A small island nation of just over 5 million people in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, this incredible destination boasts breathtaking landscapes, amazing natural wonders and a vibrant Maori culture.
The country comprises two distinct islands, the North and South, and is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. As you embark on a journey through New Zealand, you will be mesmerized by its diverse terrain. Ranging from beautiful golden beaches to stunning fjords and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps.
The Kiwi spirit, reflected in the warm and welcoming locals, adds an inviting charm to every corner of the country. At the same time, you can immerse yourself in the rich Maori heritage through traditional performances, art and the welcoming ‘hongi’ greeting.
Whether exploring the bustling cities, hiking through gorgeous landscapes, trying world-class wines, or engaging in high-adrenaline extreme sports, there is an unparalleled range of thing to do in New Zealand as well as plenty of amazing tourist attractions.
In this post, we'll cover:
27. Roys Peak Track, Wanaka
New Zealand has many outstanding destinations where you can inhale the freshest air, take in incredible scenery and stretch your legs. One of the most notable of them is Roys Peak Track in Wanaka.
This moderately challenging hiking trail takes you to the summit of Roys Peak, which offers a stunning panorama of Lake Wanaka, the surrounding mountains and the Southern Alps. The trail winds through golden tussock grasslands, which create a stunning contrast against the pristine blue waters below.
Overall, the hike covers about a 16-kilometer round trip and requires good stamina, but the experience is unforgettable. As you ascend, the landscape changes, offering differing perspectives of the lake and its surroundings. Once at the summit, the breathtaking 360-degree views will give you goosebumps.
26. Doubtful Sound
Patea, or Doubtful Sound as it is commonly known, is a mesmerizing fjord residing within Fiordland’s pristine wilderness.
Accessible by boat from the quaint town of Manapouri, the journey to Doubtful Sound is a serene experience as it unfolds through calm waters and dense rainforest-clad hills. Unlike its more famous counterpart, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is less touristy, offering a profound sense of isolation and tranquillity.
The fjord is a photographer’s dream, featuring dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and reflections of the surrounding mountains mirrored in the dark, tannin-stained waters. It is also an untouched paradise that is a thriving home to wildlife, with seals, dolphins and native birds often gracing the scenery. To best appreciate the landscape’s sheer grandeur, take a cruise into the middle of it.
25. Larnach Castle, Dunedin
Perched atop the stunning Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, Larnach Castle embodies the country’s rich history.
This imposing structure was completed in 1871 and is New Zealand’s only castle. It showcases a unique blend of Victorian opulence and Gothic Revival architecture. Originally built by William Larnach – a prominent entrepreneur and politician – the castle boasts splendid panoramic views of the Otago Harbour and the surrounding landscape.
The edifice boasts a captivating history, which includes tales of scandal and tragedy within the Larnach family. Today, Larnach Castle operates as a heritage attraction. Visitors can explore the meticulously restored interior, adorned with intricate craftsmanship, antique furnishings and beautiful gardens. They can also enjoy the beautiful floral displays in its enchanting gardens that complement this historic landmark.
24. Moeraki Boulders
Nestled along the shimmering waters of Koekohe Beach near Hampden, the Moeraki Boulders are a geological marvel that has captivated visitors for centuries.
These mysterious and massive spherical boulders, scattered across the sandy shoreline, originated from ancient sea sediment formations over 60 million years ago. The boulders range from small in size to colossal (some reaching three meters in diameter), embodying nature’s fascinating sculptural abilities.
As well as their mesmerizing looks, the rocks are steeped in Maori legend – which suggests they are petrified remains of eel baskets and gourds.
However you believe they formed, the spherical shapes create a surreal and enchanting landscape you’ll want to spend plenty of time photographing and exploring.
23. Nevis Bungy Jump
If your idea of a good time involves jumping off a bridge and hurtling towards a river at breakneck speed, you’ll want to visit Nevis Bungy Jump in Queenstown. Bunny jumping was invited here and it’s one of the most exciting things to do in New Zealand.
Situated amidst the spectacular Nevis Valley, this adrenaline-pumping leap into the abyss is operated by AJ Hackett, who pride themselves on being pioneers in commercial bungy jumping. Suspending you 134 meters above the Nevis River, they offer one of the world’s highest and most thrilling jumps.
For those brave enough to try it, the Nevis Bungy promises an exhilarating mix of fear and euphoria. Getting to the jump-off point is an adventure in itself – involving a scenic cable car ride high above the valley. Upon reaching the purpose-built jump pod, the brave souls embark on a heart-stopping plunge – freefalling at speeds of up to 130 kilometers per hour for around 8.5 seconds.
22. Nelson Lakes
Situated within the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island, Nelson Lakes is a stunning alpine region known for its pristine lakes, lush beech forests and towering mountain peaks.
The park encompasses two main lakes – Rotoiti and Rotoroa – surrounded by snow-capped mountains and offering clear, reflective waters. It offers diverse recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, kayaking, and bird watching.
For those wanting to traverse substantial parts of the park, the well-known Travers-Sabine Circuit offers a multi-day trek showcasing the area’s natural beauty.
Visitors can also explore native beech forests, marvel at the alpine flora, and encounter unique birdlife. With its tranquil ambience and captivating landscapes, Nelson Lakes is perfect for those seeking serenity and adventure.
21. Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Christchurch is known as the Garden City of New Zealand, and at the center of it lies it’s Botanic Gardens.
One of the most iconic attractions in New Zealand, these gardens were established in 1863. They are meticulously landscaped and showcase an impressive collection of vibrant native and exotic plant species.
Meandering through the heart of the gardens is the Avon River, which adds to its beautiful aesthetic and tranquil atmosphere. Visitors can explore themed gardens, like the Rose Garden, Herb Garden and Rock Garden, each offering a unique botanical experience.
Additionally, the captivating Canterbury Museum, within the gardens, provides a fascinating insight into the region’s natural and cultural history. At the same time, the Victorian-era Curator’s House adds a touch of historical charm.
20. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Located near Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island, Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a geological wonderland shaped by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
Established as a result of this cataclysmic event, Waimangu is the world’s youngest geothermal system. The valley is adorned with hot springs, steaming fumaroles and vibrant silica terraces, creating a surreal and otherworldly landscape.
Visitors to Waimangu can explore the diverse ecosystems – from Inferno Crater Lake to Frying Pan Lake, the world’s largest hot spring. Guided walks offer insights into the fascinating geological formations and the regrowth of native flora and fauna in the wake of destruction.
If you have the time, be sure to take the valley’s Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley Cruise. It provides a unique, close-up perspective of the geothermal features of the tranquil waters of Lake Rotomahana.
19. 90 Mile Beach
Stretching along the western coast of the far north of New Zealand’s North Island, 90 Mile Beach is one of nature’s more remarkable expanses of sand.
Despite its name, this stunning coastal stretch is closer to 55 miles long. But it is renowned for its beauty, golden color and uniqueness. The beach is a designated highway, allowing vehicles to drive along its firm, compacted sands at low tide. Its expansive dunes and rugged coastal landscape provide a picturesque backdrop for activities such as sandboarding, fishing and exploring the Te Paki Coastal Track.
In addition to its natural allure, the beach holds cultural significance for the local Maori, with historical sites and legends adding to its mystique.
18. Te Papa Museum, Wellington
If you want to learn more about the Maori culture, one of the best places in New Zealand to do this is at Te Papa Tongarewa.
Colloquially referred to as Te Papa, the institution is located in the capital city of Wellington and is the country’s national museum. Its name translates to ‘Our Place’ in the Maori language.
Opened in 1998, the museum’s striking architecture and waterfront location draw visitors into a fascinating world of immersive exhibits and interactive displays. Collectively, they showcase the nation’s rich cultural, natural, and historical heritage.
Te Papa’s diverse collections encompass Maori and Pacific artifacts, natural history specimens, contemporary art, and interactive technology installations. Notable exhibits include the colossal squid, Maori taonga (treasures), and the engaging Awesome Forces display on New Zealand’s geological forces.
17. Hamilton Gardens
Over on the North Island, Hamilton Gardens is another supreme set of themed gardens to pencil in a visit to.
Running along the banks of the Waikato River, the gardens transport visitors through different civilizations, cultures and historical periods. Established in 1960, they have evolved into an award-winning, internationally acclaimed attraction, showcasing a range of garden styles, from the serene Japanese Garden to the intricate Renaissance Italian Garden.
Highlights include the Paradise Collection, which features gardens inspired by India, China and the United States, The Tudor Garden and the New Zealand Cultivar Garden.
As well as its enclosed gardens and open lawns, the gardens comprise a lake, a nursery, a convention center and the Hamilton East Cemetery.
16. Huka Falls
Huka Falls is an awe-inspiring natural wonder on the Waikato River near Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island.
It features a narrow chasm where the Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand, is compressed to a mere 15-meter-wide gorge. This causes a roaring rush of water to plummet 11 meters into the pool below.
The falls are known for their intense turquoise-colored water and the sheer volume of water that surges through the gorge – creating a dramatic display of power and beauty. The region’s geothermal activity contributes to the water’s striking coloration, making the cascade even more impressive.
Besides being a visual marvel, Huka Falls offers thrilling, high-adrenaline experiences such as jet boat rides and walking trails. They allow visitors to explore and appreciate this outstanding natural wonder from different perspectives.
15. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
Nestled on the rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Punakaiki is home to the spectacular Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
The Pancake Rocks, named for their stacked, layered appearance resembling stacks of pancakes, are limestone formations created over millions of years by the erosive forces of the Tasman Sea. The best way to see them is on elevated viewing platforms that offer panoramic vistas of these unique geological structures.
What makes Punakaiki truly mesmerizing are the Blowholes. As the sea surges into caverns beneath the Pancake Rocks, powerful water jets erupt through vertical shafts, creating impressive geysers. The natural spectacle is particularly captivating during high tide and stormy weather. Visitors can explore the Punakaiki Cavern and Truman Track to witness these remarkable coastal features from a different perspective.
14. Waitomo Caves
Waitomo Caves, nestled in the lush landscapes of the Waikato region on the North Island, are a subterranean wonder renowned for their enchanting glowworm displays and unique limestone formations.
The caves, formed over millions of years, offer a mesmerizing underground adventure. Visitors can embark on boat tours through the dark caverns, where thousands of luminescent glowworms create a captivating celestial-like glow on the cave ceilings.
The most famous cave, the Ruakuri Cave, features stunning stalactites and stalagmites, showcasing the intricate beauty of nature’s geological artistry. For the adventurous, the Waitomo Caves also offer abseiling and blackwater rafting opportunities, providing a thrilling and immersive experience in this underground world.
Overall, for those interested in discovering the natural wonders concealed beneath New Zealand’s picturesque landscapes, the Waitomo Caves are a must-visit destination.
13. Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu, located on the South Island of New Zealand, is a breathtaking in-land glacial lake known for its stunning alpine scenery and unique shape.
Surrounded by the dramatic Southern Alps, the lake is the third-largest lake in New Zealand. What sets Lake Wakatipu apart from others in Aotearoa is its unique ‘S’ shape – believed by Maori legend to be the heartbeat of a slumbering giant named Matau.
The town of Queenstown, nestled on the lake’s shores, serves as a gateway to the region’s outdoor adventures. Tourists can enjoy cruises on a restored steamship on pristine waters framed by mountainous backdrops. Alternatively, they can explore the lakeside area via a network of walking and biking trails.
12. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, situated on New Zealand’s South Island, is a rugged and majestic alpine expanse dominated by the country’s highest peak, Aoraki (Mount Cook). It is named after the Maori word for ‘Cloud Piercer’ and towers imperiously over a pristine wilderness of glaciers, snowfields and turquoise-hued lakes.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts outdoor enthusiasts and mountaineers with its challenging peaks, including the iconic Mount Tasman. For those who want to explore it on foot, the Hooker Valley Track offers a popular hike that provides stunning views of Aoraki and the Hooker Glacier.
At night, the park is a stargazer’s paradise. Designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve, it offers unparalleled views of the Southern Hemisphere’s glittering night sky.
11. Sky Tower, Auckland
Dominating the city skyline, The Sky Tower is an iconic landmark in Auckland. It is notable for being the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest freestanding structure and offers panoramic views of Auckland’s stunning landscapes – including the harbors, cityscape, and surrounding islands. Completed in 1997, the Sky Tower serves multiple purposes, housing a range of attractions within its sleek design.
Thrill-seekers and those with a head for heights can experience the SkyJump, a controlled base jump from the tower. At the same time, the SkyWalk offers a daring stroll around an outdoor platform. Its observation decks provide breathtaking 360-degree views and complement a rotating restaurant that offers a unique dining experience and superb food.
It’s also worth visiting the tower at night when its illuminations will take your breath away.
10. Bay of Islands
Located on the northeastern coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the Bay of Islands is a stunning maritime region that is both historically significant and visually captivating.
With 144 islands, secluded bays and turquoise waters, this region is a paradise for water activities, sailing and exploring pristine beaches. One of the most notable places to visit is the historic town of Russell, which was New Zealand’s first capital. Additionally, it is worth popping into Waitangi, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.
One thing you will notice about the Bay of Islands is the abundant marine life. Tourists are likely to encounter a variety of dolphins, whales and bird species. The Hole in the Rock, a natural sea arch, is another notable landmark you should see.
9. Cathedral Cove
Over on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll find the extraordinary Cathedral Cove.
This natural masterpiece is renowned for its breathtaking beauty. It is accessible by foot through the native bush or boat, which showcases stunning coastal vistas. The iconic archway, resembling a cathedral window, frames the pristine white sand beach and turquoise waters, creating a scene of serene perfection. However, as it is a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers, sometimes that serenity gets tested!.
Cathedral Cove is surrounded by marine-rich waters and is also part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve. If you arrive early, you can explore the sea caves, snorkel amidst colourful marine life, or relax with fewer people around.
8. Abel Tasman National Park
At the very northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island resides Abel Tasman National Park. A stunning coastal haven, it is renowned for its golden beaches, crystal-clear waters and lush native forests.
Established in 1942, it is the country’s smallest national park. Still, it packs a knockout punch with its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife. The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, meanders along the coastline, offering breathtaking views of secluded coves and granite cliffs.
The park also houses several islands, including the Adele and Fisherman Islands, which provide plenty of kayaking, snorkeling, and wildlife observation opportunities. If you visit them, you will also see fur seals, dolphins, and several bird species in their natural habitat.
7. Napier Art Deco Architecture
For all its natural beauty, New Zealand also has some eye-catching architecture. Some of the best examples can be found at Napier, on the North Island.
It boasts a unique and well-preserved collection of Art Deco architecture, resulting from the city’s rebuilding after a devastating earthquake in 1931. This architectural style, characterized by geometric shapes, bold colors, and intricate details, imparts a distinctive charm to Napier’s cityscape.
Prominent examples include the National Tobacco Company Building, featuring zigzag motifs and decorative reliefs, and the Daily Telegraph Building, known for its symmetrical design and ornate detailing.
Elsewhere, the Municipal Theatre showcases iconic stepped patterns and intricate façade ornamentation. At the same time, The Criterion Hotel and the ASB Bank are also notable for their streamlined forms and geometric embellishments. Take a walk around the city to appreciate them from different angles.
