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Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

A New Zealand campervan holiday through the Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki region offers an unforgettable experience. Rich in natural beauty and cultural significance, this special part of New Zealand offers travellers a unique blend of urban charm and rugged wilderness. If you love exploring arts and culture, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this region. You may even like to follow the Coastal Arts Trail which spans 300 km between New Plymouth to Palmerston North. The trail is peppered with galleries, sculptures, studios and more. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the mystical Bridge to Nowhere, accessible through the verdant Whanganui National Park, offering an unforgettable journey into New Zealand's remote backcountry. 

Transitioning westward, the landscape dramatically changes as you enter Taranaki, dominated by the iconic, conical shape of Mount Taranaki. This region is a magnet for adventurers and nature lovers alike, with New Plymouth at its heart – a coastal city known for its sunny climate, thriving arts community, and surf-friendly beaches. The coastal walkway stretching from Bell Block to Port Taranaki offers spectacular sea views, perfectly complementing the city’s dynamic cultural venues and eateries.

 

Why explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan

Exploring Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki by campervan offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the heartland of New Zealand's North Island. It also makes it easy to change your itinerary on the fly. Whether it's spending an extra day enjoying the surf in New Plymouth, exploring the hiking trails around Mount Taranaki, or parking beside the scenic Whanganui River for a spontaneous picnic, the choice is yours. The ability to set your own pace and schedule makes a campervan ideal for discovering the hidden gems of these regions.

Travelling by campervan not only brings the comforts of home on the road, such as your own bed, kitchen, and living space, but also eliminates the hassles of constant packing and unpacking. This is especially valuable in regions like Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki, where attractions are spread out. Having your necessities with you means you're always ready for the next adventure. 

 

Things to do in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki offer activities for all ages, from nature excursions to authentic cultural experiences. Explore Palmerston North's gardens and arts scene, Whanganui's historic riverboat cruise, or brave the surf at New Plymouth's beaches. Immerse yourself in the local culture with visits to museums, galleries, and artist studios. Whether it's outdoor excitement or cultural enrichment, this fascinating region provides something for everyone.

 

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Popular Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki road trips & itineraries

Stretching down the lower west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki are prime destinations for road trippers seeking a mix of culture, nature, and adventure. Easily accessible from major urban centres like Wellington and Auckland, the drive itself showcases the dramatic shift from urban landscapes to the lush, green countryside of Manawatu and the striking volcanic features of Taranaki. These routes not only offer breathtaking views but are dotted with a variety of attractions, making every stop an opportunity for discovery. 

 

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway.

An NZ road trip by campervan along New Zealand’s Forgotten Highway is a bucket list experience. Mysterious, scenic, and dotted with tiny townships and cool communities, this 150 km stretch of road is New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail. One of the best ways to make the most of everything on offer on this must-do North Island road trip is to take the journey from Auckland to New Plymouth. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this awesome 6-day New Zealand travel itinerary packed full of highlights and hidden gems. 

 

Travel: 6 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

  • Forgotten World Highway

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves

  • New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

  • Hamilton Gardens

  • Zealong Tea Estate

 

Day 1: Auckland to Waitomo

Distance: 191 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 20 mins

Your NZ road trip adventure kicks off at Apollo’s Auckland branch – right by the airport – where your comfy motorhome will be ready and waiting. Today is an easy drive of just over two hours as you head out of Auckland and into New Zealand’s rural heartland. 

Once you get to Waitomo, step into a world of natural wonder at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Discovered over 130 years ago, these caves are not just a tourist attraction but a significant part of New Zealand's cultural and natural heritage. The caves have two main levels: the upper dry chamber that showcases stunning cave formations and the lower level known for its stream passages and the impressive Cathedral, the tallest chamber in the cave. You’ll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of glowworms illuminate the cave with their softly glowing light. This captivating display, set against ancient limestone formations, tells the story of a 30-million-year-old geological marvel. Continue your subterranean exploration at the Ruakuri Cave, where history and nature blend beautifully. Entering through its remarkable spiral entrance, you descend into a stunning cave system adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate crystal structures. Ruakuri Cave is also rich in history, having been discovered by local Māori more than 500 years ago and still holding special spiritual significance to them. The cave offers a more extensive and immersive experience, featuring unique limestone formations, echoing waterfalls, and sacred Māori sites, allowing visitors to truly connect with the land’s ancient past.

