Loading up a 4WD with your bags and setting off on the open road through what is arguably the world’s most consistently stunning landscape is a holiday idea with few equals: powering along the roads as mountains, volcanic fields, lush rainforest and rolling hills rise and fall around you is an unforgettable experience.
On a road trip through New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll travel the same rugged scenery traversed by the characters in Peter Jones’ Lord of The Rings films. For a less demanding (and less treacherous!) but equally panoramic trip, hire a car and see where the open road takes you! To kick you off, we’ve selected a few key stop-offs that will help get the best out of your journey – from end to end, there is around eight hours of driving here.
The coastal town of Paihia is known as the gateway to the Bay of Islands, a collection of 144 small islands to explore offshore, and is where New Zealand’s founding treaty was signed in 1840. Explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and see if you can spot dolphins on a wildlife watching boat trip along the coast.
One of the world’s highest ranking cities for quality of life, Auckland is a scenic three-hour drive from Paihia and holds many treasures between its volcanic cones of One Tree Hill and Mt Eden. Auckland Art Gallery is well worth a visit with its new wooden atrium on top of the 1887 frame; make sure to check out the 19th-century depictions of tattooed Maori for an insight into the indigenous people.
Head south to Rotorua and the scent of the sulphur-rich air as you approach gives you an early indication of the area’s geothermal attractions. Perhaps the star performer is the 30 metre-high Pohutu Geyser, which erupts up to 20 times a day. Elsewhere, you can sit back and relax in a natural lakeside hot pool, stand under a steaming-hot waterfall and take a soak in a natural mud bath.
Last but by no means least is the snow-capped surroundings of New Zealand’s largest lake, the great Lake Taupo. Park your car up by the water and you can enjoy some of the most serene fishing you’ll ever experience, plus beautiful mountain biking, hiking and boat cruise trips all around its shores. As a final hurrah, visit Huka Falls to see 220,000 litres of turquoise water flying by every second.