The ultimate New Zealand road trip itinerary.
New Zealand has no shortage of amazing road trips and while hardcore travelling might not be everyones thing, I can not really think of anyone that does not like a good road trip. Just sitting back relaxing and watching amazing scenery go by. New Zealand has these kinds of experiences in abundance and there was a lot more than 5 but this is what I narrowed it down to if you are looking to plan a road trip in New Zealand.
We spent 7 weeks living in a van in New Zealand, driving and seeing as much as possible. One thing we realised pretty quickly was that outside of the actual sites themselves the drives to almost all of these places were just as amazing!
Here is 5 drives to help plan your New Zealand road trip that I think are almost must do’s if you have a vehicle.
1. Lindis Pass.
Lindis Pass is located on the drive between Queenstown/Wanaka to Mt Cook or Twizel. It is pretty hard to miss as it is well sign posted and even if it was not there is a very good chance you would notice you were driving through some incredible scenery and pull over anyway. Right behind the lookout is Lindis Peak which I highly recommend climbing. It is not very well marked and we didn’t see any defined track but the 360 view from the top is pretty mind blowing.
2. Mt Cook
Mt Cook is one of those places where almost everyone ends up when they are in New Zealand. I suppose for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because the entire area is mind-blowingly beautiful. One thing I never really heard about though was how incredible the drive in was. As soon as you are a few kilometres in from the turn off and the mountains start to expose themselves to you there is this build up of excitement and anticipation and as you round one final corner and see Mt Cook towering above everything else you know you’re in for a special kind of day. The rest of the drive from that point is so spectacular that despite wanting nothing more than to be standing at the bottom of Hooker Lake looking up at Mt Cook you really don’t ever want the road itself to end.
3. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is another place that should be in anyone’s top three places to visit in New Zealand. I know a lot of people fly in and this I understand because all the photos I have seen of that are incredible. However the drive up from Te Anau is nothing short of spectacular, especially once you hit Mirror Lake. From then on it is just view point after view point. The roads and the mountains seem to go on forever.
There is a long dark extremely poorly lit one-lane tunnel called Homer Tunnel that you have to pass through once you are fairly close to Milford Sound. Waiting at either end for the traffic lights may seem boring but every time we passed through we were greeted by multiple Kea birds landing on our van and putting on a show for us. Once on the Milford Sound side of the tunnel though you wind your way between massive amounts of different mountain peaks. Almost everywhere you look there is waterfalls. Snow covered mountains stretch as far as the eye can see and you are not even sure where that tunnel has transported you to because there is a very very high chance that it is like nothing you have ever seen before. The whole thing is entirely breath taking and I would gladly do it again and again. I am sure it has hundreds of different faces depending on the weather.
4. Arthurs Pass
I drove Arthurs Pass with my family when I was a kid so I wanted to return 17 years later to see why my Mother still talked about it like it was driving into the gates of hell. When we had finished down south and were heading north again we decided to take this route. Most of the drives itself is very beautiful but once you actually get to Arthurs Pass it almost feels like you have stepped into somewhere in South America with the road teetering on the edge of steep cliffs. There were fallen rocks and land slide warnings all over the place and once you round several sharp corners you get to a giant viaduct complete at the end with a waterfall over the road and a small tunnel. This was another spot where the Kia come to greet you. There is also a massive amount of hikes and waterfalls to see along the way. One of particular interest might be Devils Punchbowl.
5. Southern Scenic Route
The Southern Scenic Route is a lot longer than the rest of these and something we followed for several days. It technically starts in Queenstown, heads down south through Te Anau and then down to the very southern coast of New Zealand and finally across to Dunedin.
There is actually a million things to see here but I will pick just a few starting at the southern coast. Our first stop was Gemstone Beach which is pretty cool if you like cool rocks and crystals and that sort of stuff. After that there was Bluff which is the most southern part of New Zealand. Then we went to Waipapa which has this beautiful little light house and is a very good place for getting up close and personal with some sea lions, not too close though. They growl and are really big and it is kind of scary haha.
From there we took a slow drive through the Catlins due to the fact that every few kilometres there is something to stop and look at, mostly waterfalls which were all amazing! McLean Falls, Matai Falls, Purakaunui Falls and Barrs Falls were just a few of ones we stopped at.
After these falls it was back to the coast and Nugget Point which was a highlight for me and somewhere that I had wanted to see for a while! It is an incredible light house out on this point surrounded by half a dozen islets surrounded by cliffs on either side. There is a large amount of bird life and also a large amount of sea loins just a little ways down the coast.
We then followed it up all the way to Dunedin but due to large scale flooding and road closures we actually couldn’t quite do the last little part of the route and decided to head back to Mt Cook for one last look before heading home.
This is one of the many waterfalls along the Southern Scenic Route.
Other notable mentions might be the east coast of the North Island through Gisbon, the Coromandel and the drive from Picton to Greymouth following the coast as much as possible.
Something else to see on the way. Roys Peak or Tongariro Crossing.
Both of these are from Milford Sound.
If you’re interested in some hikes check out Roys Peak here.