Home > The Road Trips > Wellington - Napier

Wellington - Napier

This diverse road trip offers ample opportunity to explore Wellington, with it's flourishing dining and cafe scene; the Hutt Valley, the capital's gateway to the great outdoors; the Norse and Danish settlements of Norsewood and Dannevirke; and to the art deco architecture-rich Napier. You can spoil yourself in the vineyards of Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay, and get back to nature at the Ruahine Forest Park.

Wellington to Napier
Total Distance 508 Km
Approx driving time 7.5 hours
Today Wellington12°


One of the many appealing points of the nation's capital city is its compact CBD - you can walk from one side to the other in 20 minutes. It's the home of amazing art, food, coffee and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The waterfront is lined with parks and historic buildings but if shopping is what you're after, then be sure to poke your nose into some of the many boutique and designer stores.

Wellington: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Wellington: Zealandia - New Zealand's ultimate nature experience

Mangatainoka: Tui Brewery

Ruahine Forest Park: A hiker's delight

Hawke's Bay: A wine lover's paradise

The iconic Cable Car is well worth the short but steep journey to the top entrance of the Wellington Botanic Gardens, where you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the harbour.

Most Martinborough vineyards are within walking distance of the town, though you can hire a bike or do a tour in a horse-drawn carriage.

Held every Saturday morning from 8am-12noon at the Solway Showgrounds, the Wairarapa Farmers' Market offers a wide range of seasonal local produce. The markets are under cover, with music and entertainment and are a great way to mingle with the locals.

Try a winery biking tour. Not only do you get out and active, but stopping at local wineries and tasting the local wares while pedalling in the countryside is a great way to see Hawke's Bay.

Make the most of a visit to Hawke's Bay by checking out the farmers' market - start the morning with tea, coffee or fresh juice before enjoying a whitebait fritter, then sample some of the fine fare on offer to buy for a picnic lunch (Napier on Saturday and Hastings on Sunday).

Camping Country

Every nook and cranny hides a camping spot

In the days before easy air travel, summer camping was a national past...

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

Relics of the last Ice Age

It's odd to think that a man who has never set foot on these ice forma...

Cape Kidnappers

Gannets and Golf: Par Excellence

It's hard to think of a place that was named after a kidnapping as a s...

Fine Wine

Fabulous Food

Two things you need to know about Hawke's Bay: Firstly: no matter whe...

Kapiti Island

Flora and fauna sanctuaries

Have you ever had a kaka steal a biscuit, or a weka scurrying for crum...

Losing yourself in everything that Wellington has to offer is easily done. And it's a real daytripper's dream, with first-class wineries, rugged mountain ranges and fantastic beaches all within easy reach.

For some, the journey over the Rimutakas on SH2 from Wellington is considered an obstacle that should be avoided, but any traveller will soon find that the journey is very much worth their while.

It's a real daytripper's dream, with first-class wineries, rugged mountain ranges and fantastic beaches all within easy reach.


Rolling down the hill, the first required stop you come to is Featherston, home of the world's only remaining Fell locomotive. The locomotive has been beautifully restored and is on display at the Fell Engine Museum, which also has a great collection of railway memorabilia, working models, and an incline brake van. The neighbouring Heritage Museum houses displays that illustrate the history of Featherston Military Base and the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War 2. As the gateway to Wairarapa, Featherston is close to wetlands and will delight many nature lovers and bird watchers.

Wairarapa Region

From Featherston, drive on to Greytown, New Zealand's first inland town and arguably the prettiest and most Victorian of them all. City folk flock here on weekends to indulge in wine trails, antiques, art, craft, specialty shops and local produce.

The Wairarapa region produces about 3000 cases of wine each year and is known for turning out some delicious pinot noirs. On the wave of Martinborough's success, a number of boutique vineyards owned and run by passionate, quality-driven winemakers have sprung up around the area. For all wine aficionados, this is definitely a place to stop and savour the fruits of the land.

