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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Waikato & Rotorua

What are the ingredients for a perfect getaway? We think it’s a combination of adventure, thrills, pampering, and those quirky attractions that you can’t find anywhere else. Guess which NZ destinations tick all the ‘perfect getaway’ boxes? Rotorua and Waikato! Road trip with us and we’ll show you why.

What are the ingredients for a perfect getaway? We think it’s a combination of adventure, thrills, pampering, and those quirky attractions that you can’t find anywhere else. Guess which NZ destinations tick all the ‘perfect getaway’ boxes? Rotorua and Waikato! Road trip with us and we’ll show you why.

6-Day, 596 km: Go Waikato & Rotorua

Kick-off your Waikato and Rotorua road trip from Auckland to Hamilton, located on the banks of the mighty Waikato River. First up, just outside Hamilton, get in holiday mode with high tea at New Zealand’s only tea plantation, Zealong Estate. Skip brekkie so you’ve plenty of room to gorge on their sumptuous high tea.

Enjoy a high tea at New Zealand's only tea plantation, Zealong Estate
Enjoy a high tea at New Zealand’s only tea plantation, Zealong Estate

From there, take a short drive to Hamilton, known for it’s award-winning gardens and walks. Head straight to the city’s star attraction: the 54-hectare Hamilton Gardens. Each enclosed garden tells a different story, offering insight into different civilisations from around the world.

Each garden within Hamilton Gardens tells a different story, offering insight into a different civilisations.
Each garden within Hamilton Gardens tells a different story, offering insight into different civilisations

Next, take a leisurely riverside walk or cycle to soak up the city’s lush vibes. Conclude your day at Hamilton’s lively central precinct, where fab riverside restaurants, bars, and nightclubs allow you to sit, sup, and sample the flavours of Waikato.

Day two, depart Hamilton City to visit the majestic tree-lined rural town of Cambridge. Ride the Te Awa River trail or opt for a less strenuous start with some boutique shopping! Just up the road, you’ll find Waikato’s most famous attraction: Hobbiton Movie Set. Join a guided tour of the Shire, snap pics at the Hobbit holes, and visit the famed Green Dragon Inn.

The Green Dragon Inn ©Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tours
The Green Dragon Inn ©Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tours

A million selfies later and a short drive later, start your Rotorua explorations at the geothermal attractions at Te Puia. The bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers, and native bush demonstrate why Rotorua’s natural wonders make it an #NZMustDo destination.

Te Puia, New Zealand's geothermal wonderland ©Te Puia
Te Puia, New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland ©Te Puia

Day three is adventure day, something Rotorua does exceptionally well. Did you know that the Zorb is a Rotorua original invention? Two brothers decided that throwing yourself down a hill in a giant inflatable ball was a great idea – and it is! Add more thrills by jet boating 85 km/ph across Lake Rotorua, followed by a swoop across Velocity Valley adventure park in a human swing. Conclude the day with a ride up the Skyline Rotorua. Once there, enjoy expansive Rotorua views at the award-winning Stratofare Restaurant.

Day four is a self-care day as Rotorua’s geothermal activities support pampering. Start with a soak (and maybe a massage) at the world-famous springs at the Polynesian Spa. Alternatively, book a tub in the forest at the Secret Spot.

Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua ©Graeme Murray
Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua ©Graeme Murray

Nature is natural self-care, so head to Whakarewarewa Forest to hike or bike among the towering Redwoods.

End the day on a high with an evening visit to the fairy-tale-like Redwoods Nightlights. Expect ooohs and aahhs as you wander the 700-metre illuminated walkway.

Giant David Trubridge lanterns and special lighting effects help illuminate the Redwoods Treewalk's eco-suspended walkways ©Redwoods Treewalk
Giant David Trubridge lanterns and special lighting effects help illuminate the Redwoods Treewalk’s eco-suspended walkways ©Redwoods Treewalk

Day five, return to Waikato because the stunning Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari beckons. It’s NZ’s most significant predator-proofed eco-sanctuary and home to ancient NZ forest filled with native wildlife and lively birdsong.

