New Zealand State Highway 6

State Highway 6 is a major New Zealand state highway. It extends from the northeastern corner of the South Island across the top of the island, then down the length of the island, initially along the West Coast and then across the Southern Alps through inland Otago and finally across the Southland Plains to the island's south coast. Distances are measured from north to south.

State Highway 6
Route information
Maintained by NZ Transport Agency
Length1,162 km (722 mi)
Southern Scenic Route between Invercargill-Lorneville and Five Rivers-Queenstown (as of 2010)
Major junctions
North end SH 1 at Blenheim
South end SH 1 at Invercargill
Nelson, Murchison, Inangahua Junction, Runanga, Greymouth, Hokitika, Haast, Wanaka, Cromwell, Queenstown, Lumsden, Winton
Highway system
SH 5SH 7

The highway is the longest single highway in the country, though it is shorter than the combined totals of the two highways that comprise State Highway 1, SHs 1N and 1S.

For most of its length SH6 is a two-lane single carriageway, except for 5.4 km of dual carriageway in Invercargill, and passing lanes in Invercargill and Nelson, with at-grade intersections and property accesses, both in rural and urban areas. Roundabouts are common in major towns, with traffic signals only found in Invercargill, Queenstown, Richmond, and Nelson, with signals also controlling Iron Bridge in the upper Buller gorge and Fern Arch in the lower Buller gorge near Westport. NZTA classified the highway as an arterial route, except for two sections between Blenheim (SH 1) and Richmond (SH 60) and between Cromwell (SH 8B) and Five Rivers (SH 97) where SH 6 is classified as a regional strategic route.[1]



The highway leaves SH1 at Blenheim, initially heading northeastward across the rugged hills at the base of the Marlborough Sounds. it reaches the sounds briefly at Havelock, then heads inland up the valley of the Pelorus River. At Pelorus Bridge the highway again turns north, then tends southwest as it approaches the coast of Tasman Bay. The highway travels through the city of Nelson and nearby town of Richmond, continuing southwest across the plains of the Wairoa and Motueka Rivers.

From these plains, the road ascends rapidly to the 634-metre Hope Saddle. From here, the highway heads generally westward, along the valley of the Buller River and its tributaries. Beyond Murchison, this valley narrows to become the scenic Buller Gorge, and the highway twists its way high above the waters of the river.

West Coast

The highway leaves the river as its valley broadens, turning south six kilometres from Westport, where the river reaches the sea. From here, the highway keeps close to the Tasman coast from Charleston for over 100 kilometres, turning inland only briefly near Runanga. This 100-kilometre stretch includes two of the coast's larger towns, Greymouth and Hokitika.

From Hokitika, the highway moves away from the coast, though still generally keeps within five kilometres of the sea. The highway continues south past Ross and Harihari, moving through state forests as it crosses several fast-moving rivers. Seventy kilometres south of Harihari, the highway skirts Lake Mapourika and reaches the tourist settlement of Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier itself, one of two within easy walking distance of the highway, lies nearby in the Southern Alps, which here come very close to the Tasman coast. The second glacier, Fox Glacier is located some 20 kilometres further south. The highway again briefly touches the coast at Bruce Bay before heading inland past Lake Paringa, before reemerging on the Tasman coast at Knights Point. The 30 km stretch of highway from here south to Haast is noted for its rugged scenery. After crossing the Haast River, the highway turns eastward and inland up the river's valley, climbing past the Gates of Haast and crossing the 563-metre Haast Pass, the southernmost of the three main road passes across the Southern Alps.


From here, the highway again turns south, following the Makarora River valley to the northern tip of Lake Wanaka. The highway skirts the eastern coast of the lake before crossing The Neck, a saddle in the mountains that lie between Lakes Wanaka and Hāwea. The highway continues along the western shore of Hāwea, then south along the Cardrona River to Albert Town, close to the tourist centre of Wanaka.

