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Ultimate North Island Explorer 

21 days from Auckland to Auckland

Explore every corner of the North Island with this 21 day self drive tour. As well as the iconic destinations of Rotorua and the Bay of Islands, you’ll also have time to explore some out of the way hidden gems, like Cape Palliser and the spectacular Taranaki coastline.  Highlights of this tour include the wine growing regions of Martinborough and the Hawkes Bay; idyllic beach communities of the Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Islands; the unique Maori culture of Rotorua and the vibrant cities of Auckland and Wellington.

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 This suggested tour costs from per person (twin share, low season) (get instant quote here)
 21 days/20 nights from Auckland to Auckland
 Accommodation suggested on this tour is: Motels (Can be customised? YES )
 Rental car insurance included: Fully inclusive with variable excess/deductible
 Rental car inclusions: GPS navigation, unlimited kms, airport/ferry terminal fees, additional drivers
 Tour pack: Includes detailed driving instructions, maps, guide books and much more
 This tour can be customised to suit you precisely - just request here

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Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Napier, New Zealand
 

Ultimate North Island Explorer - at a glance (See detailed itinerary)

Day 1: Welcome to Auckland
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Day 2: Explore the 'City of Sails' perhaps take a scenic cruise or a day trip to the vineyards of Waiheke Island
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Day 3: Leave Auckland over the harbour bridge and travel north to the sub-tropical Bay of Islands
Accommodation: Sea Spray Suites
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 226 kms / 140 miles : 2.9 hours

Day 4: Discover the best of the Bay of Islands, either take to the water or learn the history of Waitangi and Russell
Accommodation: Sea Spray Suites

Day 5: Venture further afield to Kerikeri or take a scenic flight north towards Cape Reinga
Accommodation: Sea Spray Suites

Day 6: Cross Northland following the aqua blue waters of the Hokianga before travelling down the Kauri Coast
Accommodation: Snells Beach Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.7 hours

Day 7: After passing through Auckland and the Hauraki Plains you'll climb the coastal road to Coromandel
Accommodation: Coromandel Court Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 229 kms / 142 miles : 3.1 hours

Day 8: Follow the coastline past white sandy beaches and bays to Tairua
Accommodation: Blue Water Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 82 kms / 51 miles : 1.4 hours

Day 9: Travel along the Bay of Plenty before turning inland towards the lakes of Rotorua
Accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 206 kms / 128 miles : 2.8 hours

Day 10: Your day in Rotorua could be spent discovering Maori culture or thrilling adventure rides. This evening visit Mitai Maori Village.
Accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central

Day 11: First head to Lake Taupo before travelling east to the Hawke's Bay
Accommodation: Bella Vista Napier
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 210 kms / 131 miles : 2.4 hours

Day 12: Discover the Art Deco architecture, vineyards and gannets of the Hawkes Bay
Accommodation: Bella Vista Napier

Day 13: Drive south through the Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa region to the boutique vineyards of Martinborough
Accommodation: The Claremont, Martinborough
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 271 kms / 168 miles : 3.3 hours

Day 14: Explore Martinborough or the magnificent coast with its fascinating fishing villages
Accommodation: The Claremont, Martinborough

Day 15: Travel over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington
Accommodation: CityLife Wellington
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 73 kms / 45 miles : 1.0 hours

Day 16: Uncover the charms of Wellington City, including the quirky cafes and fascinating museums. Visit the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary this evening.
Accommodation: CityLife Wellington

Day 17: Today is filled with fantastic scenery beginning with the Kapiti Coastline as you depart Wellington
Accommodation: Kingsgate Hotel The Avenue Wanganui
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 184 kms / 114 miles : 2.3 hours

Day 18: Head towards the dominating feature of Mt Taranaki, then onto New Plymouth
Accommodation: Bella Vista New Plymouth
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 153 kms / 95 miles : 1.9 hours

Day 19: Follow the North Taranaki Bight before heading inland to the King Country and then a visit to Waitomo and Aranui Caves
Accommodation: Palm Court Motel Otorohanga
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 169 kms / 105 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 20: Its a short drive north back to Auckland, so there's time for exploring when you arrive
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 178 kms / 110 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 21: Depart Auckland today

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 25 kms / 16 miles : 0.4 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 1

Day 1 - Welcome to Auckland

Personal meet and greet, and private transfer to your accommodation

On arrival you will be met by one of our team and driven to your Auckland accommodation.

Your tour documentation pack and support

Once you touch down in New Zealand your detailed tour pack will be hand delivered by one of our trusted representatives. The pack contains everything you need for the duration of your stay. It will include a comprehensive, printed and bound version of your itinerary as well as clear driving instructions and maps for each leg of your journey. It also contains all the reservation details for your accommodation and activities - along with relevant brochures and information. While in New Zealand we offer 24 hour support - details on how to contact us at any time will be well documented.

Welcome to Auckland City

Auckland, New Zealand’s self-proclaimed ‘City of Sails’ is the country’s largest metro area. Resting between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, this urban paradise has something for everyone. Surrounded by native bush, rainforests and an abundance of beaches, Auckland is a playground for both the city savvy and those with an eye for adventure. Explore the central museums and galleries on foot, or take a drive through one of over 800 regional National Parks to see deserted beaches, waterfalls and native forest.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Harbour Dinner Cruise with Explore

This unique on-water dining experience is not to be missed while you're in Auckland. Enjoy smooth sailing on the Waitemata Harbour - then watch this photogenic city come alive with twinkling lights. Your experienced crew will talk about Auckland's highlights and there will opportunity try your hand at steering. Enjoy your meal as you sail around the beautiful Auckland Harbour taking in the view as the sun slowly sets. You'll be treated to canapés and a drink as you set off towards Westhaven Marina. Choose between a formal dinner in the downstairs cabin or take in the iconic sights of the Auckland Harbour while you eat on deck. A decadent dessert will then be yours to savour as you set sail. You can choose from a delectable three course menu catered for by Degree Gastrobar, a renowned Viaduct Restaurant.