For your stay tonight, the Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park provides a comfortable spot right in the middle of it all. It’s an ideal place to recharge with the peaceful sounds of nature after a day of adventure.

 

Day 2: Waitomo to Taumarunui

After the mystical experience in Waitomo, continue your North Island road trip with a scenic drive to Taumarunui, a town rich with natural beauty and local culture.

Once you arrive, immerse yourself in the tranquillity of nature by walking the Whanganui River Bank Track. This gentle trail along the river is perfect for stretching your legs and taking in the picturesque views. The full track is around 8 km, so do as much or as little as you like. 

For a unique experience, visit Lauren's Lavender Farm, where you can enjoy brunch amidst the fragrant fields of lavender (in full bloom from the end of December until early March). The farm offers a peaceful retreat with stunning views, perfect for a relaxed meal. 

Another delightful stop is Bradley's Garden, a beautifully landscaped garden where you can play mini-golf and enjoy a traditional Devonshire Tea. The gardens provide a picturesque setting that encapsulates the essence of New Zealand's natural beauty.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Taumarunui Holiday Park, ideally located right alongside the Whanganui River and surrounded in bush.

 

Day 3: Taumarunui to New Plymouth via Forgotten World Highway

Distance: 188 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Day three of your North Island road trip takes you along the captivating Forgotten World Highway, a route that truly lives up to its name. As you leave Taumarunui on SH43 you’ll travel through some of the most untouched and picturesque landscapes in the North Island. This winding road takes you through narrow mountain passes, dense forests, and offers up stunning mist-covered valleys where you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

The drive itself is dotted with interesting stops and scenic lookouts, such as the eerie Moki Tunnel, affectionately known as the Hobbit's Hole. You'll want to take your time navigating this road. The sharp curves and steep drops offer both a thrilling ride and spectacular views, particularly at places like Tahora Saddle, where you can pull over and soak in the vast, sprawling vistas.

A must-stop is the quirky town of Whangamomona, famous for declaring itself a republic in 1989. It’s a great place to have a break and soak up some local charm. The Whangamomona Hotel is the heart of this small community, offering refreshments and a warm welcome. Grab a bite, chat with the locals, and if you’re feeling whimsical, pick up a ‘passport’ as a unique keepsake of your visit.

As you continue towards New Plymouth, the Forgotten World Highway offers more than just stunning views; it’s a journey through the heart of New Zealand’s pioneering history, filled with landscapes that have remained largely unchanged over the centuries.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park. Enjoy the quiet evening after a day of discovery and driving on one of New Zealand’s most memorable roads.

Image: Instagram - @fieldnotes__

 

Day 4: Explore New Plymouth

After a refreshing night's sleep in your comfy campervan, get ready to dive into the vibrant life of New Plymouth. This coastal city is not only known for its sunny climate but also for its art, culture, and the stunning natural scenery that surrounds it.

Start your day at the beautiful Pukekura Park, one of New Zealand's premier botanical gardens. Covering over 52 hectares, the park is a lush oasis of formal gardens, meandering pathways, and tranquil lakes. It's perfect for a morning walk or a leisurely picnic. Don't miss the picturesque Poet's Bridge, a favourite with visitors. 

Next, head to the Len Lye Centre, located within the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This architectural wonder is dedicated to the works of Len Lye, a pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor. The building's reflective stainless-steel exterior is as impressive as the contemporary artworks inside. It’s a must-visit for art lovers and those interested in innovative architecture. 

For a dose of coastal charm, take a stroll along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. This award-winning walkway stretches 12.7 kilometres along the rugged coastline, offering spectacular views of the Tasman Sea. Along the way, you'll pass the iconic Wind Wand, a kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye himself. It’s a great spot for some photos and to feel the fresh sea breeze. 

Wrap up your day with a visit to the Puke Ariki museum and library. Situated right in the heart of New Plymouth, Puke Ariki offers fascinating insights into the region's Māori and colonial history. The interactive exhibits and well-curated collections make it an educational stop for all ages. 

Tonight, enjoy another stay at New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park.

