This nine-day, self-drive itinerary will take you from Wellington, the world’s coolest little capital, on to the incredible landscapes and characterful townships at Wairarapa, Napier, Lake Taupo, Rotorua and Palmerston North. You’ll fly into Wellington International Airport, then embark on a whistlestop adventure, ending back where you started (fit in another faultless flat white before you fly home).
Day one: arrive in Wellington
Spend the day leisurely exploring. Discover downtown’s shops, museums, galleries and more (stop for coffee and cake at one of the cafés on Hannah’s Laneway). Visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where you’ll learn about NZ’s unique geological, cultural and social history. If you’re gaga for Gandalf, Gollum and the gang, join a half-day Lord of the Rings location tour, starting from the mini museum at Weta Cave.
Day two: explore Wellington
Take the Wellington Cable Car to ascend to Wellington Botanic Garden, or learn about the skies and stars at Space Place at Carter Observatory. If you prefer animal-gazing to star-gazing, head to Zealandia eco-sanctuary, an important conservation centre that’s just 2.5 kilometres from the CBD. Soak up the 360-degree city views from Wrights Hill Fortress and Recreation Reserve, where walking trails and picnic areas await. Alternatively, explore Wellington Central Waterfront on foot; don’t miss Queen’s Wharf, Te Papa, Chaffers Marina and Oriental Bay.
Day three: drive from Wellington to Wairarapa
Head to scenic Wairarapa. You’ll drive through the picturesque Hutt Valley before climbing over the Rimutaka Range and descending into the tranquil Wairarapa region. Pause for pit stops in characterful small towns, such as Greytown, Martinborough, Carterton or Masterton. Explore the vineyards of Martinborough (the gourmet capital of the North Island) or head to Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island. Wherever you go, enjoy world-class wines – you’re in the heart of New Zealand’s wine trail, after all.
Day four: drive from Wairarapa to Napier
On the way to Napier, stop off at the wildlife sanctuary at Mount Bruce. Pukaha Mount Bruce is home to some of NZ’s most endangered wildlife, including the only white kiwi in captivity. In Napier, spend the day in the region’s vineyards and wineries (there are more than 70 to pick from). Have a wine-matched meal in one of Napier’s excellent restaurants.
Day five: drive from Napier to Lake Taupo
Rewind to the glamorous Twenties and Thirties at Napier, New Zealand’s home of Art Deco. To best admire and learn about the city’s architectural treasures, join a guided tour. In Taupo, you’re spoiled for choice for activities: rugged hills, verdant valleys, rolling plains and cinematic panoramas await. Snowbunnies will love Whakapapa – New Zealand’s largest and most popular ski field, where you can ski or snowboard. At Tarawera, walk to the hot springs above the Waipunga River. The resort town of Taupo sits at the edge of NZ’s largest lake, which offers world-famous trout fishing. Loop around the lake on one of the walking trails, boosting your Instagram feed as you go.
Day six: drive from Lake Taupo to Rotorua
The drive to the city of Rotorua, New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland, is an adventure in itself, thanks to the unique volcanic landscapes you’ll encounter en route. Rotorua sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity all around: picture stunning natural geysers and steaming mud pools. Shortly after setting off, you’ll encounter the Huka Falls and the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station. If you’ve got time, take a side road to a geothermal park. Spend your evening at Te Heketanga a Rangi (or Heavenly Origins), enjoying the nightly Te Po Indigenous Evening Experience: a celebration of indigenous food, culture and hospitality.
Day seven: drive from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
Treat yourselves to a rejuvenating massage at the Polynesian Spa. Visit Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, NZ’s most colourful geothermal attraction, or watch Agrodome’s world-famous sheep show and visit an organic working farm. Follow the western edge of NZ’s largest lake (a huge volcanic crater) to reach Turangi Township. It’s a very scenic drive, with plenty of peaceful picnic spots to pause at along the way.
Day eight: drive from Tongariro to Palmerston North
Book the Tongariro Guided Tour before heading to Palmerston North via Waiouru, a military town; pause at the QE2 Military Museum for a mini history lesson. On the drive south towards the town of Taihape, admire the shifting landscapes, dominated by rivers and valleys (the Mangaweka Gorge is particularly scenic). Browse antique shops at Bulls, then keep going for Palmerston North, one of the country’s largest provincial cities. In Palmerston North’s historic heart, 1920’s and 1930’s shops have been reimagined as cafés, boutiques and restaurants. If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, explore Gravity Canyon, New Zealand’s largest adventure playground.
Day nine: drive from Palmerston North to Wellington
Pay a trip to the city’s ravishing rose gardens and interesting museums before you leave. Your journey south takes you to Shannon; stop here and look around the owl sanctuary. Next up: the town of Levin, which has a thriving clothing industry (pick up some new threads for your holiday wardrobe from one of the shops). Two stunning dune lakes are an easy detour from here. Offshore from Waikanae is Kāpiti Island, a nature reserve for close encounters with rare birds. There’s also a car museum and a gourmet cheese factory that are worth visiting. It will take you around two hours to drive back to Wellington; have a delicious meal in one of the city’s excellent restaurants before you leave.
Desperate to see Auckland, too? You could opt for a nine-day self-drive adventure: kicking off in Wellington, you’d drive to Wairarapa, Napier, Lake Taupo and Rotorua, then continue on to the Waitomo Caves, Auckland and the Bay of Islands.
Fly with Singapore Airlines
© Singapore Airlines
Fly with Singapore Airlines
Here are five great reasons to fly with Singapore Airlines:
1) Fly via Singapore and connect onto four weekly flights.
2) Redeem a $20 Changi Dollar Voucher to spend at Singapore Changi Airport.
3) Break your journey in Singapore with a discounted Singapore Stopover Holiday Package.
4) Alternatively, experience a taste of Singapore with a free Singapore Tour if your transit is more than 5.5 hours.
5) Fly with the world’s most awarded airline. Enjoy over 1,000 entertainment options at your finger tips or savour the best of Asian and International cuisine from the comfort of your industry leading seat.