Wellington to Napier Drive: A 4-Day Itinerary
While Wellington is a standard feature on many New Zealand bucket lists, the seaside city of Napier remains a relatively unexplored location.
An incredible way to see some of the best locations on the North Island is to embark on this road. It will take you through the heartland of the North Island while also offering many coastal delights.
Without any further ado, let’s explore this remarkable drive. Remember to have a trusty rental vehicle from our Wellington International Airport location in tow before you begin.
How long does it take to drive from Wellington to Napier?
The direct route from Wellington to Napier stretches over 324 kilometres and can be completed in approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes. However, this straight-line drive whizzes past some truly splendid attractions.
That's why we say a full 4-day itinerary is necessary to get the most out of this trip. While it follows the same general route as the no-frills drive, it features a number of stop-overs which will greatly enhance your travels.
Who says the South Island is the most beautiful part of New Zealand? This North Island drive has plenty of jaw-dropping sights to prove that assertion wrong.
Wellington to Napier Road Trip: A 4-Day Itinerary
This route really shines in the summertime. Napier is one of the best beachside cities in all of New Zealand and the summer weather will make for some highly enjoyable days on the water.
If you do want to make this trip in winter, we recommend altering the route to head toward Mount Ruapehu instead, as it is one of the premier skiing destinations in all of New Zealand. Then, you can finish off your trip by enjoying the Art Deco stylings of Napier.
If you decide to make this drive in the winter, remember to ensure you have some snow chains in tow (available for hire from Enterprise).
- Day 1: Arrive in Wellington
- Day 2: Wellington to Levin
- Day 3: Levin to Waipawa
- Day 4: Waipawa to Napier
Wellington to Napier overnight stays
- Wellington – 1 night
- Levin – 1 night
- Waipawa – 1 night
- Arrive in Napier
Day 1: Arrive in Wellington
Once you arrive in Wellington, you'll have no trouble figuring out why it was chosen as New Zealand’s capital. Wellington and its surrounding areas are packed with urban and natural delights that could entertain you for weeks on end.
While you should feel free to expand this itinerary to spend more time in Wellington, for the purposes of a 4-day itinerary, here are just a few of the best attractions in Wellington:
- Museum of New Zealand: New Zealand's national museum is also known as Te Papa, which is Māori for "container of treasures". It's the perfect way to describe the stunning range of exhibitions on show.
- Wellington Cable Car: Starting in Lambton Quay and taking visitors to a scenic lookout in Kelburn, the Wellington Cable Car provides an utterly unique perspective.
- Wellington Botanic Gardens: With a history dating back to 1868, these gardens boast 25 hectares of protected forest. It's an amazing way to understand the floral world of New Zealand.
- Wellington Zoo: Wellington Zoo has over 500 animals and 80 species. Native and exotic species on display include kiwis, lions, giraffes, and meerkats.
Wellington food and accommodation
As one of the cultural centres of New Zealand, it's no surprise to see a number of Wellington restaurants make it onto our list of the best restaurants in the country, including:
- Ortega Fish Shack: Seafood lovers need to look no further than the sophisticated, delicious stylings of Ortega Fish Shack. It is also known for its outstanding steak.
- Shed 5: Another spectacular seafood restaurant, Shed 5's inauspicious name belies the stunning food it offers as well as its gorgeous sea views.
- Jano Bistro: Classical French and contemporary New Zealand menus combine in Jano Bistro. When you arrive, you'll have 2 stunning set menus to dine on, as well as an array of stunning drinks to go with them. It's an exceptional way to wrap up your Wellington experience.
Lay your head down at one of the following lodgings:
- Bolton Hotel: This award-winning hotel includes valet parking, a pool, and a spa. It's a great choice for a luxurious night in Wellington.
- Rydges Wellington: This centrally-located hotel is a convenient way to stay in Wellington in style. It offers views of the city and the harbour alike.
- Mercure Wellington Abel Tasman: Get a spacious room at this venue for more affordable lodgings.
Day 2: Wellington to Levin
After you've had your fill of fun in Wellington, you're off on your way to Napier. Today's drive will have you heading north to see some stunning nature.
You'll be bursting with excitement to get into it! Head out early as you'll need well over half a day to see these attractions.
Wellington to Levin driving time
It takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Levin from Wellington via State Highway 1.
