6 must-see destinations on an Auckland to Wellington road trip

couple staring down mountain at sea town below

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted April 11, 2022

New Zealand's North Island has a wealth of exciting, adventurous and quirky attractions best experienced on a road trip.

Travelling by car between the North Island’s two biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington, ensures you don’t miss the incredible cultural, natural, and touring highlights. Like white sandy beaches, bubbling geysers, crystal-clear lakes, and soul-soothing hot springs.

We share our favourite stops (and detours) from Auckland to Wellington: allow at least six days to do justice to this enchanting route.

New Zealand's must-see destinations on a North Island road trip


Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, though it feels more like a series of very cool neighbourhoods once you start exploring. Stroll Ponsonby’s trendy boutiques, enjoy the beach vibes in Takapuna, and enjoy delectable meals in Britomart downtown.

For a spot of culture, visit the Auckland Arts Gallery Toi o Tāmaki: it's Aotearoa’s largest, housing over 15,000 works. For a deep dive into the city and country’s past, stop by the Auckland Museum.

To experience the contrast of the city, head out west to the Waitakere Ranges. Pristine bush, native wildlife, and the wild waves of the black sand beaches leave a lasting impression. Piha is a popular West Coast beach, as is Bethalls with its nearby black dunes. Consider this tour for a guided trip out west. 


person stand up paddle boarding through water

Try stand up paddle boarding through Auckland. Credit: Matt Crawford.

Bay of Plenty

Auckland to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty is a 2.5 hour drive.

Located on the North Island’s east coast, the Bay of Plenty is a dreamy coastal destination renowned for its great weather, picture-postcard beaches, and its plethora of water sports activities. Being virtually surrounded by water makes surfing, diving, fishing, kite surfing, and paddleboarding all popular activities.

Set on a peninsula, Mount Maunganui is a carefree destination and praised as having one of New Zealand’s best beaches. Mount Maunganui is an extinct volcano and sacred Māori site with hiking trails that reward with spectacular panoramic views.

In nearby Tauranga, head to the Strand waterfront for the bustling atmosphere of top-notch restaurants, cafes, and pubs. Catch a dolphin tour from Tauranga’s attractive harbour or rent a sailboat to explore the four nearby islands. Switch things up with a hike in Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park or kayak McLaren Falls.


Drive Tauranga to Rotorua in an hour.

Rotorua has its sights set on being the Spa Capital of New Zealand and they are well on their way, thanks to nature’s gift of geothermal waters, bubbling mud pools, and shooting geysers. The area’s therapeutic mineral-rich waters draw visitors from around the globe, as do the mud therapy treatments. Enjoy the benefits of the geothermal waters soaking in the hot pools of the Polynesian Spa. Stop by the explosive Pohutu Geyser, too.

You can also experience a range of more adventurous activities, like zip-lining the Whakarewarewa forest, paddleboarding Lake Rotorua, and going quirky-but-fun zorbing.

Rotorua is also one of the best places in NZ to learn more about Māori culture. Often tours include a hangi, a traditional Māori meal cooked underground. Try your hand at bone carving or weaving at the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. 


person looking at traditional mauri carving

See traditional Mauri carvings in Mine Bay, Lake Taupo. Credit: Miles Holden. 


Allow an hour to travel from Rotorua to Taupō. 

Picturesque Lake Taupō is a worthwhile stop on any Auckland to Wellington road trip itinerary. Not only because New Zealand’s largest lake is absolutely stunning, but because of the blend of attractions that make this a destination for every kind of traveller.

Love adventure? Taupō's got it all: skydiving, bungy jumping, kayaking, paddle boarding, and even jet boating Huka Falls (a highlight).

Prefer nature to thrills? Aside from the gorgeous nearby Huka Falls, Great Lake Walkway, and Craters of the Moon Walkway, Taupō is only an hour’s shuttle ride from Aotearoa’s best one-day hike, the Tongariro Crossing. You can also combine nature and culture on a scenic cruise to the 14-metre Māori rock carvings at Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay.

If self-care is as important to you as sightseeing, head to Taupõ de Bretts or the Wairakei Terraces to soak in their geothermal pools.

Hawke’s Bay

Allocate approximately two and a half hours to reach Hawke’s Bay from Taupō.

Known as ‘Food and Wine Country’, a detour to Hawke’s Bay is one that your tastebuds will thank you for. With over 200 vineyards, 70 wineries, and 38 cellar doors, you could easily spend your Hawke’s Bay visit solely eating and drinking. Mission Estate Winery is a long-standing favourite, as is the iconic Church Road Winery.

Hawke’s Bay’s other claim to fame is Art Deco Napier. A devastating earthquake in 1931 razed the town, and in its wake, art deco buildings went up.

Another must-do for Hawke’s Bay is a trip to the Cape Kidnappers Te Kauwae-a-Māui gannet colony, where 200,000 of these majestic birds reside. Alongside the joy of watching the gannets flap their 2-metre-wide wings overhead, the vistas are equally pleasurable. The best way to reach the gannet colony is on tour: choose from a tractor-driven tour or a 4WD safari.


Check out Hannah's Lane in Wellington. Credit: Camilla Rutherford.
Test your fears with a bungy in Taupo. Credit: Mead Norton.


Hawke’s Bay to Wellington is approximately a 5-hour drive. 

Art, culture, and the love of a good latte draw 750,00 visitors to Wellington annually. With a beautiful harbour, vibrant waterfront, and compactly placed attractions, it’s a pocket-sized destination that packs a punch.

To experience the best of the Coolest Little Capital in the World, explore Te Papa, New Zealand’s interactive national museum. The Pacific Cultures section is impressive, with around 13,000 artefacts on display. For a hands-on traditional Māori experience, paddle a carved waka (canoe) around the harbour.

Wellington is clearly not short on creative inspiration, as demonstrated by the large number of art galleries vying for your attention. And there’s an even larger number of coffee shops to convince you that a Wellington brew is better than a Melbourne one. There’s only one way to find out!

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