3 days road trip in the North Island

3 Days Road Trip in the North Island (2024)

New Zealand is special in my heart, with its enchanting landscapes and captivating beauty. I’ve traversed the South Island’s rugged terrains and the North Island’s scenic wonders, immersing myself in its diverse offerings. One memorable adventure took me on a three-day road trip across the North Island, specifically to the majestic Tongariro National Park.

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3 Days Road Trip in the North Island

Setting out on a long weekend from Australia, a friend and I embarked on this journey brimming with excitement and a hint of apprehension. Driving over 850 kilometres in just three days was a daunting prospect, especially considering it was my inaugural experience navigating highways for such extended stretches.

With me as the sole driver, my friend provided moral support as we meticulously planned our itinerary. However, despite our preparations, we soon realized that our estimates fell short in distance and time. The allure of New Zealand’s vistas slowed our pace as we frequently stopped to soak in the breathtaking scenery along the way.

Despite the unforeseen challenges, every mile brought us closer to our destination, and each bend in the road unveiled new wonders. From lush forests to sweeping valleys, the journey became integral to our adventure.

Reflecting on this expedition, it’s a testament to the spontaneity and resilience inherent in travel. While we may meticulously plan our routes and timetables, unexpected detours and unplanned stops often yield the most memorable experiences.

Indeed, my time in New Zealand, whether traversing the North or South Island, has left an indelible mark on my soul. There are plenty of things that you can add to your New Zealand bucket list. Each journey, be it by foot or by car, unveils a tapestry of natural wonders that continue to draw me back time and time again. And as I reminisce about our North Island road trip, I’m reminded of the boundless adventures that await in this land of unparalleled beauty.

Also, Read | As part of another travel, I have also backpacked in the South Island for ten days; read my post Backpacking in South Island.

How to Get to Auckland from Sydney By Flight?

Auckland is a prominent urban hub within New Zealand, offering a vibrant blend of culture and modernity. Connectivity between Sydney and Auckland is seamless, with regular flights operated by Air New Zealand and Jetstar, the latter renowned for its budget-friendly options.

For savvy travellers seeking to maximize their savings, keeping an eye on Jetstar’s website proves invaluable. Throughout the year, especially during off-peak seasons, enticing deals abound, presenting ample opportunities to secure affordable and remarkable tickets for your journey between Sydney and Auckland.

Itinerary For 3 Days Road Trip in the North Island

Day 1 (Friday) – Auckland to Taupo

Upon arriving in Auckland, we swiftly collected our rental car from eZi Car Rentals and embarked on our journey towards Taupo, commencing around 4 PM. Navigating the city’s roundabouts and our GPS posed a minor challenge, delaying our departure slightly. We opted for regular breaks, adhering to a one-hour interval to ensure a smooth and enjoyable drive.

Our first pit stop landed us in the charming town of Waikato, approximately 110 kilometres from Auckland, where we indulged in a lively dinner despite the hour, relishing the vibrant ambience that persisted even at 7 PM.

Auckland to Waikato – 110 kilometres.

For those seeking a more immersive adventure, hiring a campervan offers an enticing option to explore New Zealand’s scenic wonders. With numerous designated parking spots and amenities scattered across the country, Jucy Rentals is a reliable choice for securing your mobile abode.

As night fell and we resumed our journey towards Taupo, a slight hiccup with the GPS led us onto rural roads, inadvertently granting us a serendipitous encounter with the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Australis. Mesmerized by the splendorous display of orange hues dancing across the horizon, we remained captivated, preceding the urge to capture the moment in photographs.

Waikato to Taupo – 195 kilometres.

Despite the unexpected detour, we eventually arrived in Taupo around midnight, seeking refuge at the welcoming Taupo Haka Lodge Backpackers. Renowned for its cozy private rooms amidst a backpacker-friendly atmosphere, the lodge provided a tranquil sanctuary for us to rest and recharge. Alternatively, YHA Taupo Finlay Jack’s Backpacker, The White House, Wharewaka Bach, and Lake Vista at Two Mile Bay offer diverse accommodations to suit every traveller’s preference.


Day 2 (Saturday) – Taupo to Tongariro National Park

Following a bustling start to our journey on day one, we embraced the tranquillity of daybreak, commencing our second day at a leisurely 7:30 AM. Greeted by the serene vista adorned with autumnal hues, our room provided a picturesque backdrop to begin our day.

View from our room at Taupo Haka lodge backpackers
View from our room at Taupo Haka Lodge Backpackers

Embarking on our next adventure at 9 AM, we set our sights on Tongariro National Park, a mere 100 kilometres from Taupo. The journey unfolded like a symphony of nature, with each passing landscape leaving us breathless with its sheer beauty.

Taupo to Tongariro National Park – 100 kilometres.

Upon our arrival at Tongariro National Park, we were greeted by the majestic presence of Mount Ngauruhoe, a striking volcanic peak that set the stage for our exploration. Though time constraints prevented us from embarking on the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we opted for a rewarding alternative—a six-hour return hike to the Lower and Upper Tama Lakes.

