Auckland New Zealand greets nearly 4 million visitors annually. Some stay in the city, but more come to explore our country. We find an Auckland to Wellington drive is a great way to discover many of the North Island’s secrets.
As we live in Auckland, and our daughter lives in Wellington, we have made the drive many times, discovering plenty of options for an Auckland to Wellington road trip itinerary.
Along the way, we have enjoyed enchanting gardens, bubbling earth, geysers, volcanos, museums, clever cafés, huge corrugated iron animals, hobbit holes, and a spring that produces most of the country’s drinking water.
If you are ready to take the drive, read on. Below we will help you clarify your best Auckland to Wellington Drive.
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As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Setting Up An Auckland to Wellington road trip
While we have driven just about every possible route, we chose our most frequently driven two options (there is a bit of overlap in the centre of the island):
- Direct route from Auckland to Wellington
Drive time: 8 hours
Number of days: Best with 1- 2 days
Route: Auckland > Hamilton > Cambridge > Turangi > Waiouru > Taihape > Kapiti Coast > Wellington
- Scenic / Explorative Auckland to Wellington road trip itinerary
Drive time: 10.25 hours drive time
Number of days: Best with 3-5 days
Route: Auckland > Matamata (optional) > Blue Spring > Rotorua > Taupo > Turangi > Waiouru > Taihape > Wairarapa > Wellington
Our Auckland to Wellington driving map
The suggested stops in this article are featured on the map and colour-coded using yellow for the direct route and red for the scenic route with the cities on both routes in orange. Grey represents coastal routes near the bottom of the article.
Can you drive from Auckland to Wellington in one Day?
Yes, but why would you want to with so many fabulous places along the way?
We powered through our first Auckland to Wellington drive with only two stops (food and toilet) For us, this was not a good plan.
Car hire (rental) for your Auckland to Wellington road trip
Unless you are using your own vehicle, you will need to hire a car. We always rent from RentalCars. They offer a comprehensive list of multinational and local rental car agents, ratings on specific car types, and agency ratings. Importantly, they often have lower prices than going direct.
Whether you rent from them or not, it’s still the perfect place to begin your search. Compare options or reserve your car at RentalCars.com
Starting city: Auckland
New Zealand’s largest city is home to nearly one-third of the country’s population. We are amongst this crowd. Whether it is nature, culture, or culinary delights, Auckland has it all. We have written extensively about our city, with our key things to do in Auckland here.
Continue reading for Hamilton to Waitomo or skip to the Matamata to Taupo segment now
Hamilton to Waitomo Segment (Direct Route)
New Zealand’s fourth-largest city is home to the internationally acclaimed Hamilton Gardens, a must-see that we never skip if we are nearby. Still free, it’s a real treasure, and we allocate at least 90 minutes here.
There are plenty of other things to do in Hamilton, but if we are headed to Wellington with less than five days to spend, we get back on the road after the gardens.
Small town New Zealand at its finest; we actually love to come here for a weekend getaway. While there are plenty of things to do in Cambridge, when passing through on a drive to Wellington, we usually just stop for coffee, lunch or a walk up and down the main street.
Waitomo Caves or Blue Spring (optional- extra driving Required)
Unfortunately, these two are in opposite directions, and both are amazing.
- Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring
Access to Blue Spring / Te Waihou Walkway from Leslie Road is temporarily closed.
New Zealand exports about 9 million litres of water each year, and nearly 70% of that water comes from the Blue Spring. The easy 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, but it’s much shorter as an in and out from Leslie Road.
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm 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. However, they are worth a visit if you have never seen the glowworm species found exclusively in New Zealand.
If you purchase timed tickets in advance, you can allocate about 2 hours for your entire adventure (the tour is one hour). If not, you might be waiting up to half a day for a tour. Reserve your glowworm tour in advance here.
If you drove the Hamilton to Waitomo route, skip to the Turangi segment now
Matamata to Taupo Segment (Scenic Route)
The Hobbiton Movie Set is probably one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, yet neither Jeff nor I have been there. Our girls rave about the opportunity to enjoy the last remaining intact set from the Lord of the Rings movies.
