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New Zealand was made for road trips. Home to some of the world’s most stunning scenery, a drive can bring you to everything from endless vineyards and wild coastlines to spectacular mountain ranges, pristine glaciers and lush rainforest. These routes, in particular, are some of the country’s most enchanting.
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Haast Pass is in Mount Aspiring National Park, linking the coastal town of Haast with the Wanaka and Queenstown mountains in an alpine range that extends most of the length of the South Island. One of the world’s most scenic journeys, you’ll want to be sure your camera is fully charged and has an empty memory card. While it can be completed in four hours, that’s just about impossible for most due to the many photo-ops like the Lake Wanaka Lookout. Look forward to stunning views of the water, beech forests, towering mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and winding rivers. Spend the night in Franz Josef and the next day you can take the easy hike for an up-close look at Franz Josef glacier.
The two-hour drive on the Milford Sound Highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of the world’s most famous. It travels through spellbounding sights such as emerald rainforest and moss-covered mountains to mirror-like lakes, cascading waterfalls and striking cliff faces. Bring a picnic so you can enjoy soaking up the views without being behind the wheel with plenty of jaw-dropping spots.
After taking advantage of the world’s adventure capital Queenstown, head to Aoraki/Mount Cook village in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The scenery is gorgeous the entire way, but once you reach the shores of Lake Pukaki you’ll know you’re in a special place. The road follows alongside the brilliant turquoise waters, almost until you reach Mount Cook village and Australasia’s highest peak at over 12, 319 feet. Especially popular for hiking, Hooker Valley Track is the favorite, a 3.1-mile route that ends at a glacier lake, with amazing views of the mountain.
New Zealand is renowned for its wine, and wine enthusiasts won’t want to miss sampling some of its best on this wine driving route. Start in Nelson at the north end of the South Island, an artsy town with lots of great galleries. In the village of Upper Moutere, wineries like Neudorf Vineyards make tasty Chardonnay, and on the Waimea Plains, you’ll find organic producer Greenhough Vineyards. Driving east from Nelson across the Richmond Range, you’ll reach Blenheim, the capital of Marlborough where you can learn about the region’s wines at the Marlborough Museum. There are over 30 cellar doors in the area, with some of the most popular including Nautilus and Cloudy Bay. Continue your drive south along the coast toward Waipara Valley, part of the North Canterbury wine region, and be sure to stop at either Black Estate or Pegasus Bay, the top wine restaurants.
Highway 6 travels the wind-swept west coast of the South Island, providing one of the most dramatic coastal drives with the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea on one side and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps on the other. Stop at the famous Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki which looks like layered pancakes, and enjoy a walk on wild Motukiekie Beach with unique rock formations just offshore, rising from the sea. In the charming beach town of Hokitika, check out the Jade Factory where you can watch the skilled carvers at work, take a tour and pick up a unique piece of jade jewelry.
The road that leads to the tiny community of Paradise, connecting Queenstown and Glenorchy, runs alongside the pristine waters of Lake Wakatipu. It’s pretty much guaranteed to make you feel as if you’ve entered paradise. The aptly named place at the end which lies just outside of Glenorchy is surrounded by stunning mountain peaks, rivers and ancient beech forests that were spotted in the “Lord of the Rings” films.
The North Island boasts spectacular coastlines too. The start of the Coromandel Peninsula is less than 90 minutes from Auckland and it’s home to breathtaking beaches like Hot Water Beach where you can make your own natural Jacuzzi and Cathedral Cove, one of the most photogenic spots in New Zealand. It’s not only a gorgeous drive, but you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the tastiest fresh mussels and oysters around at the Coromandel Oyster Company.
The Loop of the Bay Islands is another idyllic road trip for those who don’t have a lot of time but want to take in some of the North Island’s best highlights. You’ll be able to soak up the magnificent beauty of the coastline after experiencing all that Auckland has to offer and perhaps enjoy the short ferry ride to Waiheke Island for some wine tasting too. Make your way to the seaside town of Paihia which is the gateway to the Bay of Islands, made up of 144 islands with lush green countryside and dazzling turquoise waters. Continue to Cape Reinga along 90 Mile Beach, and venture inland to marvel at the ancient Kauri Forests and waterfalls.
The most direct route from Taupo to Wellington travels through the lower central region of the North Island, bringing many exciting stops along the way, including Tongariro National Park, which lies south-west of Lake Taupo. There are numerous opportunities to get out and enjoy a hike, including the park if you make a short detour. About midway through the drive at Waituna West, you’ll come upon a lookout that brings a sweeping vista of the endless hills in shades of bright green to deep emerald. As you get closer to the city of Wellington, the sea will be to your right – in the late spring and summer, the cliffs to the left will be covered with colorful wildflowers.