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Taking a road trip is one of the best ways to explore the North Island. And the drive from Napier to Wellington is one of my favorite routes, passing through the stunning Hawke’s Bay region. Whether you’re heading north or south, there’s so much to see between these two cities!
You’ll pass by hiking trails and scenic viewpoints that let you see the North Island in all its beauty. There will be opportunities to visit local cafes, small towns, and even a few wineries! I also love that there are some truly unique stops along this route. You’ll see things that you didn’t even know existed (like an eel conservation park)!
On road trips, I always like having a few stops picked out so I can break up the drive and experience new places. Having driven this route before, I’ve found some gems to share. So without further ado, here are the 12 best stops between Napier and Wellington, including helpful info to plan your road trip!
Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.
- About the Drive from Napier to Wellington
- Napier to Wellington FAQs
- Best Stops Between Napier and Wellington
- Other Activities to do While You’re in Wellington
- Where to Stay in Wellington
- Thanks for reading!
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
About the Drive from Napier to Wellington
The drive from Napier to Wellington is a 332-kilometer (206-mile) journey and takes you through some seriously beautiful areas. Without stopping, it’ll take you 4.5 hours – but what fun is that when there are so many things to explore?! Instead, I’d set aside a full day to make stops and truly enjoy the experience.
The drive between these two cities is pretty popular, as many people visit both Wellington and Hawke’s Bay (where Napier is). As such, the road is generally well-maintained. And when I say road, I mean State Highway 2.
You can branch off and take Highway 1. However, I find sticking to Highway 2 the whole way makes things convenient – and all the stops on this list will be off this freeway.
Typically the North Island doesn’t receive as much bad weather as other parts of New Zealand. However, this drive will take you through the Remukata Mountains. In the winter months, driving through this mountain pass can get dangerous, so it’s important to check conditions before departing. If there is a storm or any kind of warning in effect, please take another route!
For the rest of the year, this freeway should be in good condition, making for a fun road trip! And driving through the Remukata Mountains is one of the prettiest drives in all of New Zealand.
Along this route, you’ll see great outdoor sights like Te Mata Peak, an iconic viewpoint overlooking Hawke’s Bay. The drive also passes Pekapeka Regional Park, a conservation wetland with great walking trails. Plus, there are many opportunities to take a break from driving by popping into a cute, 100-year-old cafe or a locally-owned winery.
There is plenty to see as you drive from Napier to Wellington, and it’s a fantastic way to experience the beauty of the North Island! So read on to discover my favorite stops between these cities. And, of course, if you’re renting a car in Wellington – just follow my guide in reverse!
Napier to Wellington FAQs
Best Stops Between Napier and Wellington
Napier is a vibrant and unique little town sitting right on Hawke’s Bay! The town itself is cute and worth a stop for a few days.
It’s well known as the “Art Deco Capital of the World” as the town was rebuilt during the Art Deco heyday of the 1930s. This quirky style makes it fun to simply wander through Napier, enjoying the architecture as well as the cafes, shops, and views!
One of my favorite things to do in Napier is enjoy many outdoor activities (there are a lot on this list) and go wine tasting. This region of New Zealand has incredible wineries – so you know I’m there!
I always love a good wine tour. This way, you can enjoy the wineries and not have to worry about driving home. Plus, the local guides are so good about explaining the area as well as the wine! And luckily, Napier has incredible wine tours.
This tour out of Napier is one of the best wine tours I’ve been on. They pick you up from your hotel and take you to four of the top wineries in the area. The hosts were so welcoming and brought the wines alive with their stories and descriptions.
I had been to some of the wineries before, but this also gave me a chance to try some new ones! This tour made the day even more convenient by including all tasting fees. Our group also got a tasty cheeseboard to keep us energized.
But my highlight of this tour was driving up Te Mata Peak at the end of the day. This is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the area, as you can see the expansive rolling hills to the Pacific Ocean. It truly made a memorable day even more epic.
This tour begins around 11 am and lasts for 4-5 hours. It’s a great way to spend a sunny afternoon, sipping on local wines and soaking up the scenery. Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday for $155 NZD. So to sample some of the best wine in Napier, book your Napier wine tour here!
