Top 5 Places in New Zealand You Never Knew Existed

To truly consider yourself an expert on all things New Zealand, a visit to the places that only the locals know about is a must. Here are the top 5 places off the main tourist track that are waiting to be explored.

So you think you've done it all across the Tasman? Think again! To truly consider yourself an expert on all things New Zealand, a visit to the places that only the locals know about is a must. Whether it’s the secret volcanic adventures on White Island or the restored white stone buildings in Oamaru, get off the beaten track to find lots of hidden gems that are waiting to be explored.

Set yourself apart and head to the top 5 most amazing places in New Zealand that most never knew existed.

1. Loved Queenstown? Try the natural wonderland of Wanaka

Everyone knows about thrill-seeking Queenstown, but a short journey away is a place called Wanaka, where you will discover a new world of pristine wilderness, outstanding cuisine and incredible skiing. Only an hour away and over the Crown Range is an altogether quieter, but no less charming, option.

Like Queenstown, Wanaka has two excellent ski fields close by and sits on a turqouise lake surrounded by mountains. There’s the family favourite, Cardrona, known for its wide open slopes and beautiful powder. If you’re more of a serious skier or boarder, then Treble Cone is for you - not only are the views stunning, some of the trails are steep and challenging. For those who seek more action, drive around deer and sheep on the shores of Lake Wanaka in a Land Rover 4WD. You can also see the lake from a different perspective on a day trip where some of the locals might even share the best spots to catch a good trout.

2. Loved Rotorua? Try a volcanic adventure on White Island

Credit: Rob Suisted

The mud pools of Rotorua are definitely one of the most popular attractions on the North Island, but there’s a hidden secret an hour away on White Island - New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. White Island is privately owned, which means you can either explore the island with a licensed tour guide or enjoy the spectacular views from the sky with an aerial tour by helicopter or plane.

A visit to White Island also means you can explore the Bay of Plenty, a great big crescent of white-sand beaches and casual little surf towns. Local members of the Ngati Awa tribe are also happy to share their rich and varied traditions while showing you how to prepare a traditional hangi feast - where food is cooked in the ground over hot coals.

3. Loved the Bay of Islands? Try the glorious Hokianga

Credit: Becky Nunes

So you’ve already holidayed in the popular Bay of Islands, on the eastern coast north of Auckland? Well, how about taking the road less travelled across to the other side of the twin coast, into the magnificent Hokianga Harbour? With sparkling blue waters, immense golden sand dunes and soaring primeval forests, this is New Zealand’s land of firsts.

A thousand years ago it was the landing place for the first Maori migration. In the company of locals, a guided night walk into the Waipoua Forest is an out of this world experience to discover the Maori creation story and meet towering Tane Mahuta - Lord of the Forest and the tallest of New Zealand’s ancient kauri forest giants. The cares of the city will feel far away as you slip into holiday mode - sandboarding, swimming, fishing, walking and enjoying fish and chips beside the water, beneath the stars that guided the ancestors.

4. Loved Wellington? Try the flavours of Marlborough

From the creative capital of Wellington, it’s a quick aerial zip across the water, between New Zealand’s North and South Islands, to sun-kissed Marlborough’s laid-back secret charms. Marlborough is home to vineyard idylls, world-acclaimed wine, tantalising fresh seafood, intimate luxury accommodations and the coastal beauty of the Marlborough Sounds. Between the brushed gold of the Wither Hills and the misty ridges of the Richmond Range, it’s an easy cycle around the hospitable cellar doors and cafes serving the exceptional Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, amongst others.

Off the beaten track, the Sounds is a glorious 1500-kilometre maritime playground of tranquil inlets, sandy bays and the best kept secrets of family holidays and romantic hideaways. If you are feeling active there is a huge range of things to choose from…swimming, boating, diving, fishing, eco tours as well as walking or mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track.

5. Loved Dunedin? Try the curious marvels of Waitaki

Credit: Miles Holden

Dunedin on New Zealand’s eastern coast is known for its Gaelic-flavour…but just a little further north there’s the Waitaki - a valley of undiscovered vineyards, curious landforms, wildlife and quirky art forms. You’ll find Oamaru first, with its impressive Victorian precinct of restored white stone buildings and boutiques, alongside Steampunk HQ’s fantastical off-the-wall gallery that has to be seen to be believed.

Nature lovers can enjoy a close encounter with little blue penguins arriving in from the sea every night, Duntroon’s fascinating Elephant Rocks or the incredible boulders like giant bowling balls scattered along Moeraki Beach. Get active on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail or follow in Rick Stein’s footprints to tuck into the catch of the day and a local Waitaki aromatic white wine at Fleur’s seaside Moeraki restaurant.

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