Bay of Plenty
With 125km of white sandy beaches, it's no surprise this area is best known for its swimming, surfing and beach culture. Tourism is a big part of the local economy, so from small towns right through to the city of Tauranga, it's well set up to to entertain its visitors.
1. Gate Pa Memorial Reserve, corner of Cameron Rd and Church St, Gate Pa, Tauranga
New Zealand history will be compulsory in all schools by 2022. In the meantime, this reserve might help fill some gaps in your knowledge. One of the most famous battles of the land wars, the legendary Battle of Gate Pa (Pukehinahina) was fought here in 1864.
Local historian Buddy Mikaere says it's particularly well known for two things.
The first, Māori released a sort of code of conduct before the battle began about how the wounded would be treated, and promising the safety of women and children. "Then, during the night, you had some of the Māori defenders going out and tending to the British wounded lying round the battlefield. It's that gallantry that so affected the Victorian mindset of the time. The second reason is it represents the largest defeat ever suffered by an imperial army to indigenous troops."
Today, the battle is commemorated with a carved entrance to the park, magnificent carved pou along the perimeter, and St George's church with its memorial to those lost.
2. Haiku Pathway, 60 Main Rd, Katikati
See if you can find haiku hidden in the park on river boulders.
3. Patrick's Pies, Bethlehem, Tauranga Crossing and Rotorua
There's no better excuse to sink your teeth into a pie, than being near one of Patrick Lam's pie shops. He won the supreme award at the NZ Pie awards again in 2019, for the seventh time. His hundreds of awards paper the walls at Patrick's Pies in Bethlehem, Tauranga Crossing, and the aptly named Gold Star Bakery in Rotorua.
4. Hairy Maclary statues, The Strand, Tauranga.
If you're out of the gate and off for a walk, see if you can spot Hairy Maclary and his friends on The Strand. All the favourites from the children's storybooks are there, including Slinky Malinki who is keeping a safe distance.
5. DeLuxe Theatre, 127 Church St, Opotiki
The DeLuxe is a real, old-fashioned community movie theatre. Run by a trust, volunteers keep the theatre ticking, and it hosts a few screenings a day as well as community events.
In a landscape dominated by Mt Taranaki, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure. There's a popular coastal trail, the Mt Taranaki summit track, and famous surfing spots — but also beautiful gardens for people who like their outdoors a bit more manicured.
1. KD's Elvis Presley Museum, 51 Argle St, Hāwera
There are many passionate fans of Elvis Presley. But not many could rival Hāwera man Kevin "KD" Wasley, who has created his own shrine to The King. Almost six decades worth of Elvis memorabilia is crammed into his old workshop, which attracts visitors from around the world.
It's only open by appointment, and there's no admission charge. But it's no big deal for a man who just wants to share his love for Elvis. "When you've got someone coming all the way from America or Czechoslovakia, it's a pleasure to come home and show them because they've come specially to have a look. And then they ask how much and I say I don't charge, it's just a donation, people can't believe it." KD will admit to busting out the odd Elvis tune as well, but only as a tribute, not as an impression. "I don't try to be like him because there's no one who can beat him. There's only one person out there and that's Elvis."
2. The Moki tunnel, Forgotten World Highway
This is one you don't even need to stop the car to enjoy. Known as the "Hobbit's Hole", it's a narrow 180m long tunnel. Built in 1930s, it's on the Forgotten World Highway, which runs Stratford to Taumarunui.
3. Manutahi Taxidermy Museum, 360 Manutahi Rd, Lepperton
With well over 2000 taxidermy animals, John Ward's climate-controlled museum boasts everything from his first taxidermy project, an eastern rosella, right through to a double-headed lamb.
4. Sir Peter Snell Statue, Outside Opunake Library, Tasman St
Opunake celebrates one of its most famous sons, Sir Peter Snell, with a bronze statue of him mid-stride. An even more poignant place for a visit since his death on December 12, 2019.
