New Zealand is a small country packed with must-see attractions. From Auckland’s spectacular harbour to the steaming mud pools and geysers of Rotorua, the movie magic of Hobbiton, and the incredible landscapes of the West Coast and Fjordland, there’s no shortage of sights waiting for you to experience on your New Zealand vacation.
But what about for New Zealanders? After all, if you’ve seen it once…
Major world tourist attractions are fantastic, but let’s be honest. The way we holiday in our own backyard differs to the way we normally go Globetrotting. Parisians aren’t at the Louvre every other weekend, Kyoto-ites don’t spend their spare time wandering the gardens of the popular temples, and Sydney-siders aren’t going to the Sydney Opera House every day (Okay, I did do that last one for close to three years, but in fairness, I was working there). Instead, we holiday in special, local places most international tourists just don’t have time to find – at least, not without repeat visits. These are the spots where the locals go, and if you want to immerse yourself in the country’s culture at its most authentic, they can be a great option beyond the usual big tourist stops.
With a shared language and many cultural similarities, New Zealand is an ideal destination for North Americans looking to take this “local” approach. Small and compact, with nonetheless incredibly diverse geography, there are several popular destinations quite close to major cities and tourist centres. Two in particular stand out as great additions to your New Zealand vacation.
The Bay of Plenty – Get Away Like a True Kiwi
Known to the native Maori people as the Sea of Toi, the Bay of Plenty received its English name from Captain James Cook, who was struck by the abundance of natural produce here. These days, it’s a hunger for watersports and the idyllic beach lifestyle that lures travellers, rather than a craving for fresh fruit. Taking up a good portion of New Zealand’s northern coastline, the Bay of Plenty is large enough to offer an “off the track” beach getaway, in spite of the fact you’re actually visiting one of the most popular regions in New Zealand. Part of the reason for this is that with so many different settlements dotting the coast, you can have your choice of urban convenience or the seclusion of a small town.
Perhaps you just want to put your feet up with plenty of amenities and glorious white sand beach at your fingertips. Maybe you’d prefer to get out on the water and see dolphins, seals, and other native life, or immerse yourself in the geothermal sights and nature of this region. The Bay of Plenty is, after all, home to New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, White Island – safely located 48 kilometers/30 miles from shore. If you’d prefer a slightly more accessible geothermal attraction, Rotorua is located less than an hour’s drive south of Tauranga.
When it comes to great beaches, the Bay of Plenty spoils for choice. Even Tauranga, the largest town in the region at over 130,000 people, backs onto pristine white sand beaches that front the bay. Nowhere do these seem more impressive than from the lookouts of Mount Maunganui, a ten minute drive from Tauranga proper. From here, you can get a stunning view of “The Mount” and Tauranga Harbour, with all the convenience of the city at your fingertips. The secret has been out among New Zealanders for quite a few years now, and many maintain holiday homes at Mount Maunganui for those summer escapes.
Realistically though, the Bay of Plenty is a great destination at any time of year. Escaping the humidity of Australia or Florida, New Zealand’s temperate climate makes for idyllic beach weather. Winter gets a bit cold for the beach, but hiking, or as the New Zealanders call it, “tramping”, around the region is just as popular, and golf is a popular sport year-round. In other words, this is a destination that has Globetrotters covered for just about any leisure activity, with the ideal climate for an outdoor lifestyle at any time of year. You may even want to stay longer on your New Zealand vacation, living like a local, or exploring the Bay in detail as a snowbird escape.
Kaiteriteri Beach – On the Edge of Paradise
Just a one hour drive from Nelson, at the northern tip of the South Island, it’s a wonder the small town of Kaiteriteri isn’t a bigger hit with international travellers. Besides boasting a fantastic slice of beach in its own right, it serves as a gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful natural regions, and its smallest national park. Of course, Kaiteriteri keeps things small as well. With only a handful of small guesthouses in town, most visitors bring their own tent or campervan, setting up in one of the designated parks directly across from the beach. Those who aren’t quite so self-sufficient can book a hotel in neighbouring Motukea, from which trips into Abel Tasman National Park are easily accessible.
Part of what makes Abel Tasman National Park such a New Zealand treasure is its ban on vehicles. So, even though you’ll almost definitely want to rent a car to get here, while on your New Zealand vacation, you won’t be able to take it into the park with you. Excursions depart Kaiteriteri (and Motukea) several times a day, showcasing various aspects of the park via both land and sea. Kayak trips and wildlife adventures along the shoreline are particularly popular from Kaiteriteri. But if you want to overnight in the park, be ready to take camping gear, and know that facilities in the park are pretty basic.
But back to Kaiteriteri. The beach perfectly embodies the mild New Zealand climate, with crystal clear waters gently lapping at soft golden sands, all overlooked by the verdant hills of the surrounding forest. Kaiteriteri Beach is actually two beaches. The northern stretch of sand, which is the town’s namesake, is a more popular destination for families, located right across from Kaiteriteri campground. The quieter, southern stretch of beach is known as Little Kaiteriteri Beach, and is usually favoured by solo or childless travellers. In fact, a few hours at Little Kaiteriteri Beach is probably my all-time favourite beach swimming experience anywhere. It’s possible to walk from one end of the beach to the other at low tide, though a high tide walk requires a picturesque diversion up over a forest-covered bluff – with some fantastic views. But low tide is prime time to explore the Kaiteriteri shoreline, as the retreating waters reveal a fascinating ecosystem filled with wildlife. Penguins and other native birds nest along the shore, while a kayaking or other boating adventure can take you to see seals, dolphins, and other regulars around the waters of Abel Tasman.
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