Ten kilometres from Wanaka, the highway is met by SH 8A, a spur of SH 8 skirting the shore of Lake Dunstan. SH 6 continues south along the western shore of the Lake, paralleling SH 8 which lies on the eastern shore. Close to Cromwell, a second spur, SH 8B, connects the two highways. From here, SH6 turns west, following the narrow and twisting Kawarau Gorge, emerging close to the wine-producing area of Gibbston.

At the western end of the Kawarau Gorge, midway between Cromwell and Queenstown, the highway passes the Nevis Bluff, a steep schist rock outcrop rising 100 m above the Kawarau River. The highway has a history of being disrupted and closed at this point due to instability and rock falls from the bluff. The first road around the bluff was constructed in 1866, opening access to the Wakatipu goldfields.[2] Significant slips occurred at the bluff on 1940-02-20,[3] and blocking SH6 in June 1975.[4] On 17 September 2000, a large-scale rock fall buried the highway at the bluff, and several motorists narrowly avoided being killed. The fall was caught on video and showed a volume of 10,000 m³ for the main fall; the resulting dust cloud was seen 5 km away.[5][6] Transit New Zealand conducted stabilisation drilling and blasting at the bluff twice in 2006 and again in 2007.[7]

From the Nevis Bluff, the highway continues west, reaching Frankton, close to the shore of Lake Wakatipu. The highway turns south to follow the southeastern shore of the lake, skirting the foot of The Remarkables and the Hector Mountains. This stretch of the highway is in part tortuously winding, and rises and falls over a stretch known as "The Devil's Staircase".


The highway leaves the lake's shore at Kingston, continuing south to Garston, where, the highway briefly follows the course of the infant Mataura River before heading across rolling hill country to the upper reaches of the Oreti River near Lowther. The highway continues to follow the Oreti south across the Southland Plains, past the towns of Lumsden and Winton before reaching its terminus at a junction with SH 1 in central Invercargill.

Spur sections

SH6 has one spur, designated State Highway 6A (also part of the Southern Scenic Route). This 6.9 km highway links Frankton with the tourist centre of Queenstown.

Engineering features

  • Hawk's Crag is a single-lane half tunnel blasted out of a solid rock bluff in the Buller Gorge. It was constructed in 1869.[8]
  • The highway featured a number of combined road-rail bridges, but they have all now been replaced.
  • The Haast River bridge (km 750.0) is now the longest single-lane bridge in the country, with two passing bays.[9]
  • A two-lane bridge was built at Kawarau Falls just south of Frankton. This superseded the one-lane bridge that was up until then the highway crossing.[10] This opened in 2018.[11]

Route changes

SH 6 in Nelson City previously went through Stoke between Annesbrook Drive and the Richmond Deviation via Main Road. In 2003, SH 6 shifted to the newly constructed Whakatu Drive, bypassing much of the residential areas.[12]

