakatane
Est Driving Time5 hrs, 30 mins
The Coromandel is the playground of Aucklanders, visitors, and Kiwis from around the country alike. The beaches are practically magnetic with their abundant warmth, silky golden sand and refreshing clear waters lapping on the shore. The name Coromandel refers to the whole northern peninsula, but also to a township that holds its roots in the gold mining boom of the 19th century.
*If you're beginning your trip in Tauranga, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here.
Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach
Arguably the most famous spot on the entire Coromandel Peninsula - and one of the most famous in all of New Zealand - is Cathedral Cove. This ‘cathedral’ is one made of rock and situated on the beach, where you can wander in under its stony heights without your feet ever leaving the water. It’s a place of surreal beauty that you can explore by foot, sea kayak or water taxi. There’s a two-hour return walking track to access Cathedral Cove which starts at the northern end of Hahei, and this is how you’ll also discover the iridescent Gemstone Bay and Mares Leg along the way. You can get a little closer by starting from the parking lot at the end of Grange Road South just outside of Hahei, but it’s still around one to one-and-a-half hours return.
Speaking of Hahei, leave at least a day simply to relax on the beach, paddle and swim in the warm water, and spend time exploring the small township. This area isn’t just perfect for camping - it was literally created simply because so many people travelled to this beach for camping trips. The Hahei Holiday Resort campground is now one of the most popular spots on the Coromandel Peninsula, and is well set up with facilities such as a communal kitchen, showers and toilets, a laundry, a TV lounge, and an outdoor dining area. If you park your Auckland campervan hire here, you can easily walk to any attraction within the township, or even hire bikes for a fun way to get around this quintessential seaside must-see New Zealand destination.
Only slightly further south down the coast is Hot Water Beach, which is an apt name for a truly luxurious spot along New Zealand’s shoreline. Before you go, look up the time when low tide is due on the beach, then make a beeline for the designated hotspot near the rocks anytime within two hours of low tide (ideally, arrive two hours before so you get the maximum amount of time there possible). Once you get there, you will no doubt see couples, friends, and families digging large holes in the sand by the shore. Do the same, and you’ll essentially be building your own natural spa. Hot water bubbles up through the sand, so once you’ve dug a pit, simply climb in and enjoy this completely novel outdoor experience.
Just when you think you’ve already seen the best sights in the Coromandel, you’ve got another think coming further down SH25. The Putangirua Pinnacles are a series of jagged rocks and spikes that look like they barely belong in this world. The walk to the top is one of the most popular in New Zealand, and promises more spectacular sights of the peninsula from their lofty location. You can walk the track over one long day, or stay overnight at the Pinnacles Hut. You do need a reasonable level of fitness to complete this walk, as much of it is a steady uphill hike.
If you enjoyed the Pinnacles walk, don’t go past the Karangahake Gorge without exploring this trail, too. This historic walkway follows an old rail trail between Paeroa and Waihi, and includes a 1-kilometre tunnel and two truss bridges along the way. It’s an easy 4-hour return walk, or you can take mountain bikes to explore by two wheels instead of two feet. Get there by following SH25 before taking a right out of Waihi.
Tauranga is the first major city you’ll pass through after leaving Auckland with your motorhome rental, but it’s so much more than just a place to stock up on supplies. For adventure lovers, book an afternoon in at the Blokart Recreation Park to speed across the sand in your own little wind buggy. Or, take it a little further and get off the sand and into the water for dolphin sightseeing tours, surfing lessons, fishing charters, or a sea kayak tour. Mt Maunganui (meaning ‘caught in the light of day’) is an iconic destination on the Tauranga skyline as an extinct volcanic cone that makes for a scenic hike and and even more scenic view from the top.
After catching your breath in Tauranga, continue along this beautiful coastline on SH2 to the city of Whakatane.
Leg 3 Whakatane to Gisborne
Est Driving Time5 hrs, 30 mins
Whakatane and White Island
Sun worshippers may have trouble leaving Whakatane - the city records the highest temperatures in the country for roughly 55 days of the year. Aside from the covetable weather, Whakatane is known for two major attractions. The first is the chance to visit an active volcano on White Island. You can take a helicopter tour to see this immense steaming cone from the air before landing on the island for a closer look, or you can take a boat ride across. The volcano has only had roughly 35 eruptions since 1826, so it makes for a fascinating and unforgettable experience, rather than a dangerous one. The other big drawcard Whakatane has to offer is that of kiwis - the bird, that is. It’s known as the kiwi capital of the world, and it’s not unheard of the be able to hear the kiwi’s distinct call while you’re in the town (something you won’t find anywhere else in New Zealand). Get up close to the kiwis on a tour where you enter a kiwi enclosure and try to spot these elusive birds with night-vision goggles. The tours are only available from March to June during the kiwi calling season, but it makes for a very special excursion that many Kiwis (the human kind) don’t even get to experience.
