Roadtrip: Auckland to Wellington via the Central Plateau

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Auckland to Wellington via the Central Plateau – 2-3 Days

Journey south from the city of sails to pristine surf beaches, through native forest and mountain alpine wilds to Wellington – taking in all the best outdoor activities along the way. This is an Auckland to Wellington road trip to remember.



Take State Highway 1 south of Auckland and follow the signs for Raglan. It’s a two-hour drive to this lively, creative town and surfing mecca. Boutiques and cafés make it an interesting stop – you can buy handmade leather goods from Soul Shoes on the Main wharf, and if you’re lucky, meet the shoemaker who has been working his magic since 1973.

Raglan’s Manu Bay is rumoured to have the longest, most consistent left-hand break in the world. Learn to surf with the Raglan Surfing School, go for a swim, or there are rock climbing, glow worm canyoning and caving experiences to be had with Raglan Rock.

There is accommodation for every budget here, but if you’re after an eco-option or something a little different try Solscape, just outside of town.

Waitomo / Waitomo caves

After breakfast head inland, skirting the beautiful Pirongia Forest Park and passing through small farming towns to Waitomo. It’s an hour and a half made a breeze by driving one of our range of rental vehicles - we have something for everyone.

A visit to the famous Waitomo Caves is a must-do. Book a tour ahead of time to adventure through an underground wonderland of cave systems, subterranean rivers and glow worms.

National Park

Leave the lush green of the temperate native bush behind and enter the ethereal beauty of mountain country on the Desert Road. Alpines and tussocks reign supreme on the Plateau here. Get ready for the first sighting of that snow-capped mountain peak – it's a moment to remember and only an hour and a half from Waitomo.

Set in a dual World Heritage site, National Park Village is your base for ski-sports and other outdoor action in the Tongariro National Park. It’s home to three volcanoes and a plethora of stunning alpine walks.

Lodges, chalets, Air BnB’s and backpackers are plentiful. The Chateau Tongariro Hotel dominates the landscape a short drive away toward Whakapapa Village - both a luxurious place to stay and a piece of history, it’s an imposing building dating back to 1929.

Tucked into the lower western slopes of Mt Ruapehu is Whakapapa Village – gateway to the Whakapapa ski-field. To get a full day of outdoor activities in, you might want to book accommodation for two nights here.


A stunning half an hour from National Park is Ohakune. The Turoa ski-field is a twenty-five minute drive from here. The township and surrounds boast plenty of activities, accommodation, shops and restaurants attracting visitors all year round.

If you’ve had your fill of snow, take a canoe safari in the Whanganui National Park on either the Whanganui River or Rangitkei Rivers, go on a horse trek or adventure to the mysterious Bridge to Nowhere.

Tongariro Crossing – side trip

Regarded as one of the best one-day hikes in the country, the crossing even has its own website. You can freedom walk or book an experienced guide. Both Ohakune and National Park Village have daily Tongariro track transport. The walk starts at the Mangatepopo end and crosses alpine meadows before climbing up through a moon-like landscape into incredible rainforest to the Ketetahi end of the track to the shuttle pick up. Allow seven to eight hours and don’t forget to check the weather forecast!


From the National Park Villages head down the coast to join State Highway 1. It’s three and a half hours to Wellington but take a slight detour to Foxton Beach for lunch and a bottle of the famous Foxton Fizz.

The hilly capital city is known for its rich arts culture and wild weather. Wellington’s city centre is easy to explore on foot, watch out for orca or stingrays along the waterfront near Te Papa, and head for Leeds and Cuba Streets for a colourful shopping and dining experience. Tours of Weta workshop (book ahead), and a wander through Zealandia – the world’s first fully fenced eco-urban sanctuary are other must dos.

Happy travels from all of us at _Mode!

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