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7 BEST Stops on the Drive from Taupo to Napier

7 BEST Stops on the Drive from Taupo to Napier

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The drive from Taupo to Napier is a straight shot, taking you from one beautiful body of water to another. Taupo sits right on Lake Taupo, the largest lake in the country, and this drive takes you to Napier, which sits on Hawke’s Bay, another one of the incredible sights in New Zealand

The distance between Taupo and Napier isn’t very far (144 kilometers/89 miles to be exact) so you could easily do this in just a couple of hours. But, there are so many things to do between these towns, that I recommend not rushing through! This is your chance to experience scenic overlooks, waterfalls, wineries, and some of my favorite places to visit on New Zealand’s North Island

With road trips across NZ, I always find the fun is in the journey, not just the destination! So I have created your ultimate road trip guide. Here, you’ll find the 7 best stops from Taupo to Napier, so you can fully enjoy this beautiful part of New Zealand! 

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 Taupo to Napier  

Bailey in her car while driving between Taupo and Napier
My little car takes me everywhere!

I love that the drive from Taupo to Napier along State Highway 5 is relatively short, so even with stops you can take on this mini road trip in one day. Taupo is a great starting point, as this city is famous for its beautiful lake and all the activities that surround it. This lake is actually so large that it has the same surface area as the entire country of Singapore! 

You can easily spend a few days exploring all the things to do in Taupo and the surrounding areas. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise and perfect for a romantic getaway. The lake is a great spot to do some tours in Taupo like jet boating or taking a scenic boat ride. The Maori rock carvings are one of the most unique sights in the country and are only accessible by boat. Not only can you enjoy the historic (and impressive) rock art, but taking a sailing tour like this one also gives you an excuse to get out on the water. 

After Taupo, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors. You can take on a hike at Mount Tauhara or test your skills while rafting the Mohaka River. But don’t worry, there’s a great balance of adventure and leisure on this road trip.

Finally, you’ll make it to Napier! Napier is a beautiful small town right on Hawke’s Bay. This town has everything you could want – beautiful architecture, a charming downtown, good restaurants, and incredible views! You’ll want to spend a few days in this town to truly take in some of the best things to do in New Zealand.

Taupo to Napier FAQs

Lush green highway between Taupo and Rotorua
Lush green scenery surrounding the highway near Taupo

Best Stops Between Taupo to Napier

1. Taupo 

Bailey at Huka Falls in Taupo New Zealand
Huka Falls!
Bungy jumping in Taupo, NZ
Will you dare to take the plunge?

Before you hit the road, taking a few days to explore Taupo is a must! Taupo is a charming and outdoorsy small town, centrally located on the North Island. Its large lake provides plenty of opportunities for water sports and boat rides. It also has some of the best winter activities in New Zealand with close proximity to some of the top places to ski.

While in Taupo, a few iconic outdoor sights are a must-see. Huka Falls is one of the prettiest waterfalls in New Zealand (and that’s saying something because there are a lot) and is only about five minutes outside of town. This 11-meter (36-foot) waterfall is a gorgeous shade of blue and appears to be foamy, which is why it gets the name “Huka” in Maori. It is a great quick stop because there really isn’t any hiking, but there are multiple lookout points and a bridge that lets you get close to the falls. 

If you’re looking for a more difficult hike, check out the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail. It is a 19-km (12-mile) hike in Tongariro National Park full of steep uphill climbs that take you along active volcanoes and its unique landscape. Lord of the Rings fans will recognize this area as Mordor and you can even walk right past Mount Doom! It’s definitely hard but totally worth it.

However, my favorite thing to do in Taupo is see the Maori Rock Carvings. These intricate carvings are on cliffs that surround Lake Taupo and were created in the 1970s by a master carver. After finishing a decade of training by Maori elders, he created this expansive set of carvings to commemorate his experience and share the culture. You can only reach these carvings by boat, and the easiest way to do so is by booking a tour. 