The East Cape
The East Cape is crowded with beaches at every turn and not much else. While there are small settlements the entire way around the peninsula, much of this trip is just about the scenery. One spot that you need to know about, however, is the lighthouse at East Cape. It is found at the most eastern point of mainland New Zealand, and therefore is the first place to see the sun rise each day - and as New Zealand is the first country to catch the sunrise, it’s literally the first place in the whole world where you can catch those rays. Take the 700 steps to the top for the view, and make sure you’re there as the sun comes up. The early morning and leg-burning workout will be well worth it for this magical bucket-list experience.
Many of the bays and beaches around the cape are gorgeous, but if there’s one worth mentioning above the rest, it’s Tolaga Bay. A popular holiday spot, the bay is home to New Zealand’s longest wharf, which stretches out 660 metres into the pristine blue waters of the South Pacific Ocean. For an even better view, take the Cooks Cove Walkway for a 2.5-hour medium-level hike across grassland and up hilly areas. Note that this route is usually closed from August until the end of October during lambing season.
Leg 4 Gisborne to Napier
Est Driving Time5 hrs
Gisborne is known throughout New Zealand for being an incredibly relaxed, easy-going town with plenty of great cafes and surf spots. If you’re in need of a relaxing break from your travels, stay a couple of days to help you unwind. Take yourselves to watch a movie in Gisborne’s iconic Dome Cinema, which offers a movie experience involving lying back in beanbags, eating pizzas and enjoying a drink or two. Families will also love the Rere Rockslide, which is a little out of the city but well worth the trip. Located on the Wharekopae River, this ‘rockslide’ is a natural 60-metre stone slide that you wash down along with the river water. This river is also where you’ll find the Rere Falls, a picturesque spot where you can walk behind the cascades of a waterfall. Back in Gisborne, bookworms will love Muirs Bookshop & Cafe where you can pick up a new read for the rest of your trip from this treasure trove of books in an old heritage building on the main street.
Wineries, hot springs and more
Now that you’ve found yourself in the east of New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll note the abundance of wineries in the area. It’s hard not to love a good vino from this area, so there’s no going past them all on your drive to Napier. If you’d prefer to spend a full day enjoying all that these great wineries have to offer, sign up for a wine tour so that no one has to drive. Alternatively, make a stop at Wrights Vineyard & Winery on your way out of Gisborne. The vineyard produces boutique wines and has a cellar door open throughout the day so you can stop in for a taste test and something to eat before getting back on the road.
Rain or shine, hot or cold, the Morere Hotsprings are an idyllic stop on the road trip from Gisborne to Napier. What makes these hot springs special is that they are set amongst 364 hectares of rainforest, so you can take a long (three hours) or short (10 minute) walk through the trees before resting your legs in the hot ancient sea water that bubbles up from the ground. The Morere Springs produce an astonishing 250,000 litres of water every day, and you can enjoy them indoors or out. If you arrive in summer, take a dip in the cold pools to cool off before unwinding in the hot ones.
The drive meanders a little inland on the way to Lake Waikaremoana, where you’ll discover a pristine 54-square-kilometre pool surrounded by some of the lushest green rainforest in the country (which is saying something). A walk around the lake takes 3-4 days and is one of New Zealand’s prestigious Great Walks, but note that this track is not a loop, so you’ll need to organise transport back to your motorhome once you reach the end. The area is home to nearly every native North Island forest bird, a ‘goblin forest’ and the largest area of native forest in the North Island. If you’re not keen for the big hike, take a shorter trip to see the Onepoto Caves on a breezy 2-hour walk from a lookout next to the road about 10 kilometres south of the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The caves are a historic part of the area, having been formed by the same land movement that created Lake Waikaremoana roughly 2,200 years ago. There are a range of sizes and depths to explore, and plenty of creepy (but totally harmless) cave weta insects to find.
Leg 5 Napier to Auckland
Est Driving Time6 hrs
Napier is truly a one-of-a-kind city. After a devastating earthquake in 1931, the town reimagined itself, creating a thriving hub of art deco flair and style. Today, the city’s biggest festival is an annual art deco celebration held every February with Gatsby-style picnics, classic cars, dinner dances and more. For the rest of the year, you can take take a self-guided tour of the historic buildings and shops. If you enjoyed a wine tour in Gisborne, there are plenty more in Napier, including the illustrious Mission Estate Winery and Church Road Winery. The National Aquarium is a great place to stop with the kids in tow, and the Marine Parade stroll is the perfect way to enjoy the sunshine on a warm day.
