New Zealand’s roads might be rocky at times, but a road trip is the best way to see the legendary scenery of the North and South Island. Whether you want to take the route of fjords or the route of Frodo, we’ve got you covered with the top 10 road trips in New Zealand.
1. Nelson to Wanaka
This is an ideal weekend route from Nelson, through Franz Josef and the Haast Pass, to Wanaka. You’ll be able to stop off and see the blue pools of the Haast Pass, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and one of New Zealand’s most famous glaciers on the way there – Franz Josef. Allow two nights in either Franz Josef or Hokitika, and 3 days for exploring your surrounds.
2. Taranaki Loop
Kick off a 2 day trip around Mount Taranaki from New Plymouth, and follow Surf Highway 45 for some of the best breaks in New Zealand. Even if you’re not a surfer, there are plenty of photos opps and surf shops in Opunake, and there are even more hiking treks once you reach Stratford. You can cut this trip short there, or you can head over to Whangamomona Village on the Forgotten World Highway (add on a few hours there and back for this).
See more: the 7 best drives in New Zealand
3. Auckland to New Plymouth
This road trip explores the lesser-travelled road from south Auckland down to Hamilton, with some excellent optional stop-offs along the way – surfers should stop at Raglan. The road doesn’t run along the coast, and instead you run into wonders like the Waitomo Caves (famous for their glow worms) and Waingoro Hot Springs.
You could fly up to Kaitaia, but driving allows you to explore every beach, every fish ‘n’ chip shop, and every surf break you see on the Twin Coast Highway. This is the ultimate summer road trip in New Zealand – Auckland makes a great base city with it’s bars, pubs and restaurants, the Hauraki Gulf is a picturesque drive up the coast line, and both Whangarei and the Bay of Islands have beautiful warm temperatures at this time of year. Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach are merely bonus points!
Check out the best surf breaks in New Zealand
5. Wanaka to Dunedin
This trip is less about the stop-offs, and more about the journey. This is one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads, and the gorges will make you want to stop every 5 minutes for a photo opportunity – weather dependent. Go via Oamaru or Queenstown to tick some destinations of your checklist, before arriving in the charming city of Dunedin.
6. Christchurch to Greymouth
This is also known as Arthur’s Pass, a road that should be ticked off every Kiwis bucket list. This 300 kilometre route isn’t for the faint hearted, but you’ll be rewarded with views in Arthurs Pass National Park, and along the West Coast of the South Island. You have the option to drive to the Pancakes Rocks, too.
7. Dunedin to Christchurch, via Lake Tekapo
This is another jaw-dropping road trip with a few spins around the Mount Cook National Park, as well as a stop off in Lake Tekapo. This would be a brilliant road trip for keen fishers, given the abundance of vast rivers and lakes around these roads.
Check out the 10 best fishing destinations in New Zealand
This might be the road trip in New Zealand with the most sunshine, stopping off in places like Ohope Beach, Mount Maunganui and Whangamata, as well as the optional drive up to the Coromandel Peninsula. It’s also one for foodies, considering the abundance of fresh fish on the east coast and the wineries in Auckland.
First up, read the guide to New Zealand’s best fish restaurants
This is also known as the Thermal Explorer, and if you choose to do all the stop offs, it’ll take you about 5 days to complete it. Kick off in Napier’s Wine country, before you stop in Lake Taupo and head further north to the geysers and spas in Rotorua. Sinking into one of the natural hot baths is one of the finer ways to appreciate New Zealand’s geothermal activity!
10. Auckland to Queenstown
This is the ultimate Kiwi road tip, including all of the “must see” Lord of the Rings filming destinations, and the three big cities Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. The drive to Middle Earth takes you through Matamata, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, Mackenzie Country, Southern Lakes and Fiordland, including the set of The Shire, Moke Lake, and Arrowtown in the South Island. It’s also much cheaper to road trip through the middle of New Zealand, than to pay for a Lord of the Rings tour.