"City folk flock here on weekends to indulge in wine trails, antiques, art, craft, specialty shops and local produce."

Carterton and Masterton are towns that welcome their visitors warmly. Visit Paua World in Carterton and treat yourself to some beautiful jewellery made of this exquisite seashell. Masterton's welcome sign is a nod to the importance of shearing in this farming community. If you're looking to stretch your legs or let the kids out for a run, check out Queen Elizabeth II Park's super-sized duck pond, 'Kids Own' playground, steam train, mini golf and bowls.

While you're in the area, visit Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre - where you can experience some of New Zealand's most endangered wildlife up close and in the wild, feed eels and explore the protected forest area - a great family activity.

"For all wine aficionados, this is definitely a place to stop and savour the fruits of the land."

Tararua Region

Back on the road, you'll find small towns dotting your route towards Hawke's Bay. Mangatainoka is home to the Tui Brewery's brick art deco tower, which is open to the public for tours. Nearby Woodville is a treasure trove of antique shops and in summer the town is filled with the fresh fragrance wafting from Graelynn Lavender's farm and oil press.

When you see a painted figure of a Viking, you'll know you're in Dannevirke, a town settled by 13 Danish and eight Norwegian families in 1872. Today Dannevirke is a thriving hub for the local farming community. Check out the Dannevirke Fantasy Cave if you've got the kids along; it's a magical grotto crammed full of scenes from nursery rhymes and fables.

Stop in Norsewood for a spot of troll hunting amid constant reminders of the region's Scandinavian heritage. Many of the town's streets carry the original settlers' names, and folk dancing is still taught at the local school.

"Stop in Norsewood for a spot of troll hunting amid constant reminders of the region's Scandinavian heritage."

Hawke's Bay

To the west is the Ruahine Forest Park, with a range of one-day or multiple-day tramps for energetic types. If hiking's not your scene, then Waipukurau's shops and cafes probably are. Enjoy a quick coffee before SH2 squeezes through the rounded brown hills of the Raukawa and Kaokaoroa Ranges and takes you towards Hastings and on to Napier.

Hastings has a great climate and attractions for family fun. The city also hosts special events and festivals, such as its Spring Racing Carnival and Blossom Festival.


Napier's art deco influence has been well documented; it chose to adopt this distinctive style of architecture after a massive earthquake obliterated the city in 1931. The sun-drenched city is conducive to enjoying a raft of attractions, such as open-air hot pools and mini-golf, or drive up to Bluff Hill to enjoy commanding views of Napier and its surrounds. From the lookout, the views stretch as far as Mahia Peninsula and Cape Kidnappers.

While in Hawke's Bay, stop in at a local winery (or three!) and see for yourself what all the fuss is about when it comes to the region's wine and food. This is an amazing place to stop and spoil yourself.

"Stop in at a local winery (or three!) and see for yourself what all the fuss is about when it comes to the region's wine and food."

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What's mountain biking got to do with conservation? At Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park: everything. Members of the public who are keen to create a world-class mountain bike park have transformed this 200-hectare area into a maze of mountain bike trails, all the while reinforcing the existing natural environment.

Thousands of native seedlings have been planted, the number of pests reduced, and over 25km of single tracks hand-built by volunteers during work parties. The community spirit involved with creating a pedaller's playground like Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park benefits everyone - including walkers and trampers who wish to enjoy the park's tracks.

Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park is a buffet of biking trails for riders of all abilities: Lazy Fern and Magic Carpet for the novices, Missing Link and Sally Alley for the intermediate riders, and Vertigo and Trickle Falls for the pros - to name a few. All you need is a fat-tyred bike with some low gears for the hills and you're away laughing.

For dramatic scenery, a feeling like you're at the end of the earth and the chance to check out New Zealand fur seals, follow the wild and rugged coastline to Cape Palliser.

The drive itself is rewarding enough but once here you can lay claim to reaching the southernmost point of the North Island. This isolated settlement is home to one of New Zealand's largest colonies of native fur seals, and they are easily visible among the rocks close to the road.

