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5 little-known (but remarkable) scenic drives in New Zealand

Looking for an unforgettable road trip? Take the road less traveled on these remarkable New Zealand scenic drives.

Whangarei Falls, New Zealand

The most popular touring routes are well documented and well used, but it's the little-known roads with a ‘locals only’ feel that are really something special.

Here's our pick for the best remote drives, guaranteed to top any traveler's bucket list.

The East Cape, North Island.

A lonely stretch of rugged coastline, this windswept road is known for its striking beauty, Maori culture and lack of modern amenities. New Zealand as it was 30 years ago, you’ll soon find yourself traveling on laid-back ‘cape time’ when you explore this area.

The route tracks the easternmost point of the North Island and is resplendent in craggy cliffs, pohutukawa trees, white sandy beaches, native forests and endless ocean. Highlights include pristine Opotiki Bay, Te Kaha - a remote 19th century whaling settlement and Opape, a site of historical interest where early Maori settlers landed in their canoes.

Drive time: at least three days. Distance: 320 Km/198 miles.
Hint: add this drive to a popular itinerary like The Essential North Island

Whangarei to Russell via Helena Bay.

Skirting the edges of the Russell Forest, you’ll travel through a Jurassic like canopy of native bush and sub-tropical rain forest. Pass secluded Northland bays and quaint rural towns and stop in Whangaruru Harbour to catch a glimpse of dolphins and orcas often seen close to shore.

If you're traveling at night you’ll hear the call of the little brown kiwi, while the song of other New Zealand native birds fills the air by day. Be sure take your time on this one as there are many walks and scenic points of interest along the way.

Drive time: 1hour 50minutes. Distance: 320 Km/198 miles.
Hint: add this drive to one of our luxury North Island itineraries like Luxury North Island Explorer

The Forgotten World highway.

The Forgotten World Highway follows 19th century bridal paths, and goes from Taumarunui to Stratford. The oldest touring route in New Zealand, this road is a natural roller coaster - crossing four mountain saddles, an eerie one-lane tunnel and a twisted river gorge.

Some of the road remains unsealed and the only town of note is Whangamomona, which formed its own republic in 1989. You’ll see dense rain forest, native podocarp, deserted farmland, crinkly, misty hills and the North Island’s highest waterfall.

Drive time: 1-3 days. Distance: 150km/93 miles.
Hint: Add this spectacular leg to one of our classic tours like this one Classic Wellington to Auckland touring route

Lake Forsythe, New Zealand

Christchurch to Akaroa via Lake Forsyth.

A relatively short (but no less spectacular) trip, this drive ends at the french settlement of Akaroa nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano.

You’ll traverse grassy plains and windy bush-clad hills as well as passing both Lake Forsyth and Lake Ellesmere. Charming rural flatland's make up much of the initial scenery until you begin the twisting climb over the Banks Peninsula hills. Stopping at the summit for a photo is a must - for the view to Akaroa Harbour below is sensational.

Drive time: 3 hours return. Distance: 160km/99 miles.
Hint: See this drive when you add it to one of these popular south island tours The Natural South Island

Queenstown to Glenorchy.

Another shorter drive - this time through Lord of the Rings territory. Thought to be one of the most scenic in the country, this stretch of road follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu.

You’ll see snow-capped mountains, alpine scrub, the Pig and Pigeon Islands and many recognizable locations from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.We recommend stopping at Bob's Cove for a scenic lakeside stroll or taking the short Lake Dispute walk through private farmland and stunning natural bush.

Drive time: 30 minutes. Distance: 44km/ 27 miles.
Hint: Add this leg to this customisable South Island itinerary The Essential South Island (9 day)