Your accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Waldorf Stadium Apartment Hotel offers 4.5 star self-contained apartment accommodation in downtown Auckland City. Located a short walk from Britomart Transport and Entertainment Precinct, Auckland Waterfront and Ferries, Queen Street and Vector Arena, Waldorf Stadium is in a wonderful location to visit all of Auckland Cities attractions in.
Waldorf Stadium Apartments

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 2

Day 2 - Explore the 'City of Sails' perhaps take a scenic cruise or a day trip to the vineyards of Waiheke Island

Choose from our great range of late model rental cars for your driving holiday

Today you’ll take to the road for your New Zealand Self Drive holiday, so take a look through the great selection of late model vehicles available and take your pick.  To help you on your way GPS is included with all rentals.

GPS navigation system

Use the latest GPS technology as you tour New Zealand. Your portable GPS features a simple touch screen interface with automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice-prompted directions including street name announcement. The automotive-grade GPS unit is easy to use and has multiple language options.

Explore Auckland City

Surrounding a natural harbour, New Zealand's largest metro area offers the best of both worlds. Sandy beaches, native bush and lush rainforests meld with a lively urban culture. Grab a coffee downtown and watch the sailboats glide from the Viaduct or head harbourside and take the helm of an America's Cup Yacht.

Catch the Quickcat to nearby Waiheke Island for a gourmet food and wine experience. Clear the cobwebs with a little exercise and hike the summit of Mt Eden -  Auckland's highest volcano. Pack a picnic and choose one of 800 regional national parks to explore. Hunua Falls - located within the Hunua Ranges - is one not to be missed. If relaxing is more your style, find a good book and head out to a deserted beach. Try Orewa - located an hour north of the city - or stay a little closer and head to Cheltenham Beach in Devonport.

Make time to ascend the Sky Tower or The Harbour Bridge and spike your adrenaline by bungy jumping off either (or both!). Finish on a high with dinner at one of the many trendy eateries to be found on Ponsonby Road.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Waiheke Island Explorer Hop On Hop Off Tour

It's the most flexible and cost effective tour option on the island. Introducing you to the island's top spots; hop on and off as much as you like at any of its 15 convenient stops which include vineyards, beaches and restaurants. If you prefer, stay on board and enjoy a 1 1/2 hour scenic tour of the island.
The buses stop at some of the island's iconic spots including Oneroa Village, Onetangi Beach, Batch Winery, the new Tantalus winery/brewery, Mudbrick Vineyard, Cable Bay Vineyard and more.
Knowledgeable tour drivers, and the addition of an on-board host, ensure you'll receive the most informative commentary as you travel around and you can get all the local tips and tricks for how best to enjoy Waiheke!
The Explorer Hop on Hop off departs from each hop on hop off location approximately every 60 minutes throughout the day.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb

This spectacular AJ Hackett walking tour is the only bridge climb in New Zealand - and the ultimate way to experience the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge. All walkways are custom engineered and gentle sloping archways mean this activity is suitable for all ages. As you're guided to the top you'll be greeted with a 360 degree, panoramic view of the sparkling Waitemata harbour. See the best of the city from above and learn all about the secrets of the bridge!

Your accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Waldorf Stadium Apartment Hotel offers 4.5 star self-contained apartment accommodation in downtown Auckland City. Located a short walk from Britomart Transport and Entertainment Precinct, Auckland Waterfront and Ferries, Queen Street and Vector Arena, Waldorf Stadium is in a wonderful location to visit all of Auckland Cities attractions in.
Waldorf Stadium Apartments

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 3

Day 3 - Leave Auckland over the harbour bridge and travel north to the sub-tropical Bay of Islands

Auckland to Paihia, Bay of Islands

The trip from Auckland to the Bay Of Islands takes around 3.5 hours but give yourself some leeway for stops and sightseeing. As you go through Puhoi, take in the bohemian atmosphere of this historical township. Stop for a breath of fresh salty air in Whangarei and take another break at Kawakawa - home to the world famous Hundertwasser toilets. Enjoy the native bush surrounds and marvel at the endless golden beaches as you arrive into central Bay Of The Islands, Paihia.

Your accommodation: Sea Spray Suites

Occupying a superb location the Sea Spray Suites offer modern design combined with superb facilities.
Sea Spray Suites

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 226 kms / 140 miles : 2.9 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 4

Day 4 - Discover the best of the Bay of Islands, either take to the water or learn the history of Waitangi and Russell

Explore the Bay of Islands

Made up of over 140 subtropical atolls, New Zealand's Bay of Islands is renowned for its untouched beaches, abundant marine life and idyllic climate. Commonly known as the 'Winterless North' this tropical paradise is the ideal holiday destination. Spend some time on a remote stretch of beach, or cool off during a ‘swim with dolphins’ ocean safari. If diving is your thing, take the morning to descend the Rainbow Warrior - The Greenpeace flagship sunk by French saboteurs in 1985. Wander around Russell, a whaling port founded in 1843. Learn about our culture in historic Waitangi, the site where The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the Maori and European settlers dictating the terms by which New Zealand would become a British colony. Finally, before you leave take a travel day to Cape Reinga, the very top of the North Island.

