Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland. © Matthew Micah Wright

11 secret spots around New Zealand you didn't know existed


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From untouched forest to freshwater lakes, secret beaches and secluded islands, we guarantee you won't have discovered all 11 of these Kiwi Gems. 

1. Ulva Island, Southland

Ulva Island, a 266-hectare island sanctuary is set in Paterson Inlet, just off the north-eastern coast of Stewart Island. 

Reached by a short boat trip from either Halfmoon Bay or Golden Bay, Ulva Island – or Te Wharawhara in Māori – is an open sanctuary, managed by DOC and as you’d expect, it’s teeming with native birdlife. 

Predator-free since 1997, Ulva Island is home to a flourishing population of weka, kiwi, kererū, kākā, kākāriki, tomtit, fantail, rifleman, tūī and korimako. 

Take a tuneful walk on one of the island’s tracks that range from rainforest walks over several hours to short coastal strolls where you can often spot fur seals, sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins.

2. Boundary Stream, Hawke's Bay

Find Hawke’s Bay’s highest waterfall, rare birdlife and intriguing geology at the ‘mainland island’ of Boundary Stream. 

The conservation area in northern Hawke’s Bay was established in 1996 to restore the natural habitat of many threatened native species, and today, thanks to predator eradication, the Boundary Stream birdlife is flourishing.

Also at Boundary Stream you’ll find the impressive 58-metre-high Shine Falls, Hawke’s Bay’s highest, and a towering 800-year-old mataī tree.   

Many family-friendly walks wind through the native forest, or for a more challenging hike, take the three-hour loop to the distinctive limestone outcrops of Bell Rock. 

3. 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 8km boulder bank, and the area is significant for its many Māori archaeological sites. 

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4. Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland

Summer camping at Northland’s Kai Iwi Lakes is a quintessential Kiwi experience. 

Just north of Dargaville, the three lakes at Kai Iwi – Taharoa, Waikere and Lake Kai Iwi – are some of New Zealand’s largest dune lakes, formed by the accumulation of rainwater in the white sand.

At up 37 metres deep, Lakes Taharoa and Waikere are also the deepest dune lakes in the country. But with warm, shallow edges, the Kai Iwi Lakes are ideal for kayaking, water sports and for kids to play. 

They’re also great for fishing and gathering, with abundant rainbow trout, kōura, and freshwater mussels. 

5. Okia Pyramids, Otago

Did you know that we have our very own pyramids in New Zealand? 

At Okia Reserve at the eastern end of Otago Peninsula, you’ll find the remarkable geometric basalt rock formations of Dunedin’s pyramids. 

The large pyramid to the north is known in Māori as Pū-wheke-o-Kia, and you can take the track to the top of the Little Pyramid or Te Matai o Kia. 

On the seaward side of the Little Pyramid you’ll also find an intriguing cave carved out of the hard rock by wave erosion.

6. Whirinaki Forest Park, Bay of Plenty

Wild, untamed and precious, the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park deep in the Bay of Plenty is a rugged jewel of the North Island. 

With 56,000 hectares of lush native forest including soaring tōtara, rimu, miro, matai and kahikatea, Whirinaki is one of the last remnants and best remaining examples of lowland podocarp forest left in New Zealand 

Choose from walks ranging from short loop tracks to challenging multi-day expeditions where you can experience beautiful waterfalls, tranquil lagoons and the spectacular moss-covered rock walls of the Te Whaiti-Nui-a-Toi Canyon. 


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7. Mou Waho Island, Southern Lakes

On Wānaka’s Mou Waho Island, you can have the surreal experience of swimming in a lake on an island on a lake.  

Mou Waho, which means ‘outer island’ is the largest of four islands on Lake Wānaka, including Te Peka Karara, Mou Tapu and Ruby Island. 

In the middle of Mou Waho you’ll find the glacially-scoured Arethusa Pool (aka Moutimu in Māori, or Paradise Lake) which sits 150 metres above the main lake level.

Today, the island is a pest-free haven for native wildlife including the mountain stone wētā, the Southern Alps gecko and more than 200 rare and curious Buff weka that have been extinct on mainland New Zealand since 1920. 

8. Nikau Cave, Waikato

Head deep into the countryside at the northern edge of the Waikato, and you’ll discover one of the prettiest glowworm caves in New Zealand. 

Nikau Cave is nestled in the remote and rural Waikaretu Valley. 

Take a guided tour through a subterranean wonderland of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, giant pillars, fine straws, flowing shawls and rocks as big as houses. 

With narrow rock passages to crawl through and an underground stream where you will undoubtedly get wet, exploring Nikau Cave is an adventure.

But getting wet and muddy is worth it when you find Nikau Cave’s main, cathedral-like cavern adorned with a galaxy of twinkling glowworms.

9. 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. 

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. 

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10. The Squeeze, Taupō

Wriggle through a narrow rock crevice to find a naturally-heated waterfall, deep in the bush on the outskirts of Taupō. 

On a unique adventure with Taupō’s River Jet, you can take a fast-paced jet boat blast through the Tutukau Gorge to reach an enchanted world. 

Make your way through the warm, geothermal waters as you inch between rocky crevices, and clamber over boulders to find this remarkable spot. 

The Squeeze is aptly named, and if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, it makes for a great adventure. 

At the end are the rewards – a gorgeous waterfall and a naturally-heated bathing pool – just the right place to regather yourself before heading back.

11. 309 Kauri Grove and Waiau Falls, Coromandel

A short walk from The Coromandel’s inland 309 Road will take you to a majestic grove of kauri trees and the nearby Waiau Falls are a popular summer swimming spot.

The 13 trees that make up the 309 Kauri Grove are the most mature stand of kauri in The Coromandel – a tiny remnant of the forest that once covered the whole peninsula. 

Protected by well-formed walking tracks and boardwalks, you can get up close to these majestic giants without damaging their fragile roots. 

Then, about a kilometre along the winding gravel road, you’ll find the picturesque Waiau Falls, set amongst dense Coromandel bush. The deep swimming hole at the base of the falls is a great spot for a refreshing dip.


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