Taupo to Auckland via Hamilton
As you head from Taupo to Hamilton north on SH1, you will pass a right turn to SH5 - this is the road to Rotorua and is on the Thermal Highway and this would be the route to take if you wanted more geothermal activity. SH1 heads north to Hamilton via Tokoroa.
An alternative route we have taken on occasion is to turn left from SH1 into SH30 towards Te Kuiti at Atiamuri. This is a really pretty drive along the mighty Waikato River (New Zealand's longest river) and there are lots of places to stop and have a picnic, so if you have the time for a "lazy" drive, we would recommend this route which seems to be more remote and away from hustle and bustle. You can then turn right onto SH32 and head back to Tokoroa .
The landscape leaving Taupo to Auckland is still lush undulating hills and farmland and very pretty. The roads are relatively good with lots of passing bays. As you get into Waikato there is more lush farmland with surrounding hills and forests. If it's a sunny day, the colours will be vivid - the sky so blue and the trees so green. It is stunning.
Maize in Waikato
You can also take the Old Taupo Road just before Tokoroa if you want to keep up that "I'm alone in the wilderness" feeling and that will bypass Tokoroa and bring you up along the Waikato river towards Lake Karapiro and SH1 just before Cambridge. If you take the detours on SH1 and the Old Taupo Rd, you better have your own food supplies as you won't pass any cafes or shops.
As you drive towards Cambridge, which is a gorgeous little town which advertises itself as the centre for arts,crafts and antiques, the scenery along SH1 with the Waikato River on your left and bush on the right is stunning.
Cambridge has a supermarket and service stations if you need to stock up or refuel. From Cambridge take SH1 through Hamilton or if you want to bypass the city and keep to quieter roads, take SH1B via Taupiri - you will join up with the main SH1 just before Huntley, and miss Hamilton altogether.
See and Do
- Visit Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Pools
- Take one of the beautiful Waikato River Walks - turn left off SH1 onto SH30 just after the bridge at Atiamuri
- Watch out for the lookout high above the Waikato River - it's a great workout climbing all the steps to the top and the view is magnificent - it's on SH30 (Ongaroto Rd) before the junction with SH32
- Stop at Lake Karapiro for any number of water sport activities, such as kayaks, or for fishing. Lake Karapiro was the venue of the 2010 World Rowing Championships - you may be lucky enough to see a local rowing regatta on the lake
- Visit one of the many arts and crafts shops in Cambridge
Eat and Drink
- Stop at one of the cafes in Tokoroa
- look out for fresh fruit and vegetables on the side of SH1 especially as you near Cambridge - some offer a "pick your own" option
- Stop at the Highway Cafe on SH1 near the turnoff to SH29
- Stop at the Boat Shed Cafe on SH1 before Cambridge - you can hire kayaks from here
- Enjoy a leisurely lunch in a cafe in Cambridge
- You can stay at Atiamuri village on Lake Atiamuri
- Pull over on a rest area on SH30 next to the Waikato River for refreshments and a walk
- There is a Christian Camp at Whakamaru
- Stay at Lake Karapiro Caming and Pursuits Centre - the name says it all - there's plenty to do here and there is easy lake access for water activities, such as kayaking and water-skiing
- There are some beautiful rest areas on SH1 overlooking the Waikato River as you near Cambridge at Maungatautari
waikato River Lookout
Hamilton is one of New Zealand's largest cities and has all the amenities and facilities you would expect. It sits on the Waikato River, which is New Zealand's longest river. Hamilton is a pretty city and if you are staying overnight near the weekend, you will find the city bars and cafes on Victoria St and Hood St a hub of activity.
See and Do
- Spend a leisurely afternoon in Lake Rotoroa (Hamilton Lake) Domain Reserve - have a picnic or take a paddleboat on the lake
- Browse the retail stores in Hamilton Central - all the main shops are here but it's a more relaxing pace in Hamilton than in Auckland
- If you have an interest in architecture, take the Architrek walk to view late 19th and early 20th century Hamilton buildings - you can get more information from the city iSite
- If you are staying for a day or two, and especially if you like natural wonders and/or adventure, visit the Waitomo Caves where there are cafes, walks, horse treks, black water rafting and other adrenaline-pumping activities available. Head south from Hamilton towards Te Kuiti. Waitomo is on SH37 off SH3 at Hangatiki on the road between Otorohanga and Te Kuiti
- Visit the Waitakaruru Arboretum on the road between Cambridge and Taupiri - this is a sculptural park and gives you a chance to stretch your legs and marvel at the huge sculptures
Eat and Drink
- Have a meal at Palate on Victoria St - this is a treat as the food is great. Prices reflect this, however, and if your budget doesn't stretch that far, there are many other cafes on Victoria St and Hood St
- Stay at Hamilton City Holiday Park - it's within walking distance of cafes and bars. This is a great base for exploring all the Waikato region has to offer
Hamilton to Auckland
The road from Hamilton to Auckland is relatively busy. However, up until Taupiri the landscape is still lush and green with lots of native bush (rain forest) on the hills in the distance.
Huntly is the site of Huntly Power Station, a major contributor to NZ energy, and the chimney stacks of the power station are quiet imposing as you enter the town. There are lots of old wooden villas on the main road which are quaint. After Huntly, you will travel on the Waikato Expressway that then becomes the Southern Motorway (after Bombay) into Auckland, so it feels quite metropolitan and light-years away from the remoteness of SH32 (if you took that detour).
The expressway does initially run alongside the Waikato River and you can take a detour to Port Waikato at Pokeno.
Once you reach the exit to Papakura on the Southern Motorway, you will be aware of the Auckland metropolis starting to engulf you. You will see the Manakau Harbour on your left and as you head further north you will see the Waitemata Harbour on your right - Auckland is a narrow isthmus between these two harbours, and is aptly known as the "city of sails".
See and Do
- Stop at Merino Story in Huntly (just north of the town) to buy some merino garment (there is a cafe there as well)
- Visit art galleries in Port Waikato
- Keen surfers will want to visit Raglan beach or Port Waikato for some great surfing
- If you're travelling on the weekend, visit one of the Franklin District Markets (Saturday at Pukekohoe, Sunday at Pokeno)
- Visit Rainbow's End adventure park which is great for kids - leave SH1 and head to the airport off junction 449 of Southern Motorway
Eat and Drink
- Look out for Fruit and Vegetable stalls on the side of the road before you reach the Waikato Expressway and also on exits off the expressway. Magic Fresh just outside Huntly has a great range of berries in season. We love the blueberries
- You can buy Wild Game meat in Huntly if you are that way inclined
- Take a detour onto the Taupiri-Gordonton highway (SH1B) and visit Candyland - New Zealand's largest candy store where you can get great chocolate, fudge toys and gifts
- There is a service centre at Mercer on the Auckland Hamilton Motorway where you can refuel both the campervan and yourself
- Stay at Waingaro Hot Springs, inland from Ngaruawahia and Huntly - they boast New Zealand's longest hot-water slide
- Pull over next to the river after you leave Huntly for a break - the river is very pretty
- Stay at Ambury Farm Park, one of the Auckland Regional Parks, off Muir Ave in Manakau. It's reasonable at $10 per person per night, and is fun. You basically park in a field with sheep overlooking the harbour. It's a short walk up to facilities. We loved it - it feels as if you are a million miles away from a city but you are on the doorstep of Auckland