Auckland New Zealand greets nearly 4 million visitors annually. Some stay in the city, but more come to explore the lush green countryside. An Auckland to Wellington drive is the best way to discover many of the New Zealand North Island attractions and a few secrets. There are enchanting gardens, bubbling earth, geysers, volcanos, museums, clever cafés, huge corrugated iron animals, hobbit holes, and even a spring that produces most of the country’s drinking water.
Sure, you can fly to the major cities, but what you miss along the way is the magic. It’s this exploration that makes New Zealand so special.
I remember the first time we took the Auckland to Wellington drive. We had one stop for food, a second for the toilet, and eight hours later, we arrived in New Zealand’s capital city, barely speaking to each other.
Now, I look forward to the adventure. We have done the research and made the stops. What was once a too-long, somewhat boring Auckland to Wellington drive is now an exciting New Zealand road trip.
Rural New Zealand is one charming small town after the next. We took two days to get from Auckland to Wellington and more to return. If you are ready to self-drive in New Zealand, read on.
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Interesting Stops Along the Auckland to Wellington Road Trip+−
- Practical Information About the Auckland to Wellington Drive
- Other Ways to Travel from Auckland to Wellington:
- Will you take an Auckland to Wellington Drive?
Interesting Stops Along the Auckland to Wellington Road Trip
New Zealand’s largest city is home to nearly one-third of the country’s population. I am amongst this crowd. It’s a great place to live or to visit. Whether it is nature, culture, or culinary delights, Auckland never disappoints.
Auckland is also a starting point for many great adventures.
- To the north, discover Cape Reinga, the spiritual tip of the North Island.
- The west coast holds rainforest and black sand beaches.
- Travelling east, you can choose from the beautiful beaches of the Bay of Plenty, Napier (the self-proclaimed art deco capital and main tourist city in the Hawkes Bay region), the rural countryside of Gisborne, and the less travelled (but truly amazing) East Cape.
- Northeast will take you around the laidback Coromandel peninsula.
- Driving south, you will pass through all the fascinating destinations on this page on your way to Wellington, the world’s southernmost capital city.
Read next: 75 Free and Nearly Free Things to Do in Auckland New Zealand
First, let us whet your appetite …
If you like antique shops, then you won’t want to miss Paeroa. However, New Zealand’s antique capital is most famous for producing L&P (an abbreviation for Lemon and Paeroa). Don’t miss the giant L&P bottle near the corner of Normanby and Te Aroha Roads.
Our journey: For us, Paeroa was a coffee and browsing stop as part of our return Wellington to Auckland road trip.
A masterpiece of nature, the Karangahake gorge was an active mine during the gold rush days of the late 1800s. From the old mine shaft tunnels, the miners blasted holes through the cliff face to tip tailings into the gorge below. Today, the holes are “windows” offering dramatic views of the gorge and river. Bring a torch (flashlight) as it is dark inside the tunnels. The Karangahake Windows walk takes about an hour.
Our journey: We stopped at Karangahake Gorge on our return drive from Wellington to Auckland. We chose the 2.5 km Karangahake Windows walk from the many hiking options.
New Zealand’s fourth-largest city is home to the internationally acclaimed Hamilton Gardens as well as the country’s only tea plantation, a zoo, 11 km riverwalk trail along the Waikato River (New Zealand’s longest river), and a tribute to former resident Richard O’Brien (screenplay writer and actor in the Rocky Horror Picture Show). Despite all that, it is the gardens that draw about one million visitors to Hamilton each year.
One could easily spend a full day (or more) in Hamilton and then head out in the morning. If this is your option, you will need somewhere to stay in Hamilton.
If you have any extra time here, be sure to drive 45 minutes west to visit the coastal community of Raglan.
Our journey: We spent half a day in Hamilton, stopping only to visit the gardens, enjoy lunch, and see the Riff Raff Statue (Rocky Horror).
Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings fan flock to Middle Earth. One does not simply walk into Middle Earth. Hobbiton is only available as a guided tour. Home to the last remaining intact set from filming the movies, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You will be surrounded by the lush green pastures and hobbit holes of the Shire. And while you are there, your guide will share stories and behind-the-scenes secrets. For fans, Hobbiton is a must-see.
Our journey: We opted not to stop at Hobbiton on our most recent New Zealand North Island road trip.
A creative solution to revitalizing a town, in the late 1980’s Tirau resident Steven Clothier designed and erected huge sculptures in corrugated iron. A great place to stop, stretch your legs, visit craft shops, have a coffee, or just walk around and admire the interesting corrugated creations. Be sure to bring your camera.
Our journey: We took far too many photos in this tiny town and even picked up a few souvenirs and snacks.
Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring
New Zealand exports about 9 million litres of water each year, and nearly 70% of that water comes from the Blue Spring. The walk lets you stretch your legs and brings you to colourful nature at its best. From end to end, the walk is 4.7 km and takes about 90 minutes each way.
Our journey: We parked at the Leslie Road end, and walked to the spring and back. It was about an hour in total.
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are one of the more popular North Island tourist attractions, and while they are between Auckland and Wellington, they are not on the route we are recommending if making a one-way journey. However, they are worth a visit if you have never seen Arachnocampa Luminosa, a glowworm species found exclusively in New Zealand.
A destination on its own, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland filled with things to do and sitting on the geographic fault that created it. Water and earth rich in minerals, Rotorua is the place to rejuvenate. The bubbling earth, rising steam, and colourful mineral elements create a landscape that will keep photographers busy.
It’s a city offering impressive Māori cultural discovery opportunities, as well as being home to the Agrodome, a large working farm open for tours and shows. And if that’s not enough, it’s also home to adventure with opportunities for bungy, luge, zorb, mountain biking, and more.
While you can try to do the highlights in a day, you will miss a lot. We recommend spending at least one night, ideally more. Being fans of 4-star accommodations that are clean, comfortable, and offer a touch of luxury, our favourite place to stay is the Rotorua Novotel Lakeside
Our journey: We opted to visit Rotorua as a separate New Zealand road trip, but remember, we live in Auckland, so we have more flexibility than visitors.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and Australasia’s largest freshwater lake. It offers a picturesque, serene setting for sitting in a café. Taupo is also a place for adventure (skydiving and bungy jumping). The lake drains towards the Waikato River. It narrows as it flows over Huka Falls at more than 220,000 litres per second.
There are plenty of free things to do in Taupo.
Turangi (the halfway stop on an Auckland to Wellington drive)
Turangi is an easy place to spend the night if you are doing a multi-day Auckland to Wellington drive. A town famous for its fly fishing, it is also a base for those who are doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, as well as for skiers during the winter. This brings plenty of inexpensive, roadside motel-style accommodations, or if you are like us, and prefer something nicer and home-like, check out this list of options in and around Turangi.
Our journey: We spent the night in Turangi.
Waiouru: The National Army Museum
Standing next to the Tears on Greenstone Memorial (Roimata Pounamu) we could feel the history all around us. It is at this spot that all New Zealand army recruits take their oath. Crochet poppies fill the walls. The original request to the community was 1,000 poppies, but handmade poppies kept arriving. The revised goal became 18,166, one for each New Zealand soldier killed in battle. However, the poppies kept coming and well exceeded that goal.
The museum takes us through New Zealand’s interesting military history, both with the UK and Australia. A little-known piece of trivia, the lifelike faces in the displays are created from casts made of museum staff members’ faces.
Our journey: By spending the night about an hour north in Turangi, we arrived at the National Army museum when it opened. We spent the morning at the museum, and then continued on our North Island road trip.
If you love the corrugated iron in Tirau, you won’t want to miss the giant boot welcoming you to Taihape.
Our journey: For us, Taihape was a photo stop.
