The final step to our 5 part epic sightseeing road-trip around the North Island of New Zealand. There is not place in the world that can match New Zealand for campervan hire sights and sounds to be experienced. Get a flight, get a campervan and HitTheRoad!
Leg 5: Napier to Auckland
Total distance: 450km
Estimated driving time: 6 hours
You’ll be able to enjoy more spectacular scenery and rest up in more geothermal pools – but this leg of the journey includes plenty more adventure and excitement, including a stop in Middle Earth. Spend as much time relaxing in your campervan as you can before you arrive in Napier, because you’ve got a lot to explore once you get there!
An earthquake devastated this city in 1931, so an extensive rebuild resulted in a bustling community full of art deco style. In fact, the town celebrates this unique style each year with an art deco festival in February – featuring picnics, dinner dances, and beautiful classic cars. If you’re not able to take in the festival, there’s still tons of art deco magic to take in thanks to self-guided tours of the city’s many shops and historic buildings.
(Image courtesy of itravelNZ, Flickr)
Wine lovers can continue the tour here, with stops at the Mission Estate Winery and Church Road Winery. There’s also lots to see at the National Aquarium, especially if you’re travelling with kids, and a walk along the Marine Parade will let you soak up the bright New Zealand sunshine.
Just outside of Napier, you’ll pass Cape Kidnappers – which isn’t as scary as it sounds. This scenic cape is home to a spectacular golf course and more than 6,000 nesting pairs of gannets.
(Image courtesy of Martin Pozor, Flickr)
Take SH5 north-west to reach the city of Taupo, located on the banks of the largest lake in New Zealand. The lake is actually the water-filled caldera of the extinct Taupo Volcano, left after the volcano’s powerful eruption more than 26,000 years ago. Now, Taupo Lake is a popular destination for campervan hire adventurers looking to fish, swim, boat, kayak, and jetski on the lake’s sparkling waters.
(Image courtesy of russellstreet, Flickr)
You can trek around the lake on another of the Great Walks of New Zealand, or you can choose from a number of other shorter hikes nearby. You can also catch a glimpse at Huka Falls, the country’s most visited natural attraction. Every second, two Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water cascades over the rocks, making for an awesome sight.
(Image courtesy of FLASHPACKER TRAVELGUIDE, Flickr)
Then, head back out on SH5 to reach Rotorua.
The strong smell of sulfur won’t be enough to discourage you from hanging out at this incredible geothermal marvel, as you visit the many natural hot spas that make up this area. A walk around Te Puia gives you the chance to safely explore the mud pools and geysers.
(Image courtesy of laurabl, Flickr)
Maori culture comes to life right before your eyes at the authentic Tamaki Maori Village, and you can learn more about the area’s history with a visit to the “Buried Village” of Te Wairoa – New Zealand’s most visited archeological site. Just 40 years after the village was established, an eruption from Mt Tarawera in 1886 destroyed the entire community. The site is still home to many relics that have survived the decades, letting visitors see for themselves what the town might have become.
(Image courtesy of Pete Edgeler, Flickr)
There are lots of options for the more adventurous here, too – and most of them are kid-friendly. You can get your adrenaline rushing with a ride on the Skyswing at the summit of Mt Ngongotaha, speed through the trees on the Zoom Zipline, race back on a go-kart, or roll around in a massive zorb ball at OGO Rotorua. The adventure continues on the waters of Lake Rotorua, where you can jetboat around, or at Tutea Falls for white-water rafting.
(Image courtesy of Katrin & Stefan Marks, Flickr)
You’ll pass through Middle Earth on your way back to Auckland – and this spectacular location is definitely worth a stop. Turn right off SH5 at Tapapa, onto SH28, and get ready to see some familiar sights in Hobbiton.
The town used to be barely noticeable, but after playing host to hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is a must-see for any fantasy lover. The living set gives you the chance to visit real hobbit homes, check out attractions from the films like the Green Dragon Inn, the double-arched bridge, the gardens, and the Mill – and wrap up the two-hour guided tour with a free drink at the pub where Frodo, Sam, and the rest of the hobbits hang out.
(Image courtesy of Tracy Bruce, Flickr)
If hobbits aren’t your thing, there’s more to see in Matamata. This stunning landscape offers some beautiful hiking in the Kaimai Ranges, including a 45 minute to 1.5 hour walk through the two-stage Wairere Falls, which drops more than 150 metres. If you hike all the way to the top, you’ll be rewarded with an impressive view across the Waikato plains. Or, trek through a lush tawa-podocarp forest on the Rapurapu Track, which takes about an hour to complete – with opportunities to enjoy a dip in the water as you hike.
(image courtesy of russellstreet, Flickr)
By the time you head back to Auckland, you’ll be happy, calm – and exhausted! This itinerary will give you the chance to not only see many of the most popular attractions on New Zealand’s North Island, but also introduces you to many hidden gems you might not have even known existed. You’ll have experienced everything this area has to offer, and built fantastic memories to last a lifetime. It’s tempting to turn right back around and take this trip all over again, but instead, you can relive each moment as you share stories and photos with your friends and family – and get ready for your next RV adventure!
(Image courtesy of Chris Gin, Flickr)