This 2.5-hour sailing trip takes you right next to the impressive rock art and teaches you about the history of the carvings, as well as the area! It is a great way to get on Lake Taupo and experience this unique part of New Zealand culture. I also love that it’s reasonably priced at $55 NZD and also includes complimentary wine! 

Related Read: If you need a ride for this road trip, make sure to check out my tips on renting a car in New Zealand!

2. Mount Tauhara

Mount Tauhara view in Taupo, New Zealand
Not a bad view!

If you’re ready to stretch your legs on the drive from Taupo to Napier, well have I got the hike for you! The trek up Mount Tauhara is one of the most adventurous and exciting hikes on the North Island. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Lake Taupo. And while I’ll warn you that it’s steep in spots, it’s still a really doable hike, even if hiking isn’t normally your thing.

The Mount Tauhara trail is about 6.5 km (4 miles) round-trip. You’ll start from a small parking lot and then the first few minutes of the hike are across private farmland (watch out for cows!) before entering the bush.

While there aren’t any markers along the path, it’s a pretty obvious trail to follow. When the trail splits at points, you can choose either path – they all connect to the main trail again.

Once you reach the summit, bask in the view! This is especially nice during sunrise or sunset, but the landscape unfolding in front of you is impressive at any time of day.

3. Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve

Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve sign near Taupo, New Zealand
It’s a short but beautiful walk!
Bailey walks along Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve between Taupo and Napier
Keep an eye out for birds!

Your next stop is just a quick one, but well worth it – especially for history buffs like me! The Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve is only 16 minutes out of Taupo but gives you a chance to easily get into nature and explore the native bush, as well as learn about the unique natural history. 

There are two walking tracks you can take, depending on how long you want to spend here! The 1.5 km (1 mile) track takes you through the podocarp forest, which is a rare type of forest for this area as most of it was destroyed in the volcanic eruption in 186 AD. There is also a cemetery from a notable battle in 1869. So there is a lot of unique history along this track!

The second track is 3 kilometers (2 miles) and is a regenerating forest. It looks quite different from the first track, as its history is more recent and the forest is still growing back after a brief but highly impactful township settlement in this area. You will see relics and abandoned structures, giving you a good look into the past. 

Both of these tracks are quite fascinating to explore! They are also easy to access, with parking on both sides of the road. This is a great way to break up the drive from Taupo to Napier. 

4. Waipunga Falls 

Waipunga Falls NZ
This is a hidden gem!
Bailey overlooking Waipunga Falls 
It’s one of the best in NZ!

Waipunga Falls is an amazing viewpoint and super easy to access! I recommend this stop to anyone traveling from Taupo to Napier, as it is just about at the halfway point. Located about 40 minutes from Taupo, this multi-tiered waterfall stands at an impressive 40 meters (131 feet). There is no hiking required and you can actually see the waterfall from the parking lot! But, walking up to the viewpoints will offer some truly incredible views.

I find it unique that the viewpoints are at the top of the waterfall, so you can look down at it and really understand the height of the falls. It’s also surrounded by stunning landscapes, and the waterfall just stands out among the trees. It’s quite an impressive stop!

To get to the falls, you’ll pull off the highway to the access road and drive for two minutes. You’ll probably stay here for 10 minutes, but it’s one of my favorite quick stops as it’s beautiful, centrally located, and easy to get to.

5. Mohaka Rafting 

Mohaka Rafting
Photo credit: Mohaka Rafting

If you’re looking for some adventure on your trip, rafting down the Mohaka River is my pick! Whitewater rafting in New Zealand not only gives you an adrenaline rush but also provides a unique way to experience the outdoors and learn about the area you’re exploring.

If you’ve never rafted before or are road-tripping as a family, this Scenic Raft Trip on Mohaka River is great for beginners and kids. You’ll float down the easier Grade 2 rapids of the river while admiring wildlife and forests around you. The tour guides fill you in on local history dating back 80 million years and you can also jump in and swim at some of the calmer spots. The entire tour is $205 NZD per person and includes lunch and photos! Make sure you book online in advance for this popular tour.

