5-day Central North Island road trip with kids | Apollo NZ
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Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

A New Zealand campervan holiday through the Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki region offers an unforgettable experience. Rich in natural beauty and cultural significance, this special part of New Zealand offers travellers a unique blend of urban charm and rugged wilderness. If you love exploring arts and culture, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this region. You may even like to follow the Coastal Arts Trail which spans 300 km between New Plymouth to Palmerston North. The trail is peppered with galleries, sculptures, studios and more. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the mystical Bridge to Nowhere, accessible through the verdant Whanganui National Park, offering an unforgettable journey into New Zealand's remote backcountry. 

Transitioning westward, the landscape dramatically changes as you enter Taranaki, dominated by the iconic, conical shape of Mount Taranaki. This region is a magnet for adventurers and nature lovers alike, with New Plymouth at its heart – a coastal city known for its sunny climate, thriving arts community, and surf-friendly beaches. The coastal walkway stretching from Bell Block to Port Taranaki offers spectacular sea views, perfectly complementing the city’s dynamic cultural venues and eateries.

 

Why explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan

Exploring Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki by campervan offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the heartland of New Zealand's North Island. It also makes it easy to change your itinerary on the fly. Whether it's spending an extra day enjoying the surf in New Plymouth, exploring the hiking trails around Mount Taranaki, or parking beside the scenic Whanganui River for a spontaneous picnic, the choice is yours. The ability to set your own pace and schedule makes a campervan ideal for discovering the hidden gems of these regions.

Travelling by campervan not only brings the comforts of home on the road, such as your own bed, kitchen, and living space, but also eliminates the hassles of constant packing and unpacking. This is especially valuable in regions like Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki, where attractions are spread out. Having your necessities with you means you're always ready for the next adventure. 

 

Things to do in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki offer activities for all ages, from nature excursions to authentic cultural experiences. Explore Palmerston North's gardens and arts scene, Whanganui's historic riverboat cruise, or brave the surf at New Plymouth's beaches. Immerse yourself in the local culture with visits to museums, galleries, and artist studios. Whether it's outdoor excitement or cultural enrichment, this fascinating region provides something for everyone.

 

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Popular Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki road trips & itineraries

Stretching down the lower west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki are prime destinations for road trippers seeking a mix of culture, nature, and adventure. Easily accessible from major urban centres like Wellington and Auckland, the drive itself showcases the dramatic shift from urban landscapes to the lush, green countryside of Manawatu and the striking volcanic features of Taranaki. These routes not only offer breathtaking views but are dotted with a variety of attractions, making every stop an opportunity for discovery. 

 

5-day Central North Island road trip with kids
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

5-day Central North Island road trip with kids.

Ready to pack up the kids and explore the best of New Zealand’s Central North Island by campervan? Great idea! From glow worms and volcanoes to Hobbits and hot pools, the North Island of New Zealand is packed full of great activities for a family campervan holiday

To help you plan a road trip that takes in the best highlights, we’ve put together this action-packed 5-day New Zealand road trip travel itinerary. You’ll kick off your campervan adventure in Auckland before heading south to Middle Earth where you can see some movie magic. Then it’s on to the scenic hot spots of Taupō and Tongariro before you go underground at the Waitomo Caves. Phew, that’s a whole lot of fun packed into five days! 

Ready to plan the ultimate New Zealand road trip? Let’s get started…

 

Travel: 5 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

● Picnicking at the Hamilton Gardens

● Exploring magical Hobbiton Movie Set 

● Marvelling at the powerful Huka Falls 

● Catching and smoking trout in Turangi 

● Walking through the ethereal Waitomo Glowworm Caves 

● Discovering tropical butterflies and dinosaurs at Butterfly Creek

 

Day 1: Auckland to Matamata

Distance: 158 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Your adventure begins at Apollo’s Auckland branch where you'll pick up your pre-booked campervan, all set for five days of exploration across the Central North Island. As you journey south from Auckland, your first taste of the North Island’s charm comes with a stop at the enchanting Hamilton Gardens. Here, you can stroll through beautifully themed gardens from around the globe – ideal for a leisurely lunch break amidst lush landscapes.

Continue your NZ road trip to Matamata where you can immerse yourself in the magic of Middle Earth with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. This iconic location offers a behind-the-scenes look at where the famous The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. Walking through the Shire is a surreal experience, with its picturesque landscapes and detailed hobbit holes.

After a day of adventure, park up for the night at Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park

TOP TIP: Check out our guide on how to entertain kids in a camper

 

Day 2: Matamata to Taupō

Distance: 126 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 50 mins

Today you’ll be heading to the heart of the North Island, Taupō. There’s loads to see and do along the way, so plan an early start. 

First up, make a splash at Huka Falls. Here, you can watch the Waikato River force its way through a tight rock corridor, creating a thunderous and spectacular waterfall. It’s a great spot for some photos or just to feel the mist on your face. Just around the corner, drop by the Huka Honey Hive, where you can taste some of New Zealand’s sweetest honey and see how it’s made. If you’re up for a bit more fun, swing by The Huka Prawn Park next. It’s a quirky spot where you can try your hand at prawn fishing. Kids love it, and so do the grown-ups.

