Lower North Island road trip: Wellington to Palmerston North (Day 1)

Julie Scanlon from Kidspot shares things to see and do on her five-day family road trip from Wellington to Taupo.

Road trip! The last time my kids heard those words, we embarked on an epic two-week journey around the South Island.

This time, it was a five-day trip during the school holidays to explore the lower North Island. With shorter driving distances, and hence more time to explore and have fun, the kids (Lee and Jason), my husband Paul, and I were raring to go!

Being the July school holidays, the weather was, well, July; grey, wet and cold. But that just added to the experience, and we were well prepared with beanies, gloves and lots of warm and waterproof clothing.

Levin (96 kilometres)

We packed the car and began the trip by heading north along the picturesque Kapiti Coast road. Here the infamous Wellington wind was sending huge waves crashing onto the rocks. It was a dramatic start to our North Island adventure!

Levin Adventure Park

Leaving the coast, we made our way to the town of Levin. It’s a great place to stop and stretch the legs, and the kids loved the huge Levin Adventure Park (which is located right beside State Highway 1).

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
Levin. Image: Bigstock

Shannon (20 kilometres)

Our next stop was the charming rural town of Shannon, which is renowned for its shopping and cafes. Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy a visit to the Shannon Railway Station Museum and Visitor Centre. The original station was constructed in 1893 and enlarged several times over the following decades.

Palmerston North (32 kilometres)

From Shannon, we drove to Palmerston North – a university town with more than a few surprises and plenty of options for family fun. Here are some of the top things to do in Palmerston North.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
Palmerston North. Image: Bigstock

New Zealand Rugby Museum

Any aspiring All Black will love the New Zealand Rugby Museum in the Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History. It’s a treasure trove of sporting memorabilia. The fascinating displays abound with history and brought back many memories from my own childhood of time spent watching the All Blacks on the TV with my dad.

The museum was also a chance for the kids to show off their skills in the have-a-go arena. A scrum machine tested how hard they can push, there’s kicking practice to become the next Dan Carter, and a fun tackle game that had them burning off some of that boundless energy. Needless to say, there was more than a bit of competition between the kids and their dad to see who was worthy of wearing the silver fern.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
New Zealand Rugby Museum. Image: Palmerston North City Council

Te Manawa

As well as sporting history, Te Manawa features art, science and history collections, along with performances and temporary exhibitions. We ventured into the Sunlight – Ihi Kōmaru exhibition, which was a hands-on journey into the science of the sun and light. The kids loved exploring each and every interactive game and challenge. The competitive spirit was back, thanks to a speed camera that measured how long it would take each person to run to the moon! It was a feast for the senses. We could climb inside a giant inflatable sun to hear what the Sun sounds like, manipulate light, play with lasers and magnetic fields, or take a virtual reality journey around the universe.

Wellington to Palmerston North road trip
Te Manawa. Image: Palmerston North City Council

Cafe Cuba

We popped into Cafe Cuba for dinner. It’s a popular, bustling licensed cafe and restaurant in the heart of Palmerston North. In the spirit of trying something new, we indulged in a shared tapas platter for our entree, which was enjoyed by everyone.

The range of dishes was excellent. I opted for a touch of elegance with my fresh fish on lemon and prawn risotto, Paul went for the Thai beef salad, Lee chose nachos, and Mr ‘not-so-adventurous’ went for a tasty cheeseburger and fries from the kids menu. The desserts were divine so we were glad we saved some room! The staff were friendly and efficient and the cafe is full of character.

Where to stay

It was just a short four-minute drive from central Palmerston North to our accommodation for the night at the Comfort Inn Kauri Court. The warm and comfortable studio units were a welcome retreat from the winter cold. The kitchen area was well equipped for a family stay and I didn’t think I would ever get Jason out of the superb spa bath (he now wants one at home!).

As is tradition on our family holidays, a game of Five Crowns shortly broke out with the usual shouts of triumph and despair. The adjoining rooms meant that Paul and I could get just a smidge of peace and quiet while the kids watched TV in their own room. The contemporary-style apartments that are available at Kauri Court would also make a wonderful base for a family of any size wanting to explore the region further.

Comfort Inn Kauri Court’s sister property Quality Suites Central Square is situated on The Square in the heart of Palmerston North, and offers easy access to cafes and restaurants. It’s a short walk from there to the New Zealand Rugby Museum.

Read more

Day 1: Wellington to Palmerston North

Day 2: Palmerston North to Napier

Day 3: Napier to Rotorua

Day 4: Rotorua to Taupo

Day 5: Taupo to Wellington

About the writer

This blog was written by Julie Scanlon from Kidspot. Julie and her family were sponsored by Choice Hotels Asia-Pac on their five day road trip of the lower North Island. We acknowledge the support of Destination Manawatu in providing activities during the road trip, and thank them for their assistance.

Cover image: Palmerston North City Library. Image: Palmerston North City Council