Driving Routes In New Zealand
New Zealand is a country built for driving with quiet, open roads and cinematic landscapes that unfold before you. Hopping in a car or motorhome and exploring the country with your own itinerary really is the best way to appreciate the stunnign beauty of the country that's packed full of natural attractions to explore.
To help you plan your next road trip, we've put together our pick of the best New Zealand driving routes.
The Great Alpine Highway - South Island
Traversing the South Island, from Christchurch to Kumara, this journey stretches 255km across the Canterbury Plains (partly-following the famous TranzAlpine rail route), over Arthur's Pass, and down via Otira Viaduct to the West Coast's rainforests. Full of natural wonders, including waterfalls, native bushland, and cave streams, there are plenty of places to stop and explore.
Christchurch to Queenstown - South Island
The drive from from Christchurch to Queenstown is filled with truly eye-catching landscapes - Rakaia Gorge, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook National Park and the alpine landscape of Central Otago. If you drive without stopping, the journey should take around six hours, but we'd recommend at least an overnight stop along the way. To give you an insight into the trip ahead, we've detailed some of the highlights you'll see along the way with approximate driving times. View the roadtrip.
Inland Scenic Route 72 - South Island
Beginning in tranquil Amberley (just north of Christchurch), this 220km route is all about the landscape. Taking in the busy farming community of Rangiora, the ski field of Mount Hutt, and ending with the colonial charms of Geraldine, the only decision you'll have to make is whether to admire the Southern Alps from above or below.
Alpine Pacific Triangle - South Island
A route of 'legs', this 370km South Island journey shows off three distinct characteristics of New Zealand's personality: the forested mountains of Hanmer Springs; the coastal lifestyle of Kaikoura; and the fertile vineyards of Waipara. Connect each corner of the triangle whichever way you choose, or let the seasons decide for you – the landscape's always changing out here.
Southern Scenic Route - South Island
This 440km route begins in Dunedin, taking in Southland's wild Catlins Coast to Invercargill. Here, civilisation ends, as you head back out into the vast wilderness of Manapouri, Te Anau and Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park – literally the end of the road.
Surf Highway 45 - North Island
A boardie's favourite open road, the 100km of Surf Highway 45 (part of State Highway 45) follows the North Island coast from New Plymouth round to Hawera. Turning off to one side takes you straight to the ocean, or detour the other way to climb up into the mountains. As you stalk the western side of Mount Taranaki, the small town of Opunake is ideal to admire the views.
Classic New Zealand Wine Trail - North Island
The route's 380km are best-travelled indulgently with three different wine regions to pass through. Beginning in Napier, the journey takes you through rugged Tararua, historic Wairarapa, and cultural Wellington when, after a picturesque crossing over the Cook Strait, you'll end up in Blenheim in the South Island – via a mandatory thirst-quencher in Marlborough, of course.
Thermal Explorer Highway - North Island
Cutting right through the heart of volcano country, this 440km route takes you from the metropolis of Auckland, down through cavernous Waikato, back up to the craters of Rotorua, and ending at the vineyards of Napier/Hastings. A diversion to Tongariro National Park is worth it to see 'Middle Earth', where much of Lord of The Rings trilogy was filmed.
Pacific Coast Highway - North Island
Stretching 1000km from Auckland to Napier, this route hugs the east coast, up to the Coromandel Peninsula, over to the Bay of Plenty, down through the East Cape and Gisborne, before delivering you into the capable hands of Hawke's Bay. If you want to make the drive circular – hop onto the Thermal Explorer Highway once at Napier, and amble back to Auckland.
Forgotten World Highway - North Island
Running between Taumarunui and Stratford on the North Island, this relatively short route (155km) throws itself over four mountain passes, as well as taking you deep into the 'Hobbit Hole' of the Moki Tunnel. The ghostly near-abandoned town of Whangamomona is a rare sign of civilisation out here – so make sure the tank is full before departure.
Twin Coast Discovery Highway - North Island
Starting from Auckland, up to Cape Reinga, and back, this 200km circular route is a great way to see Northland's entire perimeter. On the east coast, you can relax on sandy, white beaches or take a dive in the calm waters, whilst on the west, the wilder headlands make for great surfing, and the giant kauri forests are lush places to get lost in.