North Island Roadtrip

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After living and working in Wellington for just over five months, our working holiday visas ran out and it was time to move on to the next adventure. We said goodbye to our townhouse, finished up at work, once again packed everything up into our backpacks and hit the road.

In February, we bought an adorable van - and named it Bongo - to travel around the country in. She's self-contained, has a sink, a bed and plenty of storage space including a mini kitchenette. We love her!

Before embarking on our North Island roadtrip around New Zealand (to complement our South Island roadie last winter), we flew up to Samoa to spend ten days relaxing in the sunshine. Then, we flew back into Auckland, took a long distance Intercity bus back to Wellington to pick up Bongo and hit the ground running.

TIP: Before you go, download the Rankers Camping app to source out every single campsite in New Zealand, from the free to the expensive, all reviewed by travelers. This isn't a sponsored tip, it's just awesome.

We started our roadtrip in Wellington and did a loop of the North Island counterclockwise, however, since most people start their roadtrips in Auckland, I've rearranged this blog post to suit.

So now, without further ado, here's my itinerary for our North Island roadtrip that hits all the good spots.


Auckland

It's a good idea to start your North Island roadtrip in a large city such as Auckland or Wellington so you can stock up on supplies, food and pick up your mode of transport.

Accommodation: there's not a lot of free camping near Auckland so we stayed further north at Whangaparoa which is free if self-contained

Things to do:

  • hike up Mount Eden
  • hit the op shops!
  • spot the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere
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Auckland skyline featuring the Sky Tower

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Mount Eden


Northland

Distance from Auckland: 6h 20m to Cape Reinga

Accommodation: we stayed a week here at a number of free self-contained camp-sites including Whangaparaoa and Mangonui - check the Rankers or Camper Mate apps!

Things to do: 

Read more: check out four stops to make in Northland

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Tutukaka Lighthouse Walkway

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Cape Reinga

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Rainbow Falls


Piha

Distance from Northland: 6h 30m from Cape Reinga

Accommodation: there's no free camping near Piha so we just came for the day; check Camper Mate or Rankers for good paid camping nearby!

Things to do: 

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Kitekite Falls

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Piha Beach at sunset


Raglan

Distance from Piha: 3h drive

Accommodation: there's no free camping near Raglan; we stayed at the free campground at Lake Ngaroto

Things to do: 

  • try surfing!
  • spot Bridal Veil Falls
  • hike the Te Toto Gorge Track
  • complete the Karioi Summit Track

Egmont National Park

Distance from Raglan: 4h drive

Accommodation: Dawson Falls Visitor Centre parking lot; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • watch sunrise over Mount Taranaki
  • wander through the forest to the base of Dawson Falls
  • hike up to the Pouakai Tarns with reflective views of Mount Taranaki
  • visit the tunnels and caves of Three Sisters
  • do the loop around Lake Mangamahoe

Read more: check out my detailed guide to Egmont National Park

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Dawson Falls

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Mount Taranaki

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Pouakai Tarns Hike


Forgotten World Highway

Distance from Egmont National Park: 10-20m drive to Stratford

Accommodation: Whangamamona Domain Camping Ground; $10 per person

Things to do: 

  • appreciate the views as you cross each saddle
  • visit the Bridge to Somewhere
  • explore the self-declared Republic of Whangamamona
  • drive through Moki Tunnel - fondly known by the locals as Hobbit's Hole
  • visit Mount Damper Falls
  • drive along Tangarakau Gorge which sits on the only unpaved section of New Zealand's State Highways

Read more: check out my detailed guide to a roadtrip on the Forgotten World Highway

Strathmore Saddle

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Republic of Whangamamona


Tongariro National Park

Distance from the Forgotten World Highway: 45m drive from Taumarunui

Accommodation: KiwiCamp; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • hike the incredible Tongariro Alpine Crossing, home to Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings
  • visit Tawhai Falls, where they filmed Gollum's Pool
  • hike part of the Northern Circuit to visit Taranaki Falls
  • watch the sun go down from Stormy Point Lookout
  • take in the view of Mount Ruapehu

Read more: check out my detailed guide to Tongariro National Park

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Taranaki Falls

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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Tawhai Falls


Wellington

Distance from Tongariro National Park: 3h 30m drive

Accommodation: Evans Bay Marina Car Park; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • explore the bustling waterfront
  • head up to Mount Victoria for city views
  • ride the cable car to the botanical gardens
  • visit the free Te Papa Museum of New Zealand
  • enjoy the food and cafe culture
  • hike to the Brooklyn wind turbine, the oldest in the country
  • take a free guided tour of the Beehive, New Zealand's parliament building
  • complete the walkway and visit seals at Red Rock Reserve
  • visit Matiu/Somes Island in the heart of the harbour
  • explore Days Bay
  • hike up to Mount Kaukau for incredible views of the harbour

Read more: check out my detailed guide to Wellington

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Wellington Botanic Garden

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The Beehive

Matiu/Somes Island

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Mount Victoria


Cape Palliser

Distance from Wellington: 2h 15m drive

Accommodation: Ngawi Campsite; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

Cape Palliser Lighthouse

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Putangirua Pinnacles

Cape Palliser


Castle Point

Distance from Cape Palliser: 2h 30m drive

Accommodation: Castle Point Carpark; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • watch the sunset over Castle Rock
  • hike up to the lighthouse at Castle Point for sunrise
  • visit the town with the world's longest place name

Castle Rock at sunset

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Castle Point


Napier

Distance from Castle Point: 3h 40m drive

Accommodation: Perfume Point and Pump Track are both great; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

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The Parade

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Te Mata Peak


Hawke's Bay

Distance from Napier: 30m drive

Accommodation: Opoutama Beach; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • hang out on Waipatiki Beach and pick up a book from the little library
  • enjoy the gorgeous drive along the Hawke's Bay coast
  • visit the beach in Opoutama

Read more: check out my detailed guide to a Hawke's Bay roadtrip

 

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Waipatiki Beach

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Opoutama


Gisborne Peninsula

Distance from Hawke's Bay: 45m drive from Gisborne to Tolaga Bay // 2h 20m drive from Tolaga Bay to East Cape

Accommodation: East Cape Camp Ground, $10 per person

Things to do: 

Read more: check out my detailed guide to a roadtrip on the Gisborne Peninsula

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First sunrise in the world at East Cape

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Cooks Cove Walkway

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Sunset at Waiotahe Beach


Rotorua

Distance from Opotiki: 2h drive

Accommodation: Government Gardens Parking, free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • walk under the massive redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest
  • watch the mud explode at the mud pool at Wai-O-Tapa
  • spot the bright blue lakes of Rainbow Mountain
  • swim in natural hot springs at Kerosene Creek
  • go for a walk to visit the Blue Spring Putaruru

Read more: check out my detailed guide to 7 free things to do in Rotorua

The Redwoods

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Kerosene Creek


Taupo

Distance from Rotorua: 1h drive

Accommodation: Aratiatia Dam; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • see the incredible Huka Falls, where 200,000 litres of pure blue water crashes down every second
  • go biking, walking or picnicking along the lake
  • visit all the op shops in town!
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Hobbiton

Distance from Taupo: 1h 30m drive

Accommodation: Moana Roa Reserve; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

  • run through the Shire like a hobbit
  • love every second of it
  • grab a ginger beer at the Green Dragon
  • sing The Hobbit sound track

Read more: check out my detailed guide to Hobbiton

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Baggins' hobbit hole

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The Shire

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A hobbit hole


Tauranga

Distance from Hobbiton: 1h drive

Accommodation: Papamoa Beach; free if self-contained

Things to do: 

Mount Maunganui Summit

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Mount Maunganui from Moturiki Island


The Coromandel

Distance from Tauranga: 1h drive to Karangahake Gorge, in the south of The Coromandel

Accommodation: we stayed a week here at a number of free self-contained camp-sites - check the Rankers or Camper Mate apps!

Things to do: 

  • explore the abandoned gold mine and tunnels at Karangahake Gorge
  • walk through a forest to reach the Opoutere Beach
  • summit Paku Hill, a 7 million-year-old extinct volanco
  • try digging your own hot spa at Hot Water Beach
  • go stargazing at Cooks Beach
  • take in the view from Shakespeare Cliff
  • dance on the beach at Cathedral Cove where the filmed Cair Paravel in Narnia
  • go for a swing at Otama Beach
  • dip in Waiau Falls
  • wander underneath massive kauri trees at Waiau Grove
  • spot dolphins in Ngarimu Bay
  • complete the Coromandel Coastal Walkway

Read more: check out 11 stops to make on a Coromandel roadtrip

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Otama Beach Swing

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Paku Hill

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Stargazing at Cooks Beach

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Cathedral Cove


Check out our YouTube video about our roadtrip here!

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