Great news – you’ve got some holidays! Time to take a 5 day trip from Wellington, up to Napier for a bit of wine sampling and back to Wellington via the Tongariro Crossing. 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 car hire, we know you will 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 are heading for 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.
Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (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 roadtrip. 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.
3Napier to Taupo (142kms – 1 hour 47 mins)
After a full on day in Napier, it’s time to hit the road again. For the early birds, we can highly recommend a morning jaunt up Te Mata to catch the sunrise – we managed it once and it was truly spectacular!
The drive up SH5 to Taupo passes through some rugged landscapes although not much else in terms of stops offs so pack up some treats for the road trip before you leave Napier. Taupo is another one of New Zealand’s iconic stop over destinations and extremely popular with tourists. A lot of people come for the adventure activities like skydiving, but there is plenty more to this lakeside town.
Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you’ll be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.
Use your GO Play card here
For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get ahole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap which is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) –we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?
Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.
Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.
The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.
4Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is often described as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. There are many places providing accommodation and a lift to the start of the trail which takes you up into the Tongariro National Park. The walk itself is 19.4km and on average takes between 7-9 hours to complete. It reaches altitudes of over 1800m and is covered in snow during the winter months.
The bus will drop you off at the start of the work and they will usually allow for a 10 hour day so you can take your time and enjoy the walk.
The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it’s a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.
A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.
Lord of the Rings Fans
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you’ll soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experience climbers.
After a full day out on the trail, you will feel like Sam and Frodo after their trip to Mordor but you should have a camera full of amazing pics and that beer is going to taste pretty awesome once you have showered and freshened up. Enjoy!
5Tongariro to Wellington (322kms – 3 hours 54 mins)
If you’ve never experienced the world’s coolest capital city, then today is all about the drive back down to Wellington. You’re first stop is the quirky town of Taihape.
Taihape (93.9kms – 1 hour 5 mins from Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
It’s not every day you get to stop off at the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot isthe 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.
You might not have the chance depending on what time you set off this morning but New Zealand’s capital city is jammed packed full of cool things to do so if you do have some time before you have to drop off the car, here are some of our highlights.
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 at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).
Treaty of Waitangi
A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).
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.
Wellington is jam-packed with things to do and there is definitely something for everyone so make sure you check out our guide to Wellington for more ideas.
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