With the prospect of a hot, dry summer ahead of us and the holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about travel plans. While booking accommodation and activities for the most popular spots may already be getting a bit tricky, in New Zealand we’re blessed with hundreds of beautiful holiday spots which can often fly under the radar.
These locales still have stunning views and plenty to do, they’re just a little less well known than Kiwi getaway staples like Queenstown, Taupō, or Wellington. For those of you who are craving an adventure that’s a bit out of the ordinary this summer, we’ve found six low key gems across New Zealand to kickstart your holiday inspirations. From the sparkling coastlines of Northland to the South Island’s ancient rainforests, discover slices of NZ paradise perfect for your next summer escape.
Karikari Peninsula (Northland)
A little over half an hour northwest of Kaitaia lie the white sandy beaches and stunning seaview walking tracks of Karikari Peninsula. When you’re looking to escape the bustle of the city and experience the wild beauty of sub-tropical New Zealand, this scenic dream of a destination is waiting.
A Karikari Peninsula holiday is all about soaking up the Far North’s natural beauty, so make sure you take the time to explore its white sand beaches. Maitai Bay is situated northeast of the peninsula’s one significant settlement, Whatuwhiwhi – and if there’s only time to visit one beach on Karikari Peninsula, you should consider making it this one. Clear water, soft pale sand, and calm coves make this a little paradise for all ages. Part of the attraction is also the lack of crowds – though a few more people have discovered its charms in recent years, it still feels very peaceful.
Located just 100 metres from the Maitai Bay campsite entrance is Karikari Bay Walk. This short track treats you to two more beautiful little beaches (Karikari and Puwheke), and a brief walk brings visitors to the top of Puwheke, offering panoramic vistas of Doubtless Bay and the northern part of the peninsula. You can find a number of other scenic walks here, including the family-friendly Lake Ohia Gumholes Reserve Walk and the more adventurous 3.5km Maitai Bay Headland Track.
If you’d rather put your feet up and soak up the good life, Karikari Estate Winery is the place for you. This is New Zealand’s northernmost winery and vineyard, overlooking a green expanse – and beyond that the glittering Pacific Ocean.
Whether you stop on your way to Karikari Peninsula or save it for the return journey, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is an essential piece of New Zealand history you won’t want to miss. Located just north of Paihia in the Bay of Islands, this is where the nation’s most significant document was signed in February 1840. Open every day of the year except Christmas, the Treaty Grounds are stunningly beautiful and feature all kinds of cultural treasures, including museums, cultural performances, and the historic Treaty House itself.
… intrepid explorers seeking an untouched beachy paradise. It’s a bit of a drive to get to Karikari Peninsula, but its wild setting is big part of what makes it so special. At the same time, there’s plenty of tempting accommodation options available, so you won’t have to rough it.
If you’re heading out to some of New Zealand’s more wild summer holiday gems like Karikari, having a GO Pendant gives you the freedom to wander with confidence. Quickly and easily contact emergency specialists from anywhere with 4G cellular reception – these GPS-enabled devices help you get the emergency assistance you need, when you need it.
While Karikari Peninsula and Raglan are both known for their beaches, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Nestled on the North Island’s west coast, just over 30 minutes’ drive from Hamilton city, Raglan is far more accessible but has a unique beach-town character that draws surfers, sun & sand lovers, and artists to its sun washed streets and warm waves.
If it’s the waves which have drawn you to Raglan, then Manu Bay (also known as The Point) is a must-visit. Featured in the 60’s cult-classic surf movie The Endless Summer, this legendary left-hand break is arguably the longest in the world, and is famous for its consistency and accessibility. If you have the skill and stamina, Manu Bay lets you cruise on a single wave for as long as two kilometres. For those who’d prefer a slightly more sedate beach experience, Ngarunui Beach is an excellent choice. Whether you’re splashing in the shadows, taking a relaxing dip, or getting in the Raglan spirit with a surf lesson, Ngarunui Beach (also known as Ocean Beach) is welcoming and easily accessible.
But there’s more to Raglan than just beaches. Bridal Veil Falls makes for a stunning little walk that won’t take more than 30 minutes walking round trip, running alongside the Pakoka River amidst lush native bush. The 55 metre falls at the end of the trail is a classic Kiwi vista, and you can pick from three different viewing platforms (at the top, midway, and down at the bottom of the falls) to admire the view.
Raglan township is also well worth a wander. There’s a selection of cafes and bars to satisfy any foodie – and it’s not hard to find an exceptional selection of locally grown and artisanal goodies. Those with an eye for art will have plenty to appreciate here as well, as Raglan is famous for its creatives, artists, and literary types, who regularly have a fascinating variety of works to showcase.
Nearby Hamilton isn’t particularly well known as a holiday destination, but a trip to the Hamilton Gardens is enough to transform almost anyone’s opinion of the city. This isn’t your standard botanic garden, but rather a collection of imaginative flora collections, ranging from the mind-bending Fantasy Gardens to the Paradise Gardens which distil and display the gardening traditions of cultures down the ages.
