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Hidden Gems: On Tour in Aotearoa

December 16, 2020

Beached in Aotearoa this summer? Never mind the lack of flights departing for tropical islands, now’s the perfect time to tick some must-sees off your New Zealand travel wish list!


While the weather is warm and your annual holiday spot is booked, hop outside and explore our slice of paradise with family and friends. There’s no better feeling than stumbling across a remarkable untouched view or attraction. To kick off your summer adventure, here are some little-known beauties just waiting to be explored. This selection is an extension of the list found in our Kōwhai magazine, summer edition.


The Waipu Caves, Northland


A two-hour drive north of Auckland, the Waipu Caves never disappoint. Pack a torch and jacket and pop on a pair of gumboots or grippy sneaker for a muddy outing. Sturdy footwear is a must for this muddy, slippery cave and the accompanying 2-km walk through a picturesque karst limestone landscape and farmland. Once inside, the stalactites, stalagmites, and luminous glow worms are truly a highlight. To enjoy their glow at its brightest, turn off any lights, keep quiet, and take in the humbling ambience. Incredibly, this experience gets even better – the Waipu Caves don’t cost a cent. Following your caving expedition, settle in for a picnic nearby. Extending your stay with lunch or afternoon tea transforms this activity into a brilliant day out!



Tiritiri Matangi Island, Hauraki Gulf


One of New Zealand’s most important and exciting conservation projects, a visit to Tiritiri Matangi Island is well worth the trip. Situated 30km northeast of central Auckland and accessible by ferry, this 220-hectare island has been transformed from stripped farmland to a natural habitat teeming with wildlife. 60% is forested with the remaining 40% left as grassland for species that prefer an open habitat. Of the utmost importance to Aotearoa’s fauna, the island is home to some of the rarest species in the world including weta, tuatara, and the flightless takahe. A guided walk with a local offers a lesson in history and inside knowledge as to where the more reclusive wildlife likes to hide. Stay awhile and take your time because much like the birds above, time flies on this island.



Rere Rock Slide and Waterfall, Gisborne Region


45-minutes from Gisborne lies a natural phenomenon that brings exhilarating new meaning to the phrase ‘natures playground.’ Fun for all ages, for adrenaline junkies and risk-averse, look no further than Rere Rock Slide for your next thrill! Load the car with boogie boards, inflatable tubes, and plenty of sunscreen because you’re in for an exhilarating action-packed day. The thrill of gliding down the 60-metre rock face is out of this world! Entry to this natural slide is free, all you need to bring is a towel and something to slide on. A piece of thick cardboard, boogie board, inflatable mattress, inner tube. If you get to the top and aren’t sure you want to take the plunge, simply walk downhill for 5 minutes to enjoy watching others reach the slide base and snap some brilliant photos of your friends yahooing mid-slide!



Hamurana Springs Nature Reserve 


The first thing you’ll fall in love with at this reserve is the dazzling shimmer across the water surface. Stand quietly and breathe deeply. Visitors often report a peaceful, serene feeling washing over them amid the stillness. Now that you’re completely relaxed and ‘in the moment’, it’s time to explore the surrounding untouched landscape. An easy scenic walk is suitable for all ages and the entry fee helps maintain this culturally important destination. Hamurana Springs was originally founded as a Māori settlement and this historic and cultural significance is a highlight for visitors today. An outing to the reserve is the ideal excuse to gather the whole family. There’s something for everyone – little and big explorers alike. While the surrounds are stunning in any weather, a cloudless day reveals its natural beauty in full force. Pack your walking shoes to enjoy a gentle nature walk that will work wonders on the mind, body, and soul.



Soljans Estate Winery, Kumeu  


Calling all foodies and wine lovers, this one’s for you. You’ll arrive for the wine and stay for the food and cultural experience. Family owned and run since 1937, Soljans Estate is a must-see. In-person tours are their speciality, so set aside a few hours for a memorable wine experience. Their knowledgeable guides offer insight into winemaking and the history of their business and industry, alongside a Cellar Door tasting of their palette-delighting wines. Don’t leave before trying a drop of their Legacy Méthode Traditionnelle, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion. And the food on offer is equally delicious, so stop in at the winery café to ensure your tastebuds are thoroughly exhausted.



