The land of the long white cloud looks like heaven from above, as anybody who has ever flown over NZ can attest. However, the countryside really shines when you’re in drive mode. Here’s our guide to the top 10 New Zealand scenic drives. Get into gear and hit the road fast or hit it slow. Just make sure you go…
SOUTH ISLAND DRIVES
Rakaia Gorge - Image: Jessie Russell
State Highway 72 Inland Scenic Route
This route takes you to the epic Rakaia Gorge and is approximately a 1 hour drive from Christchurch. There’s an abundance of easy nature walks on offer here. Adventurous people may like to challenge their fitness by completing the 3-4 hour return hike along the ‘Rakaia Gorge Walkway’.
McLean Falls on the Tautuku River in Catlins Forest Park- Image: Venture Southland
The Southern Scenic Route
Road trips don’t get much better than this! Spend the day in cruise mode from Dunedin south through to the rugged Catlin Coast. Take your time and stop often for the Catlin’s are an area of wild beauty, including gems like the McLean Falls pictured above. Your journey will come to a close after passing through the unspoiled environment of the remote New Zealand Southland, make sure you have your camera ready, because this scenery is dramatic.
Hooker Valley Aoraki, Mt Cook - Image: Fraser Clements
Mt Cook Road
This terrific place is the foreground to Mt Cook so park the car and set your camera panorama. The scenery along Mt Cook Road is truly picturesque and on a clear day one can see the mountainous landscape reflect upon the lake. Tip: you can pre-book a Mt Cook Ski Plane or Helicopter tour and see the natural beauty of the place from above. Keen to land on a glacier anyone?
Yellow Eyed Penguins on the beach in Oamaru
Waitaki Valley Way
Leave the lush forestry of Mt Cook and leisurely pace your drive to the limestone townscape of Oamaru via the gorgeous Waitaki Valley Way. Oamaru, on the east coast is renowned for its colony of penguins and art deco like heritage buildings.
Views of Mitre Peak at Milford Sound, Fiordland - Image: Rob Suisted
Glorious Milford Sound is the jewel in the South Island’s crown. The beautiful drive into the region is part of the Milford Sound experience itself! Keep an eye out to see a variety of marine life abound such as fur seals and dolphins. There’s plenty of all-inclusive boat cruise operators there too. However it’s best to pre book one, as it is very popular NZ activity.
NORTH ISLAND DRIVES
Piha, Auckland - Image: Sam Mahayni
Take a trip to pretty Piha and see the awesome Lion Rock natural stone sculpture on the beachfront. Drive 12km through the Waitakere Ranges, before taking a left onto Seaview Rd, which will take you to Piha itself. We love this winding, yet easy to navigate road that offers up spectacular west coast scenery at every turn.
Bay of Plenty Map - Image: Bay of Plenty Tourism
Pacific Coast Highway
As the name suggests the Pacific Coast Highway is filled with excellent ocean views any which way you look. We love the ‘Bay of Plenty’ stretch of this road, with its sweeping azure vistas of the surrounding bayside zone. Outstanding!
Mangawhai, Northland - Image: Fraser Clements
There’s no way “Scenic Drive” is going to be missing from this list. From Auckland, take this picturesque drive to explore the volcanic landscape of the Waitakere Ranges until you reach its end in Swanson. It’s about 40 minute drive to pristine rainforest, waterfalls and black sand beaches. Welcome to NZ’s wild, wild west…
Te Rata Bay (Hot Water Beach) - Image: Destination Rotorua
Old Waiotapu Road
This lovely winding road leads visitors to many of Rotorua’s world famous geothermal hot springs. Pack your togs in the car, a thermos and a picnic lunch and have yourself a quaint road trip to one of New Zealand's most popular visitor destinations.
Mokau Maniaroa, Marae, Taranaki - Image: James Heremaia
Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel, or so sung Jim Morrison. Well, that’s easier said than done when you take into account the rolling surf in the background. Take the New Plymouth route toward Hawera along the Surf Highway and be rewarded with over 100km of coastal view goodness.