26th Aug 2015 2:18pm | By James Clark
Driving through New Zealand is one of the best ways to see the country’s stunning vistas and hidden gems.
With such a diverse range of landscapes throughout New Zealand’s two islands, each bend and corner reveals an exciting new dimension to the country. New Zealand’s many themed highways allow visitors several days to take in detours and explore each stop.
Best for surf catchers
Surf Highway 45 (Four days/109km)
Wave fanatics will love the Surf Highway 45, which starts in New Plymouth and incorporates New Zealand's surfing hot spots. The beaches in New Plymouth are renowned as one of the best mid-city surf spots in the world. For newbies, the beach offers surf schools and tandem surfing. Day two’s itinerary is a drive to Oakura, a well-known coastal town among surfers; with Oakura beach, Ahu Ahu and Kumera Patch all within easy reach. Day three takes a road along the coast to Opunake, or drive inland to visit historic Parihaka on the way, an area full of history. Back on the road to Opunake, wave-catchers will be keen to make a stop at Stent Road, Green Meadows and Arawhata Road. An exciting detour on the final day of the Surf Highway 45 route is the Normanby Dam on the Waingongoro River; at 10 metres high, it’s a popular place for the local phenomenon known as ‘dam-dropping’ - kayaking down the face of a dam in whitewater.
Best for hot springs and hobbit lovers
Thermal Explorer Highway (Four days/457km)
The four-day Thermal Explorer Highway drive provides some of the most beautiful natural sights in New Zealand, from the trout fishing mecca of Taupo to the hot springs of Tarawera. After departing Auckland, head to Hobbiton - The Hobbit trilogy movie set - or Waitomo Caves, all close by. After enjoying the stunning sights of plantation pine forests and the Mamaku district, day two ends in Rotorua at a volcanic plateau. Here, visitors can witness the simmering cauldrons and boiling mudpools in one of the world’s most lively geothermal areas. During day three, take a side road to a geothermal park such as Orakei Korako or Craters of the Moon. End the day at the unusual volcanic region of Taupo, offering a myriad of water activities and geothermal attractions, where the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park sit in the backdrop. Experience the rugged hills, beautiful valleys and huge vistas en route to the final destination of art-deco mecca Napier, making a pit-stop at the hot springs above the Waipunga River.
Best for adventurers
Inland Scenic Route 72 (Six days/463km)
This drive starts at Christchurch and navigates to the heart of Canterbury’s farming land before reaching Oxford. The second day gets up close and personal with the Southern Alps and, depending on the season, offers amazing ski and snowboarding conditions or a fascinating hike to complete the Mount Somers Walkway through coalmines and volcanic formations. Further activities are on offer at Rakaia Gorge, with jet boats to see the impressive waterfalls and hair-raising white water rapids rafting trips for thrill seekers. The charming town of Geraldine has stunning mountain views as the route leads to Ashburton where fly-fishing is an obsession and both of the nearby rivers are famous for their salmon and sea-run trout. Akaroa is the last stop with its historic buildings, French cuisine and magnificent harbour.
Best to spot wildlife
Alpine Pacific Triangle (Four days/451km)
The first route of the eco-adventurous Alpine Pacific Triangle heads up the coast towards Kaikoura from Christchurch. Embrace the Maori culture on arrival and participate in the Maori tours, before experiencing the breath-taking marine life. Swim with dolphins for a once in a lifetime opportunity or witness the whales in action from the comfort of a catamaran. Visit the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway on day two to spot the seals and seabirds, before relaxing and unwinding at the hot pools of Hanmer Springs. Day three encourages the adventurous types to head to the Thrillseekers Canyon Adventure Centre to try activities from jet boat rides in the Waiau Gorge to bungee jumping off the Ferry Bridge. Before the final stretch back to Christchurch, check out Hanmer Forest, packed with walking and biking tracks and bursting with exotic plant and bird species.
Best for nature
Southern Scenic Route (Four days/834km)
Heading southwards from Dunedin to Milford Sound, the landscapes and impressive heritage architecture offer unforgettable experiences throughout the four-day drive. There’s wildlife aplenty at Nugget Point, which is home to fur seals, Hooker’s sea lions, sea elephants and penguins. After reaching Te Anau, Fiordland National Park is nearby, where the world famous Milford Track begins. The third driving stint is to Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives, with its beech forests and Mirror Lakes, offering extraordinary reflective views. A cruise on Milford Sound is a must-do, to experience the true magnificence of the surroundings. Waterfalls, rock faces and seals will be the most memorable moments of the route. End the drive in the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown, for all types of activity from rafting and river surfing, jet boating, bungee jumping and horse trekking.
Best for vineyards
Classic New Zealand Wine Trail (Five days/486km)
This five-day route meanders through the three main wine regions in New Zealand. From Hawke’s Bay, home of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah; to Wairarapa, renowned for its top Pinot Noir; and Marlborough for its world-famous Sauvignon Blanc. Napier, home to some of the finest Art Deco architecture in the world, is a short distance from the vineyards of Hawke’s Bay, where you can take a chauffeur driven tour, self drive, or try a cycle-the-vines experience. A highlight of day two is the wildlife sanctuary at Mt Bruce, before moving on to Masterton and Martinborough, recently crowned the gourmet capital of the lower North Island. Day three climbs up and over the Rimutaka Range, surrounded by picturesque views, before reaching the capital city of Wellington. Visitors can enjoy the popular attractions of Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) and the botanic gardens, as well as plenty of bohemian cafes and bars. Hop on the cruise-style ferry across Cook Strait to South Island and experience the memorable sights of the Red Rocks seal colony, Tory Channel and Cook’s Lookout. Take the short drive across the Wairau Plains to Blenheim, where there are over 20 wineries within easy reach (tours can be arranged). Also nearby is Havelock, known as the Greenshell Mussel Capital – a must for seafood lovers.
For more information on New Zealand visit www.newzealand.com