We have found endless guides on the Internet, in bookstores and at DOC offices throughout New Zealand during our six month tour of both islands. There is a colourful array of tourism publications listing top places to visit in every town, for every age of person and for every travel preference. New Zealand is incredibly easy to travel and enjoy for that reason alone.
We are touring New Zealand as part of a year-long, charitable World Tour for Sharks with our marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks. We are two Great White shark wildlife guides who decided to set up this cause and spend a year providing free marine conservation events around the world for adults and children. Our aim is to raise awareness of the plight of sharks, encourage people to reconnect with the oceans, raise money for charities and explore the world we live in.
We are very fortunate to have visited some well known and also lesser known parts of New Zealand, thanks to a combination of visiting towns off the tourist trail to reach our events and the local knowledge of the Kiwi hosts we stay with. We live and travel in our awesome campervan Bertha, which has been provided by one of our sponsors Wendekreisen Travel Ltd. This family-run business is leading the way as an environmental and ethical business and they also have a policy of allowing their vehicles to be driven on gravel roads. Most campervan hire companies do not allow you to drive on gravel roads and we’ve made the most of the freedom that Wendekreisen have offered us.
With that in mind here is our Top 15 Alternative Places to Shout ‘View!’ in New Zealand, though you might want to keep the volume down if you visit No.9 – the glow worms are easy to scare!
1) Rapaki Track – Summit Road path, Christchurch
This short and steep walk out of Christchurch wound through beautiful Eucalyptus trees, up through the barren hills and out to Summit Road. This quiet route was Nicholas’s first tramp in New Zealand and gave us a great introduction to the spectacular views of the South Island.
2) YHA hostel, Mount Cook National Park
The YHA hostel at Mount Cook National Park is without a doubt my favourite place to stay in New Zealand. This log cabin hostel (with a sauna!) is nestled amongst the mountains of Mt Cook National Park and has incredible views at its doorstep. The stars at night are outstanding, thanks to the complete lack of light pollution. Add to that the beautiful drive to the hostel and you have one of my favourite places in New Zealand.
3) Sealy Tarn steps, Mount Cook National Park
This walk is short but a real pain in the knees…thanks to the 2200 steps up to the summit. It is worth every moment of pain though, as the views along the way at rest breaks really show off Mount Cook and surrounds. The view from the tarns makes it all worthwhile and what a place for a picnic.
4) Surat Bay, The Catlins (seals and windswept beach)
The Catlins is not on many tourist itineraries thanks to it being off the public transport routes. The up side of that for people with their own transport is that it is peaceful and remote. The rainforests of the Catlins are stunning (even more so than the forests of Fjordland) but what really drew us in were the huge Hooker Sea Lions at Surat Bay. The sea lions are tolerant of the presence of humans and can be watched sun bathing on the beach and lolling around in the shallows of the ocean; though please do keep your distance if you see them. It is their home after all and they should be respected as wild animals.
5) Luxmore Hut forest line (from Brod Bay campsite), Kepler Track
The Kepler Track is a very popular Great Walk in New Zealand and we enjoyed day walks along different parts of the track. By far our favourite view was that from just below the top of the forest line near Luxmore Hut when walking from Brod Bay campsite. The forest changes constantly along the track as altitude is gained, the forest floor is littered with fungi of all shapes and sizes and the summit of the forest is by far the most magical either of us have ever encountered. The trees are absolutely covered with lichens and moss and in autumn there was nobody else there. It is worth hiking for the day just to see those trees. If you don’t believe in fairies and magical creatures of the forest you will after seeing that part of the Kepler Track.
6) INZ office, Queenstown (The Remarkables)
The Immigration New Zealand office at Queenstown isn’t one that many people see during a trip to New Zealand. It was a place we knew well though as we handed our residency application in under the shadow of the Remarkables mountain range. That was a very special view for us and one of many mountainous views in Queenstown. An alpine treat for the eyes.
7) Eely Point, Wanaka
Wanaka is a real hot spot for visitors and yet few seem to explore Eely Point; a lovely short walk along the shoreline. This easy and quiet walk winds through forests, along stony beaches and has views across to snow-capped mountains such as Roy’s Peak if you visit during autumn.
