Wellington to Tongariro to Wellington in 5 days

Driving Tour

Great news – you’ve got some holidays! Time to take a 5 day trip from Wellington, up to Napier for a bit of wine sampling and back to Wellington via the Tongariro Crossing. There’s lots to fit into this short break so check out some of our top tips for things to do on your road trip – some you will know about and others are hopefully a bit more off the beaten track. Anyway, enough of this – let’s get you on your way. Let’s GO!

If you’re still in the planning stage of your trip, make sure you check out the great deals on car rental in Wellington – we’re not one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies for no reason!


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  2. Trip itinerary

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Wellington to Tongariro Trip Itinerary

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

If you’ve just picked up your shiny new GO Rentals car hire, we know you will be itching to get on the road to Tongariro. You can expect, however, that the first day is going to be a biggie where you get some miles under your belt. Although you are heading for one of the most famous wine regions in New Zealand, and possibly the world, a great starting point for this adventure is found only 80kms outside of Wellington.

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

Although there are quicker drives to Napier, we always love to take this slight detour up the east side of the lower North Island. This way, we can stop off in Martinborough to pair some of their delicious foods with their infamous wine selection.

Martinborough has become known as the cuisine capital of the lower North Island, with over 30 local vineyards and local restaurants stocking local, super fresh produce. Its wineries are nothing to sneeze at either, with wine tours offered daily through its numerous vineyards.

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

Stonehenge Aotearoa

When continuing north from Martinborough, you may notice this monolith of stone jutting from the horizon. This tourist pit stop is known as Stonehenge Aotearoa (for obvious reasons).

You just need to take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to arrive at the Stonehenge Aotearoa. This is a full-scale model of Stonehenge with a modern twist, located on the hills of the Wairarapa. It might be strange to visit a replica Stongehenge almost on the opposite side of the world from where it actually is, but there is plenty of information on Maori astrology to make it a unique experience.

Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (40.9km – 30 mins)

If you’re looking to connect with New Zealand’s unique native fauna, look no further than this little stop on the way to Napier. The Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary is perhaps best known as the home of the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura, as well as other breeds of kiwis. However, there are plenty of more fascinating creatures that are sure to amaze anyone passing through.

Be sure to catch their live feeding sessions and informative talks. The rest of the drive to Napier is sure to be chatty as the car shares whatever facts they managed to pick up.

25 New Zealand Animals and Where You Can See Them!

Hastings (179kms – 2 hours 8 mins)

Hastings was put on the map for the sheer magnitude of the earthquake that hit them in 1931 (it was 7.9 on the Richter Scale, if you were wondering). Nowadays, however, it is known for the architectural style of the reconstruction efforts. In the years past, as design tastes changed, the art deco style of the town has become a huge hit.

The architecture is not its only appeal either, with the food boasting locally grown ingredients. If you haven’t made the time for lunch since leaving Wellington, the town of Hastings may be a tempting offer. For those not driving, there are also various local vineyards that are sure to tickle your wine fancy, so be sure to peruse the sights before heading off.

Luckily, Napier is just a short drive away (20.8kms – 23 mins). Here you can recharge your batteries, have a wander, and get ready for the next full day of exploring.

Hawke’s Bay Complete Guide

2Napier and it’s surroundings

Unfortunately for New Zealand residents, Napier was also hit alongside Hastings by the earthquake of 1931. However, they also followed the reconstruction style of its sister city, creating an art deco riot in less than 2 years. This retro style will make you want to slow down and take in the sights, which should absolutely be your goal on this road trip!

For those interested in hunting down the best parts of Napier, here are some of our top tips:

Wine tour – The vineyards are vast and the grape varieties even more so. This region is globally known for its wine, so it’s a must to at least have a taste at the local vineyards. To play it safe, you can hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards to work off some of that alcohol.

