5 hidden North Island gems to add to your New Zealand experience

Although about as cliched as you can get, getting 'off the beaten track' in New Zealand reaps some beautiful rewards. So, take a detour with us to discover these absolute treasures.

1. Homunga Bay

If pohutakawa fringed coastlines, pristine stretches of white sand with sparkling turquoise water is painting a picture of summer for you, then plan to pack a picnic and some walking shoes and head to the outskirts of Waihi this summer. As far as beaches go in New Zealand, this one is as beautiful and quiet as they get. There are two ways to access Homunga Bay. Head around the rocks at the north end of Waihi surf beach (mind the tide, access can be cut-off at high tide) and walk 8km around the winding coastline. Or, you can park your car at the top of Ngatitangata Road and head down the hill to the bay. The way down will take you about 30 minutes, but the walk back up is very steep, make sure you pack some sturdy walking shoes! Swimming can be dangerous at this beach and there are no lifeguards close, so take extra care. Join us on our Coast and Cuisine Experience or Coastal Charm Taster tour to visit this bay and explore the coastline by foot.

2. Marokopa Falls

These falls are nothing short of spectacular and just a short 10 minute walk from the road to the viewing platform. The 35m high waterfall is a classic block shape and is unquestionably one of the most beautiful in the country. From Waitomo village, head west towards the small fishing village of Marokopa for about 35minutes. The falls has a small carpark on the lefthand side of the road. Be sure to take your camera, rainbows often appear over the falls which make for some magical captures.

3. Pureora Forest Park

Arguably the most beautiful forest in the North Island, Pureora's podocarp enveloped forests give a true impression of enchantment and magic. The geographic centre of the North Island lies beneath its canopy, and the tallest totara in New Zealand has stood here for more than 1500 years. The 78,000 hectares of ancient rainforest is home to giant native totara, rimu, matai, miro and kahikatea trees. Aside from it's obvious natural beauty, the park is steeped with an interesting history. Being one of the last native forests to be opened up for logging, it was established as a park in 1978 after a series of protests and tree-sittings. The park is home to the 88km timber trail - one of the best cycle tracks in New Zealand. The slopes of Mount Pureora, Mount Titiraupenga and Mount Pukeokahu offer varying challenges for keen hikers. Pureora is said to be one of the finest examples of podocarp rainforest in the world and if you navigate the gravel roads to visit one day, you'll be left completely under it's spell.

4. Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari

From challenging hiking to gentle bushwalking there is something for the whole family at Sanctuary Mountain. Maungatautari - which roughly translates to 'floating mountain' because it's often shrouded in low cloud and mist with its peaks 'floating' above - is the largest mainland conservation island in New Zealand. Some of the country's rarest birds can be heard and sometimes seen on the mountain. Among its introduced inhabitants are the kiwi, the hihi (stitchbird), the cheeky kaka, the brightly coloured takahe and the kokako. Enclosed by the world's longest pest-proof fence (47km), the native bush is something to behold. The local community had a lofty goal of restoring the mountain bush to the way it would have been hundreds of years ago and an extensive pest control programme has been successful in eradicating pests and restoring this ancient ecosystem. There are guided day and night time nature walks available, as well as the wetlands where you can see the prehistoric Tuatara. This place feels truly ancient and is a proud jewel in the Waikato thanks to the work of the local community and Maungatautari Trust.

5. Tawarau Forest

For those who don't mind a bit of raw adventure, the Tawarau Forest has some seriously cool tramping tracks (yes tramping, think Kiwi-style mud, tree roots and tricky creek crossings) and a couple of small but captivating waterfalls. You won't read about these tracks in any guide books. There is something totally unique about clambering through pristine virgin forest that opens out into a spectacular limestone laden valley. The Tawarau Falls loop, the double falls and the Gorge Track all link together, but access is tricky - often via unmaintained gravel roads and these tracks are best walked in summer when creek levels are low and there is less mud about. The effort to get there is worth it if you like exploring areas not many others do and prefer tracks all to yourself. Or come with us on our six day Heart of the North hiking tour to explore this forest and other gems.


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