The Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand You MUST Drive

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Best scenic roads in New Zealand you MUST drive:

 

1. The Milford Road

Not only one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand, the Milford Road is one of the most scenic roads in the world, period! Beginning at Te Anau, this stretch of highway heads deep into the remote Fiordland National Park, eventually leading you to awe-inspiring Milford Sound. This windy road is incredibly dramatic and takes you through some of the most impressive landscapes you’ll see on your trip including glacier-carved valleys, the reflective Mirror Lakes and dense, lush rainforest. The Homer Tunnel (a single-lane, 1,270 m tunnel that has literally been hacked through the center of a mountain) signals your descent into Milford Sound and gets the adrenaline pumping like nothing else!

 

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Milford Road

2. The Great Coast Road

New Zealand’s answer to Australia’s Great Ocean Road, this historic route is one of the most spectacular stretches along the West Coast. Fill up your car in Westport (petrol stations are few and far between on this highway) and hit the road south towards Greymouth. Named one of the top ten coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet, you’ll understand why when you drive it yourself. With the Tasman Sea on one side and dense rainforest on the other, the landscape is wild and rugged. Some highlights along the route include the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and spurting blowholes.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Great Coast Road, West Coast, Sunset

3. The Lindis Pass

If your driving route takes you between Mt Cook Village and Wanaka or Queenstown, you’ll be fortunate enough to cross the Lindis Pass. This dramatic alpine pass is barren and otherworldly. In the warmer months the grassy hillsides are exposed, blanketed in brown tussock, but in winter, thick snowfall makes the pass even more mystical. Stop at the viewpoint on the summit at 971 m for great views of the road snaking around the exposed hillsides.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Lindis Pass

4. Mount Cook Road

Hugging the side of brilliantly turquoise Lake Pukaki, the road to Mount Cook is astoundingly beautiful. The highway follows the lake all the way up the Tasman Valley, eventually ending at Mount Cook Village, the ideal base for exploring this stunning national park. On a clear day, you’ll see Aoraki / Mt Cook (Australasia’s tallest mountain at 3,764 m) standing imposingly at the end of the road (unfortunately it was obscured by clouds on our journey). There’s a great lookout about halfway down the lake which offers magnificent views of the impossibly blue lake framed by jagged, snow-capped peaks.

Road Trip in New Zealand 2 Week Itinerary

5. Arthur’s Pass

The highest and most well-known of New Zealand’s mountain passes, Arthur’s Pass connects Canterbury to the West Coast. The route takes you right through the heart of Arthur’s Pass National Park, which is filled with deep gorges, wide rivers and scree slopes – iconic in this region. Some of the highlights of this route include the Otira Viaduct Lookout (what an impressive engineering feat!), the huge, limestone rock formations of Castle Hill as well as a lots of beautiful hiking opportunities.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Great Coast Road, Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Arthur's Pass

6. Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

If you’re spending any time in Queenstown, a side trip to Glenorchy is an absolute must. Not only is Glenorchy a lovely little lakeside settlement, but the road linking the two towns is downright gorgeous. It’s an easy 45-minute drive each way with a number of lookouts along the way that offer spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range. There are plenty of walking trails along the route too if you want to explore some more of this picturesque region. Stop for a coffee or lunch in Glenorchy before heading back to Queenstown, or, if you’ve got an adventurous spirit, continue for another 20km, mostly along an unpaved road to Paradise, one of the leading film locations in New Zealand.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Great Coast Road, Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Lake Wakatipu

7. Haast Pass

The route from Wanaka to the West Coast of the South Island takes you over Haast Pass, one of the most densely forested and most lush regions in the country. The Haast Pass stretches for some 140 km and passes through a hugely diverse range of vegetation and scenery. You’ll need to allow plenty of time when driving this road because not only is it incredibly windy which makes for slow going, but this whole region is full of stunning hikes and waterfalls that would be a shame to skip. Some of the best little excursions include the Blue Pools walk, Thunder Creek falls and Roaring Billy Waterfall.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Haast Pass

