Driving Tour: Taupo to Wellington (Inland Route)

Landscape with volcano, Tongariro, New Zealand
••• Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

The most direct route from Taupo to Wellington (the gateway to the South Island) is through the lower central part of the North Island. There are many interesting places to see and stop at along this drive. The most notable is the Tongariro National Park, which stretches from near the southern shore of Lake Taupo.

If you are traveling from Auckland to Wellington to catch the ferry to the South Island, you will find this route to be the shortest.

Planning Your Trip

The total length of this trip is 230 miles (372 kilometers) and has a total driving time of four and a half hours. The early part of the trip can be hazardous, especially during the winter; from south of Turangi to Waiouru the main highway is often closed due to snow.

Many people travel this route in one day. However, if you are able to take your time you will discover some of the best scenery and attractions in the North Island.

Here are the main points of interest on this trip. Distances measured are from Taupo and Wellington.

Taupo (372 km from Wellington)

Taupo is new Zealand's largest lake and a mecca for outdoor activities such as fishing and cruising. The town on the northern shore of the lake is one of the best towns to visit in the central North Island.

Turangi (50 km from Taupo; 322 km from Wellington)

Turangi sits on the Tongariro River near where it enters Lake Taupo.

The area is renowned for the best trout fishing in New Zealand.

Tongariro National Park (104 km from Taupo; 336 km from Wellington)

Dominated by the three mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngaruhoe, this is the oldest national park in New Zealand and a UNESCO listed heritage site. You will pass through this park through a section of State Highway 1 called the Desert Rd.

This is at the highest elevation of any part of this main highway in New Zealand. As a result it is often closed due to snow during the winter months (June to August).

This is remote and desolate country (the main base of the New Zealand Army is located here) but it is extremely beautiful, dominated by barren sub-alpine plants and plains. It's desert-like nature gives rise to its name, the Rangipo Desert.

Waiouru (112 km from Taupo; 260 km from Wellington)

This small town is home to the New Zealand Army base. It is notable for the National Army Museum, which is well worth touring. It records the military history of New Zealand from pre-European Maori times to the present day.

Taihape (141 km from Taupo; 230 km from Wellington)

Taihape calls itself the "Gumboot Capital of the World." It was made famous by New Zealand comedian Fred Dagg, a spoof of a typical New Zealand farmer (the gumboot is the New Zealand equivalent of the Wellington boot). Each year, in March, the town hosts a Gumboot Day, which includes gumboot-throwing competitions.

Although small, there are a couple of good cafes in Taihape. The scenery to the south of the town is also very dramatic, with steep and unusual hill formations.

At the Mangaweka Gorge the main highway meets the Rangitikei River and there are several lookout points on the road which give a great view.

Bulls (222 km from Taupo; 150 km from Wellington)

A tiny town on the intersection of State Highways 1 and 3 and there isn't really a lot here. But do stop to see the sign outside the Information Center; you'll see some very creative uses of the word "Bull" to describe local businesses.

Palmerston North (242 km from Taupo; 142 km from Wellington)

This is the largest town between Taupo and Wellington, and is situated in the Manawatu district. The surrounding area is largely flat farmland. Palmerston North is a nice place to stop; it reputedly has the highest number of cafes per capita of any town in New Zealand. A high percentage of the population are students as this is home for the the main campus of Massey University and a number of other tertiary institutions.

Palmerston North to Wellington

There are two routes between Palmerston North and Wellington. The most direct follows the west coast, through the small towns of Levin, Waikanae and Paraparaumu. There are nice beaches along this stretch of coast, including Foxton, Otaki, Waikanae and Paraparaumu. Off the coast is Kapiti Island, an important wildlife sanctuary and one of the best places in New Zealand to observe the kiwi bird in the wild.

The other route follows the other side of the Tararua Mountain Range, along state Highway 2. This is the more scenic, if longer, drive. Towns include Woodville, Masterton, Carterton and Featherston. South of Masterton, near the town of Martinborough, is the Wairarapa wine region, one of the best areas for pinot noir and other wines in New Zealand. It's a popular area for Wellingtonians to enjoy a weekend break.

Wellington

New Zealand's political capital, Wellington is also often described as the cultural capital of the country. With a magnificent harbor, great cafes and nightlife and many cultural and artistic events happening, it's a truly international city.