From here, head to Waitomo Caves and witness underground wonders lit by thousands of glowworms. There are plenty of adventurous excursions to get the adrenaline pumping here. After touring Waitomo, head to Raglan, Waikato’s surf capital. 

Start your last day in Raglan with a walk along the black-sand beach before a surf lesson (or surf at Whale Break if you’re experienced). If time, book a Raglan harbour cruise or go canyoning and abseiling at Mt Karioi. If you rate art and artsy-looking cakes over adventure, visit Raglan’s artisan producers and funky cafes before heading back to Auckland.

Oh, one last adventure, perhaps? Take to the air for a last scenic look. And we mean really scenic: choose a thrilling skydive or even a helicopter ride!

Top Five Things to Do

The glowworm studded Waitomo caves are world-renowned
The glowworm studded Waitomo caves are world-renowned ©Shaun Jeffers Photography

With over 100 attractions between the two destinations, choosing a top five was hard. We managed though (go us), so here are our top picks.

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves Who doesn’t love a little sparkle in their life? At Waitomo, glowworms reside in the limestone caves, lighting them up like the night sky. While you can explore the caves on foot, we’re fans of the adrenaline version: black water raft through them! You can also abseil and zipline, too.
  • Te Puia Set across 70-hectares in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley, Rotorua’s Te Puia’s attractions will blow your mind (about 30-metres-high, like the Pōhutu geyser). Alongside geysers and bubbling mud pools, there’s also a new Kiwi Conservation Centre and Māori craft demonstrations.
  • Hobbiton Movie Set Located in the rolling hills of Matamata, the original Hobbiton Movie Set is a major Waikato attraction. Featured in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton trilogies, you explore the set on a guided tour, and there are even options to dine Hobbit-style, too.
  • Skyline Rotorua Skyline in Rotorua offers more than just a tranquil gondola ride and some awe-inspiring views across the region. There’s also a fun luge experience, including night luging, 12 km of mountain bike trails, adventure activities, on site dining and a wine tasting room.
  • Hamilton Gardens Hamilton’s most popular attraction, a visit here is good for the soul. Rather than created by plant type, the Hamilton Gardens have created over 20 different themed gardens, revealing stories of times and civilisations. The Ancient Egyptian Garden has just opened, too!

Get Inspired

There are adventures for days in Waikato! Don’t believe us? Check this out.

Known for its diverse attractions, you’d be hard-pressed to not find at least a few reasons to book a trip to Rotorua.


Driving Waikato & Rotorua

Fence at the entrance to the Government Gardens decorated in a Maori cultural motif ©Destination Rotorua
Fence at the entrance to the Government Gardens decorated in a Maori cultural motif ©Destination Rotorua

While you can fly domestically into both Hamilton and Rotorua, the ease of the short driving distances and enticing stops en-route make a road trip more fun.

For Australian drivers, nothing is challenging about the drive beyond maybe hitting a bit of peak hour traffic as you leave Auckland. Easy peasy!

Get the Road Trip Playlist

Waikato and Rotorua RTOs are so in sync that they collaborated on their ideal road trip playlist. Makes sense when the two destinations complement each other so well!

Top tunes on the Rotorua and Waikato Spotify playlist include Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire (from The Hobbit movie), Martika’s 80s classic I Feel the Earth Move (brilliant choice), and Queen’s Bicycle Race (perfect given the mountain biking options in both places). This might be our fave tracklist yet!

Travel Advisor? Gain Access to the Marketing Hub Toolkit Here

Put the 8th of June in your calendar as the awesome peeps from Waikato and Rotorua will be offering facts, stats, and top-secret travel tips on their virtual road trip webinar.

If you want to prep for the Waikato and Rotorua webinar, head to Tourism New Zealand’s incredible Marketing Hub toolkit. Plus, there’s a Rotorua trade info site, travel trade manual, and dedicated Facebook group. Waikato also has an informative trade site.

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