Central North Road Trip
We've put together the ultimate Central Plateau road trip to show just how much cool stuff is packed into the area!
Pack some snacks, good tunes, and your choice of road trip companion. We've imagined you're driving south from Auckland, but you could head north from Wellington as well. The road is your oyster!
Head south east to your first stop, Rotorua. This is a great introduction to the volcanic plateau; geothermal activity is in evidence almost everywhere you look (or smell). Shooting geysers, stirring haka (war dances), luging, and zorbing are all sure to give you that wee tingle down your spine that comes with chasing a thrill.
Continue down the Thermal explorer highway to Taupo, with a strategic stop at Kerosene Creek or Hot n’ Cold for a swim at a free natural hot water stream. You’ll also be passing by one of the most photographed spots in the country. Huka Falls is not only a beautiful, churning, ice-blue waterfall, but the river nearby is a prime spot for jet boating. Stop for a couple of nights at YHA Taupo Finlay Jacks; you’ll need that time to make the most of the epic skydiving, paddling, and sailing that’s on offer.
Next up on almost every NZ traveller’s bucket list is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a beautiful one day walk through the very heart of the North Island, with the best views of the real life Mount Doom (Ngaruhoe).
You can start this journey after a night at YHA National Park or YHA Ohakune. We recommend leaving your luggage at the hostel and taking a well-stocked daypack; after 8 hours walking a familiar bed is usually a welcome sight!
From National Park it’s only a short journey to Ohakune. Both are well-placed for accessing the best (read: only) North Island ski fields, but Ohakune is overflowing with summer activities as well. Start the Mountains to Sea Cycleway or pick one leg to do as a day trip; the spa back at YHA Ohakune will be a welcome break for your feet.
You can also start the Whanganui Journey from here – this is technically one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” despite giving your arms much more of a workout than your legs!
Once you’ve biked and/or paddled your way down the river, you’ll be happy to take a rest at YHA Whanganui. There are less strenuous ways to explore the river if kayaking isn’t your thing; you can take one of the old steamboats and get a taste of some local history as well.
Make the most of the beautiful coastline by continuing your trip north to YHA New Plymouth. This town is underrated by many people, in our opinion; the surprisingly excellent street art, museums, café culture, Coastal Walkway, and Pukekura Park are all well worth visiting.
If you can time your trip to coincide with Womad or the Festival of Lights, you’ll be in for a real treat. There’s also of course the resplendent Mt Taranaki. Attempt the climb only if you’re brave, well-prepared, and lucky with the weather; alternatively, Paritutu Rock is much closer to town and provides great 360 degree vistas as well.
After a few nights at YHA New Plymouth, continue up the coast to Waitomo. Stay at YHA Waitomo, Juno Hall for a taste of working farm life and some peace and quiet away from the crowds. This hostel and its pool is the perfect spot to unwind after an adventurous day of black-water rafting, caving, or glow-worm hunting.
Raglan should be next on your itinerary as the ultimate spot to finish winding down after your epic journey. This black sand West Coast beach is famed for its world class surf, but YHA Raglan, Solscape is styled as something of a retreat in and of itself, offering yoga, surf hire, and an onsite organic café. Recoup in this idyllic small town for a couple of days before driving back up the coast to the big smoke of Auckland.
Whichever road you take, allow time to stop at lookouts, waterfalls, and short walks. You might just find an amazing hidden gem that of course, you’ll want to tell us all about!
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Located near a natural geothermal site, shops, restaurants and Lake Rotorua, this purpose-built backpacker hostel offers rooms for all types of travellers and spacious communal facilities.
YHA Raglan offers an eclectic collection of accommodation options designed with environmental sustainability in mind. Relax here with yoga classes, a surf school and a summer cafe all on-site.
Modernised, stylised and positive vibes; this backpacker hostel has what you need for a great stay in Taupo, providing views from the balcony of New Zealand's largest lake.
A restored 1906 character villa, this welcoming backpacker hostel is a homely, comfortable base close to world-renowned hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking.
This charming heritage backpacker hostel offers an opportunity to experience the luxury of early New Zealand, combined with well-kept, modern facilities.
A working farm with native bush as its backdrop, YHA Waitomo offers an authentic rural Kiwi experience right next to the famous Waitomo Caves.
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