The 7 Best Scenic Routes in the North Island, New Zealand

Scenic routes in the north island

What are the Best Scenic Routes in the North Island?

If you’re a new traveler to New Zealand, you will likely hear tourists talking a lot about the South Island sites. But most tourists need to learn that the North Island is just as attractive for scenic routes.

The North Island has remarkable roads and scenic routes perfect for traveling and exploring the fertile farmland, calming white beaches, awe-inspiring views, and weather-beaten mountainous scenery.

North Island, New Zealand, is the ideal destination for hiking mountains, diving into warm waters, and camping out. 

There are many scenic routes to discover, so we recommend taking a camera to help you slow down and capture memories of nature and wildlife as you go ahead. If you’re curious about North Island’s scenic routes, keep reading, and you’ll find out.

1. Murupara to Wairoa 

The route from Murupara to Wairoa through State Highway 38 is scenic and will leave you breathless. 

The pathway is a quiet, lonely road, and the absence of traffic is conducive to navigating the narrow, meandering route.

All travelers preserve the beauty of the scenic panorama as they gain along their journey.

Most Northern Island locals travel on horseback through the stunning route. If you plan to visit during the winter, remember to visit Lake Waikaremoana for breathless views.

If you’re looking for a scenic pathway to see Wairoa, you may find one through State Highway 38.

It’s known as a quiet road, and you’ll see only occasionally traffic. The road is thin and twisted, but you will want to stop and take in the landscape’s spectacular views once you arrive.

Murupara to Wairoa 

🚙 Murupara to Wairoa Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🌲 Scenic Drive: The route offers a picturesque drive through lush green landscapes and native forests.
  • 🏞️ Te Urewera National Park: En route, you’ll pass by or through Te Urewera National Park, known for its pristine lakes, rugged terrain, and diverse flora and fauna.
  • 🍽️ Local Cuisine: Stop at local eateries to savor delicious Kiwi cuisine and experience the regional flavors.
  • 🌊 Mahia Peninsula: If you take a slight detour, you can explore Mahia Peninsula, known for its stunning beaches and coastal beauty.
  • 🚁 Helicopter Tours: Consider taking a helicopter tour to get a unique perspective of the landscape from above.
  • 🚣 Water Activities: Wairoa is situated near the Wairoa River, offering opportunities for water activities such as kayaking or river cruises.
  • 🏰 Historic Landmarks: Explore historical landmarks in Wairoa, reflecting the region’s rich cultural heritage.
  • 🌸 Floral Beauty: Depending on the season, you might encounter blooming flowers and vibrant flora along the journey.
  • 🌅 Sunset Views: Arrive in Wairoa in time to catch a breathtaking sunset over the horizon.

2. Taihape to Napier

This part of the North Island is famously known for Gentle Annie; the Island’s grandest slope is found smack in the middle of Taihape and Napier.

The route from Taihape to Napier cuts through sheep country and many magnificent treetops.

There are lots of crawling hills that will provide serene backdrops to all your panoramic shots.

Try to be careful in winter as the winds are relatively strong. However, you will enjoy views of the snow-capped mountains.

Taihape to Napier

🚙 Taihape to Napier Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🏞️ Rural Landscapes: Taihape to Napier takes you through beautiful rural landscapes with rolling hills and expansive farmlands.
  • 🚗 State Highway 1: The journey primarily follows State Highway 1, providing a well-maintained and easily navigable route.
  • 🍇 Vineyards and Wineries: As you approach Napier, you’ll encounter the famous Hawke’s Bay wine region, known for its vineyards and wineries. Consider stopping for wine tasting.
  • 🌋 Geothermal Wonders: Depending on your route, you might have the option to explore geothermal areas, showcasing New Zealand’s unique geology.
  • 🏕️ Camping Opportunities: There are camping grounds along the way, allowing you to experience New Zealand’s outdoors and starry nights.
  • 🍴 Local Eateries in Napier: Napier is renowned for its Art Deco architecture and vibrant culinary scene. Explore local cafes and restaurants for delicious food.
  • 🌊 Ocean Views: The journey may offer glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, providing refreshing ocean views.
  • 🚲 Cycling Trails: If you enjoy cycling, consider exploring some of the cycling trails in the region, offering a different perspective of the landscape.
  • 🎨 Art and Culture in Napier: Napier is an art deco city with a rich cultural scene. Visit art galleries and immerse yourself in the city’s unique architectural style.
  • 🏖️ Beach Excursions: Depending on your preferences, you might detour to explore nearby beaches for a relaxing break.
  • 📷 Scenic Photo Stops: Several scenic viewpoints and photo-worthy spots are along the way. Don’t forget your camera!
  • 🌅 Sunset at Napier: Aim to reach Napier in time for a stunning sunset along the coast.

