We’ve all heard of the “must do” sights across New Zealand. But amazing as those are, many of the hidden gems of the North Island are often completely overlooked.
So, we will reveal our own favourite hidden gems of the North Island. Discovering a whole lot more to the extraordinary landscapes on offer and bringing a few more ideas for touring this incredible region.
From off the beaten track locations away from the busy tourist hot spots to some beautiful wine regions, rock formations and beaches.
Hopefully, you’ll get to explore these too and see a quieter, but equally beautiful side to the extremely diverse, natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.
Snuggled amongst the vineyards, is this extremely classy town in the Wairarapa region, to the North East of Wellington.
Sampling some of the fine wines on offer from the numerous white-washed establishments is all part of the experience. Above all, there are about 40 vineyards to be found here and the best way to reach the vines is by bicycle!
However, we set about on foot – although you can hire bikes in the town.
Best of all, there is a map which conveniently locates all the vineyard routes – so all we had to do was choose which ones to sample! Gosh – such hard decisions!
Castlepoint was recently featured in the British TV programme “Coast” and it’s not difficult to see why. Because, this picturesque headland is just so mesmerising.
Let’s begin with the swathes of golden sands leading to a tidal spit lagoon. It’s here that vehicles of all descriptions park on this scenic beach – all below the watchful eye of the well known lighthouse.
Then, come nightfall the gleaming white of the lighthouse is replaced by a colourful display of dramatic lighting effects. Best of all is under the light of a full moon. During this time, the natural moonlight lights up the ocean before reflecting across the bay – it’s just an enchanting sight.
We were lucky enough to bump into the lighthouse keeper, or should I say – the guy who looks after the light display! Along he came, fully laden with fresh fish which was hot off his BBQ and luckily for us, he happily donated a few delicious Terakei for our supper – yum yum!
It may be remote, but perhaps that’s why this is home to the North Island’s largest breeding Seal Colony. This place is awesome! The coast is rugged, the waves high and the Seals with their young were everywhere on our visit.
Just before the huge Seal colony is the weirdest sight we’ve seen for a while! At Ngawi, a display of rusty bulldozers line the beach, bringing in fishing boats, in a typically Kiwi style!
If you carry on to the very end of the road, you’ll come to the lighthouse. Don’t be put off by the steps – yes this is only accessible up a very large wooden staircase. But once at the top, the views stretch out across the ocean for miles and it really is worth every bit of effort to see those coastal views.
Ok, so Rotorua is possibly one of the biggest tourist hot spots on the North Island. Not only that, but many of the thermal highlights that attract the coach loads of tourists are pricey and busy at that!
So, this is where Kuirau Park comes in. This free park, is a just that – a park! However, this natural thermal wonderland, complete with bubbling muds, steaming pools and heaps of thermal activity will leave you in awe of this ultra cool hot spot!
If you walk on towards the lakeside village of Ohinemutu, there’s a cultural stroll alongside the steaming pavements. Yes, steam literally comes up through the kerb stones and the walk itself passes a beautiful Maori meeting house along the way.
Between October and March, the floodgates of the Aratiatia Rapids open 4-times daily, releasing a colossal deluge of water through this empty, boulder-laden gorge. It’s all part of a Hydro-Electric dam system, where water is released at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm during Summer months.
It’s a thunderous deluge and one that isn’t to be missed if you’re in this part of the island.
As the siren sounds, the water gushes at an astonishing rate. There are view points, allowing for spectators to marvel at this explosive force – it really is a sight to see and sound for that matter.
Well this is a surprise find. Supplying 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water and taking no less than 100 years to filter through from a plateau above.
The result is the clearest, blue fringed stream, catching different lights and reflecting even more colours on the surface.
There’s an easy walk, which we took from the car park and leads along the stream passing picnic areas alongside. A longer walk is possible, but we gave this a miss for once, feeling sorry for myself with a heavy cold.
We’ve all heard and possibly been to the very busy Hot Water Beach on The Coromandel, but we hadn’t realised there was this little gem over on the West coast.
It took us a while to get there, but the result was well worth the effort. Climbing up a large sand dune path soon lead us over to the huge Ocean Beach and the Te Puia Hot Springs.
These soothing hot spring waters rise up from the black sands of the beach. Now all we had to do was find out where from – heck where would we start?
With just one other couple on the beach, it wasn’t exactly obvious to begin with. So, we just took off the shoes and got to work with our feet. Soon realising that the water was warm right beneath us – yes – we’d hit a spot almost straight away.
Now for the digging with our handy bucket and a frisbee – typically too disorganised to bring a spade! Luckily we soon had a very round hot pool to soak in and the beach to ourselves – perfect!
This super-scenic short walk took us through limestone rock formations and proved to be stunning. Next, a boardwalk took us through a narrow chasm, alongside a stream and it is truly beautiful. Best of all – it’s free!
Next, we emerge out into farmland before joining a small track back to the start, this lead us passed fossilised rocks – quite amazing. This was an added bonus to an already, worthwhile sight.
Steps then lead us up towards the hollow of the former cave. Meandering through a natural stone bridge, towering overhead, was simply beautiful.
