Auckland to Wellington: Hobbit Houses and Hot Springs
Auckland to Wellington
Est Driving Time6-12 days
We've tailored our itinerary to suit the freedom that comes with a New Zealand campervan hire, so pick up some wheels in Auckland, brush up on your NZ road rules knowledge, and begin your adventure! #LetsGoMotorhome
Leg 1 Auckland to Matamata
Est Driving Time2 hrs, 30 mins
As New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland has a population of around 1.4 million people and enjoys a gorgeous harbourside location. Here you’ll find everything a big city has to offer - first-class shops, eateries and entertainment - as well as more than a few hidden gems. Much of Auckland’s appeal lies in its proximity to so many beautiful beaches, nature reserves, hiking tracks and other stunning natural attractions. Like the rest of New Zealand, Auckland is a veritable treasure trove of photo-worthy scenery. With so much to see and do, you’ll be grateful you opted for a campervan hire - this will give you the freedom to explore this city at your own pace.
A great place to start is in downtown Auckland. Positioned on the waterfront of the Hauraki Gulf, the CBD is a unique combination of coastal and corporate life. Don’t be surprised to see businesspeople in suits walking down the street alongside people in colourful flip-flops (known to New Zealanders as ‘jandals’). There are a few attractions of particular note to check out while you’re exploring the CBD. Located just behind the main train station, the Britomart precinct is a stylish hub of gourmet restaurants, cocktail bars and high-end shops. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a delicious meal after a long day of sightseeing. For those who want to make the most of being near the water, the Viaduct might be more suited to your tastes. This hub of bars and restaurants overlooks a busy marina, home to several impressive yachts. A little further along from the Viaduct you’ll also find the newly developed Wynyard Quarter. Given a facelift during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, this area is also situated on the waterfront and has a good variety of eateries.
Downtown Auckland is great for wining and dining, but if you’re in the mood for some culture and history, you’re best to head to the suburbs. The Auckland Museum is on the fringe of the CBD and promises a fun day out for families of all ages. Situated in the Auckland Domain, it’s also an ideal base for a picnic or a walk in nature on a fine day. Another great family outing is Auckland Zoo, which is located a short drive from the city centre in a suburb called Western Springs. The zoo has an excellent range of animals, including elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras and cheetahs. Other nice suburbs a short drive from the museum and the zoo include Mount Eden, a trendy village shopping strip with great cafes and gift stores, and Ponsonby, another area renowned for delicious restaurants and boutique shops.
A little further afield is Auckland’s North Shore. Located across the Harbour Bridge, this long stretch of suburbs is home to several stunning white sandy beaches. You could drive across the bridge and spend a day beach hopping, or if you feel like a day out of the campervan, there’s a great ferry service to some of the suburbs. From the downtown Auckland Ferry Terminal you can take a boat across the water to a quaint village called Devonport, just a 10 to 15 minute journey. Devonport is a charming historical town famous for its cute shops and cafes. If you make the ferry trip across, definitely walk up one of the two dormant volcanoes in the area - Mount Victoria or North Head. Both of these boast incredible views over the CBD.
If the idea of a ferry ride sounds especially appealing, you could take the 35-minute journey to Waiheke Island. Home to several famous wineries and beautiful bays, this island is consistently rated one of the top Auckland experiences by visitors to the city. A truly picturesque location, after a few hours here you’ll feel completely relaxed - there’s definitely such a thing as ‘island time’!
Auckland also caters to the adventurous. There are several action-packed activities located in and around the city. Take an adrenalin-pumping jet boat ride around the harbour, bungy jump from the Harbour Bridge or walk around the top of the Sky Tower. If you’d like to test your fears, Auckland will definitely not disappoint.
With so many enticing attractions to choose from, you’ll definitely never find yourself wondering what to do in Auckland. It’s a good idea to spend a few days here so you can take your time and soak up all it has to offer. When you’re ready to move on, jump in your campervan hire and start heading south - Waikato awaits!
