Take the long way round on a road trip. © Graeme Murray

Get outside: 10 of our favourite road trips


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The point of a road trip is to be unhurried. Sure, if you take the main highways you can get from point A to point B pretty quickly, but why would you want to? There is so much to be discovered around New Zealand, it’s best to slow down and soak it up. 

1. Twin Coast Discovery: Northland

This epic road trip connects the little coves, beaches and bays of Northland’s east coast and the immense dunes, wild coastline and vast, sweeping harbours out west. With distinct and spectacular scenery, driving this highway, in part or whole, is one of the best ways to experience as much of this beautiful region as possible.

  • Distance: 818 kilometres
  • Route: Auckland – Whangārei – Mangawhai – Bay of Islands – Cape Rēinga – Hokianga

2. Inland Scenic Route: Canterbury

Round trips are immensely satisfying. There’s a pleasing symmetry in ending up back where you started, a closing of the loop, a real sense of achievement. The other appeal of this particular journey is that, in a country where we celebrate our wonderful coastlines so much, and with good reason, on Highway 72 you head inland. Into the heart of, in this case, the Canterbury region.

  • Distance: 474 kilometres
  • Route: Christchurch – Oxford – Methven – Geraldine – Ashburton – Akaroa

3. Forgotten World Highway: Taranaki

It’s rugged, rural and remote, but despite its name, you’ll definitely remember the Forgotten World Highway. Whether you begin at Taumarunui or Stratford, you’ll experience some of the finest back country the North Island has to offer. This is the land of pioneering ambition and stories of settlers’ struggles against the relentless bush.

  • Distance: 149 kilometres
  • Route: New Plymouth – Stratford – Whangamōmona – Taumarunui

4. Piopiotahi Highway: Fiordland

If you want your senses drenched in Fiordland’s wilderness, vastness and beauty, without being drenched in that seemingly perpetual rain, take the Piopiotahi Highway from Te Anau to Milford. While short on distance, you’ll head past so many amazing lookouts, scenic spots and pretty detours along the way you’ll likely double the estimated travelling time.

  • Distance: 118 kilometres
  • Route: Te Anau – Mirror Lakes – Lake Gunn – Milford Sound

5. Thermal Explorer Highway: Auckland to Napier

Take the journey through the heart of the North Island to experience the land where the languid meandering of the mighty Waikato gives way to the hiss of steam in roistering Rotorua. With many hot pools, caves, volcanoes and ski fields en route and a warming glass of world-class syrah with your name on it when you arrive in Napier, it’s a perfect option for the winter months. 

  • Distance: 787 kilometres
  • Route: Auckland – Hamilton – Waitomo – Rotorua – Taupō – Ruapehu – Napier

6. Southern Scenic Route: The Catlins

This is a drive of unparalleled beauty, an almost contradictory mix of dense woodlands and wild southern coast, battered with spray. All of it is invigorating, awe-inspiring and able to be taken as you choose. Long as you’ve got a car, though. The Catlins – an area in the southeast corner of the country that includes a conservation park of quiet beauty – is a fine way to weave out of the deep south.

  • Distance: 203 kilometres
  • Route: Bluff – Waikawa – Papatōwai – Nugget Point

7. Pacific Coast Highway: East Cape

State Highway 35 from Ōpōtiki to Gisborne is ‘the long way round’ the East Cape. Also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, this winding, narrow slice of bitumen is one that you’ll want to take time to explore. Curving around the East Cape, it (mostly) hugs the coast and embraces an array of experiences and environments along the way. From driftwood-strewn beaches to dense bush, rushing, clear rivers and sheer gorges.

  • Distance: 368 kilometres
  • Route: Ōpōtiki – East Cape – Tolaga Bay – Gisborne

8. Great Alpine Highway: Christchurch to Greymouth

The Great Alpine Highway takes you across the spine of the South Island, crossing from the east coast to the west in a is a transcendent, transformational traverse. This is probably the most staggering piece of road you'll ever come across, which includes the amazing Ōtira Viaduct and Waimakariri bridge, feats of local engineering that will take you through the most remarkable scenery. Seriously: this is stunning.

  • Distance: 288 kilometres
  • Route: Christchurch – Canterbury Plains – Arthur’s Pass – Ōtira Viaduct – Greymouth – Punakāiki

9. Classic Wine Trail: Napier to Blenheim

The route from Napier to Blenheim not only takes you between the North and South Islands, it also includes more than 230 wineries and to 120 cellar doors, exposing you to some of the finest, most flavoursome and fabulous food and wine New Zealand has to offer.

  • Distance: 483 kilometres
  • Route: Napier – Martinborough – Wellington – Blenheim

10. Great Coast Road: South Island

Fill up at Blenheim and follow State Highway 6 out of town for a road trip that covers almost the entire length of the South Island. The longest single highway in the country carves a track from the northeast of the South Island down the West Coast, across the Alps and then all the way to the bottom, pretty much. That’s a big road in a small land. ‘Glaciers to my left, ocean to my right...’ is a pretty phenomenal way to drive.

  • Distance: 1,124 kilometres
  • Route: Blenheim – Nelson – Greymouth – Hokitika – Franz Josef – Haast – Wānaka – Queenstown – Invercargill 

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