3 New Zealand Destinations Worth Going Out of Your Way For
100% Pure New Zealand, where to be and what to see.
New Zealand is brimming with luscious landscapes that vary from sheep-filled pastures to misty mountains to ninety mile beaches. You could spend some time in Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown to get the gist of the country, but New Zealand’s charm has very little do with its big cities. As it was more bluntly pointed out to me by a kiwi (slang for a New Zealander) on one of my first days of class, “The cities are shit and they’re not what you came all this way to see.” While I really enjoyed some of the cities, especially Wellington of which I’m very homesick for, he was right. If you’re flying over the world’s largest ocean to come to New Zealand, you better see the best of it even if it means going a little out of the way. So here’s a compilation of some of my favorite, most majestic, “off-road” destinations.
1. The Coromandel Peninsula, part of New Zealand’s North Island, is located about an hour’s drive east of Auckland. It’s a beautifully quiet region of the country with picturesque hills that roll between patches of lush forest and slow to a slope where the land meets the ocean. There’s plenty of hiking to do around the peninsula, but what you’re really going out of your way for are the unique beaches.
Hot Water Beach is a must see geo-thermal marvel. As you might have guessed by its very literal name, the water is hot, but they’re not talking about the ocean. Beneath the sand there are natural springs that cause water to bubble up to the surface during low tide and below those springs is leftover volcanic activity that heats up the water. In simpler terms, this beach comes equipped with dig-it-yourself hot tubs.
The water can reach up to 147°F, but with strategic digging you can find your perfect temperature and if you feel like you’re starting to overheat, feel free to run into the ocean for a brisk cool down. You can bring your own shovel or rent one for five dollars at the nearby cafe. This is a great place to spend an afternoon relaxing and comforting your travel-tired muscles while enjoying the view, but make sure to check what time low tide is and plan your day around that.
Once the tide comes in and you’re feeling more relaxed, head over to Cathedral Cove, another beach that’s a little harder to get to. It’s a forty minute walk down to the secluded beach, but you can also take a boat tour or a kayak to view the cove from the water. I can’t really explain what it is that makes this place so special–maybe it’s the huge rock formations or the mystical archway that separates both sides of the beach. After just one visit, I can’t put my finger on it yet, but there is a peacefulness about Cathedral Cove and you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to pull yourself away from it.
2. Lake Wanaka
Wanaka is a city in the South Island just an hour bus ride away from Queenstown. It’s much quieter, but is a great place to unwind and enjoy the tranquil mountain views. You could rent a kayak for a couple hours on the water or take a bike ride around the lake. But what I recommend most is taking a hike up to Roy’s Peak for the incredible view.
There’s a good amount of cozy hostels in town and it’s a good opportunity to take in a bit of New Zealand’s small-town culture. Among the locals, you’ll find the city bustling with other backpackers and even some skiers and snowboarders as the Cardrona ski fields are not too far away.
3. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is not on the way to anything else in New Zealand, but you’ll see it advertised just about everywhere you go. It’s on nearly every list of places you need to see before you die and Rudyard Kipling once called it “the eighth wonder of the world.” The Sound, which is not technically a sound but a Fjord, is located the southwestern region of New Zealand know as Fiordland. Formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, a fjord is a long narrow inlet of water with steep cliffs on either side and they’re absolutely stunning.
There’s many ways to go about visiting Milford Sound. There are a few hotels and hostels in the Milford Sound town or you could take a day trip from Te Anau or Queenstown. Though these will be very long and trying days of driving, you’ll be passing through Fiordland National Park, watching the landscape transition from peaceful New Zealand sheep farms to towering mountains. You can take a boat tour through the sound or if the weather’s nice, you could kayak through on your own.
But if the weather is looking rainy, don’t cancel your trip just yet! Sure it would be nice to see the Sound in the sun, but there’s something special about seeing this magical place in the pouring rain. Along the sides of the cliffs, waterfalls trickle down into the water and when the weather has been hot and dry, there are only two permanent waterfalls that you’ll be able to see. But when it rains, hundreds of waterfalls cascade down the cliffs, running down from every crevice. So don’t worry if it rains, instead consider yourself lucky. Though, I do recommend having your camera prepared.
It’s truly a spectacle of nature’s immensity and absolutely worth however long it might take you to get there.