As you enter the town of Bulls and see their slogan, “a town like no udder” you know it’s time to start paying more attention to the shop names and the road signs. It’s a town with a sense of humour, although I’m not sure it’s a good one. Embracing their town name, the puns are everywhere.
- The library is Read-A-Bull
- Town Hall is Social-A-Bull
- The storage shop is Store-A-Bull
- A cafe is Delect-A-Bull
- The carpark is Park-A-Bull
- Public toilets are Reliev-A-Bull
- Even the police station sign is Const-A-Bull
- And a road sign reads, “Family Violence is not Accept-A-Bull.
Finally, we passed one store called, “What a load of Bull.” This is only the tip of the bad pun iceberg.
Our Journey: We only drove slowly through Bulls, taking notes as we passed.
By now, you have earned a coffee break. Just a few minutes after leaving the town of Bulls is the town of Sanson. Here, an old church turned cafe offered ‘Heavenly Coffee’ on their sign. The Church Cafe lives up to this standard. The coffee was divine, and the stuffed baked potato even better.
Our journey: We stopped at the Church Cafe for lunch.
Tui, a beer “irresistible to men“, has been brewed in Mangatainoko since 1889. The secret may be the water from the Mangatainoko River, or it may be the brewing process. A lot has changed for Tui over the years. They have downsized their Mangatainoko facility to the point that it is now a microbrewery, brewing only for that location. The tour and tasting take about an hour.
Whether or not you take a tour, the cafe is outstanding and worth a stop. The food was great, the atmosphere lively, and it was a chance to try some of the beer brewed at this location. If you have too much or just want another overnight stop, check availability on nearby Palmerston North Accommodations
Our journey: We opted for a much longer journey and stopped at the Tui Brewery for lunch and a tour as we drove from Wellington to Napier on the east coast.
Did you know there is a stone circle in New Zealand called Stonehenge Aotearoa? Fascinating on different levels, it represents the history of ancient stone circles combined with their power. It is not a replica of England’s famous Stonehenge but rather a purpose-built structure of similar size to the one in the UK that has been built for its surroundings.
Our journey: We explored Stonehenge Aotearoa between Wellington and the Tui Brewery.
Finally, our destination. I love New Zealand’s capital city as a getaway destination. Home to the government buildings, it is a lovely waterfront city with plenty of interesting things to do.
Our journey: We have visited Wellington many times. As part of our recent New Zealand driving holiday, we spent three days in New Zealand’s capital.
Read next: Wellington Activities: 37 Things to Do in the Capital of New Zealand
Auckland to Wellington Drive Itinerary Options
Are you wondering how to put this all together? Here are three Auckland to Wellington drive maps:
New Zealand Road Trip Map Options
⇒ Start with our Auckland to Wellington Interactive Map
⇒ Or here for our Auckland to Wellington Return Map
One day Auckland to Wellington by Car
This is not a New Zealand road trip but rather a drive from one point to another. With 8 hours of driving in a day, you need an early start if you hope to make any stops. At a minimum, you can look out the window and enjoy Lake Taupo, the corrugated sculptures in Tirau and in Taihape, and the signage in Bulls.
Two days from Auckland to Wellington
Day 1: Auckland → Hamilton or Matamata → Tirau → Blue Springs → Taupo → Turangi
Day 2: Turangi → Waiouru → Taihape → Bulls → Sanson → Wellington
Three or more days from Auckland to Wellington
Day 1: Auckland → Paeroa and Karangahake Gorge and Matamata OR Hamilton → Tirau → Blue Springs → Rotorua
Spend Day 2 enjoying Rotorua
Day 3: Taupo → Waiouru → Taihape → Bulls → Sanson → Wellington
Seven to nine days, including four days of driving and return trip from Wellington to Auckland
First driving day: Auckland → Hamilton → Waitomo → Turangi
Second driving day: Turangi → Waiouru → Taihape → Bulls → Sanson → Wellington
** You will want to add at least two days in Wellington, we prefer to spend at least three.
Third driving day: Wellington → Stonehenge → Mangatainoka → Taupo → Rotorua
** You will want to add at least one day in Rotorua, again, we prefer to spend at least three.
Final driving day 4: Rotorua → Blue Springs → Tirau → Matamata OR Karangahake Gorge and Paeroa → Auckland
Practical Information About the Auckland to Wellington Drive
- Nonstop, the Auckland to Wellington drive time is 8 hours.
