I’m reluctant to write this post. Not because I have writer’s block or am feeling disinclined to use the left side of my brain today. Rather because I am scared to share these little corners of New Zealand with the big wide world of the interwebs. Part of the charm of the places on my list is that not many people know about them or choose to go there on holiday. At the same time I just can’t help but tell you all about them!
Ultimately these regions deserve to be visited and photographed and raved about just as much as your Queenstowns and your Abel Tasmans and Rotoruas! So here’s to the little guy, the underdog, those hidden corners of New Zealand just waiting to be explored.
Here’s my top 5 hidden New Zealand destinations:
The Kauri Coast
We’re starting in the North of the country. I know the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga are old news but let me introduce you to the west coast of Northland!
This little visited coastline has so many unique spots to explore for anyone who is keen on a bit of a tiki tour. In the north there’s the Hokianga Harbour with cute villages that time forgot like Rawene and Opononi and some very impressive sand dunes. You can cross quickly from one side to the other by catching the car ferry. As you head south you reach the Waipoua Forest, home to some gigantic Kauri trees including Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. Further south just before Dargaville are the sparkling clear Kai Iwi lakes, a favourite summer camping spot for a bunch of kiwis. A little detour off SH12 takes you to Baylys beach, with its colourful beachside cottages, it’s the gateway to the longest stretch of driveable beach in NZ which is 100kms long! Finally you reach the rural town of Dargaville and Matakohe whose Kauri Museum is definitely worth a visit.
We’re heading south now but Taranaki has long been off the traditional tourist route down the country because it’s a bit of a detour to the west. But frankly it’s a detour well worth taking!
New Plymouth, where provincial charm and urban sophistication meet, makes for such a pleasant city to hang out in. It’s arguably become the art capital of New Zealand with the shiny new Len Lye centre cementing its status. That’s not to mention the gastronomical scene spearheaded by the White Heart Hotel precinct and edgy restaurants like Social Kitchen. The humid climate of this region is perfect for some stunning gardens including Pukekura Park and the lush green hues only continue as you head out into the countryside. Between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman sea the surf highway is such a stunning drive. Lastly there are a huge range of walking tracks on offer in the Mt Egmont National park. Why do the Tongariro Crossing with hundreds of other snap happy tourists when you could tackle the Pouakai Crossing and only come across a handful of other walkers.
Your first thought might be “huh? Where is that and how is that even pronounced?!” Well let me introduce you to the “why-ra-rapper” We’re talking the south eastern corner of the North Island, over the Rimutaka ranges to the east of good old windy Wellington, and south of Napier and the Hawke’s Bay.
First off there’s some stunning beaches and coastal areas to explore like Castlepoint which is great for swimming and surfing and Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the north island with its iconic lighthouse and a good few little fur seals. Then you have your natural marvels like the towering Pitangirua Pinnacles. And last but not least your manmade marvels- like the charming village of Martinborough in the heart of one of NZ’s up and coming wine making regions. Greytown home to schoc chocolates and Featherston– needless to say C’est Cheese is high on my list of cute wee shops to visit!
We’ve reached the north of the South Island now. While many travellers will stop at the Abel Tasman national park without continuing over Takaka Hill I would encourage you to go the extra distance.
Golden Bay is different to any other region I’ve seen in NZ. It’s not quite the wet and wild West Coast but it’s also different to the sophisticated and sunny Nelson and Tasman region to the south of it. This is the place of choice for NZ’s hippy population and there’s so much to see, so chill man, don’t rush it!
Parts of Golden Bay are coastal, stunning and warm in summer and lined by holiday homes. Then as you head inland you reach alpine valleys and high altitude peaks, as the Southern Alps stretch out towards the North Island and the Tasman Sea. This is the domain of the Heaphy Track, one of our Great Walks. If you’re not a hiker things to include on your must-do list include a hearty meal at local watering hole the Mussel Inn, a short walk to some of the clearest freshwater springs in the world Te Waikoropupu Springs and a sunbathing sesh on the golden sands of Pohara Beach. Lastly walkers and wildlife lovers should head for a drive up to to Wharariki Beach and the northernmost point of the South Island, Cape Farewell before heading out onto the ever-growing sandbar and wildlife reserve that is Farewell Spit.
The Catlins Coast
Down at the other extremity of the South Island to the east of Invercargill is a tucked away region called the Catlins Coast. It’s one of my favourite hidden treasures in NZ!
One of the first places you’ll reach in the Catlins if you drive the coast from Invercargill up towards Dunedin is a windswept promontory called Slope Point. The trees have been bent to almost touch the ground by the sometimes harsh weather conditions. Contrary to popular belief this is actually the southernmost part of the South Island, just slightly south of bluff. As you head along the coast of this sleepy nostalgic region you’re progressively treated to more and more landscape eye candy. From Macleans Falls to sandy bays to rocky points and the Cathedral Caves. Lastly amongst all this natural beauty is the ever present wildlife- fur seals, sea lions, yellow eyed penguins and the odd dolphin. Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay with its petrified forest are aptly named. What more could you ask for!
So there you have it, 5 underrated destinations to include in your plans for the weekend, put on your NZ itinerary, or add to your bucket list.