6. Whale Watching in Kaikoura
There are several excellent spots for whale-watching in New Zealand. However, Kaikoura on the South Island is one of the more renowned destinations in which to observe these fabulous creatures.
Set against the backdrop of the majestic Kaikoura Ranges, this deep ocean trench located just offshore creates an ideal habitat for various marine life species. Subsequently, it is one of the best places in the world to witness these creatures frolicking in their natural habitat.
Tourists have the opportunity to witness the mighty sperm whales, the largest toothed whales on the planet and other species like humpback whales, orcas, and dusky dolphins.
Boat tours and scenic flights provide excellent yet markedly different ways to see these marine giants at various times of the day.
5. Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers
New Zealand has its fair share of awe-inspiring natural wonders. But few can compare with the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
Nestled within the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on New Zealand’s South Island, these natural wonders descend from the Southern Alps to near sea level. They offer a striking contrast of ice against lush rainforests, which creates a captivating landscape to paint, draw or photograph.
As the glaciers are among the most accessible in the world, those who want to explore them can embark on guided hikes or ice-climbing expeditions. Alternatively, scenic helicopter flights provide stunning views of the icy crevasses and blue-hued ice formations from above.
You’ll need to wrap up warm when exploring the glaciers, even in summer. But the chance to get up close to them should not be missed.
Wai-O-Tapu is a geothermal wonderland about 27 km to the south of Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand. Its name means ‘Sacred Waters’ in the Maori language, reflecting the area’s cultural significance.
The park boasts diverse geothermal features. They include the famous Champagne Pool with its colourful mineral deposits, the Lady Knox Geyser that erupts daily, and the Devil’s Bath with its striking green hues.
You’ll be able to see them close up via well-maintained walking trails that wind through bubbling mud pools, steaming fumaroles and unique geothermal formations.
Overall, the area’s dynamic geothermal activity creates an incredible sensory experience. The distinct smell of sulfur and the mesmerizing visual spectacle of the thermal features will surely captivate you.
3. Hobbiton Movie Set
If you are a fan of the epic high-fantasy genre of films, you’ll want to visit The Hobbiton Movie Set. Situated near Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island, this captivating tourist attraction brings the enchanting world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life.
Constructed specifically for filming the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ film trilogies, this meticulously crafted set sits amid rolling green hills and lush farmland.
Guided tours lead you through the quirky Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and other iconic structures that make up the Shire. As you explore the set, you will notice the extraordinary attention to detail, with vibrant gardens, rustic fences and meandering pathways that create an immersive experience.
Overall, it is a must-visit experience for those who love either movie franchise.
2. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, located in the center of the North Island, is heralded as one of the world’s most spectacular day hikes.
This iconic trail traverses the otherworldly volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park. It encompasses diverse terrains, including emerald lakes, steaming vents, ancient lava flows and the panoramic vistas of Mount Ngauruhoe. You might recognize the latter as Mount Doom from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.
The challenging yet rewarding trek leads hikers through the South Crater and the Red Crater, showcasing the park’s geothermal activity. During the descent, you’ll see the serene Ketetahi Hot Springs, which ends near Lake Rotoaira.
Just be aware the weather is ever-changing here, and it is not uncommon to experience four seasons in a day. So it is advisable to wear layers and bring a rucksack with you.
1. Milford Sound
Arguably, New Zealand’s premier attraction is the magnificent Milford Sound.
This breathtaking fjord, famous for its stunning natural beauty, resides on the South Island. It was formed by ancient glaciers and is characterized by towering granite peaks, cascading waterfalls and crystal-clear azure waters. One of the most iconic landmarks, Mitre Peak, rises dramatically from the water’s edge, creating a spectacular sight to behold.
The best way to experience the sheer majesty of the Milford Sound is to take scenic boat cruises along the fjord. Doing so will provide close-up views of the majestic cliffs and wildlife – including seals, dolphins and penguins.
The Sound is notable for its ethereal ambience, enhanced by the sheer scale of the surrounding mountains, often covered in mist and rain.