CK Travels

Auckland to Rotorua drive – a 5 day road trip

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New Zealand’s north island has so much to offer, but if you are short on time and have just a few days to explore then we have created a perfect itinerary that covers many highlights. This packed 5 day Auckland to Rotorua round trip itinerary takes in the best of the middle of the north island including Hobbiton, Waitomo, Rotorua and Mount Maunganui!

Auckland to Rotorua drive route

Auckland to Rotorua drive itinerary map north island

Car hire for Auckland to Rotorua road trip

We would recommend hiring a car or a campervan for this Auckland to Rotorua round trip. Public transport is available between towns and cities, but many attractions are usually a drive out of town, so for that reason it would be best to have your own transport.

You can pick up your hire car / campervan at either Auckland airport or in the city. We personally recommend JUCY rentals or Apex rentals for excellent service and decent rates. You can use to compare different prices from all the rental car companies.

From our own experience we do not recommend hiring a car from Omega Rental Cars. Our rental car was really dirty with a dodgy door, plus the customer service was poor and unauthorised payments came out of our account several months after our trip – avoid these guys!

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Auckland to Rotorua drive

Day 1: Auckland to Waitomo

Drive time:
Auckland > Hunua Falls: 50 minutes
Hunua Falls > Hamilton Gardens: 1 hour 20 minutes
Hamilton Gardens > Waitomo: 1 hour

For the first day of our Auckland to Rotorua intinerary, head south out of Auckland towards Waitomo via Hunua Falls and Hamilton Gardens. You can check out our 3 day Auckland itinerary here if you want some ideas for exploring Auckland before you leave the city.

Hunua Falls

After driving for 30 mins on Highway 1, take the Papakura exit and drive a further 20 minutes tothe western part of Hunua Ranges Regional Park. Just a short walk away from the car park you will find Hunua Falls – a spectacular 30-metre plunge waterfall that is great for swimming and has a few good spots to view the falls from.

This is a really popular place for locals to visit so if you are visiting on a weekend make sure to arrive early.

Hamilton Gardens

Continue driving for another hour and 20 minutes and aim to arrive in Hamilton around lunchtime to pick up a spot of lunch and then visit the beautiful botanical gardens.

For lunch check out some of Hamilton’s finest restaurants including Madam Woo (Malaysian inspired cuisine), Chim Choo Ree (award winning regional cuisine) or Gothenburg (riverside tapas restaurant).

Drive over to Hamilton Gardens afterwards to explore their 5 gardens which are spread over 58 hectares. Highlights include the lake, rose garden, Chinese garden, Japanese garden and English flower garden in the Arts and Crafts style.

Hamilton Gardens are open everyday and entry is free from 7.30am to 7.30pm daily (check their website for the latest details)

Auckland to Rotorua drive - Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton Gardens

After visiting Hamilton continue onwards on your drive and head to Waitomo for the first overnight stay. If you still have a few hours of daylight left check out some places near Waitomo such as Marokopa Falls – one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, or Mangapohue Natural Bridge – a limestone bridge archway.

There isn’t a huge amount of choice for dining out in Waitomo, but the Tomo Bar & Eatery in Waitomo Village is a highly rated kiwi pub serving hearty food and drink (only open Thursday to Sundays from 12pm to 10pm).

Stay for 1 night in Waitomo:

BUDGET – JunoHall Backpackers
Highly rated hostel with both dorms and private rooms, plus outdoor swimming pool, shared kitchen and free WiFi

MID RANGE – Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge
B&B located in the centre of Waitomo Caves Village just a short walk to the Waitomo Caves.

Located just 650 yards from Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, this award-winning holiday park features a swimming pool, hot tub, BBQ area and is surrounded by the shops, cafes and restaurants in Waitomo Caves Village.

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Day 2: Waitomo to Rotorua

Drive time:
Waitomo > Rotorua: 1 hour 50 minutes

Start the second day of your Auckland to Rotorua road trip with a fun morning exploring Waitomo’s famous glow worm caves! Waitomo is a small village known for its extensive underground cave systems and to see these glowworms you can either enjoy a relaxing boat trip through the caves, or if you area bit more physically active, go on a 3-hour black water rafting tubing exploration through the underground rivers.

The black water rafting tubing experience is a really fun way to experience seeing the glow worms (we did this back in 2015). Float down the underground river in rubber tubes whilst leaping over cascading underground waterfalls – all with experienced, trained guides.

Book a 45 minute boat tour or Black Water Rafting on Klook. During the summer peak season advance booking is recommended.

Auckland to Rotorua drive - Waitomo Caves

After visiting Waitomo, continues onwards on your Auckland to Rotorua trip. The drive to Rotorua is just under 2 hours. If you take the route that goes through the small town of Tirau – check out their large corrugated iron buildings constructed to look like animals.

Polynesian Spa

After arriving in Rotorua and checking into your accommodation, head over to Polynesian Spa for a relaxing afternoon. This award winning spa has several geothermal mineral pools, unique spa therapies and beautiful views of Lake Rotorua. 

Book a package deal online in advance with Klook

For dinner head over to the lake end of Tutanekai Street – also known as Eat Street. It has a covered central walkway and geothermal underfloor heating making it ideal for all year round al fresco dining!

If you are on a budget and are staying in self catering accommodation then Rotorua has many large supermarkets – we recommend Pak’nSave for cheap groceries.

Stay for 2 nights in Rotorua:

BUDGET – Funky Green Voyager 
Eco friendly hostel with private rooms and dorms. Facilities include a large garden, lounge with log fire and free WIFI. 

