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Fox Glacier | © Bernard Spragg / Flickr
Fox Glacier | © Bernard Spragg / Flickr

The Most Difficult Places in New Zealand to Visit

Picture of Joe Coates
Updated: 23 January 2018

Even the most dedicated and accomplished couch potato is aware that New Zealand is a rugged country, stuffed to the gills with astounding natural wonders and the sort of scenery that’d leave Albert Bierstadt gibbering and gnawing on the end of his paintbrush. This is due largely to Peter Jackson and his phenomenally successful Lord of the Rings trilogy that transported millions of movie-goers to the fantastic world of Middle-Earth – which just so happened to be New Zealand. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Frodo and his mates and head into the wild, take a look at our guide and check out the more remote spots on this island nation.

Chatham Islands

If you’re looking for remote then The Chatham Islands are the place for you. This archipelago of islands is located 750 kms to the east of the South Island, and is home to the remotest of New Zealand’s communities. Of the 11 islands that make up the Chathams, only two are populated, and all in all there are only about 600 residents living out here permanently. They rely, unsurprisingly, on farming, fishing and tourism for most of their income and support, so by heading out here you are helping to keep these incredible islands looked after. You get a real sense of isolation out here, even though there are a scattering of people around. It really does feel like you’re on the edge of the map out here, and it’s quite liberating. The Chathams are home to an astounding abundance of sea life, but it’s the birds that are the gem in the wildlife crown here. There are plenty of rare birds to spot both on the main island and offshore. These include the Chatham Island Tui and Warbler, the taiko and the black robin that was brought back from the edge of extinction.

Doubtful Sound

If there’s anyone that tells you that they looked upon the majesty of Browne Falls (619m or 836m high – depending on who you ask) and wasn’t struck speechless, you’re talking to a liar or a loon. Doubtful Sound, located in Fiordland, is the bigger, more imposing sibling of the area’s more famous and accessible Milford Sound. The best way to experience this genuinely jaw-dropping piece of topography is to take an overnight cruise. Yes, it might cost you about $500NZD per person, but it is worth every cent and more. Words really don’t do this extraordinary place justice, so just book it and thank us later.

Top of Fox Glacier

If you want to have a bit of Moment (with a capital m) then have a splurge and take a helicopter ride to the top of Fox Glacier. It’s hard to describe the first time you see it without waxing ridiculously lyrical. In a word, it’s awe-inspiring. Truly. You see pictures of it, and videos, but nothing prepares you for when you see it in the flesh. You’ll be questioning the sobriety of your eyeballs. The Fox Glacier is 12 kilometres long, and the sheer scale of it defies words. It’s also the Usain Bolt of the glacier world. Whilst most valley glaciers move at about one metre per year, the Fox Glacier can travel up to seven metres on a good day.

Aorangi Forest Park

Another spectacular scenic hiking mecca. Another Lord of the Rings backdrop. The Putangirua Pinnacles are, of course, the honey in this beautiful pot that draws the tourists in. They were formed by years of rain and wind and erosion, and are spectacular.

Stewart Island

The third of New Zealand’s main islands is sometimes overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.If you’re a hiking fanatic then this is the only island you should consider for a walking holiday. With only 20 kilometres of road on an island that is roughly 725 kilometres around, your feet are your only option most of the time. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just happen to spot a Kiwi, if you’re really, really lucky.

Tongariro National Park

Take a trek through the jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes of Mordor – or Tongariro National Park as it is commonly known. It’s not exactly the back of beyond, but it feels like it. If you’re feeling like you’ve been filled up to the eyebrows with culture or bumming around at the beach, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an excellent one day trek. You’ll pass through and by alpine meadows, landscapes that resemble the surface of the moon, emerald lakes and active volcanoes. No wonder Peter Jackson chose Tongariro as Mordor. It must have saved him a fortune in special effects.

Awaroa Lodge

If you want to earn your luxury then head over to the western edge of Abel Tasman park to find the most rural hotel you’ll ever stay in. This list is supposed to be about the remote, untouched areas of New Zealand, sure. But the Awaroa Lodge sits in the middle of nowhere. The only way that you can reach it is by water-taxi, by flying into their private airstrip, or by walking. The walk takes three days through the bush, but its doubtful that you’ll have ever have slept in a bed as comfy or tasted a beer as good as when you finally arrive.

George Sound

When a place, even in this day and age, is still only accessible by boat, seaplane or helicopter, you know that it’s going to still retain a unique type of magic. So it is with George Sound. Once they have managed to arrive, most visitors elect to tramp along the George Sound Track. This two- or three-day hike (depending on how long you linger over some of the unbelievable views) is the sort of jaunt that involves following deer tracks through the lush, wet back-country, crossing unbridged streams and rivers, and hiking along tracks that are natural, muddy and sometimes very steep. This is not the sort of place you go to without radios, maps and and emergency beacons. You have to be fit and self sufficient, and happy to be without Facebook or Instagram for a few days.

Fiordland

This southwestern area of NZ is where intrepid travellers go when they want to see properly untouched New Zealand. There no scars of human habitation here – literally nothing that would tell you that modern civilisation had been able to penetrate the deep fjords. Here, visitors get to see something truly unique; basically an untouched world. The reason for this is that Fiordland National Park has never had permanent residents here. This is the home of epic waterfalls, mountains, silent Sounds (such as Doubtful Sound) and bottomless lakes. It’s the type of landscape that’ll have you imagining dinosaurs, although you’ll more likely see Keas, Kakapos, Moreporks and Bottle-nose Dolphins.