Scenic Drives Around Wellington
Our guide to the best driving routes to explore Wellington
Wellington is tucked away on the southwest corner of North Island. It offers some spectacular scenic drives that take in the coastline, mountains, city and farmland that typify this beautiful island. Here are four of the best Wellington scenic drives...
1. Shelly Bay Circular Drive
Driving time: Allow at least an hour to complete the 23km drive plus stopping time.
From Wellington city centre follow the road east along Evans Bay Parade to Miramar. Admire the colourful wind sculptures that spin and rotate on the waterfront and continue to Shelly Bay Road which will take you on a beautiful coastal drive. The bay is on your left while the steep sided Maupuia hill is on your right, covered in gorse, wild flowers and ferns in spring and summer.
Pass the old warehouses of West Point Studio (of Lord of the Rings fame) and stop for refreshments at the Chocolate Fish, marked by a huge green stone at the car park entrance. This popular café has old-fashioned deckchairs and bean bags scattered across the grass making it popular with families on sunny days. The barbecue menu is great whatever the weather!
The scenic drive continues past a series of sandy beaches around Evans Bay. It is always busy with sail boats, ferries and low-flying aircraft approaching the airport. At the tip of the headland is the Massey Memorial, a tomb of former Prime Minister, William Ferguson Massey. It's worth stopping to enjoy extensive views of Wellington Harbour and the CBD.
The drive continues around the peninsula past the popular Scorching Bay Beach, Worser Bay Sailing Club, and Breaker Bay with its colony of Little Blue Penguins. Pass the Wahine Memorial Park, which remembers those who died in the 1968 Wahine ferry disaster, then continue to the city centre to complete this circular drive.
2. Mount Victoria, Houghton Bay and Happy Valley
Driving Time: A scenic 45 minute drive plus stopping time covering 20km
This short scenic drive starts from Jervois Quay. Drive east and turn right into Kent Terrace. Follow the signs up the steep road to the top of Mount Victoria where there is a lookout with panoramic views of the city, harbour and coastline.
Retrace your route to Highway 1 and continue to the airport. Turn right at the second roundabout and drive alongside the airport. Turn right onto Moa Point Road and drive around Lyall Bay, Houghton Bay and Island Bay with views of Taputeranga Island. Look out for the landmark "Welcome to Middle Earth" sign on the airport building as you pass.
The coastal road eventually becomes a track for 4WD vehicles only, but cars can turn right and climb inland along Happy Valley Road/Ohiro Road to Aro Valley. Rejoin Highway 1 back to the city centre.
3. Lake Wairarapa and Martinborough Wineries
Driving Time: This 211km drive takes at least 3 hours, but allow all day with stops at various points of interest.
Leave Wellington driving northeast on Highway 2 through the scenic Hutt Valley. The road climbs through the dramatic Rimutaka Range, hugging the mountainside with breathtaking views of the broad river valley covered with pampas grass, tree ferns and fir trees.
30km beyond Upper Hutt, Featherstone is a typical rural community with shops, bakeries and a historic Fell Locomotive Museum if you want to explore further. At Featherstone, turn right onto Featherstone Creek Road. You'll probably have the road all to yourself as you drive through this flat agricultural area of cows, sheep and deer.
The road circumnavigates Lake Wairarapa with stopping points for fishing, birdwatching and picnicking. At the end of the lake the road becomes, bear left onto the East-West Access Road. (You can make a detour to Boggy Pond Lagoon by turning left along Kahutara Road).
Turn right along Kahutara Road and then left to join Lake Ferry Road, which passes through farmland and vineyards to Martinborough. This charming town is the centre of the Wairarapa wine area with 30 local vineyards within walking distance of the town centre - just pick up a map from the Visitor Centre. Alternatively you can try all the local wines under one roof at the Wine Centre, but do choose a designated non-drinker to drive you home!
Martinborough's Memorial Square is a pleasant park surrounded by heritage buildings including the 1882 Martinborough Hotel, historic Pukemanu Tavern and an upmarket wine bar in the former Post Office. Return to Wellington along Highway 53 to Featherstone and rejoin Highway 2 through the mountains to the city.
4. Scenic Drive to Waiohine Gorge and Masterton
Driving Time: 217km 4 hour drive takes in a breathtaking gorge, the town of Masterton and an optional 130km trip to the coast.
Another scenic drive follows the same route as drive 3 to Featherstone. Continue along Highway 2 through Greytown then turn left along Waiohine Gorge Road and follow the signs. Drive about 10km along the unpaved track which involves crossing some shallow streams.
You will see the impressive gorge before reaching the car park where three hiking trails begin. The centre path leads down a steep path to a stony beach with great views of waterfalls on the opposite bank. The right-hand track from the car park leads to the impressive suspension bridge which is about 100 metres long with open mesh floor and sides spanning the gorge. It offers stunning views of the steep ravine and fast-flowing river far below.
Returning to Highway 2, continue to Masterton which has a lovely park and plenty of shops and cafés. You can extend this drive with a beautiful 130km return trip to the rocky headland at Castlepoint before returning to Wellington via Highway 2.