The Most Authentic Places to Visit in New Zealand (and How to Visit Them Like a Local)
You’ve probably already heard about how much there is to do in New Zealand. You’ve also probably seen the same photos of, say, Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, the purple lupins in Lake Tekapo and the glowworms in Waitomo. But how can you see the highlights and squeeze in an authentic New Zealand experience all in the same trip? In this list, we go over some of the most authentic places to visit in New Zealand, as well as how to experience them like a local!
1. The Coastal Paradise of Paihia
Paihia and the Bay of Islands are often scrapped from the itinerary of travellers in New Zealand due to their “out-of-the-way” location in the Northland region above Auckland. As one of the most authentic places to visit in New Zealand, complete with awesome local experiences on the coast, it’s one destination that you may want to reconsider.
Sail among the bay’s 144 islands, walk among the spiritual kauri forests of Waipoua, and head all the way to the top of the North Island to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse (Te Rerenga Wairua)! Sandboarding down the sand dunes along Ninety Mile Beach is also mandatory. If you want to see it all in just a four-day trip (or as part of a mega 28-day adventure), give Backyard Roadies a call – they include all of the above, as well as a private sailing trip and lots of good local food, in their tours.
2. The Waves of Ahipara
Forget surfing hotspots like Raglan and Piha, if you want to go where only the locals go, Ahipara is your answer! Get in on the action by taking a surf lesson or simply hit the waves of Shipwreck Bay if you’re already a pro. Other highlights of this small town at the end of the famous Ninety Mile Beach include horse trekking, beachcombing and road tripping to the nearby Hokianga Harbour.
3. A Geothermal Journey in Rotorua
Experience the hypnotic power of bubbling mud in the literal hotspot of Rotorua. Packed with geothermal parks, the city and surrounding landscape are awash with steaming lakes, erupting geysers and hot pools of all sorts of crazy colours. A great place to start is at the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, but the list goes on in the 8 Best Geothermal Parks in New Zealand.
4. The Breathtaking Fiords of Milford Sound
It doesn’t get more authentic than what nature has created in the glacier-carved fiords of Milford Sound! Tucked away on the coast down one of New Zealand’s most beautiful roads, Milford Sound is a coastline of dramatic proportions. Catching a cruise is the most popular way to soak in the scenery. Experience it all as part of the South Island parcel that is the 10-Day South Island Explorer with Backyard Roadies.
5. Queenstown, the Adventure Capital
Not just the capital of adventure, Queenstown is the capital of all things to do! Sure, there’s bungy jumping, skydiving, white water rafting… But if you want to tour a winery or relax in a hot pool with sensational views, go right ahead. Although Queenstown isn’t the most “local” on this list of authentic places to visit in New Zealand, it certainly has all of the rest, therefore, it’s one of the must-do destinations on your trip around New Zealand. Come on, you were planning on going there anyway, right?
6. Lake Tekapo’s Vivid Night Skies and Vibrant Waters
If kicking back is more your style, then you might want to include the little town of Lake Tekapo in your itinerary. Soothe your skin at Tekapo Springs while gazing over the lake’s vibrant blue waters. When night falls, experience the vivid picture of the stars in an International Dark Sky Reserve, either independently or as part of a stargazing tour.
7. The Unique Beaches of the Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island is home to some of New Zealand’s most iconic beaches, such as Cathedral Cove. See its white cliffs and coastal arch either by walking the trail or taking a kayak tour. Additionally, don’t miss Hot Water Beach where you can dig your own hot pool in the sand.
8. Franz Josef and its Connection to Greenstone (Pounamu)
It’s not just about heli-hiking onto a massive river of ice that makes a trip to Franz Josef worth it – although, that’s pretty cool; it’s about connecting with the Maori culture through traditions like carving your own greenstone pendant (or, as the Maori call it, “pounamu”) to create and meaningful souvenir. This is just one of the amazing local experiences included in tours with Backyard Roadies.
9. New Zealand’s Sunniest Side, Nelson and Abel Tasman
Picture-perfect beaches and the city that receives the most sun hours, Nelson and Abel Tasman are definitely worth spending some time in before rushing to the usual highlights of Mt Cook and Queenstown further down the South Island. One of the most authentic and local ways to experience this pristine part of the South Island is on an exclusive sunrise waka (Maori canoe) paddling tour, which is included in the 4-day, 14-day and 28-day South Island tours with Backyard Roadies.
10. Experience it All at a Relaxed Pace with the Locals at Backyard Roadies!
If you can’t make your mind up, or you want to visit all of the authentic places to visit in New Zealand mentioned above, then jump on a tour with Backyard Roadies. They offer small-group tours of both the North and South Islands ranging from four to 28 days. By joining Jason and the team of Backyard Roadsters, you’ll not only get to experience New Zealand with the locals, but you’ll be experiencing it like a local; at a much more relaxed pace than some of the other tours around Aotearoa.
With most meals and a generous mix of New Zealand must-dos and unique local experiences included in the price, we see no reason to start planning your backyard adventure with the crew at Backyard Roadies!
More Authentic Places to Visit in New Zealand
That’s it for our list of the most authentic places to visit in New Zealand and how to experience New Zealand like a local. For more travel advice and places to visit, check out these guides:
- New Zealand Travel Advice: How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand
- 10 Most Underrated Places in New Zealand
- 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The BEST Travel Guide to New Zealand.