8. Blenheim to Kaikoura

This 130 km route between Blenheim and Kaikoura is one of the South Island’s most beautiful coastal routes. State Highway 1 runs parallel with the rugged Pacific coastline and connects the Marlborough wine region with Christchurch via Kaikoura, a stunning region known for its wildlife experiences. With rocky beaches to your left and a mountain range to your right, this drive along the coast is one of the best you’ll ever experience. Be sure to check the status of the road before embarking on this journey because at the time of writing, this route is unfortunately closed due to earthquake damage.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Kaikoura

9. Crown Range Road

How could New Zealand’s highest main road not make this list? Whilst there are two routes you can take to get between Queenstown and Wanaka, the Crown Range Road is by far the most memorable. With the summit reaching a whopping 1121 m, it’s no surprise that the views across the valley below from the top are vast and uninterrupted. This is an easy drive in summer but in winter you’ll have to come more prepared and carry snow chains. Descending towards Wanaka, don’t miss stopping at the historic Cardrona Hotel, one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs. for a seriously good meal.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Great Coast Road, Crown Range Road

10. Lewis Pass

The Lewis Pass is the northernmost of the South Island’s three main mountain passes and offers an alternative route between the north of the island and Christchurch. This route takes you through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of dramatic landscapes, from alpine hills covered in tussock, wide, open valleys and dense beech forest. If you have time, stop to hike one of the many trails in the surrounding area or pop into Maruia Springs for a thermal spa.

Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand, Great Coast Road, Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, Lewis Pass

11. Skipper’s Canyon Road

Driving the Skipper’s Canyon Road will be the most unforgettable driving experience you’ll have in New Zealand. This route comes with a word of caution though: don’t attempt to drive this road on your own! That’s right. It’s much safer to experience this road as part of a tour, i.e. in the hands of the experienced drivers at Queenstown rafting who drive this road every single day, rather than attempting it on your own. Whilst this road is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads, it is also more than a little hairy. Carved into the sheer cliff face, rental car companies won’t cover you if you decide to drive this unpaved, single-laned road that snakes its way down Skipper’s Canyon. It’s definitely an experience you won’t be forgetting soon!

New Zealand

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Welcome to New Zealand

Walk on the Wild Side

There are just 4.8 million New Zealanders, scattered across 268,021 sq km: bigger than the UK with one-fourteenth of the population. Filling in the gaps are the sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords that have made NZ one of the best hiking (locals call it ‘tramping’) destinations on the planet. Tackle one of the epic ‘Great Walks’ – you might’ve heard of the Heaphy and Milford Tracks – or spend a few hours wandering along a beach, paddling a canoe or mountain biking through some easily accessible wilderness.

Māori Culture

New Zealand’s all-conquering All Blacks would never have become back-to-back rugby world champions without their unstoppable Māori players. But this is just one example of how Māori culture impresses itself on contemporary Kiwi life: across NZ you can hear Māori language, watch Māori TV, join in a hāngi (Māori feast) or catch a cultural performance with song, dance and a blood-curdling haka (war dance). Māori design continues to find expression in tā moko,Māori tattooing (often applied to the face) and the delicate artistry of bone, shell and pounamu(greenstone) sculpture.

The Real ‘Big Easy’

New Zealand isn’t a place where you encounter many on-the-road frustrations: buses and trains generally run on time; main roads are in good nick; ATMs proliferate; pickpockets, scam merchants and bedbug-ridden hostels are few and far between; and the food is unlikely to send you running for the nearest public toilets (usually clean and stocked with the requisite paper). And there are no snakes, and only one poisonous spider – the endangered katipo. This decent nation is a place where you can relax and enjoy (rather than endure) your travels.

Food, Wine & Beer

British-influenced classics like fish and chips aren’t going anywhere, but NZ gastronomy has come a long way, baby. Chefs in Auckland, Wellington and Napier borrow influences from as far afield as South Pacific islands and Western Europe for creative takes on locally sourced lamb and seafood like abalone, oysters and scallops. Meanwhile, the vegetarian and vegan food scenes grow evermore prominent and inventive. Wash it all down with coffee culture, an edgy craft-beer scene and legendary cool-climate wines (like sublime sauvignon blanc and pinot noir).