5. Garden of Tutunui, Corner of Egmont and Bedford Sts, Patea
A garden featuring upright whale bones, commemorating the story of Chief Tinirau's pet whale, Tutunui.
Just a short drive out of Wellington opens a world of opportunities. You can check out paua, alpacas and a white kiwi all on the same day at local reserves, and finish with a glass of beautiful Wairarapa wine in your hand.
1. Stonehenge Aotearoa, 51 Ahiaruhe Rd, Ahiaruhe
One thing you might not expect to see in Wairarapa is a full-scale, working adaptation of Stonehenge. But that's exactly what you'll find on the farm belonging to astronomy and history buffs Richard Hall and wife Kay Leather. The pair used to run courses at Carter Observatory, and found people were fascinated by stone circles and pyramids.
According to Hall, they vowed if they ever had the chance, they'd build their very own Stonehenge. "I ended up getting a small farm out here in the Wairarapa. An hour and half out of Wellington and suddenly you're under these pristine night skies. The first thing we built was an observatory, and later the stone circle came along." They had the help of about 150 volunteers, and today you can visit for a guided tour, or take yourself around. They're hoping plans for a dark sky reserve in the area will go ahead — it would be the biggest reserve of its kind in the world.
2. Tui Brewery, 5 Mara St, Mangatainoka
You can either stop for a photo with the iconic brewery building then keep going, or for those with more interest in brewing, tours are available.
3. Castlepoint lighthouse, Masterton Castlepoint Rd
First lit in 1913, it's still operational today, although it hasn't been manned since 1988. You can walk up Castle Rock to the lighthouse, and be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins and fur seals.
4. The Wool Shed, 12 Dixon St, Masterton
New Zealand's Museum of Sheep and Shearing is dedicated to the history and importance of sheep farming in New Zealand. It includes two complete, historic shearing sheds, and will even do shearing demonstrations by arrangement.
5. Putangirua Pinnacles, 12km south of the Cape Palliser road junction with Lake Ferry Rd
Three tracks lead to the spectacular pillar formations, created by what's known as "badlands erosion". It's clearly a favourite of Sir Peter Jackson's too, part of the Paths of the Dead scene in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was filmed here, as well as the opening sequence of Braindead. DoC warns the tracks will be under maintenance until January 20, so follow any signs during this period.
Rotorua, Taupō and the Central Plateau
This area is totally set up for tourists. Rotorua's geothermal activity, and Taupō's lake, mountains and trout-filled lakes mean there's more than enough official attractions. There's plenty of lesser known, and less expensive spots in the area too.
1. Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park, 4a Rangataua Rd, Ohakune
What more could you want on your travels, than a statue of a giant carrot? The locals of Ohakune have though carefully about this, and added other giant root vegetables to the iconic carrot, as well as a bike track and a playground. It's all part of the Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park, a great stop on a road trip through the area.
Jo Kennedy is the general manager of Visit Ruapehu, and says people just used to go through Ohakune and look a the carrot. "Now it's a lot more than that, and that's what we're trying to be. A lot more to a lot more people rather than just a large vegetable."
In winter, Kennedy's suggestion is a visit to Johnny Nation's chocolate eclair shop. "It's just along from the carrot park, and the chocolate eclairs there are almost as big as your head."
2. Mt Ngongotaha Jubilee Track, begins Paradise Valley Rd, Rotorua
Mt Ngongotaha is much better known for the gondola and luge set up on one side, but they're not the only things it has to offer. There's a road to the top, but also a track that begins in virgin forest, then goes through dense bush to the summit. Keep an eye out for the patupaiarehe, the fairy-like people from Māori tradition who are said to live there.
3. Kerosene Creek, Old Waiotapu Rd
Locals love this swimming spot, which features a waterfall and swimming hole with geothermally heated water. It can take a bit of trial and error to find the right temperature, and there are no changing or toilet facilities.
4. Ohaaki power station, 391 Ohaaki Rd, Ohaaki
On the road between Taupō and Rotorua, you can spot the station thanks to the 105m cooling tower poking up in the middle of green fields. The tower is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, and you can check it out from a viewing platform near the plant.
