As well as the great tourist destinations that we all know and love, there are an incredibly large number of hidden gems in New Zealand, too.
Think about it: the population density is very low, and while the tourist hot spots are that way for a reason, there’s so much that’s skipped and overlooked.
Having spent over a year travelling around this wonderful country, I’ve stumbled upon a lot of incredible places that I would never have known about. Because nobody talks about them!
Of course, a lot of the charm of these places is that there aren’t loads of tourists there, so if you visit, as always, show respect for the place, the people and the culture.
When you’re travelling around the country, I highly recommend renting or buying a camper van, as a lot of these hidden gems in New Zealand were found when we were looking for a place to camp. Campermate is a great free travel app to have on your phone to find campsites and places of interest.
Keep reading for my favourite New Zealand hidden gems.
Hidden Gems in New Zealand
1: Great Barrier Island
This stunningly beautiful island is located off the coast of Auckland. Reached by a 4 hour boat trip or a 30 minute plane ride on a light aircraft, it’s a fantastic destination for taking a break from city life.
The whole island is off the grid, so houses use solar panels for electricity, and the community is dedicated to sustainable living.
There are incredible beaches, mountains and even hot springs here. Plus, the clean ocean water is home to many types of marine life such as stingrays, dolphins and whales.
We stayed with a local couple in Tryphena, who we found through Workaway: a work exchange website that helps you find somewhere to eat and sleep for free in exchange for a few hours’ work per day. The couple were wonderful and the house and food were just stunning!
We even borrowed their kayaks when there were dolphins playing in the bay, which was the experience of a lifetime!
There are also campsite and hostel options on the island, and you can bring your car over on the boat.
2: Glinks Gully
This is a tiny seaside village in Northland with the cheapest campsite that we found in all our time in New Zealand.
The owner of the campsite is very friendly and the site itself is basic but has all the commodities you need: a hot, token-operated shower, flushing toilets and a covered kitchen area.
Oh, and it also has the most beautiful view!
It’s a short walk down to the beach, which is New Zealand’s longest drive-able beach at 107 km long. You can also walk up the hill from the campsite for great sunset views and interesting rock gullies.
The nearest town is Dargaville, where you can pick up groceries, petrol and anything else you may need.
3: Kauri Loop Walk – Taupiri
We didn’t have time to see New Zealand’s largest kauri tree when we were in Northland but, when my family came to visit we realised they couldn’t come all that way and not see a kauri tree.
The Kauri Loop Walk is north of Hamilton, near Taupiri. There is a small car park and a track that leads uphill.
The loop walk through the kauri grove takes around 25 minutes, but there are longer walks that you can do in this area too.
There is quite a lot of climbing through native woodland before you come around and down into the kauri grove, where you can see young kauri trees as well as a few older, bigger ones.
There are information boards around and on the way back down to the car park is an area of young native trees, which are all labelled.
The walk also boasts some great views of the Waikato River.
Another little campsite we stumbled upon on our travels was Koitiata.
But it wasn’t the campsite that stayed with us (although it was nice), it was the beach!
Located on the west coast of the North Island, about halfway between Wellington and New Plymouth and just south of Whanganui, this is the point where the Turakina River meets the ocean.
The beach is black sand and the interesting thing about it is that it’s COMPLETELY covered in driftwood.
There are so many different shaped pieces of wood scattered on this large beach that it almost looks like an elephant graveyard!
The waves are huge and pound against the black sand, and the beach is backed by black, grassy sand dunes.
It really is worth a visit; we went twice and only saw a handful of people there in total.
I think this is one of the most interesting hidden gems in New Zealand.
Paekākāriki is further down on the west coast of the North Island, just north of Wellington.
This town has a lovely beach with a great view of Kāpiti Island and some good walking opportunities.
The Escarpment Track is a 3-4 hour walk which runs from Paekākāriki down to Pukerua Bay, but there are other shorter walks here too, such as the Kohekohe Loop Track. This trail takes up to an hour to complete, depending on how long you stop and stare at the view for!
A train line runs through Paekākāriki, and right next to the level crossing are a few shops, pubs and restaurants. I can recommend the pub at Finn’s Hotel – great food and lovely beer!
We stayed at Paekākāriki Holiday Park for one night, then decided to stay a second night as we liked it so much!
6: Rabbit Island
We’re onto the South Island now, near the town of Nelson on the north end of the island.
The beach in Nelson, Tahunanui, is often very crowded, so if you fancy a quieter but equally as beautiful beach day, head to Rabbit Island.
You can drive onto the island as it’s very close to the mainland and connected by a bridge. Take some food with you as there are some lovely picnic areas and lots of free gas BBQs!
