Steampunk HQ, Ōamaru. © David Wall

14 quirky gems to discover around New Zealand


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Curious, delightful, wacky and weird, New Zealand has many quirky attractions worth a detour. We've rounded up a handful of gems to explore around the country.

1. Hidden donkeys, Matakana

Highfield Garden Reserve tucked away between Snells Beach and Algies Bay, is home to an unusual bunch of four-legged residents. A rose-covered archway leads the way through a little orchard to the enclosure where a herd of soft-eyed (though large-toothed) donkeys live. Donkeys have been living here for nearly 50 years when the land was privately owned, then became part of the park when it shifted to public ownership. You can pat and feed the donkeys (just watch out for the aforementioned teeth), and there are fantastic views of Kawau Bay from the clifftop walkway.

2. Steampunk HQ, Ōamaru

In the parallel world of Steampunk, the digital age never happened and time marched on with steam-powered machines and their noisy moving parts; clumsy by modern standards, but fascinating. Ōamaru’s Steampunk Museum, based in one of the town’s historic whitestone buildings, is home to the local League of Victorian Imagineers and pays homage to this imagined world. On the front courtyard, a full-size railway engine rears like a bucking horse, while inside, exhibitions are characterised by rusting iron, cogs, chains, bolts, cylinders and flickering cathode ray screens. Dress ups are optional but encouraged. 

3. Hand-feed stingrays, Eastland

Hanging out in the water with stingrays is an awesome experience and totally unique to Tairawhiti. Dive Tatapōuri’s Reef Ecology Tour, 10 minutes’ drive north of Gisborne, introduces visitors to the children of Tangaroa, the Māori god of the sea. Guides take groups, kitted out in waders, on a reef tour at low tide to see stingrays and a multitude of other reefs-dwellers such as yellowtail kingfish, trevally, kahawai, crayfish, octopus and conger eel. You can touch, feed and observe wild stingrays and other marine creatures as they glide along the ocean floor.

4. Greerton Village, Tauranga

Greerton Village, just outside Tauranga, is a little eccentric. The village’s cherry blossom trees are gorgeous in springtime and when they fall bare in winter, they get a makeover from the Greerton Guerrilla Knitters who are A-class yarn-bombers. Greerton is also known as the op-shop capital of New Zealand, with no less than nine of them within walking distance of each other. And to top it all off, there's Yatton Park, a hidden gem of a park, in the outskirts of Greerton. 

Yarn bombing in Greerton Village and a beautiful day to enjoy it

A post shared by Donna Denmead (@donnz_denmead) on Aug 22, 2017 at 9:26pm PDT

5. Tāwhiti Museum, Taranaki

In 1975 ex-art teacher Nigel Ogle and his wife Teresa purchased the defunct Tāwhiti cheese factory and over the years transformed it into the best private museum in New Zealand. Tāwhiti Museum is a wonderland of galleries and displays that bring the past to life with a combination of life-size exhibits and scale models. Scenes of Māori and colonial days are vividly real; Traders & Whalers is a boat journey through underground tunnels back in time. Take a break with a cuppa in Mr Badger’s Café afterwards.

6. Shamarra Alpacas, Banks Peninsula

With their furry faces, spunky attitude and high-quality wool, alpacas make great farm animals to photograph and meet while travelling. Kids and families love meeting them too. Out on the Banks Peninsula, across the harbour from Akaroa near French Farm, you’ll find Shamarra Alpacas. Enjoy epic views over the mountains and bays, interact with the alpacas and check out their champion wool.

7. The Natural Flames Experience, Murchison

Billed as the only place in the world where flames burn eternally in the bush, the Natural Flames Experience includes a drive up the Blackwater Valley on a private farm, followed by a walk through gorgeous native forest. Deep in the bush, you crest a hill, round a corner and suddenly happen upon the flames – a perpetual fire, fed by natural gas leaking from the ground. Your host slings down a hot plate, boils tea and cooks pancakes drizzled with local beechdew honey, and after warming your hands and backside, you walk back happy.

8. Wairere Boulders, Hokianga

Explore the ancient natural rock formations of the Wairere Boulders, inland from Hōreke. This valley full of rocks, eroded into weird and wonderful shapes, was rediscovered by Swiss immigrants who bought the land in the 1980s and built a network of tracks and platforms so visitors could view the boulders. Host Felix is highly knowledgeable, and the valley makes a fascinating side trip. Make sure you bring your sturdy shoes.

