Rotorua is one of the North Island’s top visitor spots and a highlight of any holiday. Located in the central plateau, it’s a fun road trip from Wellington with your Wellington Airport car rental. Along the way you’ll see some of New Zealand’s most interesting geological features. This route includes some of the North Island’s other best attractions.
Once you’ve had your fill of Wellington’s arts, cultural and gastronomic offerings, it’s time to head north on SH1. Along the way you’ll pass Paraparaumu, home to the Southward car museum, and Bulls, home to a number of antique shops. Whanganui is best known for its proximity to the Whanganui river. This city was once a big trading centre as the river was an important transport route. Today the heritage area includes buildings like the Royal Wanganui Opera House and the Sarjeant Art Gallery. Hop aboard the paddle steamer for a river cruise or take the elevator that ascends to the top of Durie Hill.
From Whanganui there are two ways to reach Tongariro National Park. You can get there taking the long and winding way via Pipiriki. This brings you into the Whanganui National Park. and from here you can access the mysterious Bridge to Nowhere. Or take the more typical route of State Highway 4, a gentle meander through hills and rivers. Ohakune is the gateway to Tongariro National Park – the 10-metre carrot provides an unforgettable welcome and makes an iconic spot for a photograph. Here hiking, biking and canoeing are excellent pastimes as are horse trekking and rafting. Tongariro was New Zealand’s first national park, and is now a World Heritage area. The Tongariro Crossing is popularly regarded as one of the best one-day walks in the world.
Leaving the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro, you’ll drive through the farmland known as King Country. Just before Waitomo you’ll pass through Te Kuiti, host of the annual New Zealand Shearing Championships at Easter. The best way to see the underground Waitomo caves and their famous glowworms is on a walking or boat tour, or, if you dare, rafting or abseiling.
The route east toward Rotorua on Sh3, Sh28 and SH5 takes you through farmland, lakeland and forest. There are no major towns so stock up beforehand. Once you reach Rotorua, you’ll step into a world of geothermal activity and Maori culture. Mountain biking, walking and fishing are also popular activities.