By Kat Harrell, ISA New Zealand Site Specialist
New Zealand is pretty “out there” as it is—the opposite side of the planet, over 1,200 miles from its closest neighbor, Australia. But even New Zealand has developed some “main stream” tourist spots, like Auckland, Rotorua, Milford Sound, Abel Tasman National Park, Mount Cook, and Queenstown. While these are all amazing places to visit and should certainly be on your New Zealand bucket list, what about the more out of the way, wild places? In a country known for being exciting and different, where do you go to find something…well, exciting and different? Here are some of our favorite out-of-the-way spots for a weekend or day trip.
The Coromandel Peninsula
Located just four hours from central Auckland by bus, the Coromandel Peninsula is known for clear turquoise water, sand beaches, a warm climate all year, and not too many tourists. Check out the seaside towns of Thames, Coromandel, and Whitianga for seafood cafes, fresh produce markets, and inexpensive accommodation. Spend an afternoon swimming and lounging in Cathedral Cove, wander the coastal walks, and definitely make sure to spend at least one afternoon on Hot Water Beach. Rent a shovel and dig out a personal hot tub in the sand near the hot spring that bubbles up on the beach.
On the coast of Hawke’s Bay, the city of Napier is the “Art Deco Capital of the World,” home to street after street that looks like it was taken right out of the 1930s. Every February, visitors from around the world arrive with bob cuts, flapper dresses, and bathing costumes to celebrate the city’s history and culture. Speaking of history, Napier is also home to New Zealand’s oldest prison, where you can take a tour and learn about some of the nation’s most dangerous (and most bizarre) criminals. And, of course, the pebbled beaches and cool, clear water are pretty great, too.
Taupo is almost exactly at the center of the North Island, which makes it a perfect stop when heading…well, anywhere. Sitting on the shores of an enormous lake, Taupo is relatively small, especially compared to Rotorua, a popular tourist spot a little north. However, while Rotorua claims amazing geothermal activity and Maori culture, Taupo has charms of its own. Kayak along the lakes edge to take in the beautiful Maori carvings. Skydiving with one of the companies in Taupo means a chance to see both the east and west coasts of the North Island as you take the leap. Spend the day on “New Zealand’s best day hike,” the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a short bus ride around the lake. And a short bike ride out of town, discover a hot spring cascading down into terrace upon terrace, down into the lake—the perfect place to spend a cool afternoon.
A little town on the coast between Christchurch and Dunedin, Oamaru boasts a local cheese factory, amazing restaurants, and a proud heritage, visible throughout the Victoria Precinct. Penny-farthing bicycles and Victorian architecture can be seen any day of the year, but it’s definitely best to visit in mid November for the Victorian Heritage Celebrations, which include tons of costumes, crafts, and food. A day trip to Oamaru is included in the ISA Dunedin program.
Not far from Queenstown, in the middle of mountain biking and hiking trails, sits Arrowtown, a place still captured by New Zealand’s gold mining history. Top off a day of hiking and exploring with a stop in one of the fantastic restaurants along Arrowtown’s main street. Arrowtown is also a great stop on your way to or from the slopes of Coronet Peak, the Remarkables, and Cardona Ski Resort.
This lakeside town is best known as a stop on the bus ride between Queenstown and Milford Sound. However, don’t just pass through. Stick around long enough to experience a few of New Zealand’s best multi-day hikes—the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track, and the Kepler Track. If you’re only around for the day, kayak the lake for breathtaking views of the mountains of Fiordland. And if you really do only have a few minutes, grab a pie from Miles Better Pies—some of the best you’ll have in New Zealand!