Holding good claim to the title of New Zealand’s rural heartland, this is the kind of no-nonsense place that raises cattle and All Blacks. A bastion of independent Māoridom, it was never conquered in the war against the King Movement. The story goes that King Tawhiao placed his hat on a large map of NZ and declared that all the land it covered would remain under his mana (authority), and the region was effectively off-limits to Europeans until 1883.

The Waitomo Caves are the area’s major drawcard. An incredible natural phenomenon in themselves, they also feature lots of adrenaline-inducing activities.