Dolphin Eco Encounter

Dolphins are fascinating creatures, and in the Bay of Islands we are blessed with their presence all year round. This eco cruise gives you the chance to get into the water and swim with dolphins as they play in their natural environment (conditions permitting). You'll also cruise the many secluded islands of the Bay and gain an insight into this historically significant region. This intimate half-day cruise seeks out the many playful dolphins within the sheltered waters of the Bay You will look out for bottlenose and common dolphins, baleen whales, orca, seals, fish, penguins and other sea and bird life. The experienced crew have specialist knowledge of dolphin behaviour - join them in searching for those tell-tale splashes from our purpose-built dolphin watching boat Tutunui.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Waitangi Treaty Grounds Guided Tour and Cultural Performance

Waitangi is one of New Zealand's most historic sites where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the local Maori and the British Government. This two day pass allows you access to the Treaty of Waitangi Grounds and includes admission to the Museum of Waitangi, a guided tour and a Maori Cultural performance. During your guided tour, you'll learn about the history of the treaty and discover the stories and events that shaped New Zealand. The cultural performance inside the carved meeting house includes waiata (singing), poi, a display of Maori weaponry and the haka - a war dance New Zealand is known for.

Your accommodation: Sea Spray Suites

Occupying a superb location the Sea Spray Suites offer modern design combined with superb facilities.
Sea Spray Suites

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 5

Day 5 - Venture further afield to Kerikeri or take a scenic flight north towards Cape Reinga

The Far North

The Far North is a beautiful and tranquil place. Golden sand beaches stretch for miles, seas teeming with wildlife and forests full of birds. The best known location is Cape Reinga, situated at the north western tip of the Aupouri peninsular. It isn't though, not, as many would have you believe, the northern most point of the New Zealand mainland but certainly the most accessible. The northern most point is Surville Cliffs 30 km to the east. The Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet here and the surging tides make this section of coastline a very lively place.
Built in 1941 the Cape Lighthouse replaced the original structure built in 1879 on Motuopao Island and has been in operation since. In 1987 the lighthouse was fully automated marking an end to the traditional lighthouse keeper's role at the Cape.
In Maori mythology the Cape holds a special place. The Maori name of Te Rerenga Wairua literally translates to 'the leaping off place of spirits'. The spirits of the dead follow the curve of ninety mile beach heading north to the cape where they leap from a pohutukawa branch. Pausing briefly at the Three Kings Islands to take one last glance behind, they head to their homeland of Hawaiiki.
Also worthwhile is a trip down to Tapotupoto Bay. This beautiful sheltered bay has a gorgeous beach and is a ideal place for a short rest stop. Spirits Bay to the east of Cape Reinga is another worthwhile diversion . The name was given by the Pakeha in acknowledgment of the belief that Maori spirits departed from the shores here. The original Maori name of Kapowairua originated when Tohe, a chief of the Ngati Kahu, set out to visit his daughter. He asked those he left behind that if he was to die they should grasp (kapo) his spirit (wairua).

Ninety Mile Beach is situated on the west coast of Northlandand runs from Ahipara in the south to near Cape Reinga at the northern tip of New Zealand. Interestingly, it's accurate length is about 30 miles shorter than its name would have us believe.
At low tide 4WD vehicles can drive the length of the beach with many access points along the coastline. At the northern end the Te Paki stream is the most popular access point.

The small settlement on Doubtless Bay (now known as Taipa) was the site of the first Maori landing. Navigator Kupe explored this area around 900 AD before returning to Hawaiiki to boast of his discovery. Nearly 900 years later Captain James Cook sailed past the entrance to the harbour and recorded that it was "doubtless a harbour". The name eventually became Doubtless Bay. The Maori tribes that inhabited the area made great use of the bay's abundant shellfish and also travelled in the summer to the fishing villages established in the Rangaunu Harbour on the other side of Karikari Peninsular. Mangonui, at the entrance to the harbour, grew from whaling with the first ship arriving in 1792. The port became extraordinarily busy housing up to 30 ships at any one time.

Cape Reinga is around a 6 hour return drive from the Bay of Islands and we highly recommend taking the Dune Rider day tour. Rental Vehicles are not permitted to travel on Ninety Mile Beach and so taking the Dune Rider tour adds a while new dimension to your Far North Experience.

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga, situated at the north western tip of the Aupouri peninsular, is not, as many would have you believe the northern most point of the New Zealand mainland but certainly the most accessible. The northern most point is Surville Cliffs 30 km to the east. The Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet here and the surging tides make this section of coastline a very lively place.
Built in 1941 the Cape Lighthouse replaced the original structure built in 1879 on Motuopao Island and has been in operation since. In 1987 the lighthouse was fully automated marking an end to the traditional lighthouse keeper's role at the Cape.
In Maori mythology the Cape holds a special place. The Maori name of Te Rerenga Wairua literally translates to 'the leaping off place of spirits'. The spirits of the dead follow the curve of ninety mile beach heading north to the cape where they leap from a pohutukawa branch. Pausing briefly at the Three Kings Islands to take one last glance behind, they head to their homeland of Hawaiiki.
Also worthwhile is a trip down to Tapotupoto Bay. This beautiful sheltered bay has a gorgeous beach and is a ideal place for a short rest stop. Spirits Bay to the east of Cape Reinga is another worthwhile diversion . The name was given by the Pakeha in acknowledgment of the belief that Maori spirits departed from the shores here. The original Maori name of Kapowairua originated when Tohe, a chief of the Ngati Kahu, set out to visit his daughter. He asked those he left behind that if he was to die they should grasp (kapo) his spirit (wairua).

Ninety Mile Beach

Situated on the west coast of Northland, Ninety Mile Beach runs from Ahipara in the south to near Cape Reinga at the northern tip of New Zealand. Interestingly, it's accurate length is about 30 miles shorter than its name would have us believe.

