New Zealand is one of the most stunning countries on the planet and exclusively home to remarkable landscapes, dramatic coastlines and unimaginable beauty from North to South. The two major islands of New Zealand are made up of welcoming forests, mountains, lakes, beaches, gorges and lush hills that want nothing more than to be explored by curious travelers.
Visitors can immerse themselves in Maori culture, journey through the countryside on foot, take to the ancient waters in a canoe, turn the legs over aboard a bicycle or hit the road in a car all while experiencing things that simply cannot be done anywhere else in the world. Here are 10 spots to add to a New Zealand bucket list.
10 Piha Beach
Black sand and a wild appearance greet those who happen upon Piha Beach just outside of Auckland. The perfect waves draw surfers from all over the world but those desiring just a quiet relax listening to the sounds of nature will find themselves right at home here as well.
Those wielding a camera and wanting a little activity can wander along the beach to Lion Rock, a volcanic monolith housing a war memorial and skillful Maori carvings from days gone by. Easily experienced as part of a day trip from Auckland, Piha Beach is slightly off the well-worn tourist path but isn't likely to be for much longer.
9 Cathedral Cove
This picturesque cove on the Coromandel Peninsula covers a vast 840-hectares of land and receives approximately 150,000 tourists each year. This can mean it gets quite busy at certain times so plan a trip accordingly but certainly don’t let the hustle and bustle put you off.
Consider beating the crowds by arriving before the sun and watching one of the greatest beginnings to a day imaginable as the first rays of light spread across the horizon. Take to the water and explore the nearby Stingray and Gemstone Bays which exude their own unique beauty and don’t forget to pack a snorkel and visit the vibrant life beneath the surface.
8 Lake Tekapo
Crystal clear glacial water captures the sun and dazzles the eye at Lake Tekapo every day during summer, making the warmer months the best time to visit. In winter, however, ice rinks and snow tubing slopes pop up that ensure all who visit leave with a treasure trove of memories forged on the lake.
Don’t neglect this incredible destination in the spring either. The gorgeous lupin flowers that paint the countryside in color create a wonderful visual effect due to their vibrancy and overwhelming numbers. There is never a bad time to visit Lake Tekapo thanks to its year-round reinvention and diverse scenery.
7 Hokitika Gorge
Photos can never do justice to the natural beauty of Hokitika Gorge, but people travel from all over the world and give it a try. This is just one of those destinations that you cannot completely fathom until you stand on the viewing platform and soak in the majesty for yourself.
Home to glittering turquoise waters and surrounded by dense and vibrant forest, it feels almost other-worldly here. Take a moment to gather all of the courage you possess before striding onto a swing bridge that straddles the gorge and provides the best views of the area. Just keep the camera steady while your knees tremble above the waters beneath.
6 White Island
New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island beckons to adventure travelers with fingers of ancient molten rock. Helicopter rides are available for those wanting to get up close and personal and lengthy hikes can be undertaken provided the right safety gear is on hand.
The Maori name for White Island translates as ‘The Dramatic Volcano,’ which tells visitors all they need to know before arriving. This is a truly active volcano under constant supervision from all angles, including under the surface. Tour companies offer scuba dives that allow swimmers to take a look at the underwater vents of the volcano, a day trip that will never be forgotten.
5 Milford Sound
Regarded by many as the quintessential New Zealand experience, Milford Sound is the major drawcard of Fiordland National Park and welcomes hundreds and thousands of visitors each year. Those with hiking shoes and a want for adventure can tackle the Milford Track, a breathtaking multi-day hike through some of the most wondrous terrain on offer country-wide.
Others will be content taking in the towering rainforest, imposing mountains, cascading waterfalls and majestic dolphins that call the area home. Explore via boat, kayak, plane, helicopter or under your own steam but be prepared to never manage to tick off everything this one-of-a-kind destination has to offer.
4 Nelson Lakes National Park
Resting on the upper portion of the South Island, Nelson Lakes National Park is the gateway to New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The heart of the park features astonishingly exquisite alpine lakes enclosed by immense forested valleys that leave visitors breathless.
Fishing, camping, swimming, and hiking are all actively encouraged throughout the National Park and showcase some of the best views the country has to offer. Those not wishing to camp can make use of huts dotting the landscape and maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department. Not a destination discoverable in a few hours, it is more than worth setting aside time to fully get to grips with this world-class National Park.
3 Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Stunningly and naturally illuminated by countless intriguingly luminescent insect larvae, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves are not just one of the most magical spots in New Zealand, it commands a place on the world stage as a must-see destination.
Climb aboard a boat to float through the caves while learning about the history and science behind what is a truly remarkable phenomenon. There are also more adventurous options here including black-water rafting through the choppier sections of water with the darkness only disturbed by the wondrous glowworms and their natural energies.
Located just outside of Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland has been wowing the world for years with its gigantic geysers and heavenly hot springs. Home to the vibrantly colored Champagne Pools and fluorescent-green Devil’s Bath in addition to the bubbling mud pools charged by the area’s volcanoes, the only thing standing in the way of complete relaxation is the sense of wonder inspired by the surrounds.
Be sure to explore the mountains and forests that encompass the area on foot either before or after a soak in the thermal pools. This is a natural wonder set within an especially beautiful slice of New Zealand that demands a private audience with each traveler.
1 Great Barrier Island
This incredible island is not quickly reached, but good things come to those who wait when it comes to Great Barrier Island. Accessible via a four-hour ferry jaunt or short flight, you will be sinking your toes in the white sandy beaches within minutes of arrival.
Next on the list should be hunting down the hidden waterfalls around the island before relaxing in the natural hot springs that are yet to be filled by tourists. At times during an exploration, you may find yourself completely alone as far as the eye can see thanks to the relatively untouched nature of this piece of New Zealand paradise.