Lower North Island Travel

Roadtrip the Lower North Island in Five Days!

Written by Rachel Simpson

You’ll have a variety of attractions to experience as you meander around the lower North Island. Starting in Wellington, you’ll drive over the Rimutaka range to Martinborough. In addition to its famous vineyards, this region boasts amazing food, architecture and beaches that make the trip worth it. Driving to Taupo offers a beautiful scenery, complete with geothermal parks and plenty of places to fish. You’ll pass by several volcanoes as you drive the Desert Road headed towards Palmerston North. Take this all in as you drive your Mighway motorhome and stop at various holiday parks and campgrounds..

Day 1: Wellington to Martinborough
Distance: 79 km, 49 mi.
Travel time: 1 hr, 10 min

Just over an hour away from the Wellington International Airport, Martinborough is a nearby destination that makes for a great first stop. On the way, you will experience the beauty of the Rimutaka Range as you head towards Featherston. While there, stop by C’est Cheese to sample cheese from all over New Zealand.

Martinborough is a beautiful, quaint area with over 20 wineries. The village square makes for a natural starting point to explore the area, on foot or bike. Most of the vineyards in this area are family-owned and operated, so every glass comes with its own unique, local flair. This has helped to make this area a must-do for the wine connoisseur. To make sure you get the most out of your day here, take a guided tour, which will help you hit all of the highlights and sample as much as you can.

Day 2: Martinborough to Masterton to Hastings to Napier
Distance: 277 km, 172 mi.
Travel time: 3 hrs, 41 min

This route, known as the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, is a bucket list for the wine lover. Following the signposts (easy to spot — look for grapes!) takes you through three separate wine regions. Scenic coastlines and rural towns dot the landscape, giving you a picturesque view as you make your way along.

Start by heading towards Greytown. This small village holds a surprising amount of shops, boutiques, galleries and cafes, which have all helped to make Greytown a shopping lover’s dream. For the history lover, Greytown offers quaint, Victorian buildings that have been lovingly restored.

As you pass through Carterton, make sure you stop to pick up souvenirs before heading to Stonehenge Aotearoa — a modern-day version of the real thing.

Masterton is up next, a rather large town that boasts museums, parks, and an easy access to Castlepoint, Wairarapa’s most beautiful and scenic beach. Heading north you can visit Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, which houses a wide variety of native New Zealand fauna, including the rare white kiwi.

Hastings is up next, a beautiful city full of parks and orchards. An earthquake in 1931 leveled much of the city at the time, and much of it was rebuilt to reflect the Art Deco style popular at the time. A similar event happened in Napier, only to km to the north. To learn more about the earthquake and other historical events related to this area, there are several museums worth visiting here.

Of course, you’re also going to want to check out the wine, and Hawke’s Bay is the place to go.

Day 3: Napier to Taupo
Distance: 143 km, 89 mi.
Travel time: 1 hr, 45min

This short drive offers an amazing and impressive amount of scenery, which goes through a wide variety of settings. Take the time to check out the Waiarua Falls and the hot springs at the Waipunga River before making it to Taupo. Once there, this resort offers an amazing setting on New Zealand’s largest lake. This spot is excellent for trout fishing and has many world-class restuarants.

Day 4: Taupo to Turangi to Palmerston North
Distance: 244 km, 152 mi.
Travel time: 2 hr, 56 min

This scenic route along Lake Taupo is one of the most beautiful on this whole itinerary, and you’ll enjoy the opportunities to stop along the way to take pictures, have a picnic, or fish. Trout fishing is big business around here, and you’ll see more evidence of that as you approach Turangi, New Zealand’s trout fishing capital.

If you enjoy fishing, this is a dream come true, and just about anywhere you go will offer you the chance to land the big one. For those that like to play in the water instead of fishing in it, there are also hot springs to enjoy and rafting opportunities. Tongariro National Park is also near here, which has many attractions of its own.

Leaving Turangi, you’ll eventually make your way to Palmerston North, one of New Zealand’s largest cities. This city is a history lover’s dream, with much of the original downtown still appearing as it did almost a century ago. There’s plenty to do in this historic area as you discover interesting stores and cafes. Make sure you also take the time to check out the local rose gardens and museums.

Day 5: Palmerston North to Wellington
Distance: 144 km, 90 mi.
Travel time: 1 hr, 52 min

You’ll pass through several town and villages headed back towards Wellington. Stop by the owl sanctuary in Shannon, enjoy the shopping in Levin, and check out the rare bird sanctuary in Kapti Island, off the coast of Waikanae. All of this before heading back into Wellington to finish your trip. Walk around the downtown area and explore just about anything you can think of.

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