Five New Zealand road trips to take this summer.

19 January 2022

From scenic highways that carve through mountain ranges to winding coastal drives, New Zealand is a country best explored by road. Here are five road trip routes that are more about the journey than the destination (although the destinations are pretty great, too).


Five New Zealand road trips to take this summer.

19 January 2022

From scenic highways that carve through mountain ranges to winding coastal drives, New Zealand is a country best explored by road. Here are five road trip routes that are more about the journey than the destination (although the destinations are pretty great, too).

EQA from Mercedes-EQ pictured outside Wellington

With a large network of ChargeNet charging stations, New Zealand is a country ripe for road tripping in an electric vehicle such as the EQA from Mercedes-EQ. Image: Ryan Domenico.

From the wild maelstrom of oceans meeting in the north, to the breathtaking majesty of the southern fiords, New Zealand is a country ripe for road tripping. Between the scenic highways and winding coastal roads, there’s no shortage of tarmac to cover and, for those in an electric vehicle, a large network of ChargeNet charging stations to get you from A to B and all the detours in between.

Whether you’re taking on the North Island or the South Island, summer is the best time to hit the wide-open road, so check out these five New Zealand road trips and a couple of must-do detours along the way.

1. Pacific Coast Highway – Ōpōtiki to Gisborne

Tolaga Bay wharf in New Zealand

At 660 metres, Tolaga Bay wharf is one of the longest in New Zealand. Image: iStock.

This scenic East Cape drive traverses one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions, an area steeped in Māori culture. Charge up on Bridge Street in Ōpōtiki and head out on the winding Pacific Coast Highway.

Drive through the seaside resort town of Te Kaha, once a major whaling village, and pull in for a quick swim at the picturesque Whanarua Bay. At Whangaparāoa – Cape Runaway, the highway heads inland south to Te Araroa, home to what’s said to be the oldest pōhutukawa tree in New Zealand, an estimated 600 years old. (There’s also a charging station here.)

Make sure to factor in a pit stop at Tokomaru Bay's Café 35 for a locally famous ‘pāua pie’. Stretch your legs at Tolaga Bay, which boasts one of the longest wharfs in New Zealand, before motoring on to Gisborne, where you can toast the day’s end with a glass of the region’s delicious chardonnay.

2. Queenstown to Christchurch via Wanaka

Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

The quaint Church of the Good Shepherd offers a stunning view of the turquoise Lake Tekapo. Image: iStock.

At around 500km, this route traversing the spine of the South Island is one you’ll want to savour at a leisurely pace. You can charge up at two stations in Queenstown or one in Wanaka. Keep your camera close to hand – photo opportunities are thick on the ground, from the movie-set architecture of Arrowtown to the dramatic views along the steep twists and turns of the Crown Range Road or the spectacular Lindis Pass. You’ll need to make a short detour to witness the majestic Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3724m.

Back on Highway 8, the road passes the beautiful turquoise-hued Lake Tekapo. Stop at the quaint stone Church of the Good Shepherd, beloved for its windows that frame a stunning view of the lake. After Geraldine, continue north, cross the Rakaia Gorge bridge, built in 1882. From here, it’s an easy motor into the centre of Christchurch.

3. Classic Wine Trail: Napier (Hawke’s Bay) to Blenheim via Martinborough and Wellington

Craggy Range Winery in Hawkes Bay New Zealand

The Hawkes Bay region is home to dozens of wineries and vineyards, such as Craggy Range. Image: Matt Crawford / Tourism NZ.

The perfect road trip for wine aficionados, this route covers around 400km and offers the opportunity to explore dozens of wineries. Designate a driver, charge the car at Napier and explore Hawke's Bay, the nation's first winemaking region.

State Highway 2 travels through gently rolling countryside and verdant farmlands, traversing the Manawatu Gorge and Masterton (where there is a charging station) to the charming town of Martinborough, home to more than 20 wineries – most within walking or cycling distance of the town centre. Boasting a climate and soil profile not unlike the French region of Burgundy, Martinborough produces acclaimed pinot noir as well as sauvignon blanc.

From here, the road crosses the Remutaka Range into Wellington, a small but vibrant city with a dining scene that punches well above its weight. A three-hour ferry ride through the Marlborough Sound and across the Cook Strait – said to be one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world – will deposit you in the South Island.

The short drive from Picton to Blenheim traverses the Wairau Plains, past vineyards and wineries. The region’s best-known drop, sauvignon blanc, is a perfect partner to another must-try local speciality, greenshell mussels.

4. Auckland to Cape Reinga via the Bay of Islands

Cape Reinga, New Zealand

The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide at Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s most northerly point. Image: iStock.

It’s around 400km from New Zealand’s biggest city to its furthest accessible northern point. A three-hour drive north on State Highway 1, Paihia is the gateway to the Bay of Islands, comprising more than 140 islands. Charge up and leave the car at Paihia and take the passenger ferry to wander the genteel town of Russell, New Zealand’s original capital, or book a sailing, diving or fishing charter. Next, head to Waitangi, just out of town – it’s one of New Zealand’s most significant historic sites, being where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 and its museum and treaty grounds make a fascinating stop.

From here, connect with Highway 10 for a drive of little more than 2.5 hours to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide in a spectacular angry swirl of currents. It’s a place of high spiritual significance for the Māori, who believe that after death their spirits leap from a sacred pōhutukawa tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.

5. Southern Scenic Route: Dunedin to Queenstown via Bluff

Purakaunui Falls

The Purakaunui Falls, in the Catlins region, are reportedly New Zealand’s most photographed waterfall, cascading 20m over three tiers. Image: iStock.

This rewarding route offers the opportunity to spot a raft of incredible wildlife, including seals, penguins and – on the Otago Peninsula, before you leave Dunedin – the magnificent royal albatross.

At Balclutha, leave Highway 1 and head to photogenic Nugget Point Lighthouse, which overlooks the steep headland and rocky outcrops known as ‘The Nuggets’, due to their similarity in shape to gold nuggets. Keep an eye out for fur seals and, from December to February, elephant or leopard seals. From there, a 40-minute drive will take you to what are reportedly New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls, Purakaunui Falls, which cascade 20m over three tiers.

Drive further along the Southern Scenic Route and soak up more of the Catlins region, which encompasses long swathes of golden sandy beaches, rugged rock formations and thickets of forests and caves.

Before you hit Invercargill, detour to Bluff, New Zealand’s most southerly point and home to the celebrated Bluff oysters. If you have time (and the water isn’t too choppy), take the one-hour ferry to Stewart Island across the Foveaux Strait, where you might have the good fortune to spot a notoriously shy kiwi.

Check out the artist studios and second-hand shops in Riverton, the quaint seaside village fondly known as the ‘Riviera of the South’, before heading north to Te Anau, a picturesque spot from which to charge up and explore the majestic Fiordland National Park. From here, it’s a scenic two-hour drive to Queenstown, although keen hikers may want to allocate a few extra hours to take on the trails at Jacks Point and Wye Creek.

Experience the future of electro mobility with Mercedes-EQ.

By Natascha Mirosch