Dawn at Nelson's Wharariki Beach. © Meghan Maloney

Eight free Kiwi Gems to discover on your next South Island road trip


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Travel can be expensive. But we've picked eight Kiwi Gems around the South Island that you can discover on your next road trip – for free!

1. Nydia Track, Marlborough

Running from Kaiuma Bay near Havelock to Duncan Bay in Tennyson Inlet, the Nydia Track is one of the lesser-known walks in the Marlborough Sounds.  

The 27km shared-use track that follows old bridle paths can be tackled on either foot or mountain bike over a couple of days. 

Winding through regenerating bush and impressive podocarp and beech forest, the Nydia Track includes coastal landscapes with stunning views over the Kenepuru Inlet.

The landscape of the Marlborough Sounds is unique as it’s the only area in New Zealand where the landmass, weakened by several fault lines, is slowly sinking into the sea.

2. 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. 

3. Castle Hill, Canterbury

Not only home to striking geological features, Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area, or Castle Hill, in Canterbury’s Waimakariri Basin also has some of the rarest plants in New Zealand. 

Tucked in between the Craigieburn and Torlesse mountain ranges, Kura Tāwhiti is renowned for its distinctive, castle-like limestone formations that rise in clusters from the tussocky landscape. 

You can wander amongst the giant rocks – some up to 50m high – for free, and soak up the remarkable scenery. 

Also at Kura Tāwhiti you can spot the Castle Hill buttercup – one of the rarest and most endangered plants in Canterbury. There are just 67 plants in existence and they only grow here in the six-hectare reserve. 

4. The Pyramids, Dunedin

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.

Nearby Victory Beach, named for the SS Victory which sank here in 1861, is the longest beach on the peninsula. Its 3.5km of glorious white sand is home to fur seals and endangered hoiho or yellow-eyed penguins.

5. 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. 

6. Manapōuri, Fiordland

At 444 metres, Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri is the second deepest lake in New Zealand.  

Dotted with no less than 33 small islands and set against the backdrop of Fiordland’s Cathedral Mountain Range, Lake Manapōuri is a lovely spot to enjoy some tranquility. 

Manapōuri was originally named Roto-au or ‘the rainy lake’ by early Māori in reference to the sheer volume of rainfall Fiordland receives annually – seven metres each year, on average. 

On the eastern shores of the lake you’ll find the small township of Manapōuri, while on the lake’s western arm is the largest underground power station in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Choose from one of several walking trails around the lake where you can immerse yourself in native bush, spot waterfalls and discover secluded sandy coves. 

7. 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. 

8. Waipapa Point, Southland

Right at the bottom of the South Island, the remote and rugged coastline at Waipapa Point is home to one of the last wooden lighthouses built in New Zealand.

Originally known in Māori as Waipapapa, which means shallow waters, this is also the site of New Zealand’s worst civilian shipwreck in 1881.

The photogenic lighthouse was built shortly after on the edge of Foveaux Strait, and was first lit on New Year’s Day, 1884. 

Today, you can visit Waipapa Point for lighthouse photo ops and the chance to spot local wildlife. 

Sea lions whakahao and hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguins, are regularly in residence here. 

While there are no formed walking tracks around the lighthouse, you can wander the sandy beach at this curious corner of The Catlins. 

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