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Wellington to Napier weekend road trip

Find a local and hear about a museum dedicated to a single locomotive engine. You will pass through places where locals outnumber visitors and the town might only have a permanent population of 300 people. There is a fierce pride in the story of places, their origins and the landscapes creating unique moments in the holiday experience. In the quiet corners of New Zealand there are tea shops where coffee could be instant and the beat of the economy continues to be on the back of a sheep or milk pail (churn). The trip highlights can be covered in a weekend although a slow wander gives you an opportunity to thoroughly explore the side roads of the lower North Island.

Trip Overview

Scenic side roads, North Island


  • Extraordinary tales of prisoner of war camps and mutinies
  • Towns where time stood still leaving 19th century buildings in its wake
  • National Wool museum has a great gift shop and is an excellent place to understand what underpins the New Zealand economy
  • Iconic Tui Brewery tour on the cards
  • A town where the locals own the grocery store, manage the medical centre and have an enormous kiwi as their centrepiece
  • Finishing with a flourish in the beautiful art deco town of Napier

Duration: 3 days
Start Wellington
Finish Napier


Year round.


Wellington can be chilly even in summer while the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay is characterised with warm dry summers. Winter rains and the chilly wind means clothing layers however it is unlikely temperatures will drop below 10c on winter days.


Wellington to Masterton highlights

Greytown bicycle shop front entrance, New Zealand
Greytown bicycle shop front entrance
  • Featherston Military Camp
  • Fell Locomotive Museum
  • Stonehenge Aotearoa
  • Greytown Victorian heritage main street
  • Masterton a look at wool

The road climbs steeply from Wellington to Wairarapa. Featherston is the initial stop on the Wairarapa plains. The small town has a museum dedicated to a single locomotive engine that transversed the Remutaka incline as well as a solemn message about the loss of dignity in wartime with the tale of Japanese prisoners of war interred in Featherston…

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Featherston Military Camp
@Featherston Heritage Museum
@Featherston Heritage Museum

At the end of July 1915 the Defence Department acquired land between Featherston and the Tauherenikau River to build a new training camp for the NZ Expeditionary Force. The barrack camp, housing 4500, and a tent camp across the road opened on 24 January 1916, with men from Tauherenikau Camp marching to their new home. World War two and the camp became a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Visit Featherston historical museum to listen to narratives about the Japanese breakout and life as a prisoner of war in the Wairarapa.

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Greytown, the old, new and repurposed melded into an attractive main street frontage, New Zealand

Combining a walk with a chance to go shopping or perhaps pop into a shop to check out the goodies inside Greytown heritage trail is a perfect combination of exercising while shopping. Greytown shops are located in pretty restored nineteenth century buildings strung along the main street. The town has adroitly marketed its charm as a destination for Wellingtonians. For locals Greytown is a break from Wellington’s Lambton Quay. Rural countryside peeps between shops reminding visitors of the nearby countryside.

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Papawai Marae
@Papawai Pa
@Papawai Pa

Papawai Marae is just minutes from the heart of Greytown and is one of the most historically important marae in New Zealand. Papawai has been home to Wairarapa Maori for hundreds of years, and in the late 1800s it was the focus of Kotahitanga, the national Maori parliament movement. It’s still very much a community hub today.

A variety of tours and activities are available.

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The town clock of Carterton, New Zealand
The town clock of Carterton

Carterton is in the heart of the Wairarapa and makes an excellent central base for exploring the whole region. There are some wonderful places to stay and shop here. Carterton deserves more than a whisk and whisper of tyres. The Classic NZ Wine Trail embraces Carterton and nearby vineyards. The town is a favourite for artists with balmy summer weather, nearby urban Wellington with the countryside stimulating  creative juices.

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Stonehenge Aotearoa

Stonehenge Aotearoa is fun and a definite holiday moment.

You might feel you want to participate in a Druid ceremony or dark sky observation. Then you don’t need to look far, it’s just around the corner in the Wairarapa. To check details click here Stonehenge Aotearoa. Stonehenge Aotearoa is  New Zealand’s only open air hands-on astronomical observatory built on the same scale as Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England.

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Masterton to Dannevirke
Dannevirke Historic Public Library, Central Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Dannevirke Historic Public Library, Central Hawke's Bay

The back of the sheep and the industry that supported one of New Zealand major agribusiness achievements is heralded in the Wool Shed. An authentic wool shed is an appropriate venue for a fun yet educational tour. There is a great gift shop attached. Next is Pukaha wildlife centre, one of the older sanctuaries for Aotearoa’s flightless birds. Take your chance and peer into the shaded nightlight world to locate the elusive kiwi through the gloom. Tui Breweries iconic site is now a tourist attraction with its characteristic brewery continuing to grace the Tui label.

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The Wool Shed National Museum

Wool is the backbone of the economy and the Wool Shed Interactive Centre answers all questions you might have about wool and shearing. A reminder of the importance of wool is the enormous statue of a shearer with his shorn sheep as you enter Masterton. The National Museum of Sheep and Shearing is hands-on, touch, feel and walk through a genuine woolshed. A must see attraction for New Zealand and Australian visitors interested in what is an important part of our economic culture. And it is not boring, a great woolly based gift shop.

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Tourist information center in Eketahuna on new zealand`s south island
Tourist information center in Eketahuna

The town where the residents own the grocery store, art gallery and medical centre. Eketahuna is a quintessential small kiwi town with a ‘Eke’ story unique to the passionate residents. Naturally  Pukaha, National Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre as a highlight. Together with quirky art, a marvellous model railway world, cafes and walks there are a lot of reasons to stop a while and explore the district.

