Thermal Explorer Highway, New Zealand
Auckland to Hawkes Bay via Rotorua and Taupo
Getting behind the wheel and setting off on one of New Zealand’s many great scenic drives is the very best way to see all the hidden treasures of the country. This is a country just made for exploring by road and if you have a motorhome rental or campervan hire you will have a wide choice of great locations to stay overnight on your journey. One of the most intriguing and exciting of the country’s scenic drives is the Thermal Explorer Highway that will take you on a journey of discovery through the heartland of New Zealand’s geothermal region and then on to the Tongariro National Park or the beautiful Napier and Hastings wine valley. This is a great trip for the whole family with loads of adventure activities to enjoy along the way.
City of Sails, Waitomo and Hobbit Country
Starting in Auckland, the City of Sails, enjoy a little city living before you head off on your adventure. Auckland has great shopping, restaurants and a vibrant maritime heritage. Take a harbour cruise for a different perspective of the city; visit Rangitoto Island (a dormant island volcano) and Sky Tower for 360 degree views.
Leaving the city, your drive will take you south to Hamilton in the Waikato region. This is Hobbit country! You can visit the Hobbit Movie set and the incredible Waitomo Caves, a labyrinth of passages hidden under the verdant green hills. Here you can see the marvellous glow worms as you drift through the caves in darkness – (or swim through if you are brave enough!)
Geothermal Rotorua and Taupo
From Hamilton the Explorer Highway winds its way to Rotorua, the principal town of the Volcanic Plateau, which is one of the most active geothermal sites in the world. It’s a great place to take children to see the amazing simmering mud pools and watch the Pohutu geyser shoot boiling water 30mt into the air at regular intervals. The scenery is a little surreal and it is rather smelly, but great fun! Of course there are thermal Spas to enjoy and you can also enjoy a Maori Cultural experience which includes a hangi (a meal prepared using heat of the geothermal waters to warm a mud oven).
From Rotorua continue your drive to Lake Taupo, which is actually a huge inland sea within a volcanic crater. Here you can go trout fishing or enjoy the other water based activities on the lake. Be sure to visit Craters of the Moon, a huge geothermal wonderland where you can walk along wooden walkways surrounded by hissing and steaming vapours – a free sauna?
Now it is time for some real excitement at your next stop, the famous Huka Falls where 220,000 Lt of water rush over the falls per second. To experience the ultimate adrenalin rush take the Jet Boat ride to get really close to the action.
From Lake Taupo you can either continue your drive south to Hawke’s Bay to enjoy some of the best of New Zealand’s wonderful wines, and explore the Art Deco capital of the country, Napier. Or turn west and make a detour to the Tongariro National Park for more amazing volcanoes, hot springs and beautiful lakes before you continue to Napier. If you have the time, return to Auckland along the fabulous Pacific Coast Highway; or continue on to Wellington and the South Island of New Zealand.