Getting off the tourist trail: 5 secret local gems

The most epic trips in life are when you get to do something a little unique – something off the beaten track.

Luckily in New Zealand there are loads of unique locations if you know where to go. Here are five places that are not your typical tourist hot spots.

Waipoua Forest

Visit the Waipoua Forest – this subtropical rainforest is the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland and it harbours hundreds of kauri trees, which are capable of living thousands of years. Follow the boardwalk (with the option of a guide) to visit Tane Mahuta “Lord of the Forest”, New Zealand’s largest kauri standing at 47 metres (154 ft) with a massive 4.4-metre diameter. It is estimated to be more than 2000 years old. Te Matua Ngahere, “Father of the Forest”, is another impressive kauri, with its 5.5-metre girth the widest in existence. The forest is thought to support the largest population of the nocturnal North Island brown kiwi, but during the day you’ll see plenty of kereru, fantail, pied tit, tui, grey warbler, shining cuckoo and kingfisher from the track.

Native bird recovery centre, Whangarei

Visit the Native Bird Recovery Centre in Whangarei. Staffed by volunteers, this fascinating centre provides respite and rehabilitation for more than 1200 injured and sick birds every year – with more than 60 percent being released successfully back into the wild. This is a great chance to get up close and personal with kiwi, tui, kereru, morepork (New Zealand owl), albatross and more, depending on what species have been brought in at the time.

Akaunui Farm homestead

Canterbury’s Akaunui Farm homestead was built from brick and native rimu timber more than 100 years ago, and has well-manicured and tasteful green spaces in which to wander, mature ornamental gardens and water features, and vibrantly coloured camellias and rhododendrons. Di and Ian Mackenzie run the place and are the very essence of warm Southern hospitality. Di can prepare you a tasty and wholesome lunch – much of it sourced from their impressive vegetable garden on site.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

This 20-min loop walk from the side of a highway takes you above rock formations that resemble stacks of giant pancakes, and ominous, booming blowholes. This natural curiosity began 30 million years ago when dead plants and microbial life formed layers under the sea. Seismic activity pushed them to the surface and the weather carved the layered rocks into bizarre formations. The pancake rocks are on Dolomite Point, located about 40 minutes north of Greymouth on the way to Westport – you’ll see signs driving past. It’s even more impressive in stormy seas!

Take a stroll at Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill)

Walk at Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill). This surreal area between Darfield and Arthur’s Pass is peppered with house-sized limestone boulders reminiscent of castle battlements. The site is so magical, it’s been used in movies such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The area is home to some rare protected plants and even some ancient rock paintings. Extremely popular with rock climbers, on any given day you can watch them bouldering from rock to rock in certain areas.

When you’re exploring New Zealand there are so many opportunities to stumble across hidden gems, and our list above can definitely get you started. To experience these and other authentic, off-the-beaten-path destinations in New Zealand, talk to MoaTrek who offer small group New Zealand Tours. It’s a great way to see the sights of NZ including these hidden gems with the company of likeminded people and a friendly kiwi guide.

Get in touch for a chat – we’d love to help make your dream New Zealand vacation a reality.

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