At low tide 4WD vehicles can drive the length of the beach with many access points along the coastline. At the northern end the Te Paki stream is the most popular access point.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Cape Reinga Scenic Aeroplane Flight and Guided Tour

Today experience the beauty of the North from both air and land. Take a spectacular scenic flight to Cape Reinga over Whangaroa Harbour and the Rangaunu Harbour as well as Coopers Beach, Doubtless Bay and Ninety Mile Beach. The tour also includes a visit to the Cape Reinga lighthouse, and the option to slide down giant sand dunes on sleds.

Your accommodation: Sea Spray Suites

Occupying a superb location the Sea Spray Suites offer modern design combined with superb facilities.
Sea Spray Suites

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 6

Day 6 - Cross Northland following the aqua blue waters of the Hokianga before travelling down the Kauri Coast

Bay of Islands to Waipoua Forest to Matakana

Heading west from the Bay of Islands you leave the Pacific Ocean and soon and arrive into the Hokianga and the wilder seas of the Tasman.
The small townships of Omapere and Opononi have a great seaside feel and the perfect place to stop for an ice cream. The route now heads south and into the Waipoua Forest, home to the massive Kauri trees. Make sure you allow time to take a few short walks that are signposted as you pass through the region. Not to be missed is the 5 minute loop to view the largest of all the trees Tane Mahuta. 
Heading back across country the Matakohe Kauri Museum is an award winning museum and has extensive displays of the regions logging, farming and social history. Just a short drive from Warkworth towards the coast is the small township of Matakana and a little further you will find the often deserted beaches of the Tawharanui Marine Reserve.

Your accommodation: Snells Beach Motel

Snells Beach Motel is perfectly situated, on the Mahurangi East Peninsula, overlooking the beautiful Kawau Bay and in the heart of the wonderful Matakana Coast Wine Country area.
Snells Beach Motel

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.7 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 7

Day 7 - After passing through Auckland and the Hauraki Plains you'll climb the coastal road to Coromandel

Matakana to Coromandel Township

Continuing south you pass through Auckland biggest city, Auckland, and soon you will pass the city boundaries where the landscape changes to rolling lush farmland. The fertile Hauraki Plains are one of New Zealand's largest dairy producing regions. The Thames Estuary is a haven for wildlife in particular shore birds and a short detour to Miranda (well sign posted) is worthwhile to see the large flocks of godwits and oyster catchers amongst others. Arriving into the old gold town of Thames you can choose 2 different routes to the Coromandel's east coast. Straight over the Coromandel Ranges on highway 25A will deliver you to the coast in around 45 minutes. The more scenic route however takes you north to Coromandel Township along the Pohutukawa Coast (part of the Pacific Coast Highway). This is one of the most spectacular drives in the region and not to be missed.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Driving Creek Railway & Potteries - EyeFull Tower Tour

Driving Creek Railway and Potteries has become a Coromandel icon. The dream of Barry Brickell was to establish a pottery workshop on his land. Using a railway he would have access to the clay on the land and the pine kiln fuel. Over the next 15 years the railway developed until in 1990 it was finally licensed to carry fare paying passengers and ever since thousands of visitors have made the trip to Coromandel to experience this unique attraction. The 1 hour return train trip on the innovatively designed trains takes you through replanted native kauri forest and includes 2 spirals, 3 short tunnels, 5 reversing points and several large viaducts as it climbs up to the mountain-top terminus. The pottery is still producing and you can watch the artists at work as well as purchase items.

Your accommodation: Coromandel Court Motel

The Motels are in an excellent location with just a 3-minute stroll to shops and restaurants. Well equipped to ensure a comfortable stay.
Coromandel Court Motel

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 229 kms / 142 miles : 3.1 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 8

Day 8 - Follow the coastline past white sandy beaches and bays to Tairua

Coromandel Township to Tairua

Head east from Coromandel Township along the scenic coastline of Whangapoua Harbour and Kuaotunu Beach. For this drive - leave plenty of time for stops and detours, as there are multiple side roads leading to secluded picnic spots and golden bays. Stop in Whitianga, and grab a bite at one of its many local cafes and eateries. Stretch your legs with a short walking detour and take a ferry over to Cooks Beach and Flaxmill Bay. Continue south, and be sure to take the scenic route down Hot Water Beach Road to Hot Water Beach and the Holiday town of Hahei. A ‘must do’ from Hahei is the walk to Cathedral Cove, a cavernous limestone formation in the middle of a vast golden sand beach. Finish your drive to Tairua and feel yourself relax as you reach this calm seaside community. Before you leave, head up Paku Hill and take in the spectacular views of the natural harbour and pacific ocean.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Coves, Caves and Coastline Cruise from Whitianga

Explore the volcanic coastline with its many caves, blowholes and golden beaches all from the comfort and safety of an ex coastguard 28 ft cruiser. Departing from Whitianga Wharf journey past the towering Shakespeare's Cliffs and historic Cooks Beach. Visit Cathedral Cove and the islands in the marine reserve. There is also a chance to swim with the abundant fish in the reserve (on board snorkel gear provided - dont forget your swimsuit and towel). For those who prefer to stay dry an underwater camera relays images to an onboard TV.

