The Best Drives in New Zealand for Stunning Scenery

Most scenic drives in New Zealand

The best way to see New Zealand is on a road trip. You can take your time, enjoy the scenery, and stop off wherever you like to breathe it all in, all whilst listening to your favourite tunes.

If you’ve got a campervan, all the better – there are loads of incredible places to spend the night immersed in the beauty of nature. If you can't afford a camper van, you might be surprised by how cheaply you can rent a car in New Zealand, giving you the flexibility of staying in hostels or hotels, whilst packing a tent for those under the star moments.

Check out this list of New Zealand camping tips from a fellow blogger to be sure you are full prepared for your trip.

I’ve already shared with you my favourite sights on the north and south islands of this fabulous country – now I’m going to tell you my favourite ways to get between these sights.

The drives I’ve selected are best enjoyed over at least a couple of days, although you could in theory do some of them in a shorter time. But then, you’d probably miss out on a number of awesome attractions on the way. Without further ado, and spanning the north and south islands, here are:

The Best Drives in New Zealand


1. The Lost World Highway

The Lost World highway is New Zealand’s oldest touring route, and stretches for 155km from the central plateau of the north island, across to the west coast and the mighty mountain of Taranaki.

The route winds its way across some seriously crinkly landscape, through gorges, tunnels and dense forest. On the way you will have the chance to take in the north islands highest waterfall, a town which has formed it’s own republic, and the remarkable Tangarakau Gorge.

Scenic drive in New Zealand - Combi Van and View

The route isn’t too far, and could be done in three or four hours, but with all the places you’ll want to visit on the way, I’d recommend giving this one a couple of days with a nights stop over in the middle.

The backcountry campground, if you’re camping, offers one of the best views of any campsite in New Zealand, with views of both the Tongariro National Park in the centre of the north island, and across to Mount Taranaki on the west coast.


2. East Cape

The East Cape region of New Zealand’s North land made it into my top five destinations on the north island, and with good reason. The scenery here is just epic, from endless driftwood coated beaches to lush forest and more.

Tolaga Bay Wharf

Here you will find New Zealand’s most easterly mainland point, incredible Maori sculptures, black sand beaches, the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere and endlessly curvy roads to wind your way through. The scenery is truly mind blowing – more people need to experience it!

The East Cape is likely to take you a few days to truly explore – I’d recommend setting aside at least three days. There are a variety of accommodation options en route, from cozy guesthouses and hostels to remote and gorgeous campsites. Something for every taste and budget!

Cape Cook Panoramic


3. West Coast of the south island

The drive down the west coast of New Zealand’s south island is one of my favourite drives in the world. The best parts of this drive stretch from Greymouth down to Haast, although adding on a trip through Arthurs Pass National Park at one end and Haast Pass at the other end is entirely worth it.

Mount Aspiring National Park

The trip is incredible largely due to the presence of the southern alps – the mountain range which runs down the entire length of the south island, and has multiple peaks over 3000m. These snow capped beasts are awe inspiring in their splendour, and offer countless opportunities for gawking.

You’ll find eerily blue glacial rivers, eerily blue actual glaciers, and no other end of delights including surf pounded beaches, geological marvels, and, well, pies made from possum. If you only do one drive in New Zealand, make it this one.


4. Into Milford Sound

Milford Sound is without doubt one of New Zealand’s must see attractions, and it easily made my list of top five things to see on the south island. Whilst the sound itself is tremendously impressive (it’s hard to argue with a mile of vertical mountain coming out of the sea), the 121km drive in from Te Anau is no less so.

Road to milford through mountain passes

There are a multitude of attractions on this drive, which takes you across the southern alps through a variety of incredible landscapes, from lakes to wide open plains to forest and mountains.

Particular favourites include the roaring water filled Chasm, the engineering achievement that is the Homer Tunnel, the awesome reflections in the mirror lakes, and of course, the ever present towering majesty of the southern alps themselves.

There are ten campsites with limited facilities on the way into Milford, which are excellent places to base yourself if you have time for exploration beyond the mandatory cruise on Milford Sound itself. I can recommend taking more time to explore this area, with a hike up to Key Summit being a particular favourite.

Alpine lake reflection


5. The Catlins

Tucked away down on the south eastern corner of New Zealand’s south island, the Catlins are less about rugged towering beauty and more about stunning waterfalls, tree filled vistas and epic coastal views.

Mitai waterfall flowing slow exposure

They are home to a number of quite wonderful sights, including New Zealand’s most southerly mainland point, a massively spectacular blowhole, fossilised forests, sea lion colonies, incredible cliff top views and many more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at.

There is so much beauty to behold in the Catlins that you are going to want more than a day to explore it all, and driving through will give you the chance to take the many many stops that you are going to want to take. I’d recommend a couple of days at least to take it all in.


Further reading & resources for visiting New Zealand

That’s that for my five favourite drives of New Zealand, which will take you through some of the best scenery New Zealand has to offer! If you need more information to help you plan your New Zealand adventure, look no further than my series of New Zealand guides, which cover everything from finding free internet to buying and selling a vehicle, to the perfect one month itinerary in New Zealand.

If you'd like some physical resources to further plan your trip, then the following should help:

Free options and other online resources

If you prefer your guides less physical and a bit more free, then the following are good resources:

Finally, if you’ve got a drive in New Zealand that you absolutely love, please share it in the comments below!

Mount Taranaki

Five incredible scenic drives in New Zealand that you must do!


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15 comments :

  1. Yay Catlins! I loved driving the Southern Scenic Route. It made my list of top NZ road trips (although I haven't done nearly as many as you!) Another of my favorite NZ drives was around the Coromandel Peninsula. It's GORGEOUS there (http://www.dangerous-business.com/2011/01/discovering-new-zealands-coromandel-peninsula/)

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  2. Gosh yes, the Coromandel is stunning. We did it right at the beginning of our trip so I'd nearly forgotten about it, great reminder :)

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  3. Seriously stunning photos you've got here!

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  4. Thanks very much Christine :)

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  5. Thanks very much. We're going to New Zealand in April so this will be very helpful!

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    1. You'll have an amazing time - it's a fabulous place :)

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  6. ll be there InshAllah very soon....Thanx for the pics and the information

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  7. Hope to be there in January InshAllah..Thanks Launrance and Norah for sharing this...

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  8. one more thing..would it be nice to visit milfor and te anau in Januray...

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    1. January is one of the better times to visit New Zealand as it is summer there, so you should have the warmest weather! Although it is worth saying that Te Anau and Milford Sound are known as the wettest places in New Zealand - so rain is possible at any time of the year!

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  9. Thanks for sharing this! Looking forward to my trip to South Island later this year~

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  10. thanx for the tips..very helpful ;) and great pics! getting me all excited ;) can't wait, yallaaaa!!!

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  11. I can't believe that the road from Tekapo towards Pukaki and Mount cook hasn't made it on the list! I just came back from there today and it was the most scenic drive I have ever done in my life!

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  12. Love those photos and I have done the lost world highway. Amazing

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  13. Do you have any experience with accomodations by "House Sitting"?

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