New Zealand's North Island is home to some of the world's most breathtaking landscapes, and the Volcanic Loop Highway is the golden ticket to experiencing them.
This route offers travelers a unique blend of adventure, natural beauty, and cultural immersion. If you're looking to embark on a journey that you'll remember for a lifetime, this guide is for you.
What is the Volcanic Loop Highway?
The Volcanic Loop Highway is not just a road; it's a journey through the heart of New Zealand's North Island, unveiling its rich tapestry of natural wonders, cultural landmarks, and historical sites. Nestled amidst the island's diverse landscapes, this highway stretches across vast terrains.
At the core of this route lies the island's geothermal heritage. The highway winds its way through areas marked by ancient volcanic activities, giving travelers a front-row seat to some of the most awe-inspiring geothermal wonders on the planet. The famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing stands as a testament to this, offering trekkers a chance to walk amidst active volcanic terrains
But it's not just about the volcanoes. The highway also takes you deep into the heart of the island's cultural heritage. The mesmerizing glowworm caves are not just a natural wonder but also a spiritual site for the Maori people.
When to go to the Volcanic Loop Highway
The best time to traverse the Volcanic Loop Highway is during the spring and summer months, from September to February. This period offers pleasant weather, making outdoor activities more enjoyable. However, if you're a winter enthusiast, the snowy landscapes from June to August are equally enchanting.
Driving the Volcanic Loop Highway
Driving in New Zealand is an experience in itself. The scenic views, well-maintained roads, and friendly locals make the journey smooth and enjoyable. For an unparalleled experience, consider renting a campervan.
Renting a campervan from Campervan New Zealand allows you to travel at your own pace, ensuring you don't miss out on any hidden gems.
Day 1: Auckland and Hamilton
Auckland, often referred to as the "City of Sails", is New Zealand's largest city and a hub of culture, cuisine, and coastal attractions. Begin your day by exploring the iconic Sky Tower, offering panoramic views of the city and its harbors. After soaking in the urban vibes, embark on a scenic drive through the rolling hills of Waikato to reach Hamilton.
- Zealong Tea Estate: Experience a unique tea journey at New Zealand's only commercial tea estate. Learn about the tea-making process, indulge in a traditional tea ceremony, and savor gourmet dishes at their on-site restaurant.
- Hobbiton Movie Set: Step into the magical world of Middle Earth. This iconic set from the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" film trilogies offers guided tours, allowing fans to wander through the Shire, visit Bilbo's house, and even enjoy a pint at the Green Dragon Inn.
Day 2: Waitomo Caves & The Timber Trail
Waitomo is a realm of subterranean wonders. Here:
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves: Marvel at the thousands of luminescent glowworms that light up the cave ceilings, creating a starry spectacle. Opt for a silent boat ride to fully appreciate this natural light show.
- The Timber Trail: This historic trail offers a blend of natural beauty and heritage. Cycle or walk through ancient forests, crossing suspension bridges, and discovering relics from the timber industry era.
Day 3: Timber Trail - Ohakune
Continue on The Timber Trail, immersing yourself in the region's rich history and pristine nature. Then, head to Ohakune, known as the carrot capital and gateway to Tongariro National Park. Highlights include:
- Forgotten World Adventures: Embark on a unique rail journey through rural landscapes, tunnels, and over bridges, using specially designed rail carts.
- Bridge to Nowhere: This intriguingly named historical bridge in the heart of Whanganui National Park has a rich history and offers guided tours that delve into its past.
Day 4: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Touted as one of the world's best day hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a trekker's paradise. The 19.4km journey takes you through dramatic volcanic landscapes, past ancient craters, and near active volcanoes like Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Key attractions:
- Emerald Lakes: These vibrantly colored lakes are a highlight of the trek, their colors resulting from minerals leached from the adjoining thermal area.
- Red Crater: The highest point of the crossing, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
Day 5: Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo, a caldera formed from a massive volcanic eruption, is a hub for adventure and relaxation. Activities to indulge in:
- Kayaking to Mine Bay: Paddle through clear waters to discover Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay, a testament to the region's rich indigenous heritage.
- Skydiving: For thrill-seekers, there's nothing like free-falling over the stunning landscapes of Lake Taupo, followed by a serene parachute descent.
Day 6: Lake Taupo - Auckland
As you journey back to Auckland, make pit stops to:
- Maungawhau (Mount Eden): This dormant volcano offers 360-degree views of Auckland. The crater, known as Te Ipu-a-Mataaho (The Bowl of Mataaho), holds significance in Maori legends.
- Ponsonby: This trendy suburb is a foodie's paradise. Dine at chic cafes, gourmet restaurants, or indulge in some boutique shopping.
Day 7: Auckland
Conclude your trip in Auckland by taking a ferry to Waiheke Island. This island paradise, just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, is known for:
- Secluded Beaches: Relax on sandy shores like Oneroa and Palm Beach.
- Vineyards: Waiheke boasts numerous vineyards. Enjoy wine tasting sessions, paired with stunning sea views and gourmet dishes.
In conclusion, the Volcanic Loop Highway is more than just a route; it's a journey through time, culture, and nature. Whether you're an adventure junkie, a nature lover, or someone looking to immerse themselves in Maori culture, this highway has something for everyone.
So, pack your bags, rent that campervan, and set out on a journey of a lifetime. Safe travels!