The Top of Fox Glacier
You know when you see pictures of something, and then you see it in real life, and you go WOAH! Well, that’s what it is like when you see a glacier. They look huge, but only when you see them in real life do you realise that they are actually the side of skyscrapers, as big around as mountains; most of them are so big they create their own weather microclimate. One of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand is Fox Village, a cute and quiet little down home to two great attractions: mirror lake (the name is self-explanatory – it is incredible) and fox glacier. I recommend you take the helicopter ride up to the top, which can be pricey, but trust me: you will not believe your eyes as you head up to the top.
Fjordland, in the southwest corner of the South Island, is a tough-to-navigate strip of land covered by deep lakes, lush green hills, and the occasional road to get you from one to the other. Many choose the highway that will take you to Milford Sound, the busiest spot in Fjordland, but my vote is to get on a boat, that will take you to a road that connects you to a small port down in Doubtful Sound. From there you can go on an overnight boat trip on the sound, possibly as far away from civilization as possible while still enjoying a nice glass of wine and someone else cooking your dinner. Heaven? Quite possibly.
Aorangi Forest Park
Another one of New Zealand’s amazing natural spaces, the Aorangi Forest Park is popular for the above-pictured spot, the Putangirua Pinnacles. These oddly-shaped earth pillars remind me of basaltic columns; they were formed by floods and rains over the centuries. Aorangi, given it’s diverse landscape, was also chosen as one of the many Lord of the Rings backdrops. There are loads of hiking areas, scenic preserves, and great activities for families in this area.
Sitting on a tidal inlet near the western edge of the Abel Tasman National Park, the Awaroa Lodge is probably one of the most rural hotels I have ever stayed in – and believe me, the fresh fish, cold beer, and clean sheets felt amazing after walking for 3 days on the Abel Tasman coastal trail. There are no roads to the Awaroa Lodge; you have to fly into their private air strip, get a water taxi from Mouteka or another nearby town, or walk. I walked. Best walk of my life, and while the Awaroa is far more expensive than a camping hut, the restaurant/bar, locally sourced ingredients (i.e. their garden), and the warm hospitality are far worth it.
The Top of Baldwin Street, Dunedin
Ok, so while this isn’t one of the “technically” most remote places to visit in New Zealand, it is kind of hard to get to. It’s Baldwin Street in Dunedin, the steepest street in world. Getting to the top is a challenge, either of nerves (driving a car) or of athletic fitness (walking/hiking your way up). There are stairs on either side which make the walk a bit easier, but it’s incredible to think about how they paved this monstrosity, considering the angle it sits at. Well worth it for the view atop, as well as the satisfaction of telling your friends you walked up the steepest street in the world.
It’s easy to forget that New Zealand isn’t just the North Island and the South Island – it’s actually numerous islands, but one popular stop is Stewart Island, alllll the way down south off the coast of the south island. It’s only 14 miles from the mainland, so you can see it from your ferry departure in Bluff on a clear day. This is the place to go if you want a walking vacation; the island is nearly 450 miles around, but only about 12 miles of road, so sometimes your two feet are the only option! The Northwest Circuit is the most popular option, which is a 7 to 12 day hike.
Another one of the most remote places to visit in New Zealand are the Chatham Islands, which incredibly are a two hour flight from the south island. Chatham is all powered by wind electricity, and apart from some fishing and the odd mix of adventuring tourists, it is a quiet place, with a lovely museum and some fantastic rural sightseeing. It’s a great spot for bird watchers, nature preserves, and spotting some important spots in Maori history.
Tongariro National Park
The Tongario National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand and perhaps one of the parks that leaves a lasting impression; the landscape seems to alternative between blinding glacial white to rich, earthy black, and back again. No wonder the makers of Lord of the Rings decided to choose this spot as the “Gates of Mordor” in the film – less editing required to make it look like it was from another planet.
One of my favourites of the “epic” tracks in New Zealand is the Milford Track. This has often been called the best walk in the world, and even if you sample just a mile or two of the multi-day route, you’ll have to agree – tall waterfalls blast over cliffs, narrow trails lead out to unbelievable scenery, and one of the most unique places to visit in New Zealand is found deep along the trail: bell rock, a “cave” of sorts, drilled out by a waterfall. It’s incredible and so huge you can climb inside to hang out. Remote, strange, unique, remarkable all in one.
Kaipara North Head Lighthouse
Built in 1884, the Kaipara North Head lighthouse is one of the few remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. It stands guard on New Zealand’s largest natural harbour, and it’s 5 miles from the closest settlement, Pouto. It sits on the shore, surrounded by a shifting landscape of sand dunes. It’s now under a presevation society, a blessing as no doubt this gorgeous building wouldn’t survive the harsh location alone. Perhaps it is time to add it to our list of amazing lighthouses.
Waitomo Glow Worm Cave
Last but certainly not least, one of the most popular “remote” places to visit in New Zealand are the glow worm caves dotted across the country. Glow worms aren’t worms per se but larva that excrete these strings of sticky silk threads down from the ceiling, used to catch prey to eat. Once something gets caught in the thread, it’s reeled in to eat. The attraction is not the eating, of course; it’s that in a dark cave, these glow worm strands glow in the dark, hence the name.
Waitomo is by far the most popular glow worm cave excursion, so I mention it because it is a very good experience – the glow worms are so numerous you can basically see by their light. There are other not as bright caves but I personally prefer the “black water rafting” trips where you take an innertube down into the bowels of the cave; there’s a good one that departs from Westport.
Have you been to NZ? What are your favourite, remote places to visit in New Zealand?