10. The Volcanic Loop road trip
Let us guide you through the best road trip experiences for your New Zealand holiday: here is No. 10 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
The Volcanic Loop Highway is a week-long loop that takes you from Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau through some of the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui’s most spectacular and varied locations.
Head south from Auckland into the fertile green Waikato region, where its most unusual crop is grown at the Zealong Tea Estate, perfect for a break, perhaps a tour, and definitely a cuppa. Stop again at Hamilton Gardens, where 21 immaculate and colourful walled gardens present a range of botanical styles reflecting different cultures, beliefs and art from around the world. An hour away lies Matamata, entry to the obsessively perfect Hobbiton Movie Set, where a tour will transport you into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world.
Just an hour’s drive from Hamilton/Kirikiriroa is another world altogether. Waitomo’s huge complex of caverns offers a range of ways to explore this secret environment, threaded with streams that reflect the blue-green glitter of glow worms like an underground Milky Way. Boat, walk, abseil or raft through this spectacular location. Set off on the Te Waihou Walkway in search of Blue Spring, reputed to be one of the purest water sources in the world. At Pureora Forest Park, inviting trails wind through lush native forest. Climb a tower up into the canopy, or stroll around a peaceful lagoon. Pureora is where the Timber Trail begins, following old logging tracks and tramlines, with suspension bridges and abandoned relics of the logging trade along the route.
Continue cycling along the Timber Trail, or revert to your car and drive on to Taumarunui where, in season, a visit to Lauren’s Lavender Farm is a pure delight. The main trunk line runs through here and nearby is Forgotten World Adventures, offering fun, guided motorised rail cart trips along the decommissioned tracks, through pretty countryside, through 24 tunnels and over bridges. You can opt for a side trip in a jet boat along the Whanganui River, or spend up to four days canoeing on this adventure if you like. Take a short hike to the remarkable Bridge to Nowhere, with its sad history but lovely scenery. For more railway stories, visit the museum in Ohakune, where you can also spend the night at Station Lodge, once the Train Station Master’s villa overlooking the railway with a pretty epic mountain view.
Ohakune is the gateway to Tongariro National Park. Spend the day on the dramatic Tongariro Alpine Crossing, skirting volcanic craters and passing steaming turquoise lakes, enjoying amazing views. Or instead, whisk in a jet boat along the river to see the Bridge to Nowhere from below, or peacefully paddle a kayak. Then drive to Taupō, where you have a range of hot pools to relax in, like DeBretts, before dinner – and later have a go at driving a golf ball onto a raft on the lake.
It’s all about water today. Cruise or paddle out to see the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings or go fishing for trout. Watch people bungy jumping off a cliff to dip into the river below, or take a jet boat ride along the mighty Waikato to the thundering Huka Falls. Soak in free and natural Otumuheke Stream.
Drive back to Auckland, stopping in Tīrau to enjoy its corrugated iron art, and Pōkeno for a towering ice-cream cone. In the city, take a hike or e-bike ride up one of its 50-odd volcanic cones, like Mt Eden/Maungawhau, with its grassy crater, inviting boardwalk and expansive views. Wander along the vibrant waterfront to the Wynyard Quarter, looking at the boats and being spoiled for choice for dinner.
Take a 40-minute cruise on a ferry across to Waiheke Island, a laid-back delight full of art, wine, food and beaches. Explore by e-bike, scooter, Segway or Ho-Ho bus, and finish your day at a luxury retreat, such as Delamore Lodge, lolling in its infinity pool with enviable views.