5 top stops between Auckland and Rotorua

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You can either treat the drive between Auckland and Rotorua as a non-stop journey (you’ll do it in under three hours), or you can use the trip to enjoy a few varied diversions.

Top choices

Here are five suggested stops from travel writer Kit Packer:

Stop 1: If it’s summer and you fancy an ice cream, turn off at Pokeno (about 45 minutes south of central Auckland). This village has a couple of ice cream stores and a reputation that attracts tourist buses, sports teams and regular passers-by who can’t resist a lick.

You’re sure to be impressed by the range of flavours on offer and the variety of often-challenging cone variations (dare you to try the 21-scoop special!)

Come to think of it, don’t worry if it’s not summer – the ice cream parlours do a roaring trade in winter too.

Stop 2: Cambridge is a picturesque town of 18,000, less than two hours from central Auckland, and is the ideal spot to pull over for a wander and something to eat. The town has an interesting range of small shops and cafes.

Stretch your legs with a walk beside the country’s longest river (the mighty Waikato) or beside the lake (complete with ducks) at the Te Ko Utu Domain, minutes from the centre of town.

On the Hamilton-side boundary of Cambridge you’ll find the Avantidrome, the national home of cycling. Call in and watch some of the world’s top cyclists whizz around the track at top speed, or take the kids to the adjacent cycle education park.

Stop 3: An 18-minute drive from Cambridge will take you to Hobbiton, the farm that was used as a set in the making of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film trilogy, the Lord of the Rings.

Hobbiton gives you the chance to experience Tolien’s Middle Earth and see Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill, the double arched bridge and other structures and gardens built for the films.

Stop 4: About 15 minutes south of Cambridge, on State Highway 1, is Lake Karapiro, a man-made lake that helps provide hydro power through its dam, and is the national home for rowing, canoeing and kayaking.

It regularly turns into the arena for watersports events (everything from hydroplane racing to waka ama, an annual contest for Maori paddle boats).

And it’s got plenty of picnic options (many signposted), though I’d recommend following the signs to Mighty River Domain, the park beside the lake.

Stop 5: Halfway between Cambridge and Rotorua you’ll drive through Tirau, a small township notable for its creative use of corrugated metal sculptures.

In the 1980s, the town was struggling as jobs with local manufacturers declined. The locals decided their future would depend on encouraging travellers to stop – and they hit on the idea of using the wavy metal to attract attention.

The main street has two huge buildings in the shape of a corrugated sheep, beside a corrugated dog; the church has a corrugated sign; many of the shops and cafes have signs that maintain the theme.

It’s certainly worth a few photographs and a stroll up the main street.

Source: Kit Packer’s blog, New Zealand Holiday Travel.

Roadtrip: 5 top stops between Auckland and the Bay of Islands