The Best 1 Day Trip from Auckland to Rotorua

What does the ultimate 1-day trip from Auckland to Rotorua look like? Choose between 4 fun and scenic options, all set to make memories that will last a lifetime.

A Family Enjoying The Views From Skyline Rotorua.
Image Credit: Skyline Rotorua

Rotorua, it’s our beautiful lakeside city that smells a little bit different to the rest of New Zealand, and it’s right on Auckland’s doorstep.

A day trip to Rotorua has always been a quintessential getaway for Aucklanders, and with all those parked planes putting so many people’s international travel plans put on hold, there’s been an overwhelming movement toward Kiwi’s exploring their own backyard.

There are so many incredible sights to see and activities to do between Auckland and Rotorua. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to decide where to go, and what to do along the way, so the team here at Skyline Rotorua have put together a handful of their favourite road trip ideas. Whether it’s your first time to Rotorua, or you’re a seasoned professional on the Luge track - there's a perfect day here for everyone!

If you like the idea of having a 153-metre-high waterfall to yourself, want to explore mining tunnels that burrow deep under the mountains, or visit a place called “The Shire”… buckle up and read on to discover the best 1-day trip ideas for travellers from Auckland to Rotorua.

The top 4 options for a 1-day trip from Auckland to Rotorua are:

  1. The Quickest Route (stopping in Hamilton and Tirau to explore the zoo & taste - arguably - New Zealand's best sausage roll)
  2. The Local’s Highway (explore 2 great waterfalls, Hobbiton & the Blue Springs)
  3. From the Misty Mountains to the Sea (explore Karangahake Gorge, stop for an ice cream at Mount Maunganui)
  4. The Scenic Route (spot a Kiwi bird, explore Waitomo caves, cross a swing bridge and see the Blue Springs)

1. The Quick Route (via Hamilton and Tirau)

Yes, it’s 'technically' not the quickest route, but the quickest route bypasses some of our favourite spots, and where’s the fun in that?

This route follows Highway 1 down to Tirau, at which point it switches to Highway 5 which you'll follow through to Rotorua. The drive is beautiful, but to break it up we have a couple of stops that will leave the family in awe, and their stomach's full.

Stop 1: Hamilton
Stop 2:
 Tirau
Stop 3:
 Rotorua

Driving Distance to Rotorua: 230 kilometres
Driving Time:
2 hours 45 minutes

A map image of the North Island of New Zealand, displaying a driving route from Auckland to Rotorua.
Map: Auckland to Rotorua, via Hamilton and Tirau

Stop 1 – Hamilton

The Hamilton Zoo is the largest zoo in New Zealand and hosts over 600 different species of animals from all around the world. Our personal favourite is the Tiger enclosure, test your nerves by challenging Oz to a staring contest - good luck!

Location: Hamilton Zoo, 183 Brymer Road, Baverstock, Hamilton
Directions: Tap here for directions from Auckland to the Hamilton zoo on Google Maps

A close up photograph of a roaring Tiger.
Image Credit: stuff.co.nz

Stop 2 - Tirau

Tirau is made famous by its giant sheep-dog visitor centre, but there's a little hidden gem that will fuel the family up before taking to the road, for the final leg of the journey.

If you're feeling a little bit peckish, stop by the Oxford Cafe, whose sausage rolls are legendary in the region!

Location: Oxford Cafe, 30 Main Road, Tirau 
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Hamilton zoo to the Oxford Cafe in Tirau on Google Maps

Tirau i-site. Animal shaped buildings, a sheep and a dog.
Image Credit: Tirau Visitor Centre

Stop 3 – Rotorua

Welcome to Rotovegas, the adventure capital of New Zealand's North Island.

With so much of your day left, why not head up the Skyline Gondola for an afternoon of gravity-fuelled-fun on the Luge

Enjoy a nice bite to eat at the Market Kitchen Cafe or stay for dinner at the award-winning Stratosfare Restaurant. Skyline Rotorua is the best way to complete your trip to Rotorua.

Location: 178 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Directions:
 Tap here for directions from Tirau to Skyline Rotorua
Website: skyline.co.nz/Rotorua

A Family Of Four Luging At Skyline Rotorua.
Image Credit: Skyline Rotorua

 

2. The Locals Highway

This is one of the more common routes for locals to take between Auckland and Rotorua, as it's considered slightly more direct than the other routes.

If you and your family like waterfalls, then this route has some treats in store for you. 'The Local's Highway' follows Highway 1, with a short detour heading into the Hunua Ranges. Continue along Highway 2 and turn off onto Highway 27, heading through Matamata. Finally, onward to Rotorua on Highway 5.

Stop 1: Hunua Falls
Stop 2:
 Wairere Waterfall
Stop 3:
 Hobbiton
Stop 4: Blue Springs
Stop 5:
Rotorua


Driving Distance to Rotorua: 
280 kilometres
Driving Time: 
3 hours 50 minutes

Driving Distance Return to Auckland: 230 kilometres
Driving Time:
 2 hours 45 minutes

A map image of the North Island of New Zealand, displaying a driving route from Auckland to Rotorua.
Map: Auckland to Rotorua, via Hunua Falls, Wairere Falls, Hobbiton and Blue Springs
Stop 1 – Hunua Falls

When it comes to exploring your back yard, it doesn't get much closer than this! Hunua Falls is a short 45-minute trip out of Auckland, and well worth the stop. A short 5-minute stroll from the car leads you to a magnificent 30-metre waterfall. Be careful around the falls and be sure to keep an eye on children.

