It's never just about the destination on these classic Kiwi road trips, writes Bridget Jones
We are, by nature, a nation of wanderers. Weekends are spent exploring our coasts, in winter we make a mission to the nearest ski field and summer is crammed full of camping trips to places just far away enough . . . reality becomes a distant memory.
The Kiwi road trip is a national institution and a rite of passage - no matter your age. But what are the most iconic of all the driving routes around New Zealand? That list is almost as long as our state highway network, but we've whittled it down to nine suggestions.
Whether you want to travel for a week or just a day, these road trips can be chopped and changed to suit your timetable. The important thing? Packing up the car, getting on the road and seeing the best of New Zealand along the way.
The Milford Road
Climbing through the Southern Alps, SH94, or the Milford Road, is one of the highest and most scenic state highways in New Zealand and the only road access to Piopiotahi/Milford Sound. This is more of an adventure than a drive, according to those in the know.
Setting out from Te Anau, the first thing to note is you need to be prepared. There are no shops or fuel stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound, so a full tank and some snacks are a must.
Once you're on the road, it's just a short drive to Lake Mistletoe. A 45-minute return walk, suitable for all ages, this track leads you through forest to the peaceful lakefront; a perfect spot for a family picnic if you're peckish early on. If it's too early for a snack, continue on for just a few minutes to Te Anau Downs and the views of Murchison Mountains and a historically significant site that tells the story and the history of pioneer farmers in Fiordland.
Driving further along SH94, you'll soon come across one of the highlights of the region. The Mirror Lakes are world-famous for the way they reflect their surrounding scenery - a fairly descriptive name, then. On a clear, calm day, you can see the reflections of the Earl Mountain Ranges. The lakes are indeed a fabulous photo opportunity but the area is also home to many animals, including some of New Zealand's rarest birds - so keep your eyes peeled.
The next, crucial, stop in the Eglinton Valley is Knobs Flat, which is where workers building the road to Milford Sound camped up until the 1980s. These days, it's the last flush toilet before you reach Milford, so that's worth pulling over for.
With no creature comforts ahead of you, the rest of the journey is all about the sights and sounds. The Divide, about 20km on from Knobs Flat, is the lowest east-west pass in the Southern Alps, and marks the start of the Routeburn, Caples and Greenstone Tracks. For drivers, it's a sign to take extra care, as the road becomes windy and narrow in places from here.
One of the most impressive sights of the journey along the Milford Road is the Homer Tunnel. Until the construction of this 1.3km tunnel through the mountainside, Milford Sound was only accessible to tourists who arrived by boat or walked there by the Milford Track. Carved through granite rock, construction began on the tunnel in 1935 and was not finished until 1953r. You can expect some traffic delays here during the summer months.
And just before you reach the exquisite beauty of your final destination, make a short stop and stretch your legs with a 20-minute walk to The Chasm and the dramatic views of a series of powerful waterfalls. It makes you appreciate how much rain really falls in this part of the country and just what natural beauty you will experience in Milford Sound itself.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com