Roadtrippin’: Lord Of The Roads, New Zealand
Experience some Middle Earth magic IRL.
We’ve teamed up with AVIS to bring you a series of amazing tried-and-tested roadtrips around Australia and the world.
We’ve partnered with Avis to bring you a series of tales from the road. Avis makes it easy to hire cars when you’re overseas as well as in Australia. This time, we journey through the north island in the land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand.
“Tolkien’s world was one of deep hidden valleys, barren wastelands, remote mystical mountains and lush, low valleys, and we found all these places throughout New Zealand” – Peter Jackson.
The inspiration for our New Zealand north island roadtrip comes from a rainy weekend spent watching The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – yes all nine hours of it. My travel companion ninetynineco and I have planned out a route that will take us on an enchanted journey through Middle Earth, Hobbiton and will end with an epic hike across Mount Doom.
8pm: Landing late into Auckland, we head straight to the Avis counter to pick up our brand new bright orange Holden Trax. We set up the GPS and head off to our first stop, Mollies Boutique Bed and Breakfast. Our eyes light up as we are presented with a welcome cheese platter which is devoured in seconds because – let’s face it – you never say no to a cheese platter, even if it is 11.30pm at night.
Auckland to The Coromandel – 173 KM, 2 hrs 20 mins
8am: We’re up early to get this show on the road. After a delicious breakfast of poached eggs and avocado with freshly squeezed orange juice, we take one last look around the beautiful property before hitting the highway. We’re taking the inland route to the Coromandel Peninsula, one of New Zealand’s best-loved holiday destinations. It’s a beauty, with rolling hills, jagged mountain peaks and blue skies as far as the eye can see. The saying “life is a journey, not a destination” must have been inspired by New Zealand. Here, driving is a pleasure, not a chore, and no one asks “are we there yet?” as the stunning scenery rolls out before us.
11am: We get our first taste of New Zealand’s natural wonders as we stop off en route at the Lost Spring in Whaiaipo. We’ve hit gold. We take the opportunity to unwind, sipping cocktails and mocktails while bathing in the warm, silky water.
1pm: After being dragged (practically kicking and screaming) from the springs we stop for a spot of lunch before travelling the short distance to Hot Water Beach. Here, at low tide, you can dig yourself a hole in the sand and watch as it fills with naturally heated water. We sink our feet in with contentedness.
We head to the Hot Water Top 10 Holiday Park to tuck in for the night. Memories of cold, wet camping experiences quickly vanish as we arrive at our beautiful wooden hut with fresh linen, locally sourced bathroom essentials and a powerful hot shower. It’s glamping at its best.
The Coromandel To Rotorua – 214 KM, 2 hrs 50 mins
7am: We’re up at the crack of dawn to meet Hayden from Cathedral Cove Kayaks down at Hahei Beach. The locals say the Coromandel is ‘good for your soul’ and it’s not hard to see why once we arrive at our meeting place. Ah-ma-zing. Everything looks so tropical that you could be fooled into thinking you were on a beach in Thailand.
For the next three hours we explore secluded bays and paddle through crystal clear waters while learning about the Maori history of the local area. The paddling works up a sweat and we stop off at Cathedral Cove Beach. We explore the nearby nature while Hayden prepares some tea and coffee. For those not sold on kayaking, there’s a walking track that begins at Hahei beach and leads you along the beautiful bays to Cathedral Cove. We watch enviously as some folk nearby head into the water with their snorkels – if only we had more time.
After paddling back to Hahei we sadly say goodbye to the Coromandel and continue our adventures towards Rotorua, New Zealand’s most active volcanic area.
1pm: The journey between The Coromandel and Rotorua takes us through the enchanting village of Matamata, or more commonly known as Hobbiton. Entry to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is $75NZD and if you’re a fan of the films it’s well worth the money. We see where Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures began and, with no shame, soon we’re running around like kids re-enacting scenes from the film. Our tour isn’t overly crowded, but it’s advised to book ahead of time.
3pm: A ginger beer at Hobbiton’s Green Dragon Inn sets us up nicely for the next leg of our journey – a short 50 minute drive to Rotorua where we’ll stay for the night. Your nose will know you’re near Rotorua before you do. The smell from the geothermal area is strong, to say the least. Don’t be put off – it’s all natural, and the chance to see vivid green lakes, erupting geysers and bubbling mud pools is worth enduring the stench.
Rotorua to Taupo – 81KM, 1 hour
9am: Highway 5 leads you straight from Rotorua to Taupo in just over an hour. We’re told that the best geo-thermal area is on route at Wai-O-Tapu so we pull over and follow the signs to the Thermal Wonderland.
