The Best Summer Day Trips Out of Wellington
Wine regions, pest-free islands and wild beaches are only a short trek away.
February 06, 2023
Whether you're an adventurer keen on mountain biking and tramping, or more down for a relaxed day catching a train to the coast for a coffee, summer is the best time to explore some new places outside of the Wellington region. Now we're finally getting some much-needed sunshine, it's time to venture out of the CBD and explore more of what the region has to offer.
We've compiled a list of our favourite day trips, including seaside spots, bush locations, wine territory and even travels across the open water.
FOR NATURE AND STUNNING VIEWS: CAPE PALLISER
Lighthouses, rock formations, coastline views and seals are all on show at Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island. The Cape is about two and a half hours from Wellington (due to convenient things like harbours and mountain ranges), but there are plenty of places to also stop at on the way, including Masterton, Palliser Bay, the captivating rock formations of the Putangirua Pinnacles, Aorangi Forest Park and the fishing town of Ngawi.
Getting to Cape Palliser unfortunately requires a vehicle, unless you want to hitchhike or book a bus, but it's well worth the drive. There you'll find the largest fur seal colony in the North Island, which you can spot while you take the track to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse, which has views of the South Island.
FOR FOOD, WINE AND STARGAZING: MARTINBOROUGH
Martinborough can also be added to the itinerary of those adventuring to Cape Palliser, but to be honest, it's fully worth a day trip in itself. Located in the vineyard-heavy region of Wairarapa, there are wine-tasting tours available. Most wineries are also easily accessible by bike (which can be hired in the town). The town is also home to dark sky centre Starfield, which offers stargazing tours. Make sure you check the website and book a tour before heading out, however, as the centre is not always open.
FOR OFF-ROAD CYCLING AND TUNNELS: REMUTAKA RAIL TRAIL
Take to your bike and try out the Remutaka Rail Trail in the Remutaka Ranges. The trail is a former rail route, established in 1878, which runs between Kaitoke in the Hutt Valley, up over the summit in the Remutaka Ranges and ends at Cross Creek, near Featherston. Destination Wairarapa estimates that the "gently graded" ride from Kaitoke carpark to the summit is about two-to-three hours return.
The carpark is several kilometres north of Upper Hutt — or those without vehicles can catch the train from Wellington to Maymorn Station in Upper Hutt (and then cycle the remaining five kilometres to the start of the track). On the Wairarapa side, it is a ten-kilometre ride from Cross Creek to Featherston Railway station, where you can catch the train back to the city. Cycle Remutaka offers mountain bike hire, as well as a day-trip package that includes bikes, a packed lunch and transport to and from Wellington or the Hutt Valley. The track can also be done as a walk.
Note: there are tunnels, like the one pictured, so bring a torch.
FOR NATURE AND WILDLIFE SPOTTING: MATIU/SOMES ISLAND
Matiu/Somes Island is a pest-free piece of island enjoyment — and easily accessible from Wellington. Reclaimed by Taranaki Whānui following Treaty settlements, the island is managed by iwi and the Department of Conservation. It has been pest-free since the 1980s (meaning all bags will be checked on arrival) and a variety of wildlife has since flourished — including tuatara, weta, Little Blue penguins, fantails, kingfishers, and kākāriki (the red-crowned parakeet), many of which have been reintroduced from Zealandia Ecosanctuary.
The island is accessible by East by West Ferries, which travel between Queens Wharf in the Wellington CBD to Eastbourne, occasionally docking at Matiu. Check timetables to make sure you catch the right ferry to and from the island. A walking track circles the island and is estimated to take about 75 minutes. Visitors must bring their own food, and remove all rubbish from the island at the end of their visit.
FOR SEA ADVENTURES: PICTON
If you've got some cash to splash and feel like a boat trip, then Picton is the place to go. Both Bluebridge and Interislander ferries have crossings around 8–9am leaving you plenty of time to explore Picton before catching an evening ferry back to the capital. Interislander even has a special day excursion discount for ferry users travelling twice on the same day.
While many may view Picton as solely a transit town, the northern South Island port has plenty of cafes and restaurants, galleries, a floating maritime museum and an aquarium. There are also several wildlife cruise options for those not sick of the sea, including several that visit the island-based Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary. For folks in search of a more active day trip, options include sea kayaking, mountain biking and diving. Plus, when in Picton, one must make sure to check out the sit-on steam engine ride and the chance to sail toy-sized boats on the harbour front.
FOR STUNNING DAY HIKES: PAEKĀKĀRIKI
Catch a train up the coast from Wellington to Paekākāriki — a scenic spot for every type of daytripper. Home to the World's Shortest Pride Parade, the Kāpiti Coast township has cafes and shops (including the wonderfully named The Perching Parrot cafe) and the scenic Paekākāriki Escarpment Track. The track, which is part of Te Araroa, the network of tramping tracks spanning the length of New Zealand, runs between Beach Road in Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay (which also has a train station to get back into Wellington). The ten-kilometre, three-to-four-hour walk does have steep steps in parts so keep that in mind when deciding whether to walk it.
Also keep an eye out for posters at St Peter's Hall in the town as there could be a show on that evening (or you may be tempted to come back for a gig sometime).
Top image: Howard Follas
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