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New Zealand is a country that begs to be explored via road trips. It’s small, has well maintained roads, and cars or campervans are cheap to rent or even easy to buy. Most importantly, New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery – all in an extremely compact area. Drive for three hours and you’ll pass white sand beaches, thick rainforest, glaciers, and towering snow-capped peaks.
While New Zealand isn’t a cheap place to travel to, a road trip is by all standards a pretty budget friendly activity. The views are free and will defiantly last a lifetime. If you’re backpacking or traveling around New Zealand, these are five of the best drives that I don’t think you can miss.
1) The Rugged West Coast from Westport to Greymouth
The SH6 skirts the rugged and wind-swept West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island and along the way passes some of the greatest scenery in New Zealand. If coastal drives are your thing, then you definitely won’t be disappointed after driving from Westport to Greymouth.
Along the way you’ll have the mighty Tasman Sea pounding the coast on your right and the majestic snow-capped Southern Alps on your left. Aim for a sunny day, yet be flexible and realize that this is the one of the wettest areas of New Zealand. If you’re keen to wait for the sun (and you should), break up the journey and spend the day in Punakaiki where you can check out the fascinating Pancake Rocks which (as the name suggests) appear to be layered pancakes.
2) Te Anau to Milford Sound Highway
This is often described as one of the greatest drives in the world. After driving the two hours from Te Anau to Milford Sound, you’ll understand why. The road cuts through thick rainforest, passes mirror lakes and towering, moss-covered mountains, and runs along sheer cliff faces. They measure rain in meters in this area of New Zealand, so don’t be surprised if it rains for a week. The drive is equally impressive after a rain as from the heights of the mountains come some truly amazing waterfalls.
One of the most impressive parts of the drive is the section right before you enter the 1200 meter long Homer Tunnel. As you sit at what must be the world’s most remote traffic light, you realize you’re in a massive glacier carved amphitheater with towering, sheer rock cliffs on either side of you.
3) Wanaka to Queenstown via the Cardrona Pass
This drive is in the Southern Lakes region of the South Island – it’s New Zealand’s playground with skiing, white-water rafting, bungy jumping, and other adventure sports all on offer. The drive from Wanaka to Queenstown over the Cardrona Pass is one of the South Island’s best.
Leaving Wanaka, the road slowly climbs before passing through picturesque Cardrona which is home to the most photographed pub in New Zealand. The Cardrona Hotel is featured on a Speights advert with dozens of sheep outside the front door. As you leave Cardrona the road becomes steeper, twists and turns and soon you’re granted a stunning view with Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables mountain range in the distance.
Take some pictures before conquering the road which seems to drop off the side of the mountain. And go slow if you sampled a Speights at the Cardrona Hotel.
4) Christchurch to Marlborough Wine Country
The drive from Christchurch to Marlborough isn’t one that would probably get picked by most as one of the best drives in New Zealand, yet I’m convinced it should be. Leaving the “Garden City” of Christchurch, you’ll pass through flat Canturbury countryside with some great views of the Southern Alps which split the South Island in half. The road eventually makes its way to the Pacific Ocean and skirts the coast into Kaikoura. Pull over a have a look around the rocks and you stand a great chance of seeing some New Zealand fur seals.
Stay the night in Kaikoura before going on a whale watching tour where you’re almost guaranteed to see gigantic Sperm Whales. Continue on then along the coast before entering the arid and Napa Valley like region of Marlborough where you can sample some of the world’s best Souvignon Blancs.
5) Thames to Coromandel Road
The only North Island drive on this list is an excellent one that should be part of your New Zealand travel plans. The Coromandel Region of New Zealand is a chilled-out, relaxed place with mountains, sandy beaches, green rolling hills, and picturesque bays. The drive from the small town of Thames to the smaller village of Coromandel is an epic one.
The narrow roads twists and turns along the coastline of the Hauraki Gulf – an inlet off the Pacific. This drive is most impressive either at sunset or in December when the pohutukawas (New Zealand Christmas tree) are in full bloom. This road eventually climbs and you’re granted some superb views of the island-dotted Coromandel Harbor.
With such amazing scenery tucked into a country so small, New Zealand is ideal for a driving based visit. Rent a car or a campervan and set off to explore New Zealand’s many hidden treasures.
Have you driven around NZ? Leave your favorite New Zealand drive in the comments section below.
Found this post useful? Awesome! Don’t leave, check out the posts below:
- Traveling the North Island with Stray New Zealand
- Kawhia: New Zealand’s Best Kept Secret
- North Island or South Island New Zealand?
- NZ Must Do: Experiencing the Waitomo Caves