Te Mata Peak

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

The more physically adventurous may choose to cycle or hike to the summit of Te Mata. Don’t worry though if you’re not looking to work up a sweat, you can catch a ride if need be. However, getting to the top is a must to see the beautiful panoramic views.

Offering views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, the summit is well worth the trip. For an easy exit, you can throw yourself off the edge and smoothly paraglide back down to sea level.

Coastal walks – You can get your feet sandy and cool off with the walking tracks along the Hawkes Bay coastline. Admire the views of the North Island and the freedom it offers you.

Arataki Honey Visitors Centre – Looking for a sweet treat? Or maybe something that’s good for your health? How about both? At the Honey Visitors Centre, you can try New Zealand’s famous Manuka honey, which is said to have potent medicinal properties. You can discover all about the bees that produce this famous honey, and even take away a pot of your very own.

Art Deco Guided Walks – If the art deco surroundings of the city caught your eye, you can join a guided walk that delves deep into the buildings’ history. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to see the entirety of Napier’s beauty.

Wellington to Napier Spotify Playlist

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

We know yesterday was a full-on day of seeing the wonders Napier has to offer, but we highly recommend catching the sunrise at the top of Te Mata. For those who didn’t get a chance to see it yesterday, now is your picture perfect moment!

After that, it’s time to hit the road to Taupo. This is a short leg of the journey without much to see on the SH5. So make sure you have some snacks packed and everyone’s had their toilet break before heading off. Taupo itself is an iconic New Zealand destination spot, particularly with tourists. However, there is plenty more to this lakeside town than just adrenaline-pumping activities.

15 things to do in Taupo (the epic, exciting and extreme)


Lake Taupo SkydiveOkay, so we have to mention at least one crazy activity here. It’s just, the skydiving over Lake Taupo is one of a kind! In fact, while there are plenty of sky diving sites across New Zealand, packed with beautiful views, Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite. We’ve even partnered up with Taupo Tandem Diving through GO Play to give you 5% off your next skydive. With that extra cash, we cannot recommend enough that you get the photo pack – who wouldn’t want to see proof of your daring jump over a lake as gorgeous as this?

5% off

Use your GO Play card here

Floatplane Scenic Flights

GO Play Discount Card

Golf challenge

Lake Taupo doesn’t just offer beautiful views, but also a challenge for any golfers looking to test their clubs. The course offers big prizes for hole in ones, especially if you can successfully land a shot on a green floating in the middle of the lake. For those who aren’t looking for a challenge, hey, smacking some golf balls into a large body of water is also pretty fun.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls, Taupo
When you’re heading out of Taupo, don’t forget to stop off at these falls. The river, normally 100 m wide, is squeezed through a 20 m gap to create a forceful downpour of water down a 20 m drop. Over 220,00 litres per second gushes down these falls, which is an insane amount of water! We wonder if any fish can leap up these falls?

Huka Prawn Park

If you’re wanting a short pit stop, duck along Karetoto Rd for a taste of seafood delights at Prawn Park. If you want to take the tour, you will need to set aside a few more hours to see the delights of the prawn nursery and hatchery. You can even hand-feed the baby prawns! Be sure to bring your swimming gear and a towel though, as there is plenty to do out in the water.

Lake Taupo

The lake itself is a marvel of Maori history and natural beauty, with rock carvings only seen from the water. Take your time to splash around, or keep heading along the Desert Road to catch sight of the famous Mount Ruapehu. More commonly known as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings franchise, this mountain is a wonder to behold along with its surrounding volcanoes.

Desert Road

Alpine deserts are incredibly rare, so take your time while driving along the road to really immerse yourself in the environment. The snowy volcanoes work to provide you with a gorgeous backdrop as you continue your own adventure into the unknown (just kidding, we’re here to make sure you know everything there is to know about your trip to Tongariro!)