As we traversed the trails, we were treated to a visual feast of the park’s volcanic splendour, with Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe commanding the horizon in all their glory. Eager to infuse our adventure with a touch of drama, I indulged in a private Bollywood serenade, immersing myself in the rhythm while trekking towards the lakes.

After approximately 2.5 hours of trekking, we reached our first milestone—the breathtaking Lower Tama Lake. Words failed to capture the sheer magnificence of the scene before us, rendering our photographs mere echoes of the beauty we beheld. Pressing onward, the ascent to the Upper Tama Lake proved steep but undeniably worthwhile. With each step, anticipation mounted, culminating in a crescendo of awe as we beheld the unparalleled beauty of the Upper Tama Lake, surpassing even its lower counterpart in splendour.

Upper Tama Lake in Tongariro National Park
Upper Tama Lake

For avid hikers seeking adventure on New Zealand’s North Island, the Great North Walks offer an array of captivating trails, with the Lake Waikaremoana Track standing out as a prime example of the island’s natural beauty.

After exploring the volcanic mountains and pristine lakes, we reluctantly bid farewell to the mesmerizing landscapes and embarked on our return journey. As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a golden hue across the terrain, we were treated to a spectacle of breathtaking sunsets that served as the perfect backdrop for our homeward trek.

Yet, the final leg of our journey etched itself into our memories as the highlight of the day. Under the canopy of the night sky, we found ourselves walking beneath the ethereal glow of the Milky Way, a sight both enchanting and awe-inspiring. This moment was nothing short of magical for me, as my lifelong fascination with the celestial wonders above found its fulfilment in the shimmering expanse of stars.

Our accommodation for the night awaited us at the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) Tongariro National Park, a bustling hub imbued with the vibrant energy of fellow backpackers. Alternatively, travellers can explore other lodging options such as Tongariro River Motel, Tongariro Crossing Lodge and Tongariro Suites, each offering a unique blend of comfort and convenience amidst the breathtaking beauty of Tongariro National Park.


A mere 75 kilometres from Rotorua lies the quaint town of Waikato, home to the renowned Hobbiton movie set. For fans of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton saga, this presents an irresistible opportunity to deviate from your route and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Middle-earth. Whether you’re drawn to the rolling hills of the Shire or the cozy hobbit holes nestled within, a visit to the Hobbiton movie set promises an unforgettable journey into cinematic fantasy.

To enhance your experience, consider joining one of the many one-day tours organized by Viator, offering a seamless and immersive exploration of this iconic film location. From guided walks through the meticulously crafted sets to behind-the-scenes insights shared by knowledgeable guides, these tours cater to fans of all ages, ensuring a memorable and magical adventure in the heart of Hobbiton.

Day 3 (Sunday) – Tongariro National Park to Auckland

Beginning our day with a leisurely start, we eagerly explored the captivating wonders of the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland in Rotorua. Renowned for its geothermal activity and pristine lakes, Rotorua is one of New Zealand’s most picturesque towns, offering a myriad of natural marvels to behold.

One more geothermal activity at Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland

For those with the luxury of time, I highly recommend extending your stay in Rotorua for a couple of nights, allowing ample opportunity to immerse yourself fully in its splendour. Consider accommodations such as Figtree Bungalow, Paradise in Rotorua, and Novotel Rotorua for a comfortable and memorable stay. Additionally, there are several affordable accommodation options in Rotorua to suit every budget.


Venturing from Tongariro National Park to Rotorua, a distance of approximately 185 kilometres, we embarked on a journey that promised to unveil the enchanting landscapes and geothermal wonders that awaited us. The Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland, nestled at the southern end of the Okataina Volcanic Centre, beckoned with its surreal beauty and mystical allure. Translating to ‘sacred waters’ in Maori, Wai-O-Tapu offers a captivating glimpse into the raw power and beauty of nature’s forces.

Tongariro National Park to Rotorua – 185 kilometres.

Following a satisfying lunch, we bid farewell to Wai-O-Tapu and commenced our journey towards Auckland, covering a distance of approximately 258 kilometres. En route, we seized the opportunity to capture the scenic beauty of Lake Taupo in a quick yet memorable photo session, adding to the collection of cherished memories from our adventure.

Rotorua to Taupo – 80 kilometres.

Despite a minor hiccup with the GPS, which led us along country roads, we embraced the unexpected detour with open arms, relishing in the serenity and beauty of the countryside. As the landscape unfolded before us, each twist and turn of the road unveiled a new vista to behold, reaffirming the notion that, sometimes, the journey itself is the greatest reward.

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal wonderland

Day 4 (Monday) – Auckland to Sydney

Returning our rental car to eZi Car Rentals, we embarked on an early morning flight from Auckland to Sydney. Touching down in Sydney, we were greeted by the gentle patter of rain, signalling the start of a wet morning in the vibrant city.

Closing Notes

This road trip will undoubtedly linger in my memory for years to come. Covering over 850 kilometres in just three days, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment upon completing my inaugural self-driven adventure. The breathtaking views and exhilarating drive left me utterly enchanted, reinforcing my belief that driving in New Zealand is a must for anyone captivated by stunning landscapes and scenic vistas.

Have you experienced the thrill of driving in New Zealand? Share your stories and recommendations by emailing me at Solopassport@gmail.com.

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