Unfortunately we didn’t get the memo that the Lady Knox Geyser is presented once a day at 10:15 am and that arrival at 9:30am is advised. Arriving at 10:20am, we run down to the geyser to find nothing but disappointment. The rest of the wonderland more than makes up for our lack of organisation. There are three self guided walking routes with varying durations, the longest taking up to two hours.Who knew a bubbling pool of mud could be so mesmerising? The array of colour is incredible – fiery oranges, luminous greens and fluoro yellows dot the landscape. We felt as though we were on another planet.
11:30am: We’re back in the car and shortly before arriving in Taupo, we see the sign for Haku Falls. We take a sharp left and head to the viewing platform to watch over over 800,000 litres of water per second rushing into the Waikato River. We don’t have the time on this trip, but it’s recommended to view the falls from below – there’s a walkway across the river.
2pm: We grab some lunch and move on to the next item on our itinerary – a cruise around the enormous and beautiful Lake Taupo with Ernest Kemp Cruises. We spend two hours with the wind in our hair listening to some cool commentary about the history of the area. It turns out the lake is actually the worlds largest volcanic crater – who knew?
The boat pulls up in Mine Bay, home to some incredible Maori cliff carvings stretching up to ten metres into the air. There’s plenty of time to take pictures and those that remembered their swimmers can jump overboard and swim around the boat.
5pm: There’s a huge variety of accommodation options scattered around the lake. We head to Whaikepo Lodge, run by Ange and Garth London who can only be described as total legends. As soon as we arrive we’re treated to fancy canapés consisting of homemade buffalo burgers and smoked salmon on fluffy bellinis with homemade wasabi mayo. Yum. We’ve got a mammoth hike ahead of us in the morning so it’s early to bed.
6am: Voted the best one day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing takes you 19.4 kilometres across some of New Zealand’s most rugged and dramatic terrain. If you’re planning to do the crossing, it’s essential to book shuttle transportation to take you to the start. We meet with Backyard Tours in Turangi and they guide us to the start of the walk, enlightening us with information about the area and the history of the crossing. We are blessed with a beautiful and moving Maori song to guide us safely on our journey.
Make sure to check the weather before departing as conditions can change quickly. Our Maori blessing does little to influence the weather gods who see fit to challenge us further by providing thick fog and heavy rain. Luckily I’d managed to deter ninetynineco from dressing as a Hobbit so we’re well equipped.
From the moment we set off we feel like we’ve been transported straight on to the Lord Of The Rings film set. Desert-like landscapes are juxtaposed with lush green hillsides, vivid blue lakes and a live volcano (Mount Doom). The trail is easy to follow and we join a mix of tourists and experienced trampers – some with full hiking gear, others wearing shorts, t-shirts and the look of regret over their wardrobe choices.
1pm: The walk quickly becomes more of a challenge than anticipated with the weather impeding all chances of seeing sites like the red crater and the blue lakes.
Here’s what we could have seen versus what we do see:
5pm: Although we aren’t able to see as much as we’d hoped (not even a snippet of Mount Doom itself) the hike is still amazing and we love every minute of it. The fog adds to the mystical nature of it all and it’s such a rewarding feeling to reach the end and see the warm faces of Gloria and Brendan waiting with beer, chocolates and cans of local soft drink L&P, which we consume in seconds.
It’s like our legs, knowing that we can’t take anymore, immediately stop working. Luckily Gloria and Brendan do all the work and drive us back to Turangi via the birthplace of the Haka where Brendan performs the whole thing. It’s very impressive but not as scary as the All Blacks make it look.
Bed is calling us and we willingly oblige.
Taupo to Auckland – 266 KM, 3 hrs 10 mins
9am: Our last day brings the longest drive, which provides one last chance to take in more of the island’s good looks. We pack up our things and hit the road. With our road trip Spotify playlist blasting out, we re-live the amazing few days we’ve had and start planning our return trip. Seeing the island by road has been a great decision – it’s given us the freedom to set our own agenda and brought us as close as we can get to the wild, beautiful, ever-evolving landscape. As we pull into the Avis rental returns it hits me just how much I’ve been swept up by magic of New Zealand. We’ll be back, my precious.
(Lead image from doc.govt.nz. All other photos by @ninteynineco.)
Avis car hire is the perfect way to make more of your holiday. Roadtrips give you the opportunity to see different sides of your destination. With such freedom, the possibilities are truly limitless. Stay tuned for more Avis roadtrips.