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Pukaha National Wildlife Centre
@Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre
@Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre

Pukaha National Wildlife Centre is an unfenced sanctuary for native wildlife. The 942-hectare forest is home to wild kōkako and kākā, while inside the aviaries are breeding nests for endangered birds for release across Aotearoa New Zealand. Pukaha Mount Bruce Native Wildlife Centre is considered a trip highlight. The centre has an engaging kids programme, an exhibit explaining the breeding project for kiwis and an onsite shop and cafe. The Mt Bruce Lookout Walk is accessed via the car park. See TOP-10 things to do in Wairarapa, trip guide, what to see: NZ Jane.

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Tui Brewery

Experience a personalised 40 min guided tour round Tui Brewery. Trace the brewery’s 125 year history, see iconic landmarks and walk through the new state of the art brewery. You will finish up in the brewery bar tasting three beers of your choice from the tap. The Tui Brewery, at Mangatainoka, is approximately 10 minutes drive north of Eketahuna. Tui HQ features the famed Tui tower, the Tuiversity Conference Centre, historic Flagon Room and Tui Cafe. There are guided tours and an excellent gift shop, all things Tui related. Need a cup holder then Tui can sell you one.

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Ongaonga entrance signage, Central Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Ongaonga entrance signage, Central Hawke's Bay

Time protected Ongaonga with the historic village several category I heritage buildings step into the physical surroundings of a nineteenth century small New Zealand town. The town is a striking picture of the importance of the butcher, the bakery and the candlestick maker in areas where roading systems were few and far between.

  • Ongaonga Museum with its machinery, tools and period black and white photographs captured the essense of the town. The dedicated museum volunteers always appreciate donations and offers of assistance to support the maintenance of their heritage buildings.
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Dannevirke, CH Bay visitor centre, New Zealand
Dannevirke, CH Bay visitor centre

Dannevirke is well-known for its Scandinavian heritage, which dates back to 1872 when 21 Danish and Norwegian families arrived to settle the district. The town’s cemeteries are of considerable historical importance, and the settlers’ cemetery attracts many visitors, as well as conducting a guided tour each year. The town also has a proud Maori history, and at Makirikiri Marae you can admire the carvings at the Aotea Meeting House. In an ode to the town’s heritage, enjoy the ‘Viking’ theme throughout the settlement.

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Ormondville Historic Railway Station, New Zealand
Ormondville Historic Railway Station

The Ormondville Rail Preservation Group Inc was established in 1986 to save the

Ormondville Station Precinct after its closure.

The station, built in 1880, has a Category Two listing with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It won the Rail Heritage Award in 1997 and the National Federation of Rail Societies Inc.’s  Paul Heighton Trophy “For Excellence” in 2000. Restored to a 1950s theme, it is furnished with railway artifacts and fronted with a graceful wrought iron verandah.

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Waipukurau to Napier

Central Hawkes Bay Towns of Waipukurau and Waipawa


It is a very special moment walking through the forest of memories. Then it’s on to Central Hawkes Bay museum where you feel you’ve just walked into a nineteenth century parlour. Consider finishing the day at one of Hawkes Bay premier vineyards, the Mission Estate. It’s a pleasure to wander through the heritage monastic estate with a monk / vintner explaining the importance of wine making as a viable way to support the Catholic church.

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Forest of Memories

The Forest of Memories is a Waipukurau Rotary Club project. Instead of memorial plaques in a cemetery, living trees foster comfort for grieving family and friends. Sited at the base of Pukeora Hill, in Waipukurau Hawkes Bay the arboretum was created in 1993 as a place for trees and memories.

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Central Hawkes Bay Museum (Waipawa Settlers Museum)
Waipawa CHB Museum outdoor exhibits, New Zealand
Waipawa CHB Museum outdoor exhibits

The first items for the museum were collected by the CHB Salvation Army Access Scheme during 1984 – 1985. A meeting was held of interested people wanting to establish an Early Settlers Museum in Central Hawkes Bay. In 1986 the Historic Bank of New Zealand building in Waipawa was gifted to the people of Central Hawkes Bay by the District Council to house the museum. The museum was opened to the public in 1988 on an ad hoc basis.

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CHB Municipal Theatre

The CHB Municipal Theatre is an historic and iconic community building located in the heart of Waipawa. It has been the place of community gatherings, celebrations, performing arts and education for many years. In 1907 one of the first duties of the new Borough Council was to decide on an offer made to the old Town Board by the Trustees of the Loyal Abbotsford Lodge to purchase their Oddfellows Hall and property in Kenilworth Street.

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Mission Estate Vineyard

Mission Estate was established by these Missionaries in Hawke’s Bay in 1851, where vines were planted to produce both sacramental and table wine and New Zealand’s first winery was born. The first record of a commercial sale dates back to 1870 when a parcel of mostly dry reds was sold.

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Art Deco street light, Napier, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Art Deco street light, Napier, Hawke's Bay

The journey finishes in Napier and its art deco pastel beauty. Hawke’s Bay slogan’ Food and Wine country’ showpiece is Art Deco Napier. The town is framed by the sea, cliffs and a very attractive waterfront. Norfolk pines frame a marine parade with colourful timbered houses lining the main road into town. Victorian facades are rare in a town that suffered a devastating earthquake in the 1920’s. Out of the rubble emerged a town modelled on the art deco architecture complete with soft pastel colouring.

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