Your accommodation: Blue Water Motel

Centrally located in the great little town of Tairua and just three minutes walk to restaurants, shops and children's playground and 100m to Harbour Beach. One of the closest motels to Hot water Beach this spot is perfect for exploring the Coromandel Peninsula.
Blue Water Motel

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 82 kms / 51 miles : 1.4 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 9

Day 9 - Travel along the Bay of Plenty before turning inland towards the lakes of Rotorua

Tairua to Matamata

Head south to New Zealand's surfing mecca.  In addition to lazing on the beach or surfing, Whangamata offers big game fishing, walking and mountain biking in native and exotic forests.  Continuing on to the beautiful Edwardian spa town of Te Aroha "The Mountain of Love" is famous for sparkling hot mineral spas and the world's only hot soda water geyser.  Once you reach Matamata you are in hobbit country and the route takes you to the town of Matamata where you can still visit the film locations made famous in the Lord of the Rings trilogy at Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Visit the actual Hobbiton movie set and immerse yourself in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Set in the heart the Waikato farming region your two hour tour will begin with a drive through a picturesque Matamata sheep farm. You'll then be guided into Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill and the Party Tree while hearing behind-the-scenes tales insight into the making of the films.

Matamata to Rotorua

Just south of Matamata is the township of Tirau, home to the largest tin sheep and sheepdog, but it also offers a surprising number of bric a brac, art, craft and antique stores if you feel like browsing.
Arriving into the City of Rotorua the regions geothermal activity becomes evident as you see steam rising from the roadside and surrounding hills.
Considered the cultural centre for the Maori people, Rotorua is the ideal place to gain an insight into the history and culture. The Rotorua Museum located in the government gardens is outstanding and its displays and presentations focus on the local Maori tribes and the major events through history that have affected them. Dominating the display is the devastating volcanic eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 but also of great interest is the Maori battalion display which portrays stories of this once feared military unit.
Nearby Ohinemutu Village is the original site of the first Maori settlers in the area and despite its now modern surroundings and buildings you can still gain a sense of what the original village was like. The magnificent meeting house and historic carvings along with the unique 'Tudor-style' St Faiths Church feature in many visitors photo albums.
One of the most popular introductions to the Maori Culture is through an evening at Mitai Maori Village where you can enjoy performances and demonstrations followed by a traditionally cooked hangi meal.
Of course Rotorua is also a great place to enjoy many other activities including, fishing, 4WD trips, relaxing spa treatments, mountain biking, walking and hiking plus helicopter and float plane trips.

Your accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central

Located in the heart of Rotorua, just a stone’s throw from the restaurant and shopping precinct. Purpose built in 2012, all apartments are equipped with modern fixtures, full cooking and laundry facilities that make Quest Rotorua Central your perfect home away from home.
Quest Rotorua Central

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 206 kms / 128 miles : 2.8 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 10

Day 10 - Your day in Rotorua could be spent discovering Maori culture or thrilling adventure rides. This evening visit Mitai Maori Village.

Explore Rotorua

Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the worlds most active volcanic regions. But geothermal landmarks aside, this city of sulphur has a rich indigenous history. Home to several prominent Maori tribes, a visit to the Mitai Maori Village should be high on your agenda, as should an excursion to the Polynesian Spa for an invigorating soak in its natural mineral hot springs.
Live on the edge when you hop aboard a helicopter bound for White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. Spike your adrenaline at Agroventures on stomach-dropping attractions such as static skydiving, or a giant swing reaching 130 km per hour. Go up the Gondola for soaring lake views, and ride the luge at night for an extra thrill.
Fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit should drive to nearby Matamata and experience the actual movie set ‘Hobbiton’. Make the most of your time in Rotorua with an excursion through the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, one of the area’s most colourful volcanic attractions.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Rainbow Springs and Behind the Scenes Kiwi Encounter

At Rainbow Springs you'll have the chance to see some of New Zealand's native flora and fauna within the majestic forests of Rotorua. Wander the beautiful tree-lined park and take in the flourishing bush, ferns, flowers and plants. Come face to face with, and learn more about, New Zealand’s precious wildlife. See the spring-fed pool with rainbow, brown and tiger trout, then visit the on-site aviaries - home to New Zealand species such kea, kaka, tui, kereru and kiwi. The tuatara, known as New Zealand's living dinosaur can also be seen here.
Go behind the scenes with New Zealand's national animal at the purpose built Kiwi Conservation Centre - created solely to try and stop the extinction of this unique species. Here you will gain first hand insight into the conservation efforts being made to increase the numbers of kiwi eggs being hatched and returned to the wild.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Rotorua Canopy Tours - The Original Canopy Tour

Embark on a three hour adventure through native New Zealand forest. Journey through the beautiful forest canopy via an incredible network of trails, tree platforms, Ziplines and swing bridges. See breathtaking views of the woodland valleys and hills as you fly through tight openings in the trees.
In between the thrill of the ziplines and suspended tree bridges, your guides will share their passion and knowledge for the forest and the conservation challenges to preserve it. 

Mitai Maori Village

An evening at Mitai will give you an awe-inspiring introduction to the indigenous Maori culture. Marvel at the beautiful bush setting and see warriors in traditional dress who paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-whiro stream while trout and eels swim beneath the surface. Enjoy a traditionally cooked hangi meal and round your evening off with a spectacular cultural performance that tells the story of the Maori people, their past, carvings, and ta Moko -Tattoo art. Be captivated by the displays of weaponry and combat and be amazed by the spine tingling Haka finale. Truly an experience to remember.