Must visit attractions in Auckland

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Auckland is a place filled with incredibly diverse attractions. Whether you’re an avid thrill seeker, nature lover, or an art aficionado, New Zealand’s largest city is sure to keep you captivated. Here are 20 must-visits that prove this point perfectly.

 

THE SKY TOWER

Building

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Sky Tower, Auckland, New Zealand | © PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay
Along with being an iconic feature of Auckland’s skyline, the Sky Tower is the tallest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Fine diners, adventurous bungy jumpers and travellers wanting to catch some of the best panoramas of the city are among those attracted to this stunning architectural landmark.

MT EDEN (MAUNGAWHAU)

Natural Feature

 

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Mount Eden Summit, Auckland | © macronix / Flickr
Auckland’s highest natural point, Mt Eden (also known by the Māori name Maungawhau) is a dormant volcanic cone that rises 196 metres (643 feet) above sea level. An astonishing bowl-like crater with a depth of 50 metres (160 feet), it is as much a part of the summit’s appeal as the spectacular 360-degree city panoramas on show.

ONE TREE HILL (MAUNGAKIEKIE)

Natural Feature
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Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill, Auckland, New Zealand | © Bernard Spragg / Flickr
One Tree Hill is a 182-metre (597-foot) volcano which serves as an important memorial place for Māori and other New Zealanders. Maungakiekie, or the ‘mountain of the kiekie vine’, was home to the largest indigenous pā (defensive settlement site) pre-European colonisation. A 30-metre (100-foot) tall stone obelisk was also erected on top of the summit to mark Auckland’s centenary commemorations in 1940.

WAIHEKE ISLAND

Natural Feature

 

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North coast of Waiheke Island, New Zealand | © russellstreet / Flickr
Take a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland to reach the ever so popular Waiheke Island. The island is situated on the Hauraki Gulf and has a length of 19 kilometres (12 miles). Visitors are drawn to this local gem because of its famous vineyards, picturesque beaches and wondrous natural landscapes.

PIHA BEACH

Natural Feature

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Lion Rock, Piha Beach | © russellstreet / Flickr
Located just west of Auckland, the black-sand Piha Beach is famous for its strong surf conditions and breathtakingly rugged scenery. Landscape photographers are particularly drawn to the beach’s Lion Rock and its surrounding Maori carvings. Film buffs will also know the picturesque beach for its cameo in movies like the 1993 feature drama The Piano.

TIRITIRI MATANGI ISLAND

Natural Feature

 

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Native bellbird seen on Tiritiri Matangi Island | © Richard Ashurst / Flickr
If you love nature and wildlife, a visit to Tiritiri Matangi Island is a must. The island, which can be reached from Auckland city via ferry, is a wildlife sanctuary for threatened and endangered native birds and reptile species. After a brief introductory walk from a local ranger on arrival, visitors are welcome to partake in guided walks or simply explore the surrounding tracks and beaches on their own.

SHAKESPEAR REGIONAL PARK

Park

 

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Shakespear Regional Park | © russellstreet / Flickr
Located at the tip of the Whangaparoa Peninsula, 50 kilometres (31.1 miles) north of central Auckland, Shakespear Regional Park is the most visited and accessible open sanctuary in the region. With a strong focus on conservation and farming, the park provides a pest-free habitat for endangered wildlife — to an extent that dogs and other pets aren’t permitted in it.

GREAT BARRIER ISLAND

Natural Feature

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Great Barrier Island | © David Baron / Flickr
Also known as Aotea, Great Barrier Island is the sixth largest island in New Zealand. Along with featuring the only multi-day wilderness walk in Auckland region (the Aotea Track), the Great Barrier Island is also home to an array of beautiful beaches and is the only island in the world to hold Dark Sky Sanctuary status.

RANGITOTO ISLAND

Natural Feature

 

Having come into existence approximately 600 years ago, Rangitoto Island is Auckland’s youngest volcano. Wherever there is a view of the Hauraki Gulf, you’ll be able to sight Rangitoto summit — you could say it’s a bit of a local icon because of its prominence. The island is a popular hiking destination as well as being a much-adored spot for kayakers and boaties.

