Thermal Explorer: 4 days, 3 nights

Running through the heart of the central north island, the Thermal Explorer Highway provides an ideal itinerary for those wishing to take in the best of what the area has to offer but only have a short timeframe to do so. Starting from Auckland or Hamilton your trip will enable you to experience Hamilton’s laidback urban vibe and the stunning Waikato River before heading south to the world-famous Waitomo Caves to try your hand at black water rafting, abseiling or glowworm viewing. From Waitomo this itinerary takes you east to Rotorua, the birthplace of New Zealand tourism for some geothermal action and then down to Taupo for water sports and outdoor adventure thrills.

Day 1: Auckland to Hamilton

Head south out of Auckland, take SH1 and the Thermal Explorer Highway towards Hamilton. Drive time to Hamilton approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

Hamilton options:

  • Have a flutter at SkyCity Hamilton, right in the heart of the city.
  • Stroll around the famous Hamilton Gardens with its many themed areas and lovely riverside setting.
  • Spend time at the Waikato Museum. Nextdoor to the museum is ArtsPost showcasing the best local artists in ever-changing exhibitions.
  • Sample some of Hamilton’s award-winning restaurants, cafes and vibrant nightlife.

Overnight Hamilton

Day 2: Hamilton to Waitomo

Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

Head south out of the City and take SH3 towards Waitomo. Drive time approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

Waitomo options:

  • Get the adrenalin pumping with some caving – climbing, squeezing, abseiling and generally taking it to the limit through these amazing caves.
  • Go black water rafting, or tubing, through the caves – all you have to do is sit tight and hang on.
  • Enjoy above ground attractions such as great walking trails and dining options.
  • Visit the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre to learn about the history of the area and wonders of the various caves.

Overnight Waitomo

Day 3: Waitomo to Rotorua 

Wai-o-tapu Wonderland, Rotorua, NZ

Head back north to Kihikihi, turn right towards Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, continuing on to connect with SH1. Continue on to Rotorua Drive time approximately 2 hours.

Rotorua options:

  • Take in a Maori Culture Show for an experience of New Zealand you won’t forget.
  • Walk among geysers, hot pools and bubbling mud in one of Rotorua’s magical geothermal areas.
  • Go Zorbing - the most fun you can have in a big see-through ball.

Overnight Rotorua

Day 4: Rotorua to Taupo

Huka Falls Jetboat, Taupo, NZ

Head south on SH5 to Taupo, drive time 1 hour.

Taupo options:

  • Take a thrilling jet boat ride with 360 degree spins as part of the fun amid a beautiful natural setting.
  • Cast a line in one of the best trout fishing spots in the world.
  • Take the plunge and bungy jump from high above the Waikato River.

Overnight Taupo