Your accommodation: Quest Rotorua Central

Located in the heart of Rotorua, just a stone’s throw from the restaurant and shopping precinct. Purpose built in 2012, all apartments are equipped with modern fixtures, full cooking and laundry facilities that make Quest Rotorua Central your perfect home away from home.
Quest Rotorua Central

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 11

Day 11 - First head to Lake Taupo before travelling east to the Hawke's Bay

Rotorua to Napier

This drive will take you through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of unique geothermal attractions including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs and steaming geysers, this area is a must do before you move on to Napier. Notable attractions are Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu and Craters of the Moon.
Continue on to Taupo and marvel at the lake - a giant crater formed following a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE. As you approach the city, be sure to stop at Huka Falls to view the spectacular sight of hundreds of cubic metres of water spilling every second down the narrow 11 metre drop.
For an extra thrill take a jet-boat ride to the base of the falls. Leaving Taupo, follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down the Pacific Coast to art deco Napier.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Twilight Odyssey Progressive Winery Dinner

Take a scenic drive through the vineyards as you learn about the region and its wines. Enjoy a full interactive wine tasting alongside gourmet platters at Vidal. Take in the breathtaking panoramic views from Te Mata Peak while enjoying a glass of bubbles as the sun sets from 399m above sea level (overlooking the glimmering lights of the Twin Cities in winter).

Your accommodation: Bella Vista Napier

Bella Vista Motel Napier invites you to experience its friendly service and modern motel units. Located close to shops, restaurants and the renowned Marine Parade with its majestic Norfolk pines.
Bella Vista Napier

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 210 kms / 131 miles : 2.4 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 12

Day 12 - Discover the Art Deco architecture, vineyards and gannets of the Hawkes Bay

Explore Napier and the Hawke's Bay

With is mediterranean climate and Art Deco style, Hawke's Bay is an attractive holiday prospect. As the nation's first winemaking region, a visit to one of its 30 wineries is a must. A trip to Mission Estate, touted as the the birthplace of NZ wine, can't be missed. For the truly enthused, head out on a tour of the vines. We recommend the to make the most of what's on offer. Those into Gatsby will enjoy the chance to view prominent Art Deco landmarks on a 1930s Vintage Car Tour. Passengers will spend just over an hour learning about the history of the city's architecture - including the Napier Municipal Theatre, one of the top ten Art Deco Buildings in the world. If you're after some fresh air, hire a bike and take your pick of one of over 200km of cycling trails or head on down to one of the many beaches that ring the area. Ocean or Waimarama beach are good choices, and both are patrolled by surf lifeguards during the summer. Indulge in some local produce and head out on a cheese, chocolate, honey or orchard tour. End on a high with another ride, this time in comfortable trailer pulled by a tractor en-route to Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony - the largest of its kind in the world.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Cape Kidnappers Gannet Beach Adventures

On this unique four hour eco-adventure you will get to experience one of the largest and most accessible mainland gannet colonies in the world. You'll be pulled on a trailer from the back of a vintage tractor along the beach to the Black Reef Colony - where you'll have the chance to see the birds in their natural habitat. Depending on the season, visitors can witness new-born chicks through to four month old gannets preparing for their first ever flight, which will take them all the way to Australia. Continuing on to the Cape, you'll break for 90 minutes which enables visitors the chance to picnic, swim or enjoy a scenic walk to the Plateau Colony.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Grape Escape half day Hawke's Bay Wine tour

The Grape Escape Half day wine tour visits some of the Hawke's Bay's famous wineries and is designed for casual imbibers and wine aficionados. Meet like - minded people and share an appreciation of Hawke's Bay's fantastic wines. Taste great wines made with passion and learn of the areas unique growing conditions. Take home great tasting wines and memories. Visit 4 - 5 local wineries and taste Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and much more. Also try some of New Zealand's finest cheeses matched with wine. Walk amongst the vines and learn about Terroir.

Your accommodation: Bella Vista Napier

Bella Vista Motel Napier invites you to experience its friendly service and modern motel units. Located close to shops, restaurants and the renowned Marine Parade with its majestic Norfolk pines.
Bella Vista Napier

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 13

Day 13 - Drive south through the Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa region to the boutique vineyards of Martinborough

Napier to Martinborough

As you leave the rolling countryside of the Hawke's Bay you'll be greeted with some of the country's richest dairy farmland in the Manawatu Gorge. Continue on through the Wairarapa region and stop in the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, where you can see some of New Zealand native animals.Take another break in Masterson, and visit the interactive Woolshed Museum to learn about sheep farming in New Zealand. As you drive south, a visit to historic Greytown is a must do. Take in the restored Victorian buildings and make time for a cup of tea at one of its quaint cafes. Leaving state highway 2 you will cross over the Ruamahanga River into Martinborough wine country - your destination for the day.  
 

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Martinborough Half Day Wine Tour

Visit wonderful vineyards such as Te Kairangi Wines, Tirohana Estate, Cabbage Tree Vineyard and Martinborough Vineyard on this half day tour of the premium wine region of Martinborough. Taste the wines, learn about the development of the region, its people and characters from knowledgeable guides.

Your accommodation: The Claremont, Martinborough

Set just outside the main village, The Claremont is the ideal base for you to enjoy everything the region has to offer. Well appointed self contained apartments and units will make your stay very comfortable.
The Claremont, Martinborough

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 271 kms / 168 miles : 3.3 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 14

Day 14 - Explore Martinborough or the magnificent coast with its fascinating fishing villages

Cape Palliser and the South Coast

Just around 45 minutes south of the town of Martinborough will bring you to one of the most spectacular coastlines in the country. Rocky shores and tiny settlements feature as you head towards the magnificent views from the Cape Palliser lighthouse. New Zealand fur seals make these rocky shores and outcrops their home and offer some great photo opportunities. The small township of Ngawi is also quite a unique spot. As you approach you will be forgiven for thinking it's a massive graveyard for old tractors but in fact it's a bustling fishing community. Crayfish are the main catch and massive tractors and bulldozers are used to haul the boats from the water and over the pebble beach. Heading back towards Martinborough a detour to the Lake Ferry Hotel and some local seafood is highly recommended.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Pinot to Palliser Private Guided Tour

You'll be driven in a luxury 4WD Land Rover Discovery to the south eastern coastline at the bottom of the North Island. Here you will visit the unique Ngawi Fishing village and meet Babe the Pink Bull Dozer and hear how she plays a vital part in the fishing fleet. Marvel at the weird and wonderful rock formations caused by the strong Cook Strait winds and weather and take advantage of the great photo opportunities all along the coast. At Cape Palliser you'll meet the resident seal population and climb to the iconic light house where you're treated to fantastic views over Cook Straight to the South Island. Your gourmet picnic lunch will be enjoyed on the beach (weather permitting) or in a sheltered valley with a glass of local Martinborough wine. On the journey back to Martinborough there's time for a quick coffee or beer at the historic Lake Ferry Hotel where you'll look out over lake and surf views.

