From its rolling green hills dotted with sheep to its sparkling coastlines, New Zealand’s North Island is a beautiful place for a road trip. Travelling by car is the perfect way to make sure you have plenty of time to stop and check out all the quirky cities and magnificent scenery along the way. We’ve created this Auckland to Wellington drive itinerary to help you plan your trip and get the most out of your holiday.
If you self-drive directly from Auckland to Wellington, the distance is around 640km and will take around 7.5 hours along State Highway 1. If you want to take the scenic route on your Auckland to Wellington road trip, it’s about 980km with a total driving time of almost 14 hours.
Before leaving on your New Zealand road trip, make a list of your must-see stops and map out your route. Make sure you allow plenty of time to stop and relax at each destination along the way.
Consider the weather and seasons
While many people choose to visit NZ in Summer when the weather is at its sunniest, it’s also the busiest and most expensive time of year to travel. You might want to consider taking your holiday in Autumn or Spring when the weather is still pleasant, but the popular tourist spots aren’t as busy.
Whether you’re driving your own car or a rental car, research the road rules and check out the most up-to-date driving conditions before leaving on any road trips.
Read on to find out the best places to stop and where to see the most amazing views as you’re driving south toward Wellington.
Before leaving New Zealand’s largest city, spend a day exploring downtown Auckland. Go up the Sky Tower, dine at one of the city’s top restaurants, or take a ferry from the city to Waiheke Island.
Next, head to the beautiful beaches on the East Coast of New Zealand. Drive through the spectacular Karangahape Gorge, then check out NZ’s iconic Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.
Drive along the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, until you get to Hamilton. Stop for a short walk through the Hamilton Gardens and visit the Waikato Museum and craft shops before carrying on your road trip.
Travel to Middle Earth and explore the Hobbiton Village attractions, which are about an hour’s drive from Hamilton. Get up close to the movie’s remaining intact set, nestled amongst Matamata’s lush green pastures.
This 4.7 km loop winds through native NZ bush and leads to the stunning Blue Spring, which is certainly worth visiting.
Take a boat tour through the Waitomo Caves and see the awe-inspiring sight of New Zealand glowworms shining all around you.
Rotorua is full of natural wonders, including bubbling mud pools, hot springs, and the soaring Redwoods of Whakarewarewa Forest. Visit Rotorua to learn about New Zealand Māori culture at a cultural performance, go mountain biking around the lakes, or get some delicious street food at the night market. You won’t want to miss checking out the Skyline Rotorua Luge and Stratosfare Restaurant to enjoy magnificent views of the region.
Plan to spend a day at Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, where you can enjoy the walking trails, bungy jump, or eat lunch in the quaint Lake Taupo township. Make sure you check out the roaring Huka Falls and the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings as well.
For some fun in nature, stop off at Tūrangi, a great spot for fly fishing. If you’re not into trout fishing, go for a walk or bike ride along the Tongariro River trail.
Up for a challenging adventure? Why not hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in this national park? If you’re travelling in the NZ winter, you can stop for a day of skiing and snowboarding.
Explore NZ’s military history at the National Army Museum. If you’re a history buff, this stop is sure to be one of the highlights of your journey.
Visit the Hawkes Bay region and soak in Napier’s unique art deco architecture. Tour one of the region’s famous wineries and sample some delicious wine, or travel to Cape Kidnappers or Te Mata Peak for absolutely stunning views. From Hawkes Bay, head to Palmerston North for a walk at Victoria Esplanade to break up the drive to Wellington.
Plan to spend a few days in New Zealand’s capital city, exploring the Wellington waterfront, art galleries, Cuba Street, and downtown Wellington. For an iconic experience, ride up the Wellington cable car to the beautiful botanic gardens. Visit Weta Cave, Weta Workshop, and Te Papa Museum, which are perfect activities for a rainy day.
Want to see the North Island of New Zealand without having to drive from Auckland to Wellington by car? You can ride the Northern Explorer train and enjoy the scenery along the way. Looking for an adventure off the beaten path? Read about our favourite glamping sites in the North Island. Explore New Zealand’s renowned wineries at the best places to go wine tasting in Rotorua. Ready to get a hire car and tour the South Island? Check out our itinerary for a Queenstown to Milford Sound road trip.
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