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My Favourite Hidden Gems in New Zealand

My Favourite Hidden Gems in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a land of awe-inspiring beauty, known for its stunning natural landscapes that offer an abundance of adventures. However, beyond the well-trodden paths lie many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. From hidden hikes to secluded bays with crystal-clear waters, New Zealand holds many secret places just waiting to be discovered. In this guide, I’m sharing my favourite hidden gems in New Zealand you’ve probably never heard of.

New Zealand is my home. I had the privilege of growing up in Aotearoa, and now I am fortunate enough to return as a tourist! Every time I go back home I love exploring different parts of the country- the lesser-known gems in particular.

I’ll be honest- I hate crowds. I like the feeling of being somewhere beautiful and feeling like the only person in the world (bar for my husband and son- they can join me on my adventures!).

Read on for some of my favourite hidden gems in New Zealand I love exploring when I’m back on my home soil!

I’ll be adding more and more recommendations as I continue to travel around New Zealand, so be sure to bookmark this page and keep checking back.

Visiting New Zealand? Read my ultimate guide: Planning a trip to New Zealand

Hidden Gems New Zealand North Island

experience maori culture in new zealand

Northland

hidden gems in northland

Northland is a region I spent some time in recently- we hired a car and drove from Auckland up to Cape Reinga and I was amazed by the beautiful sandy beaches that lined the bays. Northland has a real local feel to it; noticeably different to more tourist-heavy locations such as Auckland and the Coromandel.

Cable Bay

Cable Bay, Northland

Cable Bay (not to be confused with the Cable Bay in the South Island) is on the southern side of Doubtless Bay, and was named for the line of telegraph cable that ran between New Zealand and British Columbia in Canada.

It also happens to be one of my favourite places for an affordable beach holiday! We spent a bliss-filled four days at Golden Sand Beachfront Accommodation, which offers spectacular luxury accommodation on Cable Bay Beach. Cable Bay Beach is a beautiful shelly beach with bright golden sand hugged by Pohutukawa trees.

There is a resident kingfisher that you’ll often spot from the kitchen window of the Deluxe Apartment, and we even spotted a pod of Orcas swimming in the bay!

It’s the perfect place for a Kiwi beach holiday.

Karikari Peninsula

Matai Bay, Karikari Peninsula

The Karikari Peninsula is a fun half-day or full-day trip by car. I recommend booking a winery tour at Karikari Estate, New Zealand’s most northern winery, before spending some time swimming and relaxing at the beautiful Maitai Bay.

I recommend visiting on a sunny day- the Karikari Peninsula can look a bit grim when the sun isn’t shining.

Tāne Mahuta

hidden gems in new zealand tane mahuta

Tāne Mahuta- the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand

Tāne Mahuta is the largest known Kauri tree in New Zealand at over 17 metres tall. It is known as the ”God of the Forest.”

The walk to the Kauri is short and easy, and suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. It takes just five minutes and the trail is open from 8 am and 5 pm. There’s a picnic area and a toilet.

Kauri trees are at risk of a pathogen that causes Kauri dieback disease. However, we can protect Kauri by stopping the pathogen from spreading. It’s VERY important to follow these rules when visiting Tāne Mahuta:

  • Use all wash stations you come across
  • Clean your footwear before and after you visit
  • Follow signage instructions
  • Stay on wooden and gravel tracks
  • Do not stand on kauri root zones

You can learn more by visiting the Kauri protection website.

Auckland

hidden gems in auckland

Auckland is the most densely populated region in New Zealand, and it’s also hugely popular with tourists. Head outside the city to discover the hidden gems around the region- there is so much to experience!

Waiake Beach

Waiake Beach in Torbay

Waiake Beach is a wonderful beach located in Torbay, north of Auckland. There is a great wee restaurant called Burger Burger which has a range of yummy cocktails and food. It’s a great place to relax and take in the view of the beach.

Euro Patisserie

For the best steak and cheese pie in New Zealand, head to Euro Patisserie in Torbay! They were the supreme pie winners in 2022, and we taste-tested their pies to make sure they lived up to this title. They did!

