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Taupo to Wellington is an incredibly scenic drive! Wellington is a hub of activity and a popular launch point on the North Island, while Taupo is a small and trendy outdoor haven. There are tons of things to do between these two points and a few ways to get there!
The best way to explore these destinations is by taking a road trip. There are actually three different routes to get from Taupo to Wellington. Having traveled all three, I can confidently say each one has lots to offer – it simply depends on what you’re looking for! These routes pass through national parks, charming towns, and incredible wine regions, to name a few.
Whether you’re on a time crunch, looking for an outdoor adventure, or hoping for a leisurely weekend on the road, I’ve got you covered! So keep reading for the best stops along each route from Taupo to Wellington.
Don’t have time to read the full article? There are three possible routes to get from Taupo to Wellington. The direct route follows Lake Taupo where you can take a sailing trip to see Maori carvings, but if you can, I love the scenic drive that stops at the multi-tiered Waipunga Falls and passes by Napier which has fantastic wine tours like this one.
- About the Drive from Taupo to Wellington
- Taupo and Wellington Direct Route Stops
- Taupo and Wellington via Tongariro Stops
- Taupo to Wellington via Napier and Hastings Stops
- 1. Taupo
- 2. Mount Tauhara
- 3. Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve
- 4. Waipunga Falls
- 5. Mohaka Rafting
- 6. Linden Estate Winery
- 7. Napier
- 8. Hastings
- 9. Te Mata Peak
- 10. Pekapeka Regional Park
- 11. Paper Mulberry Cafe
- 12. Central Hawke’s Bay Museum
- 13. Junction Wines
- 14. The WopWops
- 15. Pukaha National Wildlife Centre
- 16. Remutaka Crossing
- 17. Kaitoke Regional Park/Rivendell
- Other Activities to do While You’re in Wellington
- Where to Stay in Wellington
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
About the Drive from Taupo to Wellington
The North Island has some seriously beautiful hidden gems. Giant lakes, active volcanoes, quirky locally-owned shops and restaurants, and my favorite wineries are all in this area. That’s why the drive from Taupo to Wellington is best broken up. This way, you can stop to enjoy these unique destinations.
Taupo is famously known for having the largest lake in New Zealand and is full of outdoor activities. Wellington is the country’s capital and is a large city with a bustling culture and fun things to do. In between these two destinations, there is even more to explore – so much so that we are recommending three different routes to get from Taupo to Wellington!
The most direct route
The first route is the most direct. It is 373 km (231 miles) and will take you about 4 hours and 45 minutes without stops. This route takes you right along Lake Taupo for some gorgeous views and includes stops at classic cafes, nature reserves, and some local museums. This route is drivable year-round as the weather on the North Island is generally milder than on the South Island.
Via Tongariro National Park
However, you’ll probably want to stop because this park is stunning, to say the least. It’s home to three active volcanoes, dried-up lava beds, and a rich Lord of the Rings history. With all of the beautiful national parks in New Zealand, Tongariro is near the top. Plus, it has the badge of honor for being the oldest national park in the country!
If you take the Tongariro National Park Route, I suggest staying at least one night (if not more) in Whakapapa Village, which is closer to the park. The park is open year-round and doesn’t get too hot in the summer. Visiting in the winter is a great time to check out Tongariro, as there are some great ski and snowboarding spots!
Via Napier and Hastings
The third and final route to get from Taupo to Wellington is to hit Napier and Hastings. While this certainly isn’t as direct, it allows you to see some of the most beautiful parts of the North Island.
This route is 476 km (296 miles) and will take about 6.5 hours without stops, so it’s best to take a few days to do this drive so you can truly enjoy all that the area has to offer! I highly recommend staying in Napier for a few nights. Napier is one of my favorite cities in the region and is full of wine, unique architecture, and even more outdoor beauty!
Regardless of which route you choose, you’ll be sure to find something to amaze you. I have traveled all three routes from Taupo to Wellington, and I seriously can’t decide which is the best because they all have great things to offer!
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 because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can browse JUCY’s availability here. Alternatively, you can see all the different rental companies available on Motorhome Republic.
Taupo and Wellington Direct Route Stops
Before you hit the road on this direct route to Wellington, take a few days to explore Taupo! The charming and outdoorsy small town of Taupo is 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.
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! This Lake Taupo sailing experience can be booked online here.
