Driving from Auckland city to the Central Plateau of New Zealand can take you just over four hours unless you want to enjoy the drive and see the sights on the way; then it can take you as long as you want it to. This route follows State Highway One (SH 1)- the 'main drag'.
Heading south out of the 'City of Sails', the town of Pukekohe is often still considered part of Auckland but is actually a horticultural and farming centre, a town in its own right, with regular equestrian events. There are also V8 and Supercar racing events at the Pukekohe Park Raceway. Just south of Pukekohe, the SH 2 divides off, the road to Coromandel, Tauranga, and further east. Following SH 1, Pokeno, just off the motorway, is the 'Ice Cream capital of New Zealand' so it is a must to try one of these monster snacks. Meremere is a popular destination for 'petrol heads' and Drifting fans with the Dragway being a major destination during race-days. A little further south, at Hampton Downs, the racing gets more formal at the International Motorsport Park, which offers exhilarating driving options from Go Karts to Camaro V8 Muscle Cars. Te Kauwhata has a great little Greenstone factory and shops just of the highway- well worth a stop. From TK you follow the mighty Waikato River south to Huntly, a former coal town that straddles the river with New Zealand's largest thermal (formerly coal) power station on the far bank. The local museum focuses on the coal mining history of the town.
Leave the Waikato River behind, temporarily, at Taupiri, where for a treat for the kids, you will find Candyland. Next, you find yourself in Hamilton, a city astride the Waikato River. There are many water-related sports in this area, plus a Zoo, a classic Car museum and other entertainment options. There are a number of lovely riverside parks in Hamilton, and the Botanical Gardens are a special treat.
Cambridge is the centre of the racing industry with a multitude of Thoroughbred studs covering the lush pastureland of the area. Lake Karapiro, near Cambridge, offers many water sports, with rowing, paddle boarding and boating being favourites. Jet boat rides are also on offer in the vicinity. The next town is known for the corrugated iron sheep and sheepdog in the main street. Tirau offers an interesting array of shops, including a shell & Jade Factory and a Christmas Heirloom shop. There is also a Castle housing a doll and toy museum. Just out of Tirau the road forks, and SH 5 heads south to Taupo, via Rotorua, should you choose an alternate route.
Taupo is an active and exciting place to visit with natural hot pools and ice cold lake waters. There are fun things for the kids, educational activities and a great township with a sculpture trail and interesting shops. The Waikato River provides highlights at Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids. The Lake provides many opportunities for fun with kayaking, boating and trout fishing, plus the unique Maori Carved Rock.
Lake Taupo is bigger than it looks, as you will see as you drive down the lakeside to Turangi at the southern end. This town is a hotspot for trout fishing and white-water rafting on the Tongariro River. The SH 1 continues down the Desert Road to Waiouru, where the National Army Museum tells stories of war and campaigns and displays arms, uniforms and other army memorabilia. However, at Turangi take the SH 47 past Tokaanu with its hot pools, towards the mountains of the Central Plateau. Mt Tongariro is the first mountain you will see, and a challenging activity here is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, where you can experience all the beauty of the mountain ecosystems. Mt Ngauruhoe is the middle peak, and Ruapehu is the home of the skiing activities. This mountain exhibits regular volcanic activity and occasional eruptions, and up on the slopes is the Whakapapa Village. The Chateau Tongariro is a category 1 building, hotel of choice for hiking and skiing visitors. Fergusson Cottage is the oldest building on the mountain and is now a cafe in Whakapapa Village.
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