One of the best things about living in New Zealand is that we get to discover amazing parts of the country often ignored by tourists. Some you may stumble upon, some you may know about but have never taken the time to explore. So get off the beaten track and get in touch with your own backyard. Here are some suggestions for starters… but there are so many more!
We would love to hear about your hidden gems, so feel free to leave a comment.
Far Northland Beaches
Nearest Airport: Whangarei
If you thought the Bay of Islands had beautiful beaches, then Far Northland takes the cake. Leave the majority of the tourists behind in Pahia and Russell and venture on to discover the pristine idylls of Matauri Bay, Tapotupotu Bay, Rarawa Beach, Taupo Bay and Matai Bay. These white sandy beaches with their clear blue waters offer the ultimate relaxing hideaway; perfect for picnics, swimming and snorkelling.
Nearest Airports: Whangarei
Tranquil Hokianga is mostly bypassed on tourist itineraries in favour of Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga. But there’s a lot to love about this west coast section of the North Island if you veer off State Highway One. Highlights include Tane Mahuta – a 2,000 year old Kauri tree – deserted sand dune beaches, the tiny laid back towns of Omapere and Opononi, the Wairere Boulders and the stunningly beautiful Kai Iwi Lakes.
Great Barrier Island
Nearest Airport: Auckland
An island paradise that’s off the radar for not only tourists but also local Aucklanders. Part of the reason for this is that it takes four hours by slow ferry (and two hours on the seasonal fast ferry). But you can also fly there so there’s really no excuse. Untouched by mainstream tourism, most of Great Barrier Island is made up of protected native forest, bordered by some of the most pristine beaches you’ll find anywhere in the country. Nature lovers will appreciate the abundance of native birds and dolphins frolicking in the surf.
East Coast Coromandel
Nearest Airport: Auckland
While many overseas visitors to the Coromandel visit Thames on the west coast, they forget about the rugged east coast which is infinitely more scenic and tranquil. Here you can spend your days immersed in nature and your nights stargazing. There are some real treasures when it comes to east coast Coromandel beaches – New Chums is this region’s hidden gem, a simply stunning stretch of golden sand only reached by walking track or boat.
Nearest Airport: Tauranga
While Whakatane and Gisborne have their own particular charms, the real star of the show is the lesser-known stretch of road in between. Head to State Highway 35 via the East Cape and you’ll discover a rich Maori heritage, rugged coastlines and deserted golden sand beaches. Must-dos: sample the seafood.
Nearest Airport: Palmerston North
For a real digital detox get out in the sticks and experience rural Rangitikei. The impressive Rangitikei River cuts through this bush-clad region in the lower North Island, providing some of the best scenery in New Zealand and plenty of activities such as white water rafting, kayaking, and fishing.
Nearest Airport: Nelson
The Abel Tasman and Nelson are the tourist drawcards for this region but slightly further south you’ll find glistening lakes surrounded by majestic mountains and pristine beech forest. The Nelson Lakes National Park offers a quiet landscape with only the sound of gentle lapping of lake waters. A truly restorative and soothing place to get away from it all. For the more energetic there’s mountain biking and hiking and both lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa offer kayaking, but no noisy jet ski or power boats.
Many people say they’d love to visit Oamaru but how many ever actually do? It may be more visited by blue and yellow-eyed penguins than tourists. This small east coast town is a highlight of a road trip between Timaru and Dunedin. Known for its Victorian architecture, mouthwatering cuisine, delicious local wines and fascination with Steampunk art, there’s plenty to keep you occupied for a short stay.
Nearest Airport: Queenstown
Queenstown certainly isn’t a hidden gem but some of the areas surrounding it are. Glenorchy is just 45 minutes’ drive from the adventure capital but you won’t be fighting the crowds here. It’s mostly frequented by nature enthusiasts and filmmakers on the hunt for magical locations. The one-horse town has a sprinkling of cafes, or you can enjoy an al fresco picnic on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and soak up the scenery. Must-see: The Earnslaw Burn glacier featured in The Hobbit.
Although the Catlins region is incredibly beautiful, it never seems to make it onto that many tourist itineraries. Perhaps because it’s tucked away in the southeast corner of the South Island. For those who’ve driven the Southern Scenic Route, the Catlins embodies the ‘real New Zealand’ an untouched wilderness of ancient forests, cascading waterfalls, vacant beaches and abundant wildlife.
Nearest Airport: Invercargill
Invercargill is just too far south for most tourists who prefer the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. But make the effort to visit the City of Water and Light and you’ll be suitably rewarded. Though it can get chilly, the famous southern hospitality will keep you warm, as will the lively bars and restaurants. Blessed with access to both spectacular farmland and fiordland scenery, it’s the long, sweeping beaches, where land speed record holder Burt Munro sped on his world’s fastest Indian, that hold the most fascination for visitors.
Nearest Airport: Invercargill
Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third island but it goes so unnoticed it’s not even mentioned in the TV weather report. This is a real untouched destination, a peaceful treasure full of native birds and wild beaches. Comprised of 85% national park, the population is tiny but friendly, welcoming visitors who arrive to their shores by ferry or flight with open arms. As can be expected being right next to the ocean, the seafood is fresh and divine.Cheap flights to Invercargill
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