New Zealand, an island country on the Pacific Ocean, is believed by most as an adventure junkies paradise. Every attraction and activity in this beautiful land seems to urge travelers to get out more. Caving, skydiving, bungee jumping, skiing, hiking – name it and you shall have it. Blessed with invigorating natural beauty, New Zealand prides itself in being a traveler’s favorite. Aside from all this brilliance there are also a handful of extremely charismatic small towns in New Zealand that are a must-visit.
The self-proclaimed ‘Steampunk capital of New Zealand’, Oamaru is recognized for its Victorian architecture, laid back atmosphere, offbeat art culture, and of course, penguins. Most visitors come to appreciate the penguin colonies but stay a bit longer and you will come to admire the artsy vibe, the many boutique stores, and the all-encompassing steampunk scene. Also, the final stop on the Alps to Ocean Cycleway, you can take a day trip to a part of the historic track or challenge yourself to the full 4-6 days ride. Spot the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins at Bushy Beach or spot the little blue ones around the harbor district.
For the common man, Taihape is the “Gumboot capital of New Zealand”, however, this simple town is easily a mecca for adrenaline junkies and horticultural enthusiasts. If you are a keen gardener (or not), pay a visit to one of the four classic gardens in the area – Kiri Kiri, Rongoiti, Titoki, and Waltoka. For something a bit (or a lot) more adventurous, try white-water rafting, abseiling, jet boating, and horse riding. And, while you are here, do stop for a selfie with the enormous gumboot!
A picturesque lakeside town on New Zealand’s unspoiled, rugged South Island, Wanaka is named after the namesake river and offers views of snow capped mountain peaks as a backdrop. At its doorstep is the awe-inspiring Mount Aspiring National Park which is home to several waterfalls, glaciers, and majestic peaks – the place has also been featured in The Lord of the Rings. A couple of ski resorts are nestled near the park and just outside the town is the famous sculpture gallery and outdoor maze, the Puzzling World. Fishing, cruising, and kayaking are common sports here.
Once popular as the “Chicago of the South,” Gore is somewhat of a dark horse. A dreamland for the lovers of art, nature, second-hand shopping, and country music, the town was once a hotbed for illegal whiskey production – visit the Hokonui Moonshine Museum to get a crash course on the history of the business and how it came to an end. Host to the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards, this simplistic town is glued to its country music culture. Go fishing for brown trout at the Mataura River or drive a short distance to Mandeville to enjoy a ride on a restored Tiger Moth and gape at the plane’s eye view of the countryside that spreads beneath you.
Often called New Zealand’s surfing haven, the coastal town of Raglan is located a few kilometers from Hamilton, the fourth largest city in the country. However, if you are not big on the sport, the little community is also home to a beautifully weathered surrounding that offers you hiking opportunities to the peak of the mighty Bridal Veil falls or traversing a bit further to the Te Toto Gorge that houses the historic Maori Gardens’ ruins. Enjoy the cool vibe and take in the friendly atmosphere dotted with warm hearted residents, eclectic bars and cafes, and plenty of stunning sunsets by the beach.
A true gem in the gorgeous Bay of Plenty, one of the most picturesque locations on New Zealand’s North Island, Whakatane prides itself in being the “Sunshine capital.” In fact, it has won that title four times to prove its authenticity. Explore the Mataatua Wharenui to find about the Maori meeting house that is almost 130 years old and perhaps also the Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi, an impressive museum dedicated to the Maori and European settlement. Visit the Wairere Falls and the famous partially-damaged Muriwai’s Cave. Spend a day at Ōhope Beach, reportedly one of the best in the country.
Almost on the very southern edge of New Zealand, Bluff, once known as Campbelltown, is where you’ll find the world-renowned Bluff oysters. Regarded as the gateway to the nearby Stewart island, this little town was one of the earliest to have been inhabited by the Europeans and is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the country. Don’t miss a visit to the Bluff Maritime Museum and of course, a walk along the world class tracks of Bluff Hill to admire the fascinating flora and fauna that surrounds you.
Perched on the bay of the same name, Akaroa is an appealing town with a historic French and English population nestled in the heart of a primeval volcano. Come here for the history and architecture and stay for the range of activities that the town has to offer such as 4WD tour to mainland New Zealand’s largest penguin habitation, sea kayaking, sailing, cycling, and of course, the chance to spot the hector dolphins. There are also several walking tracks around the area if you’d like to explore the gorgeous hills.
On the doorstep of New Zealand’s wine producing gem of Marlborough, Picton is truly a town for budding wine connoisseurs. But, that’s not all. In fact, the range of activities that this small town offers almost pushes you to name it Epicton! Go on a multi-day hike on the Queen Charlotte track or enjoy stunning views of Marlborough Sounds from Victoria Domain. Wreck Dive into the waters at Marlborough Sounds or for something light-hearted, enjoy kayaking, a mail boat cruise, or simple swim with the dolphins.
Once known as Kororāreka, the town of Russell was the first European settlement and port in the country. When here, go on a kayak tour around the Bay of Islands, explore the historical structures and wonderful galleries, visit Pompallier Mission, the only remaining structure of the French Catholic mission headquarters and the only one of its kind in Australasia. Pay your homage at the Christ Church, the oldest surviving church in the country. For something more exciting, go fishing, sailing, dolphin spotting, or cycle the truly magnificent Twin Coast Cycle Trail.
4. Kaikoura Where to Stay
A picture-perfect coastal town situated a few hours north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is famous among visitors for its marine mammals, eco-friendly lifestyle, and its landscape that brings the country’s stunning coastline shoulder to shoulder with its jagged mountains. Renowned for its fishing opportunities, the town is filled with activities to keep you occupied. Spot dolphins, whales, and other exotic marine species on a cruise or join them with a wetsuit and scuba dive amidst some of the best reefs in New Zealand, or simply take a walking tour around this spectacular town.
Located within proximity of the namesake river, Hokitika gained popularity in the 1860s as a gold mining town. Today, it sits extremely close to many natural wonders of South Island such as the Arthur’s Pass National Park and the Franz Josef Glacier. While exploring the area, you must visit the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve and enjoy white-water kayaking in the area. Walk the 20-meter-high steel platform to stroll around the West Coast Rainforest treetops and breathe out your worries as you watch a breath-taking sunset at Sunset Point. There are also opportunities to go water skiing and fishing at Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve.
Though only a hundred kilometers from Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, Mangawhai seems like an entire world away from the hustle and bustle of such a huge urban area. When visiting this town, enjoy surfing at the Pacific beaches or cherish a pleasant swimming and kayaking experience through its tranquil harbor which is fringed by sand dunes. Additionally, these sand dunes are your perfect chance to admire the range of exceptional tree and bird species found in the area. And, you must experience the great Mangawhai Walkways.
1. Queenstown Where to Stay
Nicknamed as the “adventure capital of New Zealand,” Queenstown sits on the banks of the pristine Lake Wakatipu, South Island. Being on the edge of the waters gives the town an advantage of playing host to numerous activities – soothing boat cruises, power-packed jet boating, hiking, walking, bungee-jumping, skydiving, white-water rafting, and just about anything! Undeniably, one of the most splendid towns in New Zealand, Queenstown is quaint and relaxed yet vibrant and buzzy come evening. The town streets are dotted with fine-dining restaurants and cafes and the town calendar is filled with cultural events throughout the year, including the colossal Queenstown Winter Festival.