Enjoy a pizza aboard your own Doughboat. © Love Taupo

Nine quirky Kiwi Gems you've never heard of around New Zealand


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Discover something new with these nine quirky Kiwi Gems around New Zealand. 

1. 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 – inflatable 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.

2. Burkes Pass, Mackenzie District

Burkes Pass is a tiny heritage village in Canterbury’s Mackenzie Region, with a whole heap of character. 

Known by Māori as Te Kopi Ōpihi, Burkes Pass was discovered by Europeans in 1855 as an access route to the vast Mackenzie Basin.

Today, the village is brimming with heritage buildings, including St Patrick's Union Church – the oldest union church on its original site in New Zealand – many historic cottages and a dose of vintage Americana. 

Take the heritage walk, which combines a kid’s scavenger hunt around the village and explore the area’s unique history. You’ll see historic buildings including the replica red Musterer’s Hut featuring an original fireplace, a livery stable, schoolhouse, stone and cob huts and a blacksmiths.  

The village’s former general store is now a gallery filled with vintage collectibles, surrounded by classic cars, a 1950s service station and memorabilia.

3. Backpaddock Lakes, Hawke's Bay

In the heart of the Central Hawke’s Bay countryside is a watersports park built with fun in mind.

Backpaddock Lakes is a purpose-built lake equipped with two cable and pulley systems that mean you can have a go at wakeboarding, boat-free. 

The unique set up of overhead cables that tow riders along means that whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you can zoom across the water and take on the ramps and jumps.  

Alongside wakeboarding and waterskiing, Backpaddock Lakes also offers sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and an advanced slalom course for experts. 

With two adjacent hectares of native wetlands, regularly visited by kōtuku white herons, Backpaddock Lakes is also a lovely spot for a picnic or barbecue. 

4. Okia Reserve 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. Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre, Rotorua

At Wingspan, New Zealand’s National Bird of Prey Centre, you can get up close to our native falcons, or kārearea.

Wingspan, on the outskirts of Rotorua was established in 2002 as a conservation initiative to help protect these remarkable native birds. 

Kārearea are rarer than kiwi, with only around 4,000 remaining in the wild.

When they’re temporarily in captivity at Wingspan, kārearea quickly forget how to hunt properly so the falconers keep their skills fresh with daily lure training sessions for when they’re released back into the wild.

Having recently moved sites, the new Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre is still under construction, but three days a week visitors are welcome to experience the new development, learn about Wingspan’s extensive conservation programmes and witness the falcons’ in-flight training.

6. Macetown, Queenstown

Head off road to find the abandoned gold-mining town of Macetown.  

On a rugged 4WD safari tour you can explore the heritage of this unique historical site near Queenstown, rich with gold-mining relics.  

You’ll cross the Arrow River 25 times as you head deep into the tussock-clad high country on a long-since abandoned wagon trail. 

Macetown was first settled in the early 1860s after gold was discovered in the Arrow River, but as the precious metal dried up, the town slowly died and by the 1930s Macetown had become a ghost town. 

Today at Macetown you’ll find historic structures that have been restored including Andersons Battery, Needhams Cottage, Smiths Bakehouse and building remnants such as the old schoolroom and stone fences.

Explore the town’s heritage artefacts and try your luck panning for gold in the Arrow River.  

7. Glassworks, Whanganui

In Whanganui, you’ll find the only open-access glass studio in New Zealand. 

New Zealand Glassworks – Te Whare Tūhua o Te Ao – is both a gallery filled with beautiful glass artworks and a mesmerising studio where you can watch artists in action. 

In ‘the pit’ artists and tutors work together heating and cooling blobs of glowing glass as they are pushed, stretched, rolled and melded into useful or beautiful things.

Glass has a working temperature of between 600ºC and 1,100ºC – anywhere below 600ºC, it starts to harden. At New Zealand Glassworks, the gas furnace is set at 1,100ºC and can hold up to an astonishing 300kg of molten glass.

The on-site gallery features works from established glass artists from around New Zealand alongside recent Whanganui UCOL graduates, with works ranging from $35 to $35,000.

And, at New Zealand Glassworks you can also try your hand at melding molten glass with a beginner glass blowing workshop where you can make your own glass paperweight. 

8. Lost Gypsy, Southland

A caravan serving coffee, art and automata are all part of the curious collection at Southland’s Lost Gypsy. 

The brainchild of local artist and tinkerer Blair Somerville, The Lost Gypsy explores the craft of automata – weird and wonderful contraptions that have been lovingly crafted out of everyday objects. 

Hard to explain, automata is best described as things that used to be something else, made into something new that you can interact with. 

Think wind up mechanical toys, crafty mechanisms, gears, kinetics and electronics with moving parts. 

The works at The Lost Gypsy range in size and complexity – from small metal mechanical sea mammals, to large interactive exhibits dotted through the garden. 

Come for the quirk, stay for a coffee and the delightful humour.

9. 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. 

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