Growing up with plenty of road trip vacations, it’s no secret that I love them! It gives you a chance to explore a large area with your own itinerary and best of all, you can stop whenever and wherever you want. I jumped at the chance of taking a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand during my visit in December. It was my winter, their summer – the ideal time to go.
The drives were relatively short, making the North Island perfect for a brief trip, which was four full days for me. Those familiar with right hand driving may find it a bit of an adjustment to be driving on the left on the narrow and winding roads, but the views are spectacular!
UP THE EAST COAST
The coast is littered with beaches and there are many little towns to visit along the way so take your time to explore this area. Heading up from Auckland, I followed the coast line, stopping as I pleased. I found the information centres, known as i-SITEs, very useful for some recommendations and hidden gems!
Notable stops include Orewa, Tawharanui Regional Park, The Gallery and Cafe at Helena Bay Hill (lunch with a view!), Russell, Paihia and Kerikeri. Don’t pass up the chance to take the vehicle ferry at Okiato as it is definitely a nice experience.
The main highlight of the trip was heading up to Cape Reinga. This is as far north as one can get in the country and is a very spiritual, important place for the Maori. Words cannot describe the beautiful tranquility of the place. From a vantage point, you can clearly see where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean come together and the short walk out to the lighthouse was great to take it all in.
I used Kaitaia as my base for the day up to Cape Reinga, as it is the closest town complete with plenty of restaurants and grocery stores. Be sure to stock up and bring some food and drinks with you as you won’t be finding too many food stops on the drive up the peninsula.
On the drive up, take an ice cream break at Te Kao General Store, visit the Te Paki Sand Dunes and of course, the beautiful white sand beaches along the way. Plan to spend a full day here, or at least a full afternoon (what I did) to make the most of all the sights.
DOWN THE WEST COAST
Driving down the West Coast was the home stretch of the trip. The Arai-Te-Uru Recreation Reserve in Omapere has a gorgeous vista with hikes varying from half an hour to a few hours long. I also visited the Waipoua Forest to see the large Kauri tree and the Kauri Museum to get a taste of New Zealand’s history.
The scenery and laid back nature of the North made it a great place to unwind, compared to the more adventurous activities in the South Island. I know that people often choose the South Island over the North for road trips, especially with the majestic Fiordland National Park located there, however, I found that there is so much to explore up north as well! The many small towns, relaxing beaches and amazing people really made for an amazing experience.
We hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful for planning your own New Zealand road trip. Have you toured the country by road? Please share you own tips with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > 6 Travel Tips For New Zealand