This is one of New Zealand's must-see waterfalls. 

Location: Hunua Ranges Regional Park Falls Road, Hunua, Auckland
Directions: Tap here for directions from Auckland to Hunua Falls

The Hunua Falls and large pool below, on an overcast day.
Image Credit: stuff.co.nz
Stop 2 – Wairere Falls

The Wairere Falls appear like something straight out of a storybook. Seeing this 130-metre high waterfall cascade down the granite cliff, into the lush rainforest is a jaw-dropping sight.

Make sure your phone is charged - snap the right pic and you're bound to get some more followers on Instagram!

The waterfall lookout is a 45 minute walk from the carpark. Some parts are steep but take your time, you'll get there. The hard work getting there is rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding landscapes.

Location: Wairere Falls, Goodwin Road, Okauia
Directions: Tap here for directions from Hunua Falls to Wairere Falls

A photograph of the Wairere waterfall and surrounding bush on an overcast day.
Image Credit: Spooky21 (flickr.com)
Stop 3 - Hobbiton

Since Sir Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map with his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, many overseas travellers dream of visiting the Shire, tucked away in one of the most picturesque corners of our country.

But luckily for those who live in Auckland, it's only a short drive from home! 

Loosen up the legs (after the Wairere Falls hike) by taking a walk through Middle-Earth and experience the everyday reality of Bilbo Baggins at the Shire.

Location: 501 Buckland Road, Matamata
Directions: Tap here for directions from Wairere Falls to Hobbiton

Image Credit: Hobbitontours.com
Stop 4 - Blue Springs Putaruru

Over 60% of New Zealand's bottled water comes from the Blue Springs in Putaruru. The springs are a beautiful spot and one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets.

Make sure you start the walk from the Leslie Road carpark, the walk is a leisurely 30 minutes return.

Location: Blue Spring Putaruru, Leslie Road, Waikato
Directions: Tap here for directions from Hobbiton to the Blue Springs, Putaruru

Image Credit: waikatonz.com
Last Stop - Rotorua

Only 40 minutes down the road from the Blue Springs and you're in the geothermal wonderland that is Rotorua. Enjoy everything that's on offer from volcanic valleys, to giant balls rolling down hills, the world-famous Luge and everything in between.

Location: 178 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Blue Springs to Skyline Rotorua
Website: skyline.co.nz/Rotorua

Image: Ride the Luge at Skyline Rotorua!

3. From the Misty Mountains to the Sea

This route follows Highway 1, before switching to Highway 2 through the famous Karangahake Gorge. Then journey over the stunning Kaimai Ranges to the picturesque beachside town of Mount Maunganui.

Following Highway 33 through Pyes Pa will lead you to Rotorua. Make sure to soak up a little bit of Kiwiana along the way, by taking a photo beside the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa!

Stop 1: Karangahake Gorge Windows Walk
Stop 2:
 Mount Maunganui
Stop 3:
 Rotorua


Driving Distance to Rotorua: 
280 kilometres
Driving Time: 
3 hours 45 minutes

Driving Distance Return to Auckland: 230 kilometres
Driving Time:
 2 hours 45 minutes

A map image of the North Island of New Zealand, displaying a driving route from Auckland to Rotorua.
Map: Auckland to Rotorua, via the Karangahake Gorge and Mount Maunganui
Stop 1 - Karangahake Gorge Windows Walk

You’ll need a torch for this one. Be ready to face the darkness between each of the man-made “windows” in the tunnel. No, they’re not actual windows!

Test your nerves by seeing how far into the mountain you're willing to go, as you venture along old gold mining railway shafts.

Bring good footwear, the floor of the cave has ankle-deep puddles and can get slippery in places.

Location: State Highway 2, Karangahake
Directions: Tap here for directions from Auckland to the Karangahake Gorge Windows Walk

The Karangahake Gorge. The sun shining through a large opening into a tunnel.
Image Credit: Free walks NZ
Stop 2 - Mount Maunganui 

Lace-up your boots you're in for an amazing walk. The “Mount” walk takes about 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours at a leisurely pace. The view from the top is worth every puff of breath on the way up.

Once you're back in town, shoot across the road to Monte Gelato for a delicious treat. Or head to the beach for a dip in the warm ocean. 

Location: State Highway 2, Karangahake
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Karangahake Gorge Windows Walk to Mount Maunganui

Stop 3 - Rotorua

Welcome to Rotorua. Time to reclaim that Luge crown and get stuck into some rides.