For adrenaline junkies and anyone wanting to see the wilder side of Mohaka River, this Grade 3 Rafting Tour is full of adventure! It has more challenging rapids, opportunities to do some cliff jumping, and a visit to a historic gold mine. The entire experience is $199 NZD and includes photos so you can concentrate on holding onto the paddle! You can book a spot on this epic rafting tour here.

Related Read: For more adventurous activities, check out the best places to go ziplining in New Zealand!

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

6. Linden Estate Winery 

Bailey sits down in a bean bag while sipping wine in Napier, NZ
If you need me, I’ll be right here!

Linden Estate Winery is a beautiful winery, one of the best in New Zealand! It is located in Esk Valley (where Zeelandt Brewing is located) so it too was affected by the cyclone. While they are rebuilding, there are still many places to try their wine!

Linden Estates prides itself on letting natural flavors work together during the winemaking process to create a great glass of wine. You can tell they are distinctly different by just tasting their delicious wines. I was truly impressed by the quality of their wine, and loved the culture of their business!

While in the rebuild process, Linden Estate is holding pop-up events, bringing the cellar door to you! You can also buy their wines throughout the North Island or even order them online, which is a great way to support this locally-owned business.

Once they are up and running again, I highly suggest stopping by the vineyard. I’m a huge fan of their cellar door in the summer. I just grab a seat (or bean bag!) outside, soak up the sunshine, and sip on a glass of wine while taking in the valley scenery. I feel like the beautiful scenery makes the wine taste that much better!

This winery is only a 14-minute drive away from Napier so if you’re staying in Napier, you can book an Uber or taxi or it’s also a popular spot to bike to from town! Or you can have a wine tasting completely planned for you on one of the popular wine tours from Napier that often stop here.

Related Read: Another fun drive I love in this area is the road trip from Taupo to Rotorua along the Thermal Explorer Highway!

7. Napier 

Two pasta dishes ta Ilona Pasta in Napier, NZ
The fresh pasta at Ilona Pasta is a must-try!
Bailey enjoys a glass of wine at Church Road winery in Napier, NZ
Sunshine and wine!

Finally, you’ve reached your destination! Napier is a beautiful coastal city, sitting right on Hawke’s Bay.

With all the Art Deco buildings around, every time I’m here I almost feel like I’m living in the Great Gatsby while walking around town! Napier was devasted by an earthquake in 1931 and when buildings were rebuilt, many of them were constructed in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time. I recommend joining this art, wine, and beer tour where you’re paired up with a local history expert to learn about Napier and enjoy some delicious wine and beer along the way!

I also love simply walking around this town to explore the shops, cafes, and abundant restaurant scene. Ilona Pasta is one of my favs and I’m still thinking about the amazing lamb ragu I had last time I was here!

Napier is also close to one of the best wine regions in New Zealand, so visiting at least one winery is a must! You can visit some of the popular wineries in the area on your own, such as Craggy Range Winery, or you can make it easier on yourself and book a tour. 

Wine-tasting tours in Napier are great because they include transportation, so you can enjoy your tastings and not have to worry about driving. This half-day tour will take you to four different wineries and includes your tasting fees and a local guide. It finishes off the day by taking you to a scenic overlook of Te Mata Peak. It is an ideal way to experience great wineries in the area, as well as the beautiful landscape. It’s a small-group tour, so make sure to reserve your spot so you don’t miss out!

Another thing that you can only do in Napier is see the world’s largest gannet colony! Cape Kidnappers is home to about 25,000 of these birds in the protected Te Kauwae-a-Maui Gannet Reserve. I love seeing these birds in their natural habitat, and it’s amazing to see so many together! This is a truly unique activity in NZ that you can do when you are in Napier. 

Related Read: If you’re itching to hit the road again, the drive from Napier to Wellington is another one of my favs. There are lots of great stops and then you can always catch the ferry to the South Island from Wellington to keep exploring!

Where to Stay in Napier

the outside of the Crown Hotel in the evening with an old car parked in front
This is one of the best places to stay in Napier! Photo Credit: The Crown Hotel

If you’re planning on taking a road trip from Taupo to Napier I recommend staying a few nights. That way you take in the local sights, join a Napier wine tour (or two) and explore before hitting the road again. Napier really is the ideal base to enjoy the coast.

