Over Christmas holidays, Michael and I wanted to do some exploring of New Zealand’s North Island. As we are currently stationed in Auckland, we chose to embark on a three day road trip from Auckland. This is the first of many upcoming road trips, where we went South to visit the Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, and Lake Taupo.
The Perfect Three Day Road Trip From Auckland
As I really enjoy spending time outdoors, most of the activities I’d planned included hikes up volcanoes with stunning views, time spent sunning on stunning white-sand beaches, chasing waterfalls, and swimming in hot springs. This is our three day road trip from Auckland.
Three Day Road Trip from Auckland: Day One
Starting from the city, we first headed to the Coromandel. The first stop was the Coromandel, which was just under two hours driving from Auckland. After packing our snacks, blankets, clothes and making a coffee in my to-go mug, we hopped in the car and headed to the mountain. It’s a windy road surrounded by beach houses to the top of the volcano.
The first stop was Mount Paku. The 15 minute hike is steep, but it’s short. The views from the top are so worth it.
After Mount Paku, we hopped back in the car and headed for Cathedral Cove. This natural cove is built into a rock that stretches into the sea. Cathedral Cove is one of the biggest tourist attractions in New Zealand’s North Island, so we weren’t surprised to arrive and see it packed with tourists. It is a bit of a hike to get to the cove. We took about 40 mins to get from the car park to the beach.
When we arrived, there were tons of people on the beach. We stood in awe staring at the natural tunnel, then we walked through the cove to the other side of the beach. We found a little spot to put out our towel and enjoy the warm sun and refreshing sea for a couple of hours.
The cove is insanely beautiful, and a great way to spend an afternoon – even if it is busy! We brought some snacks and wraps and had a lovely afternoon.
Hot Water Beach
After our fair share of Cathedral Cove, we headed down the road to Hot Water Beach. This beach got its unique name due to the natural hot springs running underneath the sand. Another popular tourist spot, it’s common to come to this beach with a shovel, and dig yourself a little hole right where the hot springs are. You’ll be able to spot it easily by the crowds of people surrounding them. Some of the holes people had built were filled with water so hot that I couldn’t even put my feet in it!
We opted to (again) head down the beach away from the tourists, and just enjoy the sun for a few hours.
Kauaerange Valley Campground
Our last stop for the night was Kauaeranga Valley Campground. About an hours drive from Hot Water beach, it is located right on the other side of the Coromandel Forest. We arrived around 7 PM, pitched our tent, and enjoyed each other’s company before heading off for an early nights sleep.
Three Day Road Trip from Auckland: Day Two
After an early wake up at the campground, we packed up the tent and hopped in the car for another day of adventures. Today, we headed to the Bay Of Plenty – a paradise for beach lovers. After the hours drive, we arrived in Waihi for an epic morning of warm sun and rays. But New Zealand’s weather can be utterly unpredictable, and we encountered a nasty rain storm. We opted to have a leisurely brekky with cappuccinos in a cozy little cafe first, to wait out the rain.
After over an hour of waiting, the rain hadn’t stopped. We made a quick run to the beach to see it in the rain before heading out of town for our next destination. Waihi beach is beautiful. I’m sure it would be an amazing spot to spend a sunny day.
Back in the car, we headed toward Mount Mangauni. The rain was still going strong when we arrived. This derailed our plans to hike the volcano, simply named The Mount. We had a little walk under the awnings of the shops instead, and decided to have an early lunch out instead of hiking in the rain.
In town, we found a little brewing company called The Mount Brewing Co. We headed in for a refreshing brew and some warm food. I got a jar of the Bitter Bitch IPA and the shroom tacos + a side of avo – yum!
An hour later, we headed on to our next stop, which was one of the places I most looked forward to going.
McLaren Falls Park
McLaren Falls Park had been on my radar for months, after seeing some insanely beautiful photos of it on instagram. Arriving in McLaren Falls Park was like landing in my happy place. We climbed rocks, chased waterfalls, swam in the freezing water, and sprawled out like lizards on the warm boulders.
After a very fulfilling afternoon, we headed from McLaren Falls Park to the smelly town of Rotorua. Rotorua is filled with natural sulphuric hot springs – it is literally stinky. As soon as we drove into the city limits, Michael asked me if I had gas! I got a good laugh out of that.
We’d reserved an airbnb for the night. This turned out to be a great idea, since sleeping on yoga mats in our tent the night before hadn’t been the most comfy night’s sleep. We arrived at our airbnb, sank into the bed, and immediately connected to all the wifi.
Three Day Road Trip from Auckland: Day Three
Our plans were switched around a bit on the last day. The Wai-o-Tapu thermal springs that we’d planned on visiting were not actually free – the fee to get in was $65 for two, and it was unswimmable (too hot). We changed our minds and spent the morning in a cute little coffee shop, sipping cappuccinos and reading the local papers.
Rotorua Hot Springs
As for the hot springs, we opted for the budget option of visiting Kerosene Creek. The hot springs mix with the cold creek water, making this little river a warm, hot tub temperature. We were so happy with this decision, as we had time to relax in the warm springs and enjoy another waterfall at the same time. The creek is just about 30 mins outside of Rotorua. We brought PB&J sandwiches, and I had an array of Tom & Luke’s date balls.
Once we were all wrinkly and smelling of kerosene (weird, but the sulphuric hot springs mixed with natural creek makes a kerosene smell), we hopped in the car and headed to Huka Falls.
Huka Falls is a massive river overflowing with super clear, icy blue water. We parked on the side of the road and walked to the bridge to check out the raging falls. Though I’d seen photos, it was so much more beautiful than I could have imagined.
After staring in awe at the falls for a bit, we hopped back into the car and headed toward Lake Taupo. We were craving some wine, so we looked up some places to spend the afternoon. We settled on a winery on the south end of the lake, Floating Rock Cafe. They do wine and italian-style pizza, along with a variety of other foods and drinks.
We headed around Lake Taupo to get to the wineries in the South. The drive around Lake Taupo is beautiful; make sure you have time to stop for photos.
Once we arrived in South Lake Taupo, we sat down at a table in Floating Rock, ordered some wine and pizza, and spent the afternoon talking and sipping wines in the middle of the vineyard. It was the perfect way to end the trip.
The drive from South Lake Taupo back to Auckland takes about four hours. It was the longest trek we took in the entire three days. We sat down to plan our next adventure as soon as we got back!