- In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road.
- The speed limits in New Zealand tend to be lower than those in other countries, but the tickets for speeding are on par.
- New Zealand motorways and city roads are great. Rural roads, however, are sometimes metals (gravel) or just not in as good of shape as you might expect.
- If you’re not from New Zealand, have you considered travel insurance? We have partnered with InsureMyTrip, because they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you. They have thousands of travel insurance plans and a one-of-a-kind recommendation engine to help travellers find the right plan. Most importantly, they will be there for you before, during and after your trip if you should need anything – especially help with a claim with the provider. Get your free quote from InsureMyTrip here.
Other Ways to Travel from Auckland to Wellington:
There are other ways to travel between Wellington and Auckland, but I hope we have convinced you that the above New Zealand self-drive itinerary is the optimal way to go. If not, here are a few options:
- Air New Zealand and Jet Star both offer daily flights. If you want to fly, check Expedia flights for the best prices.
- There is also the Northern Explorer, an Auckland to Wellington train, which won’t save too much time but can be a good option if you don’t have access to a vehicle and don’t want to fly.
- Or, there is a bus.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
We usually start with aggregator companies as they do the work for us by providing a list of options, prices, and reviews. However, we also added a few personal NZ favourites:
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Hotels: we use Booking.com as they consistently return the best rates and their reviews are from actual guests. However, for self-contained lodging in New Zealand, we use Bookabach.
- Cars and Campervans: we use RentalCars to find the best deals and dealer ratings. Use Jucy for small campervans.
- Activity discounts: we always check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on selected tours, activities, restaurants and more.
- Travel Insurance: we start at InsureMyTrip as they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you.
Before you book the rest of your trip: Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
Save for later
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Will you take an Auckland to Wellington Drive?
New Zealand places and things you might like to see:
- 75 Free and Nearly Free Things to Do in Auckland New Zealand
- Auckland to Cape Reinga: New Zealand Road Trip Tips
- East Cape NZ Driving Itinerary: Gisborne to Opotiki Road Trip
- South Island Road Trip: Dunedin to Christchurch NZ
- NZ South Island Road Trip: Queenstown to Nelson (West Coast)
Disclaimer: We frequently work with local tourism boards and are often provided with many complimentary entrances, tours, sample items, or media rates to assist in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, our recommendations are from the heart, and the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
I am extremely interested in finding out about the South Island as my wife and I are interested in doing a self drive New Zealand experience. Your post about the North Island is fantastic so am looking forward to seeing your post about the South Island.
You missed the best pun of all.
Grab a milkshake in Bulls-the only place in the world where you can get milk from Bulls.
Good one! Thanks for adding it.
yes. was very helpful
Need to get back to NZ and explore more of the North island. We only spent 2 days in Auckland the rest of our time on the South island. Have heard great things and it looks like there’s some great road tripping to be done. Thanks.
Joanne | Travel Visa Australia
Thanks for the for sharing your experience with us. I always love to read a road trip article and find it fun and inspiring!
I had NO idea there was that much to see between Auckland and Wellington! You have me hooked on Matamata aka Hobbiton!
This is such a great resource. New Zealand is high on our list and we love doing road trips around countries. Thanks for all the info!
Fantastic post Rhonda. I have done this trip a few times and haven’t managed to see all these spots. Next on the list is Turangi. PS one of my good friend’s from London is married to Richard O’Brien’s son and I have heard all about the tribute – it was nice to read about it here too
wow, what a small world.
Wow, what an amazing road trip! I would love to visit the north island for those glow worm caves and hobbiton!
