Why take a NZ road trip? Gosh, where to start. From the mountains to the sea, New Zealand may be small, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to the diversity of our landscapes! Our roads are fantastic and there’s so much to see off the beaten track. We reckon little old New Zealand is one of the best places in New Zealand to self-drive. Here are our 5 reasons to take a NZ road trip – of course, there are many more!
1. Diverse Landscapes
The diversity of New Zealand’s landscape within a relatively short driving distance is pretty special. You can be driving on State Highway 1, going North towards Kaikoura and find yourself with the sea on one side and ice-topped mountains on the other. This diversity offers picture postcard scenic views around every corner – mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers, farmland, plus our regional towns and cities. You are likely to see most of these in a day’s drive through the country. Along the way there are numerous opportunities to stop and take photographs, our roads have good signage to enable you to find the best viewing points and safe places to pull over to get that perfect holiday pic. Besides photographing the scenery you can walk a short distance into the bush in some places and you may just happen to see a Tui, a Native Wood Pigeon (Kereru) or one of the many other lovely native birds of New Zealand.
2. Hiking Opportunities
For the hikers – the hardest decision will be where to stop! On or just off the main highways, you can pop on your hiking shoes and head off into the bush, the riverside, the hills, along the beach. Having your own rental car is definitely key to being able to enjoy our walks – many are off the common ‘tourist trail’. The tracks are well marked and the signs include walking times. Some of New Zealand’s famous places to stop and walk are:
- The Punakaiki Rocks on the West Coast – we love to stand and wait for the blow holes to activate as the sea washes into the rocks – you can hear “oohs and aahs” as this magnificent display of nature’s power comes crashing in. You can spend an hour or a day walking in the area.
- The Ohau Stream Walk, Okiwi Bay, Kaikoura. Visit a picturesque waterfall by following this short walk along Ohau Stream and if you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll spot a fur seal pup swimming in the waterfall pool.
- One of our favourite B & B operators in Nelson tells all of her guests to stop at Pelorous Bridge for a walk. You will find waterfalls, birdlife and fantastic hiking trails here. Shorter trails include the Tawa Walk through one of the last river-flat forests in Marlborough, and the Totara Walk, which leads to a towering old totara tree. For gorgeous views of the Pelorous River, check out the Circle Walk.
- Mount Manganui offers fantastic beach walks with White Island in the distance and the climb up to the “Mount” as the locals call it (really a hill in New Zealand terms) for a great view of the coastline.
- Flagstaff Hill track at Russell (Bay of Islands) is another favourite. Enjoy 360 degree views of the Bay of Islands from this important historic site. The Union Jack was first flown here in 1840, chopped down four times up till 1845 as a symbolic gesture against British rule.
Flagstaff Hill Hike – Bay of Islands
3. Food and Drink Experiences
A self-drive holiday offers the flexibility to stop enroute just as often as you like and whenever something ‘takes your fancy’. You might see a sign to a waterfall or a berry farm where you can pick your own fruit if you so desire. Ice creams along the way are is a kiwi speciality – real fruit ice cream can be found in many places and do try our famous Hokey Pokey icecream it’s yummy. If coffee is your thing– there is always a quirky café that just calls you to stop along the way. It may be that you have a desire to try some of New Zealand’s famous wines. Tastings are available at a large number of our wineries – the winery operators love people to pop in and sample the different options. My favourite – the Pinot Noir options in the Central Otago area. Jeanette’s favourite – a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Driving yourself means you can stop off and sample New Zealand cheeses, olive oils, home baking (we have some great bakeries) oysters, whitebait – so many things to enjoy. For those who love to picnic – there are many places to stop along the way – often with a table beside a river or a lake.
Try New Zealand’s world famous Pavlova with fresh berries
4. Rest, Relax or Explore
Depending on the day you can choose to stop off and read a book by a river, enjoy a spa treatment, or just explore some of the regional towns, lots of which have interesting museums which offer a glimpse of the history of the surroundings. Shanty Town Heritage Park on the West Coast is one of our favourite places to visit. The town is a replica of small town West Coast during the era of steam trains, iron, gold panning and sawmilling. There is even a replica hospital. Have some fun and dress up for an ‘old time photograph’.
New Zealand is home to a stunning array of golf courses set in incredible locations. When you are on your own relaxed schedule, there is an opportunity to play golf every day of your trip! Green fees and club hire are inexpensive and New Zealand golf clubs welcome visitors. If you just want to play 9 holes or you want a full round and to experience the beauty of one of the courses just drop in and see if there is availability. My favourite is Tasman Golf Club at Kina Cliffs – a small course in Golden Bay,top of the South Island overlooking the Tasman Sea. The aim of the club is to offer members and visitors an exceptional golfing and scenic experience and members always extend to come and play on one of the best 9 hole country courses in New Zealand. Jeanette’s favourite is the Akaroa Golf Course situated at the head of Akaroa Harbour. With wonderful views, undulating contours and New Zealand native plantings this course is rated a ‘highly ranked hidden gem’.
Ken from the Meet New Zealand team enjoying golf at the Akaroa Golf Club