Road trip guide: Conquering State Highway 38 in NZ

State Highway 38 is a very scenic drive, a true wilderness experience, in the heart of the North Island of New Zealand.

State Highway 38 in NZ

How long is State Highway 38 in NZ?

Tucked away in the Te Urewera National Park, State Highway 38 (SH38) is 195 km (121 miles) long. It starts near Waimangu at the intersection with SH 5 and ends at Wairoa, where it connects to SH 2.

How much of State Highway 38 is unsealed?

Running through the North Island's most remote places, the road is winding and mostly paved (64 kilometers of the road is unsealed). The road is curvy and narrow. Most rental companies allow their vehicles on well-maintained unsealed roads, including the unsealed section of Te Urewera Rainforest Route between Te Whaiti and Tuai. However, some have restrictions, and it is advisable to check the terms and conditions of their rental agreements. It is also in a very remote area, no townships, etc., just a couple of small "outposts."

How to get ready to drive State Highway 38?

There are some important rules for these kinds of roads:

  • Allocate sufficient time for your journey.
  • Drive at a slower pace.
  • Maintain the left lane consistently.
  • Increase the standard braking distance between your vehicle and the one in front.
  • Use headlights, especially in dusty or poor light conditions.
  • Brake on straight stretches, not on corners.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Yield to vehicles behind you to facilitate passing.
  • Be vigilant for wandering stock, especially at night when visibility is compromised.
  • Ensure your tires are in good condition, carry a reliable spare, and have tools for tire changing.
  • Refuel before embarking on your journey.

How long does it take to drive State Highway 38 in NZ?

To drive the road without stopping will take most people between 3 and 4 hours. However, due to its beauty, the drive will take longer. Don’t underestimate the drive times: driving speeds of only 30-50 km/hr. The surroundings are spectacular, especially as it snakes past Lake Waikaremoana (Waikaremoana Road). It's best taken at a sedate pace - traffic is sparse, but it's narrow and twisting. Numbers of visitors to the area are mitigated by the unsealed road that must be taken to reach it.