Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapō. © Fraser Gunn

10 popular spots around New Zealand to enjoy without the crowds

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Kiwis have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the most popular parts of our country without the crowds. Here are our ten top picks around New Zealand…

1. Nelson: Abel Tasman National Park

When overseas visitors fantasise about a trip to New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park is the kind of place they have in mind. Spectacular beaches are so golden, they really are the stuff of dreams. Crystal clear streams tumble down through the valleys to meet the sea. 

Abel Tasman is probably New Zealand’s best-known and most popular national park, attracting approximately 100,000 lucky visitors a year. Take the chance to experience the park without the crowds – whether you’re tackling part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, or discovering secluded coves by kayak. The beaches, the sheer granite headlands and the little hidden bays are just best explored from a boat.

2. Auckland: Sky Tower

The view from the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is unparalleled. Not even Mount Eden can deliver the kind of panorama available from the observation deck, 220 metres above pavement level. 

Fun fact: took 28,000 tonnes of concrete to build Auckland’s Sky Tower. Opening in 1997, it is, at 328 metres above sea level, the tallest freestanding structure in the southern hemisphere and is still the 25th tallest tower in the world.

3. Canterbury: Church of the Good Shepherd

Is this New Zealand’s most photographed church? Most likely. The building alone – tiny, iconic – is a must-see: its setting is even more remarkable. The view through the altar window as it frames the Southern Alps is profoundly moving though it’s one you’ll need to commit to memory – there is no photography permitted inside the church. Constructed solely from local materials in 1935, the stones were gathered from within an 8km radius and left in their natural condition. 

 4. Coromandel: Cathedral Cove

A beach that you can only get to by foot or by sea is a little bit special. Cathedral Cove is one of those beaches. While definitely not a hidden gem – Cathedral Cove must be near the top of most Kiwis’ lists when it comes to iconic New Zealand beaches – it’s still a spectacular spot for a winter walk. Whether you’ve taken the short bush walk to the beach or arrived by boat, you’ll be blown away by its sugar-white sand, clear waters and the soaring arch of its namesake cave.  

5. Queenstown: Bungy Jump

In late 1988 Kiwi AJ Hackett launched the world’s first commercially operated bungy jumping site, over the Kawarau River. More than three decades on and it’s still going strong: if you’re a bungy virgin, this is a good place to begin. But if you’ve already had a go at throwing yourself off bridges or ledges and swung through scenically spectacular gullies, you’ll definitely want to try being flung across an isolated valley by catapult in the nearby Nevis Valley. 

6. Northland: Cape Rēinga

The white lighthouse at Cape Rēinga can definitely be termed ‘iconic.’ Its role as a beacon that draws over a hundred thousand visitors a year to this amazing spot ensures it has a special place in all our hearts. Here, you can stand at the tip of New Zealand, buffeted by winds and admiring the sheer volume and power of the ocean.  A sweep to the left takes in Cape Maria van Diemen, the name a legacy of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who literally put this country on the map, and to the right, the beautiful arc of Spirits Bay, its name underpinning the sacred cultural aspect of this amazing place. 

7. Fiordland: Milford Sound

Many visitors to Fiordland don’t believe in Mitre Peak. The tour guide on their boat trip points to a bluff rising vertically into the curtain of low cloud and announces that if only it were clear, that’s where the majestic vista familiar to consumers of postcards the world over could be seen.

But when you visit in the rain – and with rain falling on over 200 days out of 365, there’s a pretty high chance you will – you’ll see it with all the taps turned on, and that’s a sight to behold. The highest of Mitre Peak’s five summits rises 1683 metres from the water, and the water itself at its deepest point is 420 metres straight down. But in the end, the numbers mean nothing. The ineffable scale and grandeur of this landscape has to be experienced to be believed.

8. Rotorua: Hot Pools

While the mass of motels along Fenton Street has earned Rotorua the nickname of ‘Rotovegas,’ one of the key reasons so many folk flock here, and have done so since the late 1800s, is the waters. The alkaline mineral pools have given rise to some serious spa centres – the best known and located being the Polynesian Spa on the lake’s edge. Soaking in a pool at twilight while looking out over the lake – does it get any better than that? And if you want a bit more than a soak, there is a menu of treatments and many ways of enjoying these natural wonders throughout the region. Your wellness factor will rise with the wow factor, for this is a seductive indulgence, one that makes the most of the thermal activity which flows beneath the city.

9. West Coast: Franz Josef Glacier 

The glaciers of the South Islands’s West Coast are eerie, bleak and beautiful places. Often the only colour will be the bright ski jackets of your tour party – and that’s OK, this really is ‘wonders of the world’ territory. Like glaciers everywhere, Franz Josef is in danger of melting, seemingly before our very eyes. Having advanced through the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, it then went into retreat again. Somewhere in the region of 140 glaciers flow from the Southern Alps, but Franz Josef is possibly the most impressive. Nowhere else in the world do glaciers come so close to the coast: few things are so visually captivating.

10. Waikato: Hobbiton

If you’ve ever had a hankering to explore the movie sets that well over a million tourists have visited since they opened in Matamata in 2002, now is the time. Hobbiton is, of course, the world-renowned attraction made famous by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. Here, you can get up close to the intricate detailing and craft that went into creating the alternate world of The Shire, while learning about how the films were made. Finish your tour with a warming ale at the Green Dragon Inn, sipped beside the crackling fire. 

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