One of the greatest parts of Wellington is the number of different experiences you can have within a few hours’ drive or train ride from the city.
For a weekend getaway, you have the choice of wineries, beaches, nature reserves, and regional parks. Whatever your travel style, there’s a weekend trip near Wellington that’s perfect for you.
Wairarapa Weekend Trip
This is the best weekend trip from Wellington for foodies or shopaholics. Just over the Remutaka Ranges from Wellington, the Wairarapa is full of cute small towns crammed with boutique stores and cosy cafes.
The landscape is all rolling green hills and miles of farmland and vineyards, postcard-perfect rural New Zealand. The main centre is Martinborough where you can stay in renovated cottages complete with spa pools and fireplaces.
What to do in Wairarapa
The slow pace of life here is a great opportunity to unwind. Stock up on local produce, have a picnic in the town square, or spend your afternoons wandering between wineries tasting the local Pinot Noirs and other offerings.
If you’re feeling active, hire bikes and head out to the Remutaka Cycle Trail. The trail runs over 100km from Petone to Masterton.
For something a bit different, check out Stonehenge Aotearoa (a Kiwi copy of the real deal) and the dark sky experiences.
Where to eat in the Wairarapa
Poppies in Martinborough – yes, this is a winery but it’s known for its platters, which come piled high with cheeses, fruits, seafood, veggies and breads.
C’est Cheese in Featherston – taste the Over the Moon blue brie and grab one of the cheese toasties.
Schoc Chocolates in Greytown – try one of the unusual flavour combinations like strawberry and peppercorn or smoked tea.
Union Square in Martinborough or The White Swan in Greytown – both good dinner options offering lots of local wines and featuring producers from the area.
Unleaded – I haven’t been here personally but as NZ’s first alcohol-free bar it deserves a mention as somewhere interesting.
The Marlborough region is known for high-tannin Pinot Noirs and many of the wineries here only do cellar door sales although you’ll find them in a lot of the better Wellington restaurants.
Te Kairanga – great Pinot Noir, also home to the tasting shed for Lighthouse Gin which is made locally.
Palliser Estate – the most upmarket offering in the area, set in manicured gardens and specialising in sparkling whites.
Moy Hall – a newish winery with one of the bigger varieties of wines including a fabulous Syrah. Their restaurant faces onto the vines and is fantastic on a sunny day. Also a good photo stop!
Orongorongos weekend trip
If you’re up for a big hike and true remote bush experience, this is it. Bring your camping gear and book a Department of Conservation hut for the overnight. The Orongorongos are far less crowded than any of the more well-known ‘Great Walks’ in New Zealand but are stunning in their own right.
The route is a 35km loop that starts on the coast road, where, at the very end, you can see across the Cook Strait. From there you go into the bush, following the climbing up the Orongorongo Valley then over the Rimutaka Ranges back to the coast.
Heading up the river valley is the most spectacular section but can be slow going as it’s hilly and rocky in parts. The huts are clustered around the top of the valley so are ideal stopping points on your journey.
This weekend trip requires a fair bit of preparation as you’ll need to carry all your food and water. The last stop before you start the hike is Wainuiomata which has a supermarket. On your way home, refuel at one of the cafes in Petone such as Seashore Cabaret.
Don’t attempt the hike in bad weather. The valley will get muddy which makes the walk much slower and just a lot less fun. There’s also the risk of flooding. In summer it’s manageable in standard running shoes but if there’s been any rain then you’ll want proper hiking boots.
You could also run this loop in one day, check out the running guide here.
Kapiti Coast Weekend Trip
The Kapiti Coast is the most popular summer holiday destination for Wellingtonians longing to escape the city. Many people have holiday homes/baches at one of the beaches along the coast.
What to do on the Kapiti Coast
The highlight of this weekend trip is Kapiti Island which should be on everyone’s Wellington must-see list. Kapiti Island is a protected nature reserve where you can spot kiwis in the wild, as well as other native New Zealand wildlife. If you’re really lucky, you might also see whales or dolphins on the boat trip out!
Numbers on the island are limited so you will need to book well in advance (less so in winter). You can opt to camp/glamp overnight or take the day tour which gives you an overview of the island’s history as well as time to explore. There are a couple of short walks on Kapiti Island, or you can just find a spot on the beach for a picnic.
If you’re up for (quite a bit) more walking, the Paekakariki Escarpment Track is the way to make the most of the coastal views. This 10km walkway runs from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay (both train stops on the Kapiti Line). It hugs the cliffside and overlooks the beach. The swing bridges can be a bit of a wild ride on a windy day, which is most days.
Needless to say, the Kapiti Coast is full of beaches. The surf isn’t much and hot weather is rare, but the miles of semi-deserted sandy beaches are peaceful in a way you won’t find up north.
Where to eat on the Kapiti Coast
The Kapiti Coast is putting itself on the amp when it comes to food. While the Wairarapa has wines, a range of craft breweries and beer gardens have sprung up along the Kapiti Coast that are perfect beachy summer hangouts.
Tuatara Brewery in Paraparaumu – headquarters of one of Wellington’s and New Zealand’s most popular brewers.
Salt and Wood Collective in Waikanae – these guys brew their own beer onsite and are known for great BBQ food.
Raumati Social Club in Raumati – an all-day option on the beach that is just as good for brunch as it is for dinner.
Pencarrow/Lake Ferry Weekend Trip
Even amongst Wellingtonians, the south coast is a bit of a hidden gem. I lived here for five years before visiting!
The drive out to Lake Ferry is beautiful with both coastal and countryside views. As soon as you get there, you’ll feel very remote from the city.
The best place to stay and eat is Lake Ferry Hotel which looks out over Palliser Bay. There are a few Airbnbs and other holiday homes out here, but you’ll want to stock up on supplies before you leave Wellington as there isn’t so much as a corner store.
What to do around Pencarrow
This is the ideal spot if you want to get far away from it all. There are, however, a few places really worth exploring.
Putangirua Pinnacles – made famous by Lord of the Rings, the pinnacles are a series of spectacular rock formations accessible by hiking up the old river bed.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse – drive around the coast to the very tip of the North Island where you’ll find the historic lighthouse. You can climb up the stairs to take in the view on a good day. It’s a real standing on the edge of the world moment. See if you can spot the fur seals lazing on the rocks around the lighthouse.
If you’re short on time, any of these options could be condensed into a day trip from Wellington.
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