It’s an Island nation that’s made for wanderlust, a heaven of natural gems. You’ll find a new place to get ‘lost’ around almost every corner. This is my home. This is New Zealand.
World famous for its incredible landscapes and natural beauty, there’s a significant number of our natural gems that are well known the world over! Think Milford Sound, Queenstown, and the bubbling mud pools of the geothermal landscape that surrounds Rotorua, to name but some of the most popular. You’ll see pictures of these places in all your ordinary travel magazines, but this is no ordinary travel mag! Let me instead take you to some places that are much more special; to a small handful of my most favourite hidden gems – the natural landscape locations that will take you to the heart of this country and past the main crowds for a closer look at the mesmerizing beauty of New Zealand.
Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
This valley tucked away in the backcountry of Nelson is unquestionably the area’s best kept secret. A small section of a National Park (the biggest in New Zealand, actually) that covers 452,000 hectares and that contains some of the most diverse species of flora and fauna anywhere in the country, this valley is accessible to anyone. The drive in is one of the most beautiful backcountry roads I have ever seen, winding its way uphill and through the valley, following the pure, flowing waters of the meandering Takaka River. After climbing to over 900 metres, you’ll get your first glimpse over the beautiful Cobb Dam.
Uncrowded, road-accessible campsites and huts, and walks for any capability can be taken from this dam area. One of the best of these walks (if one could but choose) would absolutely be the two-hour walk to the Sylvester Hut and its nearby lake of the same name. Surrounded by mountains in every direction, this place will re-feed your soul.
Lake Brunner, Arthur’s Pass
An easily missed destination most often seen on the TranzAlpine rail journey (one of the world’s best train rides) as just a passing beauty is somewhere you’d be crazy not to spend a whole week – if not the rest of your life! As an endless wanderer notorious for never settling in one spot too long, this is one place I could give my whole life to. The pure waters of Lake Brunner and the backdrop of the snow covered peaks of the Western Arthur’s Pass mountains slows everything down for me. There’s a tranquillity about this lake that I’ve found nowhere else on my travels around this country.
A popular yet uncrowded destination for summer holidays, the lake boasts a small village, Moana, with two pubs and a local store. Get on the water, hike the surrounding hills, or drink wine from your holiday batch overlooking this stunning lake. If you don’t leave this place feeling refreshed, I’m afraid that you may have no hope.
Castlepoint Beach, North Island
A rugged coastline of unforgiving rock formations and crashing ocean waves interspersed with sweeping sandy bays. This small seaside community is home to my favourite beach in the entire country! The power of the sea crashing over the rocky reefs and the romantic beauty of the lighthouse is a natural landscape hunters dream.
In a lesser-known region of New Zealand at the lower east of the North Island you’ll get to Castlepoint Beach after about an hour’s drive from the town of Masterton. There’s a campsite right on the beach where you’ll be able to stare out across the bay to the rocky reef and her lighthouse from your very tent site. The sunrises here are spectacular and the sunsets are another level of incredible!
Three hidden gems. Three heartfelt locations behind the tourism madness that often accompanies some of our more popular destinations. It’s the never-ending and eternal crux of the travel writer; do you share the places you find off-the-beaten-track for everyone else to enjoy, or do you keep them a secret in the hope that they will never become the next popular tourist destination?