The cute town of Hastings is just a 20-minute drive south of Napier. It’s often referred to as “the gem of Hawke’s Bay” because of its amazing culinary scene. So if you’re getting hungry on that road trip, this is the place to stop!
But Hastings offers much more than just yummy restaurants. Hastings has beautiful rolling hills that run along the coastline. This makes the area ideal for growing produce, so you’ll see a ton of orchards and wineries around.
The Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market in Hastings is huge, and it happens every Sunday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, rain or shine! If it fits in your schedule, it is a great way to see the local community as they gather to sell crafts, produce, delicious food, and all sorts of fun things. It’s located in the Waikoko Gardens and has plenty of parking.
There are also a ton of great distilleries, breweries, and vineyards around Hastings. But if you’ve already stopped at several wineries, I’d recommend heading to a brewery!
I loved visiting Brave Brewing Co. Not only were their beers great (one of the best milk stouts I’ve ever had), but the food was killer too! The burgers were big and delicious, and they had lots of gluten-free and vegan options.
Plus, it’s located in the heart of Hastings, making it easy to stop in for a pint and then keep exploring! They’re open Wednesday/Thursday/Sunday from 12 pm – 8 pm and Friday/Saturday from 12 pm – 9 pm. So you can even go for lunch and then take a stroll around town.
3. Te Mata Peak
Te Mata Peak is an iconic stop in the Hawkes Bay region. If you check out my photos above, you’ll understand why. From the top of this mountain, you catch the expansive rolling hills below. And on a clear day, you can even see the Pacific Ocean!
Te Mata actually got its name from early European settlers calling it “Sleeping Giant” because that’s just what it looks like!
You can see for miles in all directions from the top! Visiting Te Mata gave me a new appreciation for the area. Its views are incredible, and pictures honestly don’t do it justice. It’s one of those places you have to experience for yourself.
It’s just 25 minutes outside of Hastings (35 minutes from Napier). So if you need a driving break, this is a great way to get outside and see the beautiful landscape.
Plus, you can actually drive to the top, making it accessible for everyone. Be careful on the drive up though! The roads are narrow and oftentimes only fit one car. But if you take it slow, you will be just fine. However, if you’ve rented a motorhome, I definitely wouldn’t drive on this road.
Overall, this is a great quick stop on your road trip from Napier to Wellington. It provides a new outlook on the area without taking too much time!
4. Pekapeka Regional Park
Pekapeka Regional Park is a true hidden gem, and it’s conveniently located right off the highway! It’s only about 30 minutes south of Napier. But what makes it truly special is that it’s one of the few remaining wetlands in Hawke’s Bay.
If you’re feeling antsy in the car, this is the perfect spot to get out and stretch your legs. The park is huge! It covers 98 hectares (242 acres) and has a boardwalk that stretches about 4.5 km (2.8 miles). When I went, I spent about 45 minutes exploring the park and admiring the landscape.
The wetlands are home to a variety of birds and other New Zealand wildlife. It was so fun to see them in their natural habitat! The local community has done a great job of protecting the area and supporting its natural biodiversity with these wetlands being a major restoration project since the 1990s.
If you bring food, the park has some great picnic tables. But if you prefer to get moving, the expansive boardwalk weaves through the wetland. There are no toilets here, and dogs are not allowed. However, it makes a great stop to get some fresh air on a road trip!
Related Read: This country is chock-full of incredible nature. To learn more, read my complete guide to New Zealand’s national parks.
5. Paper Mulberry Cafe
By this point in your drive, it’s probably time to stop for brunch! The Paper Mulberry Cafe is a must-visit between Napier and Wellington. It has great outdoor seating, a historic and cute location, and lots of yummy food!
The Paper Mulberry Cafe sits in what was previously a church. It’s one of the few structures that predate the 1931 earthquake, making it 110 years old! It functioned as a church until 1999 when it opened its doors as the cafe we know and love today.
The cafe has a cozy and quaint vibe and is always one of my favorite stops when I’m in the area! The owners are incredibly friendly and welcoming, giving it that old-fashioned charm and service. There is even a resident cat, Mulberry, that loves to say hello to visitors.
This is a great stop for a cup of coffee on the road, especially since it’s located right off the highway. But if you have time to grab brunch, you won’t be disappointed. It’s open Monday through Friday from 7 am to 3 pm and from 8 am to 3 pm on the weekends.
