Wellington to Auckland Road Trip: The Essential Guide

Wellington to Auckland road tripA Wellington to Auckland road trip was one of the best things I did while travelling New Zealand!

It’s not the longest road trip in New Zealand, but there’s still a fair amount to see. Places such as the Coromandel Peninsula and the Tongariro Crossing are must visit on the North Island!

I may have spent most of my New Zealand working holiday in the South Island, but the North Island is a great destination as well!

There’s a real range of scenery to see, from volcanoes, giant lakes and stunning cliffs and peninsulas! The North Island is only small, but there’s certainly a lot to see!

Driving from Wellington to Auckland is one of the best road trips in New Zealand you can do, so check out my guide below!

Wellington to Auckland Road Trip

General Info

Wellington and Auckland are the two biggest cities on the North Island of New Zealand. So, thy make a natural start and end point for a road trip! The distance from Wellington to Auckland is 642.5km (394.5 miles), which would take you around 7-8 hours if you did the trip at once!

As the more populated of the two main islands, there are a lot of places to see on the North Island. There are numerous ways you can do a road trip on the North Island, what I propose is simply the route that I took when I was there!

There are great places such as Gisborne, Napier and the Far North that are not included here, but would be ideal to include as part of a wider North Island road trip!

Before setting off

Before you do any road trip in New Zealand, it’s important to have everything you need! You should be ok on the North Island, as it’s not as secluded as places in the South Island. However, accidents do happen, so it’s best to be prepared!

Even though there are a lot of places on the North Island, it’s best to have a few basic supplies with you at all times. Carrying food and water is essential in case of any worst case scenario. The odds of you encountering trouble are quite small, but it can happen, so it pays to be prepared!

Important info

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when driving around New Zealand is that they drive on the left. If you’re from a country that drives on the right, this is the most important thing you need to know.

Another important thing to consider is your driving licence, as you won’t get very far without one! If you have a valid English language licence then you can drive in New Zealand without too much trouble! This is as long as you have no traffic infringements and you rent the vehicle less than 12 months before you entered New Zealand!

Things are little more complicated if you’re not from an English speaking country! You’ll need a valid translation to be able to drive in New Zealand. Alternatively, you can use an international driving licence to convert to a New Zealand licence.

Auckland city

Why you should do a Wellington to Auckland Road Trip

Quite simply, because it’s one of the best road trips in New Zealand that you can do!

The North Island of New Zealand has plenty of great places to see and a lot of them are between Wellington and Auckland!

I spent the majority of my New Zealand working holiday in the South Island, so it was nice to get to the North Island and experience a different side to the country.

The scenery is quite different to that in the South Island, but it’s in no way inferior. The North Island felt a lot more tropical to me. Driving towards the Coromandel Peninsula, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park at times, due to the lush vegetation!

It’s also quite diverse in the North Island. You go from beautiful lakes at Taupo to the volcanic zone of Tongariro in less than an hour! While the coasts offer beautiful beaches and great surfing if you head somewhere like Raglan!

This road trip is a chance to explore the heart and soul of the North Island, as just simply travelling from Wellington to Auckland would mean you don’t get underneath the skin of the place!

Often the best places during a trip are those somewhat off the beaten track or even ones you just stumble across along the way. Doing a road trip allows you the freedom to explore at your own pace. This trip gives you plenty of opportunities to do that!

Where to stay between Wellington and Auckland

As this road trip is not a very long one and takes in a lot of towns and cities, I recommend staying in hostels or hotels instead of renting a campervan.

Of course, you can rent a campervan if you want to, but I felt that staying in hostels on this route was perfectly fine. If you’re travelling to Wellington from Auckland in the winter, then hostels will definitely be the better option, as it will get quite cold at night in a camper van!

Below are a few cheap hostels that I stayed at during my trip from Wellington to Auckland, that I would recommend staying at!

Auckland

As the biggest city in New Zealand, you’re spoilt for choice in Auckland. I stayed at The Station Backpackers during my visit to Auckland. It was a bit of a strange hostel, as it felt more like a makeshift hotel than a hostel.

It was a nice enough place, but there are probably better and cheaper hostels to stay in Auckland!

