girl map new zealand road trip car

Driving across New Zealand's north island is a dream come true for adventurers. One minute you’re cutting through busy city streets, and just a few miles later you’re passing through a secluded misty rainforest. While at times unpredictable, the island’s ever-changing landscapes and weather ensure your drive will be anything but boring. As a bonus, the continuously winding roads that lead through forests and mountains will make you feel like James Bond (especially if you have the car for it). 

For this particular road trip, you'll start off in Auckland and end on the southern tip of the island in Wellington. Our guide takes you both to the coast and through the center of the island, so you don't miss a thing. Prepare yourself for gorgeous views, delicious food, and cozy stays on this unforgettable ride. 

Day 1

The first day of driving is short but sweet, ending with some fantastic ocean views. From Auckland, you’ll leave behind city life and head toward New Zealand’s pristine west coast. Just 50 minutes on State Highway 16 and Urban Route 13 will take you to Piha.

What to See
Piha is a collection of beautiful beachside homes, lush greenery and, of course, a stunning beach. Therefore, you'd be remiss not to pull over at Piha Beach itself to enjoy the Pacific Ocean at its best. Towering waves crash upon black sands, and it's all framed by unforgettable rock formations. Stop at the local surf shop for a lesson on riding the waves, or just lounge on the beach.

What to Eat
Blair’s on the Beach is a casual beachfront eatery. Grab a classic order of fish and chips and wash it down with a creamy milkshake. Nothing hits the spot after a day on the beach quite like greasy and oh-so-delicious takeaway.

Where to stay
Waitakere Estate, like Piha, is in the Auckland region. Drive 20 minutes from the coast to stay at this boutique hotel. Totally luxurious and surrounded by the island’s iconic rainforest, you can relish the view and spoil yourself with an evening in the estate’s sauna. It might be hard to spend just one night here, but the road beckons.

Day 2

Your second day on the road will require a little more time behind the wheel, but trust us, it won't disappoint. Verdant forests and grassy hills dotted with farm animals will take turns slipping past your windows in a blur of beautiful color. It will take about three-and-a-half hours to drive south from Piha to Rotorua, a town in the center of the north island. Once you arrive, you might be struck by the scent of sulfur. Try not to let the distinctive smell bother you — Rotorua is a hotspot for geothermal activity.

What to See
The volcanic activity that puts Rotorua on the map has created some mesmerizing natural features. Make a pit stop at Wai-O-Tapu to wander paths that lead past colorful, steaming pools and craters. Or, wander past Devil’s Bath for a look at its wicked, radioactive shade of green. Sulfur is the culprit behind this color, as well as the area’s olfactory presence.

Where to Eat
The food at Abracadabra Café is every bit as magical as its name suggests. Sit out on the cafe’s patio or at tables in the sunny indoor space. Depending on when you sit down to eat, you can enjoy the brunch menu, tapas or dinner. No matter what time of day, don’t miss the chance to sample the drinks menu. The pineapple and coconut margarita is the perfect road trip indulgence (post-driving, of course).

Where to stay
Rotorua is built around a beautiful lake of the same name. Park your car for the night at Koura Lodge, an upscale bed and breakfast on the shores of the lake, and rest your head on pillows in a lodge suite, lodge room or a luxury apartment. You can't really go wrong with whichever you choose, as all of them boast beautiful waterfront views.

Day 3

Your last day of driving will be the longest. Leave Rotorua behind you and cruise State Highway 1 through forests, hills, and along the western coast to Wellington. The journey is just under six hours, if you can limit the number of photo op stops you make along the way. Either way, your Instagram won’t be wanting for pictures or likes.

What to See

Stretch your legs with a hike up to the Mount Victoria Lookout for a spectacular, 360-degree view of the city, its harbor, and lush, rolling mountains. We challenge you to find a more epic view to cap off a road trip — it's that good.

Where to Eat
After three days on the road, you and your squad have more than earned a glass (or bottle) of wine. Toast to the trip with a mouthwatering menu and extensive wine list at Boulcott Street Bistro & Wine Bar. We highly recommend the decadent pinot noir and Ghana mousse. 

Where to stay
Who hasn’t idly fantasized about of spending the night in a museum? The Museum Art Hotel Wellington makes that dream come true, but with the added bonus of modern comfort. Wander through a collection of contemporary artwork before settling into the comfort of your own chic room. 

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