Wellington to Tauranga Drive: A 5-Day North Island Itinerary
If you want to explore the heartland of New Zealand's North Island, there's no better way than by taking a drive from Wellington to Tauranga. Wellington, the nation's capital, is a stunning metropolis packed with amazing things to do. Tauranga is one of the fastest-growing cities in New Zealand, with its harbourside beauty and gorgeous natural features alluring new residents and tourists every year.
Whether you're an international visitor or a local, our itinerary will help you make the very most of this trip. It's chock-full of amazing stops, no matter your interests.
To ensure smooth passage, be sure to grab an Enterprise Rentals vehicle from our Wellington Airport location. Our wide range of options means anyone and everyone can drive a safe, reliable vehicle that suits their needs.
How long does it take to drive from Wellington to Tauranga?
With a straight-line driving distance of 542km, you can make the trek from Wellington to Tauranga in around 6 hours, but where's the fun in that? We suggest taking on a 5-day route instead.
The greatest difference between our route and the no-frills drive is a deviation to the coastal city of Napier. Glance at a map and this might seem like a slightly excessive detour, but trust us, it's well worth the stop-over.
Other methods of travel from Wellington to Tauranga
- Many domestic airlines fly from Wellington to Tauranga. A direct flight takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Round-trip flight prices vary and can cost around $300-400. Keep in mind that flying way above the ground means you won’t get a chance to take in the incredible landscapes of this drive.
- Private bus companies operate routes from Wellington to Tauranga, taking around 10 hours and 45 minutes.
- There is no direct train route from Wellington to Tauranga.
Wellington to Tauranga: A 5-Day Itinerary
In our humble opinion, New Zealand's North Island is best experienced in summertime, allowing you to (literally) dive into all of its epic bodies of water.
If you're making a winter trip and want to get stuck into some snow sports, cut Napier out of this itinerary and stay on State Highway 1 towards Mount Ruapehu. This is the premier skiing destination on the North Island and is a highly convenient stop on this trip.
- Day 1: Arrive in Wellington
- Day 2: Wellington to Levin
- Day 3: Levin to Napier
- Day 4: Napier to Rotorua
- Day 5: Rotorua to Tauranga
Wellington to Tauranga Overnight Stays
We have 4 overnight stays built into our itinerary, but if you're in no hurry, feel free to add an extra night here, there or everywhere.
Wellington – 1 night
Levin – 1 night
Napier – 1 night
Rotorua – 1 night
Arrive in Tauranga
Day 1: Arrive in Wellington
Once you arrive in the nation's capital, you'll quickly discover just how much there is to get your teeth sunk into while you're there. Some of the most popular activities you can enjoy in Wellington include:
- Museum of New Zealand: The nation's preeminent museum is a must-see venue for any visitor to Wellington. Its permanent exhibitions are completely free for everyone to enjoy.
- Wellington Cable Car: 5 minutes is all it takes to see the city of Wellington in a whole new way thanks to the historic Wellington Cable Car. It starts in the central Lambton Quay and ends up at a scenic lookout in Kelburn.
- Zealandia Ecosanctuary: This 225-hectare sanctuary offers incredible forest tracks taking you on a tour of over 40 rare species including national icons like the takahē, tuatara, and kiwi.
- Wairarapa wine region: It wouldn't be a trip to New Zealand if you didn't indulge in some wine. The Wairarapa region is packed full of stunning wineries producing exceptional vino and gourmet food to go along with it.
Wellington food and accommodation
Wellington earned a number of spots on our ultimate list of the best restaurants in New Zealand, including:
- Hiakai: Take an unforgettable journey through the world of Māori cuisine at Hiakai. It prominently features ingredients that have been used by Māori and Pasifika communities for centuries, distilled into a brilliant menu for you to enjoy.
- Logan Brown: This exceptional fine dining venue utilises an extensive local wine list to complement a stunning tasting menu.
- Fisherman's Plate Seafood: Don't want to blow your whole travel budget on one meal? Stop in at the Vietnamese cuisine specialists at Fisherman's Plate.
Here are some top choices for accommodation in Wellington, suitable for a range of budgets:
- Sofitel Wellington: Enjoy luxury lodgings and the acclaimed restaurant Jardin Grille.
- Novotel Wellington: For a more affordable, but still-excellent option, check out Novotel Wellington. It offers a range of room types and a central location near many of Wellington's top attractions.
- Microtel by Wyndham: Microtel by Wyndham is located in Wellington's CBD and offers comfortable accommodation to make your stay in the nation's capital all the more enjoyable.
Day 2: Wellington to Levin
Today's drive is a short one, so you can use the morning to polish off any more activities you didn't get around to yesterday. Then, hit the road towards the town of Levin.