However, if you take a more inland route from Wellington via State Highway 2, you can see more of Akatarawa Forest while also having the opportunity to stop in at Ōtaki Beach before you reach Levin. This route adds just 14 minutes of driving time to your journey.
Akatarawa Forest offers some of the most lush greenery anywhere in New Zealand. To really appreciate it, we recommend taking the time to pull over and enjoy walks such as the Karapoti Gorge Walk.
If you're feeling peckish after your adventure, you can continue driving through the Akatarawa Valley until you reach Staglands Wildlife Reserve and Cafe. This stunning location allows you to interact with local wildlife while enjoying a cup of your favourite brew.
Around 50 minutes from Staglands Reserve and Cafe is Ōtaki Beach. This small town is named for its beautiful beach which is always a treat in summer. It is a sandy beach loved by swimmers and surfers alike.
If you'd like to spend even longer in this area, check out Tararua Forest Park. This rugged landscape is known for having some long, enthralling hikes. However, there are shorter tracks like Donnelly Flat Loop Walk you can check out.
Arrive in Levin
Levin is a charming town that certainly isn't lacking in things to do. Some of the most exciting activities in the area include:
- Levin Adventure Park: One of the most popular, family-friendly locations in Levin, the Adventure Park is replete with fun for your little ones. Highlights include a flying fox, a confidence course, and a skating area.
- Lake Horowhenua: Located within the stunning Muaūpoko Park, this lake is the perfect place for a waterside picnic.
- Lewis Farms: This local icon allows visitors to pick produce and browse a range of sustainable products. It's all the bucolic joy of Levin in one location.
Levin food and accommodation
After a long day of exploring, you'll be happy to have a meal at one of the following restaurants:
- Roadhouse Grill: Enjoy the American stylings of Roadhouse Grill, with menu items including ribs, burgers, and more.
- Kaffir Lime Cafe: Dine on a stunning selection of Southeast Asian cuisine at Kaffir Lime Cafe, including a range of delectable vegetarian options.
- Rangoli Indian Restaurant: Can't get enough of your favourite Indian flavours. There's no need to go without in Levin thanks to Rangoli Indian Restaurant. It also has takeaway options, in case you'd like to dine at nearby locations like Muaūpoko Park.
Some of the top lodgings and the warmest hospitality in Levin are available at these locations:
- Zachary's Motel: Zachary's Motel's convenient location offers easy access to local attractions including the cinema, Adventure Park and Aquatic Centre and Hokio Beach.
- Annandale Manor: Enjoy the charming old-world stylings of Annandale Manor. It's the perfect base camp for your Levin adventures.
- Welcome Inn Motel Levin: A quiet and cozy motel, offering scenic views of the Tararua Mountain range and a convenient location just a short walk from Levin's shops.
Day 3: Levin to Waipawa
Today you will make up the bulk of the distance to Napier. Prepare for a day of scenic views and entertaining activities as you abandon the west coast and head east.
Levin to Waipawa driving time
A no-frills drive from Levin to Waipawa takes approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes. An almost unnoticeable detour will allow you to check out the city of Palmerston North, which is well worth doing.
Just 40 minutes from Levin is the eighth-largest urban area in New Zealand. Some top attractions in the city include:
- Te Āpiti: This remarkable gorge near Palmerston North offers jaw-dropping views of the neighbouring rolling green hills.
- Victoria Esplanade Gardens: These gardens offer 19 hectares of greenery featuring rose gardens, camellias, and rhododendrons. It even includes aviaries!
- New Zealand Rugby Museum: If you love your rugby, this is a must-stop spot on your bucket list. It's teeming with memorabilia from the nation's exceptional performances.
Arrive in Waipawa
Carry on driving for another 1 hour and 40 minutes to Waipawa. This historic town sits in the Central Hawke's Bay region and is the perfect meeting place for history and nature.
Some of the top activities in the town include:
- Central Hawke's Bay Museum: Waipawa is one of the oldest inland European settlements in New Zealand. As such, it's the perfect place to step into the lives of early-day settlers at this excellent museum.
- Atmosphere Gallery: Step into the next generation of art at this contemporary art gallery. It shows off enthralling pieces of art from national and local artists alike.
- Forest of Memories: Located 10 minutes outside of Waipawa, this 2.5-hectare arboretum is the perfect place for a relaxing walk and reflection.