They talk of being surrounded by lush green pastures, the hobbit holes of the Shire, and guides that share stories and behind-the-scenes secrets. For fans, Hobbiton is a must-see. It is only available as a guided tour, and stopping here will add about half a day to your Auckland to Wellington drive. Reserve your Hobbiton tour in advance here.
A creative solution to revitalizing a town, in the late 1980s, a Tirau resident 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. Unless it’s mealtime, we usually allocate about 30 minutes here.
Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring
We wrote about this in the section above, as it can be an easy add-on there too.
A destination on its own, we can easily spend several days here. While we have written quite extensively on the huge variety of unique things to do in Rotorua, we include some of the highlights here:
- It’s a geothermal wonderland with bubbling mud, rising steam, and colourful mineral elements, creating a landscape that keep visitors in awe.
- Adrenaline-pumping adventures like bungy, luge, zorb, giant swing, and mountain biking.
- It’s a place to rejuvenate with plenty of natural mineral spa baths and a forest of tall redwoods.
- There are also impressive Māori cultural discovery opportunities.
We recommend spending at least one night, ideally more. Being fans of 5-star accommodations offering a touch of luxury, our current favourite place to stay is the Pullman Rotorua. Reserve your stay at the Pullman here.
(Note: if Rotorua is your final destination, and you are looking for even more stops on the way, be sure to check out our road trip from Auckland to Rotorua.)
There are several fascinating places between Rotorua and Taupo, and Orakei Karako is our top recommendation.
What separates it from some of the other geothermal locations is the vast array of vivid colours, the vibrant terraces, bubbling mud pools, and silica formations. Plus, it is home to one of only two geothermal caves in the world. Reserve your often discounted entry here.
Picturesque Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and Australasia’s largest freshwater lake. Taupo is another place for some impressive scenery, adventure, or relaxation.
It’s probably best known for Huka Falls, where water plunges over the falls at more than 220,000 litres per second. It’s a must-see, even if you are just driving through. Allocate at least about 30 minutes.
There are plenty of other things to do in Taupo, from walking along the lake to skydiving, from geothermal activity to visiting a famous glass works. If it’s skydiving you are after, you can often get discount skydiving experiences here.
Turangi Segment (Both Routes)
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 winter skiers.
This brings plenty of inexpensive, roadside motel-style accommodations. If you are like us and prefer something a little nicer, check out and reserve your suite at Creel Lodge in Turangi.
Waiouru: The National Army Museum
The museum took 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.
All New Zealand army recruits take their oath at the Tears on Greenstone Memorial (Roimata Pounamu) in the museum.
We spent about an hour here, but if you are a history buff, be prepared to be a bit longer.
If you loved the corrugated iron in Tirau, you won’t want to miss the giant boot welcoming you to Taihape.
Continue reading for Kapiti Coast or skip to the Wairarapa segment now
Kapiti Coast Segment (Direct Route)
Bulls and Sanson
When passing through the town of Bulls, be sure to read shop names and signs. The motto is “a town like no udder,” and the puns are everywhere.
A few of our favourites are: Read-A-Bull (library), Social-A-Bull (town hall), Const-A-Bull (police station)
Sanson is the next town. It’s home to an old church-turned-cafe serving ‘Heavenly Coffee’. We found the Church Cafe to live up to this standard.
The beautiful Kapiti coast offers plenty of things to do. If you choose to spend the night, we stumbled upon Raumati Sands Resort, close to the beach, with huge self-contained units offering lovely views. Reserve your stay at Raumati Sands Resort here.
- Nga Manu
We loved this dense, green nature reserve with its easy-to-follow trails leading to a few aviaries, a nocturnal house, a bushwalk, and an impressive lookout point. A non-profit charitable trust, they have a successful breed and release program and are one of the places to see kiwi in New Zealand. If you want a more personal experience, check out this guided evening kiwi encounter. The tour takes participants out to a private enclosure for Kiwi viewing in the evening. Reserve your night adventure here.