As you head out of Napier, stick to the coast and make a stop at Cape Kidnappers. Despite its fearsome name, the cape is a mesmerising outcropping of land into the ocean, and comes complete with a luxury golf course and a gannet colony of roughly 6,500 nesting pairs for avid bird watchers.
Taupo is a veritable playground. Set against the backdrop of New Zealand’s largest lake, also named Taupo, the city sparkles with the promise of adventures to be had. Get there by jumping on SH5 and heading north-west. The lake itself was formed from the caldera of the Taupo Volcano, which erupted more than 26,000 years ago with such power that the plume was seen as far away as China and Europe. Now extinct, the lake is a year-round mecca for watersports enthusiasts who flock to its shores for fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, and jetskiing. The trail around the lake is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks, but there are many smaller hikes in the area, too. Not far out of Taupo is New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, the Huka Falls. More than 220,000 litres of water rush over the rocks every second (which is enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools), and the immense power of this sight will leave you awed.
Continue up SH5 to Rotorua for your next stop.
The first things you will notice when you arrive in Rotorua is the powerful smell of sulfur. It won’t take long to get used to this smell, however, as you’ll quickly be distracted by the geothermal wonders behind it all. Rotorua doesn’t have just one natural hot spa, but several, and you can also take a stroll around Te Puia, which lets you get close to the geysers and mud pools from a safe walkway. Experience Maori culture with a visit to the authentic Tamaki Maori Village, or opt for something considerably more faced paced with a trip to OGO Rotorua for a ‘spin’ in a massive zorb ball as you roll down a hill. History buffs will relish the chance to visit the ‘Buried Village’ of Te Wairoa, which is the country’s most visited archeological site. This village existed for just 40 years before a massive eruption from Mt Tarawera in 1886 essentially wiped it off the map, but a visit to the site will give you a glimpse into what it would have been like, along with many surviving relics from that time.
Rotorua is also arguably the adventure capital of the North Island, with just about every adrenaline-pumping activity imaginable. Take the gondola to the top of Mt Ngongotaha for a ride on the massive Skyswing, fly over the trees on the Zoom Zipline, or luge back down in a race against your travel buddies in speedy go-karts again and again. Jetboating on Lake Rotorua will have you admiring the whiteness of your knuckles as you hold on tight, while white-water rafting over the Tutea Falls will make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many of these adventure tours have suitable options for kids, so bring the whole family along for a truly memorable experience.
Ever since Kiwi Peter Jackson filmed the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit movies in New Zealand, the country has become affectionately known as ‘Middle Earth’. There is no place more evocative of this fantastical world than Matamata, which was once just another blink-and-you-miss-it small town, but is now known for just one name - Hobbiton. Head back to Auckland via Matamata for a stop in at the living set where you can explore real hobbit homes in a two-hour guided tour. Drive there by continuing along SH5 before turning right at Tapapa onto SH28. You’ll see the Green Dragon Inn, the gardens, the double-arched bridge, the Mill, and other attractions from the films. At the end, you’ll even enjoy a complimentary beverage at the same pub where the Frodo, Sam and friends go for drinks.
Before you return your motorhome rental to Auckland, be sure to check out two of the other hidden gems of the Matamata region. Often overlooked due to the massive attraction of Hobbiton, the Wairere Falls and Rapurapu Track are little-known destinations that will be perfect final stops for your trip. The Wairere Falls is a two-stage waterfall that drops a full 153 metres in spectacular fashion in the Kaimai Ranges just out of Matamata. It’s a scenic 45-minute walk to reach the lookout, then another 45 minutes if you wish to hike to the very top of the falls for a view of the Waikato plains. The Rapurapu Track is 5 kilometres long one way (taking a little over an hour) through a cool tawa-podocarp forest with spots for swimming and sightseeing along the way.
By the end of this trip, you’ll be left feeling equal parts relaxed, happy, and exhausted. You’ll have seen so much during your tour, taken as many photos as you have steps, and worn out your cheeks from smiling, that you’ll be hard pressed not to turn around and got back the same way you came. With each new attraction comes a new experience that you won’t be able to wait to tell your friends and family about back home. From Auckland, to the Coromandel, around the East Cape and down to Napier before heading back north again, this motorhome tour offers many iconic New Zealand destinations as well as many hidden gems along the way.
- Swimming gear
- Sturdy walking shoes
- Waterproof camera
Join the conversation
- Our rating:
- User rating: