Hidden beaches, secret waterfalls, lighthouses, lagoons and lakes – find your next Kiwi outdoor adventure!
1. Lake Wainamu, Auckland
Hidden behind the towering black sand dunes near Auckland’s Te Henga / Bethells Beach is a freshwater lake, ideal for safe summer swimming. Lake Wainamu can be reached on an easy stroll up a shallow stream bed, which keeps your feet off the scorching iron sand. If it’s not too hot, the vast, desert-like dune system makes for an exhilarating walk through an otherworldly landscape, scrambling up and down the shifting slopes. Although there is no real lakeside beach, plunging down the steep dunes to leap into Lake Wainamu is all part of the experience. Boogie boards are recommended. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the Lake Wainamu Loop Track around the shoreline and discover the pretty Waitohi waterfall.
2. Coromandel Coastal Walkway
Explore the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula on foot or mountain bike along the spectacular Coromandel Coastal Walkway. The 20km, seven-hour return route, which should take the best part of a day, will take you between Stony and Fletcher bays. You can choose to return via the same easy grade walking trail, or pick the steeper Coromandel mountain bike track across farmland. Experience dramatic views across Mount Moehau, the Coromandel Ranges and the Hauraki Gulf, featuring regenerating bush, coastal forest and secluded sandy beaches.
3. Ōtarawairere Beach, Bay of Plenty
Picture a secluded beach made from crushed seashells that you can only get to on foot or by kayak. You can reach the picture-perfect Ōtarawairere Beach, in between Whakatāne and Ōhope from the Kohi Point Track, part of Whakatāne’s Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Trail – an easy family-friendly walk with wonderful coastal views. Alternatively, you can get to Ōtarawairere on a 15-minute walk from West End in Ōhope. Once there, you can settle in under the ancient pōhutukawa trees for a picnic, fossick in the rock pools, swim or snorkel in the summer months and see if you can find the hidden waterfall. The western end of Ōtarawairere is not accessible during high tide, so check the tide tables before you set off to this slice of coastal paradise.
4. Waiorongomai Valley, Waikato
Explore the remnants of gold-mining history on the outskirts of Waikato’s Te Aroha. In the Waiorongomai Valley, you’ll find New Zealand’s oldest bush tramway, built between 1882-1883, with its original rail still in place, alongside mining machinery, the remains of gold mines and historic miners’ houses.Although prospector Hone Werahiko found gold in the Waiorongomai Valley in 1881, the mines here were never very successful due to the unexpectedly hard rock. Today, you can choose from one of several relic-filled walking tracks that range from short bush loops suitable for children to advanced overnight tramping tracks.
5. Tongapōrutu Beach, Taranaki
Tongapōrutu Beach in northern Taranaki is one of New Zealand’s most rapidly evolving pieces of coastline. Once renowned for the famous formations of the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock, today just two sisters and a trunkless elephant remain, thanks to the relentless west coast waves. At Tongapōrutu, the towering papa and sandstone cliffs are carved by the sea into pillars, caves, tunnels and stacks emerging from the shimmering black sand. Keep an eye out inside the caves for Māori rock drawings scratched into the surface. Visit Tongapōrutu at low tide to explore the beach. At high tide or in stormy conditions the waves reach all the way to the cliffs.
6. Deliverance Cove, Wairarapa
Take a short, family-friendly walk to discover some of the most interesting coastline in the Wairarapa region. On the Deliverance Cove Track, an easy 1.5-hour walk, you can choose between two different, but equally stunning routes. Option one passes through pine forest above the lagoon at Castlepoint Scenic Reserve and follows the boundary to the base of Castle Rock. Alternatively, head south and follow the track through the dunes to meet the boundary track at the saddle. Either way will reward you with spectacular views of the reef, lagoon and the famous Castle Rock – known as Matira in Māori. This is also the only place in the world where you can find the rare Castlepoint daisy which grows on the limestone of the reef and Castle Rock.
7. Wairau Lagoons, Marlborough
Following the shoreline of the Wairau Lagoons, take a flat, family-friendly walk to spot seabirds and a shipwreck. Alongside Blenheim’s Wairau Lagoons walkway you’ll find the rusting remains of the SS Waverley – a shipwreck that is used for flood control and also target practice for the army. Choose from an easy short walk or a full three-hour circuit of the coastal wetlands at the mouth of the Wairau River. The Wairau Lagoons were formed over 6,500 years behind an eight-kilometre boulder bank, and the area is significant for its many Māori archaeological sites. Many of the moa skeletons found in museums around the world originated from the boulder bank here.
8. Wharariki Beach, Nelson
You may have seen photos of the iconic archway rocks at Nelson’s Wharariki Beach, but actually experiencing this wild and windswept stretch of coastline is something quite remarkable. Not easily reached, it’s an hour’s drive from Tākaka, followed by a 20-minute walk across farmland to get to Wharariki Beach. But the effort is worth it when you arrive at one of the most dramatic coastal landscapes in New Zealand. With rolling sand dunes, cliffs, caves, rock formations and islands, it is an explorer’s dream. The windswept bushland is equally intriguing, and to top it off, Wharariki is also home to a seal breeding area in the rock pools, and behind the shifting dunes, there are coastal lakes and swamps with rare plants.
9. Mackenzie District Lakes, Canterbury
Canterbury’s Mackenzie District is home to some of New Zealand’s most famous and photogenic lakes. The neon blue hue of the lakes is caused by sunlight refracting off fine particles of rock in the water, ground by the surrounding glaciers and, in the summer months, the shores are abloom with colourful lupins. Lake Tekapō is possibly the most popular, with Tekapō Village at its southern end and adjacent you’ll find little Lake McGregor. The shores of Lake Pūkaki, the region’s largest, provide famous vistas of Aoraki Mount Cook, and nearby Lakes Ruataniwha and Ōhau are equally gorgeous. While not quite so blue, don’t skip the deep, spring-fed Lake Alexandrina which is a perfect fishing spot, laden with trout and salmon.
10. Moke Lake, Queenstown
On the outskirts of Queenstown you’ll find Moke Lake – a serene and scenic spot surrounded by mountains. In summer, the clear waters of Moke Lake are lovely for a refreshing dip, and it’s also popular for trout fishing. Winding around the shoreline, the Moke Lake Loop Track does what it says on the tin, encircling the edge of the beautiful lake. There's also an unmarked, steep route up to a viewpoint that you might recognise as a popular spot on Instagram. Mountain bikes are permitted on the intermediate Grade 3 trail, and there is a lakeside campsite with sites you can book if you’d like to spend longer in this little piece of paradise.
11. Cape Foulwind, West Coast
Cape Foulwind does not live up to its name. This pleasant spot near Westport on the South Island’s West Coast is an important site for wildlife, with panoramic views of the surrounding shoreline and mountains. Take the well-marked track along the coastline and over undulating farmland with an occasional stile over fences. The track starts at Tauranga Bay car park and finishes at Cape Foulwind car park There are seals, protected sooty shearwaters or tītī and penguins in residence, plus a lighthouse to discover on one of the several walking trails. Plus, if you haven’t experienced the ubiquitous flightless weka, you are in for a treat here. But, be warned: do not leave your car keys or anything valuable within reach. Weka are not called ‘sticky-beaked’ without reason.