Voyager 2021 media awards

Vanishing point: Following the road less travelled

Sarah Pollok

Multimedia Journalist - Travel

A summer road trip is a Kiwi rite of passage, but where can you go to get off the beaten track and discover the roads less travelled? Sarah Pollok finds out.


Anyone who has driven up North will be more than familiar with the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Running 800km return from Auckland to Cape Reinga, the road is iconic however fewer people may know about one of its smaller sections aptly called the Secret Coast Route. The coastal drive links Helena Bay to Russell with 60km of hidden beaches, remote walks and charming local eateries.


Not so secret but still delightful is the winding journey from Auckland central to Kawakawa Bay. Take the one-hour scenic route through Whitford and Clevedon that features expansive farmland, dappled glades and blooming wildflowers before hugging the narrow coast to Kawaka Bay. Stop at the beach for ice cream and a swim or continue on to see the lookout point at the end of the peninsula.

The Coromandel

Rugged coastline, white sand beaches, dense native forest; whatever road trip views you're in the mood for, Coromandel has got it. However, some roads, like the 309, are less travelled than others. Starting at The Mussel Kitchen, south of Coromandel Town, the road cuts through the heart of Coro. Passing by Waterworks, Gamers Falls, and Egans Park Reserve, there are countless spots to enjoy a picnic and a swim before rejoining SH25 south of Whitianga.

Bay of Plenty

Make some memorable detours while cruising down the Pacific highway. Turn off the highway at Waihi to check out the beach before driving along the little peninsula to the secluded Anzac Bay. Pass by Mount Maunganui's popular Pāpāmoa Beach in favour of Newdicks in Maketū, a hidden coastal gem accessible only by a privately-owned gravel road. Further along, you'll find the laid back town of Pukehina, whose beach runs as long as the eye can see.

Cruise along Onga Onga road as part of Hawke's Bay's SH50 (AKA 'The Road Less Travelled'). Photo / Supplied
Cruise along Onga Onga road as part of Hawke's Bay's SH50 (AKA 'The Road Less Travelled'). Photo / Supplied

Hawke's Bay

You don't have to search far to get off the beaten track in Hawke's Bay, just look for SH50, which is literally called "The Road Less Travelled". Instead of cutting straight through Central Hawke's Bay like SH2, this route is made for savouring; winding through the Ruahine Ranges and showing off the Bay's countryside. So, slow down and make a day of it, enjoying the area's famous food and drink as you go.

Take in the views as you cruise along Manawatu Scenic Route. Photo / ManawatuNZ
Take in the views as you cruise along Manawatu Scenic Route. Photo / ManawatuNZ

Palmerston North - Wanganui

Heading North from Palmerston North? Skip State Highway 1 for a far more scenic adventure along the Manawatū Scenic Route. From secret swimming holes and horse treks to heritage collections and ancient forests, this backcountry journey can be done in one day, but you'll want to make it two.


For a roadie with a side of adrenaline, look no further than Ruapehu's Adventure Highway. Running from Eight Mile Junction down to Taumarunui along State Highway 4 and towards Waiouru along State Highway 49, the highway passes legendary landscapes like Tongariro National Park and Whanganui National Park. Dotted with alpaca treks and mountain biking, bush safaris and rail cart adventures, the journey really is the destination.


Wairarapa may be famous for its wine but any local knows there's much more to this region when you venture past the vineyard tours. Begin the journey at Cape Palliser's iconic striped lighthouse for some epic views before heading north to Putangirua Pinnacles; the site of great hiking trails and a Lord of the Rings filming location. End the day at Lake Ferry beach where you can enjoy a spot of fishing, or just grab some of their famous fish and chips.

Driving by Kaikoura? Plan a stop at Nins Bin; a Crayfish and Lobster roadside cafe. Photo / Supplied
Driving by Kaikoura? Plan a stop at Nins Bin; a Crayfish and Lobster roadside cafe. Photo / Supplied


For 450km of spectacular sights, pack your car and head to New Zealand's newest touring route, the Alpine Pacific. Travelling north from Christchurch, the loop journeys through North Canterbury surf beaches and Waipara vineyards before making a worthwhile detour to the spas of Hanmer Springs and hitting Kaikōura before trundling back down to Christchurch via art trails and secluded fishing villages.


Slotted between Golden Bay and the West Coast, south of Farewell Spit is where you'll find the Whanganui Inlet; a 13km stretch abundant in marine wildlife. Bordered by the coastal forest of Kahurangi National Park, the inlet is made up of 536ha of tidal sandflats, making it the perfect place to escape fellow road-trippers and immerse yourself in nature.

West Coast

For a route packed with places most Kiwis won't have visited, make the 295km drive from Hokitika to Haast and Jackson Bay. Travelling south on SH6, the coastal road south passes through the Unesco World Heritage Area of Te Wahipounamu, an area famous for its dramatic fiords, sapphire lakes and menagerie of native flora and fauna. While many may stop at Haast, make sure you travel 3km further along the meandering coastal road to Jackson Bay; a fishing village with some of the best kaimoana at The Craypot.


Take a backseat in a 4WD and see Queenstown in a whole new light with a scenic road trip through Skippers Canyon. Bouncing along a mix of heritage gold mining routes, suspended bridges and dry riverbeds, your guide will tell stories that reveal the area's history, and how it came to be the city it is today.


Putting the "new" in "New Zealand roadtrip", the Central Otago Touring Route officially launched last November and showcases the best of Otago, Queenstown and Dunedin. Whether you're a car full of foodies, hikers, heritage enthusiasts or cyclists, there are dozens of activities to plan along the way. At 341km, drive a small section for the day or plan a full 3-5 day sojourn.


Rewards await anyone who remembers to visit the Forgotten Coastal Highway this summer. This stunning two-hour route between the Taieri Mouth and Kaitangata takes you along deserted white-sand beaches and calm river estuaries, before ending at the mighty Clutha River. Be sure to stop by quaint coastal communities like Bull Creek, Toko Mouth and Wangaloa.


The region of Mackenzie may be small but its hydro-electricity network is mighty, supplying 20 per cent of Aotearoa's electricity. For those who love a little history, the Hydro Heritage Trail is a must-drive route that tours 18 key sites that reveal the Mackenzie's engineering triumphs, including power stations, dams, mammoth machinery, spillways and more.


For an "off the beaten track" route that is quite literally off the road, grab a 4WD and head out from Te Anau to Walter Peak. Two hours after departing the city, you'll hit Mavora; a destination blessed with gigantic valleys, pristine lakes and dozens of walking and biking tracks. Spend a night at the DoC campsite or hut before continuing a further 60km past historic farm stations, massive mountains and other quintessential Southland sights to Walter Peak.


Planning a trip along the Southern Scenic Route? Escape fellow travellers for an unforgettable detour along the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail. Running between Dunedin and Te Anau, this trail covers a cornucopia of South Island sights including a fossilised forest, ancient cemeteries, historic churches and bays of dolphins and sea lions.

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