5. Tangiwai memorial, State Highway 49, Tangiwai
On Christmas Eve 1953, 151 people were killed in the Tangiwai Rail disaster, when the the Whangaehu River bridge was damaged by a lahar from the nearby Mt Ruapehu. Today, there's a memorial to New Zealand's worst rail disaster, and a track to a lookout over the bridge.
Waikato, Hauraki Plains, King Country
The two major drawcards in this part of the country are the Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton, favourites of international tourists. But this is also beautiful dairy country, with plenty of agricultural-themed attractions too.
1. Morrinsville cows, Morrinsville township
A new resident of Morrinsville, Nicki Robb noticed there was a lack of activities for visitors. "We had this really cool town, Morrinsville, but we had nothing that was bringing people to it. No one drives through it, it was really just a service town to the rural sector. Te Aroha had the beautiful mountain and the spas, the retreat kind of personality. Then Matamata has Hobbiton and the hundreds and thousands of visitors who go there. I felt really sad that Morrinsville didn't have anything."
Inspired by a similar project she'd seen while living in Chicago, she embarked on an ambitious project to put the town on the map, with the help of 60 brightly coloured, life-size cow sculptures. The town got on board, and today you can walk the streets finding the cows, many with punny names hinting at who sponsored the sculpture, like "The accowntant" (MBS Advisors) and "Ed Moocation" (David Street School)
2. The big L&P bottle, Ohinemuri Park, Paeroa
It's not going to be a long stop, but it would be criminal to pass through Paeroa without taking an obligatory photo of the bottle.
3. Wairere Falls, Te Aroha-Okauia Rd, Te Aroha
To see the highest waterfall in the North Island, you can take the low-impact option and view it from Te Aroha-Okauia Rd, or take the more serious track that stops at the bottom of the falls, before a climb to the top.
4. Okoroire Hotel and Hot Springs, 18 Somerville Rd, Okoroire
If you're on a long road trip, you might appreciate a rest in these hot springs, surrounded by bush and ferns. Part of the Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel, they were originally known for medicinal and healing properties and enjoyed by the Ngāti Raukawa people.
5. Over the Moon Cheese, 33 Tirau St, Putaruru
Waikato is known for its dairy, and at Over the Moon they're turning that dairy into some fantastic cheese. All their cheeses are made locally, and mostly with local milk.
Wellington's culture, its compact nature, and even its legendary weather make it a favourite tourist destination. It's easy to walk between well-established destinations like Te Papa and the cable car, but there are plenty of gems you might not have seen too.
1. Carlucci Land, 281 Happy Valley Rd, Happy Valley
On Wellington's wild South Coast, perched on the side of a hill, is this mini-golf-course-cum-sculpture park. It grew organically through the vision of owner Carl Gifford. He was building stone walls when it all began. "Each time I'd find a big rock that looked like something, an unusual shape or whatever, I would put it in a place and slowly the sculpture park started to happen. But I always had the intention to build mini golf, so I started to create it among the industrial sculpture park." He says it's one of Wellington's hidden treasures. "People have been driving past for years, and the most common thing that's said to me is 'we've been driving past for years, looking at the sculptures, and we've finally come'. They find it so beautiful when they come in."
2. Mangaroa rail tunnel, Tunnel Gully recreation area, Rimutaka Hill
At the foot of Mt Climie, this rail tunnel was in use until 1955. It's an easy walk through the 253m tunnel, a perfect adventure for torch-wielding children. The area is also home to multiple mountain biking tracks.
3. Petone Wharf, opposite Victoria St, Petone
It's at risk of sea-worms and earthquakes, but locals love their wharf. You can take a walk, a swim, or fish off the end.
4. Paddy the Wanderer memorial, just inside the Queen's Wharf gates
When airedale terrier Paddy's young owner died, he took to the wharves of Wellington to look for her. He was adopted by the Wellington Harbour Board, and later joined seamen on their travels. He's memorialised with a bronze plaque, and doggy and human drinking fountains.
