New Zealand is one of my favorite places in the world. It is known worldwide as the adventure hub of bungee jumping, caving, skydiving, skiing, and hiking. My favorite parts, however, is the untouched beauty: charming little towns, breathtaking scenery, friendly locals and tons of sheep! It’s well worth looking a bit outside the tourist brochure if you want to find the hidden gems. I’ve found some less-frequented towns in New Zealand that will get you off the beaten path and truly experiencing the paradise of this island country.
Rotorua, set on its namesake lake, is renowned for Maori culture, thermal baths, and smelling like rotten eggs. Don’t let that deter you – the town center is packed with shops, diverse restaurants, and quaint coffee shops. A highly sought after nearby attraction is the bubbling mud pools and the 30m-tall Pohutu Geyser, which erupts many times daily. For a cultural activity, witness a traditional performance at the living Maori village. For a moderate hike with scenic views, take a walk in the Redwood Forest just 10 minutes away.
This island is chock-full of adorable beach towns to explore. Located a short 35-minute ferry ride off the coast of Auckland, Waiheke is a community of creatives and a holiday destination for the rich and famous. The beaches are pristine, surrounded by steep cliffs and crystal blue waters. Hiking tracks, and mountain biking paths, as well as vineyards are highly sought after on this island locale.
A small town with lots of character, Nelson has something for everyone. Relax at Tahunanui Beach, check out the weekly outdoor market, or hike to the center of New Zealand. For a longer hiking trip head to Abel Tasman Park just 30 minutes drive away. Whether you prefer hiking, relaxing in a flower garden, or sampling artisanal beer, you will find something you love in this charming coastal town.
Highly sought after for the famous Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki is an ultimate beach getaway. Spend the day listening to the crashing waves or take a hike in Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s newest Great Walk. The Paparoa Track lets hikers and mountain bikers discover impressive rock formations, ancient rainforest and the breathtaking scenery.
This river port sits extremely close to many natural wonders of the South Island like Arthur’s Pass and Franz Josef Glacier. Check out the local artisans and craft scene as Hokitika is the birthplace of indigenous pounamu, green colored gems. Maori used these stones for tools and weapons by Maori due to its strength and durability.
Wanaka is a picturesque, slow-paced town surrounded by snow-capped peaks, perfect for travelers seeking an escape from the touristy areas. Roy’s Peak is breathtaking as a sunrise hike, or walk inside the Wanaka Lavender Farm for a unique and sweet-smelling activity. Rippon and Maude Wineries host classy wine tastings and are perfect spots for photographs of Lake Wanaka.
Just a stone’s throw away from the hub of Queenstown, this quaint town got its big break in the 1860s after the discovery of gold in the Arrow River. Main Street is lined with boutique shops, hipster coffee hang-outs, and stylish dining options. On your way out stop at one of many vineyards along Route 6 for world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Best known as a jumping-off point for tourists going to Milford Sound, Te Anau is a charming township set on New Zealand’s second largest lake. Here you will find affordable accommodation, delicious fish and chips, and a walk along the waterfront.
Step into the past as you enter this often-overlooked historic village on New Zealand’s east coast. Even the town’s recently reconstructed transportation – penny farthings and steam trains – reflect a unique and significant heritage. Most travelers stop here only for the Penguins, but be sure to check out the Victorian architecture and eclectic art culture in this laid-back town.
Perched on a peninsula on the eastern coast, Akaroa is a 1.5 hour drive from Christchurch, New Zealand. Celebrated for its distinctly French influence and the rolling Akaroa hills, come here for the history and stay for the wide range of activities (and fish and chips!) Stop by the lighthouse, take a hike, or simply read a book on the beach and watch the boats go by.
Did your favorite town in New Zealand make this list? Let me known in the comments!
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