The State Highway 1 is New Zealand’s longest and most important road in the transport network. It runs from Cape Reinga to Wellington International Airport in the North Island, and from Picton to Stirling Point in South Island.
In 1,106 kilometres of road, you can find heaps of things – from scenery to unique landmarks, from easy straight roads to challenging hill roads. With so many attractions, how do you know what is truly worth your time?
12 Memorable Points along State Highway 1 in North Island
Cape Reinga is the more popular northeast point of New Zealand. The major landmarks include a lighthouse and a directional pole. Do use the toilet and fill up your petrol before leaving Whangarei.
Enjoy a 55-mile stretch of sand (dunes) and sea. If you really want to cover the entire stretch, perhaps you might want to check out the Te Houtaewa Challenge. Remember to heed the warning signs – do not drive into the beach!
Auckland Harbour Bridge
The coolest thing about Auckland Harbour Bridge is that the centre divider is movable. This bridge has reversible middle lanes depending on traffic conditions. You might just see the barrier transfer machine if you are lucky.
Hamilton Gardens has 4 different garden collections, with my favourite being the Paradise Garden Collection. It is a must-stop whenever I drive by this stretch of State Highway 1. Great photo-taking opportunity here!
This little English town is known as Town of Trees and Champions. It is also New Zealand’s main horse breeding district. It is cool to see horses walking pass you. Be sure to give way and don’t scare the poor animals.
It is like a big toy land, with many local art works made from discarded corrugated iron. With the I-Site shaped like a giant dog and a big sheep as the bus stop, you definitely know when you are in Tirau.
You gotta stop by to enjoy the beauty of the biggest lake in New Zealand, about the size of Singapore island. With the famous Hole-in-One Challenge, I wonder how does the diver feel about picking golf ball while swimming with the fishes.
One fun thing to do here is climbing up the life-size military vehicles to take photos. With them tempting you as you drive along State Highway 1, you just gotta stop by here to exercise your limbs.
Taihape is known as the Gumboot Capital of the World. Do remember to stop by to take a photo with the famous giant corrugated iron gumboot when you are there. It takes a bit of spotting before you can find it.
Bulls has many eat-a-bull places – from McValue-a-bull (McDonalds) to submerge-a-bull (Subway), you will be as full as a bull (Jabies Doner Kebabs) when you are done. It is definitely an enjoy-a-bull and unforget-a-bull place.
Lindale is an excellent rest point before you drive into Wellington city. This is the first place I found an ice cream flavour with the name Doris (Kapiti Black Doris Plum & Crème Fraiche) and Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush Sauvignon Blanc.
Wellington Te Papa Museum
It is not located beside State Highway 1. Just make a left turn at Taranaki Street in Wellington and you will see Te Papa Museum at the end of the road. This place is world famous! Don’t leave Wellington without going in there.
5 Important Sections You Must Know
Auckland Northern Motorway (between Puhoi and Orewa)
This is the only section on State Highway 1 that is a toll road (as of 2010). It costs NZD$2.00 each time your car pass through. You can pay for it with cash at any self-service kiosks inside the petrol kiosk at Dairy Flat (heading north) or just off SH 1, about 1km before the Waiwera exit (heading south). Follow signage!
Auckland Central Motorway Junction (nickname Spaghetti Junction)
Read the signs as you drive. Always drive at the correct lane, and not the fastest moving lane. Every lane leads to a different location; you might end up in East or West Auckland if you miss the lane to the South.
Road between Waitahanui and Turangi
The road is very narrow and there are many sharp bends with blind spots. This is not the place for scenic drive. Always remember to drive carefully on this cliff road – mountain on one side, and steep cliff on the other.
Desert Road (between Rangipo and Waiouru)
Drive by on a fine day and you will have a fantastic view of the 3 volcano peaks – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The highest point on State Highway 1 is also found here, at 1,074m above sea level. Do note that this alpine road is frequently closed during winter due to bad weather conditions.
Centennial Highway (between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay)
In my opinion, this section has some of the narrowest driving lanes along State Highway 1. It is single-lane for both directions, with double lanes in towns. Good view of the coast, but keep an eye on the road.
I have driven along State Highway 1 countless times and covered the entire 1,106km before, not at one go of course. It is a generally easy road, with heaps of road works at various sections.
Somehow, it seems like there are always some road works going on along State Highway 1, especially when travelling between Palmerston North and Auckland. And you gotta drive at 20km/hour at those sections.
Of course, don’t just drive along State Highway 1, there are heaps of other places to see too!