3. Maungatapere to Kaikohe

On the way to the Bay of Islands, you must steer clear of traffic on the major roads. It would help if you experienced hidden backroads leading to tropical orchards, bulwarks, and volcano scenes.

If you need a reminder of country life, you should take this scenic drive.

The journey comes with picturesque landscapes, and you can add to your adventure by visiting the Wairua Falls and the Wairua River.

Maungatapere to Kaikohe

🚙 Maungatapere to Kaikohe Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🍃 Rural Charm: Maungatapere is surrounded by rural landscapes, providing a tranquil start to your road trip.
  • 🌺 Whangarei Falls: Consider a short detour to visit Whangarei Falls, a stunning waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.
  • 🚗 State Highway 14: The journey typically involves traveling on State Highway 14, offering a scenic drive through the Northland region.
  • 🌳 Native Bush Scenery: En route, you’ll encounter native bush scenery showcasing New Zealand’s natural beauty.
  • 🏞️ Puketi Forest: If you have time, explore Puketi Forest, known for its ancient kauri trees and diverse birdlife.
  • 🥝 Kiwi Fruit Orchards: The region is known for its kiwi fruit orchards. Consider stopping at a local orchard to taste fresh kiwi fruit or learn about kiwi farming.
  • 🏰 Historical Sites in Kaikohe: Kaikohe has historical significance, with sites like the Wairere Boulders and nearby Maungatapere Pa offering insights into the region’s history.
  • 🎨 Maori Culture: Explore Maori culture in Kaikohe, with opportunities to visit marae (Maori meeting grounds) or engage in cultural experiences.
  • 🛶 Hokianga Harbour: Depending on your route, you might have the option to visit Hokianga Harbour, known for its beauty and Maori cultural heritage.
  • 🍽️ Local Cuisine: Try local Northland cuisine in Kaikohe, which may include fresh seafood or traditional Maori dishes.
  • 🌅 Sunset at HokiangaAim to catch the sunset at Hokianga Harbour for a picturesque end to your road trip.
  • 🌿 Nature Walks: Look out for opportunities to take short nature walks along the way, enjoying the unique flora and fauna of the Northland region.

4. Stratford to Taumarunui

Get in touch with the Northern Island as you pass through the Forgotten World Highway and stumble upon Whangamomona.

The settlement is independent, but locals welcome adventurers to their paradise. There’s a burrow through the town that leads to beautiful mountain views.

Stratford to Taumarunui

🚙 Stratford to Taumarunui Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🏞️ Taranaki Volcano Views: Departing from Stratford, you may catch glimpses of the majestic Mount Taranaki, an iconic volcano with a near-perfect conical shape.
  • 🚗 Forgotten World Highway (SH 43): Consider taking the scenic Forgotten World Highway, also known as State Highway 43, offering a winding route through remote landscapes and historic sites.
  • 🌲 Tongariro National Park: As you approach Taumarunui, you may pass near Tongariro National Park, home to stunning volcanic landscapes, including Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro.
  • 🏞️ Mangapurua Track (Bridge to Nowhere): If you’re up for an adventure, explore the Mangapurua Track, leading to the famous Bridge to Nowhere—an intriguing historical site.
  • 🛤️ Railway Spiral: On the Forgotten World Highway, you’ll encounter the intriguing Tahora Saddle, a historic railway spiral that provides a unique driving experience.
  • 🛶 Whanganui River Adventures: Consider taking a detour to explore the Whanganui River, known for its scenic beauty. River cruises or canoe trips offer a closer look at the landscape.
  • 🌳 Laurens Lavender Farm: Make a stop at Laurens Lavender Farm for a peaceful break, surrounded by blooming lavender fields.
  • 🍽️ Local Cafes and Eateries: Along the way, explore local cafes and eateries to savor regional cuisine and perhaps enjoy some New Zealand specialties.
  • 🏰 Historical Sites in Taumarunui: Taumarunui has historical significance, with sites such as the Hikumutu Military Settlers Church and the Taumarunui Railway Station.
  • 🚶 Short Walks and Hikes: Take advantage of short walks or hikes in the area, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the region.
  • 🌄 Scenic Lookouts: Keep an eye out for scenic viewpoints that offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, capturing the essence of New Zealand’s beauty.
  • 🌅 Sunset Views: Arrive in Taumarunui in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset, reflecting on the day’s journey.

