Driving in New Zealand's North Island might be a little busier than in the South Island, but the North Island's diversity offers some pretty epic roads for your self drive journey.
We recommend to include some of the following self drive tour options on your itinerary around the North Island of New Zealand.
Approaching Cape Reinga
It might take you a while to get there, but the drive to the very top of New Zealand will make you feel as if you are about to leave the world. Heading north from Kaitaia along the main highway, there are a number of turn-offs where you can explore Ninety Mile Beach, but it's the last stretch upon your approach to Cape Reinga, say the last 30-40 kilometers, that will really make this journey worth the distance. The landscape and vegetation change dramatically as the road climbs and the anticipation grows. You can't wait to see what's around the next corner, and the views are simply unforgettable.
Driving along the East Cape
The drive along the East Coast between Opotiki and Gisborne is where you get off the beaten track. Watch the world see the first new daylight, in a region full of Maori legends and history, and where Maori culture still thrives, this drive must be the best coastal drive in the North Island, as it winds its way along the Pacific Ocean. You'll be hugging the ocean nearly all the time, and the number of bays and beaches to enjoy a picnic or relax are endless. See wild horses roam around, tractors on the beach, and you know you're well and truly remote.
Desert Road Tongariro National Park
It's almost hard to believe a road such as Desert Road exists in the North Island, as the contrast with the rest of the island could not be any bigger. On the eastern side of Tongariro National Park between Turangi and Waiouru, State Highway 1 crosses vast plains of tussock and the two main characters along this road are Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu. They absolutely dominate the landscape and the wide vistas of these mountains and the different angles the Desert Road provides to see these volcanoes are simply stunning. The contrasting views of the Kaimanawa Forest Park to the east may not be so imposing, but nonetheless provide for some spectacular and rugged scenery.
The Desert Road is not that long, only about 40 kilometers, so do take your time and slow down to thoroughly enjoy the scenery.
Driving along the Coromandel Peninsula is slow, very slow. The peninsula in itself is not large when you look at it on a map, but be aware that on many stretches you'll only be hitting speeds up to 40km/h, as the roads are very hilly and windy. Nonetheless, it is a joy to drive around the peninsula as it takes you to a number of quirky beach towns, incredibly pristine beaches and lush rainforests with New Zealand fern trees galore. From driving along the beautiful coastline to sweeping vistas from roads higher up, or driving along the Pohutukawa Coast on the western side, the variety along this drive make this one of our favorites of the North Island.