For Scenic Sunday I want to introduce some of New Zealand’s spectacular roadside stops. Sure, New Zealand is chock full of adventurous activities for the thrill seekers, but the country also offers soul refreshing scenery that you can enjoy just driving through. And it is free! It was incredibly difficult to narrow this list down as these two islands are overflowing with breathtaking backdrops. It took ALL my efforts to keep my eyes on the road and to resist from pulling the car over every 5 minutes – there was literally a photo op around every corner. But alas here are my favorites, enjoy!
1. Whangarei Falls
Starting in the north island, I found my all-time favorite picnic spot ever. The classic curtain waterfall you see here can be found in the seemingly ordinary neighborhood of Whangarei on the drive north from Auckland to Paihia. Whangarei Falls connects to the Hatea River and is 26 meters tall. Perfect Day = stop at a local farmers market for some fresh feijoa apple juice, ripe kiwi, and Manuka honey and park yourself at the picnic bench on the grassy knoll down at the falls. Life doesn’t get much sweeter.
2. Ongaroto Road
Located in the Waikato region, you will embrace epic views as you bend with lakes and rivers along road S.H. 30 from Rotorua to Waitomo. It is not mentioned in any travel books and you barely find information about this location online, but trust, its a fantastic find. You will see an old wooden staircase off to the side of the road. Climb to the top and you will be rewarded with a grand view of the river and adjoining lakes. Also make sure to stop at Lake Whakamaru and take in the perfectly pristine reflections and roadside flora.
3. Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom!)
The road to Tongaririo National Park in the north island delivers stunning views of Mt. Nguaruhoe, also known to LOTR fans as the infamous Mt. Doom. Mt. Ngauruhoe is around 2,500 years old and is the youngest of the three volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park. Mt Ngauruhoe has erupted 45 times in the 20th century alone, making it the most active of the three volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. If you decide to drive up into the park, you can also see the ski lodge and if you are really feeling up to it, climb up Mead’s Wall for some more epic views.
4. Mt Victoria
Perched high above Wellington in the southern most tip of the North Island, you will find the majestic Mt. Victoria. With sweeping 360 degree views of the city below and twisty trees, you get a snapshot of a day in the life of a Kiwi. Wellington has been reported to be one of the happiest and healthiest cities on the planet and it is easy to see why.
5. Abel Tasman Lookout
Let us jump down to the South Island. Driving to Harwood’s Hole (an incredibly deep sink hole near the town of Nelson) we find ourselves in the spectacular Tasman region. One of New Zealand’s 14 national parks, the Abel Tasman is the smallest. It is covered in native bush, interlaced with walking tracks and surrounded by clear blue seas and welcoming bays with golden sand. We found a small roadside stop with stunning views in all directions.
6. Hokitika Beach
Driving down to Queenstown, I stumbled upon the relaxed and friendly town of Hokitika. Now that I know this cool little artsy haven exists, I truly can’t wait to go back. The south island’s west coast can be characterized as having wild beauty, genuine experiences, and awesome sunsets. This quirky roadside stop did not disappoint. Maybe one day I will get to come back for the Driftwood and Sand Festival held here every year.
7. Punakaiki Village
Punakaiki is a beach side geological phenomenon on the west coast of New Zealand. Nature began this work of art about 30 million years ago. Over thousands of years, alternating layers of small marine creatures and sand became buried and compressed on the ocean floor, creating layers of sandstone and limestone. Earthquake activity then lifted the ocean floor high and dry, and those slow motion artists – the rain and the wind – began to erode the softer sandstone. Its difficult not to gaze in wonder at the pancake like rock formations and blowholes, where columns of water shoot skyward creating beautiful rainbows in the residual mist.
8. Sunshine Bay
Last but not least, we find ourselves at the side of the road in Queenstown looking out over the dazzling Lake Wakatipu. 15,000 years ago during the last ice age, a huge glacier moving from the north west carved out what is now Lake Wakatipu. The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters. Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water. And for my fellow Tolkien/Jackson fans out there, this magnificent lake was also the filming location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings.
Every time I hear that a friend or acquaintance will be traveling to New Zealand I get a little bit too enthusiastic. This passion comes with knowing that these wanderers will soon be discovering their own utopias. While New Zealand is up there with providing an endless fountain of picturesque places, it is definitely not the only way in which you can feel the wild beauty of our world. When seeking out your own paradise, keeping an open heart and motivation for new experience is key. You may find it in your own backyard.