5. Westport to Kohaihai

There’s no other route that will lead you through magnificent views of rainforests such as the Karamea Highway.

You can catch a glimpse of wild animals as they linger to watch the sea and its untold mysteries.

If you’re looking for adrenaline-filled activities along your journey, the North Island beach is perfect for surfers.

Even if you only want to take in the crystal water’s beauty or interact with some townspeople, you won’t go wrong with this route.

Westport to Kohaihai

🚙 Westport to Kohaihai Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🏞️ Buller Gorge: Begin your journey with a drive through Buller Gorge, known for its impressive scenery and the historic Buller Gorge Swingbridge—a thrilling suspension bridge.
  • 🌲 Punakaiki Pancake Rocks: Make a stop at Punakaiki to explore the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Witness the unique limestone formations and the power of the sea.
  • 🚗 Great Coast Road (SH 6): Travel along the stunning Great Coast Road, renowned for its dramatic coastal views. Enjoy the twists and turns of this scenic drive.
  • 🏖️ West Coast Beaches: Take some time to stroll along the picturesque beaches of the West Coast, known for their wild beauty and driftwood-strewn shores.
  • 🦀 Seafood Delights in Westport: Westport is known for its fresh seafood. Try local delicacies like whitebait fritters or green-lipped mussels.
  • 🌊 Tasman Sea Views: Enjoy breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea as you drive along the coast. Keep an eye out for seals or dolphins that may frequent the area.
  • 🌿 Kahurangi National Park: Explore parts of Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand’s second-largest national park, with diverse landscapes ranging from dense forests to alpine terrain.
  • 🚐 Camper Stops: If you’re in a camper or RV, there are several designated camper stops along the way, providing an opportunity to rest and enjoy the scenery.
  • 🌅 Sunset at Kohaihai: Aim to reach Kohaihai in time to witness a spectacular sunset over the Tasman Sea.
  • 🚁 Helicopter Tours: Consider taking a helicopter tour to get a bird’s-eye view of the rugged coastline and national park.
  • 🌲 Heaphy Track: If you’re a hiking enthusiast, the nearby Heaphy Track offers a multi-day trek through diverse landscapes, from dense forest to expansive tussock grasslands.
  • 🌌 Stargazing: Kohaihai, with its relatively remote location, provides an excellent opportunity for stargazing. On a clear night, marvel at the southern hemisphere’s night sky.

6. Waikato

Waikato is a lengthy stream in New Zealand, North Island. It begins from Mount Ruapehu and greets Lake Taupo and finally rests at the Tasman Sea.

The Waikato River is famous for long boat rides and delicious trout.

The route is home to landscapes that stand out along the Kauri Loop Track and the Hakarimata Scenic Reserve.

If you need to break the monotony of driving around, you’re welcome to hike up Karioi Summit Track or take a bike ride along the adventure.

