North Island

North Island New Zealand road trip: seven hot spots to visit

For those with a spirit of adventure, heading out on a good-old-fashioned Kiwi road trip is the best way to see New Zealand.

From towering mountains to the cool blue lakes, the diverse landscape of Aotearoa will blow you away. It’s no wonder the rolling burnt hills and jagged hills inspired painters such as Colin McCahon and Rita Angus, not to mention films such as Lord of The Rings. Just looking out of the car window will make you feel like you’re gazing into a storybook world.

So chuck some towels in the back, grab a pair of jandals (the Kiwi name for thongs) and be prepared to take thousands of great photos during your North Island New Zealand road trip.

Meet the writer

Lucy Revill is an award-winning content creator, who has fronted the New Zealand lifestyle blog, The Residents, since 2015. She enjoys walks in the Wellington hills, sourcing ethical fashion and eating at local cafes with her partner-in-crime, and occasional photographer, Matt.
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Road trip essentials

Before heading out on your North Island road trip, it pays to be prepared:

  • Book your accommodation at least a few weeks in advance so as to not be stung by pricey accommodation. In small towns, accommodation can be limited;
  • Make sure you have a full tank of petrol and lots of water and snacks. You don’t want to get hungry or thirsty, and the cuisine in the smaller Kiwi towns might not meet all dietary requirements;
  • Pick up a car phone charger as you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car—you don’t want to get stuck without juice!

Start your journey in Auckland

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Feel the humidity and hum of New Zealand’s biggest city, as you start your North Island road trip at the unique Shakespeare & Brewery. The Shakespeare’s main bar is located level to Albert and Wyndham streets and is a great place to relax and unwind, with a choice of eight beers on tap, some of which are brewed in-house.

Spending the night will be just as cosy and quirky as nights’ spend at the bar, plus you’ll be perfectly situated for exploring central Auckland. The Viaduct harbour is just a five-minute walk, showcasing a vast array of restaurants, while the world-famous Sky Tower is another five in the other direction for wondrous views of Auckland’s skyline. For foodies, Amano at Britomart is a ‘must-visit’; try the shucked fresh oysters or Mozzarella focaccia di recco—organic cow’s milk mozzarella in thin olive oil bread.

Shakespeare & Brewery

Auckland, 0.6 km to Aotea Square
7.6 Good (968 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.9 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Restaurant
Hotel bar
WiFi in lobby
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Island detour on your North Island New Zealand road trip

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After a good night’s sleep, grab your bags and take the Fullers ferry from the wharf direct to Waiheke Island, a scenic detour worth taking with city views and an endless horizon into the ocean ahead. The salty sea air, the spray of water on your face and the hard cold metal of the ferry handrail will remain fixed in your memories as you head out onto the water.

Waiheke Island itself has achieved near-mythic status as an ideal place for both Kiwis and tourists to relax. Check out Cable Bay Views for a night at this waterfront ‘bach’ property to get a flavour of the classic New Zealand holiday so many of us enjoyed as children.

Once you settle in and throw down your bags, it’s time to get some rays on the beach. You’ll be within walking distance to Cable Bay and Coopers Beach, and close to scenic Karikari Peninsula and Mangonui Beach. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine and enjoy it on the west facing deck as you watch the sunset.

Cable Bay Views

8.7 Excellent (204 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.1 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
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A scenic drive to Mount Maunganui

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After your time in Waiheke, you’ll be ready to get back on the road. Take the scenic drive from Auckland to Mount Maunganui, stopping at The Atrium Apartments. Providing a good mix of value, comfort and convenience, this crisp accommodation is right at the foot of Maunganui, or as locals call it ‘The Mount’, which rises 232 meters from the sea.

While it might require a bit of effort, the walk up to the top of the mountain is worth of your sweat. Be surrounded by lush green bushes and warbling Tuis as you walk upwards into the clouds. The top of this extinct volcano provides 360-degree views which span the entire length of the Bay of Plenty.

After your hike around the iconic peak, take a dip in the ocean, collapse on the shimmering golden sands of the shores, or if you’re not a fan of salt water, head to the heated pool at your accommodation (from February, the weather cools down so swims in the sea can be chilly). Make sure you catch the Gourmet Night Market for an incredible selection of food and fresh produce straight from local farms. Laughter, smokey flavours and whitebait fritters—what could be better?

The Atrium Apartments

Mount Maunganui, 0.7 km to Mount Maunganui - Mauao
7.8 Good (793 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.1 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Gym
Outdoor swimming pool
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A must-visit on your road trip

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No North Island road trip is complete without taking some time out at iconic Lake Taupo. If you want to truly enjoy the serenity of the lake, make sure you set up base at The Reef Resort. A very popular spot for holidaymakers, you can watch the zipping of jet skis and motor boats around the lake throughout the day. But, if you wake up early you’ll find few other intruders except the native birds, so you can enjoy your morning cuppa in peace.

If you want to see one of the wonders of New Zealand’s North Island, visit the magnificent waterfalls of Huka Falls. Emitting an almost metallic smell, Huka Falls is nearly two kilometres north of Taupo and can be easily accessed by bus, car or by taking the Spa Park Walk along the Waikato River. There’s nothing like watching more than 200,000 litres of water plummet through the waterfall’s unique narrow gap every second. Grab a toastie at a local roadside cafe on your way back, and a scoop of famous Kiwi Tip-Top Ice Cream, Goody-Goody-Gum-Drops (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it).

The Reef Resort

Top rated
Taupo, 3.7 km to Huka Falls
9.2 Excellent (1439 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.6 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Outdoor swimming pool
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A spot of jazz on your North Island New Zealand road trip

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Next stop is Napier! Art Deco Masonic Hotel is a perfect example of the famous 1930’s architectural style that exemplifies the city. You’ll truly feel like you’ve fallen into a Jeeves and Wooster novel (if you time it right, Napier does an Art Deco weekend 19th – 21st July 2019, where people flock to this jazzy hub in their flapper-dresses and top-hats tails).

Book yourself in for an art deco walk as a great way to see all of the city’s unique architecture near the waterfront. For delicious seasonal pizzas, head to Pipi’s in Havelock North, famous for its thin base. Try the Funghi pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms, blue cheese and herbs. You can also explore local wineries which have made a big splash overseas, like Black Barn, or check out local potters like Martin Poppelwell.

Art Deco Masonic Hotel

Top rated
Napier, 21 km to Black Barn Vineyards
8.9 Excellent (1641 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.6 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Restaurant
Hotel CTA

Wine country wandering in the Wairarapa region

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The Wairarapa region is famous for its laidback country lanes and farming culture. Drive down the countryside through windy roads and sprawling farms, and you’ll find yourself at Brackenridge Country Retreat & Spa—just off of Martinborough Square’s main street.

You’ll have everything you need to get comfortable, including crisp linen on your beds, an open-plan kitchen, fresh coffee, eggs and delicious sweet and tangy Mela apple juice—but don’t waste time by sitting in your room! There’s wine to be drunk all throughout this famous vineyard mecca.

Get yourself a bike from Green Jersey bike hire and peddle between pinots; a safe way to explore the vines and wines of the Martinborough region. Finish with Dinner at Cool Change—a 1960’s themed bar with great comfort food like Lamb Rump or chargrilled Squid. Brackenridge is also pet-friendly—a plus for Fido!

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Brackenridge Country Retreat & Spa

8.9 Excellent (400 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
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End your North Island road trip in the ‘coolest little capital’

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You’ve made it to the final stop of your North Island New Zealand road trip! And what better way to cap your travels than with a boutique experience at Ohtel—a completely unique hotel in Wellington, just off beautiful Oriental Parade.

Rooms are bespoke with quirky New Zealand prints, mid-century themed furniture and interesting views across the city to boot. Wellington is a city where you can walk everywhere, so you’ll enjoy the buzz of this lauded ‘coolest little capital’ even more. Staying at Ohtel, you’re also very close to Ortega Fish Shack, Capital Restaurant and Sweet Mother’s Kitchen—all worthy dining spots to enjoy amazing food and drink, from fine seafood to southern soul food.

Wind up your holiday by learning about the history of New Zealand and having a bit of fun along the way. Go on a free tour of Parliament, jump off a giant diving board in Odlins Plaza or visit the national museum, Te Papa, all of which are within walking distance of your hotel.

Also, popping into Moore Wilson’s Fresh is a must for foodies—local artisanal products stock the shelves, from Bohemian Chocolate to Zany Zeus Yoghurt, and you can try some of the most incredible fresh squeezed orange juice, which they make in-house.

Ohtel Wellington

Top rated
Wellington, 1.9 km to Botanic Garden
8.8 Excellent (460 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.5 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
Hotel CTA

Feature image courtesy of Jacob Lund / Fotolia