Road Trip Itineraries #3 - The Northwest Wilds

From Wellington to Auckland via Taranaki, spectacular and dramatic scenery, outdoor activities, cultural and historic experiences await you!

Wellington to Kapiti

Wellington certainly deserves the 'coolest little capital in the world' title awarded by Lonely Planet: the city offers a rich dining, coffee and craft beer culture and is built around a beautiful and bustling harbour. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, be sure to check out the Weta Cave or visit film locations in the Mt Victoria Reserve, which also happens to be a great place for recreational walking and mountain biking. Continue to the Mt Victoria lookout for stunning 360o views of the city and harbour.

A scenic drive around the rugged south coast, starting at the entrance to Miramar at Shelly Bay Road, through Seatoun, Lyall Bay (a popular spot for local surfies) to Ohiro Bay and Redrocks. Redrocks is famous for colonies of fur seals during May-October; you'll have to walk the last 30 minutes, the surface is too rugged for most of our vehicles!

You're likely to have built up an appetite at this stage, and Zest Food Tours are the perfect option for introducing you to the best Wellington has to offer in food and wine from the region.

Time to head north along the scenic west coast of the lower north island to Kapiti and its long stretching sandy beaches. A great time to drive this route is at dusk to capture the magnificient sunset.

Activites to try:

  • Zest food tours, Wellington

Kapiti to Whanganui

From here we continue north to Palmerston North, a must stop for all rugby nuts with the New Zealand Rugby Museum, or for the not so rugby mad always the renowned gardens of Victoria Esplanade A little further on is Feilding, home of the largest working stock saleyard in the Southern Hemisphere which operates each Friday. Then head to the Feilding Farmers' Market for tasty artisan treats and locally sourced produce. Take a step back in time at the Coach House Museum for an amazing collection of 140 years of rural history, including restored vehicles and farming equipment.

The Whanganui National Park, is home to the famous 'Bridge to Nowhere', part of a Government initiative in the mid 1930’s to provide farm land to returning servicemen. Not long after completion, the scheme was abandoned, adjoinging roads never completed and the bridge hardly used! Walk or mountain bike in to the bridge and boat, canoe or jetboat back along the Whanganui River, interestingly classified as one of New Zealand’s nine 'Great Walks'.

Whanganui is abound with artists including Louise Herdman of Louise Herdman Mosaics. Louise shares her passion for all things mosiac, including workshops so you can learn the art yourself (you need to book in advance).

Activites to try:

  • Mosaic Studio - Louise Herdman Mosaics, Whanganui 

Whanganui to New Plymouth

Time to stretch those legs? Stop off in Ohakune, sitting serenely at the foot of the majestic Mt Ruapehu, for a mountain bike ride along the old coach road (grade 2) with a Mountain Bike Station tour; it's mostly downhill so not too taxing on the thighs. Before you start, be sure to visit the film location for the 1981 movie 'Smash Palace' with over 15 acres of vehicles, collected over 60 years and still collecting today!

Pump up the music as you drive along the western edge of the Tongariro National Park towards the 'Forgotten World Highway 43' (running south from Tamaranui to Stratford ), New Zealand's oldest heritage trail. Take a small diversion on Moki Forest Road up to Mount Damper Falls, one of the biggest water falls in the North Island - 85 metres! Back on the highway, you'll go through the historic 180-metre Moki Tunnel before approaching Whangamomona, the only small settlement along the way. Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 and if you nip into the local hotel be sure to grab a Whangamomona passport as well as a refreshment!

New Plymouth

New Plymouth has loads to offer both cultural and outdoor junkies. Be sure to check out the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery featuring a permanent display of works from Len Lye, famous for his unique film and kinetic art; the gallery building is an artwork in itself. The Taranaki region has an array of stunning gardens and parks, 14 of them acknowledged as ‘Gardens of Significance’.

Feeling a little more energetic? Climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki (8-10 hour return walk), one of New Zealand’s most accessible mountains. It’s vital to be well prepared. Head to Fitzroy Beach, one of the best mid-city surf spots in the world; renowned for its hollow waves. You don’t have to be a surfie to be captivated.

Activites to try:

  • Mountain Bike Station, Ruapehu
  • Tongariro National Park 

New Plymouth to Hamilton

An hour south of Hamilton, Waitomo Caves are a must - try the thrill of blackwater rafting, it's fun, safe and spectacular. Or choose from a range of other more sedate options to explore Waitomo’s stunning Gloworm Caves or neighbouring Ruakuri and Aranui Caves. There's more surf to be had at Raglan, as well as great fishing, or head over the hill to Kawhai where you can dig your own hot pool in the sand at Ocean Beach. A slight detour on your way back to Auckland, Matamata is well worth a visit, for the setting of the Shire in Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton movies.


The west coast beaches of Auckland (40 minutes from CBD) - Karekare, Piha, Anawata, Bethells Beach and Muriwai - are spectacularly dramatic, whether you're visiting on a calm, clear day or a wild one. Footwear is a must for the beach, the black sands can get extremely hot! Grab fish & chips from the local kiosk at Piha or bring a picnic. Slide down the sand dunes into Lake Wainamu at Bethells Beach, or make a day of it on the fabulous cliff top hike to neighbouring Muriwai Beach and its Gannet Colony, best viewed from October to March.

Back in town, be sure to visit the bustling suburb of Ponsonby for its eclectic array of designer boutiques, eateries and bars. Catch a ferry from downtown Auckland to the quaint and very popular seaside bay of Devonport or to Rangitoto Island, where you canwalk to the top of this active volcano with its spectacular views back to the city.

After such an action packed 10 or so days on the road, be sure to treat yourself to one final night of luxury at the Heritage Hotel, Auckland.

Activites to try:

  • Glowworm Caves, Waitomo 
  • Black Water Rafting, Waitomo
  • Piha Beach 

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