Hidden Gems of The North Island

Hidden Gems of The North Island

New Zealand
Castle Point Lighthouse has been Featured on the TV’s Coast programme

Hidden Gems of The North Island

We’ve all heard of the big name towns and ‘must do’s” of New Zealand’s North Island. Although amazing as those are, many incredible locations, those hidden gems of the North Island, are often completely overlooked.

Here, we reveal our favourite hidden gems of the North Island, discovering a whole lot more to the extraordinary landscapes, through off the beaten track locations, away from the busy tourist hot spots.

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.

Martinborough – Hidden Gems of The North Island

Snuggled amongst the vineyards, is this extremely classy town in the Wairarapa region, to the North East of Wellington.

Sampling one of the fine wines on offer, from the numerous white-washed establishments, is all part of the experience. Around 40 vineyards are to be found here, the best way to reach the vines is by bicycle!

We set about on foot, although you can hire bikes in town. A map conveniently locates all the vineyard routes, so all we had to do was choose which ones to sample! Gosh, such hard decisions!

Martinborough New Zealand
A classic car to go with the Classy feel of Martinborough

Castlepoint

Recently featured in the British TV programme “Coast”, it’s not difficult to see why, this picturesque headland is just so mesmerising.

Swathes of golden sands lead to a tidal spit lagoon, where vehicles of all descriptions park on the scenic beach, below the watchful eye of the lighthouse above.

Come nightfall, the gleaming white of the lighthouse, is replaced by a colourful display of dramatic light effects. Under a full moon, when the natural moonlight lights up the ocean it’s just enchanting.

We were lucky enough to bump into the lighthouse keeper, or should I say, the guy who looks after the light display! Fully laden with fresh fish, hot off his BBQ, he happily donated a few delicious Terakei for our supper..yum yum!

Castlepoint lighthouse New Zealand
Castlepoint lighthouse lighting up the night under the full moon

Cape Palliser and Ngawi

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. Accessible up a large wooden staircase, once at the top, the views stretch out across the ocean, worth every bit of effort for those coastal views.

Cape Palliser New  Zealand
Seals at Cape Palliser
New Zealand Bulldozers
Bulldozers on the Beach at Ngawi

Kuirau Park – Rotorua

Ok, so Rotorua is possibly one of the biggest tourist hot spots on the North Island, but many of the thermal highlights that attract the coach loads, 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!

Walk on towards the lakeside village of Ohinemutu, for a cultural stroll alongside the steaming pavements (yes, steam literally comes up through the kerb stones), passing a beautiful Maori meeting house along the way.

Rotorua New Zealand
Steaming pools at Kuriau Park
Rotorua
The Beautiful Maori Meeting House

Aratiatia Rapids – Taupo

Between October and March, the floodgates open 4 times daily, releasing a colossal deluge of water, through this empty, boulder-laden gorge. It’s part of a Hydro-Electric dam system, where the water is released at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm during Summer.

As the siren starts, water gushes at an astonishing rate. View points allow for spectators to marvel at this explosive force, it really is a sight to see and sound for that matter.

Aratatia Dam New Zealand
The boulder-ridden gorge before the floodgates open
Taupo
The floodgates open, water filling the gorge

Putaruru Blue Springs – Near Hamilton

Well this was a surprise find, supplying 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water, taking 100 years to filter through, from the plateau above.

The result, is the clearest, blue fringed stream, catching different lights, reflecting even more colours on the surface.

An easy walk, which we took from the car park, leads along the stream, with picnic areas alongside. A longer walk is possible, but I gave this a miss for once, feeling sorrow for myself with a heavy cold.

Blue Springs North Island NZ
The blue waters at Blue Spring, living up to the name
Blue Springs North Island NZ
An easy walk from the car park alongside the springs

The Other Hot Water Beach – Ocean Beach, Kawhia

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, lead us over to the huge Ocean Beach and the Te Puia Hot Springs.

