Ecotourism: 3 Best NZ Locations for Exploring the Hinterlands

Markora River hinterlands

If your idea of a getaway involves escaping to nature and promoting ecotourism, there’s no place like the hinterlands of New Zealand. With endless rolling hills, lush rainforest and picture-perfect towns, it’s the perfect place to take a break. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, love birds on honeymoon or you’re towing the kids, the hinterlands offer something special for everyone. Slow down, unwind and get back to nature with our top three locations for exploring New Zealand’s hinterlands.


Nestled between Wanaka and the West Coast, Makarora is a humble region with a rich history and breathtaking natural beauty. Known as Kaika Pekai – ‘the place of abundant food’ – by the local Māori, it’s easy to see where it gets its traditional name. From jaw-dropping mountain ranges to alpine plants and shining valleys of silver beech, Makarora is a sight for sore eyes.  

Acting as the gateway to the beloved Mount Aspiring National Park, the region is also a hikers’ hub for a number of luscious tramping opportunities including The Blue Pools, Rob Roy Glacier and Siberia Valley. The area is an ideal base for adventure-seekers and is filled to the brim with things to do. Hop on a jet boat and brave the wild rapids of the Makarora river, get hypnotised by the allure of glowworms while caving or canyoning, or even ch ange your perspective with a scenic flight. Regardless of how you choose to spend your days in Makarora, you’re bound to be delighted.

From Wanaka, the drive is around 64 kilometres. Take the SH6 (State Highway 6) from Wanaka towards Lake Hawea, and continue onwards to the glistening green of Makarora. Accommodation in Makarora is boundless, with options ranging from charming B&B’s to secluded ranches, gorgeous chalets and cozy cabins.  

Fiordland National Park

The great Fiordland National Park that cloaks Milford Sound is over 1.2 million hectares of dazzling and dramatic scenery. Encompassing mountain, fiord, lake and rainforest environments, it’s undoubtedly one of the most awe-inspiring places on the earth.

Touted often as the end of the earth, Milford Sound is renowned internationally for its staggering natural scenery. Formed by the erosion of ancient glaciers, Milford Sound is actually not a sound – it’s a fiord. As one of the South Island’s best-known natural gems, it’s surrounded by an incredible range of terrain. From the mighty Tasman sea to the rugged mountain scape, Milford Sound should be on everyone’s bucket list.

As one of New Zealand’s tourist hotspots, there’s an amazing range of things to see and do. Dive deep and gaze at rare Black Coral, take a cruise, lace up your hiking boots and get an adrenaline rush on New Zealand’s steepest jet boat ride. If you’re a cinema fan, the familiar sights at Fiordland National Park will blow your mind. Lord of the Rings fan? Soak up the famous scenery and pose for a photo in front of the distant Eregion or Isengard. 

Getting to the Fiordland National Park is a breeze. Te Anau is considered the main gateway to the area, and you can reach it by taking the SH6 or SH94 from Queenstown. If you’re arriving from Invercargill, take the SH1 or SH94. Accommodation in Fiordland National Park includes vast lakeside lodges, family-friendly motels and luxury stays.


Last but not least is the illusive Whakatane, huddled on the spectacular Bay of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island. Being the largest town in the region, it’s the perfect place to base yourself if you’re up for exploring the divine surrounding hinterland. 

As the cultural hub and so-called sunshine capital of the Bay of Plenty, Whakatane is a nature-lovers paradise – but that’s just the beginning. Regarded as a host to some of the country’s best beaches, the Bay of Plenty has an amazing range of outdoor activities for all types of holiday-makers. There’s coastal hikes to tramp, whales and dolphins to spot and island sanctuaries to visit. If you’re after something a little more, Whakatāne is also a great place to immerse in a Māori cultural experience. 

Less than 100km from Rotorua and Tauranga, Whakatāne is easily accessible from most major hubs in the North Island. Auckland and Hawkes Bay are a four hour drive away, and there’s also a regular bus service that operates within the Bay of Plenty itself. Accommodation in Whakatāne caters to all: from budget backpackers, to lavish studio apartments and home stays, you’re in for a treat in the Bay of Plenty.

There are many scenic and spots filled with beauty in the hinterlands. New Zealand is a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy the green scenic environments.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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