New Zealand is hardly a country short on jaw-dropping landscapes. Stumble out of bed and out of your front door and the chances are good that you’ll find yourself staring at one particularly stunning piece of scenery or another.
Mountains, rainforests, beaches, rugged coastlines, city skylines, moors — New Zealand really does have it all.
And that made writing this blog pretty tricky. How do you condense such a stunning country into just five scenic roads?
Well, after having a long and hard think about all my options, I’ve come up with a pretty solid list of amazing driving routes.
So, without further ado, here are my five favourite jaw-dropping scenic roads in New Zealand.
State Highway 6
State Highway 6 runs up the rugged west coast of Waipounamu (South Island) from Invercargill to Blenheim. It’s a huge 1,162km long highway, taking you through a massively diverse cross-section of New Zealand’s landscapes.
However, I want to focus on the most scenic portion, a short 100km long stretch dubbed the Great Coast Road. (Yes, it is a response to the Great Ocean Road across the Tasman.)
The Great Coast Road between Greymouth and Westport, passing through the western edge of Paparoa National Park. And I’m not exaggerating when I say this stretch of tarmac is one of the most spectacular driving roads in the world.
Travelling south to north, the mighty Tasman Sea pounds the craggy coastline to your left, throwing white spray into the air. To your right lie sharp cliffs and dense tropical trees; beyond them, you can just about spot the majestic snow-capped tips of the Southern Alps.
The road, a weaving ribbon of tarmac, is only 101km but with all its weaves and winds, it feels like two or three times the distance.
If you need a break driving, I recommend you split the trip in two, stopping in Punakaiki on the edge of the
Milford Sound Highway
The two-hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound Highway is difficult to introduce. One moment you’re scything through rainforests, the next you’re skimming along the edge of mirror lakes and then you arrive at what can only be described as one of the most beautiful vistas in the world.
Personally, my highlight of the trip is the 1,200-metre long tunnel right as you leave Gertrude Valley. It’s amazing to see the gigantic stone valley suddenly shrink down to a five-metre-wide tunnel before expanding back out at the other end.
New Zealand isn’t exactly short of mountain passes. In fact, turn off any highway, tootle around for five minutes and you’ll probably find yourself cresting some majestic mountain highway.
Arthur’s Pass, however, is a cut above the rest.
Slicing through the heart of Arthur’s Pass National Park, the route is packed to the gunwales with deep gorges, roaring rivers and sheer screen faces.
My favourite spot to stop is the Otira Viaduct Lookout. From here, peer down the valley and marvel at the road which effortlessly floats above the treetops on concrete needles.
Skippers Canyon Road
Warning: the Skippers Canyon Road is not for the faint-hearted nor the inexperienced nor 95% of people reading this blog.
About a dozen miles north of Queenstown, there’s a small and unassuming turnoff Skippers Road. At the head of the road is the Skippers Road Lookout, a fantastic vista point looking back down the valley.
Beyond the lookout point lies Skippers Canyon Road, a tight, twisty and unstable gravel road blasted into the side of the canyon. Again, this is not a road for the inexperienced and must be tackled with precision and concentration. Any wrong move could send you and your car over the edge of the road and down the sheer drop off.
Crown Range Road
There’s two ways to drive between Queenstown and Wanaka: the boring way and the Crown Range Road. Dubbed the highest road in New Zealand, the Crown Range Road links the two cities through spectacular mountains.
The Crown Range Road is pretty extreme, climbing to a peak of 1,121 metres and descending back down in just 70km. Along the way, expect hairpins, precipitous drops and some of the most dramatic mountainous landscapes you’ve ever seen.
In the summer, it pays to check your car over before leaving. Ensure you’ve got enough fuel, your tyres are at the correct pressure, your lights are working and so on.
In the winter, it’s often advisable to abandon the icey Range Road in favour of the safer route through Cromwell. However, if you choose to stick with it, remember tyre chains and make sure you know to use them!
Contributed by Tom Butcher, a freelance writer.