People enjoying the sunny day in Waihi, New Zealand

7 Most Underrated Towns in New Zealand

New Zealand, a country celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes and vibrant cities, also harbors hidden gems that often escape the spotlight. Beyond the well-trodden paths of Auckland, Queenstown, and Wellington lie towns brimming with unique charm, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. This article shines a light on the seven most underrated towns in New Zealand, each offering a distinct experience that promises to enrich your travel adventures.


Victorian Precinct at Oamaru, New Zealand.
Victorian Precinct at Oamaru, New Zealand. Editorial credit: trabantos /

Nestled on the east coast of the South Island, Oamaru stands as a testament to Victorian architecture and steampunk culture. The town's historic precinct, with its impeccably preserved limestone buildings, offers a glimpse into the 19th century. Here, visitors can explore quirky steampunk galleries, artisanal shops, and cafes that exude a sense of yesteryear. Oamaru also serves as the gateway to viewing little blue penguins in their natural habitat, offering nightly viewings at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony where these charming creatures return from the sea at dusk.

Beyond the Victorian facades and steampunk wonders, Oamaru embraces nature's artistry at the Moeraki Boulders, located a short drive south. These spherical stones, scattered along a stretch of beach, are a geological marvel dating back millions of years. The town's blend of cultural richness, historical depth, and natural phenomena makes Oamaru an unforgettable stop in New Zealand's travel diary.


View along Bow Street in small town on busy summer Sunday morning vehicles, local market and people moving about in Raglan, New Zealand
View along Bow Street in small town on busy summer Sunday morning vehicles, local market and people moving about in Raglan, New Zealand

On the west coast of the North Island lies Raglan, a haven for surfers and environmental enthusiasts. This laid-back town is renowned for its world-class surfing spots, particularly at Manu Bay, which gained fame in the 1960s for its long, consistent left-hand break. Raglan's commitment to sustainability is evident in its community initiatives and eco-friendly accommodations, making it a model for responsible tourism.

Beyond the waves, Raglan's surrounding landscapes offer hiking trails that weave through native forests and along rugged coastlines. The Bridal Veil Falls, a short drive from the town center, presents a stunning 55-meter waterfall that cascades into a pool below, surrounded by lush greenery. Raglan's blend of adrenaline-fueled activities, commitment to the environment, and its serene natural beauty offer a tranquil retreat for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle.


Old Packhouse Market stalls in Kerikeri, New Zealand.
Old Packhouse Market stalls in Kerikeri, New Zealand, via Photos BrianScantlebury /

Kerikeri, in the heart of the Bay of Islands, is a historical jewel with a vibrant arts scene. The town is home to New Zealand's oldest building, the Stone Store, and the adjacent Kemp House, both of which offer a window into the country's early European settlement. Kerikeri's fertile lands also support a plethora of vineyards and orchards, allowing visitors to indulge in locally produced wine and fresh produce.

The town's artistic flair is showcased in its numerous galleries and craft shops, where local artists and craftsmen display their work. The Kerikeri Basin area, with its walking trails that lead to waterfalls and Maori pa sites, offers both natural beauty and a lesson in New Zealand's cultural history. Kerikeri's rich heritage, coupled with its lush landscapes and vibrant community, makes it a must-visit destination for those seeking a blend of history and natural beauty.


Street view in Hokitika, New Zealand
Street view in Hokitika, New Zealand

Located on the rugged West Coast of the South Island, Hokitika is a paradise for lovers of the outdoors and craft enthusiasts. The town is famous for its greenstone (pounamu) carving, with numerous studios where visitors can watch artisans at work or even try their hand at carving. Hokitika's dramatic coastline, with its wild beaches and stunning sunsets, provides a dramatic backdrop for its annual Wildfoods Festival, where adventurous eaters can sample exotic and indigenous foods.

Inland, the Hokitika Gorge presents a breathtaking landscape of turquoise waters set against a backdrop of lush rainforest. The area's hiking trails offer opportunities to explore the natural beauty of the West Coast, from serene lakes to dense woodlands. Hokitika's unique combination of cultural craftsmanship and natural wonders makes it a standout destination for those seeking to explore New Zealand's wild side.


People enjoying the sunny day in Waihi, New Zealand
People enjoying the sunny day in Waihi, New Zealand, via /

Waihi, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, is a town with a rich mining heritage and a gateway to stunning natural attractions. The Martha Mine, an open pit gold mine, is a central feature of the town, offering visitors a chance to learn about the area's mining history through guided tours. Waihi's Gold Discovery Centre provides interactive exhibits that delve into the tales of prospectors and the gold rush era.

Surrounding Waihi, the Karangahake Gorge offers a spectacular setting for hiking and cycling, with trails passing through old mining tunnels and alongside the rushing Ohinemuri River. The gorge's historic walkways, including the Windows Walk, reveal panoramic views and remnants of the mining past. Waihi's combination of historical intrigue and natural splendor offers a unique perspective on New Zealand's pioneering spirit.


People can seen exploring around the Arrowtown during the Arrowtown Autumn Festival on Buckingham Street
People can seen exploring around the Arrowtown during the Arrowtown Autumn Festival on Buckingham Street. Editorial credit: gracethang2 /

Arrowtown, nestled along the banks of the Arrow River, is a charming historical gold mining town in the Otago region. Its well-preserved buildings, dating back to the 1860s gold rush, now house boutique shops, galleries, and eateries. The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, a reminder of the Chinese miners who once lived there, provides a poignant glimpse into the hardships and contributions of these early immigrants.

The surrounding landscapes of Arrowtown change dramatically with the seasons, from the golden hues of autumn to the snow-capped peaks in winter. Nearby, the Gibbston Valley offers world-renowned wineries and the opportunity to indulge in Central Otago's famous pinot noir. Arrowtown's rich history, scenic beauty, and proximity to outdoor adventures make it an enchanting destination year-round.


Naseby, New Zealand; Colonial architecture
Naseby, New Zealand; Colonial architecture, via Photos BrianScantlebury /

Naseby, nestled in the Maniototo region of Central Otago, is a quaint town that seems to have frozen in time, offering a tranquil retreat from the modern world. Originally established during the gold rush of the 1860s, it has retained much of its historical charm, with many of its original buildings still standing. Today, Naseby is renowned for its outdoor activities, particularly curling, with the town boasting the Southern Hemisphere's first indoor curling rink that operates year-round.

Beyond curling, Naseby is an outdoor enthusiast's dream, surrounded by vast landscapes perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and during winter, some of New Zealand's best cross-country skiing. The Naseby Forest, a short stroll from the town center, offers a network of trails through ancient larch and pine trees, providing a serene backdrop for nature walks and bird watching. At night, the clear skies transform Naseby into a stargazer’s paradise, free from light pollution.

In Conclusion

New Zealand's underrated towns are treasure troves of history, culture, and natural beauty. Each offers a unique glimpse into the country's soul, far removed from the crowds of the more famous destinations. Exploring these towns allows travelers to uncover the diverse tapestry of landscapes and stories that make New Zealand truly magical. Whether you're drawn to the allure of historical architecture, the thrill of outdoor adventures, or the tranquility of nature, these seven towns promise experiences that are both enriching and unforgettable.

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