Depending on how you’ve structured your itinerary, you may find yourself needing to drive from Auckland to Wellington (or Wellington to Auckland) in one day. If so, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.
We recently did this drive, as the most convenient flights available for our trip were in and out of Auckland, but we needed to be in Palmerston North (1.5 hours from Wellington) for Christmas day. For a family of four, it’s definitely much cheaper than a flight!
Pretty much everything in this post can be applied in reverse, so if you’re planning to drive from Wellington to Auckland, keep reading!
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Car and campervan hire in Auckland or Wellington
Auckland and Wellington airports have a number of car hire desks in the airport – though you should absolutely book well in advance of arrival and arrange to pick up from the airport.
For cars, we particularly like Europcar for their good rates and vehicle range. You’ll find the Europcar desks inside the Auckland and Wellington airport terminals. We also recently used Omega, who have an office in Mangere, not far from Auckland airport, and offer a shuttle service to and from the airport.
For campervans, JUCY is an excellent and cost-effective option with great service. Like Omega, JUCY has an office nearby in Mangere and a free shuttle service.
How long does the drive take?
The Auckland to Wellington drive time is approximately 7 – 8 hours but you should allow longer to make scenic stops along the way, as well as find places to eat and drink.
The roads in New Zealand are also not particularly fast in some stretches. Some parts are windy and may have low visibility depending on the weather. Additionally, if you’re travelling in peak season (like we were over Christmas) you should be prepared for significant traffic.
Some stretches are also one lane, so it’s quite possible you’ll get stuck behind a truck/lorry.
Because of all this, we really recommend taking extra rest stops – we found we needed to concentrate harder on the road at some points and this meant stopping for breaks was crucial.
All this being said, the route we took (outlined below) was the fastest route from Auckland to Wellington.
Driving Itinerary from Auckland to Wellington
Below are the main places we recommend stopping.
It’s not particularly far from Auckland to Hamilton (unless you get stuck in traffic) and because of this, Hamilton is often bypassed. However, Hamilton is an under-rated city with some beautiful scenery, such as the Hamilton Gardens. Add some peacefulness to the drive by stopping to take in the beauty of the gardens.
Calling all cheese lovers! This small town has a delightful cheese shop on the main street – the Over The Moon Dairy is also a cheese school. Of course, if you’re trying to make it from Auckland to Wellington or vice versa in one day, you won’t have time for a cheese-making class. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pop in to try a bunch of delicious cheeses, and grab a snack for the road!
Putaruru also has a petrol station and grocery store if you need anything – may we suggest some legendary kiwi snacks such as Cookie Time and Lemon & Paeroa for the drive?
Taupo is the big gun of this itinerary (and I would hope you’ll be making your way back to spend more time here!). However, it’s a great place to stop for lunch. We recommend somewhere on the Western end of Roberts Street or along Tongariro Street, or the corner of Roberts Street and Ruapehu Street.
If you don’t stop in Taupo town, there are a couple of little towns further round the lake, such as Motuoapa where you can stop and take in the lake views. (Read our Taupo guide for more information!)
The Desert Road is a spectacular stretch of road that offers views of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruhoe. If you’re lucky, the weather will be clear enough for you to see snow on Ruapehu. Ngauruhoe, while technically a secondary cone of the Tongariro volcano, is famous in its own right too – Lord of the Rings fans will recognise it as Mount Doom!
This is a desolate stretch of road but there’s plenty of room to pull over for photos. However, please be responsible – this is an at times busy highway and some parts of the desert are military training grounds.
At the bottom of the Desert Road stretch is Waioru, a small town with a Military Museum if you or the kids need to get out and stretch your legs.
Foxton / Himatangi / Palmerston North / Paraparaumu
This last stop can be done a number of ways, depending on your needs. It’s just under 3.5 hours from the Desert Road to Wellington central – this is a doable stretch, but you may feel the need to stop. There is a petrol station at Levin, which the highway runs through, but if you feel like seeing something else, here are a few options.
If the weather is nice, take a ten-minute detour west to the beach. Himatangi is lovely, and the Manawatu River meets the sea at Foxton.
If you’re getting hungry and and in need of a heartier meal, follow the signs and detour into Palmerston North. “Palmy”, as it’s known by locals, is a charming little University city, and has some great takeaway options (especially if you like Indian food!) and several big grocery stores. There are also some delightful walking trails and playgrounds along the Manawatu River if you need to move around a bit.
If you’re happy to keep driving a little longer Paraparaumu is a quaint little ocean town that’s worth a look. Paraparaumu also has a motor museum if you’re interested.
Depending where you stop, you’ll have between 40 minutes (from Parapaumu) to two hours (from Palmy) to go before you get into the Wellington CBD. Easy!
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