Major junctions

Territorial authorityLocationkmjctDestinationsNotes
Malborough DistrictBlenheim0 SH 1 north (Grove Road)Picton, Wellington Ferry
SH 1 south (Sinclair Street)Kaikoura, Christchurch
SH 6 begins
Renwick10 SH 63St Arnaud, Westport
14 SH 62 (Rapaura Road)Picton
15Wairau River
Pelorus Bridge59Pelorus River
Nelson CityDistrict contains no major junctions
Tasman DistrictRichmond129 SH 60 (Appleby Highway)Motueka, Collingwood
Kohatu169Motueka Valley Highway – Tapawera, MotuekaFormer SH 61
196Hope Saddle (634 m)
Kawatiri209 SH 63St Arnaud, Picton
Longford238Longford Bridge (Buller River)
Ariki255 SH 65Springs Junction, Christchurch (via Lewis Pass)
O'Sullivan's Bridge (Buller River)
Buller DistrictLyell282Iron Bridge (Buller River)
Inangahua Junction297 SH 69Reefton, Greymouth, Christchurch (via Lewis Pass)
Westport328 SH 67Westport, Karamea
Grey DistrictGreymouth430 SH 7 (Omoto Road)Reefton, Nelson, Christchurch (via Lewis Pass)
Westland District
Kumara Junction448
SH 73 (Otira Highway)Arthur's Pass, Christchurch
Hokitika Line
Rail line bisects roundabout
Harihari541Wanganui River
Franz Josef610Waiho River
Fox Glacier634Fox River
639Cook River
Karangarua659Karangarua River
Paringa695Paringa River
Haast750Haast River Bridge
Mt Aspiring National Park815Haast Pass (564 m)
Queenstown-Lakes District
Albert Town891Clutha River
Mt Iron893 SH 84 (Wanaka Luggate Highway)Wanaka
Luggate901 SH 8A (Shortcut Road)Aoraki/Mount Cook, Christchurchvia Lindis Pass
Central Otago DistrictCromwell942 SH 8B – Cromwell, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Dunedin
Queenstown-Lakes DistrictArrow Junction983Crown Range RoadCardrona, WanakaFormer SH 89
Frankton996 SH 6A (Frankton Road)QueenstownSH 6/Southern Scenic Route concurrency begins
997Kawarau Falls Bridge (Kawarau River)Bridge was replaced in 2017/18
Southland DistrictAthol1061Black Bridge (Mataura River)
Five Rivers1082 SH 97 (Mossburn Five Rivers Road)Te Anau, Milford Sound/PiopiotahiSH 6/Southern Scenic Route concurrency ends
Lumsden1093 SH 94 west (Mossburn Lumsden Highway)Te Anau, Milford Sound/PiopiotahiSH 6/SH 94 concurrency begins
1095 SH 94 west (Flora Road)GoreSH 6/SH 94 concurrency ends
Winton1143 SH 96 west (Winton Wreys Bush Highway)Nightcaps, OhaiSH 6/SH 96 concurrency begins
1145 SH 96 east (Winton Hedgehope Highway)MatauraSH 6/SH 96 concurrency ends
Invercargill CityLorneville1168 SH 98 (Lorne Dacre Road) – Dacre, Gore
SH 99 (Wallacetown Lorneville Highway)Riverton/Aparima, Tuatapere
SH 6/Southern Scenic Route concurrency begins
Invercargill1176 SH 1 north (Tay Street)Gore, Dunedin
SH 1 south (Clyde Street)Bluff
SH 6 ends

See also


  1. "One Network Road Classification: South Island State Highways" (PDF). New Zealand Transport Agency. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  2. "Otago Goldfields Heritage Trail – Queenstown". New Zealand South. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  3. "Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868–1961". Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  4. Brown, Ian; Hittinger, Marc; Goodman, Richard (March 1980). "Finite element study of the Nevis Bluff (New Zealand) rock slope failure". Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering. 12 (3–4): 231. doi:10.1007/bf01251027. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  5. "Motorists lucky to flee slip near Queenstown". New Zealand Herald. 18 September 2000. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  6. Hailliday, G.S.; McKelvey, R.J. (2004). "Video-analysis of an extremely rapid rockslope failure". Landslides: Evaluation and Stabilization. Taylor & Francis. p. 1355. ISBN 0-415-35665-2. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  7. "SH 6 Nevis Bluff ' Traffic Delays". Transit New Zealand. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  8. ca. 1900 photo of Hawk's Crag
  9. What is the longest bridge in New Zealand?, Transit New Zealand FAQs. Accessed 9 June 2008.
  10. "New two-lane Kawarau Falls Bridge project". NZTA.
  11. "Both traffic lanes of new Queenstown Kawarau Falls Bridge open Thursday". NZTA. 9 May 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  12. "Revoking Sections of State Highway and Declaring New Sections of State Highway". NZ Gazette. 11 December 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
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