DEVONPORT

Natural Feature

 

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Devonport, Auckland | © xiquinhosilva / Flickr
The seaside suburb of Devonport is wont to attract history buffs, beach lovers, maritime enthusiasts and budding foodies keen to try out some of its buzzing cafes and eateries. A 12-minute ferry ride from the city is all it takes to reach this North Shore gem; this ease of access makes Devonport a favourite day trip destination for both locals and visitors.

MISSION BAY

Natural Feature

 

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Pōhutukawa trees at Mission Bay | © Akos Kokai / Flickr
Mission Bay is located quite close to Auckland’s central business district on Tamaki Drive. Aucklanders are particularly drawn to the local beach because it is so close to the city. Mission Bay is also loved for its cafes and restaurants, plus the picturesque park that lies right on the beach’s doorstep.

AUCKLAND BOTANIC GARDENS

Botanical Garden

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Sunset, Auckland Botanic Gardens | © russellstreet / Flickr
The Auckland Botanic Gardens is located in the South Auckland suburb of Manurewa, approximately 24 kilometres (14.91 miles) from the city. It comprises 64 hectares (158.15 acres) of gorgeous blooms, foliage and native forestry that’s sure to enthrall visitors. Admission is free and the garden organises a number of events like workshops and school holiday programmes for visitors of all ages to enjoy.

AUCKLAND DOMAIN

Park

 

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Lovers Lane walking trail, Auckland Domain | © Murat WithHat / Flickr
As well as being Auckland’s oldest park, the Auckland Domain is the largest in the city. The park comprises the entire explosion crater and most of the crater rim of the Puketawa volcano. It is also home to several sports fields, tranquil walking tracks and notable tourist attractions like the Domain Wintergardens and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

AUCKLAND WAR MEMORIAL MUSEUM

History Museum

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Auckland museum | © parkd63 / Pixabay
The Auckland War Memorial Museum was the very first of its kind in New Zealand; it currently serves as a memorial site for war casualties and holds some of the country’s most significant archival records and heritage treasures. The museum is particularly notable for its extensive collection of Māori and Pacific artifacts, and its annual ANZAC Day dawn service commemorations.

AUCKLAND ART GALLERY TOI O TĀMAKI

Art Gallery

 

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Auckland Art Gallery | © ChewyPineapple / Wikimedia Commons
With a collection that features more than 15,000 works, the Auckland Art Gallery is New Zealand’s largest art institution. The gallery originally opened in 1887 and has since undergone a massive architectural transformation. Its modern building is presently home to artworks and collections from New Zealand, the Pacific and abroad, as well as hosting an array of international exhibitions throughout the year.

MOTAT

Transportation Museum, Curiosity Museum

 

The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) is the ultimate go-to for curious minds. Innovative machinery-based exhibitions, remarkable aviation displays, a model railway and a collection of fascinating historic relics come together to educate museum visitors about the evolution of transport and technology in New Zealand and its effect on life at large.

AUCKLAND ZOO

Zoo

 

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Auckland Zoo sign | © Robert Linsdell / Flickr
Auckland Zoo has come a long way since opening its doors in 1922. Along with housing the largest collection of wildlife in New Zealand, the zoo has expanded its scope of operations to include a number of conservation and environmental research activities. Visiting animal lovers can get involved in a number of encounters like behind-the-scenes experiences, safari nights, and zookeeper talks among other events and activities.

KELLY TARLTON’S SEA LIFE AQUARIUM

Aquarium

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Tunnel at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium | © Ingolfson / Wikimedia Commons
Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium has been marvelling marine wildlife enthusiasts since 1985. The aquarium was the brainchild of diver and marine archaeologist Kelly Tarlton, who not only built this remarkable aquatic attraction out of unused sewage tanks, but is also known for constructing the first buoyancy compensator suit in New Zealand. A shuttle from the city centre can take visitors to the aquarium, where they can catch sight of a number of species and even walk across a shark tunnel.

