Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway | Apollo NZ
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Wellington and the Wairarapa

Looking for great cafes, unique wildlife encounters, and boutique shopping? You’ll find it all and more in the Wellington and Wairarapa region. Wellington, the nation's capital, buzzes with an infectious energy, boasting an arts scene as vibrant as its famed coffee culture. Enjoy a relaxing breakfast overlooking Wellington’s beautiful harbour. Spend an afternoon meeting the wildlife at Wellington Zoo. And if you’re a foodie, you’ll love sampling the tasty offerings at Wellington’s renowned cafes and eateries. 

Just a short drive away, the Wairarapa region unfolds with its charming townships, renowned wineries, and lush rural landscapes. Once you’ve ticked off your list of things to do in Wellington, hit the road and start exploring everything on offer in the Wairarapa. We’re talking wineries, cycle trails, artisan producers, and spectacular coastlines boasting unbeatable stargazing.  

No matter what time of year you’re planning your campervan holiday in New Zealand, Wellington and Wairarapa stand out as year-round destinations. In summer, Wellington's waterfront comes alive, perfect for sun-drenched strolls and alfresco dining, while the Wairarapa's golden beaches beckon for lazy afternoons and vibrant sunsets. Autumn transforms the landscape into a tapestry of reds and golds; it's the best time to meander through the Wairarapa's vineyards, savouring the region's renowned pinot noir amidst the fall foliage.

 

Why explore Wellington & Wairarapa by Campervan

There’s no better way to discover Wellington and Wairarapa than with an Apollo campervan. Be as spontaneous or structured as you like. Take your time, travel at your own pace, and truly immerse yourself in everything on offer in this special region. With your own kitchen, bed, and bathroom onboard, travel by Apollo campervan is all about freedom and comfort. A road trip through Wellington and the Wairarapa in a campervan is all about the freedom to go where you want when you want. With a campervan, your plans are as flexible as your mood, allowing you to soak up moments that you'd miss if you were rushing to meet hotel or tour schedules.

Travelling by campervan isn't just about getting from A to B; it's about the experiences along the way. It's about impromptu picnics at breathtaking overlooks, morning coffees with views that beat any café, and nights spent under a blanket of stars. Fancy spending an extra day exploring a hidden gem you've stumbled upon? Go for it. Every turn in the road offers new possibilities, and with a campervan, you're in the driver's seat!

A campervan holiday in New Zealand, especially through areas like Wellington and the Wairarapa, is a journey into the heart of what makes this part of the world so special. And it's all yours to explore!

 

Things to do in Wellington & Wairarapa

Wellington and the Wairarapa are bursting at the seams with activities and sights, catering to every taste and interest. If you’re enjoying a family holiday, you’ll find plenty of great family-friendly things to do in Wellington that promise fun for all ages. And if you’re a foodie looking for a taste of something new, you’ll find no shortage of must-try food in Wellington. Venture into the Wairarapa, and you'll find a peaceful escape with wine tours, scenic hikes, and charming country towns waiting to be explored. 

Top 15 things to do in Wellington Top 15 things to do in Wellington

Top 15 things to do in Wellington

In this helpful guide, we share 15 of the must-do Wellington activities worth adding to your travel itinerary.  But first …

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Popular Wellington & Wairarapa road trips & itineraries

Positioned at the southern end of New Zealand's North Island, Wellington and the Wairarapa region are perfectly placed for unforgettable road trips. Starting from Wellington, you can easily navigate your way through the scenic routes that lead to the Wairarapa, where vineyards, coastlines, and quaint towns await. Whether you're coming from the North Island's urban centres or making the crossing from the South Island, these regions offer fantastic campervan road trip experiences with a variety of itineraries to suit every traveller’s taste. Here are a few worth checking out:

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 New Zealand 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 adventure. 
 

Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Wellington takes you along some of the South Island’s most scenic coastline. There’s a fair bit to see and do along the way, so be sure to take your time and perhaps plan an overnight stay in Kaikoura. This journey includes crossing the Cook Strait by ferry.

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore more of the South Island? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days heading northward, including crossing the Cook Strait by ferry. You may even like to plan an epic road trip and continue on to Auckland. You can arrange to drop off your camper at any of our three branches. 

Auckland

The North Island is packed full of sights and experiences, so why not tick off a few with a road trip from Apollo Auckland to Wellington? The beauty of a campervan trip is that you can stop when you need to, change your route, or take a detour if you spot a signpost pointing to something you’d like to see. 

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 Wellington & Wairarapa

 

Climate and seasons in Wellington & The Wairarapa

Wellington and the Wairarapa showcase New Zealand's dynamic climate, offering a spectrum of seasonal experiences.

Wellington, known for as the ‘windy city’, presents a temperate maritime climate.

