The famous Church of the Good Shepherd in the Aoraki Mackezie Dark Sky Reserve. © Rachel Gillespie

11 things to do on a long weekend around New Zealand

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Celebrate Matariki, our newest public holiday, with a long weekend away. Wherever you are in New Zealand, we’ve got ideas for things to see and do – starting with these 11 great picks…

1. Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Fiordland

On the western shore of Lake Te Anau is a 12,000-year-old cave system, complete with a subterranean river and a display of glowworms that light up the darkness. The Māori name for glowworms is titiwai, which means ‘light reflected in water,’ and this is exactly what happens in Te Anau as you glide through the glowworm grotto in a small boat. Pass under the cave’s huge rock overhang to see the swirling shapes of the limestone rock transformed by relentless water, listen to the roar of an underground waterfall, and learn about the fascinating geology and unique flora of the area. 

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2. Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington

Somes Island, known as Matiu to Māori, makes for an intriguing Wellington day trip to learn about the extensive heritage of this little piece of land. Although it’s pre-European history dates back to Kupe, more recently Matiu / Somes Island was used as a quarantine facility and a military defence point. Today, the island in the centre of Wellington Harbour is a predator-free scientific reserve, with a number of walking trails that take in the lighthouse, WWII gun emplacements and views across to Wellington City

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3. Wildwire Wānaka

You don’t need to be an expert to take on the world’s highest waterfall climb. At Wildwire Wanaka you’ll climb via ferrata – which literally means ‘iron path’ in Italian – alongside Wānaka’s Twin Falls to experience dizzying heights and remarkable views. Traverse a network of rungs, plank bridges and foot pegs as you climb the rocky gully; cross in front of the tumbling water on a one-centimetre-thick cable. The mountain views, stretching across to Lake Wānaka are spectacular, and you can stop for a picnic along the way at the hidden plunge pools.

Find other things to do in the Southern Lakes District


4. Forgotten World Highway, Taranaki

Whether you begin at Taumarunui or Stratford, you’ll experience some of the finest back country the North Island has to offer on the Forgotten World Highway. This is the land of pioneering ambition and stories of settlers’ struggles against the relentless bush. Pass by rolling pasture and thick pockets of native bush; over saddles, through gorges and even a one-lane tunnel on this wild 155-kilometre drive. Somewhere near the middle, you’ll find Whangamōmona, New Zealand’s own independent republic. Get your passport stamped and stop in at the historic pub

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5. Clay Cliffs and hot tubs, Ōmarama

Drive about 10km down a privately-owned gravel road from Ōmarama and pop $5 in the honesty box by the gate to get to some of New Zealand’s most remarkable geology. Formed by layers of gravel and silt compressed by the flow of ancient glaciers, clambering over the rocks at the Clay Cliffs is like exploring another planet. Once you’ve had your geology fix, head to the nearby hot tubs for a wood-fired soak. The individual tubs at Ōmarama are surrounded by clever native planting, allowing privacy and serene lakeside views across the mountainous landscapes of Otago’s Waitaki District

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6. Marokopa Falls, Waikato

About 31km west of Waitomo on Te Anga Road, a 15-minute bush walk through the Tawarau Forest will take you to the Marokopa Falls – often rated as one of New Zealand’s most beautiful waterfalls. When rain hits the area, the 35m-high falls become a powerful force as the Marokopa River cascades over the soaring greywacke bluff. The best place to see the falls is from the spacious viewing platform at the end of a short track through nīkau and tawa forest.

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7. Brook Waimārama Sanctuary, Nelson

On the site of Nelson’s former waterworks, the Brook Waimārama Sanctuary has been cultivated over the last 16 years to become a glimpse of what the New Zealand landscape would have once looked like. Many species of native birds have been re-introduced here, including tītipounamu rifleman, kererū, korimako bellbird and miromiro tomtit. Choose from a number of walking tracks that cover the sanctuary, whether you’re after a stroller and wheelchair-friendly walk, or something more intrepid that involves steep terrain and getting your feet wet in one of the many stream crossings. 

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8. Napier Prison, Hawke’s Bay

Originally built in 1862 as an army barracks, Napier Prison was operational until 1989, then used as a remand facility until it closed in 1993. It was resurrected as an alcohol treatment centre, a backpackers and now you can visit for a spooky audio tour of the grounds. Napier Prison is also home to Hawke’s Bay’s only escape room challenge. Choose between four themed rooms, including Earning your Stripes, The Prisoner’s Dilemma or the new virtual reality experience where you must puzzle your way out of incarceration. 

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9. Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, Canterbury

In 2012, a 4,300sq km area of the Mackenzie Basin in Canterbury was declared a ‘Dark Sky Reserve.’ One of just eight globally, it’s also the largest in the world. The Mount John Observatory is at the centre of the whole thing, making it one of the best places on the planet to look out for other planets. From here when conditions are right you can also see the incredible and rare Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. Best viewed in the winter months, this is one of the best places in the country to catch a glimpse.

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10. The Lost Spring, Coromandel

A16,000-year-old geothermal spring was discovered emerging from bedrock in Whitianga, 667 metres below the surface back in 1989. Since then, The Lost Spring has been transformed into a tropical sanctuary, with lush planting alongside the mineral-rich pools. Soak your troubles away, cocktail in hand, swim through the crystal cave set in the beautiful bush, or go for the full pampering treatment at the onsite day spa. With water temperatures ranging from 30°C to 41°C and pools no deeper than chest height, The Lost Spring is a seriously relaxing spot to spend a few hours. 

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11. Classic Flyers, Bay of Plenty

Aviation aficionados can explore aircraft hangars and display areas featuring planes ranging from miniatures and models to the full-scale nostalgia of vintage aircraft at the Classic Flyers Museum in Mount Maunganui. But more than just static exhibits, at Classic Flyers you can also take to the skies on a scenic flight in a beautifully restored heritage aircraft. Soar over the Bay of Plenty in the open cockpit of a Boeing Stearman, a WWII biplane, or experience the thrill of a hands-on glider flight. 

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