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New Zealand’s Top 10 Self Drive Routes
September 15, 2014
The North Island offers the ultimate beach and volcanic routes, which feed out of Auckland; The Thermal Explorer Highway journeys across New Zealand's natural beauties including Lake Taupo, the active volcano Ruapehu, the thermal city of Rotorua and the Waikato region. Travelers can make their Auckland return via the Pacific Coast Highway, which provides spectacular seasonal views of seaside villages and dramatic coastline decorated with flowering pohutakawa, known as New Zealand's Christmas tree. The slow-paced Twin Discovery Tour Route, at about 800km long, also offers a picturesque round-trip of Northland, the Bay of Islands, the Hokianga and New Zealand's Far North, packaging the region's highlights into one leisurely drive.
Meanwhile, New Zealand's South Island offers jaw-dropping alpine scenery, icy glaciers and exquisite wildlife experiences that create exceptional self-drive options. The famous ‘Treasured Pathway' or Marlborough Nelson Heritage route traverses through the northern end of the South Island, including the magnificent Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand's ‘sunshine capital' of Nelson, Kahurangi National Park and Abel Tasman National Park, before finishing at the South Island's most northern tip.
For those looking to explore the South Island's dramatic “Middle-earth” scenery, theSouthern Scenic Heritage Highway route cruises from Queenstown through some of New Zealand's most beautiful alpine country, including Te Anau, the South Island's largest lake famous for its glow-worm caves and local seafood delicacies, to Fiordland National Park, finishing up in the city of Dunedin. Those wanting to extend their route can take a drive from Dunedin along the Otago Peninsula to Larnach Castle, for a chance to catch a glimpse of the penguin, albatross and seal colonies settled along the coast.
And for those wanting the ultimate combination of recreation and nature, the Alpine Pacific Triangle connects three of the South Island's must-see locations; from the Hanmer Springs thermal spas set amidst snow-capped mountains, providing the ultimate Christmas wonderland, to the experience of a lifetime in Kaikoura, with world-renowned whale watching. This journey concludes at the Waipara Valley giving travelers a true taste of the New Zealand wine region.
Even for those hard-pressed for time, there are a number of short yet exciting itineraries that lead through New Zealand's most famous landscapes and attractions – making it easy for couples, groups and families to get in the driving seat.
Details of self-drive holidays and suggested routes are available at
, or plan your own route using the following travel time and distance calculator
1. Twin Coast Highway: begins in Auckland and travels north, tracing both coasts to Cape Reinga and back
2. Thermal Explorer Highway: Beginning in Auckland, taking you south to the caves of the Waikato region, and the geothermal areas of Rotorua and Taupo
3. Pacific Coast Highway: A journey of more than 1000km around the East Cape of the North Island, with stunning coastal views, seaside villages, untouched forest and sunny wine-making districts.
4. Surf Highway 45:Taranaki's jawdropping coastal cruise between New Plymouth & Hawera
5. Forgotten World Highway: only 150 kilometres long, the remote Forgotten World Highway runs through the back blocks of the Ruapehu and Taranaki
6. Alpine Pacific Triangle: From the city lights of Christchurch to whale watching in Kaikoura and hot springs in Hanmer, returning via the wineries of Waipara
7. The Great Alpine Highway: Traverse the South Island through charming historic towns and dramatically changing landscapes on the road known as Arthur's Pass
8. Inland Scenic Route 72: Driving along where the Canterbury Plains meet the Southern Alps, this scenic route offers a whole host of outdoor adventures
9. Southern Scenic Route: From Dunedin to the bottom of the South Island, and up again through Fiordland to Queenstown
North & South Island
10. Classic New Zealand Wine Trail: Taste your way through the wine regions of Hawke's Bay, Martinborough and Marlborough.
Things to know before you hit the road:
1. The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years
2. Rental cars and campervans are easily available at city centres and are a cost effective option for self-drive holidays
3. Drivers need to provide either a current driver's licence from their home country or and International Driving Permit (IDP)
4. New Zealand cars drive on the left side of the road (ie: same driving rules as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand)
5. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50km/h
6. Sign postings follow international standards and are easy to follow
7. Toll Roads exist - the Northern Gateway Toll Road can cut 15 minutes from your journey to the Northland region – payment can be made in advance or up to 3 days after use
8. Traffic is minimal outside of the city centre and towns, but around the main cities must be factored into driving times
9. Ensure you have enough fuel in your vehicle as distances between fuel stops can be large
10. When calculating the time to travel a certain distance, use an average speed of 70 kilometres per hour.
For a detailed map of the above routes, please visit
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