Comprised of two main islands, North Island and South Island, New Zealand is an incredible destination to discover. Packed with unforgettable landscapes, breathtaking scenery, and an unparalleled combination of lakes, mountains, and lush greenery, the island nation has to be seen to be truly understood.
New Zealand pretty much needs to be on your list if you’re at all an adventure sports enthusiast – or even if you’re just interested in trying them out. Bungee jumping, mountaineering, skydiving, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking, canyoning, parachuting, caving, zip lining… Let’s just say that the list is endless when it comes to what outdoor activities you can get up to in this far-flung destination.
You can get to grips with adventure sports in Queenstown, surrounded by mountain and lake scenery. Then there’s the dramatic Fiordland – part of the landscape that made up Peter Jackson’s movie interpretation of Middle Earth for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (you can even visit The Shire!). Get to know Maori culture at Rotorua, and if you’re missing city life, head to sunny Auckland – the largest city in New Zealand. Here’s a look a the best places to visit in New Zealand:
Map of New Zealand
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Stewart Island is the third-largest island of New Zealand, and it is found even further south than South Island. Most of the island is forested and undeveloped with over 80 per cent of the island is set aside as the Rakiura National Park, giving you the chance to explore the wild side of New Zealand. Most of the pastimes on Stewart Island have to do with the outdoors, including hiking, camping and birdwatching. One of the most popular treks on Stewart Island is the Northwest Circuit, which can take several days to complete for even the fittest hikers. However, the trek offer spectacular views and access to amazing wildlife.
At the top of the South Island is Nelson, a spot known for having the greatest number of sunshine hours per year in all of New Zealand. This great climate and the fact that the city is surrounded by three national parks makes Nelson a fantastic spot for outdoor recreation. There is also an emphasis on local agriculture and the area’s wineries. Founder’s Park is an amazing spot in the city where you can dine on local farm-to-table cuisine, and soak up the sunshine right in the heart of an urban area. You can even do a day-trip to Abel Tasman National Park from Nelson using an early bus, which give you just enough time to enjoy the park.
Glacier Country is found on the Western Coast of South Island, and its jewel is the Westland National Park. In the park, you’ll have the chance to see the country’s two most spectacular glaciers: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers on the planet, meaning that you can actually walk up to the glacier and even through the glacier valley itself. Guided tours give you a closer look at the expanding glaciers, and you can relax after a day of hiking by soaking in the incredible glacier hot pools.
7. Napier Where to Stay
The seaside resort of Napier on North Island is known as the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand, thanks to a large amount of 1930s architecture built when the city suffered a large fire more than 80 years ago. After touring the city on foot for a guided or self-guided architecture tour, the best way to enjoy Napier is by visiting the National Aquarium of New Zealand. This enormous aquarium is home to everything from turtles to crocodiles, and the modern exhibits are truly world-class.
6. Rotorua Where to Stay
Rotorua is known as the thermal wonderland of New Zealand. There are numerous geysers and hot springs in and around the city. Many of these are in parks and reserves. Natural eruptions of steam, hot water and mud occasionally occur in new locations. Nearby Wai-O-Tapu is also a popular place to visit with many hot springs noted for their colorful appearance, in addition to the Lady Knox Geyser.
5. Paihia Where to Stay
If you’re interested in exploring the Bay of Islands, then Paihia is a great place to visit in New Zealand. Paihia is all about the small-town feel, but it boasts an array of great hotels and recreational opportunities to appeal to travelers. If you’re feeling adventurous and active, you can swim with dolphins or even go scuba diving to see the underwater shipwreck called the Rainbow Warrior. Back on dry land, make your way to Marsden Road for exceptional restaurants serving up an array of freshly caught seafood.
4. Auckland Where to Stay
Known as the City of Sails, Auckland is the largest and most populated city in New Zealand. It is located on the North Island, and it is known for its vibrant culture and foodie landscape. For amazing views of this beautiful metropolis, climb the Auckland Harbor Bridge. If you’re interested in learning more about the history and heritage of New Zealand, then be sure to check out the Auckland Domain, which is the city’s oldest part. In the Auckland Domain, you’ll find great exhibits of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts at the iconic Auckland Museum.
3. Queenstown Where to Stay
On New Zealand’s South Island is Queenstown, a destination known as the dream spot for those in search of adrenaline and adventure. Surrounded by the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, and right on the banks of deep-blue Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is also an incredibly beautiful spot. One of the best ways to experience the scenery is on Lake Wakatipu itself. You can cycle around the lake’s perimeter or set off on a cruise of the lake’s magnificent waters. There is also a vibrant nightlife with the town’s small central area packed with bars and restaurants.
The first national park of New Zealand, Tongariro is known for its surprises and extremes. The park’s diverse range of ecosystems includes tranquil lakes, active volcanoes, herb fields, untamed forests and desert-like plateaus. Start your trek at the Whakapapa Visitor Center, just a three hour hike from the stunning Taranaki Falls. The short hike will take you through scrubland and forest and across the lava line of volcanic eruptions from hundreds of years ago.
One of the most scenic spots in New Zealand is the Fiordland National Park. Here, you can set off on incredible hikes, fish for trout or cruise on the spectacular fjords (named sounds here) in the south-western corner of the South Island. Milford Sound is the biggest attraction in Fiordland, and it is a true fjord created by a glacier. On a cruise through Milford Sound, you can spot waterfalls, admire the sheer rock faces towering over the water and even see wildlife like dolphins and penguins.