HIDDEN NEW ZEALAND
The good thing about New Zealand is that there are still places undiscovered. It's easy to go off the beaten path even if you're not trying to - and with a country whose population is less than 5 million, don't be surprised if you find there's no one else around. Beaches, mountains, landscapes, even nostalgic places abound. Here are a few New Zealand spots where you're not going to be surrounded by tour groups:
The Blue Pools
The scenic road over Haast Pass, the southern gateway to the West Coast, is one of the most stunning in the country.
The journey offers a variable landscape of rainforest, wetlands, lakes, glacier-fed rivers and white water rapids.
One of the best walks is just north of Makarora, located within the World Heritage listed Mount Aspiring National Park. This is the Blue Pools Walk, which has become world-renowned as a must-see highlight in this wilderness region. It features a carefully maintained gravel path and boardwalks that wind through a native silver beech forest and lead to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking. The track continues deep into the forest, with bellbird and tui calls echoing through the trees, to a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion.
The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air.
Castle Hill is a location and a high country station in New Zealand's South Island. It is located at an altitude of 700 metres, close to State Highway 73 between Darfield and Arthur's Pass. The hill was so named because of the imposing array of limestone boulders in the area reminiscent of an old, run-down stone castle. The front of Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch was made from Castle Hill limestone. In 2002 it was named a "Spiritual Center of the Universe" by the Dalai Lama. It is widely considered to be the epitome of New Zealand's South Island climbing scene, where on any given day one can find rock climbers bouldering the unique limestone outcroppings. This area has recently seen more visitors, as nearby Flock Hill station was used for the filming of the climactic battle scenes of the 2005 movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
New Chums Beach
Hidden away from the masses and rarely explored by Kiwi’s is the spectacular ‘New Chum Beach’, which ironically has been voted as one of the world's top 10 beaches! This stunning stretch of golden sand is fringed by Pohutukawa and native forest and is deserted for most of the year. New Chum beach embodies 'The Coromandel good for your soul.' This protected beach has no buildings, no roads, no infrastructure or camping - it is a jewel in New Zealand's coastal crown.
Lake Marian is one of those little gems tucked just far enough off the beaten track to remain unspoiled yet conveniently close to the major attractions. Very few of the nearly half a million visitors who drive past it on their way to Milford Sound each year would have even heard of this track, although I think it features one of the best views in Fiordland National Park. All the better for those of us lucky enough to experience it on foot!
Around seven million years ago, the Aorangi Range was an island. As the mountains eroded, scree and gravel were washed down to the coast, where they formed a sedimentary layer. Over the past 120,000 years, the Putangirua Stream has exposed this ancient layer of gravel to the erosive forces of rain and floods. Some of the sediments stayed concreted together, while others washed away. The result is the Putangirua Pinnacles 'some of the most amazing rock formations you will ever see'. This outlandish place was used as a filming location for the 'Paths of the Dead' scene in the Return of the King, the third movie in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The pinnacles are an hour's drive south of Martinborough. or a little longer from Featherston. When you arrive, follow one of the walking tracks along the riverbed.
Titirangi Matangi Island
Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary and one of New Zealand's most important and exciting conservation projects. It is located 30km north east of central Auckland and just 4km from the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. A hundred and twenty years of farming had seen this 220-hectare island stripped of 94% of its native bush but between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. The Island is now 60% forested with the remaining 40% left as grassland for species preferring open habitat. In conjunction with this planting programme, all mammalian predators were eradicated and a number of threatened and endangered bird and reptile species have been successfully introduced, including the flightless takahe, one of the world’s rarest species, and the tuatara. There are few places in New Zealand where you can readily see and walk amongst so many rare species. Access is by a regular ferry service (limits do apply) and private craft.
Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte
Ship Cove was Captain James Cook’s favourite New Zealand base during his three voyages of exploration. The area holds key cultural heritage stories told in a beautiful sheltered cove with a lush coastal forest backdrop.
