Rotorua and Taupo are two of New Zealand’s North Island’s most prominent tourist spots. The drive from Auckland to both cities is an easy four-hour drive (stops excluded) and there are plenty of sights along the way.
Auckland y on
As you leave Auckland on the South Highway, the house gives way to farmland. You will pass over the Bombay Hills, which mark the boundary between the Auckland and Waikato regions. This is an important area for crops like onions and potatoes, as evidenced by the deep red volcanic soil in the fields adjacent to the road.
As you pass Te Kauwhata, the Waikato River is seen just before the town of Huntly. Huntly is a coal mining town and the Huntly Power Station stands right across the river. The Waikato is the longest river in New Zealand (425 km) and is within sight of the road for much of the journey to Hamilton.
Most travelers continue to Hamilton, but there is an alternative, more scenic route where you can avoid Hamilton’s traffic altogether. Just before Ngaruawahia, notice the sign on the left towards Cambridge via Gordonton (Highway 1B). This takes a path through some farmland and bush areas and is a good way to avoid heavy traffic through the city of Hamilton. The lush green pastures of dairy farms abound.
As you approach Cambridge, dairy farms give way to stallions for horses; This is home to some of the best horse breeders in New Zealand. Cambridge itself is a charming little town with an air of England (as the name implies). It is a good place to stop and stretch your legs with a walk through one of its beautiful parks.
Just south of Cambridge is Lake Karapiro, clearly visible from the road. Although technically part of the Waikato River, this is an artificial lake that was created in 1947 to power the local power station. It now hosts a variety of water sports and is considered to be the premier rowing venue in New Zealand.
If you are looking for a good coffee, Tirau is the place. The main road that runs through the city is full of interesting little places to eat and enjoy a coffee. At the beginning of the commercial strip there are two very distinctive buildings that house the Tourist Information Center; Shaped like a dog and sheep, the exteriors are made entirely of corrugated iron.
Anterior: Auckland a Rotorua
As you approach Rotorua across the Mamaku district, the volcanic origins of the terrain surrounding Rotorua begin to become apparent. In particular, notice the small cone-shaped rock outcrops that point from the ground. Called ‘spines’, these are the solidified lava cores of mini volcanoes; As lava seeped through the ground millions of years ago and cooled, they left behind solid rock that was exposed as the surrounding soil eroded.
Rotorua is a place full of incredible geothermal activity. Steam vents literally come out of the ground in many places and you can explore areas dotted with pools of boiling mud or sulfur-rich water.
Rotorua’s other attraction is the chance to experience New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture, which is on display here better than anywhere else in the country.
Rotorua to Taupo
The road from Rotorua to Taupo is lined by large expanses of pine forest and interesting volcanic landscapes.
As you approach Taupo, you will pass the Wairakei Geothermal Power Plant and one of the best golf courses in the country.
A must stop before Taupo is the Huka Falls. This incredible rocky gap pushes water from Lake Taupo at a speed of 200,000 liters per second, enough to fill five Olympic-size swimming pools in less than a minute. It marks the very beginning of the 425-kilometer journey to the sea of the Waikato River.
As the largest lake in Australasia, Lake Taupo is a trout fisherman’s dream. There is also a wide range of other water and land activities in what is one of New Zealand’s liveliest tourist cities.
- Auckland to Cambridge via Gordonton: 1.75 hours
- Cambridge and Rotorua: 1.25 hours
- Rotorua and Taupo: 1 hour
See also how to get from Taupo to Wellington (inland route).