Location: 178 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Directions: Tap here for directions from Mount Maunganui to Skyline Rotorua
Website: skyline.co.nz/Rotorua

A family rides the Luge together beneath colourful lights.
Image Credit: Skyline Rotorua

4. The Scenic Route

We all know what “scenic” means right? Buckle up people, here’s a less travelled route to Rotorua. This route follows Highway 1 to Hamilton. After Hamilton, it follows Highway 39 to Otorohanga.  There you take the Waitomo Valley Road through to Waitomo.

Here is where you must make a choice, there's to routes to Rotorua from here and they both take the same amount of time.

The first way follows Highway 3 north from Waitomo. Take a right on Allen Road, follow through to Arapuni Road. Stay on Arapuni Road to Putaruru. From Putaruru up Highway 28 to where it links to Highway 5 to Rotorua. This way you will be able to visit many of Waikato’s best spots as well as the famous Blue Springs.

Seem too complicated? Take the easier route.  Follow Highway 37 east then south on Highway 3. After you have gone through Te Kuiti look out for Highway 30. Follow Highway 30 right through to Rotorua. On the way, there’s heaps to see and do. If you're in need a refreshing swim from the long drive, detour to Waikite Valley hot springs. A real local favourite.

Stop 1: Hamilton Zoo
Stop 2:
 Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park
Stop 3:
 Waitomo Caves
Stop 4: Arapuni Swing Bridge and Power Station
Stop 5: Putaruru Blue Springs
Stop 6: Rotorua


Driving Distance to Rotorua:
 345 kilometres
Driving Time:
 4 hours 30 minutes

Driving Distance Return to Auckland: 230 kilometres
Driving Time:
 2 hours 45 minutes

A map image of the North Island of New Zealand, displaying a driving route from Auckland to Rotorua.
Map: Auckland to Rotorua, via Hamilton, Kiwi House, Waitomo, Arapuni and Putaruru

Stop 1 – Hamilton

The Hamilton Zoo is the largest zoo in New Zealand and hosts over 600 different species of animals from all around the world. Our personal favourite is the Tiger enclosure, test your nerves by challenging Oz to a staring contest - good luck!

Location: Hamilton Zoo, 183 Brymer Road, Baverstock, Hamilton
Directions: Tap here for directions from Auckland to the Hamilton zoo on Google Maps

A close up photograph of a roaring Tiger.
Image Credit: stuff.co.nz
Stop 2 – Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park

Although New Zealander's are called Kiwi's, only a lucky few have ever actually seen a real-life living Kiwi bird. If that sounds like you, then a trip to the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park will rectify that. 

Home to over 20 native species (including Kea, Kiwi, even the illusive Blue Duck, and Tuatara!) the park will give you the chance to see a real life Kiwi, up close and in the feathers.

Location: 20 Alex Telfer Drive, Otorohanga
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Hamilton Zoo to Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park on Google Maps

Image Credit: kiwihouse.org.nz
Stop 3 - Waitomo Caves 

The Waitomo Caves will have you feeling like you're traveling to another world. Deep below ground in the small town of Waitomo is a cave network that's home to millions of glow worms.

If you take the Ruakuri Boat Tour, you’ll explore the underground river that offers the best view of the glow worms, which appear like stars in a galaxy at nighttime.

All safety gear is provided, including wetsuits to keep you nice and warm.

Location: 20 Alex Telfer Drive, Otorohanga
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park to Waitomo Caves Google Maps

A photograph of a group of people black water rafting, looking up at glowworms.
Image Credit: waitomo.com
Stop 4 - Arapuni Swing Bridge and Power Station

Have a stretch with a short walk over the Arapuni suspension bridge, overlooking the Arapuni power station.

This incredible 152-metre swing bridge is bush lined, with incredible views to the surrounding forest canopy. The Arapuni Swing Bridge is a hidden gem, that a lot of locals don't even know about. 

Location: 57 Arapuni Road, Arapuni
Directions: Tap here for directions from Waitomo Caves to the Arapuni Swing Bridge on Google Maps

A photograph of the Arapuni swing bridge and the power station below.
Image Credit: lovetaupo.com
Stop 5 - Putaruru Blue Springs

Over 60% of New Zealand's bottled water comes from the Blue Springs in Putaruru. The springs are a beautiful spot and one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets.

Make sure you start the walk from the Leslie Road carpark, the walk is a leisurely 30 minutes return.

Location: Blue Spring Putaruru, Leslie Road, Waikato
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Arapuni Swing Bridge and Power Station to the Blue Springs, Putaruru

Image Credit: waikatonz.com
Stop 6 - Rotorua

The excitement doesn't stop here. By this point, you're probably hanging out for the Luge, or maybe even a wine tasting overlooking the city's beautiful lake. Don't forget to explore the rest of Rotorua too, there's so much to do for all ages and abilities. 

Location: 178 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Directions: Tap here for directions from the Blue Springs to Skyline Rotorua
Website: skyline.co.nz/Rotorua

A Father rides the Night Luge with his son in the same cart whilst a lady overtakes them on the left.
Image Credit: Skyline Rotorua

Now that you know how to spend the best 1-day trip to Rotorua...

Read on to discover more of what Rotorua has to offer, if you want to turn that 1-day trip into a long weekend:

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