New Zealand is on the bucket list for travellers the world over and with our borders closed at present there has never been a better time to enjoy our backyard.
It’s an opportunity to rediscover your region, see it through new eyes, and revisit favourite spots. Perhaps ask yourself, if you had overseas visitors, “where would I take them?”
Aotearoa is blessed with lakes, rivers, inlets, beaches and wonderful walks, so pack a picnic (and your togs) and prepare for some fun and free holiday day trips.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Tapotupotu Bay to Cape Reinga / Te Rerenga Wairua – Starting at Tapotupotu Bay, this 5km track offers incredible views before descending into Sandy Bay and on to the Cape Reinga lighthouse. Note: Some sections of the track may not be accessible at high tide at Sandy Bay.
Te Paki Sand Dunes – Grab your boogie board and try sandboarding down these world-famous sand dunes, or just sit back and enjoy the majestic desert-like scenery.
Waipu Caves – Grab a torch and wear a pair of trainers you don’t mind getting dirty and step into the Waipu Caves. You don’t have to go far to see stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms. Then enjoy a 2km walk through a picturesque karst limestone landscape across farmland and regenerating bush and take in panoramic views across the Whangārei Harbour to Bream Head and out to the Hen and Chicken Islands.
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland – Crowned as the top city in the world to visit in 2022 by Lonely Planet, the region offers wonderful East and West Coast beaches, and volcanic cone climbs.
Takapuna to Milford Coastal Walk – An historical trail that meanders along the waterfront and passes through many beautiful beaches that are perfect for a swim and picnic with views of Rangitoto and some stunning real estate.
Tāwharanui Regional Park – The abundant wildlife here is protected with a predator-proof fence. Picnic spots abound under pōhutukawa trees along what are some of our region’s most beautiful white sand beaches. And while you are here stretch your legs for a walk through rolling pastures, shingled bays, native coastal forest and regenerating wetlands.
Pancake Rocks Raglan – When the tide is right, grab your kayak or paddleboard and visit the stunning limestone pancake rocks across the estuary. Local tourism operators also run guided tours.
Waikato River – Winding its way through the region, the Waikato River offers great kayaking, cruising, trout fishing and jet boating. There are also many beaches along the riverbank to park up for a picnic and a swim.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway – This follows the old railway line between Paeroa and Waihi, giving access to impressive remains from the mining and railway eras. Do the 2.5km Rail Tunnel Loop or 4hr return Historic Walkway to Wakino. Don’t forget to take a torch!
Hot Water Beach – Bring a few spades and dig your own spa pool at low tide at Hot Water Beach by tapping into the thermal hot springs beneath the sand.Cathedral Cove – Kick off from Hahei with your picnic and bathers and walk to Cathedral Cove (1.5 hour return), world-famous as a Narnia film location. It really is a magical place for a swim.
Bay of Plenty
Footsteps of Toi – The Ngā Tapuwae o Toi trail includes pā sites of major historical significance, superb native forest with spectacular pōhutukawa stands, unsurpassed coastal views, beaches, an abundance of birdlife and a well-formed track. It has a panoramic view of Whakaari/White Island through to Mount Tarawera. Start at Whakatane and finish at Ōhope Beach West End.
Kerosene Creek – Thirty-five minutes south of Rotorua, this picturesque, geothermally heated stream is a great place to relax. The main pool is fed by a 2m waterfall and admission is free.
Kai Iwi Beach to Castlecliff Beach – Follow the stunning rugged coastline of Kai Iwi Beach at low tide and make your way to Castlecliff Beach. The walk is approximately 2-3hrs one way. Alternatively, head in the opposite direction to walk from Kai Iwi Beach to Okehu Stream, again at low tide (2hrs).
Durie Hill Tower Walk – Whanganui city’s most iconic building is worth walking to for the full experience. Either walk through the 213m Durie Hill Tunnel and take the Durie Hill Elevator (costs around NZ$2 per adult – cash only) or walk up the 193 steps from the bottom of Durie Hill to the top! Once at the Durie Hill Tower, take the 176-step spiral staircase all the way to the top for awesome views of the city, river and even Mt Ruapehu. 20 minutes one way.
New Plymouth Coastal Walkway – Stretch your legs along the award-winning 13km coastal promenade that goes from city to sea. It leads across the iconic Te Rewa Rewa bridge, which frames Mt Taranaki, and continues on to surf beaches Fitzroy and East End. Highlights along the way include artist Len Lye’s 45m high “Wind Wand” and the crashing waves of the ocean.
Pukekura Park – One of New Zealand’s premier botanical gardens, Pukekura Park offers 52ha of wonder to get lost in for a day. It’s recognised as a Garden of National Significance and has two lakes, a children’s playground, fernery and display houses, fountain, waterfall and more.
Kakahi glow worms – Walk through the abandoned railway cutting in Kakahi at night and enjoy a spectacular light show for free. You can park at end either of the cutting and then walk through at your pace and enjoy the magic.
Lake Surprise – 15km from Ohakune on the Ohakune Mountain Road, sidle down scree slopes, hike through alpine meadows and cross two mountain streams to reach the Mangaturuturu Hut. Continue beyond the hut across the valley before reaching a boardwalk leading up to Lake Surprise. On a clear day enjoy views of Mt Taranaki. Allow 5hrs return (including lunch stop).
Taranaki Falls – This easy 6km walking loop track meanders through forest and tussock lands with spectacular views of Mt Ruapehu, Chateau Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. Stop for lunch at the Taranaki Falls and have a dip in the crystal clear icy pool if you dare.
