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Beautiful beaches, rare birdlife, fabulous wines, Hollywood film sites and epic, towering lighthouses can all be found within a two-hour drive from Wellington.
Here’s five of our favourite drives within two hours of New Zealand’s capital city.
Paekakariki is best known as a beach holiday destination. Just a 45-minute/40-kilometre drive from Wellington’s CBD, Paekakariki is also a favourite destination for hikers. The highlight of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track is without a doubt the amazing views of the Kapiti coastline and Kapiti Island. The 9.1-kilometre intermediate track runs from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay and at its highest point reaches 220 metres. This track suits most families but be aware there are 1200 steps along the way. There’s also an interesting Tramways Museum to explore, friendly cafes, a pub, and some bike tracks around Queen Elizabeth Park.
2. Kapiti Island and Kapiti Coast
Kapiti Island is a 50-minute/50-kilometre drive north from Wellington to Paraparaumu, and a 15-minute boat trip across to the island. Covered in giant regenerated rainforest, the island is 10 kilometres long and two kilometres across at its widest point. It is home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered birds and its protected waters are full of marine life. The island is a predator-free bird sanctuary and visitors might see tui, kaka, stitchbirds, takahe, bellbirds and kiwis. You can take a guided day trip or opt to stay overnight. Back on the mainland, the Kapiti Coast has plenty to offer including Nga Manu Nature Reserve, horseback riding along the cliffs or you can pay a visit to Tuatara Brewery to discover the secrets of beer making.
Famed for its wineries, Martinborough is an 80-minute/80-kilometre drive from Wellington. There are more than 20 wineries in the area that are so close together that it is possible to visit them all in one day. It’s relatively flat which makes it the perfect destination for those who like to explore by bike. You can easily ride from Martinborough on the Remutaka Cycle Trail and visit nearby towns including Featherston, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. Martinborough is also known as a Dark Sky Reserve that it is one of the best places in New Zealand to do some star gazing and look up at the Milky Way.
4. Putangirua Pinnacles
The Putangirua Pinnacles – well-known as the ‘organ pipes’ – are about a two-hour drive/118-kilometre from Wellington and is one of the filming locations for Lord of the Rings, This was one of the locations used by Peter Jackson for his third Lord of the Rings film, the Return of the King. Formed over the past 120,000 years by rain washing sand and silt away, the Pinnacles stand on the edge of Aorangi Forest Park, known for its backcountry hiking. The Putangirua Pinnacles Walk itself is great for families with kids as there are plenty of places to climb and explore. It takes just 45 minutes each way from the carpark.
5. Cape Palliser
As drives go, this one is epic. You will get amazing views of Cape Palliser as you hug the edge of the Coast on the two-hour/121-kilometre drive from Wellington. Rich in Maori history, Cape Palliser has many heritage sites that mark the early Maori occupation of this area. It is also home to the North Island’s largest colony of fur seals. The kids will love watching the baby fur seals play on the shoreline over the summer months. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, built in 1897, is also worth a visit. If you climb the 250 steps to the top of the lighthouse, you’ll be able to enjoy views of the rugged coastline.