Omarama Clay Cliffs, Waitaki


Located a short 10km west of Omarama, you may have heard it’s a crime to bypass the Omarama
Clay Cliffs on a southward-bound road trip. Well, that’s not entirely true. You’re unlikely to be dragged off to the local station. But the sentiment is correct, you would regret driving past this marvel. The cliffs form tall pinnacles separated by narrow ravines and were created from layers of gravel and silt deposited by ancient glaciers around 20 million years ago. For five dollars per car, you can explore this ‘badland’ style landscape of other-worldly beauty. The walk to the cliffs is 10-15 minutes from the carpark and both the track and road can be rough during winter. Inside the cliffs, the terrain is rocky and sometimes slippery underfoot. So be sure to pack sturdy shoes and a resolute attitude.



Te Wepu Pod Accommodation 


If you think an authentic outdoor nature experience combined with luxury accommodation is impossible, think again. Te Wepu offers exactly that only an hour’s drive from Christchurch. Set above a tranquil bay on Canterbury’s Banks Peninsula, Te Wepu offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s an oasis amid native bush and stunning scenery. Te Wepu cabins or ‘pods’ are the perfect spot to unwind amid a stunning natural landscape. There’s no private vehicle access to the pods but guests can choose between being transported by a 4WD or making the rewarding 20-30-minute hike to their pod. You will arrive to a warm hot tub stocked with an abundance of firewood so you can keep it hot. Add this accommodation experience to the top of your to-do list if a remote nature escape in the lap of luxury sounds like you.


House_Sculpture_Garden 4

The Giant’s House 

A colourful feast of art and garden, the Giant’s House resides in Akaroa. Vibrant mosaics and sculptures blend with – and stand out from – extensive gardens. The result? An experience not to be missed. People of all ages flock to enjoy this unique attraction. Every piece has been lovingly crafted by sculptor, artist, and horticulture expert, Josie Martin. Her garden is open to the public and those who stay in the bed and breakfast accommodation. If you’re lucky, Josie will be wandering around chatting with her visitors. The sculpture garden has been recognised as a Garden of International Significance and it puts a smile on the face of everyone wandering through it. It’s playful and whimsical and the gardens are an inseparable combination of artwork and planting. This hidden gem is a visual and cultural treat that demands to be experienced first-hand.



Welcome Flat Hot Pools, West Coast 


At the end of a gnarly seven-hour hike that winds its way up the Copland Valley, the Welcome Flat Hot Pools greet hikers with open arms. The entire intermediate-level hike takes two days and is best accomplished in sturdy hiking boots. On arrival to the Welcome Flat DOC hut, four steamy geothermal pools are a welcome treat. Surrounded by beautiful, untouched nature including snow-dusted mountain peaks and lush green native forest, the pools are best experienced after the sandflies are tucked up in bed. Soak away your muscle fatigue while gazing at the stars and enjoying the sounds of the bush. The only downside to the pools is that they’re so relaxing, you might struggle to hike back out the next day!


bigstock-The-picturesque-coast-of-the-P-388558441Nugget Point, Totāra Scenic Reserve, Catlins


Think sweeping views of a vast ocean and a rugged coastline dotted with wave-eroded rocks. The rocks are what earnt Nugget Point (or ‘the nuggets’ to locals) the name courtesy of a visual likeness to gold nuggets. This secluded spot boasts a collection of the most revered views on offer in the South Island. An easy, slightly uphill 20-minute walk from the carpark to the lighthouse allows visitors an intimate view of fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins going about their daily lives. The many seabirds that call Nugget Point home can be viewed from a bird-viewing hide 10-minutes’ walk from the carpark. Be sure to pack warm clothes, no matter the time of year as the blustery coastal wind is chilling above the shoreline!


There are hidden gems around every corner in Aotearoa, just waiting to be explored. If you have itchy feet this summer, why not plan a few trips around the islands we call home. Perhaps mix up your usual trip to the bach with a few day trips and short stays away to further explore our big, beautiful backyard. You never know, one of these hidden gems could be your new go-to destination.