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Why winter is the best time to take a North Island road trip
New Zealand has some pretty stunning countryside, and one of the best times to view it is actually during winter! Right in the middle of the North Island are snow-capped mountain peaks, and to the east and west (north and south) are all the soft sandy beaches and rugged coastline you could ever want to explore.
Winter is an off-peak travel season
Winter is considered an off-peak season for travelling in New Zealand, meaning you could end up with a lot of popular spots all to yourself. Fewer people on the roads in winter make for easy drives between destinations, the only traffic jams you’re likely to run into are the kind caused by a flock of sheep on the move. Travelling in winter also means less crowded campgrounds for parking your campervan, so you’ll be able to claim the ‘top spot’ wherever you end up.
Travelling during the off-peak season may also be more affordable than travelling during summer. Some attractions offer bundle deals and discounts during the winter months, so take some time to look around before you book.
There’s so much to see and do in NZ’s winter
If snow is your thing, Mt Ruapehu is THE place to go - whether you want to ski, board or simply take in the views, there is something for everyone to thoroughly enjoy. When it’s time to defrost, take your pick of natural hot pools and thermal springs - it’s what Rotorua and Taupo do best. Head to the winter-less North to enjoy some unseasonably warm weather and beach time. Head to the Central North Island to discover the fascinating Taranaki region steeped in history or the magic of Waitomo. Or if sunshine and wine is your speed, head to Hawkes Bay and spend time exploring the Bay of Plenty. A campervan holiday offers you unparalleled freedom to explore at your own pace and truly experience everything New Zealand has to offer.
A Campervan is the ultimate road trip buddy
There’s no question that a campervan is cosier than tenting and way more practical when travelling with the family. With plenty of space for everyone, you won’t miss having to pack the car before you head out every morning. At the end of a long day of exploring, you’ll enjoy a hot shower and warm family meal, all from the comfort and warmth of your motorhome.
Don’t forget that a North Island road trip is the perfect opportunity to have quality time with the family too - these adventures are the kind everyone will always look back on with fond memories. (Even if the kids don’t realise it at the time.) Britz tip: Not sure where to start when planning a campervan trip with kids?
Check out our handy guide for everything you need to know.
What to expect when travelling during winter in the North Island
Winter in New Zealand’s North Island is relatively mild and rarely affected by snowy or icy conditions. With the exception of some of the roads surrounding the Central Plateau (near the mountains), most roads are open and safe to drive in winter. State Highway 1 (through The Desert Road) does experience closures in winter, so it’s worth checking before you plan to travel that way.
The North Island is the most populous of New Zealand’s two islands, so the roads can be busier especially near main city centres. While winter weather tends to be mild, it can change quickly, so keep an eye on the weather forecast and adhere to local weather warnings for a safe and smooth road trip. You can call 0800 4 HIGHWAYS or visit the NZTA website for the latest road conditions.
There are a few restrictions when it comes to where your campervan can drive in the North Island, these include any ski field access roads between 01 June and 31 October, as well Ninety Mile Beach in Northland and north of Colville Township in the Coromandel. So just make sure you’re across those before you plan your trip.
Best North Island Winter Road Trips
Looking for the top things to do in the North Island of NZ? You’ve come to the right place. We recommend travelling for a minimum of 5 days, so you tick off at least a couple of destinations and have time to enjoy your trip. Most travellers prefer loop trips where you can park near a branch, pick up your camper and head off, but at Britz, we also offer one-way hires if you want to continue your trip by other means.
Once you’ve decided on a loop or one-way trip, the next step is working out which region you want to explore - will it be the Lower North, home to the coolest little capital of Wellington, or the West Coast to see the black sand beaches of Taranaki?
Perhaps the Central North Island is top of the list so the family can build a snowman (don’t forget your carrot!) or if you’re after a beachside escape, the Bay of Plenty is hard to beat.
Here are our top suggestions for North Island road trip itineraries.
1. Auckland to Coromandel road trip
This 9 day trip from Auckland to Coromandel is jam-packed full of fun for the whole family and doesn’t require heaps of travel time in between stops, so it’s a good one if you have kids that need to get out often to stretch their legs. This trip starts in Auckland where you could fit in a couple of activities before you hit the road. Visit the Auckland Art Gallery, Butterfly Creek, check out Auckland Zoo or head out on a ferry to experience the glorious Hauraki Gulf up close.
