A Scenic Drive to Pipiriki
River Road, the only road that leads into Whanganui National Park from Wanganui, is narrow and winding but very scenic. Staying on River Road for approximately 1 1/2 hours will lead you to the tiny settlement of Pipiriki, 79km (49 miles) upstream from Wanganui. Many marae lie along the river, and you'll pass the historic Maori mission of Jerusalem, once home to the famous New Zealand poet James K. Baxter.
En Route to Wellington
You can get to Wellington in two ways - on State Highway 1 down the coast via Levin, Waikanae, and Paraparaumu (the better road), or via Palmerston North, the Wairarapa, through Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, and Featherston. Both trips take about 2 1/2 hours, but the Wairarapa journey begs for a few stop-offs that may well eat up some of your time. If you go this way, I strongly suggest you spend a night in the area. The i-SITE Palmerston North Visitor Centre, 52 The Square, Palmerston North (tel. 06/350-1922; fax 06/350-1929; www.manawatunz.co.nz), can help with accommodations and local highlights.
If you travel down the coast road, be sure to drop by the Southward Car Museum, near Paraparaumu, 45 minutes north of Wellington (tel. 04/297-1221; www.thecarmuseum.co.nz). Even if you're not auto-inclined, I think you'll find it interesting as it contains much more than just cars. The museum is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm and costs NZ$12 for adults and NZ$3 for children ages 5 to 15. The Kapiti Coast Visitor Information Centre, Centennial Park, State Highway 1, Otaki (tel. 06/364-7620; www.kapiticoast.govt.nz), can provide accommodations and adventure details for this increasingly popular holiday area. It's open Monday through Friday 8:30am to 5pm, weekends 9am to 4pm.