- Pekapeka Regional Park: Also known as the Pekapeka wetlands, this jaw-dropping reserve is 98 hectares of remarkable beauty. It's also a prime bird-watching location.
Waipawa food and accommodation
Enjoy a mouth-watering meal at the following locations:
- Goat Horn Cafe: Enjoy a delicious breakfast and sweet treat at this highly-rated venue.
- Skinny Mulligans: Another excellent option to eat in Waipawa, this restaurant offers consistently delicious food.
- Waipawa Fish Supply: Don't need a fancy meal? Then the fish and chips and Waipawa Fish Supply and sure to please your taste buds.
There are plenty of options in and around Waipawa for you to get some much-needed rest:
- Tuki Tuki Motel: Just a short drive from Waipawa, Tuki Tuki Motel offers comfortable and affordable lodgings and the chance to check out the nearby town of Waipukurau.
- Thornton Lodge Motel: Also in Waipukurau, Thornton Lodge Motel offers spacious units as well as an outdoor pool.
- Mount Vernon Villa: Escape to nature at Mount Vernon Villa, a recently renovated Grade A Heritage Building.
Day 4: Waipawa to Napier
Congratulations, you've almost made it! The end of your trip is fast approaching as you head toward Napier. Don't worry, there's plenty more fun awaiting you on Day 4.
Waipawa to Napier driving time
The direct route from Waipawa to Napier takes 50 minutes. Today's detour adds around 1 hour to your trip, but trust us, it's well worth it.
Te Mata Peak
Around 50 minutes from Waipawa is Te Mata Peak. With 360° views of the Hawke's Bay region, take a sealed road up to the top of this lookout and drink in the exceptional views. Almost 400 metres above sea level, enjoy the rugged side of New Zealand without breaking a sweat.
Arrive in Napier
You've made it to your final destination. Whether your first point of business is diving into the east coast water or enjoying the Art Deco architecture, you're in for a great time.
Here's a shortlist of attractions to get stuck into in Napier:
- National Aquarium of New Zealand: Located on Marine Parade, the National Aquarium of New Zealand is home to over 1,500 animals and over 50 species.
- Cape Kidnappers: Located around 30 minutes outside Napier, Cape Kidnappers is the southernmost extremity of Hawke's Bay. It offers remarkable views of the ocean and has one of the most scenic golf courses in the world.
- Sunken Gardens: This stunning garden includes a number of beautiful sculptures, flower beds, and ponds. It's one of the most serene and relaxing walks on the North Island.
- Napier Prison: Don't worry, it's not still operational! Napier Prison now offers remarkable historical tours, deepening your understanding of the city.
- The Art Deco Trust: The Art Deco Trust offers guided tours of Napier's Art Deco architecture, and is the best way to appreciate this unique aspect of the city.
Napier food and accommodation
If you love seafood, you're in the right place:
- Pacifica Restaurant: Grab a delicious degustation menu that celebrates the local cuisine.
- Hunger Monger Seafood: Located on Marine Parade, Hunger Monger is a seafood bistro to please the most fish-phobic eater.
- Bistronomy: The fine dining menu of Bistronomy is highly seasonal and always has a refreshing and sustainable range of meals to enjoy.
Top choices for places to stay in Napier include:
- Art Deco Masonic Hotel: You're in Napier, so go all out and enjoy its architectural heritage. This well-reviewed venue is charming and comfortable.
- Beach Front Motel: Get an eyeful of Hawke's Bay ocean at the Beach Front Motel. Best of all, you don't need to blow your budget to do it!
- Kennedy Park Resort: Keep the family happy with a stay at Kennedy Park Resort. It offers self-contained villas and studios for autonomous lodgings.
Make the Most of this Coast-to-Coast Drive with Enterprise
While you could complete the Wellington to Napier drive in just a few hours, where's the fun in that? This itinerary shows off the very best of the lower North Island in 4 outstanding days.
For even longer North Island drives, check out our Wellington to Tauranga and Wellington to Auckland road trips. If you prefer to form your own itinerary, make use of our guide to the best places to visit on the North Island.
If you can't wait to get stuck into your New Zealand adventure, check out our Wellington International Airport location. With unlimited mileage on most of our vehicles and Premium Roadside Assistance available, let us help you build the Kiwi adventure of your dreams.