Whilst the major cities and towns of New Zealand offer some fantastic experiences, sometimes it is nice to step off the beaten track and explore some of the smaller less populated regional towns and villages that are less traveled – at these unique destinations, you will find authentic local communities and a treasure trove of experiences which only the lucky few get to enjoy. Think boutique art galleries, artisanal produce shops, unique hiking trails, and peaceful retreats with the calls of native birdlife as a soundtrack.
So why not escape the masses, and try one of these hot spots for a unique long weekend in the South Island:
Clyde is a small town in Central Otago, with a population of just over 1100. It is positioned in a basin at the foot of a gorge, just downstream from a huge hydro dam. Rich in history, Clyde was a regular pit stop for gold miners passing through to the surrounding areas. Nowadays, the region is mostly famous for its fantastic stone fruit orchards, which flourish in the hot dry conditions found in Central Otago, and the nearby local vineyards which produce internationally renowned Pinot Noir.
Many historic buildings have survived in Clyde’s older part of town and the town center has been declared as a historic precinct. Some buildings have been refurbished as cafes, bars, and places to stay. Olivers Food Merchant, which can be found on the main high street, is noted locally as a fantastic café and produce store during daylight hours, and a divine dinner spot in the evening. On top of this, they have a brewery on-site and a great bar if you just want to enjoy a cold glass of something made locally.
When staying in Clyde, you will find some nice walking trails and some craft gift shops which are definitely worth browsing, but if you are looking for something really special to do, hire an e-bike, and make your way along with the start of the famous “Central Otago Rail Trail” or the cycling trail alongside the Clutha River. On both routes, you will come across a handful of extremely boutique vineyards, where tasting is normally done with the winemaker themselves, and often at their private home. It is a fantastic way to meet some fabulous local characters and sample some small-batch local wines.
Most people know of Glenorchy as the filming location to many famous movies, including (of course) Lord of the Rings, or as the start or finish of the famous Routeburn Track. – situated at the top end of Lake Wakatipu, approximately 45 minutes drive from Queenstown, Glenorchy has picture-perfect landscapes galore. A braided river bed, snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, and ancient beech tree forests. It really is one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand, and with a permanent population of close to 400 people, this quiet township is a fantastic place to retreat and unwind away from the crowds.
We love Glenorchy for the peace and quiet and spectacular location, but if you’d like to mingle with some locals, there are a couple of local pubs which serve food and drinks into the night. The township itself has an ‘Instagram’ worthy pier and red boat shed, and a handful of cafes and shops – Mrs. Woollys at Camp Glenorchy is a great spot for some healthy delicious food.
Glenorchy is a perfect choice for any keen hikers, with a number of spectacular trails and day hikes available so if you enjoy staying active amongst breathtaking scenery on your minibreaks, this destination is the one for you!
The quaint coastal port town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, a permanent population of approximately 700 people, was historically a European Colony dating back to 1840 and has retained some continental charm, offering a gorgeous long weekend retreat.
The calm sheltered waters of the harbor are home to rare hectors dolphins, and the waterside village is a fantastic place to wander along the waterfront exploring the gift shops, bars, and cafes. If you have a 4WD vehicle, some fantastic remote beaches are accessible close by which showcase the rugged wild scenery of New Zealand.
Grab yourself some gourmet cheeses from the Barry’s Bay Cheese on the road into Akaroa, partnered with a bottle of wine from French Farm Winery just around the corner, and watch the sunset over the glassy harbor waters, before wandering to town for dinner at one of the towns waterfront restaurants. Absolute bliss.
Omarama is positioned in a broad basin between mountain ranges, close to the center of the South Island. As a junction town, it is often a stopping point for those traveling between Christchurch or Tekapo to Queenstown, but you can easily spend a few days here.
The obvious activity is gliding, which is world-class in this area, and will give you aerial views of the basin’s landscape. You could also spend a day fishing, horse riding, or cycling the Alps 2 Ocean trail. After a long day, watch the stars from a private hot tub filled with fresh mountain water.
For an indulgent mini-break, the neighbouring Ahuriri Valley is a very remote destination, but set amongst the landscape is The Lindis, a stunning modern lodge that has been awarded for its architecture and design as the Best Hotel at the 2019 World Architecture Festival. With a whole range of on-site activities, this luxury accommodation is definitely worth a visit.