Wellington to Taupo Round Trip – 5 Day Itinerary

Driving Tour

Great news – you’ve got some holidays! Time to take a 5-day Wellington to Taupo round trip. With an itinerary of wine sampling, swimming, New Zealand’s longest river, skydiving, chasing waterfalls and mountains and National Park hikes, there’s a lot to fit in and it will be awesome! We have included as much as we can into this itinerary so you can pick and choose and make it your own – some things you may know about and others are hopefully a bit more off the beaten track.

Now, of course, you can totally book a direct flight from Wellington airport to Taupo, but where is the adventure in that? You could miss out on a hidden gem and incredible nature in between. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with the whole family and see some stunning views. So, first thing’s first, ensure you have a car to complete a self-drive trip. Make sure you check out the great deals on hire cars in Wellington – we’re not one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies for no reason!

Anyway, enough of an intro – we need to get you on your way. Let’s GO!


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  2. Trip itinerary

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1Wellington to Napier (315kms – 4 hours 3 mins)

Well, if you’ve just picked up your shiny new GO Rentals hire car, we know you will be itching to get on the road and the first day is going to be a biggie. Napier is one of the most famous wine regions in New Zealand and, in our opinion, the world. Okay, we may be biased but we can assure you it is worth the 315km trip with some incredible stops along the way:

Wellington to Napier Spotify Playlist

Martinborough (80.1kms – 1 hour 10 mins from Wellington)

Although there are quicker drives to Napier, we always love to take this slight detour so we can stop off in Martinborough for a great feed and to sample some pretty awesome wines. New Zealand has such a diverse wine culture in the different regions and the lower North Island can sometimes slip under the radar. Martinborough, however, has become the cuisine capital of the lower North Island with over 30 local vineyards and local restaurants stocking local, super fresh produce. We told you, worth the detour.

Stonehenge Aotearoa, Carterton (28.7kms – 23 mins from Martinborough)

Stonehenge Aotearoa

Continuing north from Martinborough, a great pit stop is at Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to “New Zealand Stonehenge” Aotearoa to see a full-scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.

Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (40.9km – 30 mins)

This is a great little stop off as you make your way towards Napier. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other experiences to keep you and the kids entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.

Hastings (179kms – 2 hours 8 mins)

Devastated by a huge earthquake hitting New Zealand in 1931, Hastings was rebuilt using architectural styles of the time which has led to a very art deco look and feel to the place. If you’ve not managed to grab a bite to eat since you left Wellington this morning, Hastings is a great stop-off point for a late lunch. With restaurants serving local produce, you’re in for more culinary delights on your first day of this road trip. Couple this with some great local vineyards and it may be tricky to drag yourself away from Hastings to your final destination of Napier (obviously just the soft drinks for the driver!).

Napier is just a short drive away where you can recharge your batteries, have a wander and get ready for the next full day of exploring.

2Base yourself in Napier (20.8kms – 23 mins)

The first overnight stop on the Wellington to Taupo trip is an amazing experience. As with Hastings, Napier was also hit by the devastating earthquake in 1931, registering a massive 7.9 on the Richter Scale. What resulted was some fantastic building work, much of which was completed within 2 years and much of it in an art deco style. Because of this, Napier feels like a step back in time (even more so than the rest of NZ!) with its art deco facades and fountains so take your own step back, slow it all down and spend the day doing exactly what you want to do – you’ve deserved it.

Here are some of our top tips:

Wine tourHawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions along with Marlborough so it would be rude not to sample at least a couple of the local drops. If you’re feeling energetic, why not hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards – you’ll have truly earned your vino then!

Hawke’s Bay Complete Guide

Te Mata Peak

Image from the top of Te Mata Peak in NapierGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Offering some superb panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, whether you bike, hike or ride to the summit of Te Mata, it’s well worth the trip. For the more adventurous, you can even choose to paraglide back down to sea level.

Coastal walksthe Hawkes Bay coastline provides some of the best walking tracks in the North Island which you can easily hop on to and experience the spectacular views.

Arataki Honey Visitors Centre you may or may not have heard of Manuka honey – something that New Zealand is very famous for. Fabled for its medicinal properties, you can find out all about the bees that help to produce this delicious honey and pick up a pot to take with you on the rest of your travels.

Art Deco Guided Walksif you’re not up on your art deco but you want to know more about this fantastic architectural period, a guided walk is the perfect way to learn about the history of the buildings in and around Napier whilst taking a lovely stroll around the town.

3Napier to Taupo (142kms – 1 hour 47 mins)

After a full-on day in Napier, it’s time to hit the road again. For the early birds, we can highly recommend a morning jaunt up Te Mata summit to catch the sunrise – we managed it once and it was truly spectacular!