5. Brooklyn wind turbine, Ashton Fitchett Drive, Brooklyn
New Zealand's first wind turbine was installed at this site in 1993, generating enough power for 60-80 homes. It's since been replaced with a bigger model, and you can check it out from a public viewing area.
You don't have to get far from Auckland to be treated to some of the most beautiful beaches and fascinating history New Zealand has to offer. Hardy travellers will want to tick off Cape Reinga at least once, but there's plenty to do on the way.
1. The Pear Tree and Kerikeri Mission, 246 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri
In Kerikeri, you can visit the oldest building in the country, Kemp House, handily located next to the oldest exotic tree in the country. They're part of the Kerikeri mission station, created in 1819 under the protection of Ngā Puhi leader, Hongi Hika.
The missionaries planted 280 fruit trees, including the pear tree that is still there today. Mission Station property lead, Liz Bigwood, says they think it was a bon chretien variety, which means "good Christian", "which the missionaries would like as they were very literal. They planted everything mentioned in the Bible like figs and olives."
Kemp House has daily tours, the stone store or storeroom of the mission has a museum, and there's a garden tour, so there's plenty of ways to take the area in. Or Bigwood has a final suggestion "come and buy an icecream and lie under a tree and think about this amazing pre-treaty story"
2. Te Paki Sand dunes, Te Paki stream road, off Cape Reinga Road
If you're heading to Cape Reinga, don't miss the chance to hoon down the Te Paki sand dunes nearby. They reach 150m high at some points, and with a boogie board you can surf down them. Either bring your own, or hire one there.
3. Gumdiggers Park,171 Heath Rd, 25km north of Kaitaia
Some parts of New Zealand owe large parts of their history to gold, but in Northland it's gum. This Kauri Gum digging site shows how the former Kauri forests came to be buried, how the gum was extracted, and has some insight into why we have footwear called 'gumboots'.
4. Christ Church/Te Whare Karakia o Kororareka, Church St, Russell
New Zealand's oldest church can also be found in Northland. Built in 1835, it survived the battle of Kororareka in 1845, apart from a few bullet holes still visible.
5. Eutopia café, 1955 SH 1, Kaiwaka
If you're a regular traveller north, you've probably spotted this unusual looking cafe. It's a swirling, carved, dreamscape, with hobbit-like seating areas and a beautiful central courtyard. Hard to describe, you'll have to see it for yourself.
This region's biggest towns are Palmerston North and Whanganui. They're perhaps not the most glamorous destinations, but turning your nose up at a visit here would be a mistake.
1. Durie Hill Elevator and Tower, Victoria St, Whanganui
When Whanganui's new suburb of Durie Hill was being created in the early 1900s, the developer ran into a problem. People were reluctant to buy property in a place that was difficult to access. The solution? An elevator that runs right up the middle of the hill. Paul Chaplow from local economic development agency Whanganui and Partners says it's been operating without a significant break since the day it opened. It's still used by commuters, but primarily it's a tourist attraction. Walk through a 205m tunnel into the hill itself, then the elevator, complete with an operator, "rattles and hums its way up and down".
2. Waimarie Paddle Steamer, 1A Taupo Quay, Whanganui
From 1899, the Waimarie was one of a dozen riverboats working the Whanganui River. Eventually, a road replaced them and she was taken out of service in 1949, and left abandoned until 1993 when she was salvaged from the bottom of the Whanganui River. She's now restored, and New Zealand's only authentic coal-fired paddle steamer.
3. Taihape Gumboot, SH1, Taihape
Taihape is the "gumboot capital of New Zealand", and what better way to celebrate than with a giant corrugated iron sculpture of the footwear. The town's theme also extends to an annual Gumboot day, with a gumboot throwing championship.
4. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 326 Main St, Palmerston North
The museum hosts a collection of more than 40,000 pieces of rugby memorabilia for the true All Blacks fan. And for those who need a more hands-on visit, you can measure your rugby skills against the best in the "have a go" area.
5. Mount Cleese.
After visiting Manawatu in 2005, British comedian John Cleese famously said, "If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick". The town got its own back, re-naming the Awapuni landfill "Mount Cleese". The landfill's now closed, but the Mount Cleese sign remains.
Thames and Coromandel
Proximity to Auckland and beautiful beaches is a combination that means Coromandel and Thames hardly need any advertising. But it's not all golden sand, there are plenty of other things to do in the area.
1. Broken Hills, Puketui Valley Rd, Hikuai
In the late 1800s, this was a thriving mining town. Today, all that remains is a series of walks that take in plenty of mining remnants. Probably the most impressive is the 500m-long Collins Drive Tunnel, which was made in an unsuccessful effort to find a quartz reef. It's a 15-minute boardwalk through the tunnel, so you'll need a torch. Johannes Hillerich is a DoC recreation ranger in the Hauraki office, and says the Broken Hills camping ground is very popular, including great places to swim. And if you prefer saltwater, then Johannes recommends Sailor's Grave, which is just north of Broken Hills.
2. Rapaura water gardens, 586 Tapu-Coroglen Rd
A different vibe to the busy beaches, this is a well-established garden includes streams, bridges and a waterfall called "The Seven Stairs to Heaven". There's a cafe open in summer.
3. Coroglen Tavern, 1937 Tairua Whitianga Rd
Maybe you're visiting for one of the gigs it's famous for, which this summer include Drax Project and Concord Dawn. Or maybe it's just to check out the traditional menu on a quieter day. Both are great reasons to check out the iconic Kiwi pub.
4. Hoffman's pool, near the Kauaerange Valley visitors centre, 995C Kauaeranga Valley Rd
Another freshwater option for when the saltwater becomes too much. To get to the swimming hole in the Kauaeranga River, there's a 30 minute walk through regenerating bush. You can spot the old water supply intake which once fed Thames township along the way.
If you can tear yourself away from Hawke's Bay's beautiful wineries, there's a whole lot to do in the region. Napier's Art Deco architecture, the gannet colony and Te Mata Peak are all special activities for visitors.
1. Arataki Honey, 66 Arataki Rd, Havelock North
Tucked away from the rest of Havelock North, lies a visitor centre well worth a visit for those with a sweet tooth. Arataki is the largest honey enterprise in the Southern Hemisphere, with 20,000 hives across the country.
Gayle Hutcheson runs the Arataki Honey Visitor Centre, and says some visitors are shocked to see their observation hives, showing exactly how honey is produced. "Particularly visitors from Asian countries where they live in big cities, they've never really considered where their food comes from, so they're amazed to see the bees and understand that honey is such a natural resource."
Hutcheson says the area might be known for wineries, but there's lots to nice food stops as well. "We've got an olive place nearby, the figgery where you can buy fig products, strawberry patch where you can pick your own strawberries but also get really nice fruit ice cream, and of course Te Mata Peak is just on our doorstep."
2. Shine Falls, Heays Access Rd, Putorino
It's a 45 minute walk to get to the highest waterfall in Hawke's Bay, just enough to warm up for a dip in the large swimming hole below.
3. Rush Munro Ice Cream Garden, 704 Heretaunga Street, Hastings
If Arataki hasn't satisfied your sweet tooth, Rush Munros certainly will. Serving icecream in Hawke's Bay since 1926, Rush Munros is now available all over the country, but you can visit the flagship garden shop in Heretaunga St.
4. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, Wimbledon Rd, Porangahau.
One of the longest place names in the world, sensibly shortened to Taumata Hill by locals. It translates as "the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land eater, played his flute to his loved one". Worth a stop to get a photo with sign.
5. Birdwoods Gallery, 298 Middle Rd, Havelock North
Just out of Havelock North village there's a gallery, cafe and sculpture park — with an old fashioned lolly shop for good measure.