You can take a walk around the island or just head straight to the gorgeous beach, where you can see the mountains of Abel Tasman National Park to your left and the hills behind Nelson on your right.
If you leave around sunset, stop at the bridge to enjoy the stunning colour display reflecting in the marshy wetlands.
7: Wharariki Beach
You’ve probably recognised this photo and are wondering why I’ve included it in an article about hidden gems in New Zealand.
Yes, the Archway Islands of Wharariki Beach are pretty well known since being used by Microsoft as one of their screen-saver images.
But I’ve included this beautiful place in this list because it’s so far off the beaten track.
Located near the northern tip of the South Island, Wharariki Beach is only accessible on foot. It’s a 20 minute walk from the end of a very long road.
But it is so worth the trip! Aside from the famous Archway Islands, there are many other interesting rock formations and caves to explore. Plus, you’re very likely to see seals!
Hokitika was a major hub of New Zealand in the 1860’s during the gold rush.
Since then, the population has decreased, as have the number of visitors, although this is now rising.
It’s a quaint town on the South Island’s West Coast, where the beach is pretty much on the high street! And the backdrop is the Southern Alps, including Aoraki/Mount Cook: New Zealand’s highest mountain.
Just north of the town is the old Seaview Asylum, which is now a lodge and campground, and this is where we stayed when we passed through Hokitika for the second time.
You might think that staying at an old lunatic asylum would be creepy, and you’d be right! After seeing the dorm room setup, which still looks like a ward, I was glad we were sleepnig outside in the camper van.
However, it’s a very interesting place to walk around (in daylight), the facilities are excellent and its position on top of the ridge makes for the most incredible sunset views.
It is also a 2 minute walk from the glow worm dell; a small path leads down the hill to a hollow in the cliff where there are thousands of glow worms.
There are a lot of paid glow worm experiences in New Zealand but this one is completely free!
A lot of people drive through Haast Pass on their way to or from the West Coast, but not many actually stop in Haast.
There are a lot of walks in the area and some interesting displays in the iSite. Apparently you can see penguins here, although we were not that lucky.
There is a lovely beach and a backdrop of snow-capped mountains; it is a beautiful place to stop if you get the chance.
Te Anau is the gateway town to the incredible Milford Sound, and Manapouri is just south of there.
Sitting on the shore of Lake Manapouri, it is a good access point for trips to Doubtful Sound.
There are, of course, some walking opportunities here, and some of them will require you to take a boat across the river to start.
We stayed in a campground in Manapouri when we were unable to book anywhere in Te Anau, and we were very glad that we did; the lake and the mountains are just so beautiful.
11: Lake Hauroko
Lake Hauroko is located on the edge of the southern Fiordlands.
Near the end of the road approaching the lake is a DOC campground, and if you’re interested in being out in nature, this is the place for you.
At night, there are no lights, so you can see all the stars if it’s clear, and we even heard the call of a Morepork owl!
The lake is gorgeous and there is a lovely walk in the forest on the lake’s edge.
If you do visit Lake Hauroko, heed my warning: there are so many sand flies! Make sure you’re covered in repellent before you step outside.
12: Mt Sunday (Edoras)
Heading back up north on the South Island, but on the east coast this time, go inland at Ashburton to a tiny town called Mount Somers.
From here you can keep going inland to reach Mt Sunday, which was the filming location for Edoras in The Lord of the Rings movies.
Even if you’re not a LOTR fan, this place is definitely worth the trip out to.
The drive is long and the road is mostly gravel, so keep this in mind as some vehicles may struggle. We did it in our Honda Odyssey and didn’t have any problems.
After a lot of rural driving, you’ll come over the top of a rise and see the valley spread out in front of you, mountains rearing up on either side.
In the middle is a small rocky hill called Mt Sunday, although you can hardly call it a ‘mount’ when comparing it to the surroundings.
There is a car park and a track that will lead you to the summit for glorious views all around.
Apparently, the set of Edoras was actually built on the hill, so you know you’re walking in some famous footsteps! 😉
Final Thoughts on New Zealand’s Hidden Gems
It feels so great to get off the beaten track in New Zealand, and having your own transportation is pretty much essential for that.
And while the tourist areas are cool, in New Zealand you really benefit from breaking away from the tourist trail.
I know for a fact that there are so many more hidden gems that I didn’t find, so pack a bag, load up your vehicle and get out there! I’d love to know what you find.
Have you found any other hidden gems in New Zealand? What’s your favourite thing about getting off the beaten track? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- 14 Best things to do in New Zealand’s North Island
- Wharariki Beach & the beautiful Archway Islands
- Moving to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa
All images in this post are the property of lastminutewanders.com
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