YHA rotorua lake rotorua side wall at dusk

Central North Road Trip

We've put together the ultimate Central Plateau road trip to show just how much cool stuff is packed into the area!

North Island

Pack some snacks, good tunes, and your choice of road trip companion. We've imagined you're driving south from Auckland, but you could head north from Wellington as well. The road is your oyster!


Wai O Tapu, Rotorua


Head south east to your first stop, Rotorua. This is a great introduction to the volcanic plateau; geothermal activity is in evidence almost everywhere you look (or smell). Shooting geysers, stirring haka (war dances), luging, and zorbing are all sure to give you that wee tingle down your spine that comes with chasing a thrill.

See our Top Must-Do Activities in Rotorua

Check out our top picks for geothermal spots to explore

The Redwoods, Rotorua

Lake Rotorua



Huka Falls, Taupo

Continue down the Thermal explorer highway to Taupo, with a strategic stop at Kerosene Creek or Hot n’ Cold for a swim at a free natural hot water stream. You’ll also be passing by one of the most photographed spots in the country. Huka Falls is not only a beautiful, churning, ice-blue waterfall, but the river nearby is a prime spot for jet boating. Stop for a couple of nights at YHA Taupo Finlay Jacks; you’ll need that time to make the most of the epic skydiving, paddling, and sailing that’s on offer.

Sail Fearless Taupo


National Park

Tongariro Crossing

Next up on almost every NZ traveller’s bucket list is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a beautiful one day walk through the very heart of the North Island, with the best views of the real life Mount Doom (Ngaruhoe).

You can start this journey after a night at YHA National Park. We recommend leaving your luggage at the hostel and taking a well-stocked daypack; after 8 hours walking a familiar bed is usually a welcome sight!



Skiing in the North Island

From National Park it’s only a short journey to Ohakune. Both are well-placed for accessing the best (read: only) North Island ski fields, but Ohakune is overflowing with summer activities as well. Start the Mountains to Sea Cycleway or pick one leg to do as a day trip. 

You can also start the Whanganui Journey from here – this is technically one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” despite giving your arms much more of a workout than your legs!

Mountains to Sea Cycleway, Ohakune



Once you’ve biked and/or paddled your way down the river, you’ll be happy to take a rest at YHA Whanganui. There are less strenuous ways to explore the river if kayaking isn’t your thing; you can take one of the old steamboats and get a taste of some local history as well. The historic town centre is almost as charming at the hostel itself!

Whanganui township


New Plymouth

Mt Taranaki

Make the most of the beautiful coastline by continuing your trip north to New Plymouth. This town is underrated by many people, in our opinion; the surprisingly excellent street art, museums, café culture, Coastal Walkway, and Pukekura Park are all well worth visiting.

Festival of Lights, New Plymouth

If you can time your trip to coincide with Womad or the Festival of Lights, you’ll be in for a real treat. There’s also of course the resplendent Mt Taranaki. Attempt the climb only if you’re brave, well-prepared, and lucky with the weather; alternatively, Paritutu Rock is much closer to town and provides great 360 degree vistas as well.

The view from Paritutu Rock



After a few nights at YHA New Plymouth, continue up the coast to Waitomo. Stay at YHA Waitomo, Juno Hall for a taste of working farm life and some peace and quiet away from the crowds. This hostel and its pool is the perfect spot to unwind after an adventurous day of black-water rafting, caving, or glow-worm hunting.

Feeding lambs at YHA Waitomo



Surfing in Raglan

Raglan should be next on your itinerary as the ultimate spot to finish winding down after your epic journey. This black sand West Coast beach is famed for its world class surf. Recoup in this idyllic small town for a couple of days before driving back up the coast to the big smoke of Auckland.

More Recommended YHA Hostels

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YHA Rotorua

YHA Rotorua offers accommodation with shared facilities for families, groups and backpackers opposite geothermal park Kuirau Park. Full kitchen, large shared lounge.

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YHA Taupo entrance to the hostel view more

YHA Taupo

Modernised, stylised and positive vibes; this backpacker hostel has what you need for a great stay in Taupo, providing views from the balcony of New Zealand's largest lake.

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YHA Whanganui front exterior of hostel view more

YHA Whanganui

This charming heritage backpacker hostel offers an opportunity to experience the luxury of early New Zealand, combined with well-kept, modern facilities.

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YHA Waitomo Juno Hall view more

YHA Waitomo

A working farm with native bush as its backdrop, YHA Waitomo offers an authentic rural Kiwi experience right next to the famous Waitomo Caves.

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