Once in Taupō, chill out with a cruise on the lake. It’s a peaceful way to take in the views and soak up the holiday vibe. Afterwards, head over to DeBretts Hot Pools for a soak. These thermal pools are just the ticket for relaxing those muscles and having a good soak as a family.

Finish off your day by strolling through Taupō’s local shops. It’s a great chance to pick up some unique keepsakes. Whether it's artsy crafts or a piece of New Zealand’s greenstone jewellery, there’s plenty to catch your eye.

For your stay, the Taupo TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great spot to park up, chill out, and plan your next day’s adventures.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 3: Taupō to Tongariro National Park

Distance: 97 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your road trip from Taupō to Tongariro National Park weaves through rugged landscapes that shift dramatically as you approach one of New Zealand’s most famous national parks.

Plan a stop about halfway in Turangi, a tiny township known as the trout fishing capital of New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to take a break and stretch your legs. If you’ve got a bit of extra time, pop into the Tongariro National Trout Centre. Here, the kids can actually catch their own trout, which can be smoked right there for a fresh, delicious lunch. It’s both fun and tasty – a real adventure for the little ones.

Once you hit Tongariro National Park, get ready to dive into nature. A great family-friendly walk is the Taranaki Falls Track, an easy 6 km loop that offers stunning views and the chance to see the impressive waterfall that cascades over an ancient lava flow. It’s just the right mix of adventure and manageable walking for all ages.

If you’re visiting in winter, a must-do is a day in the snow at the Whakapapa Ski Area. Whether it’s your first time seeing snow or you’re seasoned snow bunnies, there’s plenty of fun to be had. From snowball fights to sledding, it’s a winter wonderland that provides a cool contrast to the more temperate parts of your trip.

Tonight, plan a cosy stay at the Tongariro Holiday Park where you can relax surrounded by views of the picturesque mountains.  

 

Day 4: Tongariro National Park to Waitomo Caves

Distance: 159 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Today, you’ll be going from the heights of Tongariro National Park to the depths of the Waitomo Caves – a magical spot and a must-do on any North Island road trip itinerary.  

A great place to stop along the way is Te Kuiti, known as the Shearing Capital of the World. This small town also honours New Zealand rugby legend Sir Colin Meads with a life-size bronze statue, celebrating his contributions to the sport and his roots in the local area. Take a moment to appreciate the statue and the small park around it, an ideal spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch and perhaps explore some local shops for unique souvenirs.

As you arrive in Waitomo, get ready for an unforgettable underground adventure at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Here, a guided tour will lead you through stunning limestone formations and into the Glowworm Grotto, where the ceiling is dotted with the luminescent glow of thousands of glowworms. This natural light display is truly a sight to behold, creating a star-like illusion that lights up the caves. Beyond the glowworms, Waitomo offers some awesome adventurous activities like black water rafting, cave abseiling (rappelling), and exploring other limestone caves with their impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park

READ MORE: 15 must-dos in New Zealand’s North Island.

 

Day 5: Waitomo Caves to Auckland

Distance: 190 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 30 mins 

Today's the day you wrap up your epic North Island road trip, driving from Waitomo back to Auckland. The trip north is an easy drive with some great places to stop and stretch your legs one last time.

As you head north, swing by Otorohanga for a peek at some classic Kiwi culture with its quirky Kiwiana displays – everything from giant gumboots to pavlovas. Don’t skip the Otorohanga Kiwi House while you’re there; it's a cool spot to check out New Zealand's iconic kiwi birds and other local wildlife.

Arriving in Auckland, if you’re looking for a peaceful way to wrap up your trip, head to the Auckland Botanic Gardens. The gardens offer a beautiful, tranquil environment for a leisurely walk or a relaxing picnic. 

Alternatively, for a bit more excitement, visit Rainbows End, New Zealand’s premier theme park, where thrilling rides and attractions await, offering fun for the whole family.

Before you drop off your camper, make one final fun stop at Butterfly Creek, which is conveniently located near Apollo’s Auckland branch. It’s packed with attractions for everyone – from tropical butterflies to farm animals. 

Finally, swing by Apollo’s Auckland branch to drop off your camper. You’re done! You’ve just finished an awesome road trip packed with great memories, fun adventures, and loads of pics to prove it. Time to start planning the next great roadie? Check out more of our great New Zealand travel itineraries for inspiration. 

READ MORE: 15 family friendly things to do in Auckland.

 

Is the North Island of New Zealand calling you?

From volcanoes to caves, honey-tasting to trout fishing, this amazing 5-day New Zealand North Island road trip has it all. Ready to get started? Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today. 
Follow our easy itinerary or check out our travel blogs for more great ideas on what to see and do in New Zealand.

 

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan road trip. 

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Long Hire Offer

Do you love road trips across Australia & New Zealand as much as we do? You're in luck with our Long Hire Offer! If you are travelling for more than 21 days, you will receive 5% off daily vehicle...
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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to the Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki region sets you up for a scenic journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and onto the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore the South Island before heading north? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days taking in some of the great southern highlights before crossing the Cook Strait by ferry.

