Rotorua and Taupo are two of the tourist highlights of New Zealand's North Island. The drive from Auckland which takes in both towns is an easy four-hour journey (excluding stops) and there are many places of interest along the way.
Auckland and South
Leaving Auckland along the southern motorway, housing gives way to farmland. You will pass over the Bombay Hills, which marks the boundary between the Auckland and Waikato regions. This is an important area for crops such as onions and potatoes, as evidenced by the deep red volcanic soil in the fields adjacent to the road.
Passing through Te Kauwhata, the Waikato River comes into view just before the town of Huntly. Huntly is a coal mining town and the Huntly power station looms large to the right on the other side of the river. The Waikato is New Zealand's longest river (425km) and is within view of the road for much of the trip towards Hamilton.
Most travelers continue on through to Hamilton, but there is an alternative and more scenic route where you can bypass the traffic of Hamilton altogether. Just before Ngaruawahia watch for the sign on the left to Cambridge via Gordonton (Highway 1B). This takes a path through some lovely farmland and bush areas and is a good way to avoid the heavy traffic through Hamilton city. The lush green paddocks of dairy farms abound.
Approaching Cambridge the dairy farms give way to horse studs; this is home to some of the top horse breeders in New Zealand. Cambridge itself is a delightful little town with (as its name suggests) an air of England about it. It makes a good place to stop and stretch the legs with a walk through one of its several pretty 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 feed the local power station. It now hosts a variety of water sports and is regarded as the premier rowing venue in New Zealand.
If you're looking for a nice cafe, Tirau is the place. The main road passing through the town is lined with interesting little places to eat and enjoy a coffee. At the start of the shopping strip are two very distinctive buildings which house the Tourist Information Center; in the shape of a dog and a sheep, the exteriors are made entirely from corrugated iron.
Previous: Auckland to Rotorua
Approaching Rotorua Crossing the Mamaku district, the volcanic origins of the terrain surrounding Rotorua start to become evident. In particular, notice the small cone-like outcrops of rock pointing out of the ground. Called 'spines', these are the solidified cores of lava from mini-volcanoes; as the lava oozed its way up through the ground millions of years ago and cooled they left solid rock which became exposed as the surrounding soil eroded away.
Rotorua is a place filled with amazing geothermal activity. Steam vents literally out of the ground in many places and you can explore areas dotted with pools of boiling mud or sulfur-rich water.
The other attraction of Rotorua is the opportunity to experience New Zealand's indigenous Maori culture which is showcased here better than anywhere else in the country.
Rotorua to Taupo
The road from Rotorua to Taupo is lined with large tracts of pine forest and interesting volcanic landscapes.
As you approach Taupo you will pass through the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station and one of the country's best golf courses.
A must-stop before Taupo is the Huka Falls. This incredible rocky gap pushes water through from Lake Taupo at the rate of 200,000 liters per second, enough to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools in less than a minute. It marks the very start of the Waikato River's 425-kilometer journey to the sea.
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-based activities in what is one of New Zealand's liveliest resort towns.
- Auckland to Cambridge via Gordonton: 1.75 hours
- Cambridge to Rotorua: 1.25 hours
- Rotorua to Taupo: 1 hour
Also see how to get from Taupo to Wellington (Inland Route).