8) Blue Pools bridge, Haast Pass
I had no idea that water could be that glacial blue! Okay so the name should have given it away but the colour at Blue Pools Bridge is so vivid. A little further along the path you can access the boulder-littered beach and search for greenstone pebbles. A great short walk and one of many along the winding Haast Pass to the West Coast.
9) Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika
There are a few places you can see glow worms in New Zealand but this was our favourite and it is free (helpful when on a charitable tour). We set out from the YHA in Hokitika at 11pm and had the glow worms to ourselves. We meandered along the short path in the dark, whilst trying not to trip over unseen rocks, and were greeted with a wall of bright glow worms. At first I thought I was looking at a starry sky until Nicholas pointed out it was a rock face. Pictures don’t do it justice. You’ll just have to visit yourselves. Remember to keep the torches off – they scare the glow worms!
10) Pupu Springs, Takaka
If I had to pick one favourite place in New Zealand, Golden Bay would be it every time. I felt and still feel it is where my heart belongs. A special place in Golden Bay for both of us was Pupu Springs at Takaka. These springs are a sacred Maori site and are home to water with over 60m visibility. The water is some of the clearest in the world and the springs are a very peaceful place to spend a few hours. I will forever remember the vivid blue of the springs, the bright green vegetation underwater and the Fantail dipping down to the surface to catch flies. If nature had an equivalent to a church, this would be it.
11) Conical Hill, Hanmer Springs
Most people visit Hanmer Springs for their spas and spring pools or for the winter snow. Lesser known is the short walk up Conical Hill through managed forest. It isn’t the most beautiful forest, we had been spoilt by Fjordland and the West Coast by that point, but the view from the top stretches across Hanmer and the surrounding mountains. It is also a great place for a nap in the sunshine during a winter afternoon.
12) Crossing The Cook Strait
We were so sad to be leaving the South Island behind after three and a half months there but this ferry crossing from Picton to Wellington more than made up for it. The views of the Marlborough Sounds and across to both islands are fantastic. There is also the opportunity to see marine life such as seals, whales and dolphins – which the captain kindly points out during the crossing.
13) Wellington’s shark mural
We might be a little biased here but we couldn’t ignore the shark mural of 100 Cable Street, Wellington in this list. It is a great piece of artwork that was created to raise awareness of the plight of sharks. Wellington is home to various murals including the sharks and an ocean mural along the waterfront. Be sure to admire the artwork amongst the other city sights.
14) Kuirau Park thermal pools, Rotorua
This is just your average park with green grass, manicured flower beds and a few winding paths amongst the duck ponds. Or that is what I thought until we stumbled upon a series of thermal pools right in the middle of Rotorua that are free of charge to view (a rarity). I spent an afternoon exploring the heat and sulphurous smell of the pools one afternoon in the sunshine. The effect of the light and steam upon the pools and bubbling mud was eerie and begging to be captured on camera. This park is at the rear of the YHA in Rotorua and I even saw a wallaby amongst the trees! How that got there I don’t know but I double checked and can confirm it wasn’t a bouncing possum.
15) Every time we stand up to give a Friends for Sharks lecture
No matter how many times we stand up to give a lecture about shark conservation, the view never fails to warm my heart and make me feel truly thankful for our travels. We have completed sixty events so far in countries including England, Canada, The Cook Islands and New Zealand. We have another six months to go and I suspect the view of our smiling audiences will always be a favourite of mine.
Article by Kathryn Hodgson
Kathryn Hodgson (1979) was born in England and spent her childhood exploring the rugged beauty of Cornwall. Kathryn pursued her love of nature as an adult and created a successful career within environmental enforcement in England and then as a scuba diving instructor in Egypt and Great White Shark wildlife guide in South Africa. She is co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks, author of the inspiring memoir No Damage (December 2014) and lover of life, laughter and adventures. She can currently be found touring the world in aid of shark conservation and raising money for The Shark Trust and Project AWARE.Follow Not_Australia