Places to Visit in New Zealand

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Packed into a land area little larger than Britain, the places to visit in New Zealand are as diverse as they are stunning. The country has become a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

From the Bay of Islands’ pristine beaches in the north to the soaring pinnacles of Milford Sound in the south, there are so many weird and wonderful places to visit in New Zealand. This small, remote and thinly populated corner of the world punches well above its weight with its outlandish scenery, fabulous festivals, superb food and wine, Maori culture and magical outdoor experiences. While most visitors are drawn to New Zealand by its natural splendours, the country offers a diverse spectrum of both land- and city-scapes.

New Zealand offers so much to see and do that fitting it all into one vacation can be a challenge. Mix city sights with off-the-beaten-path adventures; sample local cuisine, mingle with the locals and most importantly of all, take the time to enjoy the unique experiences afforded simply by travelling through one of the world’s most exciting tourist destinations. To help get you started, here’s our list of the top ten places to visit in New Zealand.

Top 10 Places to Visit in New Zealand

10. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park might be the smallest national park in New Zealand but it makes up for its size with its sheer beauty. Covered in lush green hills and fringed with golden sandy coves that slip gently into warm shallows before meeting a crystal-clear sea of cerulean blue, Abel Tasman National Park is the quintessential postcard paradise. Here you can take on any number of outdoor activities such as tramping, kayaking and swimming or simply sunbathe on the pristine beaches. Wildlife watching is another popular pastime here – many seabirds nest in the park and you can often catch sight of seals or the occasional dolphin frolicking not far offshore. The park is also home to the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk, one of the most popular walks in New Zealand.

Location: South Island

9. Tongariro National Park

Established in 1887, Tongariro National Park was New Zealand’s first and the world’s fourth national park, and is one of New Zealand’s three World Heritage Sites. Its three towering, active volcanoes rise from a vast, scrub-covered alpine plateau, making this one of the nation’s most spectacular locations. Tongariro is the North Island’s best ski spot and home to the country’s best single-day wilderness walk, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which offers the perfect taste of what the park has to offer. The longer Tongariro Northern Circuit, dotted with volcanic craters and lakes can be taken on by those with time up their sleeve. Any lover of the great outdoors shouldn’t miss this ancient land.

Location: North Island

8. Waitomo

Luring tourists for more than 100 years, Waitomo is a must-see destination for its surreal underground landscape – an astonishing maze of subterranean caves, canyons and rivers that perforate the northern King Country limestone. While Waitomo is most famous for its extensive cave systems, it has gained a reputation in recent years as the adventure capital of the North Island. Black-water rafting is the big lure here (like white-water rafting but through a dark cave), plus underground abseiling, glowworm grottoes and more stalactites and stalagmites than you’ll ever see in one place again. There are plenty of opportunities to delve underground, either on a dry walking tour or a wet, adrenaline-charged subterranean adventure.

Location: North Island

7. Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

Amongst more than 60 glaciers in the World Heritage Westland National Park, the spectacular glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox are the most remarkable for many reasons, including their rates of accumulation and descent, and their proximity to both the loftiest peaks of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea around 10km away. Several short walks meander towards the glaciers’ fractured faces, or you can take a guided hike on the ice. The ultimate encounter is on a scenic flight, which often also provides grandstand views of Mt Cook, Westland forest and a seemingly endless ocean. The glaciers are melting at an accelerated pace so visit them soon before they’re gone.

Location: South Island

6. Auckland

Most international visitors touch down in Auckland, but the city has grown into a lot more than simply a getaway to the rest of the country. Auckland has always offered wonderful scenery but recently this vibrant, exciting city has been transformed into a world-class tourist destination. With its fine beaches, beautiful parks and gardens, and a great variety of restaurants and nightlife, Auckland has a mix of attractions to suit both outdoor enthusiasts and indoor lovers. While the island-studded Hauraki Gulf is Auckland’s aquatic playground, and Rangitito is an icon of the city with its near perfect volcanic cone, it’s Waiheke, with its beautiful beaches, acclaimed wineries and upmarket eateries that is Auckland’s most popular island escape.

Location: North Island

5. Milford Sound

A 16-km-long fiord, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s best-known attractions, popular for its raw beauty, splendour, and accessibility (reached by road, air, or by hiking the Milford Track). Fingers crossed you’re lucky enough to see Milford Sound on a clear, sunny day. That’s when the world-beating collage of waterfalls, verdant cliffs and peaks, and dark cobalt waters is at its best. More likely though is the classic Fiordland combination of mist and drizzle, with the iconic profile of Mitre Peak revealed slowly through shimmering sheets of precipitation. Dolphins, fur seals, an occasional Fiordland crested penguin, crayfishing boats, and tourist launches share the sound’s deep dark waters, but you never lose the feeling of being at the bottom of the world.

Location: South Island

4. Rotorua

Situated 200 km (124 miles) south of Auckland, thermally active Rotorua is one of the exceptional areas of New Zealand that shouldn’t be missed. The first thing you’ll notice about Rotorua is the sulphur smell but once you get past the smell, Rotorua will amaze you. Originally a wild and swampy wasteland dotted with steaming pools and mud holes, today its these volcanic by-products that everyone is here to see: gushing geysers, bubbling mud, steaming cracks in the ground and boiling pools of mineral-rