Have you ever considered overlanding in New Zealand? Whilst it might not seem like the most obvious choice, New Zealand’s North Island boasts a wide variety of 4-wheel drive locations for any driver and skill-level. From near-endless beaches to tunnels carved straight through mountains, the range of locations on the North Island is as diverse as it gets.
If you do choose to rent a car, always check with the rental car company as what driving the insurance covers can vary.
Ninety Mile Beach
Located 5km south of Cape Maria van Diemen, 90 Mile Beach is an 88km stretch of sand on the Aupouri Peninsula at the top of the North Island. Though it is considered an official highway don’t be misled, 90 Mile Beach is only suitable for 4WD vehicles. Being a beach, it is important to plan your trip around the tides as it is impossible to drive in high tide.
Experience driving on soft sand is recommended along with recovery gear just in case. Though Ninety Mile Beach has a 100km speed limit, be sure to watch for people as the beach is frequented by fishermen, surfers and general beachgoers. Also, make sure to slow for all streams and runoffs as there can be quite a drop leading into them. Caution should be taken when passing any of the entrances to the beach. To avoid getting bogged, follow the tracks created by the 4WD tour buses that often traverse the beach.
For more information on Ninety Mile Beach and how to get there see the Bay of Islands website.
Forgotten World Highway
Winding over mountain saddles and alongside the spectacular Tangarakau Gorge, Forgotten World Highway promises stunning views from start to finish. Also known as State Highway 43, Forgotten World Highway runs 148km from Stratford in Taranaki to Taumarunui in the King Country. The road also passes through the 220m long Moki Tunnel, aptly known as the ‘Hobbit Hole’.
Forgotten World Highway climbs three mountain saddles; the Strathmore Saddle, the Whangamomona Saddle and the Tahora Saddle, which means it is often bordered by sheer drops. As most of the road is gravel take the sharp, hairpin turns slowly and watch out for other drivers. With no fuel stations along the 148km drive, make sure to have a full tank. As much of the road is unsealed be careful driving when wet as the gravel and asphalt can be slippery.
For more information on the Forgotten World Highway and details on the driving conditions see the Dangerous Roads website.
The 42 Traverse
Winding 46km through the Tongariro Forest Conservation Area, The 42 Traverse follows an old logging road. As a multi-use track it is shared by mountain bikers, hikers, horse riders, and quad or trail bike riders, and only open to 4WD access over the summer (between the 1st of December and 30th of April).
The 42 Traverse is a one-way track starting about 16km along SH47 from National Park Village at the end of Kapoors Road. There are several water crossings along the track and always check to make sure they’re safe as they can be prone to rapidly rising water levels.
Carrying comprehensive recovery gear is a must as it can be a rough track after not being used during winter. Whilst dogs are allowed, a permit from the DOC will be needed as the track is often used by hunters.
For more information or to obtain a dog permit see the Department of Conservation website.
Coromandel – Colville to Stony Bay
About 40 minutes out of Coromandel is a little town called Colville, from Colville if you follow a gravel road you will come to Stony Bay. With not much other than unpowered campsites beside the beach (don’t worry there are bathrooms and a cold shower) Stony Bay is perfect for a spot of fishing, swimming, kayaking, hiking or simply relaxing.
The track into Stony Bay takes you over hills, through the native bushland, down to Port Charles and onto Stony Bay. The road is mostly unsealed so make sure to take it slow and always drive with headlights on as there are several blind corners.
Dogs are not permitted in the Stony Bay campground at any time to protect the native wildlife. For more information or to book a campsite visit the Department of Conservation website.
Located north-west of Auckland, Pouto Lighthouse was built in 1884 and is the oldest 3 story wooden lighthouse in New Zealand. Built to watch over the largest, busiest and most treacherous harbour at the time, Pouto Lighthouse sits amongst the sand dunes. Beach access is available from Pouto Point, a small settlement at the end of Pouto Road.
With the constantly changing sand, driving up to the lighthouse can sometimes be difficult. Be prepared with recovery gear as the sand can be soft and cars can easily get bogged. Large areas of quicksand are dotted all over the area. Stay away from wet sand and water coming through existing wheel tracks, if in doubt walk it first. Many more tracks wind through the sand dunes and along the 100km of surrounding beach so there’s plenty of 4-wheel driving to get stuck into. Be wary of tides as high tide can quickly overwhelm a stuck vehicle, so always check and traverse the beach during low tide and attempt to drive above the tide line.
There are several exits along the beach; good planning is essential so that you have a contingency escape route should the trip along the beach take longer than expected.
For more information on Pouto Lighthouse and surrounding beaches visit the Kauri Coast Tourism website.
The variety and stunning scenery of North Island makes it the best place to get out and explore overland. With something for every skill level and taste, we hope we’ve made the decision to cross the gap and explore New Zealand a little easier.
If you're interested in tackling the top 4WD spots on the South Island too, REDARC has you covered.