6. Central Hawke’s Bay Museum
To learn the history of this area, stop by the Central Hawke’s Bay Museum! You’ll get a window into how this area developed and what life was like back in the 1800s.
This museum is located in Waipawa, about 45 minutes south of Napier. It’s super convenient since it’s right off Highway 2. Plus, it isn’t a huge museum and won’t take very long to visit, making it an easy addition to your road trip.
The museum focuses on the history of Waipawa and the Central Hawke’s Bay area from the early 1800s. The small museum is jammed with old photographs of the town, as well as plenty of relics and artifacts. It really feels like stepping into the past. When I went, they even had a replica of an early settler’s cottage, which was super fascinating to wander through!
Even if you’re not a huge museum person, I would still recommend visiting this museum. It gives you a neat perspective of the area you’re driving through. The museum is open from 10 am to 4 pm every day, and it’s free to enter!
7. Junction Wines
Junction Wines is an absolute must for wine enthusiasts. This winery is a beautiful representation of New Zealand’s culture. The grapes are hand-harvested, and the owner is a former All Blacks rugby player.
It’s located about an hour south of Napier and is the last winery on the Hawke’s Bay wine trail. Honestly, I recommend this stop to everyone traveling through the area!
I’ve visited Junction Wines a handful of times and am always impressed with their wines. The vibe is casual and welcoming, as it is run by a father-son duo and has more of a family-owned feel. Overall, I love that this winery is a little different than the bigger ones in the area!
On one of my summer visits, I sat under a big shady tree and enjoyed a nice Pinot Noir. They have a great outdoor area here, so you can take full advantage of some fresh air. You can also check out the rugby room that is full of memorabilia from the owner John’s glory days!
You can visit the Cellar Door year-round. Tastings are free, and you can even bring your own picnic to enjoy alongside some wine! From November to March, they’re open on weekends from 12-4:30 pm. And from December to February, they are also open on weekdays from 12-4:30 pm.
In the winter, they’re only open upon request. But regardless of when you go, you should definitely call them at (+64) 6-855-8321 or book a visit online to make sure they’ll be open! It is a smaller farm, after all, and the family allows for some flexibility.
Junction Wines is an excellent way to enjoy nature, wine, and even a picnic before getting back on the road. Make sure to buy a bottle of wine or two before you go!
Related Read: For those also visiting the South Island, read about the best wine tours Queenstown has to offer!
8. The WopWops
You really haven’t experienced New Zealand until you’ve seen the eels here. I know it sounds a little weird – but this is a super fun way to experience some of New Zealand’s unique wildlife. So if you want to spice up that drive, stop at the WopWops wetland park. It’s full of these creatures!
The WopWops stream is home to the endangered longfin eels, and trust me; the water is full of them! This is a good thing because these native animals are essential to the ecosystem. So in 2013, they established this wetland park to help educate people about conservation efforts. It has grown to wetland conservation as a whole, but people love coming just to visit the eels!
The park has a great boardwalk, picnic tables, and grassy areas, making it a comfortable place to stop. Kids especially love visiting the WopWops. They are always so excited to see the eels, and there is plenty of room for them to run around. You can actually feed the eels and pick up “eel food” from the New Zealand Natural Clothing shop nearby when it’s open. Just don’t feed the eels bread as it’s not good for them!
This wetland park is located about 1 hour and 20 minutes south of Napier. It’s open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. Entrance to the park is free, but donations are accepted.
9. Pukaha National Wildlife Centre
As you approach Wellington, you’ll hit one of my favorite stops. Pukaha National Wildlife Centre is a bird, reptile, and aquatic animal sanctuary that lets you see some truly unique animals. If you love animals (like me!), you won’t want to miss this!
The wildlife center is located an hour and 50 minutes from Wellington. It has an expansive forest that is home to many endangered animals. The main draw is the birds, such as Kahurangi the kōkako, who was rescued as a chick back in 2005 and lives here and loves visitors. And, of course, you’ll have a chance to witness the classic Kiwi!
You can spend a few hours exploring the forest’s trails on your own. But if you want the full low-down on the birds, you can book a guided tour.