Putaruru Blue Springs, Te Waihou Walkway
The Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway is internationally acclaimed with water so pure it supplies around 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water. The spring is fed from the Mamaku Plateau where the water takes up to 100 years to filter through; the resulting water is so pure and clean that it produces a beautiful blue colour while being virtually clear. The walk to the springs follows a track alongside the Waihou River, through wetlands, across rolling pastoral land and features views of small waterfalls, native bush and the famous Blue Spring with glimpses of trout along the way.
Bridal Veil Falls, Raglan
Bridal Veil Falls was one of the more picturesque waterfalls in the North Island. It is located near the surfing town of Raglan (which helps to differentiate this from the other waterfalls of the same name in New Zealand). What makes the falls stand out s that its waters seemingly jump off a 55m cliff then spend most of its time in the air before crashing into its deep plunge pool below. In fact, the Maori name of the falls was Waireinga, which means "leaping waters", and this name is far more descriptive of what a visitor would be likely to see here than the very common name of Bridal Veil.
Otago Rail Trail
New Zealand's Original Great Bike Ride is open all year round. It's all off-road, no traffic, just Central Otago's big skies and distinctive landscape to enjoy. You can explore the Otago Central Rail Trail at a leisurely pace. Whatever your interests are, there's something for you. Discover old historic gold-mining villages, country pubs, rugged scenery, or try some great off-trail adventures.
Steeped in history with a dazzling landscape, St Bathans is famed for its startling Blue Lake and the Vulcan Hotel, said to be haunted. Established in 1863, this Central Otago town once consisted of more than 2000 miners and a surprising 13 hotels. Now the permanent population is less than 10. View restored stone fences, the Anglican Church, bank, stone houses, school ruins, Catholic Church and billiard hall. A highlight is the two-storey high Kauri Post Office (1909). The Blue Lake was created during the Otago gold mining era. It started as a hill and was reduced to a pit from which shafts and then hydraulic elevators brought up gravel for sluicing. In its day it was the deepest mining hole in the Southern Hemisphere. When mining stopped, it flooded full of water. The blue colour of the lake is caused by the mineral content of the surrounding, visually striking cliffs. The famous Vulcan Hotel, constructed of sun dried mud brick, dates back to 1882. It is said to be haunted by a female ghost, which was the inspiration behind the name of a local triathlon event, Ghost to Ghost. A shamrock on the front facade of the Vulcan is a reminder of the rivalry between the Irish settlers from St Bathans and the Welsh settlers from nearby Cambrians, known as The War of the Roses. Enjoy swimming and boating on the lake, admire the amazing colours all around or conjure up images of yesteryear with a stroll down St Bathans’ main street.
New Zealand is known for a lot of natural wonders, and Aurora Australis (The Southern Lights) has to be one of the most wonderful of all. But with the right conditions and the right location, the Aurora Australis will give you a night to remember. Aurora Australis may be lesser known than Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights), but it is just as impressive! Only a few of us have had the privilege to see the electric phenomenon because we struggle to get far enough south. That’s with the exception of Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Antarctica. In New Zealand, you can see the aurora activity as a green and pink hue over the horizon and even dancing green veils lighting up the sky. To increase your chances of seeing the Southern Lights on your travels, you need a combination of the best time, the best weather conditions, and being in the right place.
Anapai is one of Abel Tasman National Park’s loveliest bays, its beach divided into two by rock outcrops with considerable contrast of shapes between the harder rock at the northern end of the beach, and the softer, more deeply weathered granite to the south.
The Old Ghost Road
In the North West corner of the South Island of New Zealand a ghost has awakened. A long-forgotten gold miners’ road has been revived as a mountain biking and tramping trail – connecting the old dray road in the Lyell (Upper Buller Gorge) to the mighty Mokihinui River in the north. The 85km-long Old Ghost Road traverses majestic native forest, open tussock tops, river flats and forgotten valleys. A proud member of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, the volunteer-driven Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust has partnered with a range of other entities to make The Old Ghost Road a reality. It’s almost as if the engineers from the 1870’s knew we were coming! The spirits of the old miners and track builders are inescapable and four ghost towns populate the route. The Old Ghost Road is quite literally an 85km-long outdoor museum.
