12 Best Hidden Gems in New Zealand: Underrated Spots in NZ

by Flora Backup
here are the 12 hidden gems in New Zealand
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Eager to unearth the hidden gems in New Zealand that few talk about? Dive into this definitive guide showcasing the most underrated places in New Zealand. Your adventure of discovery awaits!

New Zealand isn’t just about the famous Lord of the Rings landscapes or the buzz of Auckland’s streets. Nope, it’s so much richer. Tucked away from the usual tourist trails are spots that’ll make your heart skip a beat. Think untouched beaches with the clearest blue waters, or small towns where every local has a story to share.

Now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not looking for the usual. You’re after the hidden gems in New Zealand that few have discovered. And guess what? You’re in for a treat. This guide is your ticket to those secret spots, the places that aren’t swarmed by tourists but are every bit as mesmerizing.

We’re talking about places that offer a slice of serenity, spots where you can truly connect with nature, and locales that promise genuine Kiwi experiences. It’s about discovering the underrated New Zealand destinations that deserve a spot on every traveler’s bucket list.

So, if you’re ready to explore New Zealand like never before, stick around. We’re about to embark on a journey that’s all about the unexpected, the beautiful, and the unforgettable. Let’s uncover the magic together. Here are all the hidden gems in New Zealand that you should know about.

The best hidden gems in New Zealand right now
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Hidden Gems in New Zealand: 12 Incredible New Zealand Destinations

Are you ready to explore some of New Zealand’s best hidden gems? As mentioned earlier, New Zealand is home to a wide range of off-the-beaten-path destinations that will appeal to everyone. Keep reading to discover New Zealand’s secret destinations.

Are you looking for serene beaches with crystal-clear waters? Or would you prefer quaint towns rich in history and culture? No matter your travel desires, New Zealand has something special in store with its stunning landscapes and overlooked destinations. Here’s your detailed guide to all the best hidden gems in New Zealand, ready to captivate your wanderlust.

1. Wharariki Beach

Picture this: a beach where every glance offers a snapshot-worthy moment. Welcome to Wharariki Beach. Beyond the iconic sand dunes and dramatic rock formations, there’s a vibe here that’s hard to put into words. It’s a mix of tranquil beauty and that exhilarating feeling of discovering a hidden gem. And the best part? The absence of crowds means you get to enjoy this slice of paradise in peace.

While you’re there, don’t miss the local seals. They’re often spotted frolicking in the waves, adding a touch of wildlife magic to the scene. Getting to Wharariki is an adventure in itself, with trails winding through lush pastures where sheep roam, epitomizing the New Zealand countryside charm.

Wharariki Beach is more than its iconic dunes and dramatic rocks, it exudes an indescribable vibe.
Wharariki Beach is more than its iconic dunes and dramatic rocks, it exudes an indescribable vibe.

Reaching Wharariki Beach involves a short walk from the car park, so wear comfy shoes. The beach is most accessible during low tide, making it the ideal time for a visit. If you’re aiming for fewer crowds and a serene experience, consider visiting during the weekdays or early mornings.

If you’re curating a list of underrated places in New Zealand, Wharariki Beach deserves a prime spot. It offers a unique blend of natural splendor and a sense of discovery, ensuring every moment spent here is unforgettable.

2. Castlepoint Lighthouse

Perched on the rugged east coast of the North Island, Castlepoint Lighthouse is a beacon of beauty in more ways than one. This historic lighthouse, standing tall since 1913, offers panoramic views that are nothing short of mesmerizing. Gaze out at the vast Pacific Ocean, watch waves crash against limestone cliffs, and if you’re lucky, spot dolphins dancing in the distance!

The journey to the lighthouse is part of the adventure. A well-maintained boardwalk leads you up, with each step offering a new perspective of Castlepoint’s wild beauty. While the lighthouse is undoubtedly the star attraction, the surrounding reserve is a haven for nature lovers. Sandy beaches, tidal lagoons, and dune systems make it a diverse landscape waiting to be explored.

