Are you looking to tackle some of New Zealand’s most iconic off-road locations? Whilst Australia has a wide variety of off-roading options, it can be hard to beat the snow-capped mountain vistas or icy blue rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. We’ve picked out a few of our favourite tracks and locations to try on your next trip.
If however you are renting a car always be sure to check with the rental company to make sure the insurance covers you in case of emergency.
The track to Macetown begins in the historic Chinese settlement town in Arrowtown. The initial crossing of the Arrow River sets the pace for the rest of the 15km drive, which can include up to 25 water crossings. The track ends at Macetown, a historic settlement from New Zealand’s gold mining days. Though it is well posted with signage about the area, a booklet can be picked up from the Arrowtown museum with more information about the history of the area.
The track to Macetown is a narrow, single vehicle track that traverses waterfalls, high bluffs and sheer drops so having a 4-wheel drive is necessary. With the number of water crossings, always check the depth before crossing and a snorkel is highly recommended. Packing recovery gear is also recommended in case of emergency. This track is often shared with walkers and mountain bikers, so be careful.
For more information visit the Department of Conservation website.
Located in the south west, the Skippers Canyon track follows a 27km gravel road rated in the world’s top 10 most dangerous roads. Cut from the side of the mountain by miners over 140 years ago, it hugs the cliff face looking down on a sheer drop of almost 100 meters. The Skippers Canyon road eventually crosses over Skippers Bridge, a suspension bridge above the Shotover River. At 91 meters above the river, Skippers Canyon Road is one of the most thrilling drives in New Zealand.
As a single lane road, it’s incredibly narrow along for the majority of the drive, making overtaking impossible. This means that if you do come across another vehicle travelling in the opposite direction, one party will have to reverse. Take it slow as this is a mountain road and there are many hairpin and blind turns. With no guard rail there is very little room for error and requires an experienced driver.
For more information on Skippers Canyon visit the Dangerous Roads website.
Located on private land, Clarence Valley lies in the valley that runs between the inward and seaward Kaikoura Mountain Ranges. It traverses one of the most remote parts of New Zealand. To gain access to the track, contact Muzzle Station and pay the $100 access fee. Within the valley are several Department of Conservation huts for camping. They’re all accessible by 4-wheel drive and positioned adjacent to the Clarence river.
Due to the snow the Clarence Valley track is impassable in winter, even with a 4-wheel drive. The weather should also be taken into consideration when looking at visiting Clarence Valley as many of the roads have large drop-offs either side and shouldn’t be driven when wet. As Muzzle is still a working station, all gates should be left as they’re found as a courtesy to the owners.
For more information or to gain access to Clarence Valley see the Department of Conservation information sheet.
Oteake Conservation Park
Only open between Labour Weekend and the 30th of April, Oteake Conservation Park has several 4-wheel drive tracks. Boasting six different tracks which range between 14 to 34km long, there is something for every calibre of 4-wheel driver. Maintained by the Department of Conservation, there are several access points on both the Otago and Canterbury sides of the park.
The tracks vary in difficulty from East Manukerikia Track, which follows a popular, well-formed track and climbs steadily to the Little Omarama Saddle to Mt Buster or Mt Kyeburn track, both have steep, rough sections that are not recommended in wet conditions. As Oteake is a conservation park, do no venture off the tracks. Many of the tracks are often difficult to reverse or pass other traffic so always be wary of surroundings and only drive to your ability. Recovery gear is always recommended in case of emergency.
Weather conditions should also be checked prior heading out and then monitored along the way. A large amount of Oteake is considered high alpine therefore weather conditions can change extremally rapidly.
For more information on the tracks or how to get to Oteake Conservation Park visit the Department of Conservation website.
Molesworth Recreation Reserve/Station
Located in the Marlborough region, Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest farm and contains the Severn to Sedgemere and Rainbow-Hamner 4WD Road. Only open from January to mid-February each year it’s surrounded by a stunning mountain range, though this means that the weather can be subject to sudden, unexpected changes.
As Molesworth is a working station, make sure to leave all gates as they have been found. In order to protect native plants and wildlife, dogs are always prohibited. 4-wheel drives need to stick to the tracks and high clearance vehicles are recommended as the track can get quite rough with the disuse over winter. There is no mobile phone coverage within the station, so always be prepared with recovery gear in case of emergency. Whilst there is no camping allowed along the road, there are several Department of Conservation huts and camps along the way to stay in.
With something for every driver and accompanied by stunning views around every corner, New Zealand is a somewhat undiscovered gem when it comes to 4-wheel driving. Always make sure to double check your insurance if you’re renting a car, get out there and get stuck into it.