2. Creel Tackle House & Cafe
A great way to kick off your road trip is with breakfast! The Creel Tackle House & Cafe is your typical Kiwi cafe. We’re not just talking about a fruit platter – this is a traditional New Zealand place with amazing hospitality and food!
The cafe is 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Taupo and it will take you about 45 minutes to get there. The name probably gives it away, but the Creel Tackle House & Cafe is both a tackle shop and a cafe! It is actually New Zealand’s oldest tackle shop, which gives it a cool history and an authentic Kiwi vibe.
You know a spot is good if it’s filled with locals. I was instantly greeted by the friendliest people and felt like I got to see a unique side of New Zealand that’s off the tourist track. The coffee is great, which is arguably the most important part, but the food was surprisingly amazing. I had the maple-roasted tomatoes with ricotta, bacon, and sourdough and couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the day – it was that good!
This is one of those hole-in-the-wall stops that you wouldn’t expect to be so tasty, but it is. Plus, it’s a reliable choice since it’s open daily from 7:30 am – 4:30 pm. Honestly, I always recommend stopping in here if you take this route!
3. Tongariro River Trail
The Tongariro River gives you the perfect opportunity to get outside and enjoy this gorgeous part of New Zealand. The Tongariro River Trail is a 14-kilometer (8.7 mile) trail that follows the river and is considered moderately difficult. It’s relatively flat, except for one big hill climb to the lookout, but the views are totally worth it!
It will take just over 3 hours to walk the entire trail. However, there are also shorter loops and lookouts that you can easily access, making this a good stop on your road trip! The most famous part of this trail is the Red Hut Bridge, which is a long suspension bridge that takes you over the river. This bridge can be accessed by one of the smaller loops along the trail and has the best parking in the area!
This is a great, active way to break up your drive, and it’s easily accessible as the trailhead starts just off the highway! Even if you just do a small portion of the trail, it will be worth a stop. I always enjoy getting fresh air and being able to enjoy some time outside during a road trip. Plus, hiking trails let you see more of the area rather than just passing by all this outdoor beauty!
4. MOOMAA Cafe
I always love a quirky cafe (like the one I previously mentioned), but sometimes, I crave a more modern and sleek aesthetic. The MOOMAA Cafe certainly delivers this vibe! It’s not only a cafe but a design store and a place to stay for the night!
The MOOMAA cafe really shines with its coffee and breakfast options. I have stopped here a few times and always enjoy hanging out for a while. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming; you can really tell they care about making good food and making people happy!
If you’ve got an eye for design, you’ll love this place too. It’s got that modern farmhouse look and always seems to be up with the latest trends. It’s simply unique and pretty!
This cafe is located about 2 hours and 40 minutes south of Taupo. It’s open every day from 8:30 am – 2 pm. It’s the perfect place to stop for coffee, a meal, or even just to peruse the designer displays.
Related Read: If you want to explore the northern edge of the North Island, read about this road trip from Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands). It’s short but sweet and full of beautiful coastal views!
5. Nga Manu Nature Reserve
As you work your way closer to Wellington, you’ll get to the Nga Manu Nature Reserve. This is a beautiful outdoor area that is about 50 minutes north of Wellington.
New Zealand is full of one-of-a-kind wildlife, and most of the time, it’s hard to see it out in the wild. Luckily, there are tons of nature reserves around the country, making it easy for you to experience New Zealand’s beauty. These reserves are significant as they work to help endangered species and preserve the native wildlife of the area.
The Nga Manu Nature Reserve is right off of SH 1, making it a quick detour on your road trip from Taupo to Wellington. It’s also not a super touristy attraction, so you really get to interact with the animals as you wander through the aviary, reptile enclosures, and swamp forest.
Kids love this activity, but I honestly had as much fun as the kids running around! It’s an individual experience, and I love that this nature reserve is small and locally owned, so you really get to interact with the animals and friendly staff! The reserve is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, so take a quick stop to check it out!
You can purchase tickets upon arrival. Adults cost $15 NZD, kids ages 5-17 are $8 NZD, and anyone under 5 is free. There are also special deals for families. 1 adult + up to 3 kids costs $25 NZD and 2 adults + up to 3 kids costs $35 NZD.
There are also several add-ons you can purchase along with your ticket. Try feeding eels or get up close and personal with a Native Bird Encounter. Many of these extra experiences require advance booking. You can check out the full list along with prices on the reserve’s website.
