The Hidden Gems and Best-Kept Secrets of New Zealand
The awkward thing about making a list of the most secret places in New Zealand is that they become no longer secret. Way-to-go, us! Even so, these hidden gems and best-kept secrets will still take you off the tourist trail to visit marvels that not many people know about (except the locals, perhaps). Find some place special in Aotearoa with this list of New Zealand’s most secret places!
For more activities, head to the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.
1. Limestone Creek Glowworm Caves
While caves such as those in Waitomo take all the glowworm glory, the Limestone Creek Reserve near Palmerston North is an awesome hidden gem and alternative. Find a 600m (656-yard) loop walk where you’ll discover limestone caves, towering moss-covered canyons and displays of glowworms. Take your gumboots or be prepared to get your feet wet on this adventurous walk that has you scrambling through shallow cave streams.
Location: Limestone Road, Apiti, Manawatu-Whanganui, North Island.
2. Oparara Basin’s Caves and Arches
Tucked away at the top of the South Island’s West Coast, the Oparara Basin offers an array of short walks to picturesque arches, caves and Australasia’s largest limestone arch. Those who take the long detour off the main tourist route to get here will be rewarded with spectacular photo opportunities.
Location: 1350 Mccallums Mill Road, north of Karamea, West Coast, South Island.
3. The Moki Tunnel, Republic of Whangamomona and Forgotten World Highway
It’s in the name; the Forgotten World Highway is one of the secret places in New Zealand because, well, it’s forgotten! The winding journey between Taumarunui and Stratford includes highlights like the dark Moki Tunnel and New Zealand’s independent republic in the middle of the North Island, Whangamomona! See other attractions in our 15 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.
Location: State Highway 43 between Taumarunui, Waikato and Stratford, Taranaki, North Island.
4. Elephant Rocks, Maerewhenua Rock Art and Vanished World Centre
The Waitaki Valley, following the road between Omarama and Oamaru, holds several secret spots. Forget Castle Hill near Christchurch; the Waitaki Valley has the Elephant Rocks, as well as historical Maori rock paintings at the Maerewhenua Rock Art site. It’s also worth popping into the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon to see an array of fossils and skeletons found in the valley: prehistoric giant penguins, dolphins with sharp teeth and more!
Location: State Highway 83 between Omarama and Oamaru, Otago, South Island.
5. Koutu Boulders
Swap the crowded Moeraki Boulders in the South Island for the hidden gem of the Koutu Boulders in the North Island. These perfectly spherical boulders found in the Hokianga Harbour provide a fun photo opportunity and geological marvel. See more things to do nearby using the 10 Best Things to Do in Opononi & Omapere.
Location: 19 Waione Road, Opononi, Northland, North Island.
6. Clifden Caves
And for some South Island glowworm caves and an awesome adventure, find the Clifden Caves near the town of Tuatapere. Follow the markers through the cave network on a two-hour self-guided adventure with limestone features and glowworms to admire along the way. Be aware, you need to be fit and able-bodied to do the scrambling required. Plus, avoid the caves after or during heavy rainfall. See more hidden gems in our 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.
Location: Clifden Gorge Road, Eastern Bush, Southland, South Island.
7. Kawhia Hot Water Beach
While it can be hard to find a free spot to dig your own hot pool in the Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, you surely won’t have that problem at Kawhia Hot Water Beach. Walk over the sand dunes of Kawhia’s Ocean Beach at low tide and start digging in the tidal zone to feel the hot spring water seeping through the sand.
Location: Ocean Beach Road, Kawhia, Waikato, North Island.
8. Tama Lakes
While everyone is walking with the masses on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, go to the quieter side of the volcanoes on the Tama Lakes Track. The day hike takes you to two lakes occupying explosion craters with dramatic backdrops of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu.
Location: Ngauruhoe Place, Whakapapa Village, Manawatu-Whanganui, North Island.
9. Great Barrier Island
One of Auckland’s less-visited outer islands, Great Barrier Island requires a flight or lengthy ferry trip to get there. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with secluded sweeping beaches, a walk to some soothing natural hot pools, and one of the most underrated multi-day hiking trails in the country, the Aotea Track.
Location: Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf, Auckland, North Island.
10. Whirinaki Forest Park
Some of the most impressive primaeval forest on the North Island can be found in the Whirinaki Forest, yet not many people go there. It’s only a 1h15min drive from Rotorua to bring you to this lush forest with waterfalls, a lagoon and thriving birdlife. There are several campsite options, including a free campsite, as well as walking trails.
Location: River Road, Minginui, Bay of Plenty, North Island.