Top 10 NZ roads: Number 6

GORGEOUS: The lower Buller Gorge road from Inangahua Junction to Westport.
GORGEOUS: The lower Buller Gorge road from Inangahua Junction to Westport.

The round trip to Christchurch via Westport and Greymouth boasts what Conde Nast Traveller called the world's second greatest drive.

6. Christchurch - Culverden - Hanmer - Maruia Springs - Reefton - Westport - Punakaiki - Greymouth - Arthur's Pass - Christchurch.

Distance: 598km

Conde Nast Traveller once named the Westport to Greymouth leg of this trip the world's second greatest drive (after the Corniche).

I agree with the respected magazine, and could easily spend a week driving up and down that particular road.

Not driving quickly, you understand, but merely inhaling the air, birdsong and the "sizz" of the cicadas.

While a lot of your enjoyment is weather-dependent, the lush green on the road side of the route and the tumbling white-and-turquoise on the seaward side always provide a spectacle.

And despite it taking the thick end of 400km to get to Punakaiki, the driving roads on the way are pretty spectacular too.

As with our Motunau and Kaikoura legs, the route does not get interesting until SH1 forks into SH7, which can take you all the way to the forested and fascinating Maruia Springs and then into Reefton.

However, with Culverden as a good coffee stop and a visit to Hanmer Springs resort to soothe well-travelled limbs and backs in the famous pools, you should take as long as you can to enjoy this drive.

Even in colder times the drive is visually terrific, with the stretch through to Lewis Pass from Hanmer being at its most colourful during autumn, with gold through red pre leaf-fall tones carpeting the base of every view.

It's worth knowing that Lewis Pass has fabulous and tempting bends, but stay on your side even when you have a full view of the road ahead for kilometres, as patrol cars are charged with policing this aspect of your driving assiduously on this particular stretch.

The run into Maruia is almost Eiffel Forest-like with its dappled shade and the flashing of sun through the trees.

Low light levels through the trees at this stage can confuse your judgement of distance, so be extra careful as various turns through the forest can tighten suddenly.

Passing through Springs Junction and on to Reefton, the drive still offers good surfaces and well cambered curves, but some of the scenery can be distracting, so stop to enjoy it; don't gawp from side to side while behind the wheel.

The drive into Reefton and along to Westport follows SH69, and joins SH6 at Inangahua Landing to track along the gorgeous lower Buller Gorge road before heading right onto SH67.

Wesport is worth a stopover and the port looks pretty spick and span these days, with good hospitality facilities and easy-to-find accommodation.

Taking SH67A out of Westport will take you over to Cape Foulwind, with its views, seals and bracing wind.

The road then takes you back to SH6, for what I call the best drive in New Zealand: south through Charleston (in gold rush and coal-trading days, one of New Zealand's largest ports) and on to Tiromoana and Punakaiki, my favourite overnight point, before heading to Rununga and Greymouth.

Again, this part of SH6 is merely known as Coast Road, which is a travesty considering the curves, beaches, vegetation and wide open space on offer.

In parts the tall, cliff-like ramparts on the landward side, with green beech, native bush and nikau palms, explain why BBC TV chose the area for its Lost World series - a dinosaur would seem right at home here.

But there aren't any, of course. Just a brilliant mobius ribbon of grippy coarse chip and tarmacadam, and bends that open out onto deserted beaches all along the way.

While it's fun to simply do the whole 115km Westport to Greymouth run in one chunk if you're short of time, the drive is worthy of a more measured approach.

Overnighting in one of the Punakaiki Rocks Hotel's eco lodges is my preferred stopover habit.

That way, you can head north or south on this amazing piece of road, selecting some of the most beautiful bays and beaches in the world on which to stroll, swim and sketch.

Sadly, all drives have to end, but the return route to Christchurch lets you down gently, with Greymouth, Kumara Junction and the Otira Highway (aka SH73) in front of you.

That route takes you up to Otira and Arthur's pass for the second crossing of the main divide and down through Bealey, Cass, Lake Pearson and Springfield.

The views are all amazing on this part of the road, which on the Arthur's Pass side becomes the West Coast Highway.

Parts of it are arrow-straight as it reaches the eastern foothills and eases across the Canterbury plains.

Speed can be deceptive here, and while there are huge run-offs and plenty of space, patrol cars are aware that motorists can creep easily over the speed limit, and speed cameras are placed to catch people out.