New Zealand Is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination—This West Coast Drive Is Proof

Hurling through a gorge on a swing, hiking snow-capped mountains, traversing glaciers—the idea of a typical vacation in New Zealand tends to evoke adventure-filled imagery, but you don’t need to be an adrenaline junkie to experience the best of the picturesque South Island. At least that’s the message I, having just returned from a five-day road trip that traced the scenic, lesser-known west coast, keep telling my friends.

It’s a landscape made for driving where every bend in the road elicits a reaction. Picture palm-fringed valleys, a piercing azure coastline punctuated by jagged boulders, and mountaintop pit stops that beg you to pause, take a deep breath, and marvel at your surrounds. 

My journey begins in Nelson, a small coastal city at the top of the South Island that's also the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, the first stop on our road trip. I'm joined by two friends, and we trace the coastline venturing down to Punakaiki, a town known for its iconic stacked rock formations, and on to Hokitika, famed for its turquoise gorge, before crossing the South Island through Arthur's Pass, bound for Christchurch.

The trip breaks every preconceived idea I have of a vacation in New Zealand, often touted as a romantic honeymoon destination or adventure capital. Far from the headline tourist attractions, we enjoy a quieter path, meandering through small towns, buying our coffee from roadside carts, and ending each day with a glass of wine in a local lodge. Grab your friends. Here's why a road trip across New Zealand will be your best getaway yet.