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Road Trip New Zealand: Top of the North Island Highlights

New Zealand neighbours Australia, but has a scenic landscape, attractions and activities of its own. It’s familiar yet offers such a different and diverse culture and range of experiences. It’s no wonder Aotearoa New Zealand is the ideal destination for clients who seek something new and exciting that’s also close to home.

New Zealand neighbours Australia, but has a scenic landscape, attractions and activities of its own. It’s familiar yet offers such a different and diverse culture and range of experiences. It’s no wonder Aotearoa New Zealand is the ideal destination for clients who seek something new and exciting that’s also close to home.

We can’t get enough of Aotearoa New Zealand so we’re back for another instalment of our Road Trip New Zealand series, starting from the top of the North Island.

All about the North Island

New Zealand’s North Island is known for its vibrant cosmopolitan cities, stunning national parks, volcanic activity and coastal beaches.

To inspire travellers to explore more, Tourism New Zealand has curated select cultural, historic, active and foodie experiences for your clients in each region.

These experiences are sustainable, commissionable and, best of all, ready to book to create the perfect itinerary for your clients – either for an epic road trip or easy day trips.

TNZ Te Puia hongi
A traditional Māori greeting, the hongi, taking place against the backdrop of Te Puia in Rotorua.

With their own wheels, your clients have the freedom to explore at their own pace, venture off the beaten track and experience new regions, uncovering hidden gems along the way.

And they’ll love having such different and diverse experiences in close proximity to each other, meaning less time spent driving.

With direct flights around three hours from Australia’s east coast to Auckland, it’s the perfect gateway to explore and experience the top of New Zealand’s highlights. Plus, there’s no need for an international driving permit, travellers can use their valid Australian license. Easy-as.

Before they go, make sure your clients are prepared with Tourism New Zealand’s expertly crafted touring map! Plus, share their Travel Alerts page with your clients to keep them in the loop about road closures during their journey.

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Start your clients’ North Island adventure in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland. The City of Sails is a multicultural powerhouse with music, arts and nature right on its doorstep. Boasting a world-class dining scene, including Māori cuisine, foodies will have their fill of top restaurants and eateries.

AKL1
Auckland’s vibrant harbour, the source of its nickname ‘City of Sails’, teems with maritime charm.

Here, your clients can enjoy a full-day Private Auckland Māori Luxury Tour and Cultural Performance for an immersive experience exploring landscapes, learning about ancient trees and volcanoes and witnessing the Haka – the traditional Māori war dance – up close.

They can see the cityscape from the water and explore Tikapa Moana – the Hauraki Gulf on sailing, dining or cruising experiences with Explore Group, including wildlife encounters.

Your clients can also cruise across to Waiheke Island – a 35-minute trip from downtown Auckland – bringing the car on the ferry to explore more of the island at their own pace. Book a Terra & Tide nature therapy walking tour to take in the natural wonders and wildlife of Waiheke through forests, coastlines and trails. This unique wellbeing walk includes forest bathing for a holistic restorative experience.

  • Fun fact: New Zealand’s largest city has one of the world’s most varied music scenes with Auckland named an UNESCO City of Music.

Te Tai Tokerau Northland

With left-hand drive like Australia, it’s a breeze to get around Auckland and New Zealand. Clients can pick up a rental car and make tracks to Northland, just three hours’ drive north of Auckland, a region that’s known for its natural surroundings and deep cultural significance.

TNZ Footprints Waipoura
Come face-to-face with Tāne Mahuta, the country’s largest kauri tree, with Footprints Waipoua.

Here, they can visit New Zealand’s most important historic site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, on an experience that includes two engaging museums and Māori cultural performances in an authentic Meeting House. More cultural immersion is on offer with Manea – Footprints of Kupe, a multisensory, guided storytelling experience on a journey into Te Ao Māori, the Māori world.

They can also see ancient towering kauri giants on a spiritual encounter through the Waipoua Forest with Footprints Waipoua. A twilight tour shows the amazing forest transition from day to night.

  • Fun fact: Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest kauri treearound 2,000 years old and still growing – is in Northland.

The Coromandel

From Auckland, it’s a 2.5-hour drive to The Coromandel, a region blessed with lush rainforest and golden beaches. As the walkway is currently closed, the best way to visit Cathedral Cove, one of the area’s highlights, is by kayak or boat.

TNZ Cathedral Cove Kayaks Classic Tour
Go sea-kayaking with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours.

Book your clients on a Cathedral Cove Kayak Tour to explore the sheltered waters of Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, spotting local marine life, or they can drive to the famous Hot Water Beach and explore at their leisure.

Alternatively, they might like to get arty at Driving Creek, a beloved local attraction with creative and active experiences, including eight ziplines, a small-gauge railway tour and pottery classes.

  • Fun fact: The iconic Cathedral Cove is not a ‘cave’. It’s a white sand bay carved over many years from volcanic cliffs.

Waikato

Just over 1.5 hours from Auckland or 2.5 hours’ drive from The Coromandel is Waikato. Located on the North Island’s west coast, the Waikato region is rich in natural beauty with hidden underground wonders that’s also famous as the home of Hobbiton.

TNZ Ruakuri Cave 1516 NZ Girl Looking at Glowworms Up Close
Look at glowworms up close at Ruakari Cave.

There’s so much to explore here. A tour of Ruakari Cave to see the glowworms, fossils and subterranean formations is a must, as is a visit to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari.

This natural habitat haven for endangered wildlife also hosts meditation and yoga on the mountain for reflection and forest bathing opportunities.

En route to or from Auckland, your clients will also love a stop at Pokeno Whiskey with distillery tours every Saturday to sample the locally made spirit.

  • Fun fact: Waikato is home to the Māori King, who resides at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngāruawāhia.

Bay of Plenty

Just 1.5 hours’ drive away is Bay of Plenty. Tucked into the eastern side of the North Island, this coastal area has ‘plenty’ for visitors from stunning beaches to charming seaside towns.

TNZ Mount Hot Pools
Soak up the serenity and scenery at Mount Hot Pools.

Your clients can hit two local highlights on an Evening Glowworm Kayaking tour in McLaren Lake with McLaren Falls and the most densely populated collection of glowworms in the country.

This leaves ‘plenty’ of time to visit The Cider Factorie for an award-winning tipple on tap and take a wellbeing dip at Mount Hot Pools – the world’s only hot ocean water pools with indulgent massages also available on site.

  • Fun fact: Bay of Plenty town Te Puke is the ‘Kiwifruit Capital’, producing 112 million trays of the furry green superfood annually.

Rotorua

A 1.5-hour drive south and famous for its sulphurous geothermal activity and rainforests, Rotorua is also steeped in Māori culture.

TNZ Te Pa Tu credit Miles Holden
Try traditional kai (food) at Te Pā Tū. Image: Miles Holden

Add a stop at Te Pā Tū to your clients’ itinerary for a four-hour experience of Māori history and traditions through culture and kai (cuisine) and a tour of the dramatic geysers and bubbling mud. They’ll also appreciate a soothing outdoor mud bath soak and invigorating sulphur spa date at Hell’s Gate.

Or suggest taking a bird’s-eye view on a Rotorua Canopy Tour, soaring through the trees on two zipline adventures and traversing the greenery up close on suspended swing bridges, treetop platforms and other vantage points.

  • Fun fact: Thanks to its cultural and geothermal features, Rotorua has been a tourist attraction for international visitors since 1830.

Tairāwhiti Gisborne

Another top spot to visit at the top of the North Island is the surfing hotspot of Gisborne, a 3-hour and 45-minute drive southeast of Rotorua.

TNZ Matawhero Wines
Stay in cabin accommodation among the vines at Matawhero Wines.

Along with wild stingray encounters on a reef ecology tour and an indulgent vino, coffee and foodie stay in luxury cabins at Matawhero Wines, visitors can greet the first light at Maunga Hikurangi.

This sacred mountain offers a world-first Te Urunga-Tu Sunrise Experience by 4WD from the base to the mainland’s first point to see the daily sunrise. It’s a fitting end to a road trip itinerary full of cultural, natural and foodie highlights that will stay with your clients long after the drive back to Auckland.

  • Fun fact: Want to say “Happy New Year” before the rest of the world? Gisborne is the first mainland region to welcome a new day.

Seeking more of New Zealand? Good news – this is just the beginning of a new mini-series that will introduce you to some of the country’s top highlights. Next stop: the Bottom of the North Island!

Advisors, seek more and discover rewards

TNZ Hells Gate credit Miles Holden
Mudslinging at Hell’s Gate, Rotorua. Image: Miles Holden

Check out Tourism New Zealand’s dedicated trade website for everything you need to upskill on all things Aotearoa New Zealand.

For free, professionally designed marketing assets that you can share directly with your clients, head to the Marketing Hub.

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Looking for more regional gems? See what else we’ve uncovered in our Road Trip New Zealand series.

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