The journey up State Highway 5 to Taupo passes through some rugged landscapes, although not much else in terms of stop offs, so pack up some treats for the road trip before you leave Napier. Taupo is another one of New Zealand’s iconic stopover destinations and is extremely popular with tourists. A lot of people come for the adventure activities like skydiving, but there is plenty more to this lakeside town.


Lake Taupo SkydiveAlthough this is a guide to off-the-beaten-track activities on your way from Wellington to Taupo; it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing skydiving over Lake Taupo. As you’ll be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and skydiving opportunities are abundant all over the country. Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.

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Floatplane Scenic Flights

GO Play Discount Card

Golf challenge

For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole-in-one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!

Huka Falls

Huka Falls, Taupo

This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. It’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap that is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently, 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) –we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?

The river itself is New Zealand’s longest river and is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in water activities like kayaking, swimming and fishing. You can even ride a jet-speed boat right into the splash of the waterfall and kids can jump onboard too!

Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.

Lake taupo

You made it from Wellington to Taupo and it was worth the journey! Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and you can get stuck into kayaking, fishing, swimming or a leisurely boat cruise. Not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu in the distance (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes with geothermal activity.

The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.

4Taupo to Wellington (370kms – 4 hours 34 mins)

Just as your 5-day Wellington to Taupo adventure started with a big day of driving, the penultimate day will also be a biggie to complete the round trip. But, there are lots of stops on the way back down South and some real hidden gems to be unearthed today. Your day starts with a scenic trip around the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake, taking you out towards the Tongariro National Park. If you are already familiar with Wellington and don’t need to spend the last day of your trip exploring New Zealand’s capital, a stop-off in the National Park to immerse yourself in nature is a great way to spend day 4 of this trip.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing (72.8kms – 57 mins from Taupo)

The Tongariro Crossing is often described as the best one-day walk in New Zealand, if not the world. Many places provide accommodation and a lift to the start of the trail, which takes you up to Tongariro National Park. The hike is 19.4km and on average takes 7-9 hours to finish. It reaches altitudes of over 1,800m and is covered in snow during the winter months.

Make sure you book your return bus at the place you are staying – they will usually allow for a 10-hour day so people can take their time and enjoy the walk.

The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it’s a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.

A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some stunning views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.

Tongariro Crossing Emerald LakesGO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Lord of the Rings Fans

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you’ll soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ruapehu in the distance should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add-on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experienced climbers.

In winter, the Mount Ruapehu region has some excellent ski slopes to visit with the whole family and it would be an experience you won’t forget in a hurry! Check out our New Zealand ski season guide.

If you’ve never experienced the world’s coolest capital city, then today is all about the drive back down to Wellington. Your next stop is the quirky town of Taihape.

Taihape (93.9kms – 1 hour 5 mins from Tongariro Alpine Crossing)

Taihape Gumboot DayIt’s not every day you get to stop off at the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot is the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot and each year the town hosts Gumboot Day. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, check it out and get involved in a bit of gumboot throwing – definitely one to tell the grandkids about!

Bulls (80.8kms – 53 mins from Taihape)

There’s not much to say about Bulls, but you wanted quirky on this tour and quirky is what you’ll get. The only thing of note in this town is the clever (or not!) use of the town’s name by local businesses– unforget-a-bull and hospit-a-bull are two of our personal favourites – let us know yours!

Palmerston North (29.8km – 25 mins from Bulls)

The last stop of the day before hitting the capital will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. Although it’s the biggest town on the Taupo to Wellington trip, Palmerston is pretty quiet and this will give you a true insight into Kiwi life. With a plethora of cafes to pick from, this is a great place for afternoon tea and cakes – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing-looking muffins!

From Palmerston North, it’s only 140 km to Wellington which will take you around 2 hours. Heading down the west coast, you may want to make a quick swimming pit stop at any one of the lovely beaches on the way including Foxton beach, Otaki and Waikanae which are all easily accessible from SH1.


It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with fun things to do and places to see. Check out our Wellington Complete Guide


Wellington Museum

Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront to be close to the best museums. Here, you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s boardroom and a teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.

For the best panoramic views of Wellington city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria via walking or catching the “New Zealand Icon” cable car. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.

Coffee fix

Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).

Treaty of Waitangi

A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to take in our history and see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament if you’re feeling politically inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars. Don’t miss out the craft beer trail, featured first on our 12 things to do in Wellington at night guide!

Weta workshop

If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.

You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.

If you’re looking for some more ideas for things to do in Wellington, make sure you check out our top 20 things to do in Wellington!

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Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Mitsubishi Outlander 2021

Large SUV

Mitsubishi Outlander

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5 seats
Large Bags
Small Bags
Auto trans