Get a list of official touring routes in New Zealand with a map displaying each scenic highway along with driving distances, directions, and driving times.
Apart from the fact that you can get in a car and drive to almost anywhere in New Zealand to find scenic spots, there are a couple of official scenic routes and highways that you could also follow to see nice scenery.
The terms nice scenery and scenic route pretty much depend on the preferences and judgment of the person who designated such places or routes as scenic.
Therefore, not all of these routes will have a big emotional impact on you from a photographer’s point of view.
Do not forget to take the time to stop to enjoy the scenery once in a while, because not all of it can be properly appreciated from within the comfort of a car.
Official scenic highways on the North Island
The official scenic routes on the North Island are:
- Twin Coast Discovery Highway
A big loop scenic drive running from Auckland up north and back to Auckland.
- Pacific Coast Highway
A scenic drive from Auckland to Napier via the northeastern coast of the North Island including Coromandel Peninsula, Tauranga, and Gisborne.
- Thermal Explorer Highway (incl. Waitomo)
A scenic drive from Auckland to Napier through the heart of the North Island including Rotorua and Taupo.
- Thermal Explorer Highway – Volcanic Loop
A loop scenic drive running from Taupo down to Tongariro National Park and back to Taupo.
- The Forgotten Highway 43
A scenic drive from Taumaranui to Stratford between Taupo and New Plymouth.
- The Surf Highway
A scenic drive from New Plymouth to Hawera running along the west coast of the North Island.
Official scenic highways on the South Island
The official scenic routes on the South Island are:
- Alpine Pacific Triangle
Scenic highways linking Christchurch, Hanmer Springs, and Kaikoura.
- Canterbury Pacific Highway
A scenic highway running from Kaikoura to Timaru.
- Great Alpine Highway
A scenic drive from Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass.
- Inland Scenic Route 72
A scenic route between Amberley and Winchester via Oxford, Mount Somers, and Geraldine.
- Southern Scenic Route
Scenic highways running from Dunedin to Te Anau via the Catlins and Invercargill.
From the scenic driving routes mentioned above, I would say that the Canterbury Pacific Highway is a good one to do, but then extend it and drive from Blenheim all the way down to Dunedin.
The best parts are between Blenheim and Kaikoura and between Timaru and Dunedin, because these parts are closest to the coast and will give you the opportunity to see the lovely Pacific Ocean, especially when driving in clockwise direction on the South Island.
You can also stop along the way to really enjoy the sound of breaking waves. Driving all the way down to Dunedin would also allow you to stop at Moeraki to see the Moeraki Boulders.
While I’m not a big fan of Dunedin, the city has nice beaches north and south of it.
Inland Scenic Route 72 may not have a big emotional impact on you, but I like it a lot for the emptiness of the roads. It is a really relaxing drive to do and a lot of the roads are nice and straight.
It also crosses two rivers, the Raikaia River and the Waimakariri River, so those would be two places to briefly stop at.
Driving distances for scenic highways in New Zealand
The scenic highways and routes as well as the driving directions, driving distances, and driving times for those routes shown on the map at the bottom of this page are automatically calculated by Google Maps and may not always be accurate but should give you a good idea of how long each route is or would take to drive.
The driving distances listed below are according to what Google Maps has calculated them to be.
Note that these calculations may differ from time to time and/or from future calculations.
Distances for North Island scenic highways:
- Twin Coast Discovery Highway: 772 km (480 mi)
- Pacific Coast Highway: 1072 km (666 mi)
- Thermal Explorer Highway (incl. Waitomo): 618 km (384 mi)
- Thermal Explorer Highway – Volcanic Loop: 282 km (175 mi)
- The Forgotten Highway 43: 149 km (93 mi)
- The Surf Highway: 105 km (65 mi)
Note: For the Thermal Explorer Highway, the branch from Hamilton to Waitomo and back is about 164 km (102 mi) long and is estimated to take about 2 hours and 20 minutes (return) to drive.
Alternatively, you could take a shorter route to get back onto the Thermal Explorer Highway when you are driving back from Waitomo to Hamilton.
Distances for South Island scenic highways:
- Alpine Pacific Triangle: 447 km (278 mi)
- Canterbury Pacific Highway: 349 km (217 mi)
- Great Alpine Highway: 244 km (152 mi)
- Inland Scenic Route 72: 217 km (135 mi)
- Southern Scenic Route: 485 km (301 mi)
Maps with scenic driving routes and highways in New Zealand
Click on a scenic route or highway to open a map in Google Maps.
North Island scenic highways
|Twin Coast Discovery Highway||789 km / 490 mi||11:59 hrs|
|Pacific Coast Highway||1065 km / 662 mi||15:58 hrs|
|Thermal Explorer Highway||615 km / 382 mi||08:08 hrs|
|Thermal Explorer Highway – Volcanic Loop||281 km / 175 mi||03:35 hrs|
|The Forgotten Highway 43||149 km / 93 mi||02:11 hrs|
|The Surf Highway||105 km / 65 mi||01:25 hrs|
South Island scenic highways
|Alpine Pacific Triangle||445 km / 277 mi||06:25 hrs|
|Canterbury Pacific Highway||347 km / 216 mi||05:00 hrs|
|Great Alpine Highway||245 km / 152 mi||03:24 hrs|
|Inland Scenic Route 72||216 km / 134 mi||02:47 hrs|
|Southern Scenic Route||486 km / 302 mi||06:26 hrs|
This article falls under Scenic Drives.
Note: Roads can be changed or closed. The information presented here was accurate when it was gathered.