The real New Zealand is best revealed in all it's local colour amidst the atmospheric streets of our beautiful and classic small towns.

It is no secret that many of our larger cities, such as Auckland, Wellington and Napier are great places to be, but what about the small towns that don't stand out so boldly on the map? They hug the scenic coastline, sit proudly beside the gently lapping waters of our pristine lakes or nestle themselves amidst grand mountain environments. Since 1971, MoaTrek has been touring the best of them and it's fair to say that a few favourites have emerged - special little corners of New Zealand that you may never want to leave! Below are what we believe some of New Zealand’s best small towns. Visit them to find ample servings of kiwi culture, hospitality and a taste of our unique way of life.


A charming town with a fascinating history that’s nestled on the shores of the Bay of Islands, Russell is one-of-a-kind. Old houses and character cottages dot the shoreline and bush-clad hills above the bay, and a boutique shopping and restaurant scene sits on the water’s edge. Russell is a gateway to the Pacific Ocean, and, because of this, it was the first European settlement and sea port in the country - the nation’s original capital. Once upon a time, violent skirmishes took place in Russell between resident Maori tribes and European settlers - the first of whom were mostly rough-cut whalers and sealers. At Christ Church, the original old church and town cemetery, gravestones tell fascinating and tragic tales and there are still bullet holes in the walls from the conflicts of the 1840's. Charm, waterfront beauty and a darn good story make Russell one of our favourite small town spots.


Leafy, colourful and brimming with all the character of a late 19th century gold rush town, Arrowtown has a fairytale look and a vibrant ambience. This Central Otago settlement is a real gem and a South Island kiwi classic. Dotted with deciduous trees, the town comes alive in various hues of gold, red and orange during the Autumn months of March, April and May. Enjoy a stroll along the pleasant streets where tree are art & craft stores, cafés and plenty of gold rush nostalgia. And then there's the famous Arrow River, which once carried the rich, flowing veil of gold out of the hills that nourished the local mining boom. Today, the picturesque river is a haven for rest and recreation - a stroll along its lush green banks is always a pleasure and for those who are curious; yes, there is still gold in them hills! Don't miss the opportunity to grab a pan a try your luck in the crystal clear waters.



This is a town that stands out for its breathtaking scenic location and quintessential kiwi flavour. Wanaka is located in the lower South Island where the Central Otago high country meets the majestic Mt Aspiring National Park. The township is surrounded by grand mountains and sits on the shores of Lake Wanaka, which has to be one of New Zealand's most stunning lakes. The walking and cycling tracks that follow the shoreline offer a great way to soak up the surroundings, and during summer the lake makes for excellent swimming. In town, discover friendly, kiwi locals and delicious local delicacies like fresh salmon and wild venison.


Franz Josef

New Zealand's wild West is without doubt the West Coast of the South Island - an impressive stretch of coastline that’s locked between the mighty Southern Alps and the tempestuous Tasman Sea. Named in honour of an Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef is a remote town in a wild, natural place and is the gateway to one of the worlds most accessible glaciers, as well as some spectacular coastal environments. This quaint but colourful little settlement is full of life and has a thirst for adventure - locals here love the great outdoors and know how to share their backyard with visitors. If you are feeling particularly adventurous and want a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, then there is incredible Helihiking on the local glacier! Franz Josef has some of the grandest surroundings of any New Zealand town and is a wonderful place to stay awhile, relax or get out and have a blast.

Because we know how special these towns are, we’ve included them in many of our small group New Zealand tours. Stroll the charming streets of Russell, pan for gold in Arrowtown or cycle the lakeside walkways of Wanaka on tour with MoaTrek. Find out more about our tours here, or contact us directly.