A Steamy New Zealand Road Trip

The drive from Auckland to Rotorua is full of thermal craters, an ever-changing landscape and luxurious spas

Soaking in hot springs in New Zealand

As you wind your way to the city of Rotorua, it’s easy to think you’ve travelled back in time and are witness to the earth letting off some prehistoric steam.

In fact, it can be hard to keep your eyes on the road, so it’s worth stopping once in awhile to take in the landscape. On both sides of the highway, steam rises from hidden craters and geysers. The pools within these thermal craters are well over 30 degrees Celsius and you can easily smell the sulphur that emanates from deep below the ground.

Cutting through it all is the Thermal Explorer Highway. Beginning in Auckland, the highway follows a line of volcanic activity that cuts across New Zealand’s north island. The highway moves south through Cambridge, continues past Rotorua on to the heart of the north island at Lake Taupo and then turns toward the southeast coast, ending near Napier in the province of Hawke’s Bay. The entire stretch of highway is 446 kilometres long; from Auckland to Rotorua is about a three-hour drive.

Driving from Auckland to Rotorua will give you just a taste of New Zealand’s diverse landscape. Plains give way to lush, gently rolling hills, which in turn give way to mountains that seem to touch the sky with clouds drifting at their peaks. Take a side trip from Cambridge to Matamata and the land changes again, this time to twisting two-lane roads through steep hills filled with farms and towering trees.

Rotorua, a city of 70,000 people, is in the centre of all this geothermal activity. And where there’s steam, there’s not only natural hot springs but luxurious spas that channel all this hot water into relaxing indoor and outdoor pools. The Maori people were the first to reap the benefits of all this warmth when they began settling in this area nearly 600 years ago. Since then, Rotorua has grown into a centre of Maori culture while also featuring a lively restaurant scene and night market. But the steam is a constant reminder of its earthly origins.

Regent of Rotorua
This former motel is now Rotorua’s newest five-star boutique hotel and offers hip, stylish accommodation. Its restaurant wine & cocktail bar offers a fusion menu of sharing and tasting plates as well as main meals and it’s within walking distance of Rotorua’s lakefront.

Kuirau Park
A public park that is home to boiling mud pools and crater lakes.

Polynesian Spa
Overlooking Lake Rotorua, the Polynesian Spa features a lake spa retreat as well as private pools and a family spa.

Looking for another thrilling road trip closer to home? Check out California's iconic Highway 1.

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