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Whanganui River from Durie Hill | © russellstreet/Flickr
Whanganui River from Durie Hill | © russellstreet/Flickr

The 11 Most Unusual Places in New Zealand

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 2 January 2018

New Zealand’s mind-blowing landscapes tend to be the biggest draw card for visitors. But what about the unique destinations and attractions that make this country truly special? From the outright wacky to the unusually divine, here are 11 places that are guaranteed to intrigue all travellers.

Moeraki Boulders

These mysterious boulders lie along a stretch of Koekohe Beach between the towns of Moeraki and Hampden, in the South Island’s Otago region. The Moeraki Boulders are compelling not just for their unique spherical shapes, but also for their size — some of these rocks have diameters ranging between 1.5 and 2.2 metres (4.9 and 7.2 feet). Maori legend also depicts these boulders as the remains of eel baskets, calabashes and kumara (sweet potato) washed ashore from a large ancestral canoe.

Moeraki Boulders, Otago | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Durie Hill Elevator and Tower, Whanganui

Originally built in 1919, the Durie Hill Elevator is one of only two earthbound elevators of its kind in the world. Hop inside to scale the hillside without putting in any hard work. You’ll then reach the top of the tower, where you’ll have some wonderful views of Whanganui and its famous namesake river from the top. The underground elevator emerges by the Durrie Hill War Memorial Tower and was originally devised to provide residents easier access to the city.

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Whanganui River from Durie Hill | © russellstreet/Flickr

Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu is probably New Zealand’s most famous geothermal attraction. The springs, located within easy reach of Rotorua, are renowned for their intriguing hues, which have in turn been sculpted out of several thousand years’ worth of volcanic activity. The Champagne Pools are Wai-O-Tapu’s most distinguished attraction. Other highlights include the bubbling mud pools and the spouting Lady Knox Geyser.

Teapotland, Owaka

If you find yourself visiting the Catlins region, here’s a place that will add a bit of colour to your sightseeing. As you might have guessed by its name, Teapotland is an eccentric house and garden that boasts more than a thousand teapots of every imaginable shape, size and variation. The quirky attraction was created by former chef Graham Renwick who (incidentally) only drinks coffee.

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Teapotland Owaka | © Ruth Graham/Flickr

Tongariro National Park

Home to some of the country’s most epic dormant volcanoes and hiking terrains, Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site that oozes uniqueness. Whether you choose to hit the ski slopes at Mount Ruapehu, tackle the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit or bask in the beauty of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom), there’s plenty to marvel at in this compelling alpine setting.

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Tongariro National Park | © Pixabay

Stonehenge Aotearoa, Wairarapa

If you can’t make your way to the real Stonehenge, why not settle for a uniquely New Zealand replica? The full-scale adaptation, which resides in the Wairarapa region, was devised by the Phoenix Astronomy Society. They thought the project would help Kiwis make the most of the knowledge passed onto them by their ancestors. Whatever you think about this concept, don’t call it ‘tacky’: the Lonely Planet guidebook has already got in trouble for that.

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Stonehenge Aotearoa | © chrisjtse/Flickr

Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach is located just south of Dunedin and is a great spot for adventurous families. A short walk along a descending track will lead you to a rocky shoreline that hides a very special treat: the short tunnel that gives the beach its name. Walk down the tunnel’s steps to relish a secluded shoreline that enjoys plenty of serenity.

Tunnel Beach, Otago | © Enrique Fernández/Flickr

Claphams National Clock Museum

With an impressive array of historic clocks, watches and animated timepieces dating as far back as the 1700s, the Claphams National Clock Museum is believed to house the largest collection of the sort in the Southern Hemisphere. This museum, which is situated in the Northland town of Whangarei, was originally founded by Archibald Clapham, an English migrant who quickly became an iconic local figure because of his curious clock collection and all-round friendly character.

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Castle Hill

The story goes that the Dalai Lama dubbed Castle Hill one of the ‘energy centres of the universe’. These marvellous rocky formations lie within the eastern ranges of the Southern Alps, just an hour’s drive from Christchurch. Thanks to its bulging boulders, rugged outcrops and alpine terrains, the area has become a popular destination for adventurous rock climbers and skiers.

Castle Hill, New Zealand | © Stefanos Nikologlanis/Flickr

The natural flames of Murchison

The town of Murchison in the upper South Island’s Tasman region has a not-so-hidden secret: a small open fire that, legend goes, has been alight perpetually since the 1920s. Visitors from the world over go to see this compelling phenomenon, and even test the ‘authenticity’ of the burning flares by cooking pancakes over them.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

These are an underground network of caves that can be toured by boat, black water rafts or through self-guided spelunking missions. If that’s not enough to make the Waitomo Caves a highly desirable attraction, this must-visit destination is also home to a native species of glowworms that light up its natural underground limestone formations. Suffice to say, the area is hard to beat when it comes to uniqueness.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves | © Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr