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Off the beaten track in New Zealand

travelling small towns in New Zealand

The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in New Zealand is the colour of the sky.  It’s a certain hue of blue that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.  The blue filters down into ever colour that you see.  It’s almost mesmerising.  Travelling small town New Zealand is a great way to get the most out of the once in a lifetime experience of a trip to the edge of the world.  Small towns are the best place to enjoy famous Kiwi hospitality, food and wine.  So this blog will introduce you to 6 hidden gems off the well wore tourist path to make your trip unforgettable, focusing on the North Island.


Sitting an hour and a half north of Auckland on the Matakana Coast, Leigh is a stunning coastal town.  In the middle of one of New Zealand’s most famous wine growing regions the town has a couple of shops and a grand population of four hundred.  While there take a stroll down the main street where the locals say hello as they walk by.  Grab a cold drink from what the locals call the ‘top shop’ or the ‘bottom shop’.  The town is home to several beautiful beaches, Matheson’s Bay, Daniel’s Reef and most famously Goat Island.

Goat Island is a world renown Marine Reserve and is the reason for the town’s population ballooning during the summer with tourists looking to snorkel and dive with the fish.  While you’re there make sure to drop by the Sawmill Cafe, the venue is somewhat of an icon, hosting a lot of well known Kiwi artists for regular gigs.  If you happen to know a local you might be lucky enough to find some of the out of the way spots.  Nordic is a small beach that you can have to yourself if you can find the walkway to it.  Do a spot of rock fishing or snorkelling from Penguin Street.  Find out more here.


Raglan stands out as one of the most breathtaking beach spots in New Zealand.  While travelling small towns in New Zealand this is a must stop.  The town itself is a very beautiful quiet place that will make you feel like time has stopped.  Grab fish and chips for lunch or an ice cream from the local dairy (this is what Kiwi’s call a corner store) and take your time to relax.  Once you’ve done your shopping at the local stores head to the beach.  On the way you’ll pass a unique high school which offers surfing as a subject.  Needless to say it has been the training ground for a number of New Zealand’s top surfing talent.

The drive to the beach will give you amazing views of the western seaboard of the country as you peak over the hill into the car park.  The first thing you’ll notice is that the beach is a black sand beach.  The high iron content in the sand makes it a dark black/grey colour.  The beach stretches out for kilometres and you’ll see a sparse population of people riding horses and playing with their dogs.  You won’t have to walk far to have a large portion of the beach to yourself.

For the surfers out there Raglan is home to one of the worlds longest left hand breaks.  Depending on your skill level and the swell that’s running you can catch a wave for a kilometre or two.  If you have a sharp eye you might even recognise local Manu Bay from the 1966 surfing epic Endless Summer. Find out more here.


Tucked away on the Coromandel Peninsular Hahei is an extremely popular summer destination for Kiwis over the Christmas and New Year period.  The town itself is tiny but the beaches draw the crowds.  Best to visit at other times of the year if you can.  A short walk over the hill from Hahei you’ll find the world famous Cathedral Cove.  The Cove truly looks like a movie set from a 1970’s Bond film.  A towering rock cave is the centre piece of the Cove, cutting through the middle of a ribbon of white sandy beach.  With very few towns around the water is crystal clear.  It’s a very easy place to lose a day or two getting lost in your favourite book.

The surrounding area has a lot of places which attract tourists from far and wide.  Perhaps the most famous of which being Hot Water Beach.  Where thermal volcanic water sits just below the sand of the beach.  You can simply dig a hole in the sand and make your own thermal spa. Find more information here.

Mangawhai Heads

Mangawhai Heads is a town whose tag line is literally ‘a little out of the way’.  A quiet coastal paradise that should be on your list for travelling to small towns in New Zealand if you feel like getting away from it all.  It’s claim to fame is being a great surfing destination.  One of the highlights of the town are the small markets that pop up during the weekend.  In particular they have a great second hand book market.  Spend some time here to flick through the paper backs and find something to replace your phone’s screen for a couple of days.  The town also has a few great cafes where you can get coffee to die for.

If you’re looking for something a little further afield Lang’s Beach is a little further north and you’ll be lucky to run into another person there.  For further information on the area see here.


Papamoa sits at the eastern end of popular tourist destination Mount Maunganui.  It’s a great place to avoid the crowds.  Papamoa has a long white sandy beach which doesn’t seem to ever end.  Take a stroll here and enjoy the sea spray and feeling of sand between your toes.  If you have an evening in town roll out a picnic blanket and enjoy the stars of the Milky Way on a clear night.

The local cafe’s and takeaway shops are great and always on the cheap side.  Make sure you take time to chat with the locals in the cafe as they are always happy to share the best places to go.  If you’re feeling really adventurous you can take to Papamoa Hills for a hike.  The farmland and coastline roll on as far as the eye can see and give you a good sense of what New Zealand really looks like.  You can find more about Papamoa here.

Te Aroha

A tiny farming village in the heart of rural New Zealand Te Aroha is a great town to stop by during a road trip.  The town is in the heart of the Waikato around forty five minutes drive from Hamilton.  Tucked away at the foothills of Mount Te Aroha the town is like stepping back in time fifty years.  Everything happens slowly here and its a great place to unwind after a long drive.  Mount Te Aroha has a fantastic hiking track that takes around three hours to reach summit.  It’s a challenging climb but still relaxing enough for weekend walkers.

After you’ve puffed your way up to the summit and taken in the sprawling plains you can race down to the thermal mineral spa that sits in the middle of town to ease the strained muscles.  This quiet spa is a great place to relax and has a lot of health benefits and a lot quieter than the tourist mecca which is Rotorua.  You can find more information about Te Aroha here.

Most people go to New Zealand for the spectacular nature.  The rolling hills, deep greens, bright blues and alps that scrap the clouds.  But if you have time to stop and relax the small towns of New Zealand will give you an understanding of the culture of the country.  Kiwi’s are relaxed, welcoming and always happy to show you their home town.  If you have any questions or want to know more about travelling small towns in New Zealand sign up and message me here.

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