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New Zealand highways & byways

New Zealand is unique in countless ways. I’m fairly certain there isn’t a single country on earth with more diversity in landscape, untouched nature, and outdoor activities within a comparatively small space. It’s almost like being on a ride in Disneyland that crosses five different “continents” in ten minutes. In other words, the best place to do a road trip!

From the green rolling hills around Auckland, to the hot springs in Rotorua, to adrenaline-fueled adventures in Queenstown, to the steep, barren mountains of Milford Sound… there is a lot to see and do in The land of the long white cloud.

Traveling by car is the only way to travel New Zealand properly. If you’re doing it by bus, you’re doing it wrong. There are countless spots along the way to anywhere in New Zealand that deserve a moment to stop and take it all in. This notion was confirmed with every cramped bus that I saw barreling down the highway by with people’s faces up against the window trying to get a quick glimpse of the magnificent, mind-blowing landscapes.

A rental car is more expensive than a bus ticket, but everything here is expensive, so save some more money before going so you can have your own wheels. New Zealand is not the place to go if you’re on a budget in the first place. I always use the average price of a beer in a bar to gauge how expensive a place is. You’ll be paying around NZ$12-15 for one glass here, and you won’t even be getting a pint for that.

It deserves repeating: New Zealand is a really expensive country to travel through. It is also one of the best countries to travel through. It has some of the most spectacular landscapes this world has to offer while being a very nice, safe, first-world country inhabited by nice people. New Zealand is a lovely place in every way, except for maybe the weather. It does gets rainy and chilly, but that’s ultimately easy to deal with.

The rental car we had was a Toyota Rav4, second generation model with four doors, two-wheel drive. Rented at Juicy car rental.

Short review of the car
Not very comfortable on the highway due to stiff suspension, high amount of road noise, and slightly awkward driving position. I’ve never really understood the point of small SUVs in general, as they have all the disadvantages of an SUV (sloppy handling, high point of gravity, high amount of drag) without the main advantages (having a lot of space & the feeling you’re driving a tank). Like pretty much all Japanese cars, the interior was boring but functional.

The way the trunk was setup allowed for an easy way to have an impromptu picknick, and even though it had almost 250K KM (155K Miles) underneath its belt, everything still felt tight and almost like new. Toyota really knows how to build a rock-solid vehicle.

As on every long road trip, the car became the red line through the adventure, and I couldn’t help but love it after a while.

The trip started in Auckland and ended in Queenstown on the South Island.

New Zealand’s North Island

1 Rotorua highway


2 Thermal highway 1

3 Thermal highway 2

4 Crank's cafe in Hunterville

Crank’s cafe in Hunterville, a good place for a breather on the way down to Wellington.

5 Mount Doom

The little Rav4 with “Mount Doom” in the background.

New Zealand’s South Island

6 Hwy 1 south island

7 Hwy 1 south island
9 Hwy 1 south island

10 Hwy 1 south island

11 Hwy 1 south island

12 Christchurch


13 Christchurch

14 Christchurch

15 Christchurch

17 Chrischurch to twizel

Highway 79 to Lake Tekapo

18 Chrischurch to twizel

19 Chrischurch to twizel

20 Chrischurch to twizel

Lake Tekapo

21 Twizel

The road to Twizel

22 Road to Milford Sound

Highway 94 to Milford Sound

23 Road to Milford Sound

24 Road to Milford Sound

25 Bluff to Queenstown

Highway 6 to Queenstown

26 Bluff to Queenstown

27 Bluff to Queenstown

28 Bluff to Queenstown

The little Rav4 taking a breather

New Zealand offered one of the best road-tripping experiences of my life. If you decide to come here, do yourself a favor and rent a car. It’s not like you’ll visit this country every week.

Be sure to check out the other photo essays from New Zealand, as this is just the road-trip part of all the photos.

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About Diederik

Diederik is a guy from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He quit his job when he was 29 years old and traveled the world for over 18 months as a digital nomad and bartender. On this website, he posts his travel photos and experiences, records podcasts with interesting people, and shares his general thoughts.

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High-quality content is added to The Polarizer at irregular intervals. If you don’t want to miss anything, sign up for the mailing list for free to get a notification when new podcasts or articles are posted.
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