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Driving on the roads of New Zealand is both adventure fuelled and a pure pleasure experience. Almost every route outside of urban sprawls will offer stunning landscapes and some give you a new breath-taking vista with every bend in the road.
Due to the terrain and the often present gravel roads, driving times in New Zealand can sometimes take longer than the distance alone might suggest. Most of the great routes however can still be driven in a day or two but if you do so you are missing the point. The best journeys are about soaking up the incredible landscapes and marvelling at what nature has presented us with mile after mile after mile. Additionally, the best routes are those which take you past or close to places of interest so if you just push your foot on the pedal you will have missed out. Take your time......plenty of time, so you can spend as long as you want exploring the many sights and making the most of side trip opportunities as they arise.
Day Routes – Driving for the Scenery Alone
Gisborne to Opotiki via Waioeka Gorge/SH 2
NORTH ISLAND – 144 km
This seriously scenic route which takes you from Poverty Bay to the Bay of Plenty, or vice versa, can be completed in 2 to 3 hours if you just want to get from A to B but that would be a shame. If you don't have time for side trips then at least stop to picnic at one of the many bush clad spots on offer or take a refreshing swim at an idyllic swimming hole.
Your drive follows the rivers – at times rushing dramatically far below you, at times crystal clear and slow – but always beautiful.
Head into an i-SITE or DOC office and pick yourself up a copy of the 'Walks in Waioeka and Urutawa' - everything is possible from short leisurely strolls of 15 minutes duration to day long walks which fall into the serious hiking category, with overnight DOC hut accommodation along the way.
Te Anau to Milford Sound/SH 94
SOUTH ISLAND – 121 km
You can't do this journey on the way to somewhere else – there's one road in and out and that's it. The journey, which takes at least 2 hours and 30 minutes one way, passes through pristine mountains and rain forest canyons with plenty of places to stop and picnic or just soak up the unspoiled views. In winter you are required to carry chains.
1.2 km of the journey passes through the incredible granite walled and steep Homer Tunnel (now thankfully traffic light controlled) which took almost 20 years of blood, sweat and tears to create.
There is an area to stop before you enter the tunnel and watch the antics of New Zealand's mountain parrot - the kea. This wonderful bird spends much of its time tormenting tourists, destroying wiper blades and car window rubbers, just because it can.
If you get a chance, drive this road in the pouring rain; stunning in sunshine this route becomes something else in bad weather where thousands of waterfalls seem to spring to life, cascading from every possible part of the mountains.
Wanaka to Haast/SH6
SOUTH ISLAND – 140 km
Drive along the shores of Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka after traversing 'The Neck' and then on through Mount Aspiring National Park to the Haast Pass where your route follows in the footsteps of an ancient Maori trail.
As a complete Kiwiophile I can wax lyrical about oh-so-many stunning scenes and places but to me this is the most heart-achingly beautiful drive in all of New Zealand. The brightest turquoise and ice-blue rivers thread their way past perfectly white rock beaches while steep mountains and lush rainforest alternate the backdrop.
The pretty Fantail Falls and the 28m high Thunder Creek Falls are two of the waterfalls only a 5 minute walk from the road while Roaring Billy can be reached after a 25 minute walk. The impressive and picturesque Haast River Mouth Bridge may look to be a good height from the river when you gaze down from above but it is actually only 3m above the highest flood level which gives you some idea of the water volumes which roar down here during periods of heavy rainfall.
Longer Themed Driving Routes
Southern Scenic Route / SH 6, 94, 99 AND 1
SOUTH ISLAND - 639 km (more with side trips)
The Southern Scenic Route, which runs between Queenstown and Dunedin, offers a little of everything – mountains, glacial fiords, lakes, coast and native forest. From Queenstown to Te Anau and Tuatapere it skirts the edge of Fiordland and then from Orepuki to Dunedin it generally follows the line of the coast with some sections moving more inland.
There is so much to see and do on this route that it could easily take up the whole of your holiday and you still wouldn't have begun to cover it all. There is nature and wildlife aplenty, art and culture, adventure activities, heritage and historic communities, walks for all levels of fitness and swimming in rivers, lakes and ocean.
There is a highly informative brochure complete with maps, information and driving times, entitled 'The Southern Scenic Route' which is available at i-SITES or you can download it online here. This excellent website also gives full details of all that is on offer and even suggests some itineraries for making the most of your time.
Twin Coast Discovery Highway/ SH 1, 10 AND 12
NORTH ISLAND – approx 800 km
After arriving at Wellsford from Auckland, the route becomes a circular one which lets you explore both coasts of Northland. As the name would suggest, the focus of this route is the beautiful beaches of the area and the activities and sights connected to it but it is actually so much more than that.
It has heritage, art and culture, coastal and native bush wildlife and nature and even a chance to visit the world famous Hundertwasser toilets at Kawakawa.
Classic Wine Trail/ SH 2
NORTH AND SOUTH ISLANDS – 380 km
There is a brochure available from i-SITES or downloadable from www.classicwinetrail.co.nz/ - the Wine Trail's dedicated website.
Other Themed Drives
There are plenty more themed drives on offer in New Zealand which cater for all interests and ages – check out these New Zealand themed highways, which lists all the themed driving routes with comprehensive details on each and, above all, savour every minute!
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