New Zealand is in a class of its own when it comes to awe-inspiring scenery.
And traversing the country by road is the perfect way to get well acquainted with the stunning natural landscape that makes this such a popular destination for travellers who revel in jaw-dropping scenery.
Here are our top 5 road trips in New Zealand that we guarantee will take your breath away.
Thermal Explorer Highway
This nature-packed road trip, from the urban metropolis of Auckland to the contemporary and artistic streets of Napier, is deserving of more than just a few days.
Though the Thermal Explorer Highway extends just 457km, there’s plenty on offer to tempt travellers to linger for a day or two at many of the stops along the way. Take a detour en-route to Hamilton to the lovely beachside town of Raglan, where surfing is king and the salty sea air is intoxicating.
Geysers, mud pools, and natural hot springs dominate the Thermal Explorer Highway – hence the name – and the town of Rotorua rules the roost when it comes to geothermal attractions. Some others along the way include hiking the stunning Tongariro National Park, taking on Huka Falls in a thrilling jet boat ride, touring the many wineries along the way, and exploring the quaint streets of Napier.
Queenstown to Milford Sound (via Te Anau)
For many visitors to New Zealand Milford Sound is at the top of their must-see list. And who can blame them with the dramatically beautiful scene that greets you when you arrive: lush green peaks rising from the depths of inky water and enchanted moss-covered forests hugging the shoreline.
What many don’t realise, however, is that the drive to get here is just a gorgeous.
Starting in Queenstown, adventure capital of the world and home to stunning mountain ranges, take your time and appreciate the beautiful scenery on offer. The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu are a glorious distraction as you head south towards Te Anau.
Te Anau, though viewed by many as simply a gateway to Fjordland National Park, is a beautiful town in its own right. Set on the picturesque shores of Lake Te Anau, this charming town is full of boutique accommodation, delectable fare, and quaint parks where you can sit and marvel at the view for hours on end.
The scenic route from Te Anau to Milford Sound winds its way through Fjojrdland National Park – and just to warn you, it’s out of this world beautiful. There are many opportunities along the way to stop and take in the gorgeous views, hike nature trails to hidden waterfalls, and pause for a picnic.
Great Alpine Highway
Traverse the South Island coast to coast via the dramatic mountain scenery of the Southern Alps on the Great Alpine Highway.
This scenic route will take you from the hip streets of Christchurch to picturesque Greymouth via highway 73. You’ll wind your way through mountain passes and national parks, past brilliant blue lakes, and into the wilds of the West Coast.
Some highlights along the way include the incredibly beautiful Arthur’s Pass National Park, exploring the vast wilderness of Canterbury country by foot, and the turquoise rapids of Waimakariri River.
Southern Scenic Route
The aptly named Southern Scenic Route is as spectacular as they come.
Venturing along the coast from Christchurch to Queenstown via The Catlins and Milford Sound, you’ll encounter some of the best of the South Island on this road trip to rival the rest.
Take your time along the stretch between Christchurch and Dunedin where gorgeous vistas lurk around every corner and the coastline is teeming with wildlife. If you’re a cheese lover be sure to stop at the Whitestone cheese factory in Oamaru where you can sample to your hearts content and watch the cheese making in progress. Be sure to spend an evening watching the rare yellow-eyed penguins and little blue penguins as they surf to shore to bunker down for the evening in the dunes near Dunedin.
From here it only gets better with the out-of-this-world-beautiful Otago and Catlins Coastlines, where waterfalls cascade amidst electric-green forests and rare wildlife frolics off the coast at Nugget Point. This is a nature lovers paradise and deserves a good couple of days to really immerse yourself in the region’s natural highlights.
Continue on into the mystical beauty of Fjordlands and be amazed by the hypnotic scenes in Milford Sound, then head inland to Queenstown and be swept away by the beautiful mountain scenery and alpine lakes.
Pacific Coast Highway
Take a week or more to explore this beautiful coastal route that winds its way along the coast from Auckland to Napier in New Zealand’s North Island.
This epic coastal drive boasts lots of little pockets of perfection along the way. You’ll go from pristine beaches to verdant rainforests, volcanoes to wineries, all the while gaping in awe at the beautiful landscape before you.
Don’t miss the hidden bays in the Coromandel and the famous Hot Water Beach where you can dig your own beach ‘spa’, the active volcano at Whakatane, the fascinating Moari cultural sites along the way, and the abundant wine region of Hawke’s Bay.