The road to Matamata
To get to Matamata from Auckland, head south on State Highway 1 and State Highway 2 until you reach a town called Mangatarata. Here, you have two options. You can either travel on State Highway 27 all the way to Matamata (the fastest route), or you can take a slight detour by continuing on State Highway 2 until you reach a town called Paeroa. Home to the famous Kiwi soft drink ‘L&P’ (which stands for Lemon & Paeroa), this quaint town is a good place to stretch your legs and get a photo with the giant L&P bottle - an iconic New Zealand landmark. From Paeroa, you drive along State Highway 26 before linking back up with State Highway 27 and continuing on to Matamata.
Leg 2 Matamata to Rotorua
Est Driving Time1 hr, 10 mins
*If you're beginning your trip in Hamilton, find your nearest motorhome rental depot here.
Once simply known as a charming rural town, since the highly successful Lord of the Rings franchise Matamata has become synonymous with hobbits. A nearby farm was used as the set of the Shire in Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, and then later in The Hobbit movies. Once filming was over, the movie set was preserved and converted into a tourist attraction, now known as Hobbiton. Since then, hundreds of thousands of film buffs and Tolkien fans have travelled from far and wide to see the Hobbit holes up close. Busses regularly depart Matamata for the official tour, which is a short drive away. On the tour, you’ll see Bilbo Baggins’ home (Bag End), the Party Tree and you’ll even get to enjoy a cold drink at the Green Dragon.
Hobbits aside, Matamata is also perfectly situated for keen hikers. A track leading to the Wairere Falls - the highest waterfall in the North Island - begins just 15 minutes by car from Matamata. The well-maintained track is 5 km return and considered ‘advanced’, so it’s best suited to those who are reasonably fit and experienced. The view at the top of the walk is well worth the effort - be sure to pack your camera on the hike.
Another attraction located near Matamata is the Kaimai Cheese Company Cafe. New Zealand is famous for its dairy produce - especially the Waikato region - and this cafe definitely lives up to expectations. There are plenty of delectable cheeses for sale, as well as an extensive lunch menu for those who feel like something a little more substantial. If nothing tempts you here, then not to worry - there’s another excellent lunch option on the road to Rotorua.
Take State Highway 27 south and you’ll soon be in Tirau, a small community with a famous point of difference. This town is home to New Zealand’s biggest sheep and sheepdog, which make for an excellent photo opportunity. Both made from corrugated iron, along with many other sculptures, signs and creations in the area, they house an iSite visitor’s centre and a wool gallery. Tirau also has plenty of cafes including a quintessentially kiwi “Bugger” cafe. Also in the area are the beautiful Blue Spring, accessed via a 1.5 hour hike from the nearby Te Waihou Walkway trailhead on State Highway 28, and the historic Okoroire Hotel 7 kilometres out of town which offers an excellent restaurant, hot pools and a golf course.
Once you’ve seen what you want to see in and around Tirau, hit State Highway 5 towards Rotorua.
Leg 3 Rotorua to Taupo
Est Driving Time1 hr, 25 mins
As soon as you arrive in Rotorua, one thing will definitely capture your attention: the distinct smell of sulphur. Rotorua is a hub of geothermal activity, with bubbling mud pools, erupting geysers and natural hot springs found throughout the city. You’ll soon become accustomed to the smell of sulphur, but the geothermal landscape may continue to take you by surprise (in a good way) - seeing a geyser erupt is awesome in the truest sense of the word.
The best place to see these natural phenomena up close is at Hell’s Gate, a designated geothermal park. As one of the top Rotorua attractions, Hell’s Gate offers a huge variety of things to do. You can take a Geothermal Reserve Walk past steaming pools and geysers, or relax in a rejuvenating Mud Bath Spa. If you arrive around lunch or dinner time, you might even be able to tuck into a delicious steamed hangi. For most Hell Gate’s activities, it’s advised to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Another excellent geothermal attraction is Whakarewarewa, otherwise known as ‘The Living Maori Village’. Not only is this set amongst beautiful pools and geysers, it’s also a cultural centre dedicated to celebrating local Maori heritage. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Maori customs through ancient myths and legends. You can also take a guided tour of a traditional Maori village and partake in a traditional geothermal hangi.
