Driving is the perfect way to go around New Zealand, not only because public transport is minimal but because the landscape is so stunning. If you are in the mountains, coasts, forests, and other natural wonders for weeks, days, and few hours, you can find a route across the world. But don’t hurry up these journeys: part of the fun is to take a picture whenever you like, and sometimes fun detours to waterfalls, swimming holes, viewing places, or great lunch spots are made. Here are some of New Zealand’s finest road trips.
1. Cape Reinga, Northland
Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of the North Island, and the lighthouse at the bottom of this peninsula provides sweeping views over the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. On the drive up, too, you can enjoy the beautiful Far North landscape.
Whilst you can fly back from the Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga in one day, it is more convenient to leave the coastal towns of Taipa or Mangonui in the Doubtless Bay or even Kaitaia, which is the largest (small) city in the far north. It takes approximately 1,5 hours to travel from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga.
2. Coromandel Peninsula Loop
The peninsula of Coromandel stretches to the Hauraki Gulf east of Auckland and is easy to get from the area. We recommend that we do a loop around the forest to avoid tracking the middle of the peninsula. Start in the Thames and travel north to the city of Coromandel, about 1,5 hours by car from Auckland. Go to Whitianga east, then Whangamata down.
This loop can be completed in a few days, but it is worth more. The Pinnacles Walk is a hiking area, and Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove are must-visit places in the eastern part of the peninsula.
3. The Desert Road, Central North Island
In central North Island, the 39-mile Desert Road crosses the high-Altitude desert of Rangipo. West of the Range of Kaimanawa and East, on the right, exposed stretch of the road from three active volcanoes (Mount Tongariro, Ngasuruhoe, and Ruapehu).
Although many travelers take it on longer journeys across the northern island, the route links Turangi with Waiouru. Note that it will be closed at any time of year due to snowfall, so before you leave you must check the conditions.
4. Forgotten World Highway, Taumarunui to Stratford
The Forgotten World Highway winds through some of the most dramatic bush countries in Northern Iceland and links Taumarunui in King Country to Stratford in Taranaki. Although it is part of the state road network, some sections are unsealed, showing how out of the road.
The road is represented as a roller coaster, and take time and stop at Whangamomona overnight. At the Taumarunui end, the country is marked by grassy hills in the kingdom; while at Taranaki, you can enjoy wonderful views of the eponymous volcano.
5. Surf Highway 45, Hawera’s New Plymouth
The Surf Highway45 routes the edge as the Lost World Highway crosses Taranaki inland. This is a particularly well-known surf tour, but anyone can enjoy the views on the shore and the powerful Taranaki Mountain.
It only takes 90 minutes to drive all the way, but the beaches and surfing places such as Oakura, Ahu Ahu, and Comene Beach are partly a fun stop on this journey.
6. Pacific Coast Highway, East Cape
The East Cape is one of the most far-flung areas of the north island and the majority of journeys from other parts of the world require road trips. It is not the directest route between these two cities, but the pacific coast, which links Opotiki to Gisborne in the north and Gisborne to the south.
The sunsets are especially good here, as this area is the first one in the nation to watch the light of a new day. Strands along the Pacific Coast Highway have been strikingly white. This region is also rich in Maori culture and hence searches for historic landmarks (fortified settlements).
7. Croisilles Harbour–French Pass Road, Marlborough
The Croisilles Harbor-French Pass Road is not exactly on the way, however, a road trip which is simply to enjoy a journey by road. French Pass is the narrow canal of water between D’Urville Island and the continental South Island and the currents here are so strong that fish can be stunned!
The drive to French Pass takes about two hours along slow winding highways, from the turnoff on the highway in the Valley of Rai. The view of the Pelorus Sound and Tasman Bay opens on the way to the end of the peninsula (on the far west outskirts of the Marlborough Sounds). The final part of the trip is on a dirt track.
8. Haast to Greymouth, West Coast
The South Island’s West Coast provides what is probably New Zealand’s greatest journey experience. From either end of the journey, the 200-mile journey can preferably take place over at least one week as there will still be so much to see and do. The Hokitika and Greymouth, Hokitika Gorges, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park, Fox, and Franz Joseph Glaciers, and the Haast Pass themselves highlight.
Although Haast to Greymouth is the most convenient route for most passengers, the route up to Karamea where the route stops can be extended.
9. Milford Road to Milford Sound, Queenstown
Most bus routes between Queenstown and Milford Sound are equipped with glass roofs that allow passengers to take advantage of the view of the rising mountains overlooking the road. A guided tour is recommended so that you can marvel without distraction unless you are 100% committed to driving the route yourself.
This road goes into the mountains of the South Alps and then into the Fiordland National Park toward Milford Sound. It is possible from Queenstown in one day, but it is a long day. Ideally, for a few days of walking stay around Milford or elsewhere in Fiordland.