There are several great places to stay in Napier. To narrow it down, I’ve chosen a few of my favorites with options for each price range.

The Crown Hotel – $$$

For the ultimate comfort, go for The Crown Hotel. This hotel is in the heart of Ahuriri, overlooking the ocean and within walking distance to Perfume Point. Milk & Honey restaurant is on the ground floor and you also have access to a gym, free private parking, and laundry facilities. If you’re traveling with a baby, they automatically give you a complimentary baby care package.

Starting at $290 NZD, rooms are clean and classy, with underfloor heating and great bathtubs. For a luxurious stay in Ahuriri, check availability and book The Crown Hotel online here!

Art Deco Masonic Hotel – $$

To truly absorb Napier’s Art Deco vibes, stay at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel! This place is stylish from its outdoor architecture to its interior design. The rooms are moderately sized, but come with super comfy beds and most have access to a rooftop with ocean views. On-site, you’ll find two bars and restaurants and exceptionally helpful staff.

The hotel is a 2-minute walk to Marine Parade and room rates begin at $219 NZD. For a stylish stay in Napier, book the Art Deco Masonic Hotel online here!

Toad Hall Accommodation – $

Toad Hall Accommodation is my top budget-friendly choice in Napier. It’s within walking distance of sights along the Marine Parade and Napier Beach. It has excellent shared facilities including a kitchen, BBQ, rooftop terrace, social lounge, and game room. If you’re traveling solo and want to meet others, or simply save some money, this is the place to stay.

Room prices start at only $90 NZD. For the best budget accommodations in Napier, check availability and book your stay online here!

Other Activities to do While You’re in Napier

Bailey poses for a photo with views of the coast on Marine Parade in Napier
Enjoy those coastal views!
Art Déco Buildings in Napier, NZ
There’s a reason it’s the Art Deco capital of the world!

With so much to do in Napier, I hope you stay a few days before hitting the road again. While you’re here, these are a few more of my favorite activities:

  • Marine Parade – This seafront walkway is one of Napier’s iconic spots! Marine Parade has the best coastal views of the Pacific Ocean and Mahia Peninsula. I also love popping into a couple of boutique shops for a little retail therapy and Lick This for ice cream!
  • Discover Napier’s history – To delve into Napier’s past and its famous Art Deco-style building on your own time, this Napier Earthquake Self-Guided Tour is my pick. You’ll learn about New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster and see how the town has rebuilt. History buffs will also want to explore Napier Prison – the oldest prison in the country – but don’t worry it’s a museum now!
  • Visit Te Mata Peak – This iconic mountain in the Napier area is a must-see. Depending on your adventure level, you can access Te Mata by driving, walking, or cycling! Driving to the peak is the easiest option and you get incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges. I also like the Giant Circuit hike which is a moderate hike around the perimeter that takes about two hours.
  • Rent a bike – One of the best ways to explore Napier is by bicycle! Rent a bike in town at Napier City Bike Hire to explore the trails. My favorite track is the Water Ride which leaves from the lighthouse at Perfume Point and has gorgeous ocean views. This Cape Coast self-guided wine and bike tour is a fun outing by bike as you pedal to wineries and then has a shuttle to bring you back, so you don’t have to ride your bike home! 
  • Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market – Every Sunday morning, rain or shine, you can catch the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market. It’s one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in all of New Zealand! So naturally there are tons of vendors selling foods, crafts, and all sorts of goodies.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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.

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!

To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.

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!

Bailey at The Bathhouse in Queenstown, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

The drive from Taupo to Napier is an easy drive between two amazing destinations! Both places are worth spending a few days and the trip between them has some of my favorite stops on the North Island. Whether you plan to take in all the stops on this guide or just a few, I hope you have fun on this road trip!

If you need more ideas on great drives through New Zealand, check out my other road trip blogs. I also have lots of guides on the North Island to help you narrow down where to go and what to see. Safe travels!

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