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The top off-road trips through New Zealand


From quiet back country roads to massive sand dunes, New Zealand offers no shortage of exciting landscapes to explore off its major motorways. Tackle gravel or dirt tracks taking you through some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery. Buckle up and rev your engines as you explore the following exciting off-road tours.

New Zealand mountains

Ninety Mile Beach

One of the first stops for 4WD enthusiasts in New Zealand is the famous Ninety Mile Beach, a wide sandy beach that stretches from Ahipara to Scott Point. Try your hand crossing the massive sand dunes here or stop to enjoy body boarding or digging for shellfish in the sand. The whole beach is a highway, but it is only safe to drive at specific times of the tide schedule with a rugged 4WD vehicle.┬áBear in mind that you won’t be able to use a rental car, because the rental companies have banned using their cars on the sand for safety reasons.

Waitaki Valley

You’ll need a car with a high ground clearance and sturdy walking shoes to explore the ins and outs of the rocky Waitaki Valley. Skirt the alien landscapes of the Clay Cliffs, driving across silt and gravel along this ancient active earthquake fault line. This is part of what gives the rock formations in the valley and other parts of North Otago such bizarre shapes, including the limestone boulders at Elephant Rocks.

Kauri Coast

The starting point for a leisurely journey along the Kauri Coast is Dargaville, also known as New Zealand’s sweet potato capital. You can follow SH12 north up the coast and make a detour to see the sand dunes of Baylys Beach, before moving on to the old growth kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest. Many of the trees top 60 metres in height, providing a stately backdrop for following the forest trails. Don’t miss a glimpse from the car of the mighty Tane Mahuta tree, which is believed to be 2000 years old.

Kauri Coast road, New Zealand
Ruataniwha Conservation Park

Most tracks in the Ruataniwha Conservation Park require river crossings, and some tracks require permission from private land owners. Yet the extra bit of effort is well worth it to see the sights of the high country and Dobson River valley. One of the most popular tracks runs from Hopkins River valley to Elcho Hut, with lush views of the mountain landscapes.

Lauder Basin

With a rich gold mining history and an interesting blend of rugged terrain, the Lauder Basin Conservation area is an exciting destination for off-roading. Set in 9,000 hectares of rocky high country landscapes in the Dunstan Mountains, Lauder Basin provides drivers with a mix of alpine scenery and rocky gorges to explore. Public vehicle access is restricted to the dry period during the summer, so plan to visit between 1st December and 30th April to take advantage of these challenging tracks.

Be sure to research weather and road conditions before accessing any of these regions, as some roads are closed during the rainy part of the year. Bring along a rugged vehicle that’s up for the challenge and see the beauty of New Zealand from a different angle.

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