One fine northern case in point is the Pacific Coast Highway that connects Opotiki in the Bay of Plenty to Gisborne on the East Coast. Otherwise known as State Highway 35, this 334km route takes six hours if you don’t stop but what’s the rush?
Fuelling up in Opotiki sets the pace for a cruise around the East Cape – this cruisy little town feels like it hasn’t changed for decades. Although, you can get an exceptionally good coffee at the Two Fish Cafe.
Just 29km from Opotiki is Hawai – just one ‘i’ that is – where for the cost of just a little more than a coffee you can pitch a tent across the road from an uncrowded beach with spectacular surf on its day, and excellent swimming in the Hawai river at the eastern end of the bay.
Another highlight is Te Kaha, 70km from Opotiki, a popular holiday village made recently famous by Taika Waititi’s film Boy. If you’re into knocking about in boats Te Kaha is an endless playground.
Further down the coast and just an hour from Gisborne is the stunningly beautiful Anaura Bay. Popular with Gisborne families as well as those escaping variable Wellington summers,
Anaura is one of those special places people come back to year after year.
The Department of Conservation campground is located next to a stream, surrounded by bush including an easy two hour walk that kids can conquer, and the gentle beach is perfect for learner surfers and swimmers. There is also the Anaura Bay Family Motor Camp for those who like to feel like they’re roughing it but appreciate a shower.
State Highway 35 continues past Tolaga Bay with its famous historic wharf and Cook’s Cove walkway, and meanders through to Gisborne, skirting on the way the historic settlement at Whangara – the location of another great Kiwi film, Whale Rider. The journey ends at Gisborne, where you can have a world class surf at Wainui Beach and a glass of Viognier at Millton’s.
In the south lies an iconic highway on a grand and dramatic scale. The Southern Scenic Route takes in the famous Catlins (if New Zealand had a Jurassic Park it would have to be here) a wonderful wilderness of rural heartland and podocarp forests, rugged coastlines, hidden lakes and stunning waterfalls. In typical south island fashion, the landscapes are jaw-dropping and teeming with wildlife.
The route runs from Dunedin in the north through to Invercargill in the south (passing through the Catlins) and up to Te Anau. It is clearly marked along the highway with frequent signposts. The road is fully sealed but narrow in places so take it easy.
So if you like to get away from the crowds and don’t mind a bit of weather with your wildlife, the Catlins is for you. Give yourself a few days to take it all in.
Highlights include the popular DOC campground at Purakaunui Bay, with its awesome cliffs and sweeping sandy beach. Not far on is Long Point, the resting place for the ship Manuka, which struck the Point in 1929. And don’t miss Purakaunui Falls – the most photographed waterfall in New Zealand.