Related Read: If you’re after a shorter drive, the road trip from Palmerston North to Wellington also stops at the next few activities on this list!
6. Southward Car Museum
The Southward Car Museum is a fascinating stop, even if you aren’t a car fanatic! Located only about 1 hour north of Wellington, this car museum is an important piece of Kiwi culture and a good glimpse into the history of this area!
The Southward Car Museum originally started as a car collection in 1956. Sir Len Southward had an original Ford Model T and eventually grew his collection to be the largest private car collection in Australasia. He opened it up as a museum in 1977 so everyone could enjoy the vast collection. Today, there are over 450 cars to go check out!
This makes for a fun and unique stop along your drive. Not only are there cars, but historic motorcycles, boats, and airplanes too! You can easily spend an hour or more exploring the expansive collection. There is also a cafe and theater attached, so you might get lucky and catch a show while you’re there!
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Just pop in and buy a ticket! Adult entry is $22.50 NZD, children ages 5-15 cost $5 NZD, and families with 2 adults and up to 3 kids cost $50 NZD.
7. Wellington Tramway Museum
For even more history, you can check out the Wellington Tramway Museum. This is only 10 minutes from the Southward Car Museum and could easily be an afternoon stop before you get to Wellington.
These trams are actually pretty cool to see, as they were used on the Wellington Tramway. Some of the trams date back to the 1920s, and the railway system has been in use since 1878!
If you’re a history lover, this museum will be super impressive. But similar to the car museum above, even if you’re not a huge history or train person, I still think it’s a worthwhile stop! Riding in these historic trams really transports you back in time.
I always find it valuable to learn about the unique history of an area and how that’s impacted the city today! This tramway museum goes into a lot about how Wellington has grown and adapted over the years.
The museum is only open on Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm, and tickets can be purchased upon arrival. It costs $12 NZD per adult, $6 NZD per child (ages 5-14), and is free for those under 5. Families cost $30 NZD for 2 adults and up to 3 kids.
If you happen to hit this area on the weekend, you can easily spend an hour here enjoying old trams!
8. Adrenalin Forest Wellington
This might be the most fun activity to stop and check out on your way from Taupo to Wellington! The Adrenalin Forest Wellington is an outdoor obstacle course located just 22 minutes north of Wellington. It’s an absolute blast – and if I were you, I’d plan about three hours to enjoy it all!
There are a few adrenaline forests around New Zealand, and I have so much fun whenever I get a chance to go. Think of an adult-sized playground with harnesses and challenges that will certainly get your adrenaline pumping. The highest point of the course is 31 meters (101 feet) in the air, but don’t worry, you’ll be strapped in and given plenty of instructions so you can take on these obstacles safely!
The obstacle course lets you move at your own pace with your group, so it’s a great activity if you’re traveling with friends or family! I highly recommend booking a tour in advance because this will ensure your spot and take care of the details ahead of time.
This tour gives you three full hours to explore the challenge course – the ideal amount of time. It costs $48 NZD per adult and $33 NZD per kid (ages 11-17). You must be at least 11 years old and at least 1.4 meters (4 foot, 7 inches) to access the course.
The park is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, so plan your drive accordingly! And when you purchase your ticket, you’ll choose an entry time between 10 am – 2 pm.
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 located 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 Taupo. You can easily catch the ferry to the South Island or spend a few days exploring this remarkable city!
Related Read: To experience the west coast of the North Island, read about the top things to do in New Plymouth.
Taupo and Wellington via Tongariro Stops
1. Whakapapa Village/Tongariro National Park
The highlight of this second route from Taupo to Wellington is Tongariro National Park! This park is strikingly beautiful and wildly rugged, full of incredible hikes, and one of the most visited national parks of New Zealand – maybe even in the whole world! Tongariro was actually the first established national park in the country and the 6th national park in the world. It is an absolute must-see while traveling through this area.
There is truly so much to do in Tongariro National Park that you’ll need a couple of days. I always like to stay in Whakapapa Village. This town is actually located in the northern part of the park and is super accessible to some of the best attractions. It is also an adorable alpine village at the bottom of Mount Ruapehu, so it’s a fun and quaint place to check out too!
This area has some of the best hikes on the North Island. While in Tongariro near Whakapapa Village, you can access the most famous hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Some say this is the best single-day hike in the entire world – it’s that beautiful! It is definitely a strenuous hike and will take 6-9 hours to complete the 19 km (12 mile) trek, but if it fits into your schedule, it’s 100% worth it!
