Jumping in your car, blasting the tunes and taking in some epic scenery can be soothing for the soul. From craggy coastlines to lush forests and bush, our capital city has a number of drives to hit the road for. It’s a great way to get out and about in your own backyard and discover hidden swimming bays, the best flat whites in the region or lookouts with stunning views.
Here are the top trips to take in and around Wellington.
This is the perfect scenic escape that’s still within the city limits. Take the coastal route around the headland of Miramar Peninsula, with a quick stop off at Shelly Bay’s famous Chocolate Fish Café to get into gear. You’ll be spinning your tyres right by the rugged coast and around twisting bends, but look out for cyclists—it’s a popular biking route. Cute villas line the road from Scorching Bay to Seatoun and then it’s up and over the hill to Breaker Bay. Explore the old army bunkers and stretch your legs on the walking track above the beach. Breaker Bay links up to Lyall Bay along the jagged coastline with colourful salt-saturated houses and little bays to dip your toes in.
Head left or right from Island Bay and you’re in for a scenic treat. It’s similar to Miramar’s coastal route but takes less time. Heading west takes you to Red Rocks Reserve. Swap your vehicle for sneakers and walk along the beach to the fur seal colony. Heading east from Island Bay will take you past Houghton Bay where surfers dot the water if the swell is in their favour. Princess Bay is just around the corner and popular for swimming. On a clear day, you can see the silhouette of the mountains rising from the South Island. Time your drive for dusk and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular sunset.
Take a trip to the Eastern Bays on the opposite side of Wellington Harbour. It’s a pretty drive that’s great on sunny days as well as stormy when waves lap at the ocean-side road. You’ll pass coastal coves, colourful cafes and art galleries, while houses perch on the cliff tops above. A stop off at the Wahine Disaster memorial in Eastbourne is recommended. This drive will also get you to the start of the walking and biking track to Pencarrow Lighthouse.
Escape the city and drive to the seaside locality of Makara. The western suburbs are quickly traded for bush as you head over Mākara peak. A criss-cross of mountain bike trails line the hill if you’re tempted to turn the drive into a more adrenaline-fuelled affair. Steel your stomach–there are a few winding corners to get around before you descend into rural Wellington. The wild and rugged coastline is a welcome sight, with giant walloping windmills high on the hills above. Mākara is a great drive if you’re looking for a shorter trip with big rewards, alternatively, bring your hiking shoes and take on the Mākara walkway. Go at sunset and you’ll see the golden sun melt into the Tasman. Just magical.
Paekakariki Hill Road
This is a great lazy Sunday afternoon drive that takes you out of the city to Kapiti Coast. Taking your time is recommended, as the road is winding and narrow. Sheep and horses graze on farmland that makes way for lush greenery. Trees stretch out above, creating a leafy tunnel to cruise through. The road ascends to a cliff-top lookout that’s definitely worth pulling over for. Kapiti Island rises from the sea and the tip of the South Island can be spotted on cloudless days. The road closes on Fridays from 3pm to 7pm for safety and to help ease traffic during peak time.
Remutaka Forest Park
While the Remutaka Forest Park is better known for its hiking trails, it also makes for a great scenic drive as it’s just an hour or so from the city centre. Follow the signs through Wainuiomata and suburbia will soon be swapped for idyllic farmland and forest. It’s an easy drive out to the forest park turnoff, where you can cruise on up to Catchpool Valley car park. It will take you around an hour from the city. There are lots of picnic spots along the way to park up and take in the beautiful native bush of the Remutakas.
A journey to Wairarapa is in order if you’re looking for a driving day trip. Zoom up through the Hutt Valley to reach Remutaka Hill, which stretches up and down to the ‘Rapa region. Work has been done to make the road safer and smoother but it’s still quite windy. A patchwork of green bush is a good distraction from the twists and turns. There’s a lookout at the highest point of the road where you can get a great snap for the 'Gram. Featherston is the first town you reach and from here, the road stretches out straight before you. You’ll get to take in the stunning scenery of rural Wairarapa along with cute little towns like Greytown. Don’t be afraid to take back roads for gorgeous scenery of the Tararua Range soaring skyward amongst rolling farmland.
If you've worked up an appetite from all that driving, check out 50 of the best restaurants in Wellington.
Image credit: Palliser Bay, Wairarapa by New Zealand Transition, Makara Beach by Nate Watson, Castlepoint Lighthouse, Wairarapa by Stefan Mokrzecki.