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Road Trip New Zealand: Lower North Island highlights

At home, the neighbour who has the best of everything makes you jealous. For travel, however, we love having a neighbour with it all on our doorstep! It's just a short flight to reach our neighbours across New Zealand's Lower North Island, where incredible natural, cultural, and tasty wonders await.

At home, the neighbour who has the best of everything makes you jealous. For travel, however, we love having a neighbour with it all on our doorstep! It’s just a short flight to reach our neighbours across New Zealand’s Lower North Island, where incredible natural, cultural, and tasty wonders await.

Aotearoa New Zealand offers comforts and newness on every epic road trip. Your clients will feel a sense of homey familiarity, and yet, will be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of unique adventures that simply can’t be experienced on a domestic holiday.

Landing at Wellington International Airport only 3.5 hours after leaving Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane, your clients will be on the road and exploring Te Ika-a-Māui North Island in record time.

One of the best parts of a road trip is the flexibility to set your own pace. We recommend your clients spend at least 2-nights in each region in order to soak in the local vibes and uncover hidden gems.

Across the Lower North Island, the adventures are as rich as the locals are friendly. We’ve got the low-down on creating the perfect itinerary for your New Zealand-bound clients! Spoiler alert: it’ll be chockful of culture, art, activities, epic landscapes, and great wine!

Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington

Wellington, Lower North Island
Gorgeous views of Wellington from Mt Victoria. ©Tourism New Zealand

Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington is more than just New Zealand’s capital; it’s also the country’s culture, coffee, and craft beer capital.

Visiting Te Papa is an #NZMustDo. Especially on the Māori-guided Te Papa’s 90-minute Kīnaki Tour. Discover how te iwi takeka (the first people of the land) used natural resources for medicine, food, and tools.

Wellington boasts an impressive number of cafés, restaurants, bars, and food trucks per capita. Ditch decision fatigue for Kaewa’s Wellington Foodie Delights Tour where an award-winning lunch accompanies delectable samples of Wellington’s best treats.

Just an hour’s drive from Wellington City awaits one of New Zealand’s oldest and most significant nature reserves, Kapiti Island. Book your clients with Kapiti Island Nature Tours to discover Kapiti’s rare wildlife, rich history, and the dedicated kaitiaki (guardians) of the island who seamlessly integrate conservation efforts to preserve these natural treasures for generations to come.

  • Fun fact: Wellington is the southernmost capital city in the world. 


Bridge to Nowhere
Immersive nature experiences from Bridge to Nowhere reveal the best of Whanganui National Park. ©Tourism New Zealand

From Wellington, it’s a 2.5-hour drive to Whanganui, a region abundant in natural wonders. New Zealand’s longest navigable river links stunning mountains, lush rainforest, and the city, ending at black-sand beaches and the Tasman Sea. Whanganui has a rich cultural Māori, European heritage, and a vibrant artistic community. 

Te Awa Tupua (The Whanganui River) is integral to the region. An exciting jet boating or multi-day canoeing adventure with Bridge to Nowhere Lodge & Tours gets road trippers in the heart of the river’s middle reaches to experience its power firsthand.

For historical insights, the free Whanganui Regional Museum reveals the region’s heart and culture. Their Taonga Māori Collection is particularly impressive, covering 40+ Māori generations.

Gin lovers will relish visiting Papaiti Gin, in charming rural Whanganui. This award-winning gin distillery shares their local botanic secrets in their mixology and gin-making classes.

  • Fun fact: Te Awa Tupua (The Whanganui River) was the world’s first river to be legally given personhood status in 2017.


Taranaki’s distinct mountain-to-sea coastline. ©Tourism New Zealand

An easy 2-hour drive from Whanganui is Taranaki. With its stunning landscapes, remarkable history, iconic arts, and unique events, this region is like no other. While only a short distance between the picture-perfect mountains and black-sand surf beaches, there is much to see and do.

Considered one of New Zealand’s most innovative museums, the Tawhiti Museum showcases life-size realistic displays to capture Taranaki’s past. The Traders and Whalers underground boat also impresses.