Castlepoint harmoniously combines history, nature, and breathtaking coastal beauty, embodying the essence of New Zealand's charm.
Castlepoint harmoniously combines history, nature, and breathtaking coastal beauty, embodying the essence of New Zealand’s charm.

Castlepoint is about a 2-hour drive from Wellington, which makes it a perfect day trip. The lighthouse is accessible year-round, but if you’re after dramatic seascapes, visit during the winter months when the waves are at their most powerful.

When considering the best things to do in New Zealand, a visit to Castlepoint Lighthouse is a must. It’s a blend of history, nature, and sheer coastal beauty that captures the essence of New Zealand’s charm.

3. The Blue Springs

Tucked away in the heart of the Waikato region, The Blue Springs is a slice of aquatic paradise. The water here is so clear and pure that it supplies around 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water. The ethereal blue hue of the water, contrasted with the lush green surroundings, creates a scene that’s picture-perfect.

Walking alongside the springs, you’ll be treated to views of native ferns, gentle streams, and wooden bridges that add a touch of rustic charm. The entire area feels like a serene oasis, a place where you can disconnect from the world and reconnect with nature.

Let's explore the untamed splendor of The Catlins, veering away from the beaten track.
Let’s explore the untamed splendor of The Catlins, veering away from the beaten track.

The springs are a 4.7 km walk from the Te Waihou Walkway car park. It’s a relatively easy trek, but wearing sturdy shoes is a good idea. While the springs are beautiful year-round, visiting during weekdays or early mornings helps avoid the weekend rush.

If you’re seeking to explore New Zealand off the beaten path, The Blue Springs is a refreshing find. It showcases the country’s natural wonders, offering a tranquil experience that’s hard to match.

4. The Catlins

When you think of unique places to visit in New Zealand, the usual suspects might come to mind. But let’s venture off the well-trodden path and dive into the raw beauty of The Catlins. This coastal wonder, tucked away in the southeastern corner of the South Island, is where nature puts on a show like no other.

Dense rainforests give way to dramatic cliffs, and if you’re lucky, you might just spot a rare yellow-eyed penguin or a sea lion lounging on the beach. The roar of the Nugget Point Lighthouse against the backdrop of the vast ocean is a sight and sound to cherish. And then there’s the mystical Purakaunui Falls, a multi-tiered cascade hidden amidst the lush forest.

The scenic Southern Scenic Route is the best way to explore The Catlins. While the region is beautiful year-round, visiting during spring or summer offers milder weather and better wildlife spotting opportunities.

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Without a doubt, The Catlins is one of the best hidden gems in New Zealand. It’s a place where every turn reveals a new wonder, and the symphony of nature plays on a loop. If you’re seeking the soul of New Zealand, you might just find it here!

5. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Ever wanted to trek through a landscape so diverse it feels like you’ve stepped onto another planet? Welcome to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Located in the central North Island, this day-long hike is a rollercoaster of terrains. From ancient lava flows and emerald-colored lakes to active craters and vast alpine meadows, every twist and turn offers a new visual treat.

But here’s the kicker: the views from the summit. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Taranaki, and trust us, it’s a sight that’ll leave you speechless.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, situated in the central North Island, offers a diverse day-long hike through varying terrains.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing, situated in the central North Island, offers a diverse day-long hike through varying terrains.

Starting at the Mangatepopo car park, the hike is about 19.4 km long. It’s challenging, so gear up and stay hydrated. While the crossing is open year-round, spring and early summer offer the most comfortable hiking conditions.

If you’re hunting for the coolest places to go in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a top contender. It’s a hike you won’t soon forget, exploring through some of New Zealand’s best natural beauty.

6. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Think you’ve seen all the colors nature has to offer? Think again. Dive into the surreal world of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Located near Rotorua, this geothermal hotspot is like an artist’s palette come to life. Bubbling mud pools, steaming geysers, and brilliantly colored lakes – every corner is a feast for the eyes!