… leisure lovers seeking a laid back location to make the most of the summer sun. Raglan’s not too far from major centres, making it an easy escape for holidaymakers who aren’t keen on overly long drives, but it’s still far enough away to feel like you’ve left the rat race behind.
Amidst rolling green hills in rural southern Wairarapa lies the charming town of Martinborough, known for its quaint colonial architecture and many beautiful wineries. If you’re partial to platters in the shade, strolls amongst the vines, and the odd vino or two, you’ll find Martinborough to be an out-of-the-way summer paradise.
There’s no two ways about it: good food and drink will be at the centre of any Martinborough holiday, and the area’s 20+ wineries are your first port-of-call for gastronomic indulgence. There’s a few different ways to explore Martinborough’s many vineyards, so whether you’d like to be shuttled from one beautiful spot to another, or stretch your legs with wine walks and self-guided cycling tours, you’ll easily find a path to indulgence which suits you perfectly.
While Martinborough is best known for its wining and dining, this isn’t the only thing it has to offer. 20 minutes south of the town is Patuna Farm Adventures, where you can discover a stunning limestone chasm walk along the Ruakokoputuna River – your feet will definitely get wet, but the stalactites, fossils, and gorgeous native bush setting make it more than worth it. Southern Wairarapa is sprinkled with walks of all lengths and ability-levels, so do a bit of research before you depart to discover an outdoor experience in the area that fits the way you want to holiday.
Just over an hour’s drive south of Martinborough lies the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island, and an iconic Wairarapa landmark: Cape Palliser Lighthouse. The coastal drive to the lighthouse is incredibly scenic on its own merits, but this trip isn’t just about the journey. Cape Palliser is home to the North Island’s largest fur seal colony (stay at least 20m away, to be safe) and if you’re lucky enough to visit between mid-November and mid-January, you might spot some cute little seal pups! The lighthouse itself offers excellent photo opportunities, and spectacular views if you’re willing to climb the 253 steps to get up close to this 19th century cast iron structure.
If you’re hoping to break up the drive between Martinborough and Cape Palliser, consider dropping by Palliser Ridge Station. Their Woolshed Experience is a great family attraction, with a farm tour, shearing demonstration and other activities.
… foodies and wine lovers. If you’re looking for a slice of the good life with a side of relaxed indulgence, this is the spot for you. Martinborough lets you take things at your own pace, exploring or simply unwinding amidst the bucolic beauty of rural Wairarapa.
One of the big charms of Martinborough is leaving your day-to-day concerns behind and simply soaking up the moment – but sometimes it’s hard to feel carefree if you have older loved ones at home on their own. However, with a Freedom Medical Alarms in-home unit, you and your loved one can both have the confidence if something unexpected goes wrong around the house or garden, emergency help is just a button press away, 24/7.
Golden Bay (Nelson)
While Nelson is well known as a Kiwi summer holiday destination, less than two hours northwest is an even more amazing vacation location which often flies under the radar: Golden Bay. If you’re willing to brave the winding journey over Tākaka Hill, a hidden world of natural wonders awaits.
The soft golden sands which gave the bay its name are a big draw for many, but there’s so much more to Golden Bay than just its isolated beaches. For an altogether different kind of natural beauty, make sure you don’t miss Te Waikoropupū Springs, just outside the local hub town of Tākaka. This extraordinary sacred site features some of the clearest water in the world, rivalled only by the North Island’s Blue Lake and some sub-glacial waters beneath Antarctica. Spot native fish and eels darting beneath the surface of the water, soak up the birdsong, and watch water bubble to the surface at a rate of 14,000 litres every second – this place is a true natural wonder.
One of Golden Bay’s less obvious (but no less impressive) attractions are its underground cave systems. Situated near the summit of Tākaka Hill, Ngarua Caves are the most easily accessible of the area’s underground systems. Descend into the earth, marvel at breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites, and see an excellently well preserved moa skeleton – this is an outing the whole family will love. Those up for a slightly more demanding subterranean adventure can take the two hour round trip through the enchanting limestone twilight zone of Rawhiti Cave.
Of course, you’d be missing out if you didn’t take some time to enjoy Golden Bay’s beaches. Most of require at least a short walk to access, but that’s what makes them so pristine. Wharariki Beach is one of the easiest to get to, and is best visited at low tide. After a 20-minute wander through farmland and coastal forest, you’ll stumble onto one of the most photogenic beaches in New Zealand. It’s often windswept, but the rockpools, hidden coves, and iconic Archway Islands make it well worth the walk.
Golden Bay lies almost within stone’s throw of not one but two of New Zealand’s Great Walks: the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and the Heaphy Track. The northern access point for the Abel Tasman Coast Track starts at Golden Bay itself, and one of the best things about this particular Great Walk is how easy it is to access different sections – so you can choose how much of this beautiful walk you want to tackle. Just make sure you book early! The Heaphy Track is a little more demanding, but if you’re up for a classic Kiwi tramping adventure, it’s well worth the 4-6 day journey.
