Under-the-radar small towns and remote tracks – some of your favourite summer holiday finds


It’s been a summer of domestic discovery for many Kiwis – and we’ve still got about half of it ahead of us.

If you’re yet to head away, are already thinking about next year’s break, or just want to know what other people got up to, check out the list below.

We asked the Stuff Travel community on Neighbourly to share their favourite summer holiday finds. Let us know yours in the comments.

READ MORE:
* Small towns to stop at on a New Zealand roadie
* Back your Backyard: Tongapōrutu – a view worth making the turn off for
* The real must-dos in South Island cities, towns and regions

Many Kiwis probably couldn’t point out Waiau on a map, but Alan Gordon reckons it’s a hidden gem.

Ulrich Lange/Wikimedia Commons

Many Kiwis probably couldn’t point out Waiau on a map, but Alan Gordon reckons it’s a hidden gem.

Waiau

Hanmer Springs, Mt Lyford and the wineries of the Waipara Valley pull in most of the tourists in the area, leaving those in wee Waiau to enjoy their holidays in peace. It’s so far off most visitors’ radar that even the local motor camp asks why you should bother sticking around – its slogan: “Why Waiau?”.

The camp gives a pretty good answer though, saying the town makes a great base for exploring wider North Canterbury or for some genuine R&R. Set on the banks of the braided Waiau River along the inland scenic route between Kaikōura and Hanmer Springs, it’s a great choice for those who enjoy walking, cycling, fishing, swimming, or simply soaking up the sunshine in a mountain-backed rural idyll.

The town gets a brand-new swimming hole each summer thanks to Environment Canterbury, which digs a suitable spot in the Riverside Reserve, and there’s also a community pool.

One of the oldest towns in the region, it has some cool old buildings to check out (you can download the Waiau Historical Trail online) and some excellent walking and bike trails. The 30-minute Riverside Walk is easy as, while harder core trampers can get their fix without the crowds on the alpine tracks of Mt Lyford, a popular ski resort in winter.

Waiau sits along the Alpine Pacific Touring Route between Christchurch and Kaikōura.

Waiau – the heart of the Hurunui/Facebook

Waiau sits along the Alpine Pacific Touring Route between Christchurch and Kaikōura.

Bikers can take in classic Canterbury country scenes (think fields of sheep backed by snowy mountain ranges) along mostly flat roads, or tackle the Hurunui Heartland Cycle Ride. Following a historic road between Kaikōura and the North Canterbury plains, it requires thighs of steel, but rewards with landscapes ranging from rocky coastline and mountain ranges to tussockland and wine country.

Alan Gordon of Christchurch described Waiau as a “friendly little town” with a “great little motor camp with excellent and friendly management”. The food truck parked up in the evenings offers “lovely food”, he said.

Limited to 10 walkers a day, the Island Hills Station walking track never feels overcrowded.

CLIVE LIND/Stuff

Limited to 10 walkers a day, the Island Hills Station walking track never feels overcrowded.

Island Hills Station walking track

This newly reopened 30km track on a privately owned high country station in Hurunui offers what many of New Zealand’s Great Walks don’t: Proper peace and quiet.

Originally known as the Hurunui High Country Track, the trail closed in 2013 after the owners’ mānuka honey business began to boom, but they reopened it last October when the business began to feel the effects of the pandemic, with an additional 10km stretch.

Walkers spend their first night in a converted shearers’ cookhouse before hitting the trail, traversing alpine and subalpine landscapes reverting to native bush over two or three days. The other nights are spent in an open-plan lodge in a hidden valley and a bush hut which would look like something from pioneer days if it weren’t for the hot shower, fridge and gas cookers.

Your luggage and food are transported for you and the track is limited to 10 people a day so tranquillity is assured.

Nikki Johnson of Christchurch found the scenery “amazing. You need a reasonable level of fitness, but it’s so worth it to be so isolated and alone in nature. Yet safely monitored by the very professional and friendly guide, Shaun. You can take your dog and most kids would complete it easily.”

Syretta Clayton said she probably wouldn’t have holidayed in New Plymouth if she hadn’t been sent there on a mystery break. (file photo)

ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

Syretta Clayton said she probably wouldn’t have holidayed in New Plymouth if she hadn’t been sent there on a mystery break. (file photo)

New Plymouth

Syretta Clayton of Rotorua probably wouldn’t have holidayed in New Plymouth if she hadn’t been sent there on a Time 2 Go mystery break, but was very pleasantly surprised.

“We absolutely loved New Plymouth,” she said. “Great food, the walkway along the beach was long and picturesque, and Chaddy’s Charters took us to see the seal colony on an old lifeboat.”

New Plymouth's Festival of Light provides free entertainment from mid-December to the end of January.

BROOK SABIN

New Plymouth’s Festival of Light provides free entertainment from mid-December to the end of January.

The Len Lye Centre and Puke Ariki, with its museum, restaurant and Lye-designed Wind Wand, are among the Taranaki city’s biggest attractions, but Clayton reckons the Todd Energy Aquatic Centre, with its hydro slides, spa pool and sauna, should also be on to-visit lists. The day she visited, she didn’t spot “one bored child or adult [and] there’s reasonable pricing for a lot of activities”.

