NZ North Island Road Trip

NZ North Island Road Trip

NZ North Island Road Trip

This is a self-drive, self-guided tour suited for a family of 4-5 looking for a relaxing time to relieve from daily stress. There will be plenty of eye candies for those who value beautiful  landscape. Since NZ is at the end of winter/in the early spring, there will be much less water and beach activities.

Jetstar airfare was on sale at the time of our trip:
Melbourne to Auckland, departing 23:50, arriving 05:25 the next day $99
Auckland to Melbourne, departing 08:00, arriving 10:00 $149
There were 5 of us travelling with 40kg checked-in luggage for 6 days trip.

With such a constrained time limit, we could not travel too far and too much, so we had to plan carefully. The route for our trip was laid out like a loop: Auckland – Rotorua – Taupo – Waitomo – Hamilton – Auckland.

NZ North Road Trip Map

Day 1 – Departing from Melbourne

Departing from Melbourne at 23:50. We tried to catch as much sleep as possible on the plane. The flight was about 3.5 hours (NZ is 2 hours ahead), and when we landed, it would be almost sunrise.

Where to Stay?
Aircraft seat. Cramped economy seat with minimum recline. Noise from the engine since we were seated between the wing and the back of the plane. No blanket nor snacks, unless if we purchase from the air stewards.
Rating: 1/10

Don’t forget powerbanks with extra power. Especially useful when we used our mobile phones as GPS device, and for browsing internet.

Day 2 – Auckland

Arrived at Auckland International Airport, going through the normal immigration process, and once we were out the exit, get a local Vodafone prepaid simcard with 2G worth of data ($39), and met with our shuttle bus driver from the GO Rentals. Picked up the Nissan Wingroad station wagon that we had prebooked (5 days for about $150), and head straight to our hotel for the night for a quick rest and refreshment. The car had had a good 200,000 kms on it, but it was still very much driveable. Plenty of luggage space at the back of the vehicle, but middle row seats were a bit too squeezy for 3 passengers.

Get local prepaid simcard with big data allowance and great coverage. With Vodafone, we got 2GB worth of quota and 120-mins free call to AU/NZ. Data signal was pretty good, 3G all the way on the road, except for few spots.

By the time we got to our hotel, it was around 10am, and we arranged to be checked in to a room that was available immediately. We managed to get around 3 hours worth of rest before heading out again.

First stop: Auckland Fish Market. Having been to Sydney Fish Market, on a busy Saturday morning, I was so excited and looking forward to this place. But once we got there, it was a bit quieter than what I expected. We settled for a table in the courtyard and ordered some fish and chips, seared tuna, pot of mussels from Seafood Central, and a dozen of oysters from the deli. Fish and chips were nice, fresh and crispy. The oysters were very sweet and refreshing. Auckland Fish Market makes for a relaxing stroll by the harbour.

Prepare some loose change for parking. It is the easiest and cheapest option to pay for on-street parking in Auckland city. Parking costs around $2-$4 per hour.

Next we planned to visit a lookout for city view (Mt. Wellington), but due to lack of planning and getting lost on the way, we could not find the place, or maybe it did not exist. So we made our way to Auckland Botanic Gardens, some 20 mins away from the city. Entry is free. Must check out garden display made from herbs and veggies. Too bad the sakura and roses hadn’t bloom.

Had a nice bowl of ramen for dinner at Daikoku, Victoria St West before heading back to hotel. The takoyaki was also nice.

Where to Stay?
Waldorf St. Martins Apartments. Located in the small laneway on a sloped, narrow road next to a small cemetery, it certainly wasn’t our dream hotel. There was no built-heater in the room. Washing machine was missing, matresses felt cheap, and the room wasn’t cleaned properly. Car parking entry was narrow and awkwardly positioned. Parking costed $20 per night.
Rating: 4/10

Day 3 – Rotorua

After checking out, we headed to Rotorua, some 2.5 hours drive away from Auckland, stopping for a quick breakfast in Maccas. Highlight of the day is Agrodome farm show and tour, where we got to know various kinds of sheep, watch sheep shearing, get up close and hand feed farm animals, and sample various kiwi fruit products.

After lunch at local KFC, we headed to Te Puia for a Maori cultural show and hot Pohutu geyser tour (around $50 after discount). The park was so big we managed to cover only less than half the area.