… wanderers who love exploring New Zealand’s wild places without getting too far from civilisation. At Golden Bay you’ll feel like you’re a world away, even when you’re no more than a couple hours from the sunny cafes and vineyards of Nelson.
Unlike many of the other destinations on this list, you won’t even glimpse the sea at Tekapo – but you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out. Spectacular sights are waiting in store both at ground level and high in the sky, so leave the coast behind and head inland to be stunned by the treasures that Tekapo has in store.
The otherworldly milky-blue waters of Lake Tekapo are almost worth the trip on their own merits but if you’re heading down to the lake, make a beeline for the Church of the Good Shepherd. Built on the shores of Lake Tekapo in 1934 using uncut stones from the local area, this gorgeously rustic church is surrounded by awe inspiring vistas on all sides. In particular, the view from the altar window is literally picture perfect, framing a view of the lake and the mountains beyond. It’s worth getting there as early as you can, as this is a popular destination for tour buses and is much more serene if you can skip the crowds.
Tekapo lies at the heart of an immense International Dark-Sky Reserve, making this one of the best places in the country to go stargazing. While simply stepping outside on a clear night will treat you to a spectacular spread of stars, you can take your stellar appreciation one step further at Dark Sky Project. Offering a selection of breathtaking stargazing and astro-tourism experiences, an evening with Dark Sky Project could see you ascending to the Mount John summit observatory to glimpse distant galaxies and far off planets, or taking the slightly less strenuous trip to Cowan’s Observatory for Milky Way vistas and other night-sky splendours. They also have a daytime all-weather experience perfect for the whole family.
Tekapo sits right at the midway point between Queenstown and Christchurch, two of the South Island’s most popular getaway destinations, making it the perfect place to break up a road trip between these holiday gems. Kick off your journey with the striking alpine vistas and adventure activities of Queenstown or start by exploring Christchurch’s vibrant entertainment hubs which emerged in the wake of the city’s early-2010s earthquakes – either way, you’re in for a great time.
… sightseers looking to have their breath taken away by natural beauty. While a small handful of the activities in Tekapo and the surrounding area are best suited to active holidaymakers, most of the region’s otherworldly beauty is accessible to absolutely anyone.
For senior travellers treating themselves to the scenic wonders of the region, a Freedom Medical Alarms GO Pendant can provide that extra bit of assurance that wherever you can get 4G cellular reception, emergency assistance can be called upon with just a couple button presses.
Dunedin may not be the first place most Kiwis think of when it comes to summer holidays, but this southern city is brimming with wildlife attractions, cultural highlights, and heritage sites. A summertime visit lets you avoid Dunedin’s chilly winter weather and offers even better opportunities for exploring the city’s beautiful natural environs.
Just a few kilometres out of Dunedin, only slightly off the beaten path, is Allans Beach: a scenic nature-lover’s paradise. This is one of the best spots in the region for spotting New Zealand sea lions, one of the rarest sea lion species on Earth. You can get a great view of them sleeping or playing in the sand on this photogenic beach – just remember to keep a distance of at least 10 metres from sleeping sea lions, and at least 20 metres from those which are awake. If you decide to visit just before sunset, you might even be lucky enough to see yellow-eyed penguins as they come ashore.
Dunedin is steeped in Scottish heritage, and one of the best places to see this heritage brought to life is Larnach Castle. Set high in the hills of the Otago Peninsula with a breathtaking view of the surrounding country, New Zealand’s only castle is a Victorian Gothic Revival dream. Time your visit around 3pm to enjoy a high tea in the castle’s impressive ballroom or just spend your time soaking up the beautiful architecture and spectacular scenery.
For those keen to stretch their legs and explore the city on foot, Dunedin’s Street Art Trail is must-do. Whether you pick up a free map from the Visitor Centre and strike out on your own or opt for a guided tour to learn the stories behind each piece, is this an urban delight to please just about everyone. With more than 30 vibrant and wildly creative art pieces adorning city surfaces, the Street Art Trail is perfect for whiling away a sunny afternoon.
Just over an hour’s drive along the coast north of Dunedin will bring you to one of New Zealand’s most strikingly unusual natural features. The Moeraki Boulders, strewn along a section of Koekohe Beach, are remarkably large, spherical stones which formed on ancient sea beds 60 million years ago. Today, they astound and delight visitors with their scale and oddly beautiful shape – consider heading there early morning or late afternoon for the perfect photo opportunity.
… those who want a little bit of everything. Art, history, wildlife, culture or exploration – no matter which of these tops your holiday wish list, Dunedin has something special waiting for you.
Give your old familiar summer holiday spots a miss this year and try a change of scenery! Whether you end up visiting one of the holiday spots above or selecting another hidden gem to while away the summer days, don’t forget that with a Freedom Medical Alarm, it’s that much easier to travel worry-free.