Auckland to East Cape Loop itinerary
On this 9-day circular adventure through the east of New Zealand's North Island, you'll see surf beaches, bubbling mud, and quiet lakes. Follow East Cape Road past historic landmarks to Gisborne from the forests and coastal towns of the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. Before returning to Auckland through Hobbiton and Hamilton, sample some wine in Napier and visit the geysers and hot springs of Taupo and Rotorua.
Day 1: Auckland to Whitianga
Travel south from Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula. Miranda's hot springs and bird refuge are a great place to stop for a rest. The ancient township of Thames, founded during the Coromandel gold rush, is an excellent spot to learn about New Zealand's gold mining history. A local mining museum may be visited, and gold mining remnants can be found on many of the hiking paths. Continue down the peninsula to Whitianga from here. Surfing, surf casting, and beach walks are some of the highlights here, or take the ferry to the south side of the harbour and a short taxi trip to Cooks Beach.
Cathedral CoveCathedral Cove, Waikato, New Zealand
Day 2: Whitianga to Tauranga
The journey south from Whitianga brings you close to two must-see attractions: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. When visiting Hot Water Beach, go at low tide when it's at its most beautiful. Whangamata, further south, is one of the country's most appealing surf villages. Visit the local animal sanctuary on Mayor Island for a wonderful day trip. Waihi, Athenree Gorge, and Katikati, which is noted for its beautiful town murals, are all worth visiting. Tauranga is one of New Zealand's most rapidly growing cities, with plenty to see and do. Big game fishing, snorkeling, and dolphin watching tours are all available through boat charters. Stay ashore and explore Mount Maunganui, which is nearby.
Hot Water BeachHot Water Beach, New Zealand
Day 3: Tauranga to Whakatane
It's only a short drive from Tauranga to Whakatane, one of New Zealand's sunniest towns. The lovely Mataatua, Te Manuka Tutahi, meeting house is the main attraction here. This edifice, carved in the 1870s by local iwi Ngati Awa, was handed to Queen Victoria as a gesture of goodwill. It was dismantled and shipped to Sydney for an international exhibition in 1879, after which it toured the world before returning to Whakatane in 1996.
Mataatua StreetMataatua Street, Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
Day 4: Whakatane to Gisborne via Te Araroa
Today's itinerary includes a scenic but hard drive around East Cape. Spread this trip out over two days if you have the leisure, including an overnight stay at Te Araroa. The Maori chapel at Tikitiki, hot springs in Te Puia Springs, and a historic 660-meter wharf in Tolaga Bay are among the sights along the road. There's also lots of beach to go swimming, walking, surfing, or fishing on. Alternatively, take the State Highway 2 inland route and spend more time in Gisborne, where you can surf to your heart's delight, immerse yourself in Maori culture, and develop a new respect for Chardonnay.
Te AraroaTe Araroa, New Zealand
Day 5: Gisborne to Wairoa via Lake Waikaremoana
From Gisborne, there are two options for getting to Waikaremoana and Wairoa. The inland path passes by Te Reinga Falls and Hackfalls Arboretum, one of New Zealand's greatest private tree collections. The coastal path leads to Morere Hot Springs and the Mahia Peninsula's beautiful beaches. Lake Waikaremoana, formed by a landslide about 2,200 years ago, is now the entryway to the Te Urewera wilderness area. Try horseback riding, kayaking, or hiking to explore this beautiful forest - the Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. The Onepoto Caves are also a must-see, and Aniwaniwa has a tiny museum that chronicles the region's story.
Lake WaikaremoanaLake Waikaremoana, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Day 6: Wairoa to Taupo via Napier
The city of Napier was nearly destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1931. It was reconstructed in the Art Deco style and is now known as the world's Art Deco Capital. The region is also noted for its vineyards, many of which are connected by a network of easy bicycle trails. The gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers is another draw. Continue on from Napier to Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. Taupo is an ideal location for getting out on the lake. Take a boat ride to Mine Bay's massive Maori rock sculptures, or rent a kayak and explore the lake on your own. Mountain biking and hiking are two onshore activities. Spend the evening at Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs resting.
Cape KidnappersCape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Day 7: Taupo to Rotorua
The short trip to Rotorua is jam-packed with things to do. Huka Falls, a world-renowned golf course, and the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station are both located just outside Taupo. Orakei Korako Cave & Geothermal Park, located nearby, is home to some of the country's most impressive geothermal features. Geothermal activity abounds at Rotorua, with boiling mud, steaming vents, and exploding geysers visible everywhere. The region also provides a variety of odd and unusual adventure sports, such as the OGO, shweeb, and luge, for adrenaline addicts. Alternatively, you might go to Hell's Gate and unwind in the mud baths and sulphur spas for the day.
Huka Falls Loop RoadHuka Falls Loop Road, Wairakei, Taupō, New Zealand
Day 8: Rotorua to Cambridge via Hobbiton
Today, you'll tour Hobbiton Movie Set, which features a community of lifesize hobbit holes, to immerse yourself in the fantasy world of MiddleearthTM. Enjoy a guided tour of The Shire while your knowledgeable guide tells you behind-the-scenes stories from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Before continuing on to Cambridge for the night, stop at Green Dragon Inn for a pint of Sobering Thought Ale or the Shire's Rest Café for a small lunch. Cambridge is a wonderful tree-lined street with beautiful heritage buildings in the heart of the Waikato's rich horse breeding industry. Spend the afternoon looking for antiques and art or going to a horse show in the area.
Hobbiton Village, New ZealandHobbiton Village, New Zealand, Matamata, New Zealand
Day 9: Cambridge to Auckland via Hamilton
The city of Hamilton, New Zealand's fourth largest, is not far from Cambridge. The Waikato River, which runs through the heart of Hamilton, is the city's most prominent feature. Riverboat cruising, walking trails, floral gardens, and the Hamilton Zoo's large free flight aviary are just a few of the city's attractions. Spend a few hours visiting Hamilton before continuing on to Auckland via the road. Explore the core city of Auckland on foot, by public transportation, or on a guided tour. End your journey with a dinner at Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct, Britomart, or Ponsonby Road, one of Auckland's many dining districts.