Te Mata Park – Seven walking tracks provide a variety of options to explore some spectacular areas of the Park on foot. Each of the tracks is a different loop route, which may be travelled in either direction. Highlights include a grove of 137 California redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) planted in 1974.
Mākara Walkway – Magic on a still and sunny day, the Mākara Walkway is a 7km loop over farmland and beach. A Ngati Ira pa site lies on the promontory at the western end of Fisherman’s Bay, and gun emplacements at the top of the cliffs mark the position of Fort Opau, which was garrisoned by 100 soldiers during World War II. The walk begins and ends at Mākara Beach.
Butterfly Creek – Located in Eastbourne, Lower Hutt, the Butterfly Creek track winds up through bush and beech forest while offering spectacular views of Wellington harbour before descending into Butterfly Creek Valley to a great picnic spot.
Totara Reserve – This reserve is one of the best and most accessible remaining examples of the ancient native forest that once covered much of the Manawatū Region. Great for families it offers long and short walks within the reserve. Plus, it’s a great spot for a picnic and swim.
Escarpment Track – If you have a head for heights, this track offers spectacular views of Kapiti Island from high above the coastline. Climbing 220m above sea level, it comprises 1200 steep steps, narrow pathways and two swing bridges. The walk can be done in either direction but we suggest beginning at Pukerua Bay and finishing up at Paekākāriki for an ice cream and/or beach picnic.
Castle Point – It’s easy to spend a day at spectacular Castle Point with its reef, lagoon, lighthouse and Castle Rock. The lookouts from the lighthouse provide views over extraordinary scenery and wild coastline. Then walk the Deliverance Cove Track for more astonishing views as you climb above the lagoon to the base
of Castle Rock.
Pinnacles Track – Walk along a streambed to the spectacular Putangirua Pinnacles near Cape Palliser and be amazed by the otherworldly rock formations here. It was also one of the locations for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. While you’re in the area make sure you drive to Cape Palliser too and climb the steps to the lighthouse.
Mt Hikurangi – Climb the highest non-volcanic mountain in the North Island, Te Ara ki Hikurangi – the sacred mountain of Ngāti Porou. Seven hours one way, this is a serious hike so you need to take the right provisions and gear with you in case weather conditions deteriorate. You’ll also need a map and navigation experience. Or book a sunrise experience with Ngāti Porou – not free but worth every penny to see the sun greet the world.
East Cape Lighthouse – There are 700 steps to get to it but it’s worth the climb. Perched above Otiki Hill, the iconic East Cape Lighthouse sits on the easternmost point of New Zealand: magic at sunrise.
Cullen Point – Marlborough Sounds is home to the famous Queen Charlotte multi-day trail and the area has lots of short walks too. The Cullen Point tracks offer stunning views of Pelorus Sound and Mahau Sound. The shortest track to the lookout is only 10 minutes.
Pūponga Hill Track – This 8km walk climbs steadily through open farmland and stunted bush along the Old Man Range to Pillar Point Lighthouse, with panoramic views all the way. You’ll also find ruins of one of New Zealand’s first radar stations.
Bridle Path – First constructed in 1850 for Canterbury’s first European settlers travelling between Lyttelton and Christchurch, this steep track rewards with stunning views over the city to the Southern Alps and of Lyttelton and Banks Peninsula (2hrs return). The number 28 bus runs between Lyttelton and the city if you’d prefer to only do the walk one way.
Taylors Mistake / Godley Head – A spectacular coastal clifftop walk with a captivating history. Enjoy the scenery, explore the baches in Boulder Bay and visit Scott’s Hut and reward yourself with a swim in Taylors Bay after the 7km walk or an ice cream from Utopia.
The Pyramids Walk – The stunning landscape of the Otago Peninsula holds many treasures in its fold including two pyramids! Unlike the man-made pyramids of Egypt, these were formed by nature and are made of hard basalt rock. The trail passes between a large pyramid (Pu-wheke-o-Kia) and a little pyramid (Te Mātai O Kia), then winds through a wetland to Victory Beach, home to sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins and a shipwreck.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes – The Pancake Rocks are at their most spectacular in the Putai area. This short 1.1km loop explores a limestone landscape of pancake-shaped rock formations, blowholes and surge pools.
Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk – Also known as the “Mirror Lakes Walk”, this easy 2.6km around Lake Matheson offers stunning views of Aoraki / Mt Cook.
Kelvin Heights Peninsula Trail – An easy 3.5km loop walk circumnavigating the golf course at Kelvin Heights with spectacular views across to Walter Peak and Lake Wakatipu, stunning sculptures on the way and hidden beach coves.
Tobin’s Track – Originally built by Thomas Tobin as an access track to Wanaka, this is now a popular walking and biking track for all ages. The short but steep walk – 30 minutes each way – rewards with spectacular views.
Lake Hayes Walkway – A beautiful and easy 8km loop around the lake with plenty of scenic views. Dogs allowed on a lead.
Mt Iron – An easy 4.5km hike to the summit of this glacier carved, rocky knoll that rises nearly 250m above the surrounding countryside. Enjoy panoramic views of the Pisa range, Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana.
Stirling Point – Most famous for its signpost, which depicts directions and distances to major cities around the world, Stirling Point is located at the beginning of New Zealand’s State Highway 1. It’s also a starting point for The Bluff Hill/Motupōhue track network with spectacular views over Foveaux Strait and the Southland Plains suitable for hikers and mountain bikes.
Nugget Point – The aspect of the Tokata lighthouse on the end Nugget Point, Catlins Coast is the stuff of fairytales. It’s one of the country’s oldest lighthouses perched above the famous rocks named because they looked like pieces of gold. The walks around here are short but you’ll want to hang out for a while due to the dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife, including a seal colony!