 

Day 5: New Plymouth to Hamilton

Distance: 236 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your New Zealand road trip takes you from the coastal charm of New Plymouth to the bustling hub of Hamilton. It’s a perfect day to blend some iconic Kiwi culture and a sprinkle of movie magic into your travels.

Around two-thirds of the way through your drive, plan a stop in Otorohanga, affectionately known as the Kiwiana Town. This place is a playful nod to all things quintessentially Kiwi, from gumboots to pavlova, offering a fun and nostalgic look at New Zealand culture. Not far from the town centre is the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, where you can see New Zealand’s elusive national bird, the kiwi, along with other native species in settings that replicate their natural habitats.

If you’re up for an early start and a bit of a detour, consider a visit to the magical Hobbiton Movie Set. Walking into the heart of Middle-earth is a surreal experience, with the beautifully detailed hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and the Party Tree exactly as they appear in the films.

As you reach Hamilton, another delightful stop is the Zealong Tea Estate, a unique New Zealand attraction known for being the only commercial tea estate in the country. Here, you can indulge in a guided tour to learn about the tea-making process followed by a tasting session of their premium organic teas. The estate’s tranquil environment and beautifully manicured gardens provide a peaceful backdrop to relax and enjoy the aromatic blends.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the Hamilton City Holiday Park, which offers a comfortable setting to unwind after a day full of exploration.

READ MORE: 15 must-dos in New Zealand’s North Island.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 6: Hamilton to Auckland

Distance: 122 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 30 mins 

As your NZ road trip draws to a close, spend your final day soaking up the charm and diversity of Hamilton before making your way back to Auckland. It’s a shorter drive today, giving you plenty of time to explore a few last gems in this vibrant city.

Start your morning at the Hamilton Gardens, a stunningly unique venue that offers more than just a typical botanical garden experience. Here, you can wander through a collection of themed gardens that transport you around the world –from the zen-like Japanese Garden of Contemplation to the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance Garden. Each garden is designed to reflect a specific culture or historical period, making it feel like you’re stepping through a portal into a different part of the world. It's a perfect spot for some leisurely exploration and reflection.

After the gardens, why not dive into Hamilton’s bustling café scene? A great spot to check out is the vibrant Grey Street Kitchen, known for its delicious brunch options and excellent coffee. It’s a local favourite and a perfect place to relax and enjoy some downtime.

For a bit of local history and art, make a stop at the Waikato Museum. The museum features exhibits on Māori culture, art galleries, and science that are engaging for all ages. It’s a cultural hub that offers insights into the region’s heritage and contemporary issues through a variety of mediums and stories.

Finally, it’s time to drive back to Auckland and return your campervan to Apollo's branch. The journey back is a good time to reflect on the amazing experiences you've had travelling through New Zealand’s North Island, from mystical caves and historic movie sets to stunning gardens and cultural museums.

 

Is the Forgotten Highway calling you?

As you can see, our Forgotten World Highway road trip has something for everyone. Ready to get started? Follow our fun-filled travel itinerary or make it your own by adding extra attractions or additional days. Whatever you decide to see and do, you simply can’t beat the freedom and comfort of doing it all by Apollo campervan.

Get started on an unforgettable North Island road trip! Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today.

 

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan road trip. 

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Long Hire Offer

Do you love road trips across Australia & New Zealand as much as we do? You're in luck with our Long Hire Offer! If you are travelling for more than 21 days, you will receive 5% off daily vehicle...
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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to the Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki region sets you up for a scenic journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and onto the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore the South Island before heading north? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days taking in some of the great southern highlights before crossing the Cook Strait by ferry.

Auckland

Set off from Apollo Auckland and kick off your exploration of this region in New Plymouth – just a few hours drive away. Make your way down the west coast taking in the charming townships, rolling rural landscapes, and rugged coastline as you venture south.  

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

 

Climate and seasons in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Stretching hundreds of kilometres, this expansive region offers distinct seasonal experiences, making it an attractive destination year-round for visitors looking to enjoy a variety of landscapes and activities.

Manawatu-Whanganui enjoys a mild, temperate climate with moderate rainfall, making it pleasant for travel most of the year.