While here it's worth the challenge of climbing 250 steps to reach the top of the historic, candy-striped Cape Palliser lighthouse. The outcome is divine coastal views - on a clear day you should be able to see the South Island - and the feeling of remoteness when perched at the top makes it well worth the effort.

The biggest food and wine festival in New Zealand, Toast Martinborough's has become an annual pilgrimage for many - a chance to taste the new vintage release, eat fantastic food, hear great music and spend a weekend away with friends in rural Wairarapa.

The close proximity of Martinborough's wineries to each other is a huge bonus, allowing festival-goers to wander freely between participating vineyards. But free shuttle buses are on hand, if necessary.

Each vineyard offers culinary delights from Wellington and Wairarapa's finest restaurants, carefully matched to complement the winemaker's selection, along with some of New Zealand's best live entertainment.

Tickets to this event in November are limited to 10,000 and are snapped up within minutes of going on sale. It's also advisable to book accommodation early.

You've heard the phrase "the end of the Earth"; well, if you're in the North Island, Cape Palliser is it! At the southernmost point of the North Island, Cape Palliser attracts visitors looking for a truly off-the-beaten-track experience.

The sealed road seems to cling to the edge of the wild and rugged coastline. Turn south from Featherston or Martinborough and take a scenic, hour-long drive to the isolated settlement.

Cape Palliser is home to one of New Zealand's largest colonies of native fur seals. They lounge about among the rocks close to the road, so keep your eyes peeled as you follow the coastline. Often the same colour as the rocks and stone, seals are very good at camouflage!

Climb the 250 steps of the candy-striped Cape Palliser lighthouse for stunning views. The Cape Palliser road passes through the small settlement of Ngawi where commercial fishermen are based. Ageing bulldozers are used to drag their boats ashore, some with distinct personalities and colours to match; look out for 'Babe' and 'Kermit'.

Close to Lake Ferry, take an adventurous walk to The Pinnacles, an intriguing natural phenomenon of narrow canyons and one of the Lord of the Rings backdrops. Take a two-hour return walk along the streambed or the longer 3 to 4-hour walk along a loop track.

The nearby Lake Ferry Hotel is renowned for its seafood; walk along the beach and watch the surfcasters and seasonal whitebait fishers. You'll be taken aback by the eerie stillness of this Middle-earth setting.

The saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' doesn't apply to Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum. Its funky exterior is not just a faade - Te Papa blows away any misconceptions that museums are full of stuffy, boring displays as soon as you enter its doors.

With five storeys of awesome long-term exhibitions, plus short-term exhibitions changing constantly, there's always something new and exciting to discover; you can even take a guided tour so you don't miss anything. With countless interactive - but more importantly, interesting - displays and activities on a huge range of subjects, Te Papa thoroughly deserves the 'suitable for all ages' tag.

Whether you have an hour to spare or are looking for a half-day or full-day activity, Te Papa will educate, entertain and enthrall. Its waterfront location also means getting here is easy.

Think Tararua, and you may well think of the dairy aisle in the supermarket - sour cream, cottage cheese and creme fraiche. But Tararua is in fact a prominent mountain range near Wellington, smothered in rich rural pastures and blanketed by fresh blue skies.

Tararua Forest Park takes up more than three-quarters of the mountain range, extending from the Pahiatua Track in the north, to the Rimutaka Saddle on State Highway 2 in the south. Established in 1954, it's the largest conservation park managed by DOC in the North Island at 116,535 hectares!

Besides playing a huge part in conserving the indigenous biodiversity of the lower North Island, Tararua Forest Park's sub-alpine shrublands, snow tussocks and forest areas provide wonderful walking tracks for the energetic trekkers among you.

Depending on your enthusiasm, take a short walk, day trip or major tramp through and around the Tararua Forest Park to find out just what it is that makes this area so special - enough to have a brand of dairy foods named after it!

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