The star of the show is the Champagne Pool, with its vibrant orange edges and deep blue center. And let’s not forget the Lady Knox Geyser, which puts on a daily performance, shooting water up to 20 meters in the air. It’s nature’s theatre at its best.

When compiling a list of New Zealand's most beautiful destinations, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is an obvious choice.
When compiling a list of New Zealand’s most beautiful destinations, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is an obvious choice.

The park opens at 8:30 a.m., but aim to get there early, especially if you want to catch the Lady Knox Geyser’s eruption at 10:15 a.m. Wear comfortable shoes; there’s a lot to explore!

When listing out the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a no-brainer. It’s a place where the earth’s raw power and beauty converge, promising an experience that’s both thrilling and awe-inspiring.

7. Cathedral Cove

Situated on the Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove is a marvel of nature. This secluded beach, surrounded by imposing cliffs, is renowned for its iconic limestone arch. The golden sands, shimmering turquoise waters, and distant offshore islands create a picturesque setting that’s hard to beat.

Dive deeper into the experience by exploring the nearby sea caves or taking a snorkeling adventure to discover the underwater wonders. In fact, it’s one of the best places to complete a PADI dive course in NZ.

Enhance your Cathedral Cove experience by embarking on a snorkeling adventure to uncover underwater marvels.
Enhance your Cathedral Cove experience by embarking on a snorkeling adventure to uncover underwater marvels.

While the cove is accessible by foot, consider taking a kayak tour for a unique perspective and the chance to explore smaller, adjacent coves. If you’re driving, parking can fill up quickly during peak times, so arriving early or later in the afternoon can be beneficial.

If you’re on the hunt for hidden gems in New Zealand’s North Island, Cathedral Cove is a must-visit. Its blend of natural beauty and serene ambiance offers a coastal experience that’s both memorable and enchanting.

8. Kai Iwi Lakes

Just north of Dargaville, the Kai Iwi Lakes are a trio of freshwater lakes that remain one of the most underrated New Zealand destinations. Surrounded by sand dunes and native forests, these lakes boast crystal-clear turquoise waters that contrast beautifully with the white sandy shores. It’s a serene escape, far from the usual tourist trails.

Swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding are popular activities here, but with the lakes’ calm waters, even a simple float feels like a luxury. The surrounding areas are ripe for exploration too, with walking trails offering panoramic views of the lakes and the Tasman Sea.

Kai Iwi Lakes is a top pick among New Zealand's hidden gems.
Kai Iwi Lakes is a top pick among New Zealand’s hidden gems.

Camping is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the beauty of Kai Iwi Lakes. There are designated camping areas with facilities, but they can get busy during the summer months, so booking ahead is a good idea. And don’t forget to pack your snorkel; the clear waters offer great visibility for spotting freshwater marine life.

When it comes to hidden gems in New Zealand, Kai Iwi Lakes tops the list. It’s a tranquil haven that promises relaxation, adventure, and a genuine connection with nature.

9. The Forgotten World Highway

Venture into a journey back in time along The Forgotten World Highway. This 155-kilometer stretch, also known as State Highway 43, meanders through some of New Zealand’s most beautiful landscapes. From dense rainforests and rugged terrains to ghost towns and old coal mines, this highway showcases the country’s rich history and natural beauty.

One of the highlights is the Moki Tunnel, affectionately called the “Hobbit’s Hole”, a single-lane tunnel carved through solid rock. As you drive, the remnants of old settlements whisper tales of yesteryears, making the journey as captivating as the destinations.

The Forgotten World Highway offers a one-of-a-kind adventure for those seeking unique New Zealand destinations.
The Forgotten World Highway offers a one-of-a-kind adventure for those seeking unique New Zealand destinations.

Ensure your vehicle’s fuel tank is full before embarking on this journey, as fuel stations are few and far between. Also, while the road is mostly sealed, some sections are gravel, so drive cautiously. For a truly immersive experience, consider staying overnight in Whangamomona, a quirky town that declared itself a republic in 1989!

