New Zealand is a magical place. From the islands of the Bay of Plenty to the bubbling mud pools of Rotorua to the majesty of Fox Glacier and iconic Milford Sound, this South Pacific nation has a lot of wonders to behold. However, there are some remarkable sights that get short shrift when discussing the highlights of New Zealand tours.
In the interest of shedding some light on lesser-visited locations within the country, we’ve highlighted some of the hidden wonders of New Zealand. We’ve picked spots on both of the islands and listed more than natural highlights (even though it’s hard not to constantly gush about the country’s natural beauty). If you add some of these locations to your itinerary of essential highlights like Milford Sound, Queenstown, and Auckland Harbour, you’ll have an ideal New Zealand vacation that showcases the endless appeal of the nation.
Located on the southern tip of the South Island, the Catlins lie off the usual tourist routes of New Zealand. This is too bad as you can’t find a more ideal mix of forests, waterfalls, and beaches in the country. In the Catlins, you can hike alongside rugged cliffs and through native forests to discover abandoned sandy bays, breathtaking waterfalls, and even a Petrified Forest. It’s also likely you’ll spot seals, sea lions, and even penguins along the route. Slope Point lies at the southernmost point on the entire island and is your ideal spot to gaze out over the southern seas and experience a breath of fresh air at one of the ends of the earth.
This picturesque cape on the North Island got its name when Maori traders kidnapped the cabin boy of Captain James Cook right off its shores. The traders assumed that the child was being held against his will, but after a short volley from Cook and his sailors, the boy escaped back to the ship. Ever since, this stretch of pale cliffs has been known as Cape Kidnappers. Beyond the striking paleness of the cliffs, Cape Kidnappers is also home to some of the world’s largest gannet colonies. You can head for a hike along the beach or take the 8km hike from Clifton to the cape to see the birds perched atop the cliffs and admire how the sunlight brings them to life in the late afternoon.
Located on the southern tip of the North Island, Cape Palliser is known for its gorgeous lighthouse and the many shipwrecks that occurred off its shores during the 19th century. (The sheer number of shipwrecks presumably precipitated the construction of the lighthouse at the end of the 19th century.) The lighthouse is the most famous in all of New Zealand and worth a visit from nearby Wellington or Martinborough. You can climb the 253 steps up the cliff to reach the lighthouse and enjoy views out over Palliser Bay and Cook Strait. The cape is also home to the largest fur seal colony in New Zealand. If you visit between November and January, you may even see seal pups along the shoreline.
Located in Northland at the top end of the North Island, Doubtless Bay features 60km of pristine landscape that is perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and an ideal beachside getaway on New Zealand tours. In many ways, Doubtless Bay is like the Bay of Islands, only without the tourist crowds. The white-sand beaches are perfect for suntanning, while the clear waters attract dolphins and orcas and are perfect for snorkelling, fishing, and sailing. There are plenty of small settlements dotted along the coastline, with Coopers Beach at the south end and Whatuwhiwhi at the north end. These are great spots to stop for lunch or stay a night at a bed and breakfast. You won’t find a more ideal holiday spot in the whole of New Zealand.
Invercargill is the southernmost city in New Zealand and, as such, is often avoided on some tourist routes. This is a shame because Invercargill is as friendly a city as they come. Extremely walkable and known for its beaches and attractive scenery, Invercargill has a population of just over 53,000 and features gorgeous buildings in Art Deco, Victorian, and Edwardian architectural styles. You’ll find plenty of good restaurants and bars here, as well as accessible beaches and coastal landscapes, such as Oreti Beach and the Waituna Wetlands. Just be aware that the city suffers from a bit of “wheel-mania,” meaning they’re crazy for bikes. Join in the fun on New Zealand tours and cycle around the city for yourself. If you opt for walking, be sure to keep your eyes open for cyclists lest they catch you unawares.
Located on the east coast of the South Island, Oamaru is known for its Victorian architecture and nearby penguin colonies. As the largest town in the Waitaki District, Oamaru used to be a gold mining and quarry town. Today, it’s more famous for its gorgeous public gardens, which are the oldest in the country, great dining scene, and bounty of golf courses and wineries. Spend your day strolling through the Victorian old town and visiting wineries to sample local vintages. At sundown, head to the beach to see adorable Little Penguins waddle ashore. If you happen to visit on a Sunday, you’ll also be there in time to see the Oamaru Farmers’ Market, which takes place every week.
These stunning rock formations located just to the north of Cape Palliser are some of the most fascinating (and creepiest) rocks you’ll find in the entire country. Famous for their role as the Paths of the Dead in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, these stone pillars were formed through erosion, rains, and floods over the course of the last 120,000 years. You can walk through the stone valley on three different routes, either passing through the rocks or looping around to a lookout. All trails take you alongside the pillars and let you admire the sparse vegetation and jagged rocks up close.
Most New Zealand tours on the North Island incorporate a trip to the Waitomo Caves, where you can sail along the Glowworm Grotto and gaze upon the incredible worms that light up the underground caverns. Of course, there are more caves with fascinating glowworms than Waitomo. Enter Waipu Caves. Located in the far north of the North Island, the Waipu Caves feature glowworms that light up their subterranean network of caves. You can marvel at the worms’ bioluminescent abilities and admire the fascinating stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Best of all, they’re free to explore.
These hidden wonders may be familiar to locals, but they lie off the beaten path for most tourists heading on a trip to New Zealand. Don’t make the same mistakes as other travellers exploring the country. Venture to these incredible cities, capes, and natural icons to experience some of the best spots in the country. Avoid the crowds and take in the full breadth of New Zealand’s beauty.
Exploring Natural Icons on New Zealand Tours