THE CIVIC

Theatre

 

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Civic Theatre, Auckland | © russellstreet / Flickr
Equal parts architectural landmark, performing arts hub and live music venue, The Civic is bound to impress its spectators. Built in 1929, this was originally the first ‘talkies’ cinema to emerge in New Zealand; nowadays it is a premier theatre venue with more than 2,300 seats and a starry auditorium designed to recreate the Southern Hemisphere skies. The Civic is mostly opened for performances, though special guided tours are offered on occasion.

MICHAEL JOSEPH SAVAGE MEMORIAL

Memorial

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Michael Joseph Savage Memorial | © russellstreet / Flickr
The Michael Joseph Savage Memorial commemorates New Zealand’s first Labour Prime Minister, who was widely respected by both Māori and European New Zealanders for playing an integral role in the development of the country’s social welfare system. The memorial is situated on Bastion Point and features an obelisk and mausoleum surrounded by beautifully landscaped garden grounds.

Top 10 free things to do in Auckland

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Top 10 free things to do in Auckland

1. Climb a volcano

Auckland’s landscape it dotted with 48 volcanic cones, all great spots for 360-degree views. Mount Eden is the city’s highest natural point and its 50-metre deep crater and surrounds hold an important place in Māori history. Head to Cornwall Park and up One Tree Hill, one of the largest former Māori settlement complexes in New Zealand, or walk to the top of Mt Victoria or North Head in Devonport.

 

2. Get inspired

Wander through the beautiful historic Pah Homestead at the TSB Wallace Arts Centre to see ever-changing contemporary art exhibitions. New Zealand residents can also enjoy free access to Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, to walk among more than 15,000 classic and contemporary artworks.

3. Meet the wildlife

Take a day trip to Goat Island, a protected marine reserve and one of New Zealand’s top snorkelling and dive spots, with abundant colourful fish close to the shore. If you’d rather stay dry, try a clearyak (clear kayak) trip or the glass bottom boat. Bring the kids to meet the cute farm animals at Ambury Regional Park – they might even get to feed the lambs in spring.

 

4. Find your favourite beach

You’re never far from the sea in Auckland. Our two coastlines are filled with hundreds of beaches. Ride the waves at the black-sand surf beaches of the rugged west coast, visit the seaside suburbs of Mission Bay, St Heliers and Takapuna close to the cityescape to an idyllic island beach, or head north and discover the golden sands and clear waters of Tāwharanui and Pakiri.

5. Come to a free event

There are lots of free events on in Auckland right throughout the year, from live music and outdoor movies to major cultural events, including the vibrant Pasifika Festival, the Auckland Lantern Festival celebrating Chinese New Year, and Tāmaki Herenga Waka Festival, a celebration of our unique Māori culture.

6. Hit the walking tracks

Take your pick from the thousands of walking tracks throughout Auckland, ranging from short and easy trails to challenging hikes. Explore the coastline of the west’s spectacular black-sand beaches, walk through the lush Hunua Ranges in the east, hike through native forest on a Hauraki Gulf island, take a city heritage trail, or discover the diverse landscapes of Auckland’s parks.

 

7. Walk inside a lighthouse

The restored Manukau Heads Lighthouse, sitting on the very tip of Awhitu Peninsula, is one of only a few lighthouses in New Zealand you can climb to the top of. Feel the sea spray and enjoy the fantastic views. Gates are open 9am to 5pm daily; admission is free but a small koha (donation) is appreciated.

8. See the clifftop gannet colony

Get a look at the huge gannet colony at Muriwai Beach, where around 1200 pairs of gannets nest on the rocky clifftops from August to March. There are two viewing platforms so you can get up close, plus you’ll get incredible sweeping views out across the Tasman Sea.

9. Visit Auckland’s oldest park

The Domain is one of our most beautiful parks, with a mix of open spaces, formal gardens, stately trees, miniature waterfalls and leafy walks. Ideal for strolling, jogging, picnics and sports, the Domain also has regular free music events. Auckland Museum, perfect for a rainy day, is also free if you live in Auckland.

10. Watch the world sail by

We’re a city of water lovers, and there are always boats of all shapes and sizes on the Waitemata Harbour. Pick a spot in Wynyard Quarter and watch them sail by; then take a wander and check out the sculptures, scenic boardwalks and a marine-themed play space for the young ones.