Wellington to Levin driving time
It takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Levin from Wellington via State Highway 1. However, we suggest taking a more inland route (via State Highway 2 and Akatarawa Road) so you can enjoy the majesty of Akatarawa Forest. This alternative route takes 1 hour and 50 minutes.
You can enjoy this stunning forest simply by driving past it, but it's packed with things to see buried within its dense foliage. Highlights include the Tunnel Gully Loop Track, the Cannon Point Walkway and the Hutt River Trail.
Staglands Wildlife Reserve and Café
Carry on driving through Akatarawa Valley until you reach the Staglands Wildlife Reserve and Café. Here, you can interact with wildlife such as deer, goats and sheep, and catch a glimpse of vaunted native birds like whio, kea and pāteke. Then, enjoy a meal and a cup at the nearby café.
Arrive in Levin
Just an hour's drive from Staglands is the township of Levin. It might not be the most bustling location in all of New Zealand, but there's plenty to enjoy here.
Haven't got your fill of stunning North Island nature? Check out the Papaitonga Scenic Reserve. Want to enjoy a nice evening swim? Head down to Waitarere Beach. Care to indulge in some culture? The Murrayfield Museum and Café is the place for you.
Levin food and accommodation
You can enjoy a meal at the following venues:
- Salt & Pepper Café: Take in a charming location and delicious food at the Salt & Pepper Café.
- Star of India Takeaway: A local favourite, this family-owned takeaway restaurant is conveniently located in the Levin Shopping Centre.
- Kaffir Lime Café: Soak up Asian flavours at affordable prices when you visit this restaurant.
After you’ve enjoyed a delectable meal, you can lay your head down at night at:
- Totara Lodge Motel: If you want quiet accommodation in a central location, Totara Lodge Motel is the place for you.
- Redwood Lodge: This charming inn offers comfortable and clean rooms, perfect for recharging on your epic journey.
- Levin Top 10 Holiday Park: Embrace nature and keep the kids happy at the Levin Top 10 Holiday Park.
Day 3: Levin to Napier
This is where your itinerary goes from utilitarian drive to full-blown road trip. Today, you'll cut towards the coast and the stunning city of Napier. We think it's well worth the detour.
Levin to Napier driving time
Heading straight from Levin to Napier takes around 3 hours and 20 minutes via State Highway 2. Today's recommended stops will add around 10 minutes to your driving time.
Start your day with around 2 hours of driving before pulling over in the charming town of Waipawa. This town is both beautiful and full of fun things for tourists to do.
Have a stroll or a picnic along the Waipawa River, which lends its name to the town. Then, check out the Settlers Museum for a sampling of some local history.
Te Mata Peak
Hit the road for another 50 or so minutes until you arrive at Te Mata Peak. This stunning location offers 360° views of the Hawke's Bay region that beggar belief. Best of all, a sealed road leads to a popular lookout at the peak, so you don't need to puff yourself out to enjoy the view.
Arrive in Napier
You'll only need to drive for another 30 minutes to reach the city of Napier. It is perhaps most famous for its world-renowned Art Deco architecture. It also offers some stunning beaches, including Westshore Beach and Waipatiki Beach. Napier is an essential stop for any North Island road trip.
Once you've finished gawking at the local architecture and having a dip, you can also take a look at the Sea Walls street art project, which showcases jaw-dropping maritime art.
Napier food and accommodation
Unsurprisingly, much of Napier's culinary scene centres around seafood.
- Pacifica Restaurant: This fine-dining venue offers a degustation menu to die for.
- Hunger Monger: Enjoy beautifully prepared local seafood at Hunger Monger.
- Restaurant Indonesia: Restaurant Indonesia is known for excellent customer service and delectable cuisine you won’t forget in a hurry.
Some excellent choices for accommodation in Napier include:
- Beach Front Motel: You don’t have to spend much to enjoy a stunning view at the Beach Front Motel.
- Nautilus: If you're willing to spend a bit more, you can have an enjoyable stay at this waterfront hotel.
- Art Deco Masonic Hotel: Indulge in Napier’s unique architectural heritage at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel.
Day 4: Napier to Rotorua
Once you've had your fill of everything Napier has to offer, it's time to disembark and head towards your next destination, Rotorua. This amazing city is notable in New Zealand for many reasons, including its rich Māori culture and geothermal activity.
Napier to Rotorua driving time
A straight-line drive on State Highway 5 takes just under 3 hours to complete. Today's suggested stop-over will add around 5 minutes to your driving time.
There's only one place you need to stop between Napier and Rotorua to have an action-packed day: Taupō. This natural wonderland is full of stunning scenery for you to check out.
The nearby Huka Falls offers astonishing vistas of turquoise water crashing into rugged rocks. The Maori Rock Carvings also come highly recommended. These 10-metre-high carvings can only be accessed by water, but they're certainly worth the effort.