Gisborne

hidden gems in gisborne

The region of Gisborne itself is a hidden gem primarily due to its location. Many tourists will skip it because it’s tucked away on the East Coast, but in my humble opinion- it should not be skipped.

Stay at Tatapouri Bay

zen cabin in tatapouri bay

The Zen Cabins at Tatapouri Bay

This is currently on my bucket list for our next trip to New Zealand!

Tatapouri Bay is a blissful little campsite located just 20 minutes from Gisborne. It’s recently had a huge makeover and looks like the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing by the beach and experiencing a little zen.

They have an array of accommodation types, from camping, log cabins and pods, to their gorgeous zen cabins and glamping tents.

They have a beachfront cafe complete with beanbags next to the beach. They also have stingray tours and sunrise yoga!

Wainui Beach is one of the region’s best swimming beaches and is located a few minutes away.

Read more: The best campsites for families in New Zealand

The Dome Cinema

The Dome Cinema is a super cool and quirky cinema. It’s located inside a beautiful colonial-style mansion, but the cinema room really is quite something; bean bags are scattered around a large room with colourful mood lighting.

Grab a cocktail from the bar, plant yourself on a bean bag, and enjoy the film!

Hawkes Bay

hidden gems in hawkes bay

The Hawkes Bay has always been a favourite region of mine. It’s known for its gorgeous warm weather, the art-deco town of Napier, and it’s also a popular wine region.

Cycle the winery trail

hawkes bay winery trail

A fun activity and a way to tick a bunch of Hawkes Bay wineries off your list is by cycling the Wineries Trail.

Hire a bike from either On Yer Bike, home of Ash Ridge Wines, or Ali’s Cycle de Vine near Sileni Estates, then get going! There are two trails to choose from; the easier is the 30km route, but there is a longer 60km route available for ambitious wine enthusiasts.

Here is a link to the map of the Wineries Trail. You can find more info on this trail and others on the Hawkes Bay Trails website.

Manawatu/Whanganui

hidden gems in manawatu the gorge

The Manawatū Gorge

I grew up in the Manawatu region, so I know the area like the back of my hand. There are plenty of hidden gems in the Manawatu/Whanganui region, as this area is often skipped by tourists. But if you want a truly local experience when visiting New Zealand, add my suggestions to your bucket list.

Mr Grumpys Takeaways, Foxton

Fish and chips at the beach is a rite of passage for any Kiwi, and so I thought I’d share my all-time favourite beachside takeaway- Mr Grumpys!

Enjoy your fish and chips down at the local Foxton Beach, which has some pretty fun sand dunes to explore.

Manawatū Gorge Track

The Manawatū Gorge Track isn’t much of a secret for locals, but if you’re from outside the Manawatu it may be news to you. The Manawatu Gorge Track is one of my favourite bush walks in New Zealand. It takes 3-5 hours one way- so you may need someone to pick you up from the end to drive you back around to your car.

Expect to encounter vast wildlife: tui, fantails, bellbirds, keruru and more- it’s a wonderful walk for bird lovers and nature enthusiasts!

There’s also a shorter option called the Tawa Loop Track, which takes 1.5 hours. This is an easier and more convenient option and saves you organising a ride back to your car at the end.

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre

cheeky kaka at pukaha national wildlife centre

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is one of the best places in New Zealand to learn about and meet our native birds, and see Kiwi!

The Haggis and I spent an entire day here walking the nature trails and meeting a variety of cheeky New Zealand birds- including a band of curious Kākā that licked the sweat from our feet (seriously!).

Spend the night in a Yellow Submarine, Marton

The Yellow Submarine near Marton

Yes- you read that right. Possibly the quirkiest accommodation I’ve found on Airbnb- staying in the Yellow Submarine is a must for fans of The Beatles or submarine enthusiasts.

Nestled in woodland on a farm near Marton, this unusual accommodation offers a fully subversive experience, complete with submarine-themed DVDs and books, board games including Battleship, torpedos, sailors hats, and a life-sized Ringo Starr doll!

The submarine is fully kitted out with a mini-fridge, microwave and sink, bathroom with a toilet and shower, and it can sleep up to 4.

