If it's about the journey, not the destination, then a 2019 road trip is the right idea. Lucky for us, our stunning country is what classic road trips are made of.
From golden-sand peninsulas and snow-capped mountains to lush native forests, the open road in Aotearoa is the place you want to be. So grab your friends and snacks, buckle up and hit the road.
Nelson To Queenstown
Start in sun-drenched Nelson and make your way along the rugged West Coast. First stop is Punakaiki to explore the famous Pancake Rocks. This limestone labyrinth is made up of hundreds of slices of stone that really do look like pancakes. At high tide, the seawater geysers put on their very own water show. Then it’s on to the glaciers of Franz Josef, with pit stops in Greymouth and Hokitika on the way. Be sure to embark on the West Coast Treetop Walk over the Hokitika Gorge, 20-metres above the forest floor. Once you’re in the lakeside town of Wanaka, there’s no shortage of activities. Think hiking, skydiving and of snowplowing down a mountain in your final destination of Queenstown.
Auckland To Cape Reinga
First, make your way to the seaside town of Paihia—it’s known as the gateway to The Bay of Islands. It’s made up of 144 islands, all complete with green countryside and sparkling blue waters. At Paihia, explore the historic Waitangi Treaty grounds, take a sailing tour and swim with the dolphins. Make sure you stop for a meal at Charlotte’s Kitchen. From there, take the ferry to the historic island town of Russell, and then onto 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga, the very tip top of New Zealand. Take a walk to the iconic lighthouse and gaze over the Pacific Ocean. There are also ancient kauri forests to explore, waterfalls and natural rock pools for hopping.
Rotorua To Waitomo To Taupo
Head west from Rotorua. Your first stop is New Zealand’s surf capital, the rugged beauty of Raglan. After carving those waves, travel a few hours south to Waitomo, home to the famous underground limestone caves which are illuminated with thousands of tiny glowworms. You can tube, abseil or take a boat ride and drift underground. Then, carry onto to Taupo—the home of Aotearoa’s largest lake. Hike the Tongariro Crossing (allow a day) and then check out Hidden Valley to see hot springs, mud pools and caves. On the way back, see the Huka Falls. This waterfall is pretty special, mostly due to the 220,000 litres of water that gush every second.
Queenstown To Milford Sound
Picture Milford Sound and mostly you imagine deep inky waters, high mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. But one of the best things about the trip to Milford is the drive. The route from Queenstown to Milford is as much a scenic experience as the fiord itself—it's been called one of the best road trips on the planet. Past mirror lakes framed by the rugged façade of the magnificent mountain range, aptly named The Remarkables. The drive can be done in a single day, but it’s best to split it up and stay in Te Anau, the perfect stopover. The cute town’s main attraction is Fiordland National Park, so schedule in time for a hike. It's really a bonus that you end your journey at the 8th wonder of the world.
Queenstown To Dunedin Via The Caitlins
This epic roadie is more commonly known as the ‘Southern Scenic Route’. Head south from Queenstown to the ‘real New Zealand’, a.k.a Invercargill, and from there make your way to the stunning Caitlins. You really could spend several days here exploring the native forest, high cliffs and golden beaches. Make sure to stop at Nugget Point to spot fur seals, sea lions and penguins and also see the Purakaunui Falls. This three-tiered cascading waterfall is one of Otago’s most loved treasures. Then, on your way to Dunedin, Tunnel Beach is a must visit. Descend the track to a magnificent outlook of rugged sandstone cliffs, arches and a man-made tunnel to the isolated sandy beach.
Whakatane To Gisborne
Escape to East Cape for a rugged scenic drive, with plenty of Maori history to take in along the way. Interesting fact: this region is where the first Maori settlers arrived. Along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll pass through remote country, empty coves and bays galore, plus many marae, with beautifully carved gateways. See the St Mary’s Church in Tikiti and meet the laid-back locals. Once you hit the surfing mecca of Gisborne, make sure to spend the night and catch the morning sunrise on the beach. It's the first place in the world to see it.
Auckland To The Coromandel Peninsula
It wouldn't be a complete list without ticking off the incredible Coromandel. The North Island peninsula boasts some of the best beaches in the country, along with bluffs, lookouts and lush native bush. Head straight for Hahei to visit Cathedral Cove, where you'll find it’s ‘gram-worthy naturally-formed archway and golden bays. Also visit nearby Hot Water Beach to soak in its geothermically heated water. Then drive on the northeast coast of the Coromandel, where you'll find the untouched paradise that is New Chums. It's been voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world.
If all the active adventuring sounds too much, this foodie road trip on Waiheke is for you—and you only have to drive to the ferry terminal. Be sure to summon those island vibes immediately with a gelato from Island Gelato’s ferry terminal store. Then enjoy a cheeky Peroni on the ferry while soaking in the views of Rangitoto Island. Once on Waiheke, wander the local market on Ostend Road for locally-made delicacies. There’s a jaffle truck, crepes and Hungarian fried bread on site, so make sure to pack an appetite. Spend the day at Onetangi Beach splashing your way through its tranquil shallow waters and stroll along the fine-grained sand. Have takeaway pizzas on the beach or, for glam dining, Oyster Inn Restaurant, located in the heart of Oneroa Village. Start with mandatory fresh Te Matuku oysters and local tipples for the ultimate Waiheke experience.
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Image credit: Sara Orme