Tight corners and spectacularscenery deliver thrilling drivesless than an hour from Aotea Square
There's a familiar argument that there's nowhere to enjoy a good car these days. Public roads are surely not appropriate or safe; even a mildly sporting car is an irrelevance unless you're going to attend track days.
If you want to drive at three-figure speeds or really throw a car around, I would have to agree. Consider our image of the BMW M6 at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell during a recent BMW drive event for the media: sideways courtesy of senior driving instructor Mike Eady. Track days are marvellous.
But here's the thing: I would argue that the increasing popularity of such events, ever-more-stringent law enforcement and an overbearing obsession with safety have created a motoring culture that says it's irresponsible and anti-social to enjoy a car on public roads.
That's a shame, because we have so many wonderful roads in New Zealand: stretches of blacktop that are engaging for absolutely any driver and car, at completely legal speeds. In fact, I would argue that even in congested central Auckland you can travel to any number of roads within an hour that will lead you to a dream drive.
So I set out to do just that: found four fantastic driving roads within an hour north, south, east and west of Auckland's central business district.
You don't have to worry about staring at the speedometer on any of these routes, because all entertain well within the legal limits. You don't have to be a rally navigator to find them either, because they're all main roads that end up in interesting places.
Nor do you need an exotic car. Although I must confess that to prove the point about enjoying yourself within legal limits, I did borrow a $265,100, 412kW BMW M6 to research this story: the very same one you see at Highlands here. It didn't exceed 100km/h at any time in my hands, yet the soundtrack and sensations through the steering wheel and chassis were still sensational.
To prove another point about just how close we are to driving pleasure in Auckland, I visited all of these roads in a single day. Easily. You won't necessarily want to do that yourself ... unless you're lucky enough to own something like an M6.
West Coast Rd/Woodcocks Rd, between SH16 and SH1. Distance from CBD: 64km.
A guilty pleasure and beloved of bikers, Woodcocks Rd is easily the most interesting way to get to Matakana for an afternoon movie. Forget about the motorway and head on to SH16, then take Woodcocks up and over into Warkworth on SH1.
It's a road full of changes in camber, tight curves and unexpected elevation. Arguably one of the best driving roads in the country.
Tuakau Bridge-Port Waikato Rd, off SH22. Distance from CBD: 52km.
The Tuakau Bridge, star of so many television commercials, is also the gateway to a gorgeous road that runs you along the Waikato River, past Puehunui and Motukakaho Islands and into Port Waikato itself.
Once you get there, the best option to get home again is back the way you came. In this instance, that's no bad thing.
Ararimu Rd, Ramarama SH1 off-ramp. Distance from CBD: 41km.
A gentle cruise down the Southern Motorway, then off at Ramarama and make a left. You're heading straight for the Hunua Ranges and into some genuinely challenging corners and spectacular scenery.
The great thing about this area is that there are so many options. Ararimu ends at an intersection with Paparimu Rd. Turn left and the awesome roads continue as you skirt the ranges towards Clevedon. Go right and you're heading back down towards SH2, Kaiaua and Miranda.
Old North Rd towards Helensville, off Riverhead Rd. Distance from CBD: 24km.
An oldie but still a goodie. Busy at the best of times, but you do not need a clear run to appreciate Old North, which winds its way through Riverhead Forest, gives a sideways glance to wine country and can take you up towards Helensville.
Go all the way and you can enjoy a straight run back down SH16 to Auckland. Although you'll be hard pressed to make it without being tempted by the victuals of the West.