There are a number of holiday hotspots that every Kiwi knows – the Bay of Islands, Mount Maunganui, Rotorua, the Kapiti Coast, Queenstown, Wānaka – the list goes on. But what about some of the lesser known, yet equally beautiful towns scattered around Aotearoa.
1News digital daily editor Sean Nugent lists what he believes to be some of the more overlooked towns that deserve more recognition.
Situated at the head of Hokianga Harbour, the twin settlements of Ōmāpere and Opononi feature white sand beaches and a relaxed Northland vibe. Across the harbour lie giant sand dunes that can be accessed by water taxi and ridden on boogie boards. Not far away is Waipoua Forest and Tāne Mahuta, an enormous kauri tree that is the largest in New Zealand. Opononi was made famous in the 1950s by the dolphin Opo, who used to frequent the harbour, let children ride on her back and performed stunts. A statue of the dolphin playing with a child is still in the town today.
A popular destination, but perhaps still a little underrated, Whakatāne is known for its sunny days and outdoor adventures that can rival more hyped destinations like Mount Maunganui. Those who love the water will love Whakatāne, with opportunities for surfing, kayaking, fishing and boating in abundance. Off the coast and at Whale Island, dolphins penguins, seals and native birds can be spotted. Head inland and there’s beautiful walks through ancient forest. In the town itself, kiwi calls can sometimes be heard, with some people living next to reserves sometimes even having kiwis foraging in their garden. A range of cafes, restaurants and local markets are sprinkled throughout the town, offering visitors a bit of everything during their stay.
In the eastern Bay of Plenty lies a wee gem in Ōpōtiki. The coastal town offers a little bit of everything, from surfing at Waiotahe Beach to cycling the Motu Routes and embracing natural history at Hukutaia Domain. The latter features The Burial Tree, believed to be over 2000 years old and previously used to hold the bones of the deceased. The town itself offers plenty too, with heritage buildings and a lovely museum housed in an old bus station. Excellent fishing and golf are also on offer, rounding out a plethora of activities for visitors to enjoy.
Off the beaten track, New Plymouth probably doesn’t get talked about as a destination as much as it should. A great climate, vibrant city, lovely parks and excellent dining sets the Taranaki capital apart from many other cities. The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a 12.7km promenade that features stunning views and a number of art installations, while Pukekura Park hosts a number of bush walks and bird life. Puke Ariki is a self-described “knowledge hub” that comprises a museum, library and research centre that educates visitors on the city’s history and heritage. Meanwhile, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is New Zealand’s first and only museum of contemporary art. Don’t forget just outside the city lies the spectacular Mt Taranaki, which has beautiful hiking trails both around and up the peak.
A tiny town on the South Island’s West Coast, Reefton offers historical charm thanks to its gold rush heritage. It holds an unlikely record in being the first town in New Zealand to be lit by electricity, but ‘The Town of Light’ shines with charm and character instilled by its restored heritage buildings and stunning landscapes. The town features its own heritage walk, where you arrive at a miner’s hut, sit in front of a fire and watch steel being shaped by a blacksmith. Surrounding the town is Victoria Conservation Park, the country’s largest, home to native wildlife such as kaka, kiwi, kea, robins and tui, while there are a dozen river systems within just a 40-minute drive of the town, all waiting to be explored.
Nestled in the heart of Canterbury is the beautiful country town of Geraldine. A popular pit stop on State Highway 79 linking Central Otago and the Mackenzie Country with Christchurch, the small town boasts artistic flair mixed with rural South Island vibes. Boutique shops selling arts and crafts, friendly cafes, and a vintage car museum are among the local attractions, while there are a number of walking trails worth exploring, particularly in the podocarp forest a stone’s throw from the town centre. Geraldine is also home to an excellent observatory, heritage buildings, and even large colonies of native bats!
In the heart of Central Otago, Naseby boasts a population of barely 120, yet offers so much for visitors to enjoy. The former gold mining settlement has a range of heritage hotels, and is the capital of ice skating and curling in New Zealand – there is not one, but two skating rinks, while visitors can also skate on natural ice at Centennial Pond. Naseby is not just a winter destination either. Scorching temperatures can hit the region in summer, when visitors can enjoy fishing, golfing, hiking or cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail, New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’.
The forgotten sibling of Queenstown and Wānaka, Cromwell offers many of the same scenic views and amenities as its neighbours. Set on the shores of Lake Dunstan, Cromwell boasts a plethora of world-class vineyards and orchards blooming with fresh peaches, cherries, apricots and nectarines. Those looking to get outdoors will be blessed with options for walking and cycling along the lake and the Clutha River, while in summer an inflatable water park is set up on the lake for the kids to enjoy. Add in that Cromwell often gets hotter and drier weather than their more popular neighbours, it’s a town that deserves more love.
Thirty kilometres from Invercargill in the heart of Southland is probably not where most people would expect to find a picturesque seaside town, yet Riverton is just that. The town itself is one of New Zealand’s oldest European settlements, features excellent art galleries and cafes, and is surrounded by beautiful bays and estuary. Wildlife lovers will be thrilled by the dolphins that often swim into the bays and Aparima River, as well as the abundance of bird life. Those looking for something a little different in the deep south should definitely go and enjoy what the “Riviera of the South” has to offer.