Wellington’s Top 6 Day Trips by Car
There are so many great roadies to take if you’re renting a car and using Wellington as your base. Like hundreds, if we really think about it (and we do, being on trips and planning trips and thinking about planning trips is how we roll). To make life easy, we’ve pulled together our top six road trips to make the most of your Wellington-based Kiwi adventures.
Take the stairway to heaven
No, no, this is not some kind of weird Led Zeppelin tribute day. Instead, you’re going to get behind your JUCY wheels and head to Pukerua Bay. Only 30 minutes out of central Wellington, this is the start point of a butt-worthy adventure on the Paekakariki Escarpment Track.
The track, part of the 3,000km, 4-month Te Araroa Trail hike, is a jaw-dropping tramp along a steep coastal route with plenty of stairs (hence the name). Expect views that you can’t quite believe you’re seeing IRL.
While you’re not going to smash the whole hike, the highlights are from Pukerua to Paekakariki, a 10km track that takes approximately three hours one way. Once you land in Paekakariki, you can hop aboard the train to your rental car (park at the station, for a fee). Or double back on your hiking if you’ve the enthusiasm and another three hours up your sleeve.
While we love Pukerua-to-Paekakariki direction best, reverse it if your knees prefer a downhill staircase. Also, a pro tip from our Wellington crew – if it’s a true-to-form Windy Wellington day, hold off on visiting. As it’s along a coastal bluff, it can be precarious in high winds.
Take a Lord of the Rings dip
Did you know you that if you head to Kaitoke Regional Park, 45 minutes out of Wellywood, you can swim in one of the spots where Lord of the Rings was filmed? Well, now, you do!
Kaitoke is part of the Tararua Ranges and home to a range of birds – including the New Zealand falcon. Plus 1,200-year-old rata and rimu trees!
Alongside swimming in the rock pools here, there is also an awesome hike along the Kaitoke Ridge Track. Not up for a 3-hour trek? The Swingbridge Track is shorter but still involves a little thrill as you cross the wobbly bridge.
Before setting off, pack a picnic in your car boot so that after a hike and swim, you can soak in the bird song and ancient native flora and fauna before heading back to Wellington.
See seals and Maori history at Cape Palliser
While you will see tours to Cape Palliser and its seal colony, you can give them a miss and make your own way there in your JUCY rental. It’s not only the seals that are worthy of a day trip, but also the spectacular coastal views. The Maori history is rich here, with indications of a settlement in the 1300s.
The drive to Cape Palliser is about two hours from downtown Wellington, making it the perfect day trip destination. Start with a climb up the 253 steps to Cape Palliser Lighthouse. It’s been shining its light since its inauguration in 1897! Take some time at the top to soak in the sweeping bay views and don’t forget to tag us #jucyworld because the dramatic scenery is hella Insta-worthy.
The fur seal colony here is the North Island’s largest. The best time to visit is during the breeding season, from mid-November to mid-January, though you can see seals year-round. Ask around if you don’t spot them easily.
Along with your lighthouse and seal stops, you’ll also want to stop by the sign-posted Maori heritage sites.
On your way back to Wellington, make a stop by the Ngawi fishing village. If you’re looking for a bite to eat the Land Girl Cafe or Lake Ferry Hotel are worthwhile stops, about 45 minutes from Cape Palliser.
Hike the Incredible Putangirua Pinnacles
For an incredible hiking adventure, drive to the Putangirua Pinnacles, another Lord of the Ring destination.
The staggering Putangirua Pinnacles form mighty columns that date back 120,000 years! Standing in their presence seems to whisk you back in time. So much so, you almost need to check you haven’t sprouted hobbit feet hairs while hiking the 7km trail.
While you can just visit a lookout, it’s the hiking that gets you fully immersed in the magnitude of the scenery. There is something truly magical about walking on the rocky stream-bed with the Pinnacles towering impressively overhead. You’ll find three routes on offer; the 3-4-hour round trip hike has the best all-round views, including across to Cape Palliser. Parking at the Pinnacles is free, and it’s highly recommended to wear sturdy shoes.
If you are short on time, combine this day trip with the Cape Palliser one above, with lookout picture stops instead of more immersive visits.
Take a 14km hike or bike to the home of NZ’s first and only female lighthouse keeper
Get in the car and set off on a pioneering trip to the Pencarrow Lighthouse and its 14km historical trail. This old settler’s route is a trip through history towards the home of Mary Jane Bennett, New Zealand’s first and only female lighthouse keeper.
Mary took over the lighthouse keeper position from her husband when he passed away, operating the light at the same time as raising their six children singlehandedly! Traditionally a male role, Mary remains the only female lighthouse keeper in the country.
Visitors both hike and bike this trail of a bygone ear. The Bike Shed in Pencarrow offers rentals if you’re up for an adventure in the saddle. We’d recommend keeping the wind speeds and direction in mind before you decide and pack layers in case the weather turns. If you’re biking, the trail will take around 2-hours round trip; walking allow yourself four.
Stay alert for the NZ fur seal colony en-route. Pack a lunch and water, as there is nothing to buy on the trail.
Soak up the relaxing Wairarapa vibes
In under an hour from Wellington, you can reach the rugged mountain-rimmed views of Lake Wairarapa. The area is known for its award-winning wines and attractive vineyards, but it’s so much more than that for a day trip adventure.
After driving through the spectacular Rimutaka Mountains (another LOTR location), head to Featherston, gateway to Wairarapa. The town is known for its rail and war history, but it’s Featherston’s Book Town status that we love. Loco Coffee and Books is a perfect place to grab a morning brew.
From here, head 15 minutes to the charming colonial village of Martinborough. In the region, there are 30 wineries, and cycling among them is a popular pastime. If you’re keen for a self-guided bike route, rent a bike in town. Alternatively, drive to a vineyard for a spot to eat. This visitor map is useful to download in advance for either option. Also, stop by Olivo Olive Grove, the region’s oldest olives.
Next up, take a drive to Greytown. Here, leisurely wander the art galleries, antique shops, and – for those with a sweet tooth – a quick stop at Schoc Chocolates.
On the return home, grab a Kaffee Eis gelato at the seaside village of Eastbourne and devour it on the beach. What a delicious day!