Best Road Trips in New Zealand
In the land where endless grazelands reach out to giant glaciers and snow-capped mountains, where subtropical forests embrace miles of rugged coastlines and dreamy beaches, where undisturbed lakes give way to reinvigorating hot springs, even the most demanding of travellers will stand in awe more than once. Considering the abundance of New Zealand’s contrasting landscapes, there’s no better way to experience one of Mother Nature’s greatest works than by taking a road trip. And by road trip, we don’t mean getting off the grid in a 4×4 and rumbling the gravel and dirt roads, as New Zealand is one of the best-connected countries on the planet, with an impressive network of excellent roads. Let’s explore some of the most rewarding road trip tours on the Kiwi Islands.
Auckland to Cape Reinga
Interestingly, some of the most picturesque landscapes in New Zealand spread just north of Auckland. Heading north, this trip takes you up to Ninety Mile Beach, over the very tip of New Zealand’s northern island. A small seaside town of Paihia is also known as a gateway to the Bay of Islands, made of 144 islands that reminisce of Whitsundays – green countryside, coastline roads and blue waters. It’s a great place to swim with dolphins and stroll the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds where New Zealand’s founding document was forged. A sailing tour around the islands can take you to the infamous Hole in the Rock. Leaving Paihia behind, head out to Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga – a popular spot for sandboarding with an iconic lighthouse gazing out to the Pacific.
Rotorua to Gisborne
If you’re more inclined to untrodden paths, you should know that the east of Rotorua is rarely explored by travellers despite having some of the best vistas New Zealand has to offer. Drive east towards the town of Whakatane and turn southeast towards Gisborne, an unparalleled surfing mecca and the first place in the world to see the sunrise. For the more adventurous ones, there are stingray feeding tours. You may want to spend a night in Gisborne to catch the morning sunrise. On the following day, make your way northeast towards Tokomaru Bay. Its uninhabited and rugged coastline will make you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. While en route, you can jump off New Zealand’s longest pier – Tolaga Bay Wharf and stop for a lunch at a local seaside pub. On the ways to Te Kaha, make sure to climb to the top of the East Cape Lighthouse. This is New Zealand’s easternmost point from which the ocean extends uninterrupted all the way to the Cape of Good Hope.
Queenstown to Dunedin by the way of Catlins
Also known as The Southern Scenic Route, it’s a popular road trip for people visiting Queenstown. If you’ve arrived at this beautiful inland town at the shores of Lake Wakatipu, it’s good to know that you can get an Avis car rental in Queenstown as well, so you don’t have to waste time looking for your touring vehicle. Hit the southern State Highway 6 to Invercargill. There’s really not much to see here, but this part of the country is the real New Zealand, where you can meet the locals and have a chat over a beer or two. From Invercargill, make your way to the Catlins National Park where you can easily spend a few days due to its sheer size and numerous points of interest. There are rugged coastal walks, stunning surf beaches, primeval forests, and many rare and endangered animal species. As you make your way to Dunedin, check out the Nugget Point from where you can watch fur seals and sea lions. The university capital of New Zealand, Dunedin boasts abstract architecture, buzzing nightlife and many interesting landmarks.
Christchurch North Loop
A perfect route for exploring New Zealand’s wine and wildlife roads, this loop heads north from Christchurch to the seaside town of Kaikoura where you must try the local delicacy of crayfish before you go whale watching in the far north of the Southern Island – the Marlborough Sounds. Bristling with opportunities for outdoor activities, this region will surely keep you for a day or two before you drive off to the nearby Nelson Lakes. Make your base camp here and explore Abel Tasman National Park. The northern region of the Southern Island is home to many vineyards, lakes and places of unique beauty, so having a campervan or a car to see them all is really a bonus over choosing public transport.
There’s hardly a better way to cover everything this incredible country has to offer than by taking a good old-fashioned road trip. New Zealand is a free camping nation, which means you can park anywhere except for no parking and no camping signed areas in popular towns. If you’re flying to New Zealand, the best way to get the wheels is to rent a car or campervan in one of the major towns.