For those seeking the most unique places to visit in New Zealand, The Forgotten World Highway offers an adventure like no other. It’s a blend of history, mystery, and unparalleled scenic beauty that leaves travelers spellbound.

10. Lake Waikaremoana

Deep within the Te Urewera rainforest lies a shimmering jewel: Lake Waikaremoana. Often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, this lake remains one of the true hidden gems in New Zealand. With its pristine waters reflecting the surrounding ancient forests and majestic mountains, it’s a paradise for nature lovers.

The lake offers a plethora of activities. Whether you’re keen on fishing, kayaking, or simply lounging by the shore, there’s something for everyone. For the more adventurous, the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, promises breathtaking views and encounters with native wildlife.

Visitors to Lake Waikaremoana, a hidden gem in New Zealand,  can embark on a variety of outdoor adventures.
Visitors to Lake Waikaremoana, a hidden gem in New Zealand, can embark on a variety of outdoor adventures.

The lake is remote, so ensure you’ve stocked up on essentials before heading out. If you’re planning to hike, it’s a multi-day journey, so prepare accordingly.

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The area is sacred to the local Māori, so always be respectful and tread lightly.

Lake Waikaremoana is a realm of pure enchantment. Here, nature’s grandeur unfolds in every ripple of the water and whisper of the ancient trees. Dive into this untouched paradise, and you’ll find stories, adventures, and moments that linger long after you leave.

11. The Chatham Islands

If you’re looking to visit New Zealand’s off-the-beaten-path destinations, look no further. Floating about 800 kilometers east of the South Island, the Chatham Islands are a world apart. Comprising ten islands, only two of which are inhabited, this archipelago is a paradise for those seeking solitude and untouched beauty. With a history that dates back over 1,000 years, the Moriori, the island’s indigenous people, have tales that intertwine with the land.

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The islands boast unique flora and fauna, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. From the ancient kopi forests to the serene beaches, every corner whispers tales of time gone by.

Visiting the Chatham Islands is a timeless adventure in nature's embrace, a step into the unknown.
Visiting the Chatham Islands is a timeless adventure in nature’s embrace, a step into the unknown.

Access to the Chatham Islands is via a flight from Christchurch or Wellington. Given the islands’ remote nature, it’s essential to book accommodations and tours in advance. And don’t forget to try the local seafood – it’s as fresh as it gets!

Wondering what to do in New Zealand that’s off the typical tourist radar? A journey to the Chatham Islands is an adventure into the unknown, where every moment feels like a step back in time and a dance with nature.

12. The Blue Pools of Haast Pass

Imagine a place where nature’s palette runs wild, where hues of blue you never thought possible come to life. That’s the magic of the Blue Pools of Haast Pass. Hidden within the embrace of Mount Aspiring National Park, these pools are a secret oasis that many travelers unknowingly pass by, which makes them one of New Zealand’s best hidden gems.

The water’s clarity is so profound that you can see straight to the bottom, watching as native fish dart about. But it’s the ethereal blue, a mesmerizing shade that seems to glow, that steals the show. It’s said that the deeper you gaze, the more shades of blue you discover.

The Blue Pools of Haast Pass are a stunning revelation, where nature's magnificence truly dazzles.
The Blue Pools of Haast Pass are a stunning revelation, where nature’s magnificence truly dazzles.

While the journey to the pools is a gentle stroll, take your time. Every step is a chance to breathe in the pure mountain air and listen to the whispers of the ancient forest. And a pro tip? Visit during the golden hour when the sun’s rays make the pools shimmer and dance.

The Blue Pools of Haast Pass are a dazzling revelation, a place where nature’s brilliance truly shines. As you stand on the edge, gazing into the depths of that surreal blue, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets off the beaten path in New Zealand. It’s a moment of pure wonder, a reminder of the enchanting surprises that await when you venture beyond the known.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Hidden Gems in New Zealand

Are you looking for more information about where to go in New Zealand? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about New Zealand’s most underrated places.