7 winter destinations that will make you fall in love with New Zealand

4Tongariro Alpine Crossing

You may be surprised that we are taking a whole day just for a walk, but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is not like your average hike. It’s 19.4km long, and on average takes between 7-9 hours to complete. It reaches altitudes of over 1800m and, for those looking to head over in the winter months, is covered in snow. There is plenty of accommodation in the surrounding area, and many offer a lift to the start of the trail which takes you up into the Tongariro National Park. The bus knows how long this trail will take so no need to rush; they’ll be waiting when you come back out after 10 hours of jaw dropping natural beauty.

Experience the Tongariro Alpine Crossing this winter

It is important to remember, however, that the weather can change quickly out on the walk. Therefore, you need to make sure you pack for all seasons. It may be strange to pack sunscreen along with warm base layers, but that sunny day can quickly change without warning.

The walk starts out gentle, with some gradual inclines working their way in. There is a steep ascent to Red Crater, where you get some amazing 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

For those hoping to get a glimpse of the real Lord of the Rings (or those just here to support those that are, thanks for coming out!) then this is the place for you. The entirety of Mordor is in front of you, and the stately Mt Ngauruhoe in the background should start reminding you of a very familiar golden eye. If you’ve got the fitness, equipment and willpower to climb to the summit of Mount Doom, then you should go make some movie memories. This is a climb for experienced people only, however, as the climb is very steep.

By the end of the day, you’ll be feeling just as weary as Sam and Frodo at the end of their quest, but the beer and food promised when you arrive back will be more than worth it. Not to mention your camera roll of one-of-a-kind photos!

5Tongariro to Wellington (322kms – 3 hours 54 mins)

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

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

Taihape Gumboot Day

Known as the ‘gumboot capital of the world’, this little town boasts a crazy number of the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot, and an equally crazy day to celebrate it. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, don’t forget to stop in and celebrate Gumboot Day with the rest of the town – it’s not every day you get to do some competitive gumboot throwing!

10 of New Zealand’s Weirdest Tourist Attractions

Bulls (80.8kms – 53 mins from Taihape)

Honestly, we are including this town on the list just because of the puns. What can we say, we love a theme, and we love it even more when a whole town sticks to it. You can get a check up at the hospit-a-bull, or fuel up your car at the Mo-bull Mart. It’s truly unbelieva-bull!

Palmerston North (29.8km – 25 mins from Bulls)

With only one more stop before the capital, we thought it’s best to give you a glimpse into the real Kiwi life. Despite being the biggest town between Taupo and Wellington, the town of Palmerston North is a sleepy place that believes in taking things easy. Join them for some afternoon tea and cakes in one of their many cafes, and watch the clouds drift by.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of amazing muffins, it’s only 140kms to Wellington, which will take you around 2 hours. If you’re still wanting to see more of the west coast, you can take a quick turn off the SH1 and visit one of the many beaches nearby. We recommend Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae for you sea lovers out there.

If you have some time before dropping your car back to us, we highly recommend seeing as much of Wellington as you can. There is so much to see and do in the capital, and we’ve included some of our highlights.

Wellington Complete Guide


Wellington Museum

Once you’ve found a car park, you can head on around the waterfront to find some truly fascinating museums. The Museum of Wellington City and Sea, found in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, retains its opulent 1920s boardroom and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s also 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.

If you want to get a real bird’s eye view of the city, including Port Nicholson and all the way over to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. There is even a historic cannon to be found on its summit, installed back in 1877 and fired every day to signal the change in time for years. Looking down, you can spot several other iconic Wellington sites, including the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve. It’s not too far from the Colonial Cottage Museum, which is found on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.

Coffee fix

No one does coffee quite like those in Wellington, so grab a coffee and look at the one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. While walking along, don’t forget to check out 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 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 (including some decent craft beer spots).

Weta workshop

Finally, if you have the time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. This company is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, ranging from puppeteering, makeup and digital effects. You can see their work in movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and The Chronicles of Narnia, among many others. There is a 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.

Wellington is jam-packed with things to do and there is definitely something for everyone so make sure you check out our guide to Wellington for more ideas.

Related Blog Posts

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