New Zealand is an incredible travel destination to add to your bucket list. The landscape is stunning and has a whimsical quality. Additionally, its cities have just as much charm. In fact, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand, as the landscape has a fairytale beauty. Not only is the scenery whimsical and beautiful, but New Zealand culture is electric with a love of the outdoors. This means that New Zealand is one of the top places in the world for both hiking and extreme sports.
This small country has so much to offer, from beaches with crystal clear water, volcanic mountains, glow worm caves, fjords, and more. Not only is New Zealand naturally lovely, but it is unique and rich culture. So wherever you may end up, you can always be sure to take in the fascinating Maori culture and stories. The country also has a fantastic food and wine scene. It produces some of the world’s finest wines, and every city is dotted with restaurants with fresh local food.
New Zealand is also very small, making it very easy to travel and affordable. What’s more, New Zealand has to be one of the world’s safest and friendliest travel destinations. The locals are warm and friendly and will always be keen to help you out if you are lost or looking for recommendations.
The Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to go in New Zealand for fishing, sailing, and other watersports. It is located about three hours by car from Auckland. This gorgeous region is 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula.
What’s there to do in the Bay of Islands? Get on or in the water, swim, and try water sports. Scuba diving is one of the most popular things to do in the region and is well worth signing up for a lesson. You will be ferried far out into the bay to explore a whole new underwater world.
You can also get up close and personal with the wildlife and book a unique tour to see dolphins. On a good day, you’ll see both whales and dolphins on this cruise.
The cruise will take you to one of the Bay of Islands’ most famous sights, the Hole in the Rock. You can sail through this unique opening in a rock formation when the tide is right.
Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the “eighth wonder of the world,” and if you visit this region of New Zealand, you’ll see why. Formed by glaciers during the Ice Age, the landscape around Milford Sound still bears evidence of its creation in the form of epic scenery: Cliffs rise from fjords crowned by mountains and waterfalls.
The best way to see Milford Sound is via boat. Take a sightseeing cruise on the fjord to see waterfalls and wildlife like dolphins and penguins. Or navigate the waters under your own steam on a kayaking tour.
Once you’ve experienced the water from the surface, go underneath with a visit to the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. This is the only floating, underwater observatory in New Zealand, and visitors can go more than 30 feet deep (while staying dry) and get 360 degrees of the aquatic environment.
Just a little more than 30 minutes by boat from downtown Auckland is Waiheke Island, one of the best places to go in New Zealand for wine lovers. For a small island in the middle of Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island is definitely home to many vineyards. To sample as many of them as you can on your visit to Waiheke Island, you’ll want to find someone else to drive.
There are 14 different wineries in the region, and you can tour them all.
All that wine from the vineyards of Waiheke Island will make you hungry. But, when it’s time to eat, many excellent restaurants in the region have fresh local produce.
Of course, there’s more to do on Waiheke Island than drink wine! Waiheke Island is also famous for its vibrant art community, beaches, forests, and olive groves. We recommend booking a culture tour, a scenic flight, or a hiking trip while you’re there to see why Waiheke Island is one of the best places to go in New Zealand.
Despite being rocked by four large earthquakes between September 2010 and December 2011, Christchurch has made a proper comeback. Visitors to Christchurch will see evidence of the city’s rebirth everywhere, including new buildings made out of old shipping containers and other unique materials like the Cardboard Cathedral.
Of course, many of Christchurch’s original attractions are still standing. One of the best places to see is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a sprawling network of conservatories, walking tracks, and horticultural displays. The gardens also feature some of the largest, tallest, and oldest trees in New Zealand.
Take in the new and the old of Christchurch from above with a journey on the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car lifts you on a scenic ride to the top of Mt. Cavendish.
Located on the southwest side of the South Island, Queenstown has a well-deserved reputation as the adventure capital of New Zealand. In the winter and spring months (June to October), you can experience world-class skiing in this town.
But, of course, there’s plenty to do in Queenstown year-round. Adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and river rafting will let you experience the region from dizzying heights and at breathtaking speeds.
Queenstown is also home to the world’s highest cliff jump, the Shotover Canyon Swing, where you can hurl yourself off a cliff in several different ways—including backward or tied to a chair.
If you haven’t lost your appetite (or your lunch) in these adrenaline-pumping activities, enjoy the dining scene in Queenstown—it’s one of the best in New Zealand.
Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley
No list of the best places to go in New Zealand would be complete without mentioning Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. At this Maori heritage center, you can get an authentic “steam box” meal prepared using ancient geothermal cooking techniques. You’ll also experience a Maori welcome ceremony and a traditional song and dance performance.
The Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is also home to a number of active geysers, including Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Mud pools are another natural attraction in the geothermal valley: These boiling pools reach temperatures of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, naturally lit by thousands of glowworms, are among the unique places to go in New Zealand. A visit to the caves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will not regret. You can take a boat ride through the caves to learn about the history and science behind the phenomenon.
Or, if you want a unique adventure, try black-water rafting, which will float you on an inner tube down an underground stream. It will be pitch-dark (except for the glowworms), and you’ll get to do everything from jumping off waterfalls and riding down cave walls. Choose your adventure when you book the tour.
There are other (non-glowworm) caves in Waitomo, too. For example, Aranui Cave features ancient cave decorations; Ruakuri Cave has a fantastic spiral entrance and unique limestone formations—and, okay, more glowworms, but in this cave, you can do a walking tour rather than a water-based excursion.
Franz Joseph Glacier
You can hike an actual glacier in New Zealand. The Franz Joseph Glacier plays host to guided walks and jaw-dropping helicopter tours. Tours offer everything from ice climbing to a more relaxed hike on the 6.8-mile-long glacier.
Won’t you be freezing on top of a giant glacier? Don’t worry, the Franz Josef Glacier receives a lot of sunlight, and temperatures on the ice are usually only a few degrees colder than in the nearby town.
Cap off a day touring the Franz Josef Glacier with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools. The pools are fed by the waters from the Franz Josef Glacier, and you can use one of the three warm pools or get a private pool.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
See New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking here, no matter what your skill level. For experienced climbers, there are 23 peaks over 9,800 feet. For those looking for something a little more low-key, there are lots of walks along paved trails or boardwalks that still offer spectacular views.
Make sure you stay past sunset for a visit to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, where light pollution is strictly controlled for amazing stargazing opportunities.
Rangitoto Island is New Zealand’s youngest volcano – erupting from the sea a mere 600 years ago. A scenic reserve, the island is uninhabited save for the native birdlife that thrives here.
A daily ferry service will deliver you to the island where you can spend the day exploring the various walks on offer – including the most popular summit track. This short, steep track will reward you with breathtaking 360 views over Aukland and its islands.
One of the most unique ways of experiencing Rangitoto Island is to take the evening guided kayak. This tour allows you to watch the sun setting from the summit, before paddling back across the Waitemata harbour under the stars.
A surprisingly short walk will have you at the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone, Mount Eden. Catch your breath (it’s a reasonably steep walk) as you take in the expansive views of Auckland City and its busy harbor.
The 50m deep crater is unlike anything you’re likely to have experienced before. Nevertheless, it’s a sacred place, so be sure to admire it from above rather than walk through it. Mount Eden is also a perfect place to learn about the rich Maori culture and its places of significance.
Maungawhau means ‘mountain of the whau tree’ and was one of the region’s largest and most elaborate Māori pā (fortified settlements). On the outer slopes are numerous flat terraces used for defense, living and working. Pits for crop storage can still be seen today. Many historic features have been lost or damaged by quarrying and the construction of roads and water reservoirs, but there is still historical evidence of the former pā layout. The crater is sacred to Māori and must not be entered.
Maungawhau / Mt Eden is one of Auckland’s most visited maunga ( mountains) with over one million visitors each year. Many walkways lead to the tihi (summit) and spectacular views over the city and Waitematā Harbour. However, some tracks are stony and steep. Be sure to stick to formed paths.
View the relics of an ancient Māori village, and on the way back down, check out the Eden Gardens, a tranquil oasis in a bustling city.
Cathedral Cove is one of the best places to see in New Zealand. Located on the North Island, its isolated position on the Coromandel Peninsula adds to its irresistible appeal.
Named for the arched cave that links the cove to the nearby Mare’s Leg Cove, Cathedral Cove has another name steeped in lore and legend – te-whanganui-a-hei (The Great Bay of Hei). The headland is the site of an ancient Maori Pa (fortified village), while the nearby coves served as meeting places and sanctuaries.
The short journey from Hahei to the cove shows off some of New Zealand’s most spectacular coastal scenery, including a chain of offshore islands that were believed to be the footsteps of the gods. The cove’s beauty extends below the waterline as well, with Cathedral Cove harboring a staggering abundance and variety of marine life living among spectacular reefs, sea caves, and rock formations.
You can’t drive to the secluded cove; you only have the option of walking or taking to the sea.
Boat tours will allow you to explore the caves and cliffs while learning about the area’s history. In contrast, kayaking allows a more intimate experience with the opportunity to ‘park and enjoy the beach when the desire arises.
Cathedral Cove has been in many famous photographs, films, and TV.
New Zealand is a great travel destination filled with fantastic scenery and is excellent for culture and history. So, whether you are an adrenaline junkie seeking white water rafting or you want to take in the wineries and scenery in peace, New Zealand does genuinely have it all. New Zealand is the kind of place that will capture the imagination and the heart.