Guide to the ultimate North Island road trip in New Zealand

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

Photograph: Adam BryceCathedral Cove

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 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.

Check out which Auckland area is on our must-visit list or find a getaway closer to home at the best glamping sites in New South Wales

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. 

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Eat

Grab a meal at the Falls Retreat, a cosy country bistro set in the middle of lush woodland. Stay at the fully equipped adjoining cottages for a bush getaway just minutes away from Karangahake Gorge and the Owharoa Falls. If you're staying close to Cathedral Cove, get the Kiwi beach pub experience at the Pour House a family-run pub which 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

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 options of staying in budget-friendly cabins or beach-facing villas that are perfect for couples. 

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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, 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. 

Eat

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 incresing 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 on the sea side suburb all year around. Save room for the mean dessert waffles made fresh to order. 

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Stay

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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