Tourism data used to find New Zealand's secret beauty spots identifies little-known island in Hauraki Gulf as country's top hidden gem

The curse of all popular tourist attractions is that they are popular.

Must-see destinations as outlined by guide books and TripAdvisor lists are often well known and well established. Milford is majestic, the Tongariro terrific, even if you have to share the moment with twelve other families and a busload of boy scouts. But traipsing through the bush you can't help but think: there must be equally beautiful but lesser known places out there?

This is why a UK Travel Agency has analysed over 100,000 attractions to find New Zealand's least known but highest rated destinations.

A lone spectator dwarfed by the impressive Shine Falls. Photo / File
A lone spectator dwarfed by the impressive Shine Falls. Photo / File

Using data from review websites Hayes&Jarvis have compiled a list of natural gems that you might never have heard of.

The list includes little-known routes through glacial fields, hidden waterfalls and secret beaches.

There's even a glow worm cave outside of Huntly with thousands of glowing insects but a fraction of the tourists at Waitomo.

In a bid to escape the usual tourist traps they turned to TripAdvisor reviews to rate lesser-known beauty spots.

Looking at the bottom 40 per cent of most reviewed locations they ranked them by percentage of five-star reviews. To be considered each attraction had to have a minimum of 50 reviews, to eliminate outliers and make sure the attractions were well established.

The results turned out some pretty interesting destinations for anyone seeking a moment to themselves in New Zealand's nature.

Nikau Cave on the Woodwards' farm in Waikaretu. Photo / File
Nikau Cave on the Woodwards' farm in Waikaretu. Photo / File

At the top of the list with almost entirely five-star reviews and just 90 recorded visits was Rotoroa Island. This quiet 200-acre island in the Hauraki Gulf is served by just one ferry a day and is so little-known people regularly confuse it for Rotorua.

However the predator-free paradise is a far cry from the thermal metropolis, and with none of the tourists.


What you will find on the island are breeding takahe, 400 weka and - if you camp out in the old Salvation Army huts – possibly the odd kiwi.

Takahe have been released on Rotoroa Island as part of a breeding programme. Photo / Supplied
Takahe have been released on Rotoroa Island as part of a breeding programme. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand's least discovered hidden gems

1. Rotoroa Island, Auckland: 90 reviews, 89% 5*

This 200-acre island paradise is served daily as a stop on the Auckland to Coromandel Ferry. A rehabilitation centre owned by the Salvation Army operated here from 1911 to 2005, where its beauty helped lead 12,000 people to sobriety.
Eventually leased to a trust the island has worked with DOC to become a predator-free paradise, just 40 minutes' boat-ride from Auckland.
With beautiful beaches, camping and a couple of holiday baches, it is Auckland's ultimate natural escape.
2. Shine Falls Hawk's Bay: 104 reviews, 82% 5*

The 56-metre waterfall is reachable at the end of an hour long walk. However it's well worth the effort. The spectacular valley of native bush hides what would easily become a tourist hotspot anywhere else, making it the perfect secluded nature spot.
3. Roberts Point Track, Franz Josef: 67 reviews, 82% 5*

This track through the stunning Franz Josef Glacier Valley features all the ingredients you'd expect from a South Island track: daring swing bridges, glacier fields and kilometres of open track.
The 12km walk is rated as "advanced" by the DOC website. However, if you have the fitness the reward is stunning views of the Southern Alps.

4. Nikau Cave: 120 reviews, 82% 5*

An underground secret, the Nikau Cave is an hour and a half drive south of Auckland. The family run business in Waikaretu features stunning rock formations illuminated by millions of phosphorescing worms. The Woodwards who farm the area opened a café at the entrance of their kilometre-long network of tunnels, inviting the public to crawl into a network of tiny caves and cathedral-like caverns.
5. Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka: 168 reviews, 80% 5*

Hidden in plain sight the 3,562 km² UNESCO World Heritage Area is home to stunning blue streams, trout fishing and glacial fields.
Though closed for repair until later in the year, the Rob Roy Glacier is one of the hidden gems of the area. Though close to the similarly named Roy's Peak, it has a fraction of the tourists and leads to a spectacular hanging valley of glaciers.
6. Mount Crichton Loop Track, Queenstown: 106reviews, 79% 5*

Queenstown gives the impression that there is no stone that is left unturned by tourists. However, the Mount Crichton Loop exists to prove that there's always more to see.
A DOC maintained track leads to a views over Lake Dispute and a stone hut for more hardy trampers. The two-and-a-half hour hike is littered with waterfalls, spectacular views and relics from the gold mining past.

7. Tupare, New Plymouth: 160 reviews, 77% 5*

Tupare is home to some of New Zealand's best-kept gardens and tourist secrets. Almost four hectares of managed garden is made up of native and exotic plants, set up on side of the Waiwhakaiho River valley.
8. Te Henui Walkway, New Plymouth: 89 reviews, 76% 5*

The winding Te Henui Walkway in New Plymouth leads to amazing natural finds, in spite of less than promising beginnings.
Following an old sewage pipe route, the track leads to some of New Plymouth's most beautiful, secluded picnic spots and swimming holes.
Perfect if you don't let the history put you off
9. Mount Tarawera, Rotorua: 132 reviews, 76% 5*

On the green edges of Rotorua is New Zealand's most infamous volcano. Hardly hidden, the history of the area revolves around the mountain's catastrophic 1886 eruption. A tourist industry has grown up around the archaeological digs and Tarawera's 'buried village' - New Zealand's answer to Pompeii.
However the crater itself is hard to reach for anyone but the most determined tourist.
There is a five hour track, reachable by Kawerau. However, guided tours and hikes are available through companies such as Kaitiaki Adventures.

Storm clouds over the brooding Aramoana Beach at the mouth of Otago Harbour. Photo / File
Storm clouds over the brooding Aramoana Beach at the mouth of Otago Harbour. Photo / File

10. Aramoana Beach, Dunedin: 156 reviews, 71% 5*

In spite of New Zealand's rich collection of secluded beaches, this cove at the mouth of the Otago Harbour is the only one to make the list.
Just 30 minutes outside of Dunedin it's a local favourite, but out of the way enough to promise peace and quiet.

Dark, brooding cliff populated by penguins and albatrosses make you feel like the secluded spot is a secret for you and these majestic sea birds.