I took a tour and found it so fascinating! The guides were able to spot birds in trees that I would have totally missed. They also gave detailed information about the species and pointed out which were endangered. I learned so much, and it made me enjoy this place even more.
A one-hour guided tour costs $50 NZD per adult, $27.50 NZD per child, and $160 NZD per family (up to 6 people). Tours start at 10 am and 2 pm daily, and the price covers admission fees. If you want to explore on your own, admission costs $24 NZD per adult, $9 NZD per child (ages 5-14), and $65 NZD per family (up to 6).
Even if you don’t have time to explore the forest, I still recommend getting a coffee at the Kaka Cafe! The cafe overlooks the forest, so you can sit and enjoy all the sounds of the birds and even catch a glimpse of the takahē (the island’s rarest bird!). It is a cool way to experience the animals even if you’re in a time crunch.
10. Remutaka Crossing
The Remutaka Crossing is a magnificent part of your drive. It’s the portion of the highway that passes over the Remukata Mountains and is one of those areas that leaves you wondering, “How is this place even real?”
This is also the spot to find some adventure! The Te Ara Tirohanga (Remutaka Trig) Track is an excellent hiking route that isn’t very long. So even if you don’t have much time, you can still enjoy hiking in New Zealand. It’s the perfect way to get your heart rate up on a long day of driving.
This out-and-back hike is 1.7 km (1.1 miles) but relatively steep. The views at the top make it all worth it as you spot Lake Wairarapa and the Aorangi Mountains in the distance. This area is one of the most beautiful parts of the North Island, in my opinion! You can expect this hike to take about 1 hour.
If hiking isn’t on your bucket list, you can still enjoy the drive as you wind through the mountain pass. However, this is the part of the drive that can get unsafe in bad weather conditions. Be sure to check the road updates before you drive in the winter!
11. Kaitoke Regional Park/Rivendell
This wouldn’t be a North Island New Zealand list without at least one Lord of the Rings reference! The North Island is covered with iconic stops, and the route from Napier to Wellington is no exception. Here, you will find Kaitoke Regional Park, which is home to Rivendell from the movie trilogy.
The actual set for Rivendell isn’t super impressive, but it is very easy to access from the parking lot. So if you’re here, you may as well check it out! And luckily, Kaitoke Regional Park has lots of other great activities to do!
It is only 45 minutes north of Wellington and has a beautiful river that stretches through the park. This is a great place to swim and kayak and enjoy a warm summer day. There are also plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, making this a perfect escape from the city.
You can even camp in Kaitoke Regional Park, and you don’t even have to book a spot! If you’re traveling by campervan, this is a great place to spend the night. There are six powered sites that cost $16 NZD a night per adult and $8 NZD per child (ages 5-14).
For an unpowered site, just set up camp wherever you please within the designated area. It costs $8 NZD per adult and $4 NZD per child (ages 5-14). Everyone has access to drinking water, covered seating, and electric BBQs.
Finally, you’ll make it to the fabulous city of Wellington! This destination is not only the capital of New Zealand, but it is also the most underrated city in the country. The city sits right on the water and is bursting with lush greenery amongst the buildings.
Wellington is charming, quirky, and full of fun things to do. It also makes a great base for many day trips. However, it’s not always a top destination for travelers. I kinda love that because it doesn’t feel overly touristy, and you can get more of a local feel.
There are a lot of wonderful outdoor places to explore in the city, such as Zealandia (one of the first fully fenced eco-sanctuaries in the world!). It’s right in the middle of the city with a vast array of native wildlife and plants. Honestly, the way this eco-sanctuary works to preserve New Zealand’s natural habitat is pretty impressive!
To really understand how Zealandia works, I recommend taking this small-group tour. The expert guide will lead you through the park, teaching you all about the animals and plants. They do a great job of spotting harder-to-find species. Plus, they’ll educate you on all the conservation efforts in place.
Tours last about two hours and are offered daily at 10 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. This tour costs $60 NZD per adult and $30 NZD per child (ages 5-17). So to learn as much as possible in the park, book your tour online here! Of course, you can always explore the park on your own! Admission costs $24 NZD per adult, $10 NZD per child (ages 5-17), and $53 NZD per family (two adults and up to three kids).
