Welcome to this post with the most beautiful unknown places in New Zealand. Let’s be honest, only few other places in the world can beat New Zealand for its natural beauty. Without having to drive for days, you will find yourself surrounded by glaciers one day, in the middle of Fiordland the next and on white sandy beaches the day after.
This article first appeared in 2016 and was fully updated after my most recent visit in the winter of 2023. Most of the places mentioned have now also been discovered by tourism, but are still considerably less visited than New Zealand’s tourist hotspots.
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The most beautiful unknown places in New Zealand
Ever since my first visit to New Zealand in 2002 I have been deeply in love with the country and I returned five times since. Most visitors think they ‘can do New Zealand’ in a couple of weeks. Which is of course possible but it’s not ideal, especially if you want to get off the beaten path and see more than just the regular tourist spots. If you have just a little more time, make sure to visit the places below, they receive far less visitors than the well trodden places and are equally beautiful, or maybe even better! Here are my favorite unknown places in New Zealand.
To actually get here you will have to walk a bit but oh my, Lake Daniell is gorgeous. I have been here for the first time in 2011 and returned in 2023. I was back then advised to do this hiking track by a Kiwi who lives in Holland and he promised me that it would be awesome. Well it sure was! Although I think this one will be popular in weekends and holidays, we didn’t see anyone on the track and we visited early December. The track from the parking lot is 8.4 km one way and will take you some 3 hours to complete. The Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut is at the lakeside and a great spot for lunch before you head back. Or do as I did and camp overnight, even better!
More information about this track can be found on the DOC website or in this post about my hike to Lake Daniell.
Omarama Clay Cliffs
Although they are mentioned in Lonely Planet, the Omarama Clay Cliffs don’t get too much visitors so I’d still call them one of the most amazing unknown places in New Zealand. You’ll need a car to get here so most of the backpackers will not make it most likely. They are some incredible rock formations that were formed some 2 million years ago and are made out of various layers of silt and gravel, brought here by rivers running through the area long ago. I was the only ones there (and it was nearly end of December) and had a blast. The lupins were in full bloom and it was incredibly photogenic. Really, if you have a vehicle and some spare time, make this a number one priority. A full blog on how to get there can be found here.
Golden Bay is an area in the north of the South Island that is usually skipped by the fast traveler. By fast traveler I mean visitors who want to see New Zealand in about three or four weeks. There is also hardly any public transport available, which means that this area is also skipped by most backpackers and groups. You can spend a few days exploring Golden Bay without any problems. Consider, for example, sights such as the Pupu Springs, Takaka Hill, Wainui Beach and Farewell Spit. In January of 2023 I spent over a week in Golden Bay and I absolutely loved it!
Nelson Lakes National Park
One of the most gorgeous but relatively unknown places in New Zealand, is Nelson Lakes National Park. Most busses don’t go here and few visitors make the detour to go here while driving from Abel Tasman further down south. Which is a shame because it is one of the most amazing national parks there are in New Zealand. Unspoiled, quiet en with lots of great hikes. Not up for hiking? Both Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa can be reached by car and the view from the parking lot is already incredible. I hiked to Bushline Hut and stayed overnight but you can also easily do this in a long day hike. There are various lakeshore tracks too so you will not be disappointed visiting.
Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes
You’ve probably not heard of Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes, but when I mention they are in Tongariro National Park, you may know. Most people here head out to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but other than that, there is so much more to see in this desolate place! When hiking from Whakapapa towards Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes you definitely get away from the crowds who are all wanting to see those emerald lakes. Which is perfectly fine, but if you have another day to spend here, make sure to also head to this other side of the park! I hiked here as a part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, an amazing four day trek.
Stewart Island is actually New Zealand’s 3rd island and when here, you can’t get down south much further. Tourism is limited here because the crossing over does take time and cost money. We loved its isolation however and we actually hiked the 3-day Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. We were amazed by the silence on the trail and birdlife here. If you make it all the way down to Invercargill, just consider visiting Stewart Island too, you will not regret it!
My most recent discovery of a beautiful, relatively unknown place in New Zealand is Lake Hauroko. This is the deepest lake in New Zealand and it’s located in the far south of Fiordland National Park. Lake Hauroko has a depth of 462 meters and you reach the shores via a drive on a gravel road. I hiked the Lookout Track here, a tough 2.9 kilometer tramp that goes more or less vertically uphill and which the New Zealanders call an ‘advanced tramping track’. Once at the top you have beautiful views over the lake and on clear days even all the way to Foveaux Straight.
I visited Lake Hauroko from Tuatapere where I stayed at the Last Light Lodge.
The Whananaki footbridge is the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere. This bridge was constructed to connect Whananaki North with Whananaki South across the Whananaki Inlet. Before there was a foot bridge, children had to row across the inlet by boat, which sometimes led to accidents due to the tides. The bridge is 375 meters long and very narrow.
The black beach of Mangawhai is beautiful and while you are there, you might as well do the Mangawhai Cliff Walk, a spectacular walking path high above the ocean with beautiful views. With clear weather you can even see all the way to Great Barrier Island. If you walk at low tide, you can walk back along the beach. The tide tables can be found on the NIWA website.
Would you like to spend the night in Mangawhai? I stayed in one of the beautiful Mangawhai Chalets.
Last but not least a spot near touristy Queenstown then. Lake Alta is located at the ‘backside’ of the Remarkables from Queenstown and you have to drive quite a way into the mountains to get there. From the parking lot you then have to walk a bit uphill until you reach the banks of the lake. The last part of the road to The Remarkables Ski Area is in poor condition so be careful and check whether your rental car is insured for this!
From the shores of Lake Alta you can go a bit further up an unclear path, where you will have beautiful views of Mount Aspiring National Park and countless glaciers, as you can see in the photo above!
During my several visits to Queenstown I have stayed in more than six accommodations. My favorite is Novotel Queenstown.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this article with best unknown places in New Zealand useful for planning your New Zealand trip. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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