The Best New Zealand Scenery

The Crown Range Road connects Wanaka to the Arrowtown Junction on the South Island of New Zealand.

The Crown Range Road connects Wanaka to the Arrowtown Junction on the South Island of NZ.

by Elizabeth Hansen,

Are you headed to New Zealand for some Southern Hemisphere summer? If so, be prepared to witness jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery and make more than a few wonderful memories. I’ve written four guidebooks to “Godzone” (God’s own paradise) and spoken to many audiences about my home away from home. The question that always stumps me is “Where is the best New Zealand Scenery?”

The truth is that there are no unattractive areas. I love driving up to the very tip of the North Island and standing on Cape Reinga – the point from which the Maoris believe souls depart.

South of here, the Bay of Islands is comprised of several small communities and lots of islands and inlets. I like Kerikeri because it is less touristy than Pahia and more conveniently located than Russell.

The rolling green hills of Northland appear to be a slice of heaven.

The rolling green hills of Northland appear to be a slice of heaven.

In terms of scenery, the only mistake a visitor can make in New Zealand is to forego renting a car. I promise you, your view will be so much better if you drive yourself and stop when you feel the need to gaze longer at the water, or the wild flowers, or the sheep.

Yes. New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, but that isn’t a deal breaker. The highways are mostly two-lane and only rarely will you run into traffic.

I remember – on about my tenth trip to New Zealand – speaking with a confident young couple from Los Angeles. She (of the designer sportswear) was assuring me that they were real travelers, not tourists. “Why we didn’t even take the freeway to get to Queenstown from Christchurch,” she boasted, “we just took a narrow highway.”

I struggled to keep a straight face.

Traffic jam, New Zealand style.

Traffic jam, New Zealand style.

In the South Island, Fiordland is gorgeous and DOC (the Department of Conservation) has done a great job of sign posting short hikes that start right from the road. This means you can leave your car (locked and with valuables out of sight) and walk for 20 minutes or two hours or longer.

I also love the drive from Dunedin to the end of the Otago Peninsula, and when I get there, I always treat myself to tea at Larnach Castle.

The “knicker fence” near Wanaka was a popular attraction until the local council declared it a traffic hazard.

The “knicker fence” near Wanaka was a popular attraction until the local council declared it a traffic hazard.

While I find Queenstown way too touristy and full of thrill seekers, I enjoy driving out of town along Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy. Not far from there, the Crown Range Road (formerly highway 89) winds steeply from Wanaka to Arrowtown, providing some of the best views in the country.

Wanaka is a beautiful little community named for the lake it overlooks, and beyond Wanaka, the Haast Pass takes travelers to the West Coast, which offers a whole host of scenic wonders – include Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

The truth is that the “best New Zealand scenery” is everywhere you look.

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