Some of the best places in New Zealand to visit aren't necessarily on the most popular tourist trails. Not to say our main centres aren't spectacular — because they are — but if you're looking for something a little more unique, we recommend going off-the-beaten-track. Here’s some of our favourite places to visit that you might not come across in your research:
Home to 16,000 hectares of subtropical rainforest, waterfalls and rugged beaches, the Waitakere Ranges is a playground for nature enthusiasts. Walk the regenerating rain forest where you’ll see native flora and fauna. Take in the giant tree ferns, bubbling streams and cascading waterfalls before venturing onto a wild west coast beach. Here, mature 1,000 year old kauri trees have developed separately from the rest of the world for millions of years and the rainforest is particularly rich in bird life due to a successful programme to eradicate pests.
At the base of the Coromandel Range, the Karangahake Gorge offers a historic walkway following the old railway line between Paeroa and Waihi. The walkway is dotted with intact relics of its former life - carrying gold and equipment during the 1800’s gold rush. You’ll see steel truss bridges, tunnels, old mining trolleys and abandoned equipment. The main walkway follows the railway line through the gorge, opening onto the Ohinemuri River, while a shorter loop that includes both bridges and a 1100m railway tunnel, can be explored.
At the very top of the North, Doubtless Bay is a haven of white sand and clear waters — truly off the beaten track. Explore Mangonui, a quaint town first settled by Whalers in the 1800’s. The picturesque village is home to the world-famous Mangonui Fish Shop, where you can sample fresh local fish overlooking the bay. Swim, surf, snorkel, or just watch the dolphins and orcas go by at the entrance to the bay. Wander the Pohutukawa forests and visit the Karikari Peninsula for more spectacular beach-side views. Before you leave be sure to visit Taipa for an insight into this region's whaling past and Rangiputa - known as the ‘Fiji’ of the Far North.
A tiny fishing outpost on the West Coast, Jackson Bay is often bypassed by visitors eager to see the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers just up the road. Reachable via a 32km trip from Haast, this seaside village, known for its whitebait (a rare New Zealand seafood delicacy), and is as remote as it gets. Abandoned in the early 1900’s due to its isolation, there may not be much in the way of civilisation, but the natural attractions and views are spectacular. You’ll see the snow covered Southern Alps, lush rainforest and the wild seas of the Tasman ocean.
Another ‘forgotten-about’ destination in the beautiful Catlins area of the South Island's south eastern coastline, Curio Bay is home to a fossil forest that dates back to the Jurassic period. When the tide goes out recognisable 180 million year old trees, roots and ferns can be seen entombed in the rock. The area is known for its coastal walking tracks, waterfalls, surfing and swimming — and is also a protected nesting ground for yellow-eyed penguins while in the summer months scores of Hector’s dolphins come close to shore.
Another West Coast gem, Paparoa National Park runs inland from the ocean to the glacier-carved Paparoa Mountain Range.
A contradiction of landscapes and fragile ecosystems, Paparoa is also home to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Formed 30 million years ago, fragments of dead marine creature and plants were steadily compressed by extreme water pressure into the distinct ‘pancake’ structures. Limestone lies beneath much of the park and can be seen in the mountain ridges, river canyons and caves. Lush foliage attracts prolific bird life to the park including the rare Great Spotted Kiwi.
We know choosing were to go on your New Zealand adventure can mean being overwhelmed by choice. And it can be a case of choosing well-known places with a wealth of positive comments around the web. But we recommend you give serious thought to including one of these places in your New Zealand itinerary. You won't regret it.