Click here to check out the latest deals on hostels in Auckland | Click here to check out the latest deals on hotels in Auckland

Rotorua

As one of the main spots on a backpacking itinerary of New Zealand, there are plenty of hostels in Rotorua to choose from! I stayed at the Funky Green Voyager while I was in Rotorua and found it to be a great little hostel!

It was clean, the rooms were spacious, the kitchen and living room were great as well. To boot, they had a great collection of DVDs, which meant relaxing in front of the TV after a hard day was blissful!

Click here to check out the latest deals on hostels in Rotorua | Click here to check out the latest deals on hotels in Rotorua

Taupo

Taupo is another place on the North Island that has a range of backpackers to choose from. I stayed at Base Taupo, it was a nice enough hostel, nothing special, but comfortable and I got a good night’s sleep.

As I only stayed there one night, it’s hard to gauge how good the hostel is. One bonus is that’s it’s reasonably priced compared to other hostels in Taupo. So, bear that in mind before you decide where to stay in Taupo!

Click here to check out the latest deals on hostels in Taupo | Click here to check out the latest deals on hotels in Taupo

Wellington

The capital has a lot of choices when it comes to accommodation. There’s no shortage of hostels in Wellington, so you have a fair amount to choose from if you want to stay in Wellington for a day or two before starting the road trip.

We stayed at Lodge in the City, while I was in Wellington. It’s hard to give an authoritative opinion, as we were only there for a night before we left, but it was a nice hostel. The room was big enough and I slept well. The facilities looked good and there was a spacious living area downstairs.

If you’re only in Wellington for a while, then I’d recommend it. Otherwise, it might be best to check out the other hostels in the city.

Click here to check out the latest deals on hostels in Wellington | Click here to check out the latest deals on hotels in Wellington

Activities

The good thing about going from Wellington to Auckland is that there’s plenty of great activities to do along the way!

As New Zealand is the adrenaline capital of the world, most of these activities involve being outdoors! There’s plenty of cultural pursuits to see and do along the way as well, such as the Maori village in Rotorua!

Below are a few activities that I enjoyed during my trip!

Beaches

Some of the best beaches in New Zealand are located on the North Island. With quite a few accessible on the route from Wellington to Auckland.

One in particular that you should visit is Hot Water Beach. As the name suggests, this is a beach that has hot water. You have to dig a hole in the sand and as you get deep enough, hot water starts to seep to the surface!

It’s a pretty strange feeling, as it just doesn’t feel natural for the water to be warm! One caveat is that if you visit Hot Water Beach during the summer it will be crowded! There were a lot of people when we went and it spoiled it a little as there’s only so much space!

However, there’s plenty of other beaches to visit. Mount Maunganui near Tauranga is definitely worth a visit and Mission Bay in Auckland is a great little beach outside of the city centre!

Mission Bay

Hiking

If you like hiking, then this road trip is definitely for you. There’s plenty of hikes that you can do between Wellington and Auckland!

Perhaps, the bet one is the Tongariro Crossing, which takes you over an active volcano. It takes a full day to do the hike, but it’s well worth it, as the volcanic landscape makes for a great backdrop to the hike!

There are also a few good walks along the Coromandel Peninsula. The walk to Cathedral Cove is great and the views once you reach there are even better!

White-water rafting

Although I did this activity while travelling the South Island, there are a few places you can do it in the North Island as well!

One of the main places to do it is near Rotorua. There are a number of companies offering the opportunity to go rafting.

It’s great fun, very energetic and you do get absolutely soaked, so if you’re not a fan of any of those then I would give it a miss. Otherwise, this a great activity to do on stops between Wellington and Auckland!

Places to visit driving from Wellington to Auckland

The route from Wellington to Auckland provides you with plenty of places to see in between. I won’t include Auckland or Wellington below, as it’s a given that you will visit both of those places!

Places such as the Coromandel Peninsula, Rotorua and Taupo should definitely be included on your itinerary, as they are among some of the best places to visit on the North Island!

There’s a lot to do and see in each of these places, especially if you’re a fan of adrenaline activities!If you want to know what to see between Wellington and Auckland, then look no further!

Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel Peninsula is definitely one of the best reasons to visit New Zealand! The scenery here is out of this world!

I was blown away on the drive here, the views were spectacular and watched we reached the ocean it was just jaw-dropping! New Zealand is full of great views, but this was certainly one of the best!

