Great news – you’ve got a long weekend! Time to take a 3 day trip from Wellington to Napier for a bit of wine sampling and back to Wellington for a bit of capital culture. There’s lots to fit into this short break so check out some of our top tips for things to do on your road trip – some you will know about and others are hopefully a bit more off the beaten track. Anyway, enough of this – let’s get you on your way. Let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Wellington to Napier (315kms – 4 hours 3 mins)
Well, if you’ve just picked up your shiny new GO Rentals rental car, we know you’ll be itching to get on the road and the first day is going to be a biggie where you get some miles under your belt. Although you’re heading to one of the most famous wine regions in New Zealand and possibly the world, a great starting point for this adventure is found only 80kms outside of Wellington.
Martinborough (80.1kms – 1 hour 10 mins from Wellington)
Although there are quicker drives to Napier, we always love to take this slight detour up the east side of the lower north island so we can stop off in Martinborough for a great feed and to sample some pretty awesome wines. New Zealand has such a diverse wine culture in the different regions and the lower North Island can sometimes slip under the radar. Martinborough however has become the cuisine capital of the lower North Island with over 30 local vineyards and local restaurants stocking local, super fresh produce.
Stonehenge Aotearoa, Carterton (28.7kms – 23 mins from Martinborough)
Continuing north from Martinborough, a great pit stop is at Stonehenge Aotearoa.
Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.
Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre (40.9km – 30 mins)
This is a great little stop off as you make your way towards Napier. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other activities to keep you entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.
Hastings (179kms – 2 hours 8 mins)
Devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931, Hastings was rebuilt using architectural styles of the time which has led to a very art deco look and feel to the place. If you’ve not managed to grab a bite to eat since you left Wellington this morning, Hastings is a great stop off point for a late lunch. With restaurants serving local produce, you’re in for more culinary delights on your first day of this road trip. Couple this with some great local vineyards and it may be tricky to drag yourself away from Hastings to your final destination of Napier (obviously just the soft drinks for the driver!).
Napier is just a short drive away (20.8kms – 23 mins) where you can recharge your batteries, have a wander and get ready for the next full day of exploring.
2Napier and around
As with Hastings, Napier was also hit by the devastating earthquake in 1931, registering a massive 7.9 on the Richter Scale. What resulted was some fantastic building work, much of which was completed within 2 years and much of it in an art deco style. Because of this, Napier feels like a step back in time (even more so than the rest of NZ!) with its art deco facades and fountains so take your own step back, slow it all down and spend the day doing exactly what you want to do – you’ve deserved it.
Here are some of our top tips:
Wine tour – Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions along with Marlborough so it would be rude not to sample at least a couple of the local drops. If you’re feeling energetic, why not hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards – you’ll have truly earned your vino then!
Te Mata Peak
Offering some superb panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, whether you bike, hike or ride to the summit of Te Mata, it’s well worth the trip. For the more adventurous, you can even choose to paraglide back down to sea level.
Coastal walks – the Hawkes Bay coastline provides some of the best walking tracks in the North Island which you can easily hop on to and spend your time admiring the spectacular views.
Arataki Honey Visitors Centre – you may or may not have heard of Manuka honey – something that NZ is very famous for. Fabled for its medicinal properties, you can find out all about the bees that help to produce this delicious honey and pick up a pot to take with you on the rest of your travels.
Art Deco Guided Walks – if you’re not up on your art deco but you want to know more about this fantastic architectural period, a guided walk is the perfect way to learn about the history of the buildings in and around Napier whilst taking a lovely stroll around the town.
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3Napier to Wellington (142kms – 1 hour 47 mins)
We highly recommend spending the morning in and around Napier. If you didn’t manage to fit everything in yesterday, this is the perfect time to soak up on your Napier experience before you head back down to Wellington. If you can make it out of bed for sunrise (it happened to us once!) then heading up Te Mata Peak is possibly one of the best ways to spend a morning ever – you might complain when the alarm goes off but you will feel energised by such a great start to the day.
The journey back to Wellington is going to take you back via a slightly different route to the one you came…as they say ‘variety is the spice of life’ and all that good stuff!
Taihape (152kms – 2 hours 19 mins from Napier)
Although it is a bit of a trek to go east before heading south, it’s nice to see some different sights on your way back to Wellington and it’s not every day you get to stop off at the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot is the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot and each year the town hosts Gumboot Day. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, check it out and get involved in a bit of gumboot throwing – definitely one to tell the grandkids about!
Bulls (80.8kms – 53 mins from Taihape)
There’s not much to say about Bulls but you wanted quirky on this tour and quirky is what you’ll get. The only thing of note in this town is the clever (or not!) use of the town’s name by local businesses– unforget-a-bull and hospit-a-bull are two of our personal favourites – let us know yours!
Palmerston North (29.8km – 25 mins from Bulls)
The last stop of the day before hitting the capital will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. Although it’s the biggest town between Taupo and Wellington, Palmerston is pretty quiet and this will give you a true insight into Kiwi life. With a plethora of cafes to pick from, this is a great place for afternoon tea and cakes – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!
From Palmerston North it’s only 140kms to Wellington which will take you around 2 hours. Heading down the west coast, you may want to pit stop at any one of the lovely beaches on the way including Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae which are all easily accessible from SH1.
Depending on your plans, you may decide to take the more direct route from Napier to Wellington which will take you around 4 hours, giving you time to explore when you arrive back in Wellington. It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.
For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.
You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.
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This has been an action-packed 3 day excursion and hopefully you managed to squeeze in everything you wanted to do. These itineraries are just our guide to help you discover some of the cool and quirky places to be found in and around New Zealand – take our ideas and run with them or even better, add your own cool things along the way. Don’t forget to let us know about any great stop offs we may not know about by getting in touch on our GO Explore Facebook page.