MID RANGE – Arista of Rotorua
Located 20 minutes walking distance from the famous Polynesian Spa. Facilities include a BBQ area and most apartments feature a private hot tub and a private patio. 

LUXURY – Ramada Resort By Wyndham Rotorua Marama
Located a 20 minute drive outside the city centre, this resort is situated on the edge of Lake Rotorua with aheated hot tub,an outdoor swimming pool and fitness centre. 

Award winning holiday park, located a short drive from the city centre with landscaped grounds, heated pool, BBQ areas and kitchens.

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Day 3: Rotorua

Today you will have a whole day to explore Rotorua and there are many fun things to do in this small geothermal lakeside town. You can check out our detailed list of things to do in Rotorua here – or we’ve listed some highlights below:

Rotorua is best known for its rich Maori culture and geothermal activity – explore mud pools, thermal streams, geysers and learn about the history of the indigenous Maori people.

Things to do in Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
The most famous geothermal park has a variety of colourful and unique attractions, including the iconic Lady Knox Geyser and the largest mud pool in the country. Book a Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland ticket online

Redwoods Forest
Located a short drive from downtown is the iconic Redwood forest, home to the Redwoods Treewalk. This award winning eco-tourism walk takes you through huge ancient redwood trees along a series of 28 eco suspension bridges and platforms. This walk can also be done at night illuminated by 30 exquisite lanterns.

If you are looking for something a bit more exhilarating then you can also zipline or mountain bike through the forest!

BOOK IT: 2 for 1 day and night Redwoods tour or 3-Hour Zipline Canopy Tour >

Whakarewarewa Forest - The Redwoods rotorua new zealand
Credit: Redwoods Treewalk

Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge
Take a 10-minute gondola ride up to the summit of Mount Ngongotaha for awesome views of the city and Lake Rotorua. There are loads of activities at the top including luge riding, mountain biking, zip lining or dining at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar. Book your Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge Tickets in advance.

ChameleonsEye /

Tamaki Maori Village Evening Cultural Experience
Immerse yourself in the traditional Maori way of life with an evening cultural performance, village tour and traditional hangi dinner. Book a Tamaki Maori Village Evening Cultural Experience

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Day 4: Rotorua to Mount Maunganui

Drive time:
Rotorua > Mount Maunganui: 55 minutes

The next stop of our Auckland to Rotorua round trip itinerary is Mount Maunganui – a relaxed coastal suburb known for the extinct Mount Maunganui volcano, surfing beach and boutique shops, bars and restaurants in town.

The drive time toMount Maunganui from Rotorua is only 55 minutes so you should be able to spend almost a full day exploring the town.

Mount Mauao
The mountain of Mount Maunganui is known to the local Māori people as Mauao and is 232 metres above sea level. It takes between 30- 45 minutes to reach the summit, depending on how often you stop along the way and the views of the town and ocean are stunning.

Swim or surf at Mount Maunganui Beach
Located a short walk from the town centre, Mount Maunganui’s white sand beach is one of the best in New Zealand. It has great surfing conditions and is patrolled by lifeguards during summer and by volunteers for the rest of the year (be careful of the rip tides).

Mount Hot Pools
Located at the foot of the Mount is an award winning spa with outdoor hot saltwater pools, indoor private pools, childrens pools and massage therapy rooms. Admission to the pools are 14 NZD per adult and they are open until 10pm everyday. Click to book online >

Stay for 1 night in Mount Maunganui:

BUDGET – Seagulls Guesthouse
Hostel located a 5-minute walk from Mount Maunganui Beach. Accommodation options are all private rooms and facilities include a shared kitchen, dining room, sun terrace and BBQ.

MID RANGE –The Pacific Apartments
Self-contained apartments with balcony and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, located a 5 minute walk from the town centre. Facilities include a swimming pool, hot tub and a fitness centre.

LUXURY – Pavilion Beachfront Apartments
Spacious, self-contained apartments located directly in front of Mount Main Surf Beach. Each apartment has a private balcony or courtyard with views of the ocean.

CAMPERVAN SITE / HOLIDAY PARK – Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park
Family holiday park situated at the base of the mountain (Mauao) next to the famous hot salt water pools. Facilities include a shared kitchen and BBQ area.

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Day 5: Mount Maunganui to Auckland via Hobbiton

Drive time:
Mount Maunganui > Hobbiton: 45 minutes
Hobbiton > Auckland: 1 hour 50 minutes

Today is the last day of the Auckland to Rotorua round trip. Take a 45 minute drive from Mount Maunganui to the famous Hobbiton Movie Set – a location used for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit film trilogy.

Located in the town of Matamata, this is one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions and a must visit for Lord of the Rings fans! The price for the tour is 89NZD and includes a two hour guided walk around Hobbiton, followed by a complimentary drink at The Green Dragon Inn pub at the end. You’ll also have many opportunities to take some great photos inside the hobbit holes! Advance booking is recommended as this tour is really popular. Book your guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set online with GetYourGuide.

If you want to add an extra night onto your itinerary then you can do their evening banquet tour at Hobbiton which includes a walk around the set at dusk, followed by a two course banquet feast served inside The Green Dragon Inn. Click here for more details and to book. There are a handful of accommodation options nearby – budget options include Matamata Backpackers, and more luxury includes Villa Walton Bed & Breakfast.

On the drive back to Auckland from Hobbiton, check out the Blue Spring on the Te Waihou Walkway – a natural spring known for its clear blue water which supplies around 70 per cent of New Zealand’s bottled water. The 3 hour long 10 km return track winds through wetlands, and past small waterfalls to the turquoise water of the spring.

Alternatively check out Karangahake Gorge – a historic Walkway that follows an old railway line in a stunning natural gorge setting.

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