Every year, my partner and I take a one-week roadtrip between Auckland and Wellington. These days, we treat it as a break – not just an exercise in getting between the two cities in the shortest possible time.
For many years, we just headed down State Highway 1, as most do, using Taupo as a stopping point and hoping the Desert Road is open.
If pushed, it’s a nine-hour journey; tiring but most of the roads are okay.
Problem is, that direct trip is relatively boring.
In recent years, we’ve experimented with three alternate routes.
This year we took State Highway 3 down the west coast. From Hamilton, we cut across to Te Awamutu and then through Otorohanga (the home of Kiwiana) and Te Kuiti (the shearing capital), and onto New Plymouth (the energy capital).
Plenty of interesting things to check out on that route.
The route takes you alongside the surf beaches of Taranaki and you’ll have plenty of rolling green pastures to admire. As long as the weather is clear, you’ll also have views of snow-capped Mt Taranaki.
We stayed overnight in Wanganui, scoring a discounted room at The Grand Hotel (tip: always stay at a hotel with the word ‘grand’ in its name – you’ll either land a bargain or have tales to tell of a place with memories grander than the reality).
This Grand was a bit run down but clean, with a friendly manager and some semblance of its old world character.
By comparison, we travelled via State Highway 2 the previous year with stops at Taupo and Napier.
There’s plenty to see and do in and around Taupo, with its lake, the nearby thermal attractions and its visitor-friendly cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Napier is a favourite of our’s. It’s the perfect overnight stay on a trip south – with time to wander around the business district (the art deco capital), along the waterfront and a visit to a nearby winery.
We’ve stayed several times as the renovated Masonic Hotel, a well-situated hotel that’s kept all the best aspects of its 1930s design while modernising its rooms, bar and restaurant. Ask about the rooftop suite – it’s self-contained and perfect for a family or group of adults.
SH2 also allows plenty of stops at a string of small towns, most of which have second hand or antique shops – we’ve picked up bargains on every trip!
Masterton is worth a stop too and opens up side trips to nearby towns in the Wairarapa.
The most used route is, of course, State Highway 1 but I’d recommend a detour around the western side of Mt Ruapehu and an overnight stay at the charming 1920s style Chateau Tongariro Hotel. It’s like walking into the past with high ceilings, décor from almost a century ago and plenty of peace and quiet.
On our last trip, we wanted the quickest way home so set off from Wellington, determined to make the best time possible.
That usually presents the problem of how far to drive before stopping for a meal (in our case, dinner).
This time we stopped at Taihape, a place not known in the past for its range of dining.
But we stumbled upon Le Café Telephonique (8 Huia St) which took us by surprise.
It had a European menu with much variety, live entertainment (a couple who interacted with the diners without being intrusive) and a decent wine list.