Five great drives in New Zealand
New Zealand driving routes
Driving through New Zealand is one of the best ways to see the country’s stunning vistas and hidden gems. With such diverse landscapes throughout New Zealand, each bend reveals an exciting new dimension to the country. Here are five great drives we recommend on the South Island.
1. Top of the South
Just a three-hour flight from the Australian eastern coast, Christchurch is the gateway to New Zealand’s South Island. The Top of the South touring route begins here and travels north along the scenic coastline to Kaikoura. Mountains meet the sea in this small town famous for its whale watching and dolphin safaris. Continue going inland to reach Hanmer Springs and go across the Lewis Pass in an incredible alpine environment. Once in Marlborough, the landscape changes as rows of grape vines take centre stage in New Zealand’s largest wine region. Explore Nelson for amazing food and wine and the gateway to the incredible Abel Tasman National Park.
2. TranzAlpine Explorer
For something different, the TranzAlpine Explorer route starts in Christchurch aboard one of New Zealand’s most famous trains. The TranzAlpine travels through epic landscapes of the Southern Alps, passing through low-lying valleys and alongside beautiful braided rivers before arriving on the West Coast in Greymouth. From there drive along the coastline where rainforest meets the ocean and giant glaciers like the famous Fox and Franz Josef leave you breathless. Next stop is Wanaka, home of Mt Aspiring National Park, one of New Zealand’s most spectacular playgrounds. A short trip over the Crown Range – an incredible drive – will end in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.
3. Southern Scenic Route
Rare wildlife, rugged coastline, delicious seafood and incredible landscapes are on the Southern Scenic Route. Setting off from Dunedin en route to Milford Sound is a journey of heritage. The Catlins will wow with waterfalls, forests and marine mammal encounters. Then head to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park with some of New Zealand’s spectacular walks and landscapes. Finish with a cruise on Milford Sound, once described as the ninth wonder of the world.
4. Alpine Lakes Journey
The heavenly alpine lake region of the central South Island features spectacular mountain ranges, glassy lakes, and boutique wineries. From Christchurch, head to Waimate, a small wine region producing Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris. Lake Tekapo on the eastern edge of the Southern Alps was New Zealand’s most Instagrammed spot in 2016 and once you see the incredible colour of the glacier-fed lake you will see why. At night, Lake Tekapo’s clear skies come alive with twinkling stars and are part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. An hour south of Tekapo, Twizel is great for exploring the surrounding Mackenzie Basin and for marvelling at Lake Pukaki’s stunning aqua waters. A lake journey in the central South Island wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand’s second largest lake, and Lake Wanaka a stunning alpine lake with Mt Aspiring National Park in the background.
5. Heritage Journey
The Heritage Journey on the South Island takes in historic gold mining areas, incredible Victorian architecture and spectacular nature. Christchurch is a great starting point, blending historic architecture and classic gardens with contemporary design. Drive 85 kilometres south to Oamaru, famous for its beautifully restored precinct of Victorian-era buildings, traditional crafts, art galleries and the incredible Moeraki Boulders. Dunedin, a 90-minute drive from Oamaru is home to Victorian and Edwardian architecture including ornate mansions, Gothic-styled churches and New Zealand’s only castle – Larnach. Next on the route is the Central Otago region which has reminders of the gold mining rush through its stone cottages and miners’ trails. A great way to become immersed in the landscapes and heritage is the Otago Central Rail Trail, one of New Zealand’s Great Rides.