These soothing hot waters, rise up from the black sands of the beach, all we had to do was find 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, we’d hit a spot almost straight away.

Digging with a bucket and a frisbee (typically too disorganised to bring a spade!), we soon had a very round hot pool to soak in and the beach to ourselves.

Hot Water Beach Kawhia New Zealand
Our very own hot pool on the deserted Ocean Beach

Mangapohue Natural Bridge – Near Waitomo

This super scenic short walk, through limestone rock formations is just stunning. Following a boardwalk through a narrow chasm, the route alongside a stream is so scenic.

Emerging out into farmland, to join a small track back to the start, lead us passed fossilised rocks. 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.

Piripiri Caves – Near Waitomo

A short walk from the car park through scenic bush and there we were, at the entrance to the most gigantic cave!

In typical Kiwi fashion, a wooden staircase has been built inside, wandering in we took a peak into the darkness. The hollow of the formation appearing to swallow us up, this place was massive!

Torches on and a glimpse up at the ceiling, revealed giant Oyster fossils, staring back in the dimly lit cavern. Crazy, beautiful and oh so big..brilliant!

Marokopa Falls – Near Waitomo

Along the same route as Piripiri Caves and Natural Bridge, comes these exceptional falls.

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.

Marokopa Falls
The stunning falls at Marokopa

The Forgotten World Highway

It’s 155km long and takes in a 12km section of gravel road. Whilst the highlight was probably getting our passports stamped, at the rather quirky town of Whangamonona. Incredibly, it’s independent Republic – how amazing is that?

We started out at Stratford, branching off for a 30km round detour, along the unsealed road to The Bridge To Somewhere. Not a good idea, unless you love dust-filled lungs and 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, not many folk seem to come this way, adding 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!

Forgotten  World Highway
The Independent Republic of Whangamonona
Forgotten World Highway
Nige at the road sign!

Aongatete Swimming Holes, Katikati

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, 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!

Aongatete Swimming Holes North Island NZ
Aongatete Swimming Holes, just beautiful

Raglan

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, 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.

Raglan North Island NZ
Paddle Boarder’s out at Raglan

Bridal Veils Falls – Near Raglan

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 take on the hike back up, either way these are so pretty! Plunging into a pool beneath, we stopped to take it all in from the lower viewing platform.

Bridal Falls New Zealand
Bridal Falls is just stunningly beautiful

Opoutere

An estuary full of sea birds, a forest walk to a glorious white sandy surf beach, nothing much here, other than the scenery-pretty idyllic!

We stopped on a lovely freedom camp overlooking the water, just perfect!

Waikato River Trails

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.

Waikato River Trials
One of the Freedom Camping spots along the Waikato River Trails Route

Pauanui

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, the local acrobatic planes that do some cool tricks in the sky above.

Pauanui
The grass runway at Pauanui

Kai Iwi Lakes

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, 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, both full on our visit in January and unfortunately, no freedom camping sites.

Kai Iwi Lakes North Island NZ
The beautiful blue lake at Kai Iwi lakes

Karikari Peninsula

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.

Karikari peninsula North Island NZ
Parked alongside for a beach picnic at Rangiputa

Whangarei Heads

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!

Whangarei Heads North Island
Nigel standing on the end of a natural Lava jetty at Whangarei Heads

Thanks for reading Hidden Gems of The North Island – More Blog Posts:

adventure Aires Annecy Australia Australia Roadtrip Blog Buying a Vehicle Australia Camargue camper conversion Campervan Essentials Europe Explore France freedom camping Heathrow Airport Italian Cities Italian Riviera Italy Sosta Motorhome Motorhome Sosta New Zealand new zealand road trip New Zealand van New Zealand Walks North Island North Island NZ North Wales Off Grid panel van project vanlife Road Trip Travel Travellers Autobarn travel writing Tuscany Vanlife vanlife blogs Wales Waterfalls Wellington wild camping Winter Travel Writing

Campervan Castaways Cool Comments Welcome!

%d bloggers like this: