Touring New Zealand by campervan and not knowing where to start? There are 10 Highways with a theme to choose from. This may not sound a pleasant way to explore; when you are used to traffic in Europe or USA expectations of highways are different from New Zealand ‘Highways’. You will probably call them: Secondary Roads. Don’t be shocked to find a one-lane bridge!
These are the 10 Themed Highways of New Zealand:
The Twin Coast Discovery Highway begins in Auckland and travels north, tracing both coasts to Cape Reinga and back. The east coast is memorable for white sand beaches, relaxed seaside towns and ports where you can catch a cruise or dive trip. The west coast has fewer people, wilder beaches and giant kauri trees.
Beginning in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, the Thermal Explorer Highway takes you through the Waikato region than on to the geothermal city of Rotorua. After Lake Taupo you have the option of detouring to Tongariro National Park, then it’s over the hills to the wine country of Napier and Hastings.
The Pacific Coast Highway also begins in Auckland, New Zealand’s main international gateway. The Coromandel Peninsula follows, with its beaches and native forests. After the gold mining town of Waihi, the road sweeps along the Bay of Plenty, passing Tauranga and Whakatane, then around East Cape to Hawke’s Bay, finishing at Napier. From here you can link to the Thermal Explorer touring route and travel back to Auckland.
The Forgotten World Highway can be approached from Stratford or Taumarunui. It wriggles (partly unsealed!) its way over four mountain saddles, through an eerie one-way tunnel and along a sinuous river gorge. The only significant settlement on the way is Whangamomona, where the historic hotel is known for its hospitality.
It would be hard to get lost on Surf Highway 45 – the route simply follows the coast. Side roads take you down to the sea or up to the mountain. If you begin in New Plymouth, you’ll pass the settlements of Oakura, Okato, Pungarehu and Oanui before you reach Opunake, the largest population centre before Hawera.
The Alpine Pacific Triangle is a South Island road journey, 370 kilometres long and it covers three areas – Waipara to Hanmer Springs along State Highway 7, Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura along State Highway 70 and Kaikoura to Waipara on State Highway 1. You can connect with the route from the north, south or west.
Inland Scenic Route 72 journeys from Rangiora, north of Christchurch, to the farming centre of Oxford. The route continues along the foot of the Alps to Mount Hutt, Canterbury’s premier ski field. Mount Somers is next, for a hike in the mountains. Then it’s over the Rangitata River to Geraldine, where you can link to State Highway 1 or head inland to Mount Cook.
Starting in the historic city of Dunedin, the Southern Scenic Route follows Southland’s wild coast down to Invercargill, then continues north-west to Manapouri and Te Anau. Highlights could include sea life encounters along the Catlins Coast, an expedition to Stewart Island, lake cruises and walking the Tuatapere Humpridge Track – one of New Zealand’s newest on-foot adventures.
The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail is a sign-posted 380 km (ca. 236 miles) self-drive touring route that leads travellers off the beaten track. Travel through five of New Zealand’s most interesting and scenic regions, including three major wine-growing areas that account for more than 70% of the country’s wine production. While the main focus of the journey is wine and food, the route also serves up all kinds of cultural and adventure experiences.
From Christchurch, this 255-kilometre route follows State Highway 73 west across river plains before rising to traverse the Southern Alps through Porters Pass and Arthur’s Pass National Park. Highlights of the Great Alpine Highway include the impressive Waimakariri and Otira River gorges, driving along the Otira Viaduct and exploring natural wonders like the Castle Hill Rocks and Cave Stream Reserve. You’ll also discover alpine lakes, fairytale waterfalls and some fascinating high-altitude cloud formations.