What is unique in New Zealand?

New Zealand stands out for its indigenous Māori culture, diverse ecosystems, and rare wildlife. The country is the only place you’ll find the kiwi bird, the Hector’s dolphin, and the Kea parrot. Its geothermal wonders, such as the bubbling mud pools of Rotorua, are unparalleled. Additionally, the blend of Polynesian traditions with modern Kiwi life creates a distinct cultural experience.

Are there unexplored parts of New Zealand?

While New Zealand is a popular tourist destination, there are still pockets that remain relatively unexplored. Regions like the Chatham Islands, parts of the West Coast on the South Island, and remote areas of the Northland offer solitude and untouched beauty. These places provide a glimpse into New Zealand’s wilder side, away from the tourist hustle.

What can only be found in NZ?

New Zealand is home to several species and experiences that are unique to its shores. The kiwi bird, a national symbol, is native only to New Zealand. The country also boasts the Southern Hemisphere’s only alpine parrot, the Kea. In terms of experiences, the Māori cultural performances, traditional hāngi feasts, and certain geothermal phenomena like the bubbling mud pools of Rotorua are distinctively Kiwi.

New Zealand is teeming with hidden gems, eager to be unearthed.
New Zealand is teeming with hidden gems, eager to be unearthed.

What are 5 things New Zealand is well known for?

New Zealand, a land of contrasts and wonder, is globally recognized for:

  1. Landscapes: From the majestic fjords of Milford Sound to the enchanting hills of the Shire in Hobbiton, its natural beauty is unmatched.
  2. The All Blacks: Beyond being a world-class rugby team, their iconic haka performance embodies the spirit and culture of the nation.
  3. Film Locations: The country served as the picturesque backdrop for epic film trilogies like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”
  4. Māori Heritage: Rich in legends and traditions, the Māori culture offers insights into the nation’s history and heart.
  5. Adventure Hub: Queenstown, with its plethora of adrenaline-pumping activities, has rightfully earned its title as the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’.

Where are the best hidden gems in New Zealand?

New Zealand is brimming with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. From the serene Blue Pools of Haast Pass to the historical remnants of Karangahake Gorge, there’s no shortage of off-the-beaten-path places in New Zealand. Exploring places like the Chatham Islands or the lesser-known trails of Mount Aspiring National Park can also lead to unforgettable experiences.

What underrated New Zealand destinations should I add to my bucket list?

While popular spots like Queenstown and Rotorua are must-visits, consider venturing to underrated destinations like the Kai Iwi Lakes or the Forgotten World Highway. These places offer a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, providing a more intimate experience of New Zealand’s diverse landscapes.

What’s a must-visit spot that’s still under the radar in New Zealand?

If you’re on the hunt for the coolest places to go in New Zealand that aren’t swamped with tourists, then you’ve got to check out the Catlins. Located on the southeastern coast of the South Island, the Catlins is a blend of dense rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and rugged coastlines. It’s where you can spot rare yellow-eyed penguins at dusk or discover hidden gems like Jack’s Blowhole. A journey here feels like stepping into a wild, untouched paradise.

Final Thoughts on New Zealand’s Hidden Gems

New Zealand, often celebrated for its iconic landscapes and bustling tourist hubs, has so much more up its sleeve. It’s in the quiet whispers of the forests, the untouched corners of its islands, and the hidden nooks that you find the real magic. For those willing to venture New Zealand off the beaten path, a world of uncharted beauty awaits.

From the ethereal blue of the Haast Pass pools to the historical tales of Karangahake Gorge, this country is brimming with secrets. And while destinations like Queenstown and Rotorua are undeniably captivating, there’s an unmatched thrill in discovering places not many have tread.

So, as you plan your next Kiwi adventure, challenge the norm. Dive deep, explore those secret spots, and let New Zealand’s hidden gems leave an indelible mark on your traveler’s heart. Because here, every detour is a story, every hidden spot a memory in the making.

Dive into this guide to discover the best hidden gems in New Zealand for all travelers
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