While in the northern part of the park, you can also hit the Taranaki Falls. This is a MUCH easier hike than the alpine crossing trail and still seriously impressive. If you’re looking for a multi-day hike, the Tongariro Circuit is the perfect fit, and if you’re looking for more of a leisure activity, the summer gondolas are a fun and relaxed way to enjoy the park.
The northern part of the park has so much to see, I recommend at least two to three days here!
Transport for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
You should know that Mangatepopo Car Park, the beginning of the trek, has a 4-hour parking limit. This is not enough for anyone to complete the crossing, not to mention get back to the car. You can do a shorter hike, but you’ll miss most of the highlights along the trail.
Unless you have a friend to drop you off and pick you up, you cannot hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing without organizing a shuttle of some capacity. It’s just the way the parking works. So, you will need to rely on a shuttle service regardless.
It is best to park at the end, at the Ketetahi car park, and then take a shuttle to the beginning of the trail at Mangatepopo.
I recommend booking this shuttle service that includes a free secure parking space at the Ketetahi car park. They’ll pick you up at 7 or 8 am and drive you to the start of the trail. When you finish, the trail will lead you right to your car – so you can go at your own pace! The shuttle service costs $60 NZD per person, and it’s great because you can book ahead.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing tours
If you feel more comfortable attempting this hike with support, I recommend the Premium Tongariro Alpine Crossing Guided Group Walk. Planning a road trip is enough work … if you want to add an intense hike, why not offload some of that stress? With this tour, you can just show up, and your guides will do the rest (of the planning, that is – you’ll still have to actually hike, of course!).
On this tour, a qualified guide will provide you with all the equipment (like crampons and ice picks in the winter), footwear, the option of lunch, and some transportation. You just need to get yourself to the meeting point for an 8 am start. From there, you’ll take in all the snow-capped mountains and stunning views. This tour is a steal at $342 NZD, and you can book it online in advance.
If you prefer private tours, go for this Tongariro Alpine Crossing Guided Trek. It’s basically the private version of the previous tour. You can expect more personalized attention from your guides – who are happy to answer all your questions about the area.
You still need to get yourself to the meeting point for an 8 am start. For the $683 NZD price, you get everything the last tour provided, as well as clothing and footwear rentals. This is super convenient if you aren’t traveling with all the necessary attire! You can check availability and book this private experience online.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
2. South Tongariro National Park/Ohakune
Entering from the south of Tongariro National Park gives you access to some awesome outdoor activities. Staying in Ohakune is a great launch point for the Turoa Ski area, Mangawhero Falls, Hapuawhenua Viaduct, and Waitonga Falls!
Visiting in the winter gives you some great skiing options and is a different way to experience the area. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct and Waitonga Falls are simply beautiful outdoor areas for hiking and sightseeing. They are slightly less popular than the trails in the northern section of the park, which I honestly prefer because you see fewer people on the trail!
One of the biggest draws for coming to South Tongariro National Park is to check out some of New Zealand’s most beautiful waterfalls. One of my faves, Mangawhero Falls, was the filming location for Ithilien and Gollum’s Pool. Lord of the Rings fans often flock to this area because of its cinematic significance, and I must say it’s a really pretty area to explore as well!
Ohakune is a cute small town you can enjoy for a few days. It’s an ideal spot as it is central to so many activities! However, there are few accommodation options, so if you are planning on staying here, be sure to book in advance.
3. The Dinosaur House
There are lots of unique attractions along this route, but none is quite like the Dinosaur House. This is New Zealand’s largest dinosaur collection and has skeletons, fossils, and life-size models. This is a great stop if you’re traveling with kids or really into dinosaurs yourself!
It’s located just 10 minutes outside of Ohakune (1 hour 45 minutes from Taupo). It’s a nice distraction from driving and a great stop on a rainy day!
This is a super charming museum and gives you a look at the unique history of this area. The owner is a local guy and passionate about his work, so it really draws you in as you talk to him and understand the large collection. The museum isn’t huge, so you can plan to visit it in an hour or two, and it is super kid-friendly, with plenty of things to touch and interact with. It’s not like most museums!
The Dinosaur House is a great stop as you’re traveling from Taupo to Wellington. It’s open Tuesday to Friday from 10 am – 4 pm and on weekends from 10 am – 5 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the doors. Kids (ages 3-15) cost $10 NZD, and adults cost $12 NZD.
