What are the Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand?
As cliche as it sounds, a trip to New Zealand is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Whether you decide to drive yourself or take one of the many bus tour options, you’re going to experience some mind-blowing scenery so make sure you’re mentally prepared! Mountains, beaches, volcanoes, forest, rivers, lakes and more, it can all be experienced on the scenic roads of New Zealand. Make sure your road trip around the country includes at least some of these most beautiful roads in New Zealand.
1. Lindis Pass
Rolling tussock-topped highlands with no sign of civilisation except for a winding highway, Lindis Pass is often seen as the most scenic road in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why. Located on State Highway 8 between Cromwell and Omarama, the Lindis Pass is one of the highest highways in New Zealand at 971m (3,186ft) above the sea level, which means in winter, it’s common to see it under the snow. It’s also a road where many accidents happen due to travellers parking up their vehicles on the side of the road for photos. Make sure you use the car park signposted at the top of the pass to take photos.
Location: State Highway 8 between Cromwell and Omarama, South Island.
2. Haast Pass
Also on the South Island, Haast Pass is not only one of the most beautiful roads in New Zealand, but it also has plenty of scenic stops and walks along the way. Winding its way on the edge of the Mt Aspiring National Park between the West Coast town of Haast and the inland lake town of Wanaka, the Haast Pass road follows stunning river gorges and features verdant rainforest and mountains. Stop by spectacular waterfalls like Fantail Falls and Thunder Creek Falls and check out the glacial waters of The Blue Pools of Haast.
Location: State Highway 6 between Haast and Wanaka, South Island.
3. The Milford Road
The Milford Road likely needs no introduction, as Milford Sound is on the bucket list for most travellers exploring the South Island. The road with glacier-carved mountains, expansive valleys, waterfalls and lakes can be tackled independently or on one of the many bus tours featured in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau. It’s a 570km (354-mile) return journey from Queenstown, so we recommend either tackling the drive by staying in Te Anau the night before (making it a 240km/149-mile journey) or by staying in one of the campsites or Milford Sound accommodations.
Location: State Highway 94 between Te Anau and Milford Sound, South Island.
4. Forgotten World Highway
Not forgetting the lovely North Island, the Forgotten World Highway is a 148km (92-mile) journey between Taumarunui in the Waikato region and Stratford in Taranaki. The road incorporates vast areas of rolling farmland, untouched forest and long-forgotten road tunnels. Highlights include venturing through the dramatic landscape of Tangarakau Gorge and stopping by Whangamomona, an independent republic in the heart of New Zealand. Get your passport stamped at the hotel, as well as visit the other attractions in the 15 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.
Location: State Highway 43 between Stratford and Taumarunui, North Island.
5. Waioeka Gorge
Definitely the least-visited and most underrated drive on this list for international visitors, the Waioeka Gorge is a stunning feature on the road between Opotiki and Gisborne on the North Island. Not only does the dramatic river gorge scenery take many-a-travellers’ breath away, but there are plenty of reasons to stop in your tracks with safe roadside rest stops, each with information panels to tell you more about the area. You’ll also find amazing short walks among the verdant bush-clad hills and along the riverbanks lined with punga trees. Find out more about this drive in the Opotiki to Gisborne via The Waioeka Gorge: 8 Epic Stops!
Location: State Highway 2 between Opotiki and Gisborne, North Island.
6. Arthur’s Pass
Climbing up to around 900m (2,950ft) above sea level, Arthur’s Pass is one of New Zealand’s highest mountain passes and can be experienced via a scenic road or by train. The road passes through the heart of the Arthur’s Pass National Park on its way between Christchurch and Greymouth, boasting commanding mountain scenery, braided rivers, vibrant forests and more. There are some excellent walks along the way with variety suitable for all ages and fitness levels, which provide a good way to break up the drive. See waterfalls on the Devils Punchbowl Walking Track and the Arthur’s Pass Walkway or hike for half a day to the epic viewpoints of Temple Basin or the Otira Valley.
Location: State Highway 73 between Greymouth and Springfield, South Island.
7. Twin Coast Discovery Highway
Definitely one of the most accessible scenic roads in New Zealand, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway incorporates, not one, but two highways in its circular journey around the Northland region. Starting and ending in Auckland, this scenic road trip ventures up the Kauri Coast through the breathtaking Waipoua kauri forest and along the tranquil waters of the Hokianga Harbour. Cross the harbour via a short ferry ride and your journey continues as you discover beautiful stretches of sand around Cable Bay on your way down to the iconic Bay of Islands, the Tutukaka Coast and much more. Browse our Northland destination guides to get more of a feel for this coastal paradise.
Location: State Highway 12 and 1 between Auckland and Kaikohe, North Island.
8. The Desert Road
You don’t even need to leave New Zealand’s main highway to enjoy this scenic journey, which passes under the impressive Central North Island volcanoes. The Desert Road is part of State Highway 1 and features commanding vistas of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro as it winds alongside the desert-like landscape on the edge of the Tongariro National Park. On the other side of the highway is the Kaimanawa Ranges along with a wealth of walking and mountain biking trails, free campsites in the forest and more.
Location: State Highway 1 between Rangipo and Waiouru, North Island.
9. Surf Highway 45
More volcano views can be experienced on Surf Highway 45 – a coastal highway in the Taranaki region. It’s not all about the surfing though, as the highway gives you access to quaint towns like Manaia – the “Bread Capital”, where the whole town literally smells like bread, and the cool surf town of Opunake. You’ll also have the opportunity to get a stunning photo of the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, as well as constant views of the cone-shaped Mt Taranaki. Check out more stops in the 18 Places to Stop at on Taranaki’s Surf Highway 45.
Location: State Highway 45 between New Plymouth and Hawera, North Island.
10. Great Coast Road
Another coastal road on the west coast that you’re going to want to experience is the Great Coast Road! This time on the South Island, the Great Coast Road winds on the edge of rugged cliffs and between wave-soaked beaches and rainforests. Cruise alongside the limestone cliffs of the Paparoa National Park and check out icons like the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, amazing hikes in the national park and even underground rafting in Charleston. Find out more on what to do in the area in the 9 Awesome Things to Do in Punakaiki.
Location: State Highway 6 between Westport and Greymouth, South Island.