Now when anyone wants to visit New Zealand or anyone who has just moved to the country and wants to go ’see’ places they usually look up online, check Tripadvisor, go to iSites or check with their friends or family to find out where they can go etc. And most of these would end up with the usual list of touristy things to go to/do in the country. The most common places would be Queenstown, Milford Sounds, Glaciers, Taupo, Rotorua,. Coromandel so on and so forth. While these definitely are places to visit they are the more typical ones that most people living in or visiting New Zealand would end up going to. There are plenty of places and areas in the country that are not so heavily promoted or shown in brochures as such but are insanely breathtaking which must be seen/experienced in my opinion.

Having been across the length and breadth of the country and literally to most possible corners, I’ve compiled MY OWN list of top 20 places, that are not the typical touristy ones, which I think are some of the unique places to experience. I’m a sucker for New Zealand and totally admire the country to bits. Living here for close to two decades, I don’t think I’ve come across a country in my life that has such varied natural beauty along with providing extreme amounts of safety to everyone within. 2019 was a year filled with travels for me and with a hand on my heart, NZ is THE place for a solo traveller. Any without further adieu, in no particular order, here are MY Top 21 things to do in New Zealand:

Note: Some of these are hyperlinks to detailed posts..

  1. Watch the world’s first sunrise at East Cape – Go to the lighthouse atop a hillock about 900 stairs from the carpark, with the closest habited town of Tokoroa about 20kms away. East Cape is the eastern most point of New Zealand. Click here to read more…
  2. Hug the Boulders at Moeraki – Something that feels like straight from another planet, the huge boulders at Moeraki beach are a sight to behold. Go there before sunrise or sunset to get some good pictures. And yes avoid the high tide times if you want to be able to go and walk beside the boulders.
  3. Enjoy the magical night sky at Otago Peninsula – One of the best places in the country to do stargazing in absolute darkness, just 20-30mins out from Dunedin CBD towards the Royal Albatross Colony.
  4. Te Puia Springs – Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of all the tourist towns in the Waikato region, this place has probably the most clearest sprint water in the world. About 75% of NZ’s spring water is bottled from Te Puia Springs. More info at: 
  5. Twelve Apostles? What Apostles? Go check out 3 Sisters in New Plymouth – The 3 giant monoliths on the North Taranaki coast, near Tongaporutu, which is a couple of hours from New Plymouth. Watch out for the high tide timings before you head off from the car park though.
  6. Visit & Experience Wellington – Perhaps the least visited city in the country and mostly people arrive here only to take the Interislander to Picton or in the past for Rugby Sevens. But the city has a lot more to offer which will make you fall in love with it instantly if you spend a few days. I bet you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else if you lived here 🙂
  7. Otorohanga Kiwiana Town – A tiny little town in the Waikato region, which can’t get any more Kiwi-er than having a few colorful giant kiwis across the highway as well as showcasing all of Kiwiana from the Buzzy Bee to the giant Pukeku to numerous murals. If you want a crash-course in basic kiwi culture, Otorohanga is the place to do it. The main street features a parade of modular ‘kiwiana’ displays – from All Blacks and Aunt Daisy to farm dogs and Pavlova.
  8. Experience bliss at Nelson Lakes National Park – One of my most favourite spots in the country to experience silence, blissfulness and to do a lot of self reflection, with generally no one in sight for most parts of the early mornings or late evenings. Both the Lakes – Rotoiti and Rotoroa are about an hour’s drive apart and are equally amazing.
  9. Kayak at Doubtful Sounds – It’s definitely one of NZ’s most secluded spots to which you have to take a ferry and then a private bus ride for nearly 2hrs together to get away right into the the heart of the NZ Wilderness. A spot so much more contrasting than the Milford Sounds and IMO, kayaking here ranks only on the 2nd MUST DO activity in NZ after the Legendary Blackwater Rafting in Waitomo.
  10. Kayak or Hike to the Split Apple Rock in Kaiteriteri –  Kayaking from the golden sands at Kaiteriteri beach to the Split Apple rock is so rewarding. I suggest taking a double Kayak so as to not tire yourself, specially if the water gets choppy. If kayaking isn’t your thing then drive to the starting point and hike down for about 25mins and you’ll walk straight into a few metres away from the rock !! It’s gorgeous..
