Discover a new perspective of St Clair Hot Saltwater Pool. © Dunedinnz

13 Kiwi Gems to tick off before the end of summer

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Make the most of the last weeks of summer by ticking off some of these fantastic Kiwi Gems around New Zealand.

1. Ōtarawairere Beach, Whakatāne

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. 


2. NightSUP, Akaroa

Imagine floating around the tranquil Akaroa Harbour atop a stand-up paddleboard, in the dark. 

NightSUP is New Zealand’s first nocturnal paddleboarding experience where your stable board is illuminated with multi-coloured LED lights making the water beneath you glow. 

The LEDs also tend to attract curious fish and stingrays, so you can have close encounters with wildlife in your personal disco lights. 

Tours depart Akaroa at sunset and explore the perimeter of the sheltered inner harbour area. 

NightSUP Akaroa also hires step drive pedalboards and SUPs during the day, so you can explore the harbour in the sunshine, too.  

3. Glass Bottom Boat, Whitianga

Imagine being able to experience one of New Zealand’s most famous marine reserves without getting wet. 

In The Coromandel, you can watch the magical marine life of Te-Whanganui-a-Hei, aka Cathedral Cove, through the custom-built glass panels of Whitianga’s Glass Bottom Boat.  

Get a whole new perspective of The Coromandel coastline, from Shakespeare Cliff to Cooks Beach, Champagne and Gemstone bays, exploring sea caves, volcanic pinnacles and the peninsula’s signature white-sand beaches. 

At Cathedral Cove, you’ll experience The Coromandel’s only marine reserve from above the surface, or if the water is too irresistible, take the plunge and snorkel amongst the fish.  

4. Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Gisborne

Eastwoodhill, the National Arboretum of New Zealand, is home to 135 hectares of beautiful exotic and native trees.  

About 30 minutes inland from Gisborne, Eastwoodhill is a garden that has been growing for 110 years. With more than 3,500 varieties of trees, it is the largest and most comprehensive collection of Northern Hemisphere trees in the Southern Hemisphere. 

A multitude of walking tracks wind through seasonal gardens vibrant with colour – especially during spring when the magnolias and rhododendrons are in bloom. 

In the summer months, you can stroll through shaded, leafy glades with specimen trees so impressive they earned Eastwoodhill recognition as a Garden of National Significance. 

5. Splash Planet, Hastings

A never-ending river, a water-fuelled pirate fortress and a tangle of twisting slides can all be found at New Zealand’s only water theme park. 

Splash Planet in Hastings is a popular spot in the hot Hawke’s Bay summers, with bountiful opportunities to get wet. 

The park’s first incarnation was as Fantasyland back in 1968, but the sprawling 6.5-hectare site has been re-imagined as a mecca for watery fun. 

Shoot down the hydro slides and water rides; splash on the bumper boats and relax on the lazy river. 

There’s plenty to do if you’d rather keep dry too, with go-karts, mini golf, kayaks and kid-friendly jeeps to drive. 

Pack a picnic, book a barbecue spot and stay for the day. 

6. Wine Tours by Bike, Renwick

With its high sunshine hours, minimal rainfall and more than 20,000 hectares of vines, Marlborough is the biggest wine-producing region in New Zealand.  

In fact, the Wairau Valley is so sunny Māori referred to it as Kei Puta te Wairau – ‘the place with the hole in the cloud.’ And with its gravelly soils, sea breezes and flat terrain, the Wairau Valley is also great for cycling.

From Renwick, you can set off by bike and be within an easy pedal of more than 14 wineries offering their wares at cellar doors.  

With independent bike hire, you’re free to linger with a tasty tipple, sample the region’s famous sauvignon blanc in the sunshine or travel between vineyards at your own pace. 

For a unique experience, you don’t have to stick to just two wheels – Renwick’s Wine Tours by Bike offers tandems, trikes and four-wheeled bikes, too. 

7. 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. 

8. St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, Dunedin

Alongside New Zealand’s most consistent surf break, Dunedin’s St Clair Beach is also home to one of the country’s few heated saltwater pools.

Opening back in 1884, the legendary St Clair Salt Hot Water Pool was first heated in the 1960s, and has remained an iconic spot on the Dunedin coast ever since. 

Swim laps and stay warm while the waves break on boulders next to the pool. 

St Clair Beach is also a stellar spot for a surf. With the wild Pacific Ocean meeting a stunning stretch of powdery white sand, surfers flock here all year round. There are surfing lessons and board hire available for beginners, too.

Plus, with a pretty seaside esplanade studded with cafés and bars, St Clair is equally appealing for landlubbers.

9. Sky Waka, Mount Ruapehu

Take New Zealand’s longest gondola ride to the highest café in the country. 

At Mount Ruapehu’s Whakapapa ski field, the impressive Sky Waka gondola takes passengers 1.8km up the mountain in just five minutes and is capable of transporting 2,400 people every hour. 

Each gondola cabin can hold ten people, with inbuilt ski racks, seats and full glass panels to appreciate dazzling views of the world-heritage listed Tongariro National Park as you ascend the mountain in comfort.  

During summer, the gondola is slowed down so sightseers can admire mountain vistas both up and down Mount Ruapehu and across the Central Plateau. 

At the top, Knoll Ridge Chalet offers a range of high-altitude dining options, from a grab-and-go at the food truck-style Four Peaks Alley, or a leisurely lunch or weekend dinner at The Pinnacles buffet restaurant. 

10. Mou Waho Island, Wānaka

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. 

Take a scenic boat cruise across Lake Wānaka to reach the island and explore the unique and mind-twisting landscape. 

11. Doughboats, Lake Taupō

If you're visiting Lake Taupō chances are you'll want to get out on the water.  

One of the latest and most striking additions to the Taupō waterfront are Doughboats – doughnut-shaped boats with room for up to six people to cruise the inner reaches of the Great Lake. 

Aboard your very own bubble-like boat, you can explore the many bays and hidden coves, leap into the lake for a swim, or enjoy a picnic while bobbing on the waves. 

You don’t need a special license to drive a Doughboat – just nominate someone as skipper and set off on your unique lake cruise.

12. Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington

Visit the intriguing island in the middle of Wellington Harbour.

Somes Island, known as Matiu to Māori, makes for an intriguing day trip to learn about the extensive heritage of this little piece of land.  

With pre-European history dating back to Kupe, more recently Matiu / Somes Island was used as a quarantine facility and a military defence point. 

Today, the island is a predator-free scientific reserve, with a number of walking trails that take in the lighthouse, WWII gun emplacements and views across the harbour to Wellington City. 

Pack a picnic for a day trip or, for a more unique experience, you can even stay overnight in the DOC accommodation. 

13. Maruia Hot Springs, West Coast

Nestled in a tranquil valley in the Lewis Pass National Reserve, the river-rock-lined mineral pools at Maruia Hot Springs are designed to soothe your soul.  

Whether you’re visiting for the day or staying overnight, you can immerse yourself in the mineral-rich water amongst the mountains, or be pampered with a day spa experience. 

Alongside the natural outdoor pools is an Onsen-style bathhouse. Designed in the Japanese minimalist style, the entire end wall is a picture window overlooking the valley, so you can practice a spot of ‘shinrin-yoku,’ or forest bathing, alongside your actual bathing.  

The pools at Maruia are open 24 hours for resort guests, so you can soak as the sun goes down and watch the first rays of sunlight inch down from the ridgelines from the comfort of your pool in the morning. 

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