Once you get to the Coromandel Peninsula, there’s quite a lot of places to see. Cathedral Cove is a must, as the Cove is beautiful and very picturesque.

Just make sure you bring some footwear, as the only access is by walking the track to the Cove. It’s not very pleasant walking it barefoot let me tell you!

Hot Water Beach is another place you’ll to check out while here, as I mentioned above! The picture below shows how crowded it can get, so get there early if you can!

Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel Peninsula

Photo by Steve and Jem Copley. CCASA 2.0

Hobbiton

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit! So the opportunity to visit Hobbiton was one that I couldn’t pass up!

What made it even better was that I got to go to Hobbiton on my birthday! At $80 entry is a little expensive, so if you’re not a fan of the films, then it may not be worth it to visit!

However, if you are a fan, then it’s undoubtedly worth it! I had a great time, Hobbiton is really beautiful and the tour taught a lot of things about the area and the films as well!

Perhaps the best part of the Hobbiton tour was getting a free cider in the pub afterwards! That really made my day!

Hobitton in New Zealand

Rotorua

Rotorua is certainly one of the more interesting to see between Wellington and Auckland!

Let me explain:

Firstly, there’s the fact that it smells in Rotorua. I mean it absolutely stinks! This is because the town is sitting on top of a sulphur field. So, there’s a constant smell of eggs in the air!

You do end up not noticing it after a while, but it still hums. Secondly, Rotorua is almost a miniature version of Queenstown!

There’s a lot of energetic activities you can do here, such as luging, zorbing and many others! There’s also the chance to see a Maori village and other cultural pursuits if adrenaline is not your thing!

Rotorua is one place you don’t want to miss on New Zealand’s North Island!

View of lake rotorua

Taupo

Taupo is somewhere that I didn’t know much about before I did this road trip! It’s safe to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the place!

Taupo is set alongside the lake of the same name, which (interesting fact!!) is the largest by surface area in New Zealand!

The Tongariro Crossing is to the south of the town and is easily accessible. While in the town itself you can relax by the lake or go on a boat trip.

If you choose the latter, you have to see Maori carvings that were created in the 1970s. They are on the cliffs of Mine Bay and are accessible by boat or kayak.

If you want something a bit more energetic, then you can head to Action World, which is essentially a giant inflatable for adults! It’s great fun and well worth doing if you love that sort of thing!

Tongariro Crossing

Visiting the Tongariro Crossing was one of the best things we did, during our drive from Wellington to Auckland!

If you’re unfamiliar with it, the crossing is a 19.4 km (12.1 miles) track that passes through the Tongariro National Park.

You cross over volcanic terrain with amazing views! Passing by the multi-cratered Mount Tongariro and the base of Mount Ngauruhoe.

It’s a long hike, but it’s definitely worth it, as hiking across an active volcano is quite the experience! The terrain makes for some great photos!

Tongariro Crossing

Wellington to Auckland Road Trip itinerary

Day 1: Wellington to Tongariro – 327km (203 miles)

First of all, you will need to get to Wellington before you can start the road trip. If you’re already in the North Island that makes things easier. If you’re in the South Island, then you have two options.

Either you can fly to Wellington or you can head to Picton and take the ferry across the Cook Strait. The first option is more practical, but the second is perhaps more scenic. The choice is yours!

Once you’re in Wellington, you’ll need to get your vehicle and then you’re away! The first days is a fair drive, as you head to Tongariro.

However, it’s well worth it, as once you’re there you can do the Tongariro Crossing. I would set off in the afternoon, leaving some time to explore Wellington.

The reason being that if you want to hike the Tongariro Crossing, then it will take a full day and you can do this the next day and then drive to your next destination afterwards!

You can always change up the itinerary to suit your needs if you don’t fancy hiking the Tongariro Crossing!

Day 2: Tongariro to Taupo – 72km (44.7 miles)

The second day is a relatively short drive as you head from Tongariro to the lakeside town of Taupo.

It’s a relatively short drive towards Taupo, as you snake around the lake of the same name. If you need a break from driving, then stopping alongside the lake to take in the views is a great idea.

Once you get to your destination, there’s quite a lot of things to do in Taupo! Of course, this does depend on what time you get there! If you hike the Tongariro Crossing during the day, you could make the drive to Taupo in the evening, as it’s not far!