Clever cafes and hobbit holes sound like a perfect pairing for a road trip… count me in! I used to have Australia above New Zealand for some reason but the scale has tipped and New Zealand is now at the top of my list.
So much natural beauty between the two cities! Love the color of the water in Auckland and all of the scenery in the sights on the way
Brilliant itinerary! Have bookmarked this for a future return visit to New Zealand. Can never visit too much — Christchuch was amazing. Auckland super fun. Waitangi Treaty Grounds moving. Last visit there was simply a jumping off to get to Fiji for a sailing adventure back to New Zealand … another adventue unto itself. And always LOVE your photos … a highlight of opening your posts.
Handmade Jewelry Haven
I never cease getting excited every time I click your link and today was no different!
Thank you for sharing this recap!
I would take the road trip to see all of these than the train or fly over. I’ve seen so many stunning photos of Auckland and Wellington but not with all of these spots you visited. It’s my first to see waitomo glow worms cave so spectacular. I’d take the route the same way you did just to see this waitomo glow worms.
Awesome road trip! I’d love to do this someday especially to see Hobbiton. So cool!
These are great suggestions!! If i did this drive i would totally stop in hobbiton!! That is a bucketlist item for me and something i can’t wait to do!
This post brings back so many wonderful memories! I used to be a tour guide in New Zealand and many of these stops were on my tour route. I had my first skydive at Lake Taupo, my first dip in natural hotsprings in Rotorua and my first spelunking experience in the glow worm caves of Waitomo 😍 Somehow I never made it to Hobbiton… I guess it’s a good enough excuse to go back !
Hobbiton is quite a bit more commercial than any of the places you mentioned, but yes, it is a good excuse to come back – if you need an exchuse.
That East Cape is eye-popping! The homeowner took us for a ride from Opotiki. 3 hours of stunning views and quite an intense ride too. We loved Wellington. Different feel to it, as the place was somewhat similar to San Francisco. Chill, low-key, neat buildings and a hilly terrain too. Will not forget the flight in; those were some strong winds, fitting for the Windiest City on Earth.
I agree, I love the East Cape, and even though we added it into our personal around the North Island itinerary, it’s not part of the one on this page.
I’ve been wanting to visit New Zealand for the longest time and your photos clearly show that I must plan a visit soon! I like that you showed your itinerary. It will definitely help when I plan my trip. Thanks for sharing
A road trip between Auckland and Wellington is a great way to explore the North Island.
Sandy N Vyjay
The Auckland to Welling road trip indeed has all the trappings of an epic trip. The stops have something unique to offer. So many places, I am sure one would never feel the drive to be long or tedious. Some of my favourite and must visit places here would be Hobbiton, Stonehenge, and Rotorua, these places look spectacular, I am sure the experiences are to be cherished for a long, long time.
You did pick some of the best spots, although the Army museum caught me by surprise, being far more interesting than I expected.
if you’re just driving one-way, i suggest to do it from wellington to auckland because the rental car is almost free. i only paid $3 for an suv and it stayed with us for 3 days. i think it’s because you are returning it to auckland for the company since most people rent a car headed south. 🙂
Funnily enough, I was just looking into visiting NZ one day and then I came across your blog. NZ looks like a beautiful country, so doing this road trip is certainly the best way to explore the country. I like how many details you provide to the visitors. Thank you for all the ideas!
Yes, New Zealand is beautiful. There is a lot more to New Zealand than just this portion of the North Island. Many of the most beautiful spots are on the South Island.
Wow, I can’t believe there is all of this to see between the two cities! Or that you did the whole drive with just one toilet stop the first time! The glow worm caves look amazing, as you say actually there is more here than on a simple road trip – this is a whole holiday in itself! Hobbiton is definitely on my list, after getting a taste of hobbit houses in Guatemala I really want to see the ‘real’ thing!
Remember, when we did the whole thing in on go, we didn’t make any other stops, so it was eight solid hours of driving.
