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How to experience New Zealand’s remote gems

With many scenic highlights in less travelled places, New Zealand’s reputation as an unspoiled paradise is well deserved. This is a younger country with a relatively small population, so when you journey further from the cities and highways, many jewels await.

Many of these are places are unpopulated, in mountainous regions, on islands, or in coastal outposts, and some can only be accessed across water, on foot or by taking to the skies. But thanks to well maintained tracks, reserves and huts, experiencing these places means you don’t have to be really adventurous.

If the purpose of your self drive vacation is to really get away from it all and you’re wondering how to include some of these remote gems, here are some places worth adding to your journey.

1.     Capes

New Zealand is made up of two main islands and Stewart Island, and there are many headlands and smaller islands that are worth including in your itinerary. One of these is Cape Kidnappers reserve, on a peninsula in the North Island’s Hawke’s Bay, where part of the adventure is getting there. To see the famous gannet colony or play golf here, there’s a walking track, a beach walk at low tide, or a tractor ride along the beach.

The East Cape near Gisborne is known for being ‘off the beaten track’, and it’s where you can see the first sunrise around the globe at the cape’s lighthouse. The 750 step climb to the lighthouse is well worth it!

Cape Palliser is another spectactular destination, this time near Martinborough in the lower North Island. Home to a large fur seal colony, the climb is shorter – just 250 steps!

Cape Palliser lighthouse Hawke's Bay

Cape Palliser

2.     Islands

If you’ve headed to the bottom of the South Island and want a boat trip, why not think about Stewart Island? It’s accessed by ferry or small plane, and once there you can enjoy fishing and diving, kayaking, guided walks and relaxing bays.

Further North, Great Barrier Island lies 90km off the largest city of Auckland. Here there are hiking packages available, as well as the Kaitoke Hot Springs, art galleries, white sand beaches and the Windy Canyon.

White Island is often recommended as an itinerary highlight – it’s New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and lies off the North Island’s East Coast. Boat and plane tours are available and the geothermal landscape is complemented by fishing charters and diving excursions.

Among the smaller islands are Waiheke, close to Auckland and home to renowned vineyard restaurants, and unpopulated Mokoia Island near Rotorua, a sacred Maori heritage site accessed only by small boat tours.

White Island volcanic North Island

White Island

3.       Beaches

New Chum Beach is one of many amazing white sand beaches in the North Island coastal region of Coromandel, but this one is the most hidden away. It’s about a 40 minute walk via a lagoon and a bush track to get there, but once you’ve arrived there’s a feeling of complete relaxation and connection with nature.

Curio Bay is another less visited beach but feels far more rugged in its isolation. It’s a great place in Southland to spot wildlife like yellow eyed penguins, Hector’s dolphins and fur seals. And at low tide you can explore a fossilised forest.

In the Waitakere area in west Auckland, there’s a bay that’s definitely not for the faint hearted. Below huge cliffs and dotted with caves is Mercer Bay, and it’s an adventurous rope descent to get in. But braving this means a chance to explore the sea caves, and spot seals and giant starfish.

Curio Bay Southland penguin

Curio Bay

4.       Lakes and pools

New Zealand is well known for stunning lakes, many fed by mountain streams and glaciers. Crucible Lake in Mt Aspiring National Park is a must do – the Siberia Experience activity is your ticket to the lake via a flight to the local hut, then a day hike and pickup by jet boat. Otherwise you’ll need to do a two day hike to get there.

The Blue Pools are also in Mt Aspiring National Park – after a drive of around an hour from Wanaka, it’s a gentle walk through a beech forest to the pools, which offer world class views of the clear aqua water.

In beautiful Fiordland in the South Island, Lake Quill is the source of the Sutherland Falls, which at 580m is New Zealand’s highest. The the falls are one of the highlights on the Milford Track great walk, but the lake itself can only be seen from a helicopter.

Crucible Lake Mt Aspiring National Park

Crucible Lake