With spectacular landscapes across two islands, New Zealand is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world. There’s so much to choose to do in New Zealand and with some careful planning of your trip you can travel between stunning coastlines to towering mountains, from glaciers to hot springs. So, whether you are into nature, adventure, learning about local culture, food and wine, extreme sports, or looking for a place to relax, let us help point you in the right direction with 10 of the best places to visit in New Zealand.
Situated on the shores of the crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is surrounded by dramatic mountains and rivers making it the perfect adventure playground. The backdrop for some of New Zealand’s best outdoor experiences you can hike, cycle, skydive, hot air balloon, bungy, jet boat and gondola ride to name a few. With a bustling food and wine culture, you will never be far away from a meal containing delicious local produce after your day of fun. So if it is thrills and spills that you are after or you’re seeking a perfect starting place for discovering the South Island’s national parks, peaks and glaciers, then Queenstown in a must see.
2.Aoraki Mount Cook National Park (South Island)
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest mountains and longest glaciers in New Zealand. Lying in the Southern Alps mountain range that runs the length of the South Island, is New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, which towers 3,764 metres high. This area is a popular spot with hikers and mountain climbers, and was the place that Sir Edmund Hillary refined his skills before conquering Everest.
Equally spectacular views can be gained from the air, with many scenic flights available in the area. The birds-eye view of the mountains, remote snowfields and vast glaciers gives you a sense of this unique terrain, and many trips are highlighted by a snowlanding, enabling you to get to the top of the mountain without the big hike! The Tasman Glacier is also located within the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and is New Zealand’s longest glacier (27 kilometres), starting at 3,000 metres above sea-level. The Tasman glacier is one of few glaciers that terminates into a lake and which can be explored up close by tourists, so it is well worth seeing this natural phenomenon.
Also contained within the Southern Alps mountain range are two of the most spectacular glaciers of New Zealand – Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. The glaciers are huge valleys of ice that extend well beyond the snowline, almost to the sea. Fed by the the surrounding alpine region, the snow is compacted at the top of the glacier into vivid blue ice and gives you a feeling of being in the ice age. The difference between Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, is that Fox is continuing to advance, whilst Franz Josef continues to retreat. The reason behind this is still unknown but scientists continue to monitor the area for clues. Both the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are accessible from the Westland National Park and give travelers lots of options to explore, including ice trekking, hiking, guided tours, helicopter rides and more.
4.Nelson-Tasman (South Island)
The vibrant region of Nelson-Tasman is located on the north coast of the South Island. Beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and untouched forests make this the perfect place to unwind. A magnet for local artisans and creatives, you can appreciate traditional, contemporary or Maori art in any one of the galleries and studios situation in town. The climate and temperature of the Tasman Nelson region also makes it perfect for producing some of the best sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot nior wines. If you are a wine lover, there are numerous cellar doors and boutique vineyards that will welcome you to sample a drop!
5.Wanaka (South Island)
Another haven for spectacular landscapes and beauty is the Wanaka region. Alpine and mountain scenery, lush meadows and crystal clear lakes will have you busy exploring by day, whilst in the evening you can unwind in the cosy alpine township filled with restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. In the heart of Wanaka is the picturesque Lake Wanaka, 45 kilometres long and covering 193 square kilometres, it is the perfect place to sail, kayak, fish and spot local wild and bird life. Wanaka is also the gateway to Mount Aspiring World Heritage Park, packed with trails and tracks for walking and hiking enthusiasts, and in the winter Wanaka has easy access to four diverse ski areas, offering great options for skiers and snowboarders.
6.Milford Sound (South Island)
Situated on the west coast of the South Island is Milford Sound in the heart of the Fiordland’s National Park. Described by some as a ‘wonder of the world’, Milford Sound framed by towering mountains, native forest and rushing waterfalls. The spectacular scenery is best experienced up close with a cruise along the length of the Sound, with some cruises offering an option to jump in a kayak for a paddle in the Sound. You can take in the breathtaking views and even have the chance spot some of the local wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins and fur seals. You can also experience the sheer scale and staggering beauty of Milford Sound from the air with a number of scenic flights available.
7.Wellington (North Island)
The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington in the North Island, is a city full of energy; bringing together a mix of culture, arts, history, nature and cuisine. The museums, galleries, historical buildings and activities around the harbour will keep you busy during the day. Whilst the restaurants, distilleries, bars and cafes will take you from day to night, so you can fully enjoy vibrant atmosphere of Wellington. A short drive from Wellington’s city centre opens up the doors to more activities – taking you to walking and biking tracks, and a little further out to vineyards and native forests.
The city of Rotorua promises to be a highlight on any trip to New Zealand. Rich in Maori history and culture, places such as Te Puia, Mitai Village and Tamaki Village offer cultural experiences that combine learning, with seeing performances of singing, dancing and haka (war dances) and enjoying delicious Maori food. Rotorua is also famously known for geothermal activity of shooting geysers, bubbling mud baths and thermal hot springs. You can make the most of the natural healing properties at one of the thermal parks, indulge in spa therapies or soak in the mineral springs.
Rotorua is also an adventure playground, making the most of its lush surrounds, so if you’re looking for hiking, skydiving, rafting, jet boating, gravity-based luges or skyline gondolas, look no further, it is all available in Rotorua. The spectacular Waitamo glowworm caves are only a stones throw from Rotorua, for a truly unique nature experience or if you’re a movie-buff, you can plan your adventure to Middle-earth and the movie set as seen in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy from Rotorua.
9.Auckland (North Island)
Described as a mix of ‘natural wonders and urban adventure’ and one of the most liveable cities in the world, Auckland is a city that will leave a lasting impression. Home to major sporting events, concerts and festivals to outdoor adventures, designer shopping and world-class food and wine, there is something here for everyone. Auckland’s diverse landscapes provide countless opportunities to get immersed in nature. In the west, lush native rainforest plunges down the hills to meet the sea on dramatic black sand beaches, while the east’s sheltered golden sand beaches are fringed with red-flowering pohutukawa trees. To the north the rolling hills of wine country meet stunning coastlines and in the south you’ll find picturesque country gardens, unspoilt forest and tranquil bays to explore. With activities a plenty, you can skywalk at the Sky Tower to admire the views of the city, go whale and dolphin watching, sail on the harbour, or indulge in the local food and wine, the choice is yours!
10.Bay of Islands (North Island)
Known for it’s subtropical climate, the Bay of Islands encompasses 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula and includes the boutique towns of Opua, Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri. The region is highlighted by golden beaches, secluded coves, tranquil harbours, warm waters, dramatic coastlines and spectacular rain forest. You can explore the area by cruising from island to island, sailing in a yacht or paddling in a sea kayak; it’s also a great spot to dive and snorkel around the hundreds of offshore islands. Alternatively, to soak up the sea-side feeling, you can drive between the quaint townships in Bay of Islands to learn more of the historical and cultural significance of the region, whilst enjoying contemporary vibes from the galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds provide an excellent opportunity to learn about Maori culture and the historical events associated with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. And a visit to Russell introduces the maritime history, with New Zealand’s first sea port.