Buckle up and enjoy the drive.

On this journey you've got a guide who knows every twist and turn in the road.

Author Bruce Ansley cherishes pointing his car along New Zealand's highways and roads of national singularity. He writes that he has covered every kilometre of Wild Roads, his account of 60 famous roads, hairy roads, lesser roads and hidden roads that engineers and work gangs hacked through the landscape.

He feels we cannot escape our roads: "They are in our capillaries, our nervous system, our blood and belonging."

Milford Road (State Highway 94) in cloudy and wet weather. Photo / Rob Suisted/Natures Pic
Milford Road (State Highway 94) in cloudy and wet weather. Photo / Rob Suisted/Natures Pic

The roads in this richly illustrated guide are wild in the sense that they thread through untamed, defiant country, often with gravel beneath the car wheels.

One route is not, strictly speaking, a road but still carries thousands of vehicles every year. This is the Cook Strait crossing, the Iron Bridge, with ramps at each end and a parking lot for the trip.

For the only urban road to make the cut - Auckland's Karangahape "K" Rd - Ansley suggests walking rather than driving. But for the rest of the ride, the author offers acute observations of passing views through his windscreen and locates his roads in a cultural setting.

On this journey, your companion is the country's history. Winding Queen Charlotte Drive in the Marlborough Sounds snakes past Cullensville, once a thriving gold town with three pubs and two billiard saloons.

Today, nothing is left but a few pieces of machinery and "shafts leading into the hills from dark holes".

Further south, Ansley approaches Arawata River, where poet Denis Glover wrote about Arawata Bill, who fossicked for gold and rubies. "He found neither," Ansley remarks, "never married and, when confined to an old people's home in Dunedin, tried to escape back to his river."

Photo / Shutterstock
Photo / Shutterstock

The book is a reminder that our wild roads are often lonely places. On the 155km stretch from Stratford to Ongarue, Ansley spots black goats, ridges "sculptured in a dinosaur back" and "chiselled" valleys. But he barely sees a soul. He counts three cars, four utes and a quad bike pulling a trailer full of dogs.

"I'll remember the forgotten highway for a long time," he says.

Ansley is a wayfarer for all-weather roads.

Wild Roads: A New Zealand Journey by Bruce Ansley RRP: $50 (Random House)