Rotorua was pretty dead at night, but make sure to check out Eat Street, where pubs and restaurants lined up and lighted up at night. We had dinner in Indian Star, a busy local Indian restaurant with good rating in TripAdvisor. Fittingly, it didn’t disappoint.

Where to Stay?
Best Western Braeside Resort Rotorua. It was two-storey cottage-style apartment with foldaway bed downstair and triple-bed setting upstair, and heated and private outdoor jacuzzi. Bathrooms (yes, two bathrooms in our apartment) were big, bright, and clean. Parking was free, right at our doorstep.
Rating: 7/10

Day 4 – Taupo

Waking to a lazy morning after a few rushed mornings, we enjoyed the full breakfast ($16 per plate) that we pre-ordered the night before and delivered to our room on time. After checking out, we made our way to Huka Honey Hive, honey shop that sells all honey products. They also have beehives on display and a small cafe. Five minutes drive from there is the famous Huka Falls, where we were treated to scenery of gushing white water rapids.

Had lunch in Dixie Browns, a nice brunch cafe overlooking the serene Lake Taupo. Its lamb shank and pizza became delicious meal for hungry tummies.

After lunch, we took a private chartered boat ride to visit Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo, a one-hour round trip by boat from the Marina ($170). On the way back, we attempted to feed water duck from the moving boat. Watching the ducks took flight and hovered midair to feed from our hands was exciting.

Duck Feeding

Make sure to pick up brochures, booklets, flyers that you encounter in airports, information centres, hotel lobbies, and look out for discounted deal for admission to various places.

With plenty of time to kill in the afternoon, we checked into our apartment before visiting Asian Kai (a local Asian grocery store ran by a fellow Indonesian) and Count Down (Woolworths in NZ), buying food for dinner and breakfast for the next day.

We slipped out to the pool area for a quick dip after dinner, and chatted with a resort guest who pointed out that the South Island is a must-visit.

Where to Stay?
The Reef Resort Motel. We got two studio bedrooms connected by an outer door, separated from the rest of the rooms. With nice, bright, and spacious bathrooms with jacuzzi, aircons, heater, full kitchen, it felt like a five star resort. The resort also have free parking, private beach, thermal pool, and a heated swimming pool. The stay in here was definitely worth the money.
Rating: 9/10

Day 5 – Waitomo

After checking out, we drove all the way past Waitomo to visit Marokopa Falls, one of the biggest and tallest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. The fall was an easy 10 mins walk from the car park. The long, narrow, winding road leading to the waterfall might be nauseating for some, but the scenery was worth the drive.

Marokopa Falls

From the fall, we drove back to Auckland, stopping over in Zealong, NZ’s oolong tea garden located just outside Hamilton. The garden walk was closed due to the weather, but we managed to taste 4 different kinds of oolong tea from the garden and sample some desserts made with oolong tea.

By the time we reached Auckland, it was already dinner time. After checking into hotel next to the airport, we made our way to Ramen Do, another Japanese eatery in Auckland famous for its ramen (according to, anyway). I had spicy miso ramen with extra pork ($15). It was nice and filling.

Ramen Do

Where to Stay?
Ibis Budget Auckland Airport Hotel, one minute-drive away from the airport. Parking was free. Room was clean, easy, quiet, and simple. There was Count Down supermarket that opens 24/7, right opposite the hotel.
Rating: 7/10

Day 6 – Arriving Home

Made our way to the International Terminal before 6am, parked the rental car in Car Park C, and dropped the key and parking ticket to the i-Site counter in arrival hall, before checking in for our flight back home. Very smooth and easy process.

Overall it has been a pleasant trip, with the highlight being the driving joy, lush greenfields, close encounters with farm animals, and a nice, relaxing getaway from busy working life.

As a rough overview, the whole trip costed around AUD $900 per person for a party of 5, with the following breakdown:

Return Airfare $300
Car Rental, Parking, and Petrol $160
Accomodation $160
Meal $125
Admission Fees $135
Shopping Allowance $100
Miscellaneous $15

Fun Facts

  • We were on the road for almost 1000 kms from start to finish.
  • Petrol in NZ are much more expensive than Australia, averaging $2.15 per litre.
  • Kia Ora is one Maori term any tourist can and should learn to say. It means be healthy/be well, and can generally be used to say hello or thank you.

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