Geysers and mud baths are just the beginning of what this city has to offer. After you’ve enjoyed your time at Hell’s Gate and Whakarewarewa, head to Skyline Rotorua, a fun attraction for the whole family. Here, you have a choice from a dizzying array of adventure activities. You can soar among the treetops on the ‘Zoom Zipline’, race down the hillside on the Rotorua luge or enjoy an adrenalin-pumping workout on nearby mountain bike tracks. For the less adventure-inclined, you can opt for more relaxed activities, such as stargazing by night or enjoying a delicious meal at the Market Kitchen. However, the highlight of the entire Skyline Rotorua experience could very well be the Gondola ride to the top of the luge - this offers breathtaking views over the city.
If you’re travelling with kids in tow, you’ll definitely have to set aside a few hours to take them to the Rotorua Agrodome. Located a 10-minute drive from the city centre, the Agrodome offers a unique New Zealand farm experience. Here, you can watch a farm show, take a farm tour or both. During the show, you’ll learn the names of 19 different sheep breeds, watch a live sheep shearing demonstration and - if you’re lucky - you might even get the opportunity to feed a baby lamb. Clever, witty and educational, the Agrodome shows make great entertainment for all ages. On the farm tour, you’ll get to see a wider variety of animals - more sheep, yes, but also deer, cattle, llamas, pigs and more. You’ll also visit a Kiwifruit orchard and get to sample some delicious fresh Kiwifruit juice.
Once you’ve had your fill of outdoor activities, Rotorua offers plenty of low-key things to do. Of particular note is the Polynesian Spa. Situated on the lakefront in the centre of town, this facility is a peaceful oasis of relaxing spa treatments, secluded private hot pools and more. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long day out, plus the views are absolutely spectacular.
The above activities are just the tip of what Rotorua has to offer. Other popular things to do include mountain biking, fishing, golf, white water rafting and hiking. Whether you have a week here or a month here, you’re unlikely to run out of things to keep you entertained!
When you’re ready to move on, make your way to State Highway 5. You can either drive straight through to Taupo, or if you have time below are some great places to stop along the way.
Located just to the south of Rotorua, Lake Tarawera is a beautiful spot to check out before you leave the region. This serene lake is the largest of many in the area - it’s hard to believe it was the site of a large volcanic eruption in 1886. The eruption claimed the lives of more than 150 people and buried an entire Maori village. Today, the lakes are peaceful and pristine and there are several hiking tracks nearby. It’s an ideal place to stretch your legs and learn about the area’s fascinating history. When you’ve had your fix, simply rejoin State Highway 5 and continue on your way towards Taupo.
Another great place to stop on your journey south is at Huka Falls. Located mere moments from Taupo, this incredible natural attraction is guaranteed to impress. The waterfalls occur in an area where the Waikato River dramatically reduces in width - the river is usually 100 metres wide, but at Huka Falls it’s only 15 metres wide. The result? An immense cascade of water which is truly a sight to behold. About 220,000 litres of water flows down the 11-metre drop every second! There are several walking and mountain biking tracks nearby which offer the chance to see the falls from many different angles. Alternatively, you could take a Huka Falls River Cruise to see this phenomenon from the water.
Once you’ve taken many photos and enjoyed this top New Zealand attraction, Taupo is less than a ten minute drive away.
Leg 4 Taupo to Palmerston North
Est Driving Time3 hrs, 25 mins
This beautiful lakeside town shares many similarities with Rotorua - apart from the smell of sulphur, of course! Both are situated on gorgeous lakes and are busy tourism hubs while still retaining that charming small-town feel. Whether you have one day or one week here, you’ll have no trouble keeping yourself entertained.
Why not begin with something adventurous? Taupo has earned a reputation for being one of the North Island’s best spots for adventure tourism. From white water rafting to skydiving, there are plenty of opportunities to do something daring. And if you’re keen to try bungy jumping, Taupo is probably the best place to do so. Not only do these adventurous activities get your heart racing and your blood pumping, they’re also a great chance for you to admire some of the region’s beautiful scenery. There’s nothing quite like seeing Lake Taupo from 15,000 feet just before you jump out of an aircraft!