Once you hit the road, head southeast to Miranda, where you can stay at the Miranda Holiday Park and take a dip in their popular hot pools, absolute bliss in the winter months! Once you cross the Kopu Bridge and head into Thames, you’ve officially arrived in the Coromandel where adventure awaits! Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail, take a ride on the Driving Creek Railway, dig a hole in the sand at Hot Water Beach to find warm water, suit up in a wetsuit to have a go at surfing - the list is never-ending. There’s plenty of great places to stay along the way, like the Coromandel TOP 10 Holiday Park, Broken Hills DOC Campsite and Mercury Bay Holiday Park, to name a few.
2. Waitomo to Rotorua loop trip
This short and sweet 5 day North Island itinerary is all about the underground - so if you have a future geologist in the family, this road trip one is perfect! Head south from Auckland and arrive in Hamilton, where you can spend a day in the city seeing the sites (Hinterland Adventures is heaps of fun) and park up at the Hamilton City Holiday Park. Then it’s onto Waitomo to have an experience that is out of this world at the famous glowworm caves.
After emerging from the underground, it’s time to head east to Rotorua to soak up (literally) the geothermal city’s natural wonderland of mud and steam. A mud spa at Hell’s Gate is a truly relaxing way to spend a couple of hours, before deciding whether to take a tree-top walk, hit the mountain bike trails or stop by Rainbow Fairy Springs.
Recommended places to stay - Rotorua TOP 10 Holiday Park, Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park and Ngaherenga DOC Campsite.
3. 8-day Central North Island trip
For a North Island 8 day itinerary, this one is hard to beat. It takes in everything that the Central North Island is well known for - snow, National Park and adrenalin.
For this road trip, you start and finish in Taupo, a fantastic year-round tourist destination with plenty of activities for the whole family. And don’t forget a visit to Lava Glass where you can watch an amazing glass blowing class in session.
Head south around the lake to Turangi, where you can stay at Turangi Holiday Park, a great base so you can visit the National Army Museum in Waiouru, try your hand at fly fishing, or hit the trails for some epic nature walks.
You came here for the snow right? Set up camp at the Whakapapa Holiday Park and hit up Whakapapa ski field - or if ‘watching’ is more your thing, the Sky Waka Gondola will definitely be a winner.
Phew, after all that adventure, you’ll need a bit of a rest. The Taupo TOP 10 Holiday Park is ideal for a day or two of relaxing before heading home.
If you don’t have 8 days up your sleeve, this alternative route only requires 6, butstill includes some of the same great highlights, taking from Auckland down to the Central Plateau and back up again.
4. 5-day family-friendly Auckland to Taupo road trip
If you want to catch a bit of everything - Lake Taupo, the ski fields and a couple of other North Island must-dos, jump in the camper to experience this five-day itinerary. As you head south from Auckland, stop in for an animal encounter at Hamilton Zoo, before gearing up for the slopes of Whakapapa ski field. The Tongariro Holiday Park is ideal for a rest at the end of a long day of skiing or boarding (or perfecting your snow angels), before you’re on your way to Taupo.
The Great Lake Taupo Holiday Park has everything you need to make yourself at home - in between hiring a doughboat to set sail on Lake Taupo and catching a snack at Huka Prawn Park of course.
5. 7-day Auckland to New Plymouth
It’s time to head west, to the mighty Taranaki, where the sand is black and the surf is up! Check out this 7-day itinerary that takes you to New Plymouth via a few great stops along the way. Check out the relaxed surf town of Raglan, where you can hike Mt Karioi, visit Bridal Veil Falls or explore the rugged yet beautiful coastline.
You’re so close to Waitomo that it would be rude to not say hello to the millions of glow worms that call the caves home. After that, don’t forget to visit the Forgotten Highway! The Whangamomona Heritage Pub is an absolute delight.
Once you arrive in New Plymouth, there’s no time to dilly dally - it’s off to visit the Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Pukekura Park and get up close and personal with the majestic Mt Taranaki.
Recommended places to stay would be the Raglan Holiday Park, Waitomo Campervan Park and Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park.
6. 8-day Thermal Explorer road trip
It’s time to jump onboard the Thermal Explorer Highway, it’s going to be one heck of a ride. The first part of the itinerary is a meander through South Waikato, where you can take in the Cambridge Sculpture Park. Park up at the Cambridge TOP 10 Holiday Park before heading out to experience the world-famous Hobbiton movie set tour, before arriving at the epicentre of geothermal activity in New Zealand.
Orakei Korako, halfway between Rotorua and Taupo, gives you a front-row seat to active geysers (23 of them in fact) and is home to the largest silica terraces in New Zealand and the only geothermal cave in NZ. It’s also pretty cool that this region of the country is home to plenty of natural hot springs and mud pools for soaking tired bodies in. You just can’t beat it in winter.
Head eastbound to finish up your trip in the gorgeous Hawkes Bay, where you can visit the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, and enjoy a stay at the Hawkes Bay Holiday Park.