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Napier to Taupo road trip

Take in the contrast between coastal Napier to the highest North Island hill pass. Find Trelinnoe Park and relax among mature trees and rhododendrons. Take time to walk to a waterfall. Ponder about the narrative of Opepe Reserve, NZ Land Wars, sawmilling and lonely graves. The sweeping road was a construction feat giving Napier a vital link to the central North Island. The road follows, in part, traditional Maori walking tracks.

1 day
1 night

Trip Overview

Hawkes Bay to Taupo, Geothermal Explorer Scenic Highway

Highlights of the day

  • Trelinnoe Park
  • Detour Pungahuru Waterfall
  • Waipunga & Waiarua Waterfalls
  • Opepe Reserve walks
Start Napier
Finish Taupo


State Highway 5 can be temporarily closed in winter due to snow and ice affecting road conditions.


September to mid-May

In winter the highway can be closed to adverse weather conditions

Start Napier
Finish Taupo

Route map

Excluding detours, 152 km



Your journey starts in Napier, Hawkes Bay. Napier, the regional centre is an art deco showpiece with its 1930’s architecture, pastel colours and curved walls.  The Art Deco style of Napier and Hasting is an architectural gem making Hawkes Bay and Gisborne popular for heritage buffs. The coastal beaches are the habitat of gannets and sea birds attracting birders and wildlife fans alike. The area is a bicultural pulse of Aotearoa New Zealand with a Maori lived experience offering visitors to participate in a unique cultural experience away from the tourist areas of Rotorua.

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Esk Valley winery and vineyard. Hawke's Bay is the oldest wine region in NZ and the 2nd largest, New Zealand

Eskdale is the first significant area when you are departing from Napier. Eskdale is home to vineyards, orchards and the Esk River is a local favourite fishing spot. The Eskdale War Memorial church was designed by well known architect James Chapman-Taylor and dedicated to Percival Moore Beattie soldier in World War I. The river has a history of flooding the flat river alluvial plains. There are several popular winery restaurants from Valley D’ Vine and Linden Estate Winery.

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Trelinnoe Park

Trelinnoe Park @Realestate

Trelinnoe Park is one of New Zealand’s outstanding arboretums, the woodlands are the painstaking labour of Brian and John Wills converted waste scrubland into a collection of trees, shrubs and natives. The landscaped woodland paths, the sweeps of lawn interspersed with clipped hedges defining planting zones and flowering rhododendrons is breathtaking. Trelinnoe is located on the original Old Coach Road, the unsealed road is approximately 6 km from SH5 turnoff. Drive carefully and be aware of forestry logging trucks. Turning point at Esk Valley Forest gate. For up to date opening hours check beforehand to avoid disappointment.

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Pungahuru Waterfall Detour

Pungahuru Falls, New Zealand @hauranui
Pungahuru Falls @hauranui

The Pungahuru creek drops into the gorge of the fast flowing Mohaka River. The waterfall is framed by an amphitheatre of cliffs and bush covered hills. The quiet world of bush, river and waterfall creates a sense of discovery as you are observing the timeless flow of water.

Allow up to a ½ hour. The side road is McVicar Rd (gravel), you will encounter a closed gate which you will be requested to close behind you. In approximately 800 metres you will reach a car park. The waterfall is viewed from the car park.

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Waipunga waterfalls & Waiarua waterfalls

New Zealand, North Island, Waipunga Falls, between Roturua and Napier.

The dramatic Waipunga waterfalls cascade in three sections with a companion Waiarua waterfall tucked to the side. The 40 metre drop is dramatic especially in winter and spring with the Waipunga River in full flow.

Access is very easy with the viewing platform a mere 20 metres from the State Highway 5 car park.

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Opepe Reserve, Te Kooti redoubt

Old Coach Rd, now Opepe Reserve walking track, New Zealand
Old Coach Rd, now Opepe Reserve walking track

The Reserve is cut into two by the very busy State Highway two with barely a car stopping. One side leads to a lonely cemetery where several soldiers (Bay of Plenty Cavalry) who were caught off guard by Te Kooti are buried. You are standing at a significant site for New Zealand Land Wars with Te Kooti’s redoubt and defences now across the road. Little remains of the innovative defense system other than an old well. The area is interesting as sections are the Old Coach Road connecting Hawkes Bay to Taupo.

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Taupo gateway to the Lake on a clear morning dawn, New Zealand

Taupo is approximately 15 minutes from Opepe Reserve. For inspiration check out holiday ideas and Taupo highlights, what to see and best things to do.

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