This river of boulders is part of an interesting geological formation found in Northland near the Hokianga Harbour. It is know as the Wairere Boulders and was originally a basaltic lava flow that stemmed from the Kerikeri volcanic group in the centre of Northland. The strange thing about these boulders is that the hard basaltic rock exhibits relatively rare karst formation or fluting (see photo 2) usually only seen in much softer rocks like limestone. It tends to develop when the rock is dissolved by mildly acidic percolating water. For this to occur on basalt, it takes a much longer period of time making these formations particularly special. Wairere boulders is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area and feel like a walk, there is a small entry fee as it is on private land and all the boardwalk engineering across the many chasms was done by the owners. #newzealand #wairereboulders #geology #nzmustdo #exploring #adventure #rocks #volcanic #basalt #hiking #landscape #kiwi_pics #boulders #karst #fluting #lavaflow #newzealandfinds #offthebeatentrack #hiddengem

A post shared by Chad Cottle (@nzcoastie) on May 1, 2017 at 12:51am PDT

9. Truffle Hunting, Hurunui

Truffles are not something you expect to be able to forage for in New Zealand. Italy sure, but near Christchurch? What a surprise! In fact, Limestone Hills in the Waipara area of the Hurunui District is the only place in New Zealand with four types of truffles that you can visit yourself. Be sure to give Rosie the truffle dog a pat as thanks for all her hard work.

10. The Vanished World, Waitaki

The Vanished World driving trail, which winds through the North Otago hills, leads visitors to some spectacular fossil and geological sites – 'Elephant Rocks' and 'Earthquakes' are just two of the highlights. Nearby, Duntroon hosts the Vanished World museum, home to fascinating fossil finds from the region. Behind the historic Nichol’s Forge is a big limestone sinkhole, with crystal-clear water flowing across its base. The spring only makes a brief appearance here before disappearing underground, to reemerge in the wetlands to the north of the town.

11. The Lost Gypsy Caravan, Clutha

The Lost Gypsy Caravan is the physical manifestation of local artist Blair Sommerville’s incredible imagination and tinkering skills. It’s a little wonderland of things that run on rails, spin, make noises, and light up. Actually, it’s sort of hard to describe – just make sure you stop in for a visit and a coffee. It’s set into native bush in the lovely little Catlins village of Papatōwai. There is little here in the way of amenities, so come prepared.

The cutest coffee cart ☕️

A post shared by anita (@anita_harrington) on Jun 4, 2018 at 1:34pm PDT

12. The Royal Hotel, Featherston

With a mashed up Steampunk / Lemony Snicket / New Zealand heritage theme, the Royal Hotel takes both the terms ‘quirky’ and ‘stylish’ to a new level. The iconic 1868 hotel has a selection of rooms named for the Baudelaire orphans, whimsical steampunk characters, or the Pikirakau suite, in honour of the women fighters and adventurers in the New Zealand wars. Think framed butterflies and jewel-tone walls; velvet, copper piping and glossy black-tiled bathrooms. There’s also a restaurant onsite, serving delectable local fare from the Wairarapa region.

FIRST ROOM COMPLETE! What do you think?! 🗝🖤🛎

A post shared by The Royal Hotel (@theroyalfeatherston) on Nov 1, 2017 at 1:15pm PDT

13. The Giant’s House, Akaroa

What was once known as Linton, the first bank manager’s house in Akaroa is now painted in vibrant candy colours, sitting atop a sprawling hilltop site that has been transformed, almost completely, into art. This is The Giant’s House. A testament to whimsy and years of labour and love from local artist Josie Martin. To call this place a sculpture garden is an understatement. It is more a slice of Gaudí-esque architecture, transplanted from Barcelona to Banks Peninsula.

14. Owlcatraz, Horowhenua

The call of the morepork – Māori phonetically rendered it ru-ru – is an iconic New Zealand night-time sound, but such is the stealth of these gorgeous little birds that you seldom get so much as a glimpse of them. Owlcatraz will give you a close-up experience, and there are lots of other animals to mingle with, too. Not only does the farm and wildlife side of things provide for an absorbing afternoon’s entertainment, but you can also revel in some of the cheesiest puns to be had south of Bulls. Owlcatraz, Lake Owlsmere... sheesh.

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