Auckland

Set off from Apollo Auckland and kick off your exploration of this region in New Plymouth – just a few hours drive away. Make your way down the west coast taking in the charming townships, rolling rural landscapes, and rugged coastline as you venture south.  

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

 

Climate and seasons in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Stretching hundreds of kilometres, this expansive region offers distinct seasonal experiences, making it an attractive destination year-round for visitors looking to enjoy a variety of landscapes and activities.

Manawatu-Whanganui enjoys a mild, temperate climate with moderate rainfall, making it pleasant for travel most of the year.

  • Summers (December to February) are warm with temperatures averaging around 22°C, ideal for exploring the great outdoors and the region's rivers and parks.
  • Autumn (March to May) brings cooler temperatures and a beautiful change in foliage, particularly in the bush-clad hills, providing perfect conditions for hiking and photography.
  • Winter (June to August) can be cooler, with temperatures dropping to around 10°C, but it is generally mild compared to other regions, with occasional frost in sheltered areas.
  • Spring (September to November) sees the landscape rejuvenate with bursts of flowers and greenery, making it a lovely time for visiting the many gardens and reserves.

Taranaki is known for its more dynamic weather patterns, due to the presence of Mount Taranaki, which can attract clouds and cause quick changes in weather.

  • Summers here are pleasant with temperatures similar to Manawatu-Whanganui but expect more frequent rain showers that keep the surroundings lush.
  • Autumn sees stable weather, ideal for outdoor activities as the forests display a vivid array of autumn colours.
  • Winter in Taranaki can be wet, with more pronounced rainfall, and the mountain often receives snowfall, offering spectacular views and winter sports.
  • Spring brings a rapid growth of new foliage and is particularly spectacular as rhododendrons and other blooms erupt around the mountain's base.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan journey through Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki requires thoughtful packing to make the most of the diverse climates and activities available in these regions. Here’s what you should consider bringing along:

  • Outdoor gear: given the varied terrain from river valleys to volcanic mountains, pack versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well during warmer months, while waterproof and windproof layers are essential for the unpredictable weather near Mount Taranaki. Sturdy hiking boots are a must for exploring the rugged landscapes and numerous walking trails. With the stunning natural beauty and wildlife in both regions, a good camera can help you capture memorable landscapes and native birds. Binoculars will also enhance your experience, especially when visiting coastal areas and bird sanctuaries.
  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan experience can significantly improve your comfort during the trip. Consider including a portable heater for the cooler evenings, especially during winter months in Taranaki. A reliable GPS and physical maps can help navigate the more remote areas. Additional camping chairs and a table can also be handy for scenic stops along the coast or in forest parks.
  • Sun protection and rain gear: The regions' varying weather conditions call for both sun protection and rain gear. Pack a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield against the strong New Zealand sun. Also, include a durable rain jacket and waterproof trousers to stay dry during sudden rain showers, particularly prevalent in Taranaki. For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui

Whanganui River cruise or kayak

Experience the tranquil beauty of the Whanganui River by taking a leisurely cruise or paddling a kayak. This historic river offers stunning views of lush landscapes and provides a quiet escape into nature, perfect for a relaxing day on the water.

Whanganui National Park

Home to native forests and scenic waterways, Whanganui National Park is popular with hikers and walkers. The park is also home to the Bridge to Nowhere Walk, a 3 km return (around 1.5 hours) easy walk popular with visitors to the area.

Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway, running through remote, mystic landscapes, offers a journey back in time. This historic route passes through rugged terrain, dense forests, and small forgotten towns, making it a unique adventure for road-trippers.

Bushy Park

Bushy Park Ecological Sanctuary, near Whanganui, is known for its rich biodiversity and protected native forest. The 100-hectare reserve is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the region, including a 500-year-old rata. The park's predator-free status allows visitors to encounter rare and endangered birds such as the hihi and saddleback in their natural habitat.

Nearby attractions and day trips from Taranaki

Mount Taranaki

Dominating the landscape, Mount Taranaki offers challenging hikes and spectacular views from its summit. The symmetrical volcano is a striking feature of Egmont National Park, drawing climbers and photographers alike.

New Plymouth Coastal Walk

The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a spectacular 13-kilometre path that stretches from Ngamotu Beach to Bell Block, offering panoramic views of the Tasman Sea. This award-winning walkway is ideal for walking, jogging, or cycling featuring iconic landmarks like the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which resembles a breaking wave or whale skeleton.

Pukekura Park

New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park is a beautifully landscaped garden featuring lakes, waterfalls, and exotic plants. It hosts the famous Festival of Lights, transforming into an enchanted evening wonderland.

Dawson Falls in Egmont National Park

Dawson Falls is a spectacular 18-metre waterfall located within Egmont National Park. The area around the falls offers picturesque walking tracks that wind through lush native bush, ideal for a short, scenic hike.

 

Where to stay in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Manawatu-Whanganui

Taranaki

 

 

 

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