For a road trip plan that blends green farming pastures with spectacular underground caves, towering volcanoes and exceptional beaches, try this route with our rental car.
This route leads from Hamilton (two hours south of Auckland) to the Taranaki township of Opunake. You’ll love this little place for its relaxed atmosphere, stunning beach and proximity to the dazzling Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont) volcano. But don’t take our word for it, get going and you’ll see for yourself!
Hang out in Hamilton
We recommend spending half a day or more exploring this regional city. Hamilton has a lot of diverse attractions to offer visitors, from its own zoo, to heritage buildings and a casino. If you travelled down from Auckland, chances are it’s probably time to have lunch – so pop to the Hamilton Gardens for a picturesque picnic spot.
The gardens here are a wonderfully colourful sight, inspired by all corners of the world, from Japan and China through India and also Europe. This is not a botanical garden, but instead is designed to tell a story of cultures through the use of vibrant flora. What a place to eat your sandwiches in, right?
Over the hill to Otorohanga
Your next few stops surround Otorohanga, so drive south of Hamilton via State Highway (SH) 3 when you’re ready. This lovely town is at the heart of Waikato farmland, so expect to see oceans of undulating green hills and plenty of adorable farm animals.
When you arrive, make sure you pop into Otorohanga Kiwi House, which is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. This is your opportunity to see the iconic kiwi bird as well as its fine feathered friends, such as the kea, kakariki and blue duck. Depending on when you arrive, you may also get a chance to see the birds being fed and listen to a keeper talk, so it’s worth planning your arrival around these.
Stay overnight here
You’ve got a big day ahead of you tomorrow, so it’s time to find a place to stay. Don’t overspend on accommodation when you could get a great stay for less (which means more to spend on fun later!). Consider choosing Otorohanga Holiday Park, a personal favourite of ours. This venue has camping spots and self-contained units, as well as a playground, barbecue facilities, spa/sauna, smoothie bar and fitness centre.
Wake up for Waitomo
The next day, it’s time for you to explore! The Waitomo Glowworm Caves have a firm place on many a self-drive holiday of New Zealand, and with good reason. A company such as Black Water Rafting can take you on a fascinating expedition deep below the ground to witness these twinkling blue marvels, found only in this country. You don’t need to be Indiana Jones to appreciate the cave, either, as the trip involves a gentle boat ride beneath the starry glowworm spectacle.
Those of you who are up for a greater challenge can also try spelunking or tubing in this cave, available from the same company.
Pop down to Piopio
After refreshing yourself with another night in Otorohanga, it’s time to drive again. Just half an hour south, continuing on SH3 at Te Kuiti, you’ll encounter a pleasant little place called Piopio. On the town’s website you’ll find a gem of a driving loop (Scenic Route 1) that will take you on a 1.5-hour journey around the area, beginning by turning right at Kaka Street and then turning left onto Mangaotaki Road.
Along this excellent diversion are the Mangaotaki Cliffs, used in the filming of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, and the Waitanguru Falls – a great five-minute track to stretch your legs and take some pictures of nature.
On the road again, Opunake ahead
From Piopio, you’ve just got two and a half hours left before you’re in Opunake. For some great places to stop, ensure you follow signs for New Plymouth and enjoy a coffee and a wee shop in the Taranaki regional hub, before progressing along the coast down to your destination. The views will be beyond amazing, with Mount Taranaki jutting proudly out of the farming hills like a giant stone guardian of the region.
In Opunake, book accommodation at the popular Opunake Beach Holiday Park. The grounds here are right on the shoreline, so you can easily dash down to the waves for a quick surf, swim or doggy paddle.
With your days in Taranaki, you’ll likely spend most of your time with nature. The area’s beaches are phenomenal, and the local Opunake Walkway – which runs from the local lake to Te Namu Pa – has many attractions of historical value.
Of course, you must also visit the volcano itself, which is great for skiing in winter, or an awesome hike at all other times.