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Welcome (back) to country #6.

In March 2020, we did a 10-day road trip of New Zealand’s South Island. We returned home, buzzing from our trip and ready to plan our next holiday, but then, like many people, our plans were halted. Three years later, we return to New Zealand, thrilled to be back in a country we love so much, this time on a 2-week road trip to the North Island.


A very long travel day.

Counting from the time we left our Airbnb in Dallas, Texas, to the time we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, we were in transit for 33 hours. Our first flight with American Airlines departed Dallas just after 10 am. We arrived at LAX with plenty of time to grab lunch and find a quiet spot to chill for a few hours. We boarded our second flight with Air Tahiti Nui at 4:45 pm LA time & 7 ½ hours later, we arrived in Papeete, at 10 pm local time. Our next flight didn’t leave until 2:45 am, so we assumed we could just rest in the airport. However, it turns out, they close the internal transit route at night, so we had to go through immigration into Tahiti and wait outside the airport to re-check our bags into our Air New Zealand flight at midnight. If we have the stamp in our passports though, do we get to say we went to Tahiti?

At 3 am we took off on our final flight bound for Auckland. We had been watching the news of floods across the north island and were a bit nervous about our plans. We arrived to wet weather and a very damp airport which had only reopened the day before. Despite this, amazing work had been done to get everything back up and running at the airport, on the roads and in the suburbs. We picked up our rental car after clearing customs and drove north to Snells Beach. We didn’t see much of this area as the main plan was just to freshen up, eat and get as much sleep as possible.


The road trip begins.

Our 2-week road trip began with coffee and a delicious breakfast at Pete & Mary’s Eatery in Warkworth. We stopped by Countdown to stock up on groceries and driving snacks and then hit the road. We drove north, taking a slight detour to avoid road closures, and made our first stop at Mangawhai Heads Beach. The wind was still quite strong and the surf was rough, which meant we couldn’t swim, but the sun was coming out at the perfect time for a little leg stretch. Continuing on our drive we spontaneously took a turn at a sign for Waipu Caves. We were certainly not dressed for a hike, but we slipped on our boots anyway and took a little muddy stroll to the mouth of the cave. We made another stop in Whangarei and bought tasty pork rolls for lunch at the Maunu Roast Shop. We made our final stop at Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese in Pakaraka and then only a short drive away we arrived at our accommodation.

We were welcomed by our lovely hosts and their beautiful dog Bruno and quickly settled into this very peaceful and unique stay. We made a cheese platter with the goodies we had bought at Mahoe Cheese, opened a bottle of New Zealand wine and enjoyed the evening in the garden until the sun had set and our jet lag begged us to go lay down.


Might as well swim if we are already wet.

The sun rising, the sound of farm animals and the smell of coffee being brewed – what a beautiful way to wake up. We made avocado toast and enjoyed a slow morning in the garden of our accommodation. We took a walk through the farmland to the river and enjoyed hearing nothing besides the water and cicadas.

At lunchtime, we drove into the town of Paihia, stopping by the Haruru Falls on the way. We picked up lunch from Oceans 68, then parked by the beach to enjoy our food in the safety of the car away from the chip-stealing seagulls. We had time to kill before our afternoon tour, so we walked around town, exploring the Thursday Farmer's Market and the shops along the main street.

At 3 pm we met our tour operators and fellow tourists at the wharf. The sun was disappearing behind the clouds again, but that wouldn’t stop us from enjoying our afternoon in the Bay of Islands. We stopped on Motuarohia (Roberton) Island where we walked up to the lookout and then made another stop nearby to go stand-up paddle boarding and snorkelling. The rain had returned by this point, but we were in the water anyway, so wasn’t a huge bother. It did make the journey back a little rough though.


Apparently, there is a great view, if only we could see it.

On an overcast morning, we packed our bags, loaded them into the car, said goodbye to our hosts and left the beautiful farm we had been staying at. We then began our drive up to the northernmost tip of New Zealand. As we neared the end of the road, the cloud fog got thicker, until we could only see the road in front of us. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see much, but we had come all this way, so we weren’t just going to call it quits at the car park. The fog made the walk to the lighthouse very moody. We enjoyed the stroll and stopped at each plaque along the way to learn about the cultural significance of this site. When we reached the end you could just see the lighthouse and the sea below if you squinted hard enough.

Driving south, the scenic landscape and rolling green hills slowly came back into view. We stopped by the Giant Sand Dunes on our way to Kaitaia, where we settled for the night.


A muddy climb worth the panoramic view.

We woke just after sunrise, went for a run around town, made our breakfast and set off to fit in as much exploring as we could in one day. We stopped by Kawhe Hub for a second coffee and then enjoyed a beautiful drive along the winding roads through Waipou Forest. We did two walks in the forest – the first to Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), which is the tallest living kauri tree in New Zealand and then to Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest), the second largest living kauri tree.