Just to let you know Rhonda, I may no longer be able to write my blog. This thing called widget took over my blog and I can’t get into my blog. I’ve had some friends try to help but to no avail. But I’ll still be able to check on you. You won’t be able to get rid of that easy. LOL See ya.
Well, I certainly would love to do this someday!
I hope you get a chance to visit New Zealand
I would love to visit the Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring. I also had no idea NZ exported so much water from this Blue Spring. And the tea plantation and garden looks like a great place to explore too 🙂
The exportation of water has become a political thing lately. I am not sure it will continue forever.
What a fab tour Rhonda the Corrugated figures in Tirau made me smile heheh!
Have a tanfastic week 🙂
They made me smile too, and I only shared the dog and sheep. They are everywhere in the town.
Wow, what a trip. Every time you show me great pictures of New Zealand, I just want to go. See ya Rhonda.
One day Paul, I will have you convinced. There are ships that come here. In fact, we are sailing from LA to Auckland next month.
New zealand is really a fab place for a road trip. We drove from Auckland to Wellington stopping at Rotorua and Lake Taupo on the way, but your fab post and different itinerary suggestions made me realise there is so much more to see and do!
I think you did what many people do. Next time perhaps you will choose a different way.
I wish I had this post about six years ago when I made this exact drive! Of the places you mentioned, I went to Waitomo, Taupo, and Rotorua. This is still one of my favorite trips of all time.
Same here, I wish we had done the research and made the interesting drive years ago. We have just gone straight through too many times.
Ooh the Karangahake gorge looks amazing. I haven’t yet made it over to New Zealand, not through lack of wanting to, but a few more places to tick off first (Sri Lanka is next). I never knew there was a stone henge in New Zealand, that’s bizarre and amazing in equal measure!
For a tiny little country, New Zealand really packs in quite a bit. As for Karangahake, check out more of my images here: Karangahake Gorge Walks: Windows out of Old Gold Mines
Hamiliton looks and sounds like a great place to stop! Everything on her does, to be honest! I can imagine that NZ is like living in a fantasy world because everything looks awesome!!
LOL – it did seem a bit like a fantasy world when we first moved here 16 years ago, now it’s just the fabulous place that we live.
Wow. So many great options on the trip to choose from. Would love to do Taihape and Stonehenge ? replica. The variety on the trail seems amazing. Thanks for sharing!
Exactly right, the variety is amazing, and if you allocated enough time you can do it all. The Stonehenge is not a replica, but rather a purpose-built stone circle. You can read about it here: Stonehenge Aotearoa: New Zealand’s Powerful Stone Circle
Jerry and Fiona
Who doesn’t love a good road trip? New Zealand sounds like a great place to see some quirky sights. I love all the names of places in the town of Bulls. I also like the corrugated tin artwork, for I have never quite seen that.
The blue waterfall at Taupo looks amazing? Are there many hot springs to visit in New Zealand?
The geothermal region of Rotorua, Taupo and everywhere in the middle is filled with hotsprings, plus there are some on the South Island.
New Zealand has such a wonderful nature. Waitomo Glow Worms Cave looks absolutely stunning! I´ve also heard that the most charming places are in between, would love to do the drive. Thanks for the Wanderlust!
It’s very true, New Zealand is filled with charming little hide-a-ways and hidden secrets.
I did the trip in two legs, by bus, and it was amazing, even though I wasn’t able to stop wherever I wanted to. Could easily have done it again, but this time at my own pace 🙂
Where did you stop along the way?
Hi Rhonda – I’d be out and about and probably take longer … in the old days I’d have whizzed through … but one misses so much. They all look quite delightful … and I’d love to do the trip – cheers Hilary
We are the same, we used to drive straight through, now we take our time and enjoy.
I’m not much of a city person, so I’d be out in the country side soaking up the wide open spaces.
Great photography as always.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
I am a bit of both. I love the city, but also love the escape the rural areas.