Your accommodation: The Claremont, Martinborough

Set just outside the main village, The Claremont is the ideal base for you to enjoy everything the region has to offer. Well appointed self contained apartments and units will make your stay very comfortable.
The Claremont, Martinborough

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 15

Day 15 - Travel over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington

Martinborough to Wellington City

Today you will cross the Rimutaka Ranges as you make your way to New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. Often compared to Melbourne, Wellington is vibrant cultural hub.Home to the nation’s centre of government. Legislation happens in the aptly named ‘Beehive,’ an executive wing attached to the Houses of Parliament. At one kilometre squared, the city centre (easily traversed on foot) has an international feel and is peppered with underground art shows, alleyway cafes and New York style delis. Take in the boardwalk view as you stroll to Te Papa Museum or indulge your cinematic side exploring Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award winning design studio for Lord Of The Rings. For a taste of vintage fashion, spend some time (and dollars!) on Cuba Street browsing the boutiques. Work off last night’s dinner with a cycling tour of Oriental Bay and undo your good work with a Hokey Pokey ice-cream in the sun. For those heading further down, the capital is where you board the ferry crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island.

Your accommodation: CityLife Wellington

City Life Wellington is a suite style hotel. rooms have every amenity required for a comfortable stay and the location is superb to explore the compact city centre.
CityLife Wellington

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 73 kms / 45 miles : 1.0 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 16

Day 16 - Uncover the charms of Wellington City, including the quirky cafes and fascinating museums. Visit the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary this evening.

Wellington City

Wellington, home to New Zealand’s centre of government has a largely cosmopolitan feel. Often referred to as ‘mini-Melbourne’, this (self described) windy city is a melting pot of art, culture, food and fashion. Quirky laneway bars, underground art shows, and hipster eateries make up its inner city vibe, while a host of sandy beaches outside the urban bustle bring a cheerful holiday feel.

Head to Te Papa Museum for a history lesson and a ticket to one of its many international exhibitions or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay - the only running funicular railway in the country. For those with an eye for boutique fashion wander through Cuba St to sample some of the city's best vintage stores. Break for coffee at a hipster cafe and be sure to snap a pic outside the ‘Beehive,’ New Zealand’s parliamentary debate chamber.

Go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award Winning design studio behind Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, and Avatar. We recommend a 45 minute guided tour through both the Workshop and Weta Cave. If you're a foodie at heart, a two hour round trip to Martinborough is a must do. Take your time as you wind through spectacular wine country, and be sure to stop in at Martinborough Wines or Ata Rangi Martinborough. For a educational day out, learn about New Zealand's native species at Zealandia - the world's first fully fenced eco-sanctuary and home to over 40 types of endangered and native birds.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - City Highlights Inspiration Half Day Tour

Enjoy an intimate small group tour looking at the unique aspects of the World's Coolest Little Capital. Drive through Courtenay Place and Oriental Parade and head up Mt Victoria for spectacular views of the City and Harbour. Then travel the stunning rugged coastline, now a marine reserve, stopping along the way to taste some famous Wellington coffee. Return to the central city for a drive through the quirky Cuba Street district and along Lambton Quay, the main shopping street for a chance to ride the famous Wellington Cable Car.

Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Night Tour

Taking a night tour of Zealandia wildlife eco-sanctuary is an unforgettable experience and one that comes highly recommended. A conservation success and safe haven for some of New Zealand's rarest native animals, Zealandia is home to many remarkable species of birds, reptiles and insects living wild within a beautiful 225 hectare (one square mile) valley - just 10 minutes from the central city.

Your tour begins with an interactive exhibition before you walk through the gates of Zealandia predator-exclusion fence into the sanctuary. Your guide will then lead you on a torch-light walk through the native New Zealand bush. Possible sights include Kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms shining, tiny Maud Island frogs in their enclosure, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost.

Zealandia is one of the best places to see kiwi in the wild. Over 100 of these nocturnal birds live freely in their natural environment inside the safety of the sanctuary valley - so your chances of seeing one is very good.

Your accommodation: CityLife Wellington

City Life Wellington is a suite style hotel. rooms have every amenity required for a comfortable stay and the location is superb to explore the compact city centre.
CityLife Wellington

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 17

Day 17 - Today is filled with fantastic scenery beginning with the Kapiti Coastline as you depart Wellington

Wellington to Wanganui

Follow the main highway north along the Kapiti Coast towards the rich farmland of the Manawatu and Taranaki. Continue north west towards the city of Wanganui which rests on the banks of the spectacular Whanganui River. Take the Old town heritage walk or visit one of the many private gardens that are open to the public. For more natural and human history visit the Wanganui Regional Museum and Art Gallery. There are commanding views from Durie Hill. Whanganui River provides the main access route to Whanganui National Park. Kayaking along the remote and historic river from Pipiriki to Taumaruni takes 5 days so jet boating is the faster option. A number of walks begin at Pipiriki village. As the area was once intensively cultivated for wheat, you can visit remnants of old mills. At the Parks southern extremity the Skyline Track day walk passes through magnificent stands of lowland native forest. One of several mills built last century, the Kawana Mill operated for 50 years. The Mill and its water wheel have now been completely rebuilt and the millers colonial style cottage has also been restored.