You can also get a taste of the thermal delights you'll find in Rotorua at locations like the Craters of the Moon and Orakei Korako Geothermal Park.
Arrive in Rotorua
An hour onwards from Taupō is the city of Rotorua. It sits on the shores of Lake Rotorua and, like other amazing cities of New Zealand, offers a collection of natural and urban delights.
If you haven't had your fill of geothermal fun, check out locations like the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Hell's Gate or Wai-O-Tapu. Also, be sure to check out mountains like Moerangi or Whakapoungakau.
Rotorua is also home to an array of incredible Māori cultural tours and experiences. You can even combine a touch of culture with a geothermal experience at Te Puia, an incredible valley and favourite of tourists and locals alike.
Rotorua food and accommodation
Rotorua has plenty of delicious restaurants for you to sample, including:
- Atticus Finch: Enjoy a homely and comforting meal that doesn’t skimp on flavour at Atticus Finch.
- Giovanni's Restaurant and Pizzeria: Sample all your Italian favourites at this local stalwart.
- El Mexicana Zapata Cantina: You’ll feel like you’ve somehow ended up in Mexico when you consume a stunning meal at this location.
Here are some options for your accommodation to consider:
- Treetops Lodge: This aptly-named venue offers unique and luxurious lodgings.
- Arista of Rotorua: Arista of Rotorua is centrally-located and offers an unmissable private spa experience.
- Ibis Rotorua: Spend your night on a lower budget without sacrificing easy access to Lake Rotorua and comfortable rooms.
Day 5: Rotorua to Tauranga
Sadly, your epic road trip is drawing to a conclusion. You only have a short drive ahead of you before you reach your final location. Don't despair, as plenty more fun awaits you on the final day of your trip.
Rotorua to Tauranga driving time
The quickest way to get to Tauranga from Rotorua is via State Highway 36. This will take you just under an hour. If you're willing to spend time instead of money, the cheapest way to get to Tauranga from Rotorua avoids the Takitimu Drive Toll Road. This route, which requires you to leave Rotorua via State Highway 33 instead of 36, will add around 10 minutes to your drive.
Arrive in Tauranga
Since there's just so much to see in Tauranga, we suggest heading straight there from Rotorua. Tauranga is an incredible place to conclude this holiday. Here's just a taster of everything you can get up to when you're there.
- Mount Maunganui: This extinct volcano lends its name to one of the most incredible suburbs in Tauranga. You can hike to its summit or enjoy beautiful surf at its base.
- Fernland Spa: Fernland Spa is a beautiful geothermal complex that allows you to relax in style while soaking in one of New Zealand's natural wonders.
- Tauranga Art Gallery: There's always a stunning exhibit to check out at the Tauranga Art Gallery. Since its opening in 2007, it has been a backbone of Tauranga's cultural scene.
- Have a drink: On top of everything else Tauranga is known for, it's home to an exceptional craft beer community. Stop in at The Hop House or Slab Brewing to taste the unique flavour of this region.
- Waimarino Adventure Park: Located just 10 minutes from Tauranga city, Waimarino Adventure Park offers kayak hire, climbing walls and New Zealand's only kayak slide. It's the perfect place to get your adrenaline pumping in true Kiwi style.
Tauranga food and accommodation
Since you've travelled all this way, you're sure to be feeling hungry when you arrive in Tauranga. Here are some of the best locations to have a bite to eat in this coastal paradise:
- Umami Fusion Kitchen: This casual eatery brings together a range of Asian-inspired dishes for a dining experience to remember.
- Harbourside: Take it up a notch at this fine dining establishment. It offers a beautiful seafood menu and harbour views to match.
- Le Chat Noir: This French venue offers a delectable range of classic dishes. It's the perfect place for your midday snack.
Tauranga has some lovely lodgings to go along with everything else we love about the city. Some of the best places to stay in Tauranga are:
- The French Country House: Step back in time thanks to the charming and luxurious rooms available at The French Country House.
- Hotel on Devonport: The central location of the Hotel on Devonport makes it an ideal place to stay for your Tauranga holiday.
- ASURE Harbour View Motel: Keep within your budget while still enjoying eye-popping views at the ASURE Harbour View Motel.
Once you've had your fill of fun in Tauranga, it's the perfect place to launch into explorations of Auckland or Hamilton. The choice is yours!
Final thoughts on Wellington to Tauranga drive
The journey from Wellington to Tauranga is an exceptional way to explore some of the more forgotten attractions in New Zealand. For an even more extensive North Island itinerary, check out our Auckland to Wellington road trip guide. You can also see our top places to visit in the North Island.
To help ensure your travels go off without a hitch, browse our Wellington Airport location and find the perfect car for your journey. With unlimited mileage on most of our vehicles and Premium Roadside Assistance available, look no further for your dream New Zealand travel companion.