If the mention of New Zealand conjures up thoughts of volcanos, mountain landscapes, and other natural wonders, then a trip around the North Island is for you. Enjoy thermal pools, bizarre moonscapes, lava formations and stunning lakes as you journey around a part of the world that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The best way to get started is to book a self-drive holiday with a Britz campervan – this way you can make the most of your time and cram in as much nature as possible! But as with any driving holiday, it’s best to stick to roads and not stray too far off the tourist track, especially where volcanos, steam vents and bubbling mud pools are concerned!
Auckland to Auckland
Best Time of the Year
January to March
- Mount Mauganui
- Lake Taupo
- Rotorua Hot Pools
- Waikato River
- Hamilton Rose Gardens
- Mount Ruapahu
Auckland to Rotorua
Distance 228km - Driving Time 3 hours 10 mins
Pick up your campervan from the Britz branch at Auckland Airport and head south on SH1 to Rotorua. Along the way, Lord of the Rings fans will want to stop in Matamata, which is home to the Hobbiton movie set, with tours departing daily.
But it’s in Rotorua where the fun really starts. The gateway to an amazing collection of geothermal wonders, this lively town is the perfect starting point for your North Island adventure. Make sure you plan a visit to Rotorua’s most active geothermal park, Hells Gate, while you’re in town. The park is home to a wide selection of volcanic features including steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pools, a mud volcano, and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. You can also take a dip in your very own mud bath and spa.
An exciting alternative is the Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland, where colourful sulphur-crusted lakes await your discovery. Wai-O-Tapu’s resident Lady Knox Geyser erupts each day at 10:15 am, so make sure you‘re there for the show.
Stay at the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park tonight.
Today’s activities are centred in and around Rotorua. Enjoy a cultural experience at the living Maori village of Whakarewarewa. Enjoy traditional song and dance, book an overnight stay in a wharenui (Maori meeting house), and even get a personalised tattoo! One of the highlights is the hangi – a feast cooked in an earth oven. In the Rotorua region, the natural geothermal steam creates a subtle difference in the cooking process, making it unique and an absolute must-do.
After lunch, head to the beautiful Blue and Green Lakes for an easy 40-minute walk. Although side-by–side, the lakes really are two different colours!
If you have time, a visit to Lake Tarawera should also be on the agenda. The largest of a series of lakes surrounding the Mount Tarawera volcano, which erupted in 1886 and raised the lake surface by 12 metres, Lake Tarawera is an ideal spot for a scenic boat trip, departing from Tarawera Landing.
Spend a second night in Rotorua.
Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
Distance 184km - Driving Time 2 hours 20 mins
The next morning, bid farewell to Rotorua and head south towards Taupo. On the way, pull over and take a 45-minute walk at the Craters of the Moon, a cratered valley hissing with clouds of steam, formed after a geothermal event in the 1950s.
Continue on through Taupo and take the Volcanic Loop, an extension of the Thermal Explorer Highway. Circle around Tongariro National Park to view the impressive Mt Ruapehu, one of the world's most active volcanoes and the largest active volcano in New Zealand. Stop to explore some of the short walks and longer hikes in the area, including the Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake guided hike and the Tongariro Crossing, which traverses the moonscape craters of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.
Stay overnight in Ruapehu at New Zealand’s highest serviced campground, Whakapapa Holiday Park.
Tongariro National Park to Taupo
Distance 103km - Driving Time 1 hours 20 mins
Retrace your route and return north to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in NZ. This makes Taupo ideal for a raft of water-based activities, from trout fishing, to sailing, water skiing, jetboating, kayaking, parasailing and jet skiing. Throw in skydiving, horse riding, mountain biking, trekking, abseiling, and rock climbing, and it’s tough to make a choice on which activity to choose.
After you’ve had your burst of adrenalin, head to the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand, the spectacular Huka Falls. At Huka Falls, the Waikato River squeezes through a 20-metre wide gorge and over a 20-metre drop. View the falls from either side (there's a foot bridge to cross over). Then, if your day hasn’t been action-packed enough, finish it by bungy jumping off a platform over the Waikato River, or feel the power of Huka Falls up close in a jet boat.
Stay in Taupo tonight at the Taupo All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park.
Taupo to Waitomo
Distance 150km - Driving Time 1 hours 55 mins
Depart Taupo and head across to Te Kuiti, home of the Great NZ Muster, normally held the weekend after Easter each year. Travel on to Waitomo Caves, an ancient underground maze of limestone caverns, and take a guided tour through the grottos of the Glowworm Caves. Enjoy the world-famous boat ride under thousands of magical glowworms and soak in the serenity and beauty of the scene. Make time for Waitomo’s longest underground walking tour through Ruakuri Cave and gaze at thousands of brilliant limestone formations. Surely one of the most memorable experiences at Waitomo is the Black Abyss. You will descend into the black, seemingly bottomless depths of Ruakuri Cave, zipline through a gallery of illuminating glowworms and climb underground waterfalls as you test your limits on this truly unforgettable journey.
Spend the night at the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park.
Waitomo to Rotorua
Distance 194km - Driving Time 2 hours 30 mins
On the last day of your itinerary, head north from Waitomo to Hamilton. Located on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is a great spot for some morning tea and a scenic riverside walk before you complete the rest of your journey to Auckland. Drop off your campervan at the Britz branch at Auckland Airport.