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On The Other Side Of The Tasman Part 2: North Island Drives

Those who plan on visiting New Zealand to follow the Wallabies during their upcoming Rugby World Cup campaign are likely to have one North Island road trip on the agenda: a trip down from Auckland (where the Wallabies play Ireland) to Wellington (where they’re highly likely to beat the USA).  This trip can be done in one day, but it pays to allow a night’s break in the middle. The trip from Auckland to Wellington is one of the classic New Zealand road trips, and you’ve got a number of ways to go about it.

The most straightforward way to get from Auckland to Wellington is via State Highway (SH) 1.  This takes you down the middle
of the North Island for the bulk part and then the lower western side. It’s by far the most popular route, as it’s more direct. However, you don’t have to stick on this highway the whole way – you can choose to go down the east of Lake Taupo on SH1, or you can turn right south of Tokoroa and go down the less popular western shore following SH32, which has a lot more forest.  The two routes meet up again at Turangi.  After this, you get to what’s known as the “Desert Road”, but if you come from, say, Alice Springs, try not to snigger when you hear the locals calling it this – it’s not that much of a desert, but at least it has a striking cluster of active volcanoes.  The volcanoes are unlikely to go up and close the roads, but the Desert Road can be closed by snow.  This is unlikely in the middle of September, but isn’t impossible, so keep and eye on the weather forecast and take warm clothing if the weather looks a bit iffy. As you keep going south, things get a little tame (and the roads a little more crowded) as you get south of Bulls, but if you head east along SH3 to Palmerston North (notable for the wind farms – you can’t miss them) and through the Manawatu Gorge, you get onto SH2, which is more interesting from a driver’s perspective, as it’s got more hill work and corners to have fun with.

If you take SH2 all the way down, it’s a lot longer, but it goes through some more rugged bits of the country, and is the route to take if you like cornering and hills, as SH2 has plenty of these.  This follows the coast of the Bay of Plenty and then cuts through the hill country to Gisborne, the first city in the world to see the sun, thanks to the International Date Line.  If you’re really keen, you can go around all of East Cape via SH35.  Fill up with petrol at Opotiki, take picnic food rather than expecting takeaways and book a night at Gisborne if you do.  After Gisborne, SH2 crosses a few more sets of steep hills (watch out for wild goats on the road and for the very impressive railway bridge at Mohaka) before getting into tamer country around Napier and Hastings.   If you’re fed up with hills at this stage, you can cut through the Manawatu Gorge to Palmerston North and get onto SH1 again, and get onto the highway into Wellington.

An alternative road trip starting from Auckland is to head north along the rest of SH1 to the very top of the North Island at Cape Reinga.  You have to take a dirt road to get to the very northernmost tip, but a 4×4 isn’t necessary and you can do it in a little hatchback if you like.