Reader's top spots in New Zealand
With cheap flights, friendly locals and unforgettable natural splendour, New Zealand is an attractive holiday destination throughout the year.
Our readers love to share their smart travel tips, and with more than one million Aussies travelling to New Zealand each year, who better to ask for some insider knowledge?
Here are some of our reader’s favourite places to visit in New Zealand, and tips to help you enjoy them to the fullest.
Favourite spots on New Zealand's North Island
Coastal beauty, buzzing cities and some of New Zealand’s most spectacular beaches - the North Island offers the perfect balance of adventure and comfort, catering to all types of traveller. Here are four favourite North Island attractions as told by our readers.
1. Kitekite Falls, Auckland
“The entire drive to Kitekite Falls is stunningly scenic, and the views just get better when you arrive at the waterfall. It’s just under an hour’s walk to reach the falls, so don’t forget the hiking shoes! It’s a good place to also check out the famous Piha Beach, which is nearby."
Set among the dense green forest of the Waitakere Ranges, the towering six-tier Kitekite waterfall is like something out of prehistoric times. Just an hour’s drive from Auckland, Kitekite Falls is a popular hiking spot, and its user-friendly trail makes it suitable for all ages and abilities.
The Kitekite track is also a popular nighttime hiking spot, with glow worms and eels lining the banks of the Glen Esk Stream.
If you’re heading from Kitekite Falls to the nearby Piha Beach, beware that it has been found to be one of New Zealand’s most dangerous stretches of sand. Large surf, powerful undertows and flash rips can make Piha treacherous for swimming and surfing. As always, only ever swim between the red and yellow flags.
2. Oakura, Taranaki
“Beautiful stretches of black sand beaches, friendly locals, excellent camping spots, and incredible views of the majestic Mt. Taranaki everywhere you go. With the artsy city of New Plymouth just up the road, this spot has something for everyone."
As far as relaxed, family-friendly beachside camping destinations go, sleepy Oakura ticks all the boxes. With immaculate picnic spots that overlook the sweeping bay, gentle surf for the kids, and hidden rock pools and walking trails, Oakura can easily become home for a week or more.
The area is also known to have some of the best surf beaches in New Zealand and you’ll be spoilt for choice cruising around Surf Highway 45. If you want to try your hand at surfing, local surf shop Vertigo runs lessons and rents out equipment.
Pitch up your tent at Oakura Beach Holiday Park for beach front camping, dreamy sunsets and gentle surf. It's also a two-minute walk away from the Black Sand Pizzeria and Bistro, that serves up tasty wood fire pizzas against an ocean backdrop.
3. Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka
“If you’re a coastal creature, the Poor Knights Islands are paradise found. We spent a few days touring the spectacular diving and snorkelling sites, and unwinding in the amazing cafes and restaurants of Tutukaka. Definitely the highlight of our trip!"
World-famous undersea adventurer, Jacques Cousteau, called the Poor Knights Islands one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The thousands of visitors that explore the crystalline depths would agree.
Located 25km offshore of Tutukaka (half an hour’s drive from the city of Whangarei), the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve is a true natural oasis. The Islands have been left uninhabited following the tragic massacre of local Maori tribe, Ngati Wai, in 1822. Since then, the islands have been held as “tapu”, meaning sacred, with no person permitted to go ashore.
It’s often said that a diving trip is only as good as your instructor. With so many diving and snorkelling operators offering tours of the Poor Knights Islands, it’s important that you do your research to find the one best suited to you, and who are licensed, registered tour guides.
4. Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
“Even if you wanted to, you’d never be able to enjoy all that Pukekura Park has to offer. There are so many hidden clearings and exotic plants to explore. It’s also a unique place to watch cricket, with steep terraces that make you feel like you’re almost on the field."
Spanning 128 acres of vibrant gardens and meandering lakes, all under the watch of the grand Mt. Taranaki in the background, Pukekura Park in New Plymouth is a strong contender for New Zealand’s most scenic public space. Whether you’re bushwalking, birdwatching or bathing in the sunlight on the famous Poet’s Bridge, there’s enough to keep you occupied.
Interestingly, Pukekura Park has several Asian-inspired installations dotting its many gardens, including the Kunming Garden Spring Wind Pavilion from China and the Mishima Torri Gare from New Plymouth’s Japanese sister city, Mishima.
If you’re timing your visit to Pukekura Park with the summer months, you’re in luck. The annual Festival of Lights runs from mid-December to early February, and illuminates the trees with entrancing multi-coloured lights. There’s also live entertainment and daytime activities for the kids.
Favourite spots on New Zealand’s South Island
Mountainous, raw and bitterly cold for much of the year - New Zealand’s South Island is all about pure Kiwi adventure. Here are three of our reader’s favourite natural attractions.
5. Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
"The reserve has strict rules around the usage of lights in the nearby villages, which results in a light-pollution-free sky. This means you'll be able to see stars and planets that you won't spot anywhere else! They also have high powered telescopes, so you can check out galaxies far, far away…”
A unique and welcome gift for the stargazers among us, Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve is the world’s largest internationally-recognised area that prohibits light pollution in the night sky. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, Aoraki is “one of the best stargazing sites on Earth."
The area became the first gold-rated dark sky reserve in the world, meaning it boasts some of the darkest skies you’re ever likely to see. The Earth and Sky company offers stargazing tours at two locations within the reserve, which can be booked on their website.
Like other nature-based activities, it’s essential that you check the weather before booking any tours. After all, nothing will put a dampener on your stargazing like a sky blanketed with thick clouds.
6. Blue Lake, Nelson
“Blue Lake is known as the Land of the Peaceful Waters, which suits the place perfectly. We loved exploring the Nelson Lakes National Park, but the helicopter to Blue Lake was undoubtedly the standout."
After scientists conducted extensive testing on Rotomairewhenua (Blue Lake), the title was set - the Blue Lake was officially the clearest body of freshwater on Earth. Visibility in the lake is up to 80 metres, meaning it’s just about as clear as distilled drinking water. The surreal Blue Lake in the Nelson Lakes National Park is renowned for its blue-violet colouring that occurs only in the clearest natural waters.
Reaching the natural phenomenon is a two-day hike from the border of the National Park, or an exhilarating scenic helicopter flight.
While your first instinct might be to plunge into the crystal-clear waters, the New Zealand Department of Conservation requests that visitors stay out of the waters to avoid damaging its clarity. If you’re planning to walk the Travers Sabine Circuit that passes by the Blue Lake, make sure you’re thoroughly prepared for the demanding hike.
7. Kahurangi National Park
"This is New Zealand's second largest National Park and has rugged mountains, tropical white sand beaches and heaps of wildlife. Lots of cool geology too, with its famous cave systems."
Meaning ‘treasured possession’, Kahurangi lives up to its Maori name. The Park contains ancient rocks, fossils, plant life and exotic birds, making it a true adventurer's escape. There are several well-maintained hikers huts in the area, making Kahurangi a popular destination for serious bush bashers.
Alongside the hikers, Kahurangi is also a favourite among cavers, with some of the country’s most spectacular passage systems.
It may be beautiful, but the Kahurangi National Park is also raw, unrefined and treacherous for the unprepared. If you’re planning to explore the area, stay within your abilities and always prepare carefully. It’s important to understand the activities that are and aren’t covered by your insurance. If you’re going on a trip to a remote area (e.g. doesn’t have telecommunications or medical services) then you must be part of a licensed tour, otherwise you will not be covered by the TravelCare policy.
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