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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Wellington & Wairarapa

The Wellington and Wairarapa corner of New Zealand really packs a punch. Like Mike Tyson style ‘bam’, and you’re floored by the impressive commitment to a luxurious life of good food, good people, and good times.

The Wellington and Wairarapa corner of New Zealand really packs a punch. Like Mike Tyson style ‘bam’, and you’re floored by the impressive commitment to a luxurious life of good food, good people, and good times.

Want to know what you’ve been missing? Read on.

5-Day, 327km: Wellington & Wairarapa Short Break

Enjoy five blissful days exploring Wellington City and Wairarapa. It’s the long weekend you didn’t know you needed.

As Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington City) is only 15 minutes from the airport, you can pretty much land and be exploring New Zealand’s capital in record time.

Wellington Chocolate Factory, located in Hannahs Laneway: Wellington's hidden foodie gem. Image credit: Ryan Domenico
Wellington Chocolate Factory, located in Hannahs Laneway: Wellington’s hidden foodie gem. Image credit: Ryan Domenico

Start your 5-day tour wandering compact Wellington. Explore the hidden laneways, taste-test Wellington’s top-notch coffee and craft beer, and discover Aotearoa’s history at the interactive Te Papa museum. Of course, no visit to Wellywood is complete without visiting Wētā Workshop. Discover the props, magic, and secrets of the award-winning Lord of the Rings and Hobbits franchise. You won’t want to miss Zealandia, either. This lush ecosanctuary is home to 40 rare species of native wildlife. Over your two days exploring here, save time for Wellington’s stylish boutiques, quirky gift stores, and on-trend eateries.

Day three, drive to Wairarapa along State Highway 2. While it’s only an hour from the capital, this feels world’s away in terms of vibes thanks to the expansive scenery and charming Wairarapa villages. Explore the family-owned wineries in Martinborough Wine Village; by bike is our pick.

Head to Greytown Village to kick off your day four explorations. Only 15 minutes from Martinborough, charismatic Victorian buildings house independent stores, cafes, and restaurants.

Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Wairarapa. Image credit: Rebecca Kempton Photography
Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Wairarapa. Image credit: Rebecca Kempton Photography

Before returning to Wellington, make a worthwhile detour to the wild Cape Palliser Coast. The large fur seal colony, lighthouse, and dramatic Pinnacles scenery provide Instagram fodder for at least your next nine posts. #blessed

Psst: no rental car? Select a guided Martinborough tour and Cape Palliser Coastal Explorer tour, instead.

7-Day, 369km: One-Way Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

For one of New Zealand’s most unforgettable food and wine experiences, spend seven days on the self-drive Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. This scenic route takes you through three major wine-producing regions, a capital city, coastal waterways and rural towns.

Start your tour in Hawkes Bay, best known for Art Deco, wine, and broad sweeping beaches. After exploring the region, collect your rental car, and commence your journey along the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre ©Lucalia Photography
Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre ©Lucalia Photography

First stop, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, a breeding sanctuary for the country’s most endangered birds (including kiwi birds, awww). From here, drive to either Martinborough or Greytown, your base for the next two nights.

Day two, meet the passionate (and creative) producers of cheese, chocolate, wine, bread, honey and more. Stop by Martinborough’s cellar doors, taste-test your way around the cute eateries, or even rent a bike to cycle the vines.

Day three, the charming Greytown village calls. A spot of boutique shopping in specialty stores never goes amiss, especially when fuelled by artisanal baked goods or (and?) deluxe chocolates.

Onwards to Wellington, New Zealand’s creative heart. Days four and five offer you the chance to understand what makes ‘Melbourne’s little sister’ tick. Could it be the hidden laneways? Or the passionate (read: obsessive) café culture? Maybe you’ll discover Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s secrets in the museums and art galleries. There’s so much to see and do here, you’re truly spoilt for choice.

To conclude the full Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, hop aboard the ferry across the Cook Strait to visit Blenheim’s famed vineyards.

Top Five Things to Do in Wellington & Wairarapa

A beautiful old girl full of charm and quirks, The Martinborough Hotel offers boutique accommodation located on the doorstep to everything Martinborough and the South Wairarapa has to offer.
The beautiful Martinborough Hotel is located on the doorstep to everything Martinborough and the South Wairarapa has to offer

We could easily have listed more cool things to do in Wellington and Wairarapa, but we know you’ve got 2022 bookings to make (hurrah), so here’s our top five.

  • Food & Wine It’s easy to spend your whole vacay filling your face. Whether it’s sampling creative fares in the ‘world’s tastiest laneway’, sipping flat whites or local craft beers, or out in Martinborough sampling the pinot noirs and sav blancs, we’re down for it.
Te Papa Cultural Tours
Te Papa Cultural Tours
  • Creative Capital Discover the creative and cultural stories of Wellington and Wairarapa. At Te Papa Museum, unearth New Zealand’s history, and learn why Aotearoa is such a movie powerhouse at Wētā Workshop. In Wairarapa, what better way to explore how small communities tick than by visiting artisanal producers.
Zealandia Ecosanctuary. Image credit: Jeff McEwan
Zealandia Ecosanctuary. Image credit: Jeff McEwan
  • Nature on your Doorstep Often capitals and nature are not synonymous, but Wellington is not your average capital. The sparkling waterfront makes you forget you’re in a city at all. So does visiting the Zealandia Ecosanctuary or walking or riding Wellington’s trails. Further afield, take in the Remutaka Cycle Trail, explore Castlepoint, or visit wild Cape Palliser.
  • Shop ’til You Drop Cuba Street is perhaps Welly’s most Boho boutique shopping area, but there are plenty of other places to part with your cash, too. Plenty! For distinctive independent shops, head to Wairarapa’s Greytown.
  • Events If you’re smart, you’ll time your Wellington visit with one of its many events. Hear the best of Kiwi music at Homegrown, join the festivities at Cuba Dupa street festival, or enjoy a region-wide culinary takeover with Visa Wellington on a Plate. For wine lovers, nothing beats Toast Martinborough.

Get Inspired

Whether you need a city fix, culture fix, creative fix or a culinary one, Wellington has it all. Don’t believe us? Click play below!

Discover Wairarapa’s untamed coast. The rugged landscape, mellow vibes, and opportunities to sample wines make it a spectacular destination.


Driving Wellington & Wairarapa

For Australians, our main Wellington driving advice is to allow some extra time for one-way streets.

For Wairarapa, caution is only needed for the winter months when snow or ice may change the road conditions. If you’re planning on a road trip in winter, bookmark this guide.

Get the Road Trip Playlist

Wellington is a city for music lovers, with live music, buskers, and festivals providing ear candy. Catch the Welly vibes on Spotify here.

Travel Advisor? Gain Access to the Marketing Hub Toolkit Here

Join Tourism New Zealand’s Australian Trade Team on a virtual road trip through Wellington and Wairarapa. For one informative hour, you’ll learn everything about this sweet-as pocket of New Zealand.

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Wellington and Wairarapa