What are the Most Underrated Places in New Zealand?
Want to visit somewhere new in New Zealand? Perhaps get off the main tourist trail and experience a real slice of Kiwi land? We’ve compiled a list of the most underrated places in New Zealand, made in our humblest opinons as New Zealand’s largest travel guide. That way, you can experience some of those towns, highways, mountain ranges and islands that not many visitors know about. The tranquillity of these underrated destionations in New Zealand is all part of the charm, so don’t tell anyone else about them!
1. Ulva Island
Never heard of it? You might have heard of Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third-largest populated island located just below the South Island. Just a five-minute water taxi ride from Stewart Island, you’ll find the predator-free wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island awash in lush forest, golden-sand beaches and an ungodly amount of birds! It’s a place where you can see and hear kakariki (parakeets) laughing through the forest, where kiwi birds roam in the day time, where Stewart Island robins hop on your feet, and you’ll find yourself referring to the nature guide leaflet to look up the rest of the creatures you see. Find out more about Ulva Island and Stewart Island in the 10 Incredible Things to Do on Stewart Island.
Location: Off the coast of Stewart Island in the Southland region.
When travelling through the South Island West Coast, most travellers rush to the glaciers and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, but very little venture north to Karamea. The town with a bohemian vibe of permaculture farms and artsy B&Bs is the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park harbouring some breathtaking natural attractions. The Oparara Basin is a must-do during your time here, a place of magnificent limestone arches and caves tucked away in the forest. You might also want to tackle New Zealand’s most challenging Great Walk, the Heaphy Track. Learn more about the area in the 7 Amazing Things to Do in Karamea and 10 Best Walks in Karamea.
Location: Northernmost town of the West Coast region of the South Island.
On the North Island, instead of heading straight up to the Bay of Islands in the Northland region, take a detour along the east coast to the village of Tutukaka. Not only will you find glorious beaches and kauri forest on this scenic highway, but off the shores is one of the best scuba diving spots in New Zealand, the Poor Knights Islands. Experience a wealth of colourful marine life nurtured from the warm currents swept down from the Coral Sea, which you can experience on cruises, SUP and kayak tours, as well as through snorkelling and scuba diving. Visit in winter and you’ll also have the opportunity to snorkel with New Zealand fur seals. Plan your trip to the Tutukaka Coast with the 10 Terrific Things to Do in Tutukaka.
Location: On the east coast of the Northland region, North Island, approximately 30km (19 miles) north of Whangarei.
A small town home to deer hunters and the “Sausage Capital of New Zealand”, Tuatapere is a quirky small town in the Southland region and a base for outdoor adventures. It’s one of the less-visited places to experience the Fiordland National Park, yet boasts premium experiences like the multi-day Hump Ridge Track and unique jet boating adventures with the likes of Wairaurahiri Adventures and Wairaurahiri Jet. You’ll also find some of the most scenic free campsites of the country nearby, as well as free glowworm caves to explore at Clifden Caves. Find out more in the 7 Amazing Things to Do in Tuatapere.
Location: In the Southland region of the South Island, just east of the lower Fiordland National Park.
5. Forgotten World Highway
If the name doesn’t suggest that it’s one of the most underrated places in New Zealand, nothing will! The Forgotten World Highway is a 148km (92-mile) journey between Taumarunui in the Waikato region and Stratford in Taranaki, incorporating vast areas of rolling farmland, untouched forest and long-forgotten road tunnels. Highlights of the journey are venturing through the dramatic landscape of Tangarakau Gorge and stopping by Whangamomona, an independent republic in the heart of New Zealand. Get your passport stamped at the hotel and visit the other attractions listed in the 15 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.
Location: State Highway 43 between Stratford and Taumarunui in the North Island.
6. East Cape
This piece of land bulging out of the east coast of the North Island is often too much of a detour for most travellers, but those who take the time to venture out east will be treated to breathtaking beaches, unique wildlife experiences, authentic culture and tranquillity. On a road trip between Gisborne and Opotiki, stop by to feed the stingrays at Dive Tatapouri, walk the longest wharf in New Zealand’s at Tolaga Bay, see the intricate Maori carvings in Tikitiki Church, and watch the first sunlight hit New Zealand from the East Cape Lighthouse or Mt Hikurangi. Find out more about what to see in the 13 Eastland Must-Dos.
Location: The Eastland region of the North Island.
7. The Catlins
The coast between the Otago and Southland regions in the South Island is awash in awe-inspiring natural attractions. What’s more, most are free to visit! See the sea lions frolicking at the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, watch the penguins and see the fossilised forest on the rocky shores of Curio Bay, delve into the giant sea caves of Cathedral Caves, and visit a multitude of cascading waterfalls. Plan two to five days exploring this coast and all the 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins!
Location: In the Otago and Southland regions of the South Island, along the coast between Fortrose and Balclutha.
8. Surf Highway 45
Another highway worth journeying down if you seek the most underrated places in New Zealand, Surf Highway 45 is a coastal highway in the Taranaki region. It’s not all about the surfing though, as the highway gives you access to quaint towns like Manaia – the “Bread Capital” where the whole town literally smells like freshly-baked bread, and the cool and colourful surf town of Opunake. You’ll also have the opportunity to get a stunning photo of the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, while the whole road boasts incredible views of the cone-shaped Mt Taranaki. Check out more stops in the 18 Places to Stop at on Taranaki’s Surf Highway 45.
Around this harbour with a labyrinth of inlets and waterways are some of the country’s largest trees, most epic sanddunes and much more. Located on the west coast of the Northland region, Hokianga’s main-yet-small towns are Opononi and Omapere. Experience the Maori culture of the Footprints Waipoua tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) where you’ll meet Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest and the largest kauri tree. Check out some perfectly spherical Koutu Boulders, much like the famous Moeraki Boulders in the South Island. You can also give sandboarding a go down the dunes, as well as head out on coastal, forest and waterfall walks. Learn more in the 10 Outstanding Things to Do in Opononi & Omapere.
Location: The Hokianga Harbour on the west coast of the Northland region.
10. Ruahine Forest Park
While most travellers drive non-stop between Wellington and Taupo in the North Island, those in the know make a detour to the rugged inland forest and mountains of the Ruahine Forest Park. Home to adventure lodges like River Valley Lodge (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Makoura Lodge, it’s an epic destination for white water rafting and horse trekking. The mountain ranges are a local’s favourite for hiking and hunting with plenty of backcountry huts to get the true New Zealand wilderness experience. Plan your stay in the area using The Complete Guide to Palmerston North and 7 Terrific Things to Do in Taihape.
Location: A mountain range in the North Island running between Ngamahanga in the north and Palmerston North in the south.