  • Summers (December to February) are warm with temperatures averaging around 22°C, ideal for exploring the great outdoors and the region's rivers and parks.
  • Autumn (March to May) brings cooler temperatures and a beautiful change in foliage, particularly in the bush-clad hills, providing perfect conditions for hiking and photography.
  • Winter (June to August) can be cooler, with temperatures dropping to around 10°C, but it is generally mild compared to other regions, with occasional frost in sheltered areas.
  • Spring (September to November) sees the landscape rejuvenate with bursts of flowers and greenery, making it a lovely time for visiting the many gardens and reserves.

Taranaki is known for its more dynamic weather patterns, due to the presence of Mount Taranaki, which can attract clouds and cause quick changes in weather.

  • Summers here are pleasant with temperatures similar to Manawatu-Whanganui but expect more frequent rain showers that keep the surroundings lush.
  • Autumn sees stable weather, ideal for outdoor activities as the forests display a vivid array of autumn colours.
  • Winter in Taranaki can be wet, with more pronounced rainfall, and the mountain often receives snowfall, offering spectacular views and winter sports.
  • Spring brings a rapid growth of new foliage and is particularly spectacular as rhododendrons and other blooms erupt around the mountain's base.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan journey through Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki requires thoughtful packing to make the most of the diverse climates and activities available in these regions. Here’s what you should consider bringing along:

  • Outdoor gear: given the varied terrain from river valleys to volcanic mountains, pack versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well during warmer months, while waterproof and windproof layers are essential for the unpredictable weather near Mount Taranaki. Sturdy hiking boots are a must for exploring the rugged landscapes and numerous walking trails. With the stunning natural beauty and wildlife in both regions, a good camera can help you capture memorable landscapes and native birds. Binoculars will also enhance your experience, especially when visiting coastal areas and bird sanctuaries.
  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan experience can significantly improve your comfort during the trip. Consider including a portable heater for the cooler evenings, especially during winter months in Taranaki. A reliable GPS and physical maps can help navigate the more remote areas. Additional camping chairs and a table can also be handy for scenic stops along the coast or in forest parks.
  • Sun protection and rain gear: The regions' varying weather conditions call for both sun protection and rain gear. Pack a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield against the strong New Zealand sun. Also, include a durable rain jacket and waterproof trousers to stay dry during sudden rain showers, particularly prevalent in Taranaki. For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui

Whanganui River cruise or kayak

Experience the tranquil beauty of the Whanganui River by taking a leisurely cruise or paddling a kayak. This historic river offers stunning views of lush landscapes and provides a quiet escape into nature, perfect for a relaxing day on the water.

Whanganui National Park

Home to native forests and scenic waterways, Whanganui National Park is popular with hikers and walkers. The park is also home to the Bridge to Nowhere Walk, a 3 km return (around 1.5 hours) easy walk popular with visitors to the area.

Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway, running through remote, mystic landscapes, offers a journey back in time. This historic route passes through rugged terrain, dense forests, and small forgotten towns, making it a unique adventure for road-trippers.

Bushy Park

Bushy Park Ecological Sanctuary, near Whanganui, is known for its rich biodiversity and protected native forest. The 100-hectare reserve is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the region, including a 500-year-old rata. The park's predator-free status allows visitors to encounter rare and endangered birds such as the hihi and saddleback in their natural habitat.

Nearby attractions and day trips from Taranaki

Mount Taranaki

Dominating the landscape, Mount Taranaki offers challenging hikes and spectacular views from its summit. The symmetrical volcano is a striking feature of Egmont National Park, drawing climbers and photographers alike.

New Plymouth Coastal Walk

The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a spectacular 13-kilometre path that stretches from Ngamotu Beach to Bell Block, offering panoramic views of the Tasman Sea. This award-winning walkway is ideal for walking, jogging, or cycling featuring iconic landmarks like the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which resembles a breaking wave or whale skeleton.

Pukekura Park

New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park is a beautifully landscaped garden featuring lakes, waterfalls, and exotic plants. It hosts the famous Festival of Lights, transforming into an enchanted evening wonderland.

Dawson Falls in Egmont National Park

Dawson Falls is a spectacular 18-metre waterfall located within Egmont National Park. The area around the falls offers picturesque walking tracks that wind through lush native bush, ideal for a short, scenic hike.

 

Where to stay in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Manawatu-Whanganui

Taranaki

 

 

 

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