Wellington is also known as the craft beer capital of the country, as there are more than 20 breweries in the city! I always say the best way to get to know a city is through food and drink, so this will really give you a chance to understand Wellington!
One of my favorites is the Garage Project. They have quirky beer styles and even quirky art, which is a big draw for the locals! They also offer boozy seltzers and non-alcoholic beer. There are a few locations around Wellington, making it easy to stop in for a pint.
Wellington is a great ending point for your road trip from Napier. You can easily catch the ferry to the South Island or spend a few days exploring this remarkable city!
Related Read: If you want to experience the west coast of the North Island, read about the top things to do in New Plymouth.
Other Activities to do While You’re in Wellington
If you’re ending your road trip in Wellington, you’re in luck! There are a ton of other things to do and see in NZ’s capital city (and yes, Wellington is the capital, not Auckland as many assume). Here are a few more things to add to your to-do list:
- Mount Victoria Lookout – One of the best views of Wellington can be found atop the Mount Victoria Lookout. Here, you will be treated to a 360-degree view of the city’s eastern beaches, Hutt Valley, and the Miramar Peninsula. You can hike here, drive, or take the bus. I recommend visiting for sunset!
- Te Papa Museum – This is my favorite museum in all of NZ (a big statement, I know!). Most of the museum is free to visit with a recommended donation. One of the best ways to see Te Papa is on this particular tour which gives you the chance to explore the museum 30 minutes before it opens its doors to the public.
- Weta Workshop – Movie buffs will love this guided tour of the famed Weta Workshop, one of the best special effects and prop companies in the world. In fact, it was founded by none other than Sir Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies. So, as you can imagine, it’s a must-visit for Lord of the Rings fans.
- Explore Cuba Street – Easily the most popular street in Wellington, Cuba Street is known for its quirky and fun atmosphere. Filled with colorful cafes (serving the best coffee in Wellington), vintage clothing stores, and casual restaurants – many with great outdoor seating areas – visiting Cuba Street is a not-to-be-missed experience in Wellington.
If you want to get out of the city, there are plenty of fun day trips from Wellington that you should also check out!
Where to Stay in Wellington
Once you arrive in Wellington, you’ll need a place to recoup. Luckily in this city, there are a ton of great places to stay. So if you need help narrowing down your options, keep reading. I’ve highlighted my favorite accommodations for each budget.
Luxury – $$$
If you’re a luxury traveler, then check out the Doubletree By Hilton Wellington. I stayed here once on a business trip/getaway. The location is a little further from the center of the city, but I enjoyed the walk. Plus, the rooms here are so stylish and beautiful, with a super comfy bed and a luxurious rain shower.
You can expect to pay closer to $400 NZD per night, but the best deals I’ve found are on Booking.com.
Mid-range – $$
Those on a medium budget will love Ramada by Wyndham. You get great value for money here since it has a good location, a trusted hotel name, modern rooms, a fitness center, and parking (huge bonus!). The center of town is just a short walk away, and there are laundry services if you’ve been on the road for a while! Prices per night are roughly $150-300 NZD.
To snag this awesome deal, check availability and book the Ramada by Wyndham online here.
Budget – $
My top choice in the budget category is The Marion Hostel. It’s right in the heart of the city, just steps from Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants and bars and a 5-minute walk to Courtney Place’s nightlife. They provide towels and toiletries and access to a kitchen, lounge, and rooftop terrace. They have big dorm rooms starting at $44 NZD and private accomodations starting around $134 NZD for 2 people. You can book this awesome boutique hostel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.
Another option for budget travelers is The Cambridge Hotel and Backpackers. I sometimes stay here if I’m driving to other North Island destinations since it’s perfect for a stopover. For starters, it’s one of the cheapest places in Wellington and has dorm beds for around $35 NZD and private rooms starting at $113 NZD. It’s also located centrally and easy to book on Booking.com.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
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Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
The drive from Napier to Wellington is one of my top road trips in the country. Not only do you see the beauty of Hawke’s Bay, but you also get to experience one of my favorite cities, Wellington. And since there are so many awesome stops in between, I suggest taking your sweet time on this drive.
If you found this guide useful, read my other blogs about New Zealand. I’ve traveled this country extensively and even lived here. As such, I’ve learned a lot and love helping other travelers. So to learn more, check out one of my articles below.