Best Drives For A Weekend Away In New Zealand

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This is a collaborative post.

New Zealand is just a short flight across the Tasman, which means it is an easy place to visit for a long weekend from all major cities on the east coast of Australia.

If you are planning a short trip to either the North (Te Ika-a-Māui) or South (Te Waipounamu) island, there are plenty of options for where you can go. Therefore, to make the most of your time there, it is worth hiring a car.

Should you fancy a good old-fashioned road-trip, here are some of the best drives to consider. Just make sure you keep your eye on the road, and not the awesome scenery you will encounter, while you are cruising along these routes.

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Car Hire

Those heading over to Aotearoa from Australia will need to hire a vehicle.

Thankfully, you can easily pick up a New Zealand weekend car rental from most airports and CBD locations.

It’s a good idea to select a 4WD if you are coming over in winter or plan to go off-roading. 

As New Zealand is one of the most eco-friendly travel destinations in the world, there are also plenty of charging stations for EVs if you want to hire an electric car.

Best Weekend Drive Routes

Having hired a vehicle, here are some of the best drives you can do on both New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

Best North Island Drives

  1. The Lost World Highway

If you are visiting the North Island, one of the best drives you can do is along The Lost World highway. Starting from Stratford in Taranaki, it extends for 155 km along the island’s central plateau, over to the west coast to Taumarunui.

Renowned for being the oldest route in New Zealand, the road snakes through tunnels, gorges and bosky forests. You’ll also be able to visit the historic town of Whangamōmona,  which has formed its own republic, the breathtaking Tangarakau Gorge and see the 153-metre Wairere Falls, which is the highest cascade on the North Island.

As the route is not far, you’ll be able to comfortably drive it in three to four hours and there are plenty of places to stay overnight in Taumarunui.

  1. East Cape

Incorporating some of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery, the East Cape region is home to spectacular black sandy beaches, historic Māori sculptures and verdant forests.

If you pick up a one-way rental, you can start an exploration of this area from Auckland and make your to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, which means you can also take in two major cities as well.

To do this, pick flights that will arrive and depart from those cities to avoid having to track back.

Best South Island Drives

  1. West Coast

You’ll be in a constant state of awe if you choose to drive along the west coast of the South Island.

Arguably, the most aesthetically pleasing part of the journey is the stretch of road between Greymouth to Haast. However, it is also a good idea to visit the Arthurs Pass National Park and Haast Pass, which bookend them.

What makes this such a worthwhile trip is that you’ll get wonderful close-up views of the Southern Alps Mountain Range. It possesses several snow-capped peaks that soar over 3000 metres and run for much of the length of the route.

In addition to the peaks, look out for stunning glaciers, glacial rivers, and remote beaches where the surf pounds wildly. If you are game enough, drop by the town of Pukekura, where you can try one of their famous possum pies.

  1. The Catlins

Over on the south eastern corner of Te Waipounamu, the Catlins offers a superb route that takes in stunning coastal views, jaw-dropping waterfalls and multiple lookouts to woodland areas.

On this drive, you can stop at fossilised forests, a collection of spectacular blowholes and Slope Point, which is the southernmost point on the South Island. You should also be able to spot sea lion colonies and have to opportunity to take in more outstanding clifftop views than you could ever hope to imagine.

The entire route runs from Balclutha and Invercargill, which has plenty of charming cafes and overnight accommodation options.

  1. Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s blockbuster attractions and is rightly considered a must-visit destination. But what some people don’t realise is that the drive there from  Te Anau is also impressive.

On this drive, you’ll get to see magnificent views of the southern Alps, as well as lush forests, shimmering lakes and wide-open meadows. Additionally, the architectural and engineering triumph of the Homer Tunnel is also sure to impress.

Whilst at Milford Sound, be sure to take a cruise around the water, as this is undoubtedly the best way to take in its magnificent scenery.

If you plan on camping, there are ten campsites you can choose to pitch up your tent or park your trailer on the way into the Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

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