Hokitika to Christchurch via State Highway 73
Kim Knight, NZ Herald senior writer
The cloud is sidling down the valleys like a creep and you can hear the plane but you can't see it. Any minute now, the woman behind the counter at Hokitika airport is going to advise it won't land. Your flight back across to Christchurch is now a bus trip. Grab a window seat. Those spiny-backed mountains turn Jurassic in the rain.
Gorse is a weed, but its chartreuse-yellow flowers are made for this strange, wet light. The roadside glows like a safety jacket and then you think you might need one: Death's Corner. Devil's Punchbowl Falls. Ōtira Gorge is low-geared and ear-popping. Calm your nerves with a pie and a cup of tea at Arthur's Pass (once, the kea viciously tore strips off our car's rubber window seals - true story).
And suddenly, the rivers are flowing in the other direction. You're "over the hill", that laconically local way of saying, sure you weren't scared on the Viaduct, that 35m high feat of engineering and gumption they built despite the known hazards: rockfalls, earthquakes, riverbed scour and flooding.
Anyway, it's stopped raining now, because SH73 is a lesson in geography and meteorology. The Southern Alps keep it hot and dry on one side - and wet and steamy on the other. You drop across to Canterbury and everything is softer and sepia. Suede-smooth hills are tattooed with shadows from the puffy clouds. Watch your speed - you'll get a ticket before you know it on that straight near Castle Hill.
It occurred to me last week that I've travelled this road hundreds of times. With my parents, with boyfriends, workmates, truck drivers, bus drivers and my little sister. East to west. West to east. I never get sick of it but only one direction feels anything like home.
The Rangitīkei road
Simon Wilson, NZ Herald senior writer
North of Bulls, a little north of the abandoned cottage on the hill that looks for all the world like an Andrew Wyeth painting, the road swoops down into the Rangitīkei Valley and it's time to be thinking about a swim. There are no signposts telling you this, but you have choices, all of them with soaring limestone cliffs and crystal-clear water.
The Vinegar Hill campground near Hunterville is lovely and so are the spots near Mangaweka, but my favourite is halfway between the two, on the Ōhingaiti turnoff. The road runs straight and flat towards the edge of the ravine: it's like you're driving through an infinity paddock, wondering if you're going to be launched into midair, high over the river.
But then the road suddenly drops and winds down the side of the cliff and there you are, farm gate on the left, the track ending in some kind of scrubby gravel dump. At the bend in the river you can swim across to the cliffs, climb up the footholds that have been there for generations, and jump. And repeat until the sun goes down, or you feel like an icecream. Middle-of-nowhere magic.
If river swimming's not your thing, try Simpsons Reserve, aka the A.C. Simpson Domain, marked by a set of ornamental gates on the Murimotu Rd just north of Hunterville. A bequest by an early farming family, the reserve is a glorious large stand of mature bush, thick with birds, with a grassed clearing nestled at its heart. Even more the middle of nowhere, even more magical. You can almost see the bullock carts drawn up in a circle, long ago, for the annual farm picnic. You may even hear the local fairies, the patupaiarehe, singing in the trees. There's a DoC campsite in that bush too, very basic, just as you'd want it to be.
Havelock North to Napier
Jo Wane, Canvas senior writer
There's a quicker inland motorway link now but whenever I'm back home in Hawke's Bay, I still get a kick out of taking the back road to the coast. Something about the Norfolk pines lining Napier's Marine Parade along that final stretch of ocean has a touch of Hollywood about it, with the famous bronze statue of a naked woman raising her arms in ecstasy to the sky.
It's only about 25km from Havelock North village to Napier's port suburb of Ahururi, with its bars and restaurants, second-hand shops and one of the safest swimming beaches on this treacherous coastline. But if you're not in a rush, there's plenty to do along the way.
Stock up on fresh produce from the string of orchard stalls on Napier Rd as you head out from Havelock North and check out The Figgery's new gluten-free cafe. On weekdays, there's potential to score a bargain at lighting designer David Trubridge showroom in Whakatū, then grab a coffee at Box Espresso, a container cafe on the way into Clive.
Cross the river, where Olympic gold medallists Emma Twigg and the Evers-Swindell twins learned to row, and the Pacific Ocean is upon you, with the white cliffs of Cape Kidnappers looming to the east. Hawke's Bay has 200km of bike paths, and it's an easy three-hour ride from Napier to the cape.
Sadly, you can't swim with the sharks and stingrays at the National Aquarium on Marine Parade anymore, but you can book a close encounter with a little penguin. A little further along the foreshore, David Trubridge's Millennial Arch sculpture is a marvel of both form and function. Celebrating "ecliptic", the annual path of the sun, it's placed to mark the exact spot where the sun rose on the first day of the new millennium.
Christchurch to Akaroa
Juliette Sivertsen, Travel writer
It's a familiar road for me, one I've driven many times. And still, whenever I head down to Christchurch, a journey along State Highway 75 to Akaroa always calls my name.
Although the little French town of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula is the final destination, the drive to get there is just as charming, journeying from the flat city to the rural land on the Canterbury Plains, past frequently dry Port Hills, then out to the burst of colour that hits you on the peninsula - lush green hilly paddocks and a deep-blue harbour.
The drive takes only around 90 minutes from the city to Akaroa but it's worth taking your time for a few well-known stops along the way.
Once you've left the city and are driving along the base of the Port Hills, grab a coffee at Gebbies Garden Cafe, at the bottom of Gebbies Pass Road. It's a cosy and small little cafe, but their homemade pies are legendary.
Another 15 to 20 minutes later, you'll reach the tiny town of Little River. Have a look at the historic Little River Rail Station which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and now has a museum showcasing the history of the area. The Little River Gallery houses works by New Zealand artists and you can buy original artworks and crafts.
A windy 25 minutes later, you'll want to stop at the Barry's Bay Cheese, a traditional cheesemaking facility celebrating 125 years this year. Try some samples, watch the cheesemaking and buy a few unique cheeses.
If you'd like more of a walk, stop at Ōnawe Peninsula, a former Maori pā site, which juts out into the harbour. Walk along the shoreline and up the hill for incredible views of the entire Akaroa Harbour. The final stretch of the road to Akaroa remains windy but scenic, through hills and along the coastline until you hit the little harbourside town marked with French street names and French flags proudly flying in front of shops and houses.
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