NZ ROAD TRIPS -10 EPIC
Discover New Zealand's Most Scenic Routes
From white beaches to white wine with the option of white-knuckle adventures along the way, these New Zealand driving holidays are packed with highlights.
Pacific Coast Highway
Auckland to Napier, North Island, 7 days
Starring some of New Zealand’s best beaches, the Pacific Coast Highway route from Auckland to Napier is one of the country’s classic road trips. On the Coromandel Peninsula, stops include Cove’s inviting archway and Hot Water Beach where you can dig in the sand to loll in spring water. In the Bay of Plenty, Mount Maunganui’s beach was voted the country’s best by TripAdvisor for seven years running – until 2021 when the crown was stolen by Whakatane’s Ohope Beach, an hour down the road. Luckily, this trip lets you visit both to decide for yourself. The route winds up at Hawke’s Bay and the dramatic cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.
Thermal Explorer Highway
Auckland to Auckland, North Island, 5-6 days
Otherworldly sights await at every turn on this route. At Hobbiton, the fantasy land of The Lord of the Rings comes to life. Next, you’ll find yourself in a mystical forest wonderland, exploring the 28 suspension bridges of Rotorua’s Redwoods Treewalk. Then there’s the surreal landscape of Orakei Korako Geothermal Park and Cave, home to some of New Zealand’s most active geysers, the mesmerising water worlds of Huka Falls and Lake Taupo; and the underground labyrinth of Waitomo Caves, lit by glow-worms.
Christchurch to Queenstown, South Island, 4-5 days
Ready for a road trip where extreme adventure is the ultimate destination? The Alpine Lakes itinerary starts the action early. From Christchurch, you can kickstart the adrenaline with a hot-air balloon ride. Stop to hike or bike alongside Lake Tekapo’s turquoise water, and visit the world’s largest dark sky reserve, where you could spot the Southern Lights. Next, New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki / Mount Cook, is ripe for exploration on foot or from the air. Then it’s on to Wanaka, described as an “outdoor utopia”, before hitting New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown, home of bungy jumping and the Shotover Jet, wild jet-boating rides in the Shotover Canyons.
Central Otago Touring Route
Dunedin to Queenstown, South Island, 3-5 days
Go now to beat the rest of the world to one of New Zealand’s newest attractions, the Central Otago Touring Route. Launched late last year, it’s billed as the four-wheel alternative to the much-lauded Otago Central Rail Trail cycle track. The 340km route provides breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains, stops at Dunedin’s grand Larnach Castle and quaint gold-rush villages, and has the option to cycle (or e-bike) on part of the Central Otago Rail Trail, too.
Classic New Zealand Wine Trail
Napier, North Island, to Blenheim, South Island, 5 days
If your holiday priorities are wine, wine and more wine, this itinerary ticks the boxes. Visiting three top wine regions – Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Marlborough – the route perfectly pairs chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc tasting with spectacular sightseeing. From the Art Deco city of Napier, wine-lovers can cycle around Hawke’s Bay vineyards. Next, Martinborough, which has a population of less than 2000, but more than 20 wineries, many in easy walking distance. A scenic ferry ride across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds leads to the South Island. At the heart of the Marlborough wine region – New Zealand’s biggest – Blenheim is surrounded by dozens of wineries.
Twin Coast Discovery
Auckland-northland round trip, 6-7 days
Sand, surf and stunning islands: the North Island’s Northland has it all and this route lets you admire the coast from every angle. From the west coast, where you can sandboard at Hokianga Harbour and surf at Shipwreck Bay, the road trip takes you to Cape Reinga Lighthouse at the tip of the island. Then it’s down the east coast, stopping at Doubtless Bay (its tag line is Beach Paradise and we can’t argue), the Bay of Islands (one of Lonely Planet’s top Asia-Pacific destinations), and the Tutukaka Coast, one of National Geographic Traveler’s top coastal destinations. From Tutukaka, you can access the Poor Knights Islands, ranked among the world’s best dive sites.
Top of the South
Christchurch to Christchurch, 6-7 days
Want a sampler of everything that’s good about New Zealand? This route is an entire bucket list condensed into a week. Mountain scenery in Christchurch, sauvignon blanc in Marlborough wine country, views across the island-dotted Marlborough Sounds, bike-riding through the vineyards in Nelson, breathtaking beaches in Abel Tasman National Park, hot springs at Hanmer Springs, extreme jet-boat thrills at Buller Canyon. This is no boring “are we there yet?” kind of roadie; it’s pinch-me material at every stop.
Southern Scenic Route
Christchurch to Queenstown, South Island, 5-6 days
Penguins? Check. Seals? Check. Kiwi birds? Of course! Wildlife lovers are in their element in New Zealand’s deep south. From Dunedin, you might see sea lions, penguins and the world’s only mainland albatross colony. The Catlins feature stunning landscapes including Nugget Point Lighthouse and Purakaunui Falls, as well as fur seals. Invercargill is the jumping-off point for Stewart Island / Rakiura, where kiwi birds outnumber humans. The route leads to Milford Sound, where an underwater observatory offers coral, fish and anemone viewing.
Christchurch to Queenstown, South Island, 5 days
It never hurts to follow local recommendations when you travel, and the West Coast is the No 1 road trip on New Zealanders’ to-do list, according to a survey by car rental company Budget last year. The TranzAlpine itinerary features West Coast highlights including the rugged beauty of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, along with spectacular glacier scenery – and you can add one of the world’s greatest train journeys to boot. The TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth is ranked as one of the top 10 rail journeys in the world by National Geographic.
Volcanic Loop Highway
Auckland to Auckland, North Island, 6-7 days
New Zealand owes much of its awe-inspiring scenery to volcanic activity and the Volcanic Loop is a chance to appreciate some of the best. The journey’s centrepiece is a hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, said to be New Zealand’s best day trek, through the dramatic volcanic landscape between two active volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Then there’s Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, which was created by an enormous volcanic eruption 2000 years ago. In Auckland, you can hike up Maungawhau / Mount Eden), one of the city’s 48 dormant volcanic cones, or catch a ferry to Waiheke Island or Rangitoto Island, the latter the youngest and largest of the 48 cones.