  • Summers (December to February) are pleasant with temperatures averaging around 19°C to 21°C, ideal for beach visits and outdoor cafes.
  • Autumn (March to May) brings cooler, calm days, perfect for exploring the city's vibrant arts scene.
  • Winter (June to August) sees temperatures drop to 6°C – 12°C, a time when the region's cultural events come to the forefront.
  • Spring (September to November) revitalises the city with mild temperatures and blooming gardens.

The Wairarapa, while sharing Wellington's temperate traits, often enjoys more pronounced seasonal contrasts, especially in the more rural areas. Expect crisp, frosty mornings in winter, transitioning to warm, dry summers ideal for vineyard tours. Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, though June and July can be wetter, making the lush landscapes even more vivid.

 

 

 

 

What to pack

An adventure through Wellington and the Wairarapa in your campervan calls for thoughtful packing. Given the varied climates and the awesome variety of outdoor activities available, ensuring you have the right gear can make all the difference. From essential outdoor apparel to campervan must-haves and sun protection, here's what you should consider packing.

  • Outdoor gear: The great outdoors of Wellington and the Wairarapa invite exploration, so outdoor gear is important. Pack layers to adapt to the changing weather – think breathable fabrics for warm days and insulated, waterproof options for cooler, wetter conditions. Sturdy walking shoes are a must for those planning to tread the numerous trails or wander the vibrant city streets.
  • Campervan add-ons: To make the most of your campervan experience, consider packing some add-ons. A portable barbecue can elevate your dining under the stars, while extra camping chairs and a table (these can be added to your campervan hire) can make your outdoor setup more comfortable.
  • Sun protection: New Zealand's sun can be surprisingly intense, so ample sun protection is essential. A broad-spectrum sunscreen, UV-protected sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat should be on your packing list. 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 Wellington

Paekakariki & The Escarpment Track

Just a short drive from Wellington, Paekakariki serves as the gateway to The Escarpment Track, one of the region's most exhilarating walks. This trail offers stunning views of the Kāpiti Coast and the Tasman Sea, making it a favourite among hikers. The track's challenging stair sections and swing bridges add to the adventure, providing a rewarding experience with panoramic vistas at every turn.

Kāpiti Coast & Kāpiti Island

The Kāpiti Coast, with its beautiful beaches and quaint towns, is perfect for a leisurely day trip. For a unique adventure, take a boat to Kāpiti Island, a nature reserve that's home to some of New Zealand's most rare and endangered birds. The island's rich history and conservation efforts, combined with its natural beauty, make it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

Somes Island

Located in the middle of Wellington Harbour, Somes Island (Matiu) offers a peaceful escape with a rich history. Accessible by ferry, this predator-free scientific reserve boasts a unique blend of natural and historical attractions, including well-preserved WWII-era relics. It's an ideal spot for picnics, short walks, and wildlife spotting, especially for those interested in conservation and history.

Days Bay and the Remutakas

Days Bay, accessible by a scenic ferry ride from Wellington, is known for its vibrant arts scene, cafes, and swimming beach, making it a popular spot for relaxation and recreation. For the more adventurous, a drive through the Remutaka Ranges offers breathtaking views and access to a network of trails in the Remutaka Forest Park, perfect for hiking and biking enthusiasts.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips in the Wairarapa

Castle Point Lighthouse

Perched on a scenic clifftop, Castle Point Lighthouse stands as a beacon of beauty in the Wairarapa region. This historic lighthouse, accessible via a short, scenic walk, offers breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and the vast Pacific Ocean. It's an ideal spot for photography, wildlife watching, and soaking in the serene beauty of one of New Zealand's most picturesque locations.

Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Cape Palliser

The Pūtangirua Pinnacles, with their eerie, towering rock formations, offer a landscape that feels like stepping onto another planet. These geological wonders, coupled with a visit to nearby Cape Palliser, where you can climb New Zealand's tallest lighthouse, make for an unforgettable day trip full of adventure and natural beauty.

Greytown

Greytown is a charming Victorian country village known for its well-preserved heritage buildings, boutique shopping, and artisanal eateries. Strolling through the tree-lined streets, you'll find a delightful mix of antique stores, galleries, and cafes that exude a quaint, laid-back vibe. It's the perfect destination for those looking to unwind and indulge in the slower pace of rural New Zealand life.

 

 

Where to stay in Wellington & The Wairarapa with a campervan

Exploring Wellington and the Wairarapa in a campervan offers the ultimate freedom to discover New Zealand’s diverse landscapes and townships at your own pace. When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds that cater to every need. Here are a few worth adding to your travel itinerary:

Wellington

Wairarapa

For more great family friendly campsites and holiday parks, check out our guide to the best family friendly campgrounds near Wellington.

Top 15 things to do in Wellington Top 15 things to do in Wellington

Top 15 things to do in Wellington

In this helpful guide, we share 15 of the must-do Wellington activities worth adding to your travel itinerary.  But first …

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