We continued an hour south, where we stopped at the Tokatoka wharf and then turned off towards the Tokatoka Lookout Track. The sign stated this walk was 25 minutes return. There was no one else there, so we decided to do it. After the rain, the steep incline to this lookout had become a muddy climb, but when we say the view took our breath away, it wasn’t just from the trek to the top. Standing on a very small landing, we enjoyed the 360-degree views across the picture-perfect landscape. We climbed (and sometimes crawled) back down the track and with muddy shoes and pants we drove the rest of the way to our Airbnb in Huia.


One of our favourite hikes on this trip.

We were up early this morning, watched a beautiful sunrise and then drove 30 minutes from our accommodation to the end of Whatipu Road. This is where we began the Omanawanui Track. When we started, there were not a lot of other cars in the parking lot and the skies were cloudy. On our way back down, the skies had cleared, the sun was shining, and the car park was packed.

We drove to the Hunua Falls for lunch, but when we arrived the picnic area was completely full – we had forgotten it was the Waitangi Day long weekend. We instead ate by the car, admired the falls and then continued on to our next Airbnb farm stay in Turua. We made a cheeseboard, opened a bottle of wine and cooked pizza for dinner.


A rainy day keeps the tourists away.

We woke with the sunrise again, had coffee and breakfast, and then began driving, in the rain, up the Coromandel Peninsular. Due to road closures, the drive to our destination took around 3 hours. When we reached the start of the track to Cathedral Cove, it was still lightly raining, and a little chilly. We were determined to make it to the beach regardless, so we put on our jackets and took the walking track to Cathedral Cove. The rain had stopped by the time we made it to the cove, but thanks to the wet weather, there were way fewer people than we had expected at this popular tourist site.

The beach slowly began to fill with people as we were about to leave, and as we walked back along the trail to our car, the rain started bucketing down again. We changed out of our wet clothes in the public toilets, ate our pre-packed lunch in the car and then drove on to Rotorua. We checked into our next Airbnb, another farm stay, and then went into town for drinks and dinner at The Beer Garden on Eat Streat.


A free activities day in Rotorua.

With just one day to explore Rotorua, we decided to fit in as many free landmarks and activities as we could. We started at the Redwoods Trail in the Whakarewarewa Forest. There are a few different trail options, varying in length and difficulty. We ended up choosing the middle option which was the green track. It took around 1 ½ hours to complete and included one incline section to a lookout.

From the redwoods, we drove around the corner to Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake). We started with the Blue and Green Lakes Lookout, where you can see both lakes at once and then drove back to Blue Lake Park. For lunch, we drove back into town and ate at Wild Rice Thai on Eat Streat.

After lunch, we drove through Government Gardens and then the full distance around Lake Rotorua. We stopped at Hamurana Reserve, north of the lake, to go for a stroll and sit by the water. We then finished the lap around the water and ended our day at Kuirau Park, exploring the very smelly hot springs and geothermal pools.


The best blueberry muffin we have ever had.

We only had a short distance to drive today, so we took the morning slowly. We checked out of our Airbnb and drove to the Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience. We bought blueberry juice, blueberry chocolate and a blueberry muffin. All were delicious, but the blueberry muffin was by far a favourite and one of the best we have ever had. We then drove into town and bought coffee at Aroma Café before beginning our drive south.

We stopped by Huku Falls, which was impressive but also very crowded. We then stopped in Taupō for an hour. Bec wandered the shops in search of our New Zealand souvenir while Clark got a very overdue haircut. We then continued the final leg of the drive to Tūrangi, where we checked into our hotel, prepped for the next day, made a delicious pasta dinner.


The day we almost got blown into a volcano crater.

We were up at 5:30 am, had breakfast, and a coffee and then grabbed our bags and drove to Tongariro Alpine Crossing all day car park. We jumped on our shuttle to the start of the trail and began the hike that was the number 1 thing we had been most excited to complete this NZ trip. At the start of the trail, the temperature was cool, and the skies were overcast. This is also a very popular hike, so the trail was very crowded, especially at the beginning – our least favourite thing about the crossing.

As we began to ascend, the weather started to turn. Thankfully we were bundled up and prepared. Passing the crater, we could barely see anything around us. The cloud was thick, everything was wet and cold, and it felt like we may be blown into the crater if we lost our footing along the path. As many people turned around, we continued on, confident we could make it and the other side and it would be worth it. With a small group of fellow hikers, we slowly pushed our way against the wind and then shivering from the wet and cold, we emerged from the clouds to the most beautiful blue skies..

We got to the bottom of the scree, found a rock to sit behind out of the wind, and enjoyed some lunch. We changed to dry socks, pulled off our wet face bandanas, took many photos and then continued on the trail. For the rest of the hike, we had perfect weather.

We reached the end after 6 hours and 50 minutes, including the little extra walk back to the car park. We drove home, stretched our tired legs and jumped into a warm shower. We enjoyed a post-hike drink at the Tūrangi Tavern, along with some snacks and a pizza.


An easier stroll after yesterday’s hike.

