Last updated on April 1st, 2020
While the north island of New Zealand might be the most populated, there are still heaps of hidden treasures to be found on the island. We even had to shorten this list because we had way too many hidden spots written down. There is so much to discover in New Zealand! Especially if you are a backpacker, the advantage is that you have plenty of time to discover great parts of the country away from the crowds. Most people have limited time visiting New Zealand, visiting only the well-known highlights, and they are missing out on some of New Zealand’s best spots!
During our road trip through the north island, we’ve literally seen every road, every corner and every bush on the island and in this article, we’ll tell you what the most impressive hidden treasures are that we have seen! Be warned: they may impress you more than the touristic places!
1. Omanawa Falls
Let’s kick off with a spectacular one: the Omanawa Falls! It is 35 meters high and you can walk behind the waterfall! It used to be accessible with a 30 minute easy walk BUT that walk is closed which is probably the reason that this waterfall isn’t overwhelmed with tourists. You can still reach it over a dangerous unofficial track over a steep hill, which takes at least one hour each way, although it’s not recommended to do so.
2. East Cape
This is the place where you can see the first sunrise of the whole world! The East Cape is a big corner of New Zealand where hardly any tourists go and that makes it even more special. Most tourists who drive from Opitiki to Gisborne or the other way around take the highway, cutting off the East Cape. It’s worth taking the long drive to get there though, which is called the Pacific Coast Highway. The coastal drive takes you through small remote towns, rich in Maori culture, and spectacular views. In the middle is a big mountain in Raukumara Forest Park, and you should also watch the sunrise at the East Cape Lighthouse! East Cape is also home to NZ’s second largest pier in Tolaga Bay.
3. Whangaroa Harbour
In Northland, about 50km above Paihia at the Bay of Islands, you can find this place which is even better than the Bay of Islands itself! This hidden treasure is an inlet with clear blue water. We recommend to walk and climb the St. Paul’s Rock from where you have the best views over the amazing blues! You can’t tell that 50km south of you it is buzzing with tourists, while not many make it up here.
4. Putangirua Pinnacles
Only a short drive from Wellington you can find an unearthly landscape at the southernmost point of the North Island called the Putangirua Pinnacles. Corrosion turned these cliffs into huge pinnacles and it is also one of the film locations of Lord of The Rings. This sure is an impressive hidden treasure! Close to here you can also find the Cape Palliser lighthouse and you can spot some seals sunbathing on the shore.
5. Pouakai Tarns – Mount Taranaki
There are choices to make when you only have limited time to explore New Zealand, and people are often in a rush to make it to the South Island, but please, don’t skip Mount Taranaki on the North Island! This perfectly formed volcano stands proud at the west coast, and it is even used in the film ‘The Last Samurai’ because it looks a lot like Mount Fuji in Japan. Next to the mountain you can find the Pouakai Ranges, where you can do some awesome hikes with the best views over the mountain. At the Pouakai Tarns you can get the best reflection photos, and you can even see Mount Ruapehu from here on a clear day. Don’t miss out!
6. Tarawera Falls
This impressive waterfall is located in a forestry area and you need a permit to get there because you have to go via private roads. First, you will need to get the permit from the Kawerau information center (only $5 at time of writing), then you’ll have to follow a 12km gravel road to get there, and then via a 40 minutes return walk you can see this stunning view for yourself!
7. Coromandel Coastal Walkway
At the top of the Coromandel Peninsula you can find the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. This 10 km long walk goes from Fletcher Bay to Stony bay and the views are incredible! The reason why not many people go there is because of the way to get there. Besides being a 10 km walk between the 2 bays, it is also an almost 60 km drive of mostly gravel roads if you want to go by car and you have to allow 2 hours for this drive. You might consider walking up and down the track and I would recommend to start at Fletcher Bay since the bumpy way over there is very scenic!
8. Te Urewera National Park
Everybody always talks about the national parks of Fiordland, Mt Cook, Tongariro etc, but there are so much more beautiful national parks, such as Te Urewera. You’ll find this national park between Gisborne and Taupo and the easiest way to get there is from the east coast. There is a big lake, called Lake Waikaremoana, and there are many scenic walks, including the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
Another beautiful walk is the Onepoto Caves walk. It goes through many rock formations and a few caves. It is just incredible to walk through the thick dark forest with all these special sights! And again, there is no-one there!
9. King Country
New Zealand is the land of the Hobbit and there are many film locations spread all over NZ, so you can enjoy the typical scenery in many places. While everybody goes to Hobbiton, there are also much lesser-known film locations, like King Country, an area around Piopio, which is home to some amazing views. There is a farm where parts of the movie were filmed and you can do a film tour at the Hairy Feet film location. You can also just drive around in the stunning landscape full of green cliffs, which is just perfect!
10. Kohi Point Walkway
East of Tauranga you can find the place Whakatane, which has a beautiful 7 km coastal walk towards neighboring town Ohope. It gives you some great views over Whakatane, the beautiful coastline and the long beach at Ohope. From Ohope you can catch a bus back to town. It seems that only the locals know about this walk!
11. Mahia Peninsula
It is easy to see why many locals love to visit this place for their summer holidays! 80 kilometers south of Gisborne the Mahia Peninsula stretches out into the ocean. The peninsula is rarely visited by non-locals, but we can tell you, it is worth a visit! At the beginning of the peninsula you can find Mahia Beach and from there you can take a scenic drive along the west coast to the end of the peninsula, called the Kinikini road. Also along the east coast there is a nice drive with some stunning beaches and rock pools.