Waikato scenic route

🚙 Waikato Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🚗 Hobbiton Movie Set (Matamata): Begin your journey with a visit to the famous Hobbiton Movie Set, where you can explore the charming Shire featured in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies.
  • 🌳 Waitomo Glowworm Caves: Discover the magical world of glowworms in the Waitomo Caves. Take a guided tour to witness the luminescent beauty of these tiny creatures.
  • 🏞️ Raglan Surf Beach: Head to the coastal town of Raglan, known for its laid-back atmosphere and excellent surf breaks. Enjoy the beach, explore the artsy town, and perhaps catch a wave.
  • 🐄 Matamata Countryside: Experience the picturesque countryside of Matamata, characterized by rolling green hills, farmlands, and iconic New Zealand landscapes.
  • 🏰 Hamilton Gardens: Spend some time exploring the stunning Hamilton Gardens, featuring themed garden collections from different cultures and historical periods.
  • 🚁 Waikato River Trails: If you enjoy outdoor activities, consider biking or walking along the Waikato River Trails, offering beautiful scenery and diverse landscapes.
  • 🦢 Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari: Discover New Zealand’s native wildlife at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. The predator-free sanctuary is home to various endangered species.
  • 🍽️ Local Cuisine in Cambridge: Stop in Cambridge for a taste of local cuisine. The town offers charming cafes and eateries to satisfy your taste buds.
  • 🛶 Kayaking on Lake Karapiro: Enjoy a peaceful paddle on Lake Karapiro, surrounded by scenic views and native bush. Kayaking is a great way to unwind and connect with nature.
  • 🚶 Te Aroha Hot Springs: Relax in the historic Te Aroha Hot Springs after a day of exploration. The geothermal waters provide a soothing and rejuvenating experience.
  • 🏞️ Wairere Falls Track: Hike the Wairere Falls Track near Matamata for panoramic views of the Waikato region. The waterfall is one of the tallest in New Zealand.
  • 🎭 Maori Cultural Experiences: Explore opportunities to engage in Maori cultural experiences, from traditional performances to learning about the region’s rich indigenous heritage.

7. Auckland to Napier through Whakatane

As you go through this scenic route, you will have a chance to find adventure in the Coromandel Peninsula and enjoy the warm coastal scenery.

You can rest at Whakatane, then get to Napier and enjoy the wineries and art deco.

Whakatane road trip

🚙 Auckland to Napier through Whakatane Road Trip (Insights)

  • 🏞️ Coromandel Peninsula: Begin your journey by taking a scenic drive through the Coromandel Peninsula, known for its pristine beaches, lush forests, and the iconic Cathedral Cove.
  • 🚗 Pacific Coast Highway (SH 25A): Follow the Pacific Coast Highway for stunning coastal views and picturesque seaside towns like Tairua and Whangamata.
  • 🌊 Whakatane: Explore Whakatane, a coastal town known for its proximity to White Island (Whakaari) and its laid-back atmosphere. Consider a boat tour to see the active marine volcano.
  • 🏞️ Te Urewera National Park: Head inland to Te Urewera National Park, where you can explore dense forests, pristine lakes, and hiking trails.
  • 🍽️ Rotorua’s Geothermal Wonders: Take a detour to Rotorua to experience its geothermal wonders, including geysers, hot springs, and Maori cultural performances. Try the traditional Hangi meal.
  • 🛶 Lake Tarawera: Enjoy a serene moment by Lake Tarawera, surrounded by scenic landscapes. Consider a boat tour or a relaxing lakeside picnic.
  • 🌳 Redwoods Treewalk (Rotorua): Experience the Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua, a network of suspension bridges among towering redwood trees, offering a unique perspective of the forest.
  • 🚙 Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5): Continue your journey along the Thermal Explorer Highway, passing through geothermal landscapes and charming countryside.
  • 🏰 Hawke’s Bay Wineries: As you approach Napier, explore the Hawke’s Bay wine region. Stop at wineries for tastings and enjoy the picturesque vineyard landscapes.
  • 🚴 Cycling Trails: Hawke’s Bay is known for its cycling trails. Rent a bike and explore the scenic pathways through vineyards and along the coast.
  • 🌺 Art Deco Architecture in Napier: Napier is famous for its art deco architecture. Take a stroll through the city to admire the well-preserved buildings from the 1930s.
  • 🌅 Sunset at Napier’s Marine Parade: End your road trip by enjoying a beautiful sunset at Napier’s Marine Parade, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

🗾 If you want to check more scenic routes, we have prepared another article for the Best Scenic Routes in the South Island, New Zealand

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