We had an amazing sleep after yesterday’s hike followed by a slow morning, breakfast in our hotel and coffee from a stand around the corner called Delta Coffee. We drove to Lake Rotopounamu where we strolled the 6.4km walking trail – a much more low-key track than the previous day. We returned to our car and drove to the Tokaanu Historic Wharf. By early afternoon we were back at our hotel, where we ate lunch, washed our clothes, packed our bags and cooked dinner.


Driving back to the coast, via a beautiful waterfall.

Before hitting the road, we had to stop by the Delta Coffee stand again, just a short drive from our hotel in Tūrangi. We grabbed our delicious coffees, topped with a chocolate-covered marshmallow shaped like a trout, and began driving west, on our way back to the coast. After almost 2 hours of driving, we decided to have a quick stop and stretch our legs. We had pinned a walking trail on our maps and thought that would be a great place to take our break. We walked a short 30 minutes, navigating through the muddy track and across a swing bridge, before reaching the lookout. We had low expectations, having not researched this trail beforehand, but we were nicely surprised when we reached the end and looked out to the spectacular Omaru waterfall. We had the place to ourselves, so we stayed for a while, soaking up the sun and listening to the water crash into the pool below.

Our next stop was not far from the waterfall, at Piopio park, where we enjoyed sandwiches for lunch. We finished the last leg of the drive, arriving at our Airbnb in New Plymouth by mid-afternoon. We dropped off our bags, met our very lovely host, and then drove into town for dinner. We stopped at the waterfront, to sit by the ocean and check out The Wind Wand. It was here that we decided we had a sudden craving for fish and chips. We did a quick search online to find where to go and ended up at Catch & Co. We had a meal, with chicken and potato fritters on the side as well as trying a can of L&P. After our early dinner, we returned to our Airbnb, where we made a cheeseboard to enjoy with the sparkling wine our hosts left for us.


A trail with many bridges.

In addition to the sparkling wine our host left for us, they also provided bread, tomatoes and fresh farm eggs for breakfast. We enjoyed a big breakfast with our coffee and then drove to the Egmont National Park. Mount Taranaki stood proudly in the distance the entire drive and we promised ourselves we would come back one day to hike the summit. On this day though, we were on our way to completing a track with much less of an incline.

From the Dawson Falls Visitors Centre, we began the Stratford Plateau track. We stopped at the plateau to admire the scenic views and Mount Taranaki. We then took the Enchanted Track, crossed the Waingongoro stream via the long swing bridge and then returned to the visitors centre via the Waingongoro Track. The hike took us around 3 hours and had way more stairs than we were expecting. A cold change came through as we drove back to our Airbnb, so we decided to make tomato soup for dinner paired with ham and cheese toasties and a glass of New Zealand cider.


On to our final road trip stop.

For a few days, we had been watching the news, preparing for incoming bad weather brought by Cyclone Gabrielle. We enjoyed another big breakfast while we decided how we should spend our last 2 days in New Zealand. We packed the car, drove to the shops to stock up on food for the next 48 hours and then headed north to our final road trip destination. We arrived in Te Awamutu in the early afternoon as the rain was beginning to get heavier, checked into our Airbnb and spoke to our lovely hosts about the incoming weather. Reports were that the worst would pass through the area that night, so we decided it would be best to just stay inside until we knew more. Thankfully, we had 3 beautiful dogs on the property to keep us company.


Cyclone Gabrielle derails our plans.

Just as expected, the worst of the weather for the area hit overnight. We tried to sleep through the howling winds and heavy rain. We lost power around 11 pm that night, but thankfully it was restored by the time we got up. We woke to a bit of a mess of fallen branched outside, but thankfully no major damage. Our hosts were wonderful, leaving water and offering extra food if we needed it. We had planned to explore the Waitomo Caves or walk some trails in the area, but after the cyclone that was not possible, so instead we spent the day on the property and prepared to leave New Zealand the next day.


Exploring Auckland as we wait for our departing flight.

On our final day in New Zealand, we were surprised to wake to bright blue, sunny skies. We packed everything into the car, said goodbye to our Airbnb and drove north to Auckland. We made a few stops in the city, at Parnell, Viaduct Harbour and the CBD to explore the streets and the shops. We visited Maungawhau/Mount Eden and walked to the summit to enjoy the views across the city. Nearing peak hour traffic, and our flight time, we started the drive out to Auckland airport. We dropped off our rental car, took the shuttle to the airport, had some food and a drink, watched the planes out the window and finally boarded our 8:40 pm flight out of New Zealand.


New Zealand's North Island

We had such good luck with our accommodation on this trip. There is not one place we stayed that we wouldn't recommend to others taking a road trip around the north island. Check out our 2-Week Road Trip Itinerary for details on where we stayed and where we hired our rental car.


After 4 months away, travelling to 6 countries, we are on our way home to Australia. We won’t be back for too long though. After we see our friends and family, tick off some life admin and attend exciting events, we will be jumping back on a plane bound for country # 7. In May we will begin 6 months of travel, starting in London, UK.


When planning our travel destinations, we pin our bucket list of sites to see and recommended places to eat and drink on Google Maps. We are then never lost for ideas when travelling, and can easily share these lists for our friends and family to use as well.

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