Auckland's not so much a detour as a starting point for many people. But it's still worth a few stop offs if you're driving through, or even enjoying a stay-cation this summer.
1. Symonds St cemetery, 120 Symonds St, Auckland CBD
It's hard to imagine today, but this site was chosen for the cemetery because the land was close to the hospital but out of the city. Today, a motorway runs through the middle of the cemetery and it's right in the CBD. Consecrated in 1842, Auckland Council parks specialist Lynda Lucas says it's a real step back in time. "The whole place reflects life from the 1800s. The sort of people who founded the city, a lot of those people are buried there. New Zealand's First governor, Captain William Hobson is there. The first fire chief, the first policeman, all that sort of thing." The cemetery is separated into Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and Jewish sections.There are different self-guided walks that can be done through the cemetery, and guided walks are available.
2. Brick Bay Wines & Sculpture Trail, 17 Arabella Lane, Snells Beach
A great stop on a trip north, or even a day trip from Auckland. At Brick Bay you can visit the restaurant, taste their wines, walk the sculpture trail, or all of the above.
3. Warkworth cement works, Wilson Rd, Warkworth
What used to be the deep lime pit of a cement works, is now a popular swimming hole. Wilson's Portland Cement Works closed in 1929, and the dilapidated remains of the kilns and chimneys remain today.
4. Eden Garden, 24 Omana Ave, Epsom
A private garden on the eastern side of Mount Eden, set in 2ha of former quarry land. The beautiful garden is just down the road from Newmarket, and a great palate cleanser after too much shopping. There is an entry fee to visit, and it's run by a non-for-profit society.
5. Otara Flea Market, Otara Town centre
The market was established in 1976, and has been synonymous with Otara ever since. There are now plenty of markets around Auckland, but Otara's mix of food, clothing, craft and Polynesian specialities is not to be missed.
East Cape, Gisborne and Te Uruwera
The Gisborne region's Māori name is Tairāwhiti which means "the coast upon which the sun shines across the water". And that sun is pretty important to the area, it's long marketed itself as the first place to see the sun, and its beaches are one of the best reasons to visit. In contrast, Te Uruewera, home of Tūhoe, is known for is remote and rugged lakes and forests.
1. East Cape Lighthouse, East Cape Rd
This lighthouse stands at the easternmost point on the North Island. If you get there early, and walk the 800 steps up the lighthouse, you'll be amongst the first in the world to see the sun rise that day.
Maritime New Zealand's Mike Hill says people still find lighthouses fascinating, and this one is particularly popular. "We still run 23 classic lighthouses, but many of them are in inaccessible places, or on land the public can't get to. This one is the first light to see the day, it's our most easterly light, and its accessible."
Hill says they used to have three lighthouse keepers working around the clock to keep the East Cape lighthouse running. It was fully automated in 1985, and now Maritime New Zealand's entire network of lighthouses is now run by a single employee and cellphone.
2. Kaiti Hill/Titirangi Reserve, Titirangi Dr, Gisborne
As the name suggests, this is a scenic lookout over Gisborne. But the view isn't the only reason to visit. There's also a pohutukawa tree that was planted by the late Princess Diana, the eastern-most observatory in the world, and a World War II gun emplacement.
3. Rere Falls and rockslide, Wharekopae Rd, Gisborne
Rere Falls are a trip in themselves, an attractive waterfall with a popular swimming hole at the bottom. But a bit further down, the Rere Rockslide is the really special detour. The Wharekopae River has smoothed a 60-metre-long natural water slide, perfect for zooming down on a boogie boards or inner tube.
4. Te Waha o Rerehou
The largest pohutukawa in the world. Te Waha O Rerehou is more than 20m high and 40m at its widest point.
5. Onepoto Caves, 12km south of Te Kura Whenua visitor centre at lake Waikaremoana.
On the edge of Lake Waikaremoana, a two hour walk takes you through a series of caves. They were once used by Maori as a refuge in times of trouble. Make sure you take a torch.