  11. Slope Point Catlins The southern most point of South Island; also supposedly the windiest point in the country, something I found hard to believe as not a single strand of my hair moved, when I was there. Don’t take me for granted, the trees in the picture tell a different story as you can see.
  12. Climb the monoliths at Castle Hill – Be awed by the grand limestone rock battlements of Kura Tawhiti conservation area, half way along the Arthur’s Pass just before the Death Valley pitstop. Not until you take yourselves to the base of these rocks, will you be taken back by the sheer size of those.
  13. Admire the beauty at Clay Cliffs Omarama – One of the most under rated naturally beautiful spot in New Zealand. These clay cliffs are about 10km off the state highway from Omarama town centre. They can be seen from afar while driving Southwards however the real beauty magnifies only when you get up close. 
  14. Snap a Picture with Burt Munro in Invercargill – The man behind the World’s Fastest Indian !! A life size  bronze statue along with this world famous machine is right outside the Queen Elizabeth park, only a few mins away from the centre of the town.
  15. Hike to the Geographical Center of NZ, Nelson – Hiking up to the top of the literal and geographical centre of NZ can be a little mission of its own. Once you get up to the top you get a bird’s eye view of Nelson on one side but an even better view of the awesome Matai Valley on the other side.
  16. Be mesmerised by the Turquoise Blue waters at the Hokitika Gorge – A beautifully natural spot about 35kms from the town centre, the place offers something you would have never seen before. The color of the water is enough to send you into a “I-dont-believe-this” mode as soon as you see it from a distance. It’s all natural and it’s insanely beautiful.
  17. Watch the Sun set at Cape Reinga – Drive to the northern most drivable point of the North Island. Try to head there for sunset and make your way back after the sun sets. Driving on top of the hills with some low clouds and pink skies will make you feel like you are dreaming and will have to pinch yourself to realise you aren’t.
  18. Walk NZ’s longest pier at Tolaga Bay – About 60km north of Gisborne, is home to NZ’s longest pier stretching out nearly 660m from the shore, at end of which you can see people fishing at all corners. A slow 45min return walk at sunset would be a perfect thing to do.
  19. Experience the falls right from it’s mouth at Rainbow Falls Kerikeri – There are half a dozen waterfalls in the northern town with each one beautiful in it’s own way. However the two most prominent ones – Rainbow Falls and Haruru Falls can be experienced by going all the way to the mouth of the falls and it’s incredible to say the least.
  20. Hot Waterfalls at Taupo – The Otumeheke Spa Park, hardly 5mins drive from the town centre, has the most amazing waterfalls which you can sit right under and it’s at a very ideal shower-ing temperature. Most people do not know the hidden second fall behind the fence, and I recommend going there early around 7am before the world starts showing up.
  21. Drive endlessly at the Ninety Mile Beach – There’s nothing like taking your vehicle for a spin at the beach, right next to the water and zip at speeds you can only dream off. The earlier in the day you go, the less number of vehicles and higher the speeds you can hit with safety. If you are lucky you might even spot a big tourist bus or two going at their top speeds or beyond.

Other honourable mentions in my list goes to : 

  • Devour amazingly orgasmic burgers at Ferg Burgers Queenstown
  • Feel the history at Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  • Dig up a sandpit and enjoy natural spa bath at Hot Water Beach Coromandel
  • Nugget Point Lighthouse in Catlins and Cape Palliser Lighthouse in Wairarapa are a couple of stand out lighthouses in the country
  • Drive the 600km stretch of the incredible beautiful Pacific Coast Highway in the Bay of Plenty region
  • Watching the sunset along with the Gannet Colony at Muriwai, Auckland
  • Drive the Summit Road in Akaroa Valley

And that’s my list of things or places in NZ you have to see and experience, particularly if tourist spots are not your thing or if you want to explore the real NZ beauty apart from the cliche places that every travel agent mentions in their itinerary. See the gallery below – one pic each for each of the places in the list.

HERE’S ALL THE PLACES IN NZ WHERE I’VE SPENT ATLEAST 24HRS IF NOT MORE, IN ORDER TO PUT TOGETHER THIS TOP 21 LIST. MOST PLACES I HAVE BEEN WERE FOR MULTIPLE DAYS AND IN SOME CASES MULTIPLE VISITS…