In this case, you could just relax by the lake, watch the sunset and then get something to eat. Otherwise, there are a few activities you can do.

One that I recommend is going to Action World, which is essentially a giant inflatable playground for adults. I really enjoyed it here and spent a good hour or two having lots of fun!

There are quite a few adrenaline activities in Taupo if you need more excitement. You can go skydiving if you wish.

You can also take a dip in the lake, which is a bit more relaxing. There are numerous spots where you can park your car and then walk down to the lake.

Day 3: Taupo to Rotorua – 87km (54 miles)

The third day is another short drive as you go from Taupo to Rotorua. However, there are also a few things you can do before you visit Rotorua!

Firstly, if you haven’t already been to Action World in Taupo, then I recommend doing that! It’s great fun as you bounce around the inflatable playground! Plus, it gets you out of the car for a while as well!

One place that you definitely have to stop at on your way to Rotorua is Huka Falls. This was one of the best places that I saw on the route from Wellington to Auckland.

It’s New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, which is impressive given the incredible selection you have in the country!

These set of waterfalls that feed into the Waikato river churn a volume of 220,000 litres of water per second. The view is spectacular and the noise of the water as it gushes past is incredible.

The only downside is that it’s normally always full of tourists, a lot of them jostling for position to take pictures of the falls. There was a fair amount of selfie sticks about when I was there!

After this, the drive to Rotorua only takes about an hour or two. Another place to stop is at Wai-O-Tapu, where you can see geothermal pools. You get to enjoy the volcanic features, such as mud pools, geysers and a geothermal area. It’s an interesting place, especially if you’re into geography like me!

Once you’re in Rotorua, I recommend you take the opportunity to do as many activities as you can!

There’s a lot to do, such as luging, zorbing and checking out the Maori village. Also, try to adapt to the smell of eggs as quickly as you can, but that will be the first thing you notice when you step out of the car!

Huka Falls

Day 4: Rotorua to Coromandel Peninsula – 207 km (128 miles)

This was one of my favourite parts of the drive from Wellington to Auckland! The views as you drive towards the Coromandel Peninsula are just epic!

At one point I felt like I had been transported to a Jurassic Park film, due to the abundance of lush green vegetation and soaring hills!

This might seem a bit of an odd route, as you’re going right past Tauranga which is the next stop. However, I feel it’s best to see as much of the Coromandel Peninsula as you can. There’s so much to see here and many great places to explore that you need a good day and a half to get the most out of it.

One place that I would advise stopping along the way is Paeroa. If you’ve been travelling New Zealand for any length of time then you’ll know that Lemon & Paeroa is almost a Kiwi institution.

The soft drink is extremely popular throughout the country and you guessed it, Paeroa is where it was made. To signify that fact, there is a gigantic Lemon & Paeroa bottle in the town, which is great for staring at and of course, a photo op!

You can stop at a few other places along the way, but I would head to the Coromandel for the evening, so you can enjoy the scenery and the sunset in the area.You can relax at one of the beaches or outlooks and enjoy the evening. I think this is a great way to relax after a day’s drive!

Cathedral Cove

Day 5: Coromandel Peninsula to Tauranga – 165km (102 miles)

This was another one of my favourites drives on our Wellington to Auckland road trip!

One of the main reasons was one of the stops that we took along the way. We stopped at a water park located at the Waimarino Adventure Park. It does cost quite a bit to enter at $44 for a day, but if you love this sort of thing, then you should definitely pay it!

There’s a lot of different activities you can do here, such as rock-climbing, paddle-boarding and many slides as well. It’s a great way to spend a few hours before you get to Tauranga, which is only 10 mins away! Plus, it gets you out of the car for a while!

Once you get to Tauranga, one place that you should definitely visit is Mount Maunganui. It’s a beautiful spot next to the coast, that has an amazing beach. I spent New Years here and it was very lively that night!

I was a bit worse for wear the next morning, so I wasn’t able to do the hike up the Mount. However, if you get the chance you should definitely do this, as the views look spectacular from the top.

View of Ocean Beach from atop the Mount

Day 6: Tauranga to Hamilton – 107km (66 miles)

From Tauranga to Hamilton, the highlight of this day for me was the visit to Hobbiton!

What made it even more special was that I got to go there on my birthday! I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan and this was one of the things I really wanted to do while I was in New Zealand!