12. Donut Island / Whenuakura
Doesn’t this sound like an island you would love to visit?! I hate to bring it to you though: you can’t eat the island! In the south of the Coromandel Peninsula is a place called Whangamata. From there you can take a kayak through the surf towards 4 little islands not far from the shore. One of the islands is called Whenuakura island, but it’s better known as Donut Island. There is a cave that brings you to an inner lake in the small island, and that’s where the name comes from. It really is magical!
13. Putaruru Springs
On the way from Hamilton to Rotorua is this blue spring which produces 60% of NZ’s bottled water. It takes about 100 years for the water to make its way to the surface, and it is so incredibly clear! The water temperature is 11°C all year round, pretty cold to take a dip but that isn’t allowed anyway because it has a negative impact on the water vegetation.
14. Tutukaka Coast
The Bay of Islands is famous for its amazing coastlines and people tend to drive directly over there, taking the highway up. We’d prefer to turn off the highway 70 km earlier though and head towards the Tutukaka Coast. This is one of the most beautiful coastlines of New Zealand and yet still people ignore it. Unfortunate for them, lucky for you because it won’t be crowded!
15. Lake Tarawera
Everybody knows Rotorua is one of the biggest tourist hotspots in New Zealand, for obvious reasons. But if you want to find a more peaceful place close, you can go towards the lakes south east of Rotorua. It’s not a long drive and it will take you to the Blue and Green lake first, and then you will find the beautiful Lake Tarawera! Tip: go watch the sunrise over the lake, it’s just magical!
16. Rere Rockslide & Falls
One of our favorites: the Rere rockslide. Get yourself a body board and make your way to this place close to Gisborne. The water flows over a wide rock down and it’s the best natural slide you have ever seen! Bring that bodyboard because you don’t want to scratch yourself on the rocks. Close to here are also the Rere falls which are worth a look as well now that you’re there anyway.
17. Wanganui National Park
Since Taranaki is on this list, you’ll also have to visit a place close to there! In between Taranaki and Tongariro, there is another big National Park: Wanganui National Park. Nobody seems to know if it’s Whanganui or Wanganui, but from this little town goes a scenic drive up through the national park: The Wanganui River Road. The views are absolutely amazing!
18. New Chums Beach
This beach is considered the most beautiful beach in New Zealand, and it’s still a hidden treasure! The best time to go there is low tide since with high tide you have to cross a waist-deep river to get there. Via a 30 minute walk over rocks, you will find this stunning hidden beach. Next to the beach is a hill, and via a steep climb up there you can see even better why this is the most beautiful beach in NZ!
19. Kapiti Island
Before people brought all kinds of animals that did no good for New Zealand’s wildlife, there were many many birds everywhere. Just off the coast close to Wellington is Kapiti Island, nowadays a nature reserve, where an intensive program got rid of the threats, and where the birdlife is getting back to normal. Even though we are not really into bird watching or anything, it is awesome to check out this amazing island, where you can spot kiwi’s at night!
20. Matapouri Mermaid Pools
Just above the Tutukaka coast is Matapouri Bay. The drive up here along the beautiful coast is already amazing and the beach at Matapouri Bay is pretty popular. What not many people know though is that via a walk along that beach across a hill are the Mermaid pools. These natural rock pools just ask for you to jump in there, so don’t miss out!
21. Longest place name of the world
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. Yes that is a place name, and it is quite hard to pronounce 😛 Ok, essentially it isn’t really anything special because it’s just a small hill with a sign in front of it with the place name, but how cool is it to say to people that you have been to this place?! You’ll first have to learn how to pronounce it though.
22. Owharoa Falls in Karangahake Gorge
Our last hidden treasure on the Coromandel Peninsula is located in the Karangahake Gorge. There are many awesome sights in this area, but one that tourists apparently don’t know about is the Owharoa Falls. It’s another beautiful waterfall where you even can take a dip if you fancy!
23. Whirinaki Forest
This hidden treasure is hidden for sure! It isn’t easy to get there since we came via the Urewera Rainforest route, about 100km on a very windy gravel road. It goes slow, but there are great views and beautiful walks along this way. And once we finally got to the Whirinaki Forest, the place that surprised us the most was the Te-Whaiti-Nui-A-Toi Canyon. This canyon and the forest is very beautiful and we can guarantee that you won’t see many other people there!
24. Waipu Cave
If you want to see glowworms, you might have heard of the famous glowworm caves in Waitomo, where you have to pay an expensive entry/tour fee. Although these are a nice visit anyway, there is also a free cave in Northland where you can see many glowworms too: Waipu Cave. And the good thing is: you can go here all by yourself! Bring a torch and some good shoes (it is muddy in the cave) and explore them as long as you want. There is even a free campsite in front of it.
25. Marokopa Falls
30km west of the touristy Waitomo caves you can find the Marokopa Falls, which are hardly visited by the big crowds. Via a short easy track you can see these 35 meter impressive waterfalls for yourself!
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So that were all the hidden treasures you must visit on the north island of New Zealand! It was still a long list but New Zealand literally has so many off-the-beaten-track spots, that you can easily spend a year on only these spots. We hope you get to visit some of these hidden treasures and if you did, then let us know in the comments!
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