11. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
Let us guide you through the best road trip experiences for your New Zealand holiday: here is No. 11 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
You’ve explored Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau’s vibrant waterfront, shopped at Newmarket, taken an e-bike tour up to Mt Eden/Maungawhau for long views over the city and its harbours. You’ve boarded a ferry to climb brooding Rangitoto, or to sample the many vineyards, browse the art galleries or whizz down the ziplines on Waiheke Island. Now it’s time to drive south for a taste of the wide variety of scenery on offer along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Less than three hours away is the Coromandel Peninsula, in a world of its own. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but you must go to little Hahei and walk, or take a boat tour to Cathedral Cove where a soaring archway frames inviting blue sea and little islets, foregrounded by soft white sand.
You can’t beat the novelty of hiring a spade and digging your own spa in the sand at Hot Water Beach, happily concocting your ideal mix of thermal spring and sea water; though kayaking or paddleboarding to little Donut Island off Whangamatā and discovering its secret lagoon is right up there, too.
It’s only another 2.5-hour drive down to Waihi, from where you can cycle a section of the Hauraki rail trail, through the dramatic Karangahake Gorge with its historic gold mining sites, spooky 100-metre-long tunnel and striking scenery. Choose the option of riding back on a vintage train. At Tauranga, take a walk along the buzzing strand waterfront, where you’ll find plenty of places to eat and drink. Children will be delighted by the Hairy Maclary bronze sculptures, honouring local author Lynley Dodd. Then head across to distinctive Mt Maunganui/Mauao for a climb up to long views over its surfing beach and, with a guide, hear local Māori legends rooted in the landscape below.
It’s just an hour to Whakatāne. Take a tour of the uniquely well-travelled meeting house on its marae, walk out for a view of the striking statue at the river mouth, or take a boat trip to nearby Whale Island, to explore its nature sanctuary; or go on a cruise to spot sea life such as dolphins, seals and maybe whales.
An hour or so’s drive inland takes you to Rotorua, crammed with interest and activities. At sites like Te Puia there’s a wealth of geothermal activity to discover, full of colour and of course that distinctive sulphurous smell. Have a soak in those healing waters at somewhere like Kerosene Creek. Māori culture is very strong here and you can watch, listen and even eat your way into it. You can get some thrills on the luge or a treetop walk with ziplines, mountain bike through a redwood forest, or take sightseeing flights over that dramatic landscape.
Drive about two hours across to Napier/Ahuriri, with its dramatic earthquake history and reincarnation as a unique Art Deco city. Take a bicycle vineyard tour, or visit the world’s largest gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers, where you’ll also find a golf course with irresistibly distracting views.