An Ace road trip: Wellington to Napier, extended edition


One of our favourite journeys here at Ace Rental Cars is the wonderful trip from Wellington to Napier, but with a twist – literally. This road trip itinerary will take you to Masterton and Palmerston North, only to detour past Whanganui, Tongariro National Park and even Taupo.

Let’s get cracking, then.

Beginning in Wellington

Sprawling amid the foothills of winding grassy mountains, Wellywood (as the capital is affectionately known) is a compact city, making it very easy to see multiple attractions without having to go all over the place.

Start your adventure by visiting the suburb of Porirua, about 20 or so minutes from the CBD. Here you’ll find Adrenalin Forest, an exciting rope course activity that will not just test your coordination and balance, but also your bravery – the highest course available is 31 metres above the forest floor.

If you want to stay in the city overnight, travel north to Wellington’s Kiwi Holiday Park. You’ll find affordable accommodation here whether you are camping outdoors or need a roof over your head, so you can spend more on the activities you want to try and less on waiting in between them. Plus, it’s en route to our next stop…

Onward, to the beach!

An hour up the road you’ll find the township of Masterton, the hub of the Wairarapa region. Turn right here before you exit so you are heading east, following signs for Castlepoint. You’ll love this short hour’s drive, as it passes by luminous green, undulating fields that look straight out of a fantasy novel.

Castlepoint itself is considered one of the top beach destinations in NZ, and its historic lighthouse makes for a great selfie idea. Be sure to splash about in the water to stretch your legs, or try driving just up the way to see the fascinatingly spiky Mataikona Rocks.

Back on track

With your appetite for fresh, sea air and unique geological formations sated, it’s time to hit the road once more and return to Masterton. If you need a refresher, stop for a coffee and a sweet treat, then continue forwards for Palmerston North.

You’ll be greeted once more with expansive views of rolling farm hills, flanking you on either side like you’re sailing through ocean waves of green (and sheep!). Turn left as you reach Woodville and make your way to the beginning of the Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Walk, which is located at the western end of the larger Manawatu Gorge Track. This will take you about two hours to complete, and yields truly splendid views across to Palmy from a lookout about halfway around the loop.

Your next overnight stay

Continue past Palmerston North to enjoy a well-earned sleep at Whanganui Seaside Holiday Park, about an hour away. This great place rests on the famous Castlecliff Beach, adjacent to a fun playground for the young ones, and has its own barbecue, spa, sauna and swimming pool facilities.

The next day, it’s time to drive past a river! Not just any river, though, but the mighty Whanganui – a hugely popular tourist attraction in the area. The Whanganui River Road features many great walks and makes for a unique detour to the main highway leading to Tongariro National Park. Follow the route to Pipiriki and you’ll also be able to see fossilised oyster shells, ancient Maori ruins and a historic 19th century flour mill.

Tongariro and Taupo

Jump back on the highway at Raetihi and keep going, because next up are Tongariro National Park and Taupo! From the amount we love to gush about the former, it barely needs an introduction.

Mount Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are all located here, and each is a sight to behold. The Tongariro Crossing is one of the nation’s Great Walks, but there are many smaller adventures to be had as well if you take the time to explore.

As for Taupo, how does jumping out of a plane sound for a fun afternoon? Taupo Tandem Skydiving will take you 15,000 feet (4,572 metres) into the air, then dive with you to free fall at 200 kilometres per hour before pulling the parachute and slowing things down a bit. If you’ve never seen the view from a skydive, you absolutely cannot miss the chance above NZ’s largest lake.

Your last stop

You can stay overnight in Taupo as well before progressing to your final destination of Napier.

Napier is a beacon of how amazing the human spirit is. In the 1930s, half the settlement was destroyed in a huge earthquake, but now it’s one of the most well-preserved art deco towns in the nation. This Hawke’s Bay area is swathed in top-notch wineries, adventure activities and Maori history. Before any of that, though, be sure you try a self-guided walking tour of the CBD, to learn all about the story of the place and to see its amazing architecture. You can pick up a map to begin your journey at the local tourist information centre.