Blue Lake, Nelson Lakes
Located in Nelson Lakes National Park, Blue Lake—also known as Rotomairewhenua—holds the title of the world’s clearest lake. Scientific tests carried out in 2011 by New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) showed Blue Lake to be the clearest natural body of fresh water known to man. According to the NIWA research results, visibility in the lake is up to 80 metres (262 ft) – meaning the water is considered almost as “optically clear” as distilled water.
Karamea has a relaxed ‘off the beaten track’ feel. The area is a natural wonderland, with the beginning or end of the famous Heaphy, Wangapeka & Karamea-Leslie Tracks and the Oparara Basin with the Honeycomb Hill Caves & Limestone Arches in the Kahurangi National Park.Karamea is a secluded haven, situated between the mountains and the sea, on the river flats of the Karamea River and the coastal plains. Snuggled into the warm northwest corner of the South Island, it caters for the tramper and caver, birdwatcher and botanist, geologist and mountain biker, hunter and fisherman, the more adventurous kayaker and rafter... or simply those seeking a family holiday ‘away from it all.’
Curio Bay is a coastal embayment in the Southland District of New Zealand, best known as the site of a petrified forest some 180 million years old. It also hosts a yellow-eyed penguin colony, arguably the rarest of penguin species, with approximately 1600 breeding pairs in the extant population. The bay, along with neighbouring Porpoise Bay, is home to the endemic Hector's dolphin. Southern right whales are occasionally observed offshore, as on numerous parts of the country's coast.
Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland covers more than 16,000 hectares of native forest and coastline. The park includes 250km of walking and tramping tracks, beaches, breathtaking vistas, spectacular rocky outcrops, waterfalls and cliffs. All within an hour from New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland.
The Waipu Caves are completely undeveloped, unguided and absolutely free. Entry is at your own risk.
The Cave System is considered regionally important for geomorphology, because it includes the largest cave passage in Northland. Bones of bats, birds, amphibians and reptiles may be found along with the remains of fossil invertebrates.
Entry to the cave is wide and the ground can be muddy. Stalactites hang from the ceiling and just to the left of the entrance is an enormous stalagmite. Even with torches, it is recommended that you pause inside the cave’s entrance for a few minutes to allow your eyes to adjust.
Tahwharanui Marine Reserve
The 400 hectare Tāwharanui Marine Reserve was established in September 2011.It is the fifth marine reserve in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, New Zealand’s “national park” of the sea. It lies on the northern coast of the Tawharanui Peninsula in the Rodney District about 90 kilometres north of Auckland. This area is a very special with over 50 species of fish recorded in its waters including stingray, eagle ray, moray, conger eels, red mullet, bigeye, red moki, blue maomao, spotty, koheru, snapper and spiny lobster. Oysters, mussels, kina and topshells are also found in rock pools along the coastline and bottle nosed dolphin and pilot whales visit the area.
This beautiful little iceberg-studded lake lies in the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park, in the south-west of New Zealand's South Island. It can be accessed during a 3-4 day hike by experienced hikers only – a truly off the beaten track destination surrounded by some of the most beautiful and most dramatic scenery in the country.
The Mt Aspiring National Park is known for its mountains, alpine lakes, river valleys, waterfalls, glaciers, and beech and podocarp rain forests. The mountainous and glaciated heart of the park is unspoilt and truly a wilderness. Rising above the park’s largest glaciers, is Mount Aspiring (Tititea) the highest mountain in the park at 3,033 metres. You can reach the park from either Wanaka, Makarora or Glenorchy.
“The lake is set in a hanging valley under peaks festooned with glaciers. In the several acres of water, flat blocks of ice that had formed in the winter floated alongside huge icebergs that had calved from the glaciers above. There were over a hundred good-size bergs in the lake, which looked frigid and gray under pewter skies.” National Geographic.