A little further on from the natural bridge is another little gem. This one, takes you through a scenic bush walk right to the entrance to the most gigantic cave!
In typical Kiwi fashion, a wooden staircase has been built inside, so we were able to wander in and take a peek into the darkness. The huge hollow of the formation appeared to swallow us up in the process – this place was massive!
With our torches switched on and a quick glimpse up at the ceiling, revealed some giant Oyster fossils staring back into the dimly lit cavern. Crazy, beautiful and oh so big – brilliant!
Along the same route as Piripiri Caves and Natural Bridge, comes these exceptional waterfalls.
Another short scenic stroll leads to the 30m High falls, which are simply beautiful. Glistening in the sunlight, the cascading water seemed so elegant. New Zealand is certainly not short on water falls, but these were just so lovely and well worth a visit.
It’s 155km long and takes in a 12km section of gravel road but the highlight was probably getting our passports stamped at the rather quirky town of Whangamonona. Incredibly, it’s an independent Republic – how amazing is that?
We started out on the journey at Stratford, before branching off for a 30km round detour, along the unsealed road to The Bridge To Somewhere. However, this was not a good idea! That is unless you love dust-filled lungs and a van to match! We were covered in the stuff – inside and out!
It’s an out of the way kind of place, full of remote farmland resembling the Wild West and not many folk seem to come this way. All this adds to the simplicity of the route.
Another 14km detour along another gravel road, then a 20 minute walk, took us to the 74m high Dampner Falls – one of the highest in the North Island.
A narrow tunnel and scenic bush line the route to the finish at Taumarunui. Now all we had to do was clean the van of dust – what a task that was!
This peaceful little oasis appears following a 30 minute bush walk, leading to several delightful swim holes.
We arrived to find a pool to ourselves, an infinity moment, swimming to the edge and looking over into the next pool below.
Both taking the plunge with a refreshing dip in the cool river water, it was just us and the birdsong for company. Oh, we also spotted a little owl in the trees on the way back to the van – so keep those eyes peeled!
It may not be quite the hidden gem for the surfing brigade, but for those not so interested in riding those waves, Raglan may just get overlooked.
We love the other side to Raglan. There’s the picturesque estuary, character shops and not forgetting the best Fish and Chips on the scenic wharf.
You can’t help feel it’s a little bit of a hippy vibe. Where anything goes, but nothing much needs to be done here, other than enjoy the relaxed, laid back feel.
This really beautiful, drop waterfall is well worth the 300 steps that take you to its base.
A viewing platform at the top, means you don’t have to walk to the botton and back up if you don’t want to. However, as the falls plunge into a pool beneath, we stopped to take it all in from the lower viewing platform.
It’s an estuary full of sea birds with a forest walk to a glorious white sandy surf beach and not much else here, other than the scenery – pretty idyllic!
We stopped on a lovely freedom camp overlooking the water – just perfect!
Walks, cycle trails and lots of fabulous freedom camping spots. This route, following a series of river dams along the river, brings numerous, scenic lakeside stops.
This place is just so ultra plush…oozing style, relaxed vibes and sleepy beach day atmosphere.
Surrounded by the stunning estuary, mountains, beaches and a fabulous marina, it’s just such a classy place to spend some time.
Add to that a couple of really nice little freedom camping spots and a grass strip runway, where you can do some plane spotting, especially, as the local acrobatic planes do some cool tricks in the sky above.
A trio of fresh water lakes and quite frankly, the bluest I’ve ever seen! Resembling something more reminiscent of a Caribbean beach, its white sands surrounded the crystal clear water.
To add to the beauty, there’s a 7.5km walk that took us around the lakeside, before stopping for a picnic on the white sandy shore. The aroma of Manuka trees filled the air as we meandered this easy route back to the van.
There’s a couple of camp sites to choose from, but both were full on our visit in January and unfortunately, there are no freedom camping sites.
A feeling of remoteness set in as we drove the long “Inland Road” along the centre of this scenic peninsula. It’s all about the beaches here, long swathes of white sands, clear blue sea and unspoilt coastline.
We parked alongside Tokerau Beach, a fabulous freedom camping spot alongside the ocean.
Further along at the end of the peninsula lies Maitai Bay, where a lovely DOC campground lies between 2 incredible bays. For us, this was too irresistible, we had to spend a night under the stars in this fabulous setting.
At Rangiputa, is found the most stunning bay, a tropical looking paradise, with hardly anyone around.
There’s some walks too and plenty of rock pools, swimming and surf to keep you entertained.
Wow! This place is stunning, so much so that we could have stayed for weeks. Located just outside of Whangarei, this peninsula of fabulous inlets, amazing walking tracks and incredible beaches, seems too good to be true.
It doesn’t seem to attract the international tourist numbers of other NZ locations, although popular with plenty of Kiwi’s. We loved it and with several good freedom camping spots on offer, all with amazing beach locations, we really were rather spoilt here.
If you like hiking, you’ll be pleased to know, there’s some pretty hilly tracks, keeping those legs toned and heart pumping. We did several including, Mt Manaia, Busby Head, Smugglers Cove, Te Whara Loop and Patua South.
Just one last thing, there’s not much in the way of shops here, so stock up in Whangarei town before heading this way!
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