It's less than 1.5 hour's drive from Auckland city. Along the way you see plenty of amazing, yet typically NZ, green, rugged farmland mixed with bush. There's a point on the motorway as you come over the Bombay Hills where the plains and hills of the Waikato region open up before you which is quite breathtaking. I was tempted to keep on going for a few hours, to cross the plains and ascend the far side of those hills to the central volcanic plateau, and see again the magnificent Lake Taupo and the great volcanoes, but that will have to wait. We turned west and followed the river out to the coast.
We missed the turnoff to the town of Port Waikato and drove on for a while mesmerized by the limestone country. The location used for "Weathertop" in The Fellowship Of The Ring is around here.