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This one might take you a while. The epic route from Auckland to Napier is often known as the Pacific Coast Highway, and is a trip that takes you to some of the North Island’s most beautiful beaches and fun stops along the way – making it the perfect summer getaway.
Starting in Tāmaki Makaurau, you’ll be travelling south for almost three hours to the Coromandel Peninsula along SH2 and then SH25. Anyone who has visited the Coromandel knows it is something special. Marvel at the natural archway of Cathedral Cove, before digging your own cosy bath using the natural springs at Hot Water Beach.
The next leg of this sunseekers roadie follows SH25 down the peninsula to Thames, through to Waihī on SH2, before arriving to enjoy the golden sands of Mount Maunganui. Get your step count up with a walk up or around Mauao before taking a dip in one of the country’s best surf beaches – which doubles as the perfect spot for fresh fish and chips.
An hour down the coast, and you’ll hit Whakatāne (the road is dotted with berry farms that are definitely worth stopping at if you are looking to pick your own snack). Here, it’s worth swapping the road for the open sea, and a visit to island sanctuary Moutohorā (Whale Island). On this pest-free oasis, visitors can learn about the conservation efforts protecting native wildlife and dig another geothermal bath at the island’s secluded hot-water beach.
The drive around the East Cape is the longest stretch of this route – more than 370km. And it’s not the easiest – but it is gorgeous. As you travel along SH35, at the tip of the East Coast is the town of Te Araroa, which makes a picturesque pit stop, with uninterrupted beaches for swimming and the country’s easternmost lighthouse nearby. If you push on a little further, Tolaga Bay is a good option to take a break; stretch your legs with a walk along the historic 660m wharf. Gisborne is just an hour on from here, and well worth some time spent exploring the beaches, cafes and restaurants and, of course, being among the first in the world to watch the sunrise the next morning.
From Gisborne, there are two routes to Wairoa and Lake Waikaremoana; head inland and you’ll have the chance to visit the breath-taking Te Rēinga Falls, while sticking to the coast shows of even more of New Zealand’s beaches, including those of the Māhia Peninsula. When you arrive at Waikaremoana, you’ll bear witness to one of our most beautiful lakes, and the Te Urewera wilderness area, with some exceptional walks and hikes if you have the time.
From here, you are on the last leg of this Kiwi roadie, continuing along SH2 past Lake Tūtira and on to Napier, with its Art Deco charm, fantastic eateries and even more dazzling beaches and coastlines to lap up.