Your accommodation: Kingsgate Hotel The Avenue Wanganui

Kingsgate Hotel The Avenue Wanganui is located on the main road into Wanganui just a 10 minute walk from the central business district, arts and cultural centre, sports venues, Whanganui river and Virginia Lake. Set in large grounds with beautiful gardens, an outdoor swimming pool & BBQ area
Kingsgate Hotel The Avenue Wanganui

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 184 kms / 114 miles : 2.3 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 18

Day 18 - Head towards the dominating feature of Mt Taranaki, then onto New Plymouth

Wanganui to New Plymouth

Follow the coast of the South Taranaki Bight towards the volcanically formed region of New Plymouth. The dominant and perfect volcanic cone of Mt Egmont/Taranaki is visible for many miles as you approach the region. New Plymouth is the largest town in Taranaki. Situated on the coast this busy centre has a great range of restaurants and accommodation. The coastal highway and the magnificent Mt. Taranaki are the main attractions. The Taranaki region is very popular for its gardens and hosts the Rhododendron festival each year. New Plymouth has over 70 000 people with a beautiful coastal walkway running from Port Taranaki to the Waiwhakaiho River mouth. Pukekura Park, just a 5 minute walk from the city centre, is a haven of over 25ha of native bush including a beautiful lake. The district boasts 16 parks and reserves, with 13 official beaches, 60km of walkways as well as many "tucked away" spots for a peaceful moment.

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Your accommodation: Bella Vista New Plymouth

Bella Vista New Plymouth offers Qualmark 4 star motel accommodation. In a great central city location, a few minutes walk from the cities fabulous coastal walkway. New Plymouth. Modern well equipped units provide a comfortable stay.
Bella Vista New Plymouth

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 153 kms / 95 miles : 1.9 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 19

Day 19 - Follow the North Taranaki Bight before heading inland to the King Country and then a visit to Waitomo and Aranui Caves

New Plymouth to Waitomo

Follow the coastline of the North Taranaki right before turning inland through the beef and cattle farming regions on North Taranaki. The small townships en route provide an insight into the real rural New Zealand. The township of Te Kuiti sits within the King Country, named after the movement of the Maori warrior Chief King Tawhiao, who during the Maori Wars, led a resistance against the European's who coveted their land. The rich rolling countryside accompanies you to the limestone valleys and caves that have attracted visitors for the past century.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and Aranui Cave tour

For over 100 years Waitomo Glow-worm Caves have attracted people from all over the world to this subterranean wonderland. An ancient underground labyrinth of limestone caves and grottos, and amazing stalactites and stalagmites.

Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
Formed over 30 million years ago there are two levels to the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves which are 16 metres apart. The upper level is dry and includes the entrance to the cave, the Catacombs and the Organ Loft. The lower level consists of stream passages and the Cathedral. As you glide quietly beneath the lights of thousands of glow-worms, it is only the gentle sound of dripping water that reminds you that you are deep underground and not beneath a star filled sky.

Aranui Cave
Located in Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, Aranui is a dry cave. There is only one entrance to Aranui and without a river flowing through, it houses very little life past the entrance. However, just inside the entrance is a colony of cave wetas. Aranui is famous for its beautiful arrays of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and unusual formations.

Your accommodation: Palm Court Motel Otorohanga

Conveniently located 200m from cafes, restaurants, village shopping and railway station and just a few minutes drive to Waitomo Caves, black-water rafting, adventure tours, Kiwi House and golf course.
Palm Court Motel Otorohanga

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 169 kms / 105 miles : 2.1 hours

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Ultimate North Island Explorer - Day 20

Day 20 - Its a short drive north back to Auckland, so there's time for exploring when you arrive

Waitomo to Auckland City

The lush farmland of the Waikato and the limestone hills of the Waitomo region provide some great scenery as you head north. Visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House en route for a great look at some of New Zealand's native birds in particular our famous flightless namesake.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Auckland City Sights Afternoon Tour with GreatSights

Discover first-hand why Auckland is regarded as one of the best places in the world to live, with a half-day tour of its scenic highlights. Travel through the city centre, including Auckland's famous Queen Street, Karangahape Road with its chequered past and eclectic vibe and fashionable Ponsonby. Cross over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, enjoying views of the Hauraki Gulf and city skyline, and visit the Viaduct Harbour and the revitalised Silo Park waterfront precinct. See historic buildings around the University of Auckland before continuing over Grafton Bridge to the Auckland Domain. The Domain is the city's oldest park and, at 75 hectares, one of its largest. Developed around an extinct volcano, it features tropical gardens, duck ponds and public art, and is also home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. After visiting the Domain, the tour continues through the boutique shopping area of Parnell Village, where you'll stop for a short afternoon tea break and along the scenic waterfront route of Tamaki Drive. Your Auckland city tour ends with a trip back along the waterfront, finishing in downtown Auckland.

Your accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Waldorf Stadium Apartment Hotel offers 4.5 star self-contained apartment accommodation in downtown Auckland City. Located a short walk from Britomart Transport and Entertainment Precinct, Auckland Waterfront and Ferries, Queen Street and Vector Arena, Waldorf Stadium is in a wonderful location to visit all of Auckland Cities attractions in.
Waldorf Stadium Apartments

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 178 kms / 110 miles : 2.1 hours

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Day 21 - Depart Auckland today

Depart Auckland today

Explore more of vibrant Auckland city before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 25 kms / 16 miles : 0.4 hours

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