- Paekakariki Hill Road Lookout
It didn’t take us long to know why this is often considered one of the most beautiful coastal roads in New Zealand. The well-paved, windy Paekakariki Hill Road took us first up to a lookout, then down the other side. Even in the rain, the view was impressive all the way.
If you drove the Kapiti Coast, skip to the Wellington segment now
Wairarapa Segment (Scenic Route)
Mangatainoko (Tui Brewery)
Tui has been brewed in Mangatainoko since 1889, although now it’s more of a microbrewery. 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, and we have written about our visits and tours of Tui Brewery here. The tour and tasting take about an hour, and there is also a lovely cafe.
Wairarapa is another stunning New Zealand region worth exploring. We make different choices each time we drive through, and last time we opted to stay for several days on our way back up from Wellington to Auckland.
We wrote about all our favourite things to do in Wairarapa here, with a few highlights listed below:
- Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, Mt Bruce
Lush, native and teeming with bird life, we walked along well-manicured paths through the dense forest, passing a variety of bird and lizard aviaries, including one that was open-fly. The reserve is home to several rare and endangered bird species in their natural habitats, including kiwi, takahe, and kaka. Also found here is New Zealand’s only white kiwi, not an albino, it’s a genetic abnormality. The park offers a range of activities, from guided tours to feeding experiences. Plan to spend about 1-2 hours here.
- Le Grá Vineyard and Winery, Masterton
Here we relaxed with a tasting and a platter and walked away impressed with everything about our afternoon. The owner/hosts are personable and friendly. Le Grá a lovely spot
- Cobblestones Museum, Greytown
This historic village is a fascinating early settler museum.
- Stonehenge Aotearoa
Fascinating on different levels, Stonehenge Aotearoa represents the history of ancient stone circles combined with their power. It is a purpose-built stone circle created for its surroundings.
Wellington (Ending city)
Our drive to Wellington comes to an end in New Zealand’s capital city. Home to the government buildings, it is a lovely waterfront city with plenty of interesting things to do.
Once here, we tend to stay a while. Preferring 5-star luxury in the centre of town, we stay at Sofitel Wellington. Everything about it, from the welcoming staff to our large, tastefully decorated, comfortable room, made our stay easy. Reserve your stay at Sofitel here.
Have more time – extended Auckland to Wellington Itinerary options
Twice, we took two weeks to make the drive (once out to each coast), both times seeing amazing new places and having plenty of time to relax. Here are the longer, super scenic routes:
Auckland to Wellington via the West Coast through Taranaki and Whanganui
This was our most recent road trip, and I loved it. We spent a week enjoying New Plymouth and the rest of the Taranaki region.
For more details on where to stop on this itinerary, start here: Auckland to New Plymouth Coastal Road Trip: 10 Must-see Stops. (Taranaki to Wellington coming soon)
Auckland to Wellington via the East Coast through Bay of Plenty and Napier
We have done this twice, once incorporating every stop and the second time more direct from Auckland to Napier (more coming soon) and then Napier to Wellington.
Practical information about the Auckland to Wellington Drive
- In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road. If you are unfamiliar with driving here, we encourage you to read the NZTA for driving tips for overseas visitors.
- 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 (although locals often complain about potholes). Rural roads, however, are sometimes metals (gravel) or not in as good of shape as you might expect.
Other ways to travel from Auckland to Wellington
There are other ways to travel between Wellington and Auckland. Here are a few options:
- Take a tour
Like this four-day option that visits Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, Rotorua, and Lake Taupo. With two nights in Rotorua and the final in Wellington, it looks like a great option if you don’t want to drive yourself. Reserve your 4-day tour here.
Air New Zealand and Jetstar both offer daily flights. If you want to fly, check Expedia flights for the best prices.
There is 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. Reserve the Northern Explorer here.
Check out some of the bus options here.
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Which Auckland to Wellington Drive Itinerary will you pick?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
Disclaimer: We worked with local tourism boards and were provided with some complimentary entrances, tours, or media rates to assist in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.