She also enjoyed an evening of free entertainment at the Festival of Lights, an annual extravaganza of live music and light installations that runs from mid-December to the end of January.

“People were up and dancing around to a band called Fred from Auckland the night we went. Fantastic atmosphere.”

Donna and Gareth Edwards of Waikanae Beach recommend the festival too, along with 83m-long Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. Stand in the right spot and you can get a great shot of Mt Taranaki framed by the bridge’s whale-skeleton arches.

Sunrise at Tokomaru Bay on the East Cape.

Stefan Mokrzecki/Supplied

Sunrise at Tokomaru Bay on the East Cape.

The East Cape

The Pacific Coast Highway that winds its way past driftwood-strewn beaches, intricately carved marae and communities that haven’t changed much in the last hundred-odd years is a Kiwi road trip classic. But somehow still blissfully uncrowded.

Both Whale Rider and Boy were filmed in the area (the former at Whāngārā Beach near Gisborne and the latter at Waihau Bay), and you’ll feel much like you’ve wandered onto their movie sets – the Cape has a timeless, almost magical feel.

Highlights include the East Cape Lighthouse at the easterly tip of mainland NZ (get there for sunrise if you can), Mt Hikurangi (another legendary sunrise-watching spot) and Waipiro, Tokomaru and Anaura bays – Captain Cook found “profound peace” in the latter when he sailed into it 1769 and you’ll likely find the same. The Cooks Cove Walkway beginning near the much-photographed wharf at Tologa Bay is a must for walkers, taking you to a hidden cove with an outstanding lookout.

Alison Rudd of Waikanae recommends the “dramatic” walk, along with the historic buildings, wharf and Ecolodge Backpackers at Tokomaru Bay. The latter, she said, is a great place to watch the sun and moon rise. She also enjoyed stopping in at the turreted historic Matawhero Church in Gisborne for the “beautiful meditative plaques around the garden”.

Cecilia Hawes said her family had an ‘amazing’ holiday in Twizel.

Bernard Spragg/Wikimedia Commons

Cecilia Hawes said her family had an ‘amazing’ holiday in Twizel.

Twizel

The town itself isn’t much of a looker, but you’d be hard-pressed to find yourself in more beautiful surrounds: this is South Island mountain country at its most sublime.

Cecilia Hawes of Christchurch said her family had an “amazing” holiday in the town this January, hitting the walking tracks, eating at the “great” cafes in town, and hanging out at Lake Ruataniwha. Surrounded by forest and the Southern Alps, the mirror-like lake is popular with rowers, kayakers, boaties, windsurfers and holidaymakers having good wholesome fun in the fresh mountain air.

The lake forms part of the Ruataniwha Conservation Park, where you’ll also find tramping and mountain biking trails leading to the rugged Ben Ōhau Range and through hidden valleys. There’s a holiday park by the lake if you’d like to stick around.

Hawes recommends stopping in at Jake’s Hardware store, an old-fashioned general store which some might say puts Bunnings to shame. At least in the charm stakes. Along with hardware, you’ll find camping, fishing and gardening gear, cycling parts and accessories, toys, games and gifts.

Hawes also praised the town’s “lovely and caring community”.

A few of Kiwi travellers other favourite things this summer:

  • “Mt Tauhara, Taupo. Hike to the Summit. This was my favourite this Christmas – crossed another one of my to-do-list.” – Philip Taramai, Wainuiomata
  • “The lavender farm in (Auckland’s) Karaka! Awesome day. Not wheelchair friendly yet, but we managed to get to the fields through sheer grit and determination. It was worth all the bumps and grunts. Nice lunch in the cafe afterwards too, but it was very, very busy so get there early!” – Jan Oikawa, Auckland
  • “The Kapiti coast: Kapiti Island day tour with lunch, Ngā Manu Reserve, Barry Hadfield Nikau Reserve, the Waikanae river walk, and Wellington city. A great week down the line.” – Natalie Pasco, Auckland
  • “The Giants House in Akaroa. It’s an amazing arty place.” – Christina Hansen, Clive
  • “Eden’s Edge (in Rīwaka) for accommodation and the Smoking Barrel restaurant in Motueka.” – Paula Hawkes, Rangiora
  • “Tauranga was our fave this summer. Walked up the Mount and spent days down at the beach. Absolute bliss.” – Ina Dennis, Auckland
  • “The three-hour Hooker Valley walk and Tasman Glacier.” – Moneth Cea, Auckland
  • “On the 2nd of January, I headed to the Keltic Fair in Coromandel township. This is their 31st year held at Coromandel Area School. A brilliant day out: Super hot despite the weather forecast, great exotic eats, mussel and pāua fritters, paella, local kai and over 300 fabulous stalls with art, brick-a-brack and homewares. Pl.us live entertainment. The Coromandel locals put on a fabulous day.” – Peter Mumby, Auckland

Tell us your favourite summer finds in the comments below.



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