If you’re a fan, then you simply have to go! It’s that simple! The tour is amazing, you learn a lot about how they made the films and the set, plus a few juicy tidbits as well.One such one was that when the pub gets burnt down in the film, it was actually a real fire. They had to rebuild it for the three subsequent Hobbit films!

At $80 is an expensive tour, there’s no doubt about that. So, if you’re not a fan of Lord of the Rings, then I would advise you skip it, as you probably won’t get much out of the experience.

However, if you are a fan, then this will be a real treat. The only downside is that you can’t take a photo in front of Bilbo’s house, otherwise the tour would take ages with everyone jostling to take a photo there.

Another bonus is that when the tour finishes you’re entitled to a free beer/cider at The Green Dragon. If that doesn’t make you want to visit, nothing will!

After this, it’s not too far to Hamilton and there isn’t too much along the way to see.

The Green Dragon Pub

Day 7: Hamilton to Auckland – 124km (77 miles)

The last leg of the Wellington to Auckland road trip is a relatively straightforward one from Hamilton to Auckland. Depending on how quickly you want to get to Auckland you can do it in little to no time!

One detour you can do is to visit Raglan, which is a surf resort on the West coast of the North Island. If you want to relax for a bit before heading to Auckland this is as good a place as any to go!

One lace that should stop during this drive is the Waitomo Caves. here you get to see glowworms light up the cave as you make your way through on a barge. Unfortunately, we didn’t do this. From all accounts, it’s supposed to be great, so I wouldn’t miss out!

From here onwards there’s not much to stop and see and as the drive only takes one and a half hours you can either mill about somewhere or get to Auckland early.

The biggest city in New Zealand, there are a lot of things to do in Auckland. You can visit the harbour, stroll around the shops on Queen Street or check out one of the 48 extinct volcanic cones scattered across the city!

Above all, you should definitely get a beer in Auckland to celebrate completing this great New Zealand road trip!

Mission Bay

How much does it cost to travel from Wellington to Auckland?

Travelling from Wellington to Auckland by car can be expensive if you’re not careful! There’s a lot of factors and expenses that you can quickly rack up!

The main cost will be the vehicle that you rent to do the trip. I would recommend renting a car, as it only takes around 5 to 7 days to complete depending on what you do!

A car is cheaper than a camper van and hostels aren’t that expensive in the North Island. If you do the trip in a group that’s even better, as the costs will be split and everyone will pay less!

The other main expense will come down to food and drink. This is an inescapable cost while travelling. My advice would be to use the kitchens in the hostels and cook as much food as you can!

Staple foods, such as pasta and rice are reasonably cheap in New Zealand, so if you stick to these you should able to save a fair bit of money. This is essential in my opinion, as it leads onto the next point!

Here’s why:

the wealth of activities to do on a Wellington to Auckland road trip mean that you’ll need some money to do a few of these!

Hobbiton, white-water rafting and the numerous activities you can do in Rotorua are not cheap. You’ll be missing it out if you don’t do any of these so you definitely need to budget these in. Tickets for Hobbiton cost $80, while activities in Rotorua vary from $10 to over $500 depending on what you do!

The other big cost of the Wellington to Auckland route is fuel. This is another unavoidable expenditure of a road trip. According to Expatistan, the price of 1 litre of fuel in New Zealand is $1.91.

If we go by the basis that 1 litre of fuel gets you 10km, then driving from Wellington to Auckland should cost about $171. This figure is only a rough estimate, but if you do this trip in a group, then the cost won’t be that much between you.

Concluding thoughts

As far as I’m concerned, a Wellington to Auckland road trip is one of the best that you can do during a trip to New Zealand!

You take in some of the best places to see in the country, such as Rotorua and Taupo! Plus, the scenery as you do the trip is just incredible!

This is one trip that must be on any New Zealand backpacking itinerary! Do you agree with my summation of the road trip? Have you done this road trip before and got any thoughts on it? Leave me a comment below!

Need travel insurance? Don’t travel around the North Island without it! I use World Nomads to keep me protected while I travel, and recommend you do too!

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Tom

Tom is a travel addict who first left England to spend a year Down Under. Not satisfied with this, he then went to New Zealand, about as far away from home as he could get. He is now planning his next adventures in Europe and Canada while maintaining this blog.

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