3. Motueka - Collingwood
The drive over the crest of Takaka Hill on State Highway 60 is one of the great moments in New Zealand motoring.
Immediately after the summit lies Harwood's lookout, and the panoramic view it affords of the glacier-carved Takaka valley, the frost-fractured mountain peaks of Kahurangi National Park, and - far in the distance - Farewell Spit.
It's a breathtaking vista, and its only equivalent in the North Island is the climb over the hill at Omapere on SH12, and the view that suddenly opens up of the Hokianga Harbour.
By the time you reach this point, your passengers might need a little rest and fresh air - the 35km traverse of Takaka Hill is a rather tortuous affair.
Fortunately, there's plenty to see and discover along the way. Locating the source of the Riwaka River, spelunking through Ngarua caves, and standing at the edge of the 400m vertical shaft called Harwood's Hole make fine diversions.
The adventure doesn't stop after conquering the 862m-high hill road either - all the attractions of Golden Bay now beckon.
You'll find just about everything nearby as SH60 spears through one of the most beautiful parts of the South Island: tame eels taking chunks of steak off feeding sticks; the fine dining establishments of Takaka township; and the crystal-clear waters of Pupu Springs.
A little further west lie three fine calm-water beaches in Paton's Rock, Tukurua, and Parapara.
Between the former and the latter two you'll find the famous Mussel Inn, looking like a leftover from the gold rushes that the region experienced in the 1860s.
Don't leave the establishment without putting some of the inn-brewed Captain Cooker manuka beer in the boot of your car; it's made from a recipe devised by the great explorer himself.
The road ends in Collingwood, once the nation's capital, and the place where gold was first discovered in New Zealand. Appropriate, then, that the road to this postcard-worthy town is pure driving gold.
- © Fairfax NZ News