Spend the evening watching Yellow Submarine movie featuring the Beatles with a few beers

The beds are super comfortable!

Wellington

hidden gems in wellington
Street art in Wellington

The much-loved capital of New Zealand is popular with both locals and international visitors, so it can be difficult to find areas that aren’t filled with people. Look outside the city for the hidden gems- there is much more to this region than the bustling city!

Kapiti Island

where to see wild kiwis in new zealand
A Brown Kiwi

For a truly special experience, catch the ferry across to Kapiti Island. You can visit for the day, or book an overnight excursion with Kapiti Island Nature Tours where you’ll go kiwi spotting in the wild!

They have a range of accommodation on the island, including a glamping tent and cabins.

It’s one of the few places you can see kiwi in the wild in New Zealand.

Read more: Fun facts about the kiwi

The Miramar Peninsula

Breaker Bay

A lovely drive to do in Wellington is the loop around the Miramar Peninsula, taking in Shelly Bay and Breaker Bay.

Explore some of the more local areas of Wellington: go fishing on the Miramar Wharf, walk the Maupuia Walkway, and be sure to stop at the quirky Chocolate Fish Cafe for seafood sandwiches followed by Nicoletta’s for something sweet.

Hidden Gems New Zealand South Island

travelling during a pandemic

Marlborough

Marlborough may be a famous wine region, but this area has so much more to offer. With a staggeringly beautiful coastline, thriving native bush and winding scenic roads, one of the best experiences you can have is just driving around this region to soak up nature.

Canvastown

canvastown new zealand

Canvastown is a rural village that lives on as one of my favourite memories in New Zealand. It’s a place that’s a bit off the radar, so if you want some peace and quiet in the native bush, I recommend spending a night or two here.

Canvastown saw a boom in the 1860s when gold was discovered and prospective gold miners flocked to the area. It got its name from the tents that popped up amid the gold rush. The miners never made their fortune, as further gold was never discovered in the area!

We stayed at the Riverside Bothie, a beautiful bothy built on the site of an old minors hut on the bank of the Wakamarina River. The Haggis and I enjoyed dinner at the Trout Hotel– the most traditional country Kiwi pub I’ve ever seen!

Selwyn

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Selwyn is one of my favourite regional hidden gems. I worked for the council here and my job was to go out and explore the hiking trails and other fun things to see and do in the district. If you’re staying in Christchurch, I highly recommend a day trip out to the Selwyn District- or even better, stay a few nights in one of the campgrounds or stunning country lodges. Fable Terrace Downs Resort is an idyllic slice of luxury.

Washpen Falls

One of my favourite hidden gems in New Zealand is Washpen Falls.

The walk is a circuit and takes around 2 hours, it’s fairly easy, although appropriate footwear is advised. The walk takes you through native forest to a small hill with superb views across the Selwyn and Canterbury Plains. The path then leads you to a beautiful waterfall- the perfect spot for a dip on a warm day. There is a nice area for a picnic/BBQ just past the waterfall.

The area was used as a filming location for the film Z for Zachariah, starring Margot Robbie and Chris Pine.

It costs $10 per adult and $5 per child to access the walk- so bring cash! Money goes towards the maintenance of the tracks.

West Coast

Motukiekie, West Coast

The wonderfully wild West Coast is home to some beautiful scenery, gorgeous hiking, and of course, New Zealand’s Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Tucked behind some of the region’s most popular attractions are some lovely wee gems that I think are just as special.

Glow Worm Dell

Hokitika glow worm dell
The Glow Worm Dell

A fun activity at night is seeing glow worms- small beetles that glow through bioluminescence. The Glow Worm Dell is located on the State Highway 6 roadside at the northern entrance to Hokitika.

The Glow Worm Dell is located down a 50-metre track, which is a 5-minute return walk and doable with buggies/strollers. It’s free to visit- but please do not touch the glow worms as this can kill them!

Parking is available, but you can also reach the glow worm caves by foot from the town. Be sure to bring a flashlight.

Read more: Things to do in Hokitika

Do you have any hidden gems in New Zealand you would add to this list? Drop a comment below!

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