Skip to Content

A Central North Island Road Trip

As we spend some time in Michelle’s home country, we’ve been doing a few road trips. This one involved starting in Wellington, driving up to Taumarunui, across to Ōpōtiki, around the East Cape to Gisborne, down to Napier, and then back to Wellington.

Driving north from Wellington, the first big-ish city we come across is Whanganui. Since it’s only 2.5hrs from Wellington, it makes a good lunch stop.

Heading north out of town on State Highway 4, we took a left turn at Upokongaro in order to follow the Whanganui River Road up to Pipiriki.

Just a few kilometres up the road is a fantastic scenic spot for viewing the Whanganui River as it winds it’s way through remote and beautiful countryside.

Aramoana Viewpoint – Whanganui River Road

The Whanganui River Road is windy and narrow, so you need to keep your wits about you.

It takes about 1hr 45min to get from Whanganui to Pipiriki, with interesting stops like Koriniti and Jerusalem to break up the journey.

Whanganui River, Pipiriki

In the early 1900’s Pipiriki was a holiday location for those that travelled up from Whanganui on the paddle steamers. Pipiriki House Hotel was a fancy hotel that burnt down in 1909, was rebuilt within 9 months, but then burnt down again in 1959.

Anderson House, right next door to Pipiriki House, stands as a reminder of the bustling community that used to be there.

Anderson House, Pipiriki

From Pipiriki we leave the river side and head east along Pipiriki Raetihi Road, stopping for a spectacular view of Mt Ruapehu. (I wish I had better camera skills to do it justice!)

Mt Ruapehu, photo taken from Pipiriki Raetihi Rd

Another hour on the road (with glimpses of the mountains between the clouds) and we arrived in Taumarunui, where we stayed at the Forgotten World Motel.

The Forgotten World Motel was clean, comfortable and warm. And the receptionist made sure to send me a text message letting me know which room we were in and that it was open, since we arrived after their office hours.

From Taumarunui we head across the top of Lake Taupo, right across the middle of the country to Ōpōtiki.

Our accommodation was at the Eastland Pacific Motor Lodge (highly recommend, great staff, clean and spacious rooms and conveniently has a fish and chip shop, cafe and Four Square right across the road) but our purpose was to visit the Omaramutu Marae the next day.

After a day of learning on the marae we spent the next day visiting various local urupa (cemeteries) where all Michelle’s tupuna (ancestors) are at rest.

Opape Urupa

Leaving Ōpōtiki (after a relaxed brekky at cafe across the road) we heading east along the coast and drove all the way around the East Cape to Gisborne.

Te Kaha
Hicks Bay
Te Araroa
Tokomaru Bay
Whangara – Makororori

Gisborne is a big town (especially after barely seeing any other cars for the whole day) but accommodation is quite expensive.
However, we had a delicious dinner at Bollywood Star Indian Restaurant and a cozy and warm sleep at the Captain Cook Motor Lodge.

It’s an easy drive from Gisborne to Napier, although there was quite a lot of road works but there wasn’t much traffic so the wait times weren’t very long at all.

Wairoa – halfway between Gisborne and Napier

Napier is known for its art deco architecture as much of the city was rebuilt in the 1930’s following the devastating 1931 earthquake.

Accommodation was much more plentiful which may be why it was very reasonably priced.

A visit to the Bluff Hill Lookout and a short walk along the beachfront along Marine Parade before takeaways in our harbour front motel room!

Marine Parade – Napier

Even though the forecast was for cloudy skies, we couldn’t come all this way and not head up Te Mata Peak in Havelock North. And I’m so glad we did!

Te Mata Peak – Havelock North
Te Mata Peak – Havelock North

It was then a comfortable 4 hours drive back into Wellington City.

Do I recommend doing a trip like this? Yes! Especially if you’ve already seen the highlights of NZ and want to get out to some of the more remote and ruggedly beautiful areas of the country.