4. Raukawa Falls
Sometimes I love having a great view without having to commit to a whole entire hike. Raukawa Falls is just that! It is located right off of SH 4 and has an overlook platform so you can enjoy the beauty of the falls on a quick pit stop.
Raukawa Falls is 15 meters (about 50 feet) tall and very powerful! This makes for some impressive falls. Over the years, there has been a series of landslides that have changed the waterfall channel, so it is now narrower. Some say it’s less impressive, but I still think it’s a beautiful overlook.
There is a small parking lot right off the road, but no other facilities. It’s three hours north of Wellington, so it is a great spot to stop and stretch your legs before continuing on with your road trip!
After Raukawa Falls, you can continue this road trip with the last few stops we mentioned in Route 1 above. The next stop will be the Nga Manu Nature Reserve.
Taupo to Wellington via Napier and Hastings Stops
The last and final route is definitely the longest, at 6.5 hours without stops. However, you’ll want to make plenty of stops – especially after reading my list below! If you can, I’d break up this trip into several days, with an overnight (or two) in Napier.
Before you head to Wellington, take a few days to enjoy the quaint town of Taupo! This area is an adventurer’s paradise full of outdoor activities and beautiful scenery. There are so many fun things to do in Taupo, from visiting farmers’ markets to skydiving.
To make sure you’re fully relaxed before hitting the road, visit the Spa Thermal Park in Taupo. This is a wonderful location to take a stroll through some spectacular natural scenery or soak in one of New Zealand’s top hot springs at the Otumuheke Stream. The thermal park is located just 5 minutes from the center of town. It’s open from 7 am to 8 pm daily, and it’s totally free!
As I mentioned in the other two routes, one of my favorite stops is Huka Falls. It’s a gorgeous 11-meter (36-foot) waterfall also located just 5 minutes outside of town. 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.
2. Mount Tauhara
If you’re ready to stretch your legs on the drive from Taupo to Wellington, 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
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 Wellington.
4. Waipunga Falls
Waipunga Falls is an amazing viewpoint and super easy to access! I recommend this stop to anyone traveling from Taupo to Wellington because it’s just so beautiful. 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
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. 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! It lasts about 5 hours, and you can arrange a meeting point or pickup near Napier. Just 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 all your gear and photos so you can concentrate on holding onto the paddle!
Tours start at 9:30 am daily and last about 7 hours. 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!
6. Linden Estate Winery
Linden Estate Winery is a beautiful winery, one of the best in New Zealand! It is located in Esk Valley and was affected by a bad cyclone. They rebuilt and are open again, so make sure to drop in!
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!
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. 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.
Napier is a beautiful coastal city, sitting right on Hawke’s Bay. If you can spend a few nights here, I definitely would. 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.
To get an overall feel for the city, 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 wine 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 and costs just $155 NZD, 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.
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.
9. 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 Taupo to Wellington. It provides a new outlook on the area without taking too much time!
10. 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 (or 2 hours 40 minutes from Taupo). 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!
11. Paper Mulberry Cafe
By this point in your drive, it’s probably time to stop for some food! The Paper Mulberry Cafe is a must-visit between Taupo 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.
12. 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 3 hours from Taupo. 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!
13. 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 just over 3 hours from Taupo and about an hour from Napier. It’s also 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 pm – 4:30 pm. And from December to February, they are also open on weekdays from 12 pm – 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!
14. 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 the 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 roughly at the midway point between Taupo and Wellington. It’s open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. Entrance to the park is free, but donations are accepted.
15. 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. The center is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, so it’s easy to fit into your itinerary. 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.
16. 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 an 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!
17. Kaitoke Regional Park/Rivendell
This wouldn’t be a North Island New Zealand list without a couple of Lord of the Rings references! The North Island is covered with iconic stops, and the route from Taupo 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.
Related Read: Lord of the Rings fans should also check out the best LOTR tours in Glenorchy, New Zealand!
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 LOTR 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.
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
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!
The drive between Taupo and Wellington is one of the best ways to explore the North Island! Whichever route you take, there are so many awesome stops along the way, and this area is packed with lush landscapes, wildlife, and activities. This is why I highly encourage you to take your sweet time and enjoy the ride. After all, the journey is half the fun – especially in New Zealand!
If you found this guide useful, check out my other blogs about New Zealand! I’ve traveled all over and even lived here. To give you an idea of what I write about, I’ve linked to some articles below.