New Zealand’s Great Road Trips

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Posted on 14th February 2015 – Road Trips


Australia seems purpose-built for road trips – long, open roads hugging stunning coastlines, desolate deserts, lush rainforest, and soaring mountain ranges. And that’s why the classic Aussie panel vans, campers and powerful saloons have all become such collectible vehicles – even for people wanting to bring them across the Tasman to make the most of our own countryside. Just as the Aussies have their Great Ocean Road, East Coast Highway and beautiful wine tours around southern West Australia, Kiwis have awesome road-trips around the East Cape, Northland, the volcanic North Island plateau and the along the Southern Alps. So, once you’ve imported your perfect soft-top, V8 monster or quirky camper, here’s our quick rundown of what you need to know to get your show on the road in NZ. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Some people are happy to pack and go when it comes to road-trips, but others try to make the most of their break with a little more planning. And when there’s events like the Cricket World Cup on, you’ll want to make sure you’re coinciding your journey with all the best games if you’re a fans – or steering well clear if you’re not sure what all the fuss is about. To help you on your way, the AA has a great four-step guide to making the right decision for your road-trip:

Step one is simple: decide what you really want… there’s no point turning up at The Mount on New Year’s Eve if you’re after a quiet, romantic getaway or heading to The Remarkables for a spot of retail therapy. Do you like peace and quiet? Do you need things for the kids to do? Do you want to see cities or seasides?

Step two involves a little legwork (or at least a decent relationship with Google): go and find out a bit about where we all live. New Zealand has a huge variety of landscapes and regions and you’ll thank yourself once you’re on the road if you know what’s around the corner. Your homework can also mean booking campsites and accommodation ahead of time to save having to drive for miles at night looking for a room, and it also means you can coincide your trip with events such as sports matches, or make sure you don’t turn up at theme parks, museums or even restaurants on the day they’re closed.

Step three is all about keeping the home fires burning… It’s a good idea when you’re going to be gone for a while to let a friend or family know so they can water your plants, look after any pets you leave behind or check up on the house.

And step four is that all-important final checklist… It all seems simple – pick up any prescription medicines you’ll need while you’re away; set your light timers at home; empty the fridge; unplug any appliances which could be harmed by power surges; remind friends and family where you’re going.

Find out about your own backyard Because of our variety of landscapes, great roads and mix of relatively unpopulated areas and scattered towns and cities, New Zealand really does have endless possibilities when it comes to road trips. So whether you’re after a weekend or midweek break, or you’re flying to the other island for a month-long tour – there’s really something to suit every taste. And because there’s always something on – from festivals and sporting events, to beach getaways and wine tours – there’s always a good reason to travel. If you’re not really one for homework, then there are a heap of websites available who’ve done some of the hard planning work for you:

The Road Trip does what it says on the tin. They’ve got guided tours or self-drive tours (a 10 or 14-day South Island and a 15-day best of both islands) and a range of speciality tours which include Lord of the Rings-themed trips, a ski trips, adventure trips, educational trips and luxury trips.

100% Pure New Zealand has a pretty comprehensive list of ways to see the classic sights around New Zealand split into North and South Islands and the 10 themed highways, which include The Forgotten World Highway through the back blocks of the Ruapehu and Taranaki, and the awe-inspiring scenery of the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin to Queenstown via Fiordland. The Tourism New Zealand website also has a great calculator for distances and times to make sure you’re not caught out by some of the routes.

The AA has 23 tailor-made tours covering the length and breadth of New Zealand – each with its own map, itinerary, tips, must-dos, weather reports, history and culture, pit stops… pretty much everything you can think of. This utterly comprehensive website also has tips to plan your trip, the essential dos and don’ts for driving in New Zealand and even a quick rundown of 13 road trip games to keep the kids happy in the back seat once they’ve watched Frozen or the 47th time.

OK, so this might seem a little tame compared to the previous websites – but before you hit the road, just make sure you’ve got the New Zealand Transport Agency keyed into your phone’s favourites. Their traffic bulletins and road reports are an absolute godsend if you don’t want to be caught crawling around Hamilton or stuck in queues trying to get across the Desert Road. And besides, once you’re armed with the info of how the traffic’s flowing (or not) you can make your decisions about where to spend your precious holiday time.

At the end of last year, The Herald on Sunday ran their favourite top-five road trips around New Zealand and it’s a great place to start if you’ve lived here all your life but know more about Surfer’s Paradise or the Pacific Islands than your own back yard. Their trips are: 1] Waitangi to Tane Mahuta; 2] Paihia to Cape Reinga; 3] Queenstown to Wanaka loop in five days; 4] Taupo to high tea at Chateau Tongariro; and 5] A few days meandering between Havelock North and Martinborough.

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