For the less adventurous, don’t worry, a taste for action isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying Taupo. The town is also a fantastic place to relax and unwind. Enjoy a soak in the thermal pools at Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs or book yourself in for a beauty treatment at one of many salons in the area. In summer months, you’ll find many people relaxing on the lakefront; this stunning spot is perfect for picnics. You could even splash out on a Great Lake Taupo Scenic Cruise, which will take you past quaint bays and boasts gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape.
If you’re travelling with your little ones, there’s a good variety of family friendly activities on offer. The aforementioned DeBretts Hot Springs has waterslides and a kids pool; children of all ages will enjoy a few hours here. Other great family activities include bike riding and river rafting (there are low grade options that are gentle and suitable for young kids).
When you’re ready to move on, there’s a lovely scenic drive ahead. Rejoin State Highway 1 and follow it as it winds along the shores of Lake Taupo until you reach a charming town called Turangi.
Located next to the Tongariro River, Turangi is well-known for its fantastic trout fishing. Less than an hour from the Whakapapa Ski Area at Mt Ruapehu, it’s also a popular base for keen skiers and snowboarders during winter. What’s more, its proximity to Tongariro National Park makes it the starting point for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The crossing is a full day’s hike that traverses gorgeous alpine scenery, including ‘Mount Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings franchise (real name: Mount Ngauruhoe). It’s just under 20 kilometres long and takes between seven and nine hours to complete, and is best suited to those with some hiking experience or a good base fitness level. You can opt to go on a guided tour - a good idea if you’re unfamiliar with alpine environments. If you’re content with skipping the crossing altogether and admiring the scenery from afar, then continue on State Highway 1 from Turangi and you’ll soon reach one of the most scenic roads in the country.
Desert Road and beyond
Although situated in the Rangipo Desert, don’t expect to see much sand along this straight road. Instead, you’ll see flat plains covered in brown tussock grasses with magnificent (often snow-capped) mountains in the background. This stretch of road is the best place to get a photo of Mount Doom; just be careful where you stop and be sure not to stray far from your vehicle. The New Zealand Army often uses the Rangipo Desert for drills and training, so travellers are advised to stick to the road.
Speaking of the army, once you’ve passed through the Desert Road you’ll come across a small town called Waiouru. If you’re interested in the country’s military history, there’s a military museum here that might make for a good stop. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, however, it’s probably best to drive for another 20 minutes or so until you reach Taihape. Although also a very small town, it has a slightly larger collection of food places. It’s also the ‘Gumboot Capital of the World’ - which explains the giant gumboot sculpture you’ll encounter upon arrival!
From Taihape it’s a reasonably straight run to Palmerston North; keep continuing down State Highway 1 before changing on to State Highway 54.
Leg 5 Palmerston North to Wellington
Est Driving Time2 hrs, 25 mins
*If you're beginning your trip in this area, find motorhome rental from Wellington or Picton.
With an excellent university and a large student population, Palmerston North is a fun city about two and half hours drive from downtown Wellington. It’s known for its thriving arts and culture scene; you could easily spend a few days browsing its museums and art galleries. A must-see attraction is the New Zealand Rugby Museum, which plays homage to the sport that’s so well-loved by so many Kiwis. There’s also no shortage of excellent cafes to choose from, with the city gaining a good reputation for its independent eateries.
As with most towns in New Zealand, Palmerston North enjoys an abundance of beautiful nature reserves on its back doorstep. An excellent selection of hiking trails and mountain bike tracks are all within a short driving distance. Perhaps you could fit in a bush walk or bike ride on your way further south, before you rejoin State Highway 1 and head towards the Kapiti Coast.
After days of driving past rolling green fields and snowcapped mountains, your first glimpse of the Kapiti Coast will make a nice change of scenery. State Highway 1 follows the coast for much of the journey into Wellington, so there are plenty of places to stop for a walk along the beach and perhaps a dip in the ocean if you’re feeling so inclined. Keep an eye out for the magnificent Kapiti Island as you drive. Located about 5km off the coast, this beautiful island is one of New Zealand’s best bird sanctuaries. If you have the time, you can take an organised tour to the island to see native species such as the Little Spotted Kiwi or the Weka. This is a must-do activity for wildlife enthusiasts; you can even stay overnight to increase your chances to seeing the nocturnal kiwi.
