Auckland media relations man John Coker has already presented on Automotive News TV his ‘bucket list’, the 10 roads in New Zealand you mustdrive before you turn up your toes. (Search ‘bucket list’).
They were sealed tarmac, five in the North Island, five in the South Island. The item proved so popular that viewers of the show (Face TV Sky channel 83, each Wednesday, 8pm) asked for Coker again, this time to point out his top gravel roads.
There is not a road in this country that Coker doesn’t know about. He has been involved in rallying in New Zealand for 40 years. In his media role he often plots isolated routes used by carmakers to launch new cars.
Some of his gravel roads, especially those in the South Island, are above the snowline and therefore pretty much out of the question in winter. Others have shallow river crossings where a four-wheel-drive is recommended.
Coker advises drivers who are new to gravel roads to take care. Whereas traction on hard gravel surfaces can be almost as grippy as tarmac, loose gravel is another story altogether. Speed on such surfaces is crucial for safe traveling.
Here is Coker’s gravel road guide:
Kaipara Flats Rd. Turn off State Highway 1 north of Warkworth, or about 80km north of Auckland. The old road is not long, about 11km, but opens out to wonderful views of the Kaipara Harbour.
Tapu Coroglen Rd: Cuts across the Coromandel Peninsula. It’s roughly about 20km and winds through wonderful bush scenery. Stop for a picnic and spot the kauri trees.
Motu: Better known perhaps for being a special stage during past rally events. But around 50km of eye-catching scenery.
Wanganui River Rd: Only about 15-20km of gravel road left, but it is what it is – a road that meanders for about 65km along the famous river.
Molesworth Station: In Marlborough country, the biggest farm in New Zealand, run by the Department of Conservation. Travel restricted to public roads only; about 100km long. One of the best of the ‘bucket list’ options.
Okuku Pass: North-west of Christchurch. Roughly 75km through forests, gorges, farmland and across streams that are said to be more fun than challenging. The Southern Alps beckon.
Nevis Valley: Early Otago gold rush history here. From Cromwell the road rises 1300 metres over Duffers Saddle before descending to run alongside the Nevis River. About 60km. Be prepared for about 30 river crossings.
Lake Onslow: Another route with a history of gold exploration. Good surface in good weather through the rugged, desolate landscape typical of Central Otago. More than 60km, but closed in winter where the weather can change in an instant.