Road Trips in New Zealand: Exploring Aotearoa's Spectacular Landscapes on Four Wheels

Table of Contents

Road Trips throughout New Zealand

North Island Road Trips

Explore the Thrilling Road Trips across North Island

Experience spectacular landscapes, rugged coastlines and Maori culture on the enthralling road trips throughout North Island.

Discover the wonders of Coromandel Loop, winding through golden beaches, hot springs and dense rainforests.

Embark on the Thermal Explorer Highway, dotted with geothermal wonders and Maori culture hotspots.

Drive through the famous Forgotten World Highway and be awestruck by the lush hills, remote canyons and forgotten railways.

Take the Pacific Coast Highway and soak up the stunning sea views, breathtaking waterfalls and adventurous activities.

Immerse yourself in the local culture by discovering the lesser-known gems. Head towards Hokianga Harbour to witness the beauty of giant sand dunes and ancient Kauri trees, or unravel the history of Wairarapa from vintage wine tastings to scenic walks.

Pro Tip – Car rentals can be expensive, but economy cars come in handy while navigating through the tricky roads. Remember to plan ahead and fill your tank for long distance drives.

If picturesque scenery and adventure is your cup of tea, then the Bay of Islands Circuit is the ultimate blend.

Bay of Islands Circuit

This North Island road trip is a scenic journey! Start in Paihia and Russell. Take the ferry to Urupukapuka Island – hike or chill on the beach. Don’t miss the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and a dolphin-watching tour.

Keep going to Kerikeri – ‘Cradle of the Nation’. Check out the Stone Store, built in 1832. Sample local fruit and wine from orchards and vineyards.

Finally, make it to Cape Reinga. Here, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Trek down sand dunes or do some dune surfing!

Along the way, we talked to locals. We even got to learn about Māori customs during a traditional dance on Urupukapuka Island. These special moments made our trip through this amazing part of New Zealand truly unforgettable.

The Thermal Explorer Highway

The Thermal Explorer Highway is a special stretch of road. It has steaming vents, boiling mud pools, hot springs and geysers. Plus, it goes through stunning landscapes and thermal areas. You can see the Maori culture and natural beauty. The route runs from Auckland to Napier. It passes Lake Taupo, Rotorua’s geothermal parks, Huka Falls and Tongariro National Park. Information centres are there for tourists.

One stop you must make is Orakei Korako Geothermal Park. It’s one of New Zealand’s most photographed attractions. There are orange terraces and blue water with high silica levels. Wairakei Steam Valley also has geothermal activity. Take a ride in the Sky Waka Gondola on Mount Ruapehu for captivating views.

Waitomo Caves area has limestone caves and volcanic plateaus. It’s a detour from the Thermal Explorer Highway. 2 million people visit every year, according to Tourism New Zealand. Classic New Zealand Wine Trail? Follow your nose!

The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

Experience the renowned New Zealand Wine Trail! See Napier’s art deco architecture, Wellington’s urban creativity, and Blenheim’s wine-country bliss. Sip world-famous wines from Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, and Wairarapa. Explore Te Mata Peak lookout, Martinborough Square, and Havelock North village.

Uncover picturesque backdrops, gourmet food, and rich history. Unveil some of the world’s best wines. Discover a cozy eatery offering fresh seafood cooked to perfection for three generations.

Be amazed by South Island road trips. Be astonished by the stunning scenery and sheep-to-human ratio. Enjoy a unique, tasteful exploration of the country’s spectacular wine regions. Make memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.

South Island Road Trips

Embark on a journey of scenic wonders and unparalleled beauty with our recommended drives around New Zealand’s southern coast. Discover picturesque landscapes and breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, fjords, and lakes on one of our South Island Road Trips.

Explore the top six South Island Road Trips that are a must-see on any itinerary. Drive through the rugged coastline of the Catlins, journey through the Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass, and get in touch with history at Otago Goldfields. See the untouched beauty of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, marvel at the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo, and experience the thrill of adventure at Queenstown.

  • The Catlins
  • Arthur’s Pass
  • Otago Goldfields
  • Westland Tai Poutini National Park
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Queenstown

Admire the mesmerizing beauty of Franz Josef Glacier and its cascading icefalls, soak in the natural bounty of Abel Tasman National Park with its pristine beaches and aquamarine waters, and hike through the Hollyford Track to witness the breathtaking views of Milford Sound. These incredible locations are a must-add to your itinerary of South Island Road Trips.

Before the road was built, overland travel between Christchurch and Hokitika was difficult and often treacherous, with no viable route crossing the Southern Alps. The construction of Arthur’s Pass in 1864, however, provided a much-needed link to the West Coast, to transport men to the goldfields, and to attract settlers. Today, the road is celebrated for its incredible views of New Zealand’s dramatic scenery. Just when you thought the views couldn’t get any better, the Southern Scenic Route proves you wrong and takes your breath away.

The Southern Scenic Route

Embark on a captivating journey through the stunning landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island. Traverse awe-inspiring mountains and picturesque coastlines. See bountiful wildlife, untouched forests, and mysterious fiords. Experience the unique cultural history of Maori communities and gold rush towns.

The Southern Scenic Route takes you 610 km from Dunedin to Queenstown. Encounter roads bordered by penguins, seals or dolphins. Dramatic mountain ranges rise from the sea. View cascading waterfalls hidden deep in rainforests. Manning Park Hokonui Hills, Owaka Valley, Coastal Catlins Plains, and Whistling Frog Subalpine wetlands await you. Connect three UNESCO World Heritage sites – Fiordland, Mt Aspiring, and The Catlins.

Take your breath away on the hairpin turns of the Great Alpine Highway. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable journey! Perfect for adventure seekers and nature lovers alike.

The Great Alpine Highway

Behold, the magnificent Southern Alps! The Impressive Alpine Route is here, a 244km highway of curves and winding roads between Christchurch and Westland. Adventure and tranquility abound, surrounded by glorious mountains and valleys.

Arthur’s Pass National Park will leave you mesmerized. Waterfalls and rare birds await! This journey takes you to new heights of alpine vista – like a fairy tale. Stop off at Methven or Hokitika for local cuisine and traditional stores.

Discover the wilds’ coast at Okarito Lagoon. Marvel at the sunrises over snow-capped peaks, mirrored in still waters. This paradise lies between Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, with serene paths through growth forests.

Take breaks in nearby villages like Geraldine or Springfield. Stretch your legs and sample the local culinary creations made from freshly sourced ingredients.

Embark on the Queenstown to Milford Sound road trip – don’t forget to bring your own oxygen!

Queenstown to Milford Sound

Head to Queenstown’s adventure capital for an unforgettable journey to Milford Sound. The winding road takes you through Fiordland National Park with stunning views of jagged mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine forests. Marvel at the awe-inspiring cliffs and playful seals as you approach Milford Sound.

Don’t miss Mirror Lakes with its crystal-clear water reflecting Mount Earnslaw. Journey further and take in the panoramas of Eglinton Valley and explore Homer Tunnel’s winding caverns.

The best way to explore the iconic fjord is by taking a locally owned and operated cruise. Enjoy the playful dolphins and majestic waterfalls and cliffs. Try a scenic flight at dusk for an unforgettable experience!

Hear the tales of Kea Joe, the local who devoted his life to attracting kea birds after teaching them how to speak his name. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 95, sparking tributes from people all over the world!

Who needs a map? Just follow the sheep on your unique South Island adventure!

Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trips

New Zealand is full of hidden treasures for road trip enthusiasts looking for unique and less-traveled experiences. These unconventional routes, often off the tourist track, offer picturesque scenery, secluded beaches, quaint towns, and authentic local culture. Journey through scenic national parks to Milford Sound, the Wild West Coast, or the rugged Coromandel Peninsula for a rewarding adventure. Dancing the night away in Dunedin, gazing at the stars in Aoraki Mackenzie, and exploring the alternative vibe of Kaikoura are just some of the other exciting options to discover off the beaten path.

Did you know that New Zealand has more than 15,000 kilometers of stunning coastline? (Source: NZ Herald)

Who needs GPS when you have a road that’s been forgotten by the world?

Forgotten World Highway

Uncover an adventure like no other! Take the road less traveled and discover the hidden gem of the Catlins Coastal Route. With its natural beauty and historic significance, it’s a journey that will take you through isolated areas, rugged terrain, and charming towns.

Disconnect from technology and embrace nature. Hike through lush forests, marvel at waterfalls, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. This is a much needed chance to refresh and energize.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity. Grab your keys, pack your bags, and hit the road. Enjoy the unpredictable nature of New Zealand weather and explore the remote landscapes of the Catlins Coastal Route.

The Catlins Coastal Route

The Catlins coast path is an amazing travel experience. Its beauty and ocean setting offer unparalleled views. This journey offers access to many sights: waterfalls, caves, and rare wildlife.

Adventures await on this route; like hiking, fishing, and camping in secluded spots. See a lighthouse or take a dip in a natural swimming pool!

Be sure to check out Purakaunui Bay for stunning views, and Curio Bay for a glimpse of prehistoric animals, e.g. dolphins, penguins, and seals.

One traveler drove the twisty road next to cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Sea lions sunning themselves unexpectedly appeared – it was a remarkable moment!

This route lets you explore nature and find yourself. Buckle up and enjoy!

The West Coast Wilderness Trail

Take to the wild west on a 132 km road trip from Greymouth to Ross! This West Coast Trek is an alluring venture for adventurers looking for an unforgettable experience.

Begin at Greymouth, near the banks of the Grey River. Then, pass by Punakaiki’s celebrated Pancake Rocks. Head south to Ross and explore its rich gold mining history. Stop by Hokitika and check out glassblowing or a visit to Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth.

Be amazed by the untouched beauty of gorges, rivers and forests! Look out for Kiwi birds or Hector dolphins in their natural habitat.

If you really want to get off the beaten track, tackle some bikepacking within this trail. Discover hidden gems and remarkable sights along the way!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are some of the best epic road trips to do in New Zealand?

A: Some of the best epic road trips in New Zealand include the North Island’s Thermal Explorer Highway, the South Island’s Route 6 through the Southern Alps, and the Milford Road through Fiordland National Park.

Q: How long do these epic road trips usually take?

A: The duration of these road trips can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the specific route and the number of stops you choose to make along the way.

Q: What are some must-see attractions along these epic road trips?

A: Some must-see attractions along these road trips include the geothermal wonders of Rotorua on the Thermal Explorer Highway, the Franz Josef Glacier on Route 6, and the stunning Milford Sound on the Milford Road.

Q: Can you camp along these road trips?

A: Yes, camping is a popular option for those embarking on epic road trips throughout New Zealand. There are a number of campsites and holiday parks along these routes that offer facilities for campers and RVs.

Q: What is the best time of year to embark on these road trips?

A: The best time of year to embark on these road trips varies depending on the route you choose. Summer (December to February) is generally the most popular time for road tripping throughout New Zealand, but the shoulder seasons of spring (September to November) and fall (March to May) can also offer great weather and thinner crowds.

Q: Do I need a special license to drive in New Zealand?

A: If you have a valid driver’s license in your home country, you can drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months. However, if your license is not in English, you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit or have an approved translation on hand.

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