As soon as you arrive in Wellington you’ll know you’re somewhere special. A humming metropolis surrounded by dramatic hillscapes and rugged coastlines, there’s a reason Wellington has been named ‘the coolest little capital in the world’. From trendy cafes to gorgeous galleries, the city is alive with art and culture. A good way to orient yourself with what Wellington has to offer is by taking a casual stroll around the CBD. Most attractions are within walking distance of each other, including must-see spots such as Cuba Street, Te Papa Tongarewa and the Wellington Cable Car. Although the region is renowned for its steep hills, the CBD itself is flat and compact, making it incredibly easy to get around by foot.
Let’s start with Cuba Street. An eclectic stretch of vintage shops and independent eateries, Cuba Street is popular with locals and visitors alike for great shopping and even better food. By day, pick up a handcrafted souvenir before stopping for some of the best coffee in town. By night, put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the famous Cuba Street nightlife; whether you’re in the mood for fancy cocktails in an upmarket setting or a live cover band in a relaxed pub, you’ll find a venue that’s to your liking. If you’d prefer a more low-key evening, there are plenty of delicious restaurants to choose from in the area.
One of the best ways to clear your head after a fun night out is with a stroll in the open air. Soak up the restorative power of nature with a walk through Wellington’s beautiful Botanical Gardens. Getting here is easy; you can take a cable car from Lambton Quay. Not only is this a fun way to get up a rather steep hill, it also offers incredible views over Wellington Harbour. For those travelling with kids, take note: the cable car is usually a huge hit with children of all ages. You can either walk downhill back to the city through the Botanical Gardens, or you can purchase a return fare and come back via the cable car. It runs approximately every ten minutes between 7:00am and 10:00pm on weekdays, 8:30am to 10:00pm on Saturdays and 8:30am to 9:00pm on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Another absolute must-do for any visitors to Wellington is a trip to Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand. Bright, colourful and interactive, this museum showcases New Zealand’s diversity in a fun and unique way. Learn all about this country’s fascinating history, natural landscapes, native species and other topics of interest. There are always excellent temporary exhibitions on display, so be sure to check the special exhibition schedule in advance or ask one of the friendly customer service team for more information. As the museum is quite large, you’ll be happy to know there’s a great cafe located onsite for you to enjoy more of that delicious Wellington coffee and some fresh snacks. Other popular museums in the city include the Great War Exhibition designed by Peter Jackson in the Dominion Museum building.
A visit to Wellington would be incomplete without taking time to swing by the Weta Workshop - especially for Lord of the Rings fans (Weta is the name behind the special effects for the films, and later The Hobbit). Located a short drive from the CBD in a suburb called Miramar, the Weta Workshop is 65,000 square feet of filmmaking technology. Here, you can take a tour throughout the premises and learn all about special effects techniques. Some tour options include transfers from the CBD if you’d prefer not to drive. There’s also an evening tour which includes a delicious dinner at nearby restaurant, CoCo.
The above ideas are just some of the amazing activities you can enjoy during your time in Wellington. With so much on offer, you could easily spend a week or more exploring this vibrant city. We’d suggest you leave at least 2-3 days at the minimum, but a little longer if you can.
From the cosmopolitan charm of Auckland to Wellington’s trendy art and cafe scene, this New Zealand road trip takes you from one great city to another, stopping at many iconic regional townships along the way. By following this itinerary, you will truly enjoy the best of both worlds; vibrant city life and relaxed rural settings. Which will you prefer - the upbeat optimism of the city or the peacefulness and serenity of the open road? There’s only one way to find out; it’s time to take this journey and see the wonders of New Zealand’s North Island for yourself.
- Bathing suit
- Walking shoes
- Rain jacket
- Evening wear (for the Auckland and Wellington nightlife)
- Snow gear during winter
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