If your clients enjoy a hands-on approach to history, they’ll love Forgotten World Adventures. Riding an antique rail cart through the untamed bush is just one of the tour options across this Lower North Island area.

Getting out in nature in Taranaki is such a pleasure. Especially when staying off-grid in a geodesic dome with River Belle Glamping. The outdoor bathtub with Mt Taranaki views is a highlight.

  • Fun fact: Did you know you can hike Taranaki Maunga’s slopes and hit the beach and surf on the same day? Amazing! 


Whakapapa Skifield in summer
Mind-boggling vistas give pause on the Whakapapa Skifield. ©Tourism New Zealand

For outdoor enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and nature lovers, Ruapehu’s majestic mountains, ancient rainforests, and mystical rivers do not disappoint. To get there, simply enjoy a scenic 2-hour and 45-minute drive from Whanganui.

To be wowed by Ruapehu’s sweeping views, take the Sky Waka Gondola. Visitors can also feast at New Zealand’s highest dining experience, the Knoll Ridge Chalet. It’s so amazing, it won Best Designed Chalet in the world!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a hiker’s dream. The experts, Adrift Tongariro, help trampers tackle the Tongariro Crossing, voted one of the best 1-day hikes in the world. Enjoy the flexibility to choose from half-day, full-day, or multi-day guided options.

For a unique opportunity to experience traditional Māori healing on the Whanganui River, tour with Owhango Adventures. With a local Māori navigator, this is an immersive journey to discover customs, traditions, and song.

  • Fun fact: Ruapehu is famous for its ‘twos’: it’s home to two national parks, two New Zealand Great Rides, and two New Zealand Great Walks, including the famous Tongariro Northern Circuit!  

Hawke’s Bay

Art DecoTrust Vintage Car Tours
Discover Napier on a vintage car tour with the Art Deco Trust. ©Tourism New Zealand

Drive 3 hours and 15 minutes from Whanganui to find yourself in Hawke’s Bay, the region known as New Zealand’s Food and Wine Country. Farmer’s markets, roadside stalls, beachside cafes, fine-dining establishments, and vineyard cellar doors enjoy sharing the spoils from this fertile region of the Lower North Island.

In a destination renowned for its wine, vino should feature on every itinerary. For a one-of-a-kind tasting experience, Heretaunga Wine Studio impresses, thanks to the personal sommelier and stories accompanying every sip.

Self-guided bike tours with Tākaro Trails can also include wine! From one-day rides to multi-day tours, Tākaro Tours have something for every cycling ability. Their brilliant 5-day guided food and wine e-bike tour is a hit.

No trip to Hawke’s Bay is complete without time in Napier, the Art Deco capital of the world. Rebuilt after the devastating 1931 earthquake, Napier’s architecture and stories of resilience are best experienced on Art Deco Napiers fabulous heritage walking or vintage car tours.

  • Fun fact: Hawke’s Bay is officially a Great Wine Capital of the world, joining 11 other destinations, including renowned regions like Napa Valley and Bordeaux!

Stay tuned for part three in this series – Top of the South Island – coming soon! Until then, take a recap tour of our Road Trip New Zealand series.

Advisors, seek more and discover rewards

River Belle Glamping, Lower North Island
Enjoy the Lower North Island’s natural treasures in a River Belle Glamping geodesic dome. ©Tourism New Zealand

Seeking more Lower North Island and Aotearoa New Zealand content? Head to Tourism New Zealand’s dedicated trade website; it’s got everything you need!

Ready to be a certified expert and unlock exclusive benefits? Join the 100% Pure New Zealand Specialist Programme.

If you’re inspired to promote New Zealand to your clients, check out the amazing Marketing Hub resource. Logos, images, flyers, and social media assets are ready to go.

Be the first off the mark for New Zealand updates, training, selling tips, and the hottest news when you sign up for the Tourism New Zealand newsletter. The New Zealand Travel Specialists closed Facebook group is also a great resource.

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