Cathedral Cove New Zealand
Photograph: Adam BryceCathedral Cove

Guide to the ultimate North Island road trip in New Zealand

Experience the beauty of New Zealand's North Island with this short getaway

Adena Maier

New Zealand's North Island is best experienced on the road. Just three hours away from Melbourne or Sydney, it's an accessible holiday destination that boasts diverse landscapes and experiences for all kinds of holidayers from the relaxed traveller to the adventure seeker.

Pack the car and prepare to drive beautiful winding roads past ancient forests, stunning beaches and up-and-coming cultural hubs. Here's a step-by-step guide to the ultimate road trip through the North Island's Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty regions.

Find a getaway closer to home in one of Victoria's best wine regions.

Start in Auckland

With its burgeoning restaurant and arts scenes, Auckland is New Zealand’s up-and-coming creative hub. If you only have one night to stay in the big smoke before you hit the road, book a luxurious night at the Cordis Hotel, a five-star, 640-room hotel located a skip away from Aotea Square. While there, enjoy Kiwi-inspired cocktails and bites at Our Land Is Alive, the in-house bar. If it's a nice day, sip in the courtyard surrounded by leafy native plants.

Mosey on down to the Viaduct Harbour, where you can enjoy a stroll or explore the New Zealand Maritime Museum, where you can also set sail in one of its heritage vessels. Need your culture fix? While away the hours at the Auckland Art Gallery, the largest art institution in New Zealand and home to a collection of more than 15,000 works. 

For dinner, make your way to Tanuki, a Japanese izakaya that's been a neighbourhood favourite for more than 25 years. 'Tanuki' means badger, and in Japanese folklore, the cheeky critters are often drinking sake and partying it up – and those are the exact vibes you can expect here. Or, if you're after some of the best beef and lamb in the country, book in at Jervois Steakhouse

Don’t let your North Island adventure end there: consider Auckland as your launchpad for a road trip around the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty.  

Getting around

No car? No problem. Book a spot on an InterCity bus to take you across the Coromandel Peninsula all the way to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, known for its excellent beaches. If you’re driving, follow the Pacific Coast Highway – a scenic route that will take you off the beaten path into Hahei, a coastal town popular with Auckland holidaymakers. 

Around the Coromandel Peninsula

If you only visit one beach in the Coromandel, make it the Hot Water Beach, which boasts an underground river that flows up to the surface, carrying hot mineral waters. Bring a shovel at low tide and dig yourself a natural spring bath while you look out to the Pacific Ocean. Book yourself into a kayak tour of Cathedral Cove with the Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours team, who will you on a guided tour of a stunning beach vibrant with protected marine wildlife and home to what is probably the most Instagrammed rock arch in the North Island.

Head inland towards the Hauraki Rail Trail, a three to four-day ride that will take you through some of the Coromandel Peninsula's scenic routes. Check out the Karangahake Gorge, which is part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, where you can experience the stunning Jurassic Park-like native vegetation and the mysterious tunnel remnants of a gold mining site. Need a guided tour of the Coromandel? The Coromandel Adventures crew know the area like the back of their hands and offer great tours for the day-trippers to travellers after a multi-day experience. 



If you're staying close to Cathedral Cove, get the Kiwi beach pub experience at the Pour House a family-run pub that houses the Coromandel Brewing Company. Their woodfired pizzas are just the thing to go with the craft brews made just metres away from the pub.


Stay right by the beach at the Hahei Beach Resort, a beachside holiday resort frequented by local families and young backpackers alike. The location is close to many local attractions like Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, and travellers have the option of staying in budget-friendly cabins or beach-facing villas that are perfect for couples. 

Around the Bay of Plenty

Experience a different kind of nightlife in Tauranga on a glow worm tour with Waimarino Kayak Tours. The trip kicks off with some wine and cheese and then involves rowing towards a narrow canyon. When it’s dark, you’ll see the blue-green glimmer of the glow worms light up the bush. It’s a magical experience, and when the stars come out, it’s difficult to see when the bugs stop and the stars begin. 


Papamoa, a suburb of Tauranga, is fast becoming one of Bay of Plenty's biggest tourist drawcards. In the warmer months, Kiwi holidaymakers and cruise ship travellers from Australia and beyond settle into the beachside suburb, and with the suburb's increasing popularity comes a thriving foodie scene. Dine by the beach at the Bluebiyou, an all-day restaurant next to the Papamoa Beach Resort serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a view. 

Head to Papamoa Beach Tavern for a pint of local craft brew and a burger. The old-school shack-like bar and restaurant is a popular haunt for beach-loving locals lucky enough to live in the seaside suburb all year around. Save room for the mean dessert waffles made fresh to order. 



Kiwis love their holiday homes, locally known as ‘baches’. For a taste of the Kiwi bach life, the Papamoa Beach Resort is a great holiday park with shacks at various price points. Try to book a spot in one of the beach-facing holiday units, where you can wake up to the sounds of the waves every morning. 

Get there

Air New Zealand flies daily to Auckland from Melbourne, with some flights operated by widebody Boeing 777 or 787 Dreamliner aircraft. These services feature Business, Premium Economy and Economy cabins. You won’t get bored, with hundreds of hours of entertainment available on demand, including Shortland Street, rugby and of course, Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. 

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