Road Trip Guide – Palmerston North To Rotorua

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Read about 'Road Trip Guide – Palmerston North To Rotorua' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

The road from Palmerston North to Rotorua takes you through the very heart of New Zealand’s North Island and some of the best scenery in the Central North Island. There are lots of places to stop along the way to go for a walk, grab a bite, or explore small town New Zealand – the choice is yours!

The drive from Palmerston North to Rotorua takes approximately 4 hours without any stops – but of course you are going to want to stop along the way and enjoy all that Central North Island has to offer! Read on for some of the best things to do on the way from Palmerston North to Rotorua.

Palmerston North

Conveniently located half way between Taupo and Wellington, the Manawatu region combines the charm of rural New Zealand with the sophisticated provincial appeal of Palmerston North City. Palmerston North is well laid-out and lively, and offers a diverse mix of cultures along with a range of local activities and attractions.

Many of Palmerston North’s original stores built in the 1920’s and 1930’s have been restored and the city is known for its excellent shopping. From malls to boutiques, designer fashion to antiques, furniture and jewellery, there’s something for every taste.

Centred around an attractive inner-city park featuring beautiful gardens, the city also offers a dining experience to suit your mood with a wide choice of superb cafes, restaurants and bars catering for all tastes and budgets.

4 Of The Best Things To Do In Palmerston North

  1. Visit The New Zealand Rugby Museum. The oldest and first museum in the world devoted to the popular national sport.
  2. Go Jet Boating. Walk, drive or take a jet boat tour through the spectacular Manawatu Gorge.
  3. Visit The Theatre. Take in a show at the world class Regent Theatre on Broadway.
  4. Go Mountain Biking. Grab a bike and head out on the Kahuterawa tracks, through spectacular native and pine forests.

Palmerston North


Taking State Highway 3 out of Palmerston North will lead you to the quaint township of Bulls, if the name didn’t give it away Bulls is considered the typical rural New Zealand small town.

In Bulls you will find one main street, complete with the standard road side coffee shops, petrol stations, a Four Square convenience store and of course the iconic New Zealand corner Dairy. From Bulls take the State Highway 1 turnoff in the middle of the main street and make you way inland towards the Tongariro National Park.


From Bulls to Taihape is approximately an hour’s drive, you will pass through Marton, Hunterville and Mangaweka. Stop by the information centre at the town hall for some quick ideas on what to do in Taihape or seek out the local walks, try your hand at some nearby white water rafting, horse riding or fishing.

Before you leave Taihape be sure to have a go at ‘Gumboot throwing’ in the purpose built gumboot throwing lane across from the Railway Station. It’s something of a kiwi tradition – you can’t miss it!


Taking State Highway 1 and heading north for just over an hour will bring you to the military township of Waiouru. Stop by the National Army Museum and discover some insight into New Zealand’s military history.

From Waiouru you can take Highway 49 around the west side of the Tongariro National Park via Ohakune and stop by the Turoa or Whakapapa Ski fields. Or continue on State highway 1 to travel the iconic ‘Desert Road’ through the eastern side of the Park. The Desert Road provides excellent views of the Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe volcanoes.


Turangi lies at the southernmost tip of Lake Taupo, Waioruru to Turangi is around 45 minutes’ drive. The perfect spot for fishing enthusiasts, Turangi is full of popular trout spots that are scenic as well as productive.

For the best places to fish in Turangi stop by the Visitor centre or see the Tongariro National Trout Centre for an up close and personal trout museum, aquarium and hatchery experience without the fishing lines!


From Turangi it’s on to Taupo the area’s largest township and the gateway to New Zealand’s largest lake – Lake Taupo. Taupo itself is a culinary destination, with fresh caught trout being served at a range of fantastic restaurants – or you can catch your own.

You can also go swimming, kayaking or boating on the lake, and there are lots of nearby walks to enjoy including the popular Wairakei Thermal Valley and ‘Craters of the Moon’ geothermal reserve. Just across from this reserve, don’t miss the awe inspiring Huku Falls – standing above 220,000 litres of water from the mighty Waikato River as it gushes down a narrow causeway. Or if you’d like to see the power of the falls from below, try a jet boat ride or river cruise.

Lake Taupo Sunset


Heading out of Taupo along State Highway 5 for about 40 minutes you will come across the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – well worth a stop for access to some of the regions natural geothermal attractions such as geysers, thermal lakes, mud pools and colourful silica terraces.

Waiotapu is also home to the famous Lady Knox Geyser which fires at 10.15 am every day, and an impressive geothermal park extending over an area of 18 square kilometres. From Waiotapu it is another 30 minutes’ drive to Rotorua.


Rotorua itself is a true geothermal wonderland, with lots of geothermal attractions and adventure activities to enjoy. Seek out natural hot springs, bubbling mud pools, spa and wellness destinations that are held in high esteem for their healing and beneficial properties.

For those who like a bit more adrenaline, there are adventure activities such as cycling and mountain biking, Zorb runs, luge tracks, 4WD driving, white water rafting and much more. The city itself offers great places to eat and stay, making it the ideal holiday destination.

4 Of The Best Things To Do In Rotorua

  1. Visit the Skyline Gondola. Ride the gondola, get speedy in the downhill Luge, go zip-lining or have a go at the sky swing – it really is a destination for all ages.
  2. See A Real Live Kiwi. Right next door to the Rotorua Gondola is the Rainbow Springs Nature Park where you can see kiwi in their natural habitat, and enjoy the native forest and wildlife setting.
  3. Visit Hells Gate Thermal Park. New Zealand’s only Mud Spa complex, you can explore the geothermal grounds before relaxing in the geothermal mud and sulphur waters.
  4. Go Whitewater Rafting. Rotorua is known for its white water rafting experiences that include the Grade 5 Kaituna Waterfall.

Champagne Pool, Rotorua

For anyone wanting to see a slice of the North Island unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere, the drive from Palmerston North to Rotorua is an unmissable road trip journey. Need transport for this epic road trip? See USAVE Car Rentals for affordable car hire in Palmerston North.


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