Take the road less travelled and explore these detours to get off the beaten track around New Zealand.
Detours in the North Island
Matauri Bay and Whangaroa Harbour, Northland
Heading further north from the Bay of Islands, detour 19km north of Kerikeri on State Highway 10 east on to Matauri Bay Road, continuing on a coastal loop of 41km to rejoin SH10 just north of Kaeo. Highlights include the spectacular arc of Matauri Bay, views of the Cavalli Islands, and beautiful Tauranga Bay. The final part of the journey travels around the Whangaroa Harbour. Stop for a drink and a meal at Whangaroa's historic Marlin Hotel.
Mangawhai to Waipū Cove, Northland
From Mangawhai Heads, the best way to continue north to Waipū Cove is via Langs Beach. After tackling the spectacular Mangawhai Cliff Walkway at the northern end of Mangawhai's ocean beach, drive up and over forested Cove Road to Langs Beach and meander around a coastal route that's usually enlivened by crimson pōhutukawa blooms in summer. From Waipū Beach it's a short 8km drive to Waipū village for good pizza and award-winning craft beer at McLeods Brewery.
Northern Coromandel Loop, Coromandel
Before continuing from Coromandel Town to Whitianga via Kūaotunu, add in a spectacular loop around the northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula. From Coromandel Town north to Colville and then down the peninsula's eastern side via Waikawau and Kennedy Bay is only 70km, but you'll need around two hours to negotiate a series of quiet beaches and unsealed roads. An optional there and back two-hour detour even further north to remote Fletcher Bay is also recommended.
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Waitomo to Awakino, King Country/Taranaki
From Ōtorohanga south to Awakino on SH3 takes around an hour, but a more interesting two-hour alternative route is via the Waitomo Caves, and then south past the Mangapōhue Natural Bridge and the spectacular 30m-high Marokopa Falls. Further south at Waikawau, an unsealed road leads to remote Waikawau Beach, now reached by a tunnel built in 1911 to make it safe for farmers to move stock along the rugged coastline. From Awakino, it's then 88km back on SH3 past isolated surf beaches south to New Plymouth.
Whanganui River Road, Manawatu/Whanganui
From Raetihi in Tongariro National Park south to Whanganui on SH4 is around 90km, but an alternative 104km route taking twice as long is the via the Whanganui River Road. One of New Zealand's most spectacular back-country drives takes in 19th-century history, Māori culture, and cliffs cascading into the slow-moving jade-green river. The riverside hamlet of Pipiriki is the departure point for jet-boat experiences, including transport to nearby Mangapurara Landing for the bush walk to the Bridge to Nowhere.
Detours in the South Island
Queen Charlotte Drive, Marlborough
Currently closed temporarily following winter storms and slips, this 35km road linking Picton along the Marlborough Sounds is another famous New Zealand journey. From Picton, the road ascends quickly and winds around the clifftops at Shakespeare Bay and Ngākuta Bay before descending to the coast at Momorangi Bay and crossing Linkwater to continue to Havelock. Head out on a cruise to see the region's green-shell mussel farms, or enjoy Havelock's bi-valve bounty in the restaurant at Mills Bay Mussels.
Gore Bay Tourist Drive, Hurunui
Heading north from Christchurch to Kaikōura on SH1, just after the Waipara wine region detour east at Domett to the coastal settlement of Gore Bay. At the southern end of the bay, look for signs showing the trailhead for the Cathedral Cliffs Walk, a steepish return trail to a valley of weather-eroded pinnacles. Follow the scenic coastal route for another 8km to rejoin SH1 at the junction town of Cheviot.
Dansey's Pass, Waitaki/Central Otago
Travelling south to Central Otago from the Waitaki Valley, an exciting alternative option is the winding and unsealed Dansey's Pass road. From Duntroon, the route heads southwest past the wind- and rain-eroded Elephant Rocks, and continues to the historic Dansey's Pass Hotel. It's only 48km, but takes at least an hour. From the hotel, it's then around 20 minutes downhill to the forest town of Naseby for curling and mountain-biking.
St Bathans, Central Otago
While exploring Central Otago, detour 19km north from SH85 to St Bathans. This former gold-mining town of 2000 people is now a collection of historic 19th-century buildings with a current population of fewer than 10. Stop for a drink and a meal or to stay overnight at the historic (and reputedly haunted) Vulcan Hotel, or take an hour-long return walk for the best views of St Bathans' Blue Lake, formed by the run-off from gold workings when the village was a boomtown.
The Catlins, Otago/Southland
Bypass the direct route on SH1 from Dunedin to Invercargill to follow the far more scenic and interesting road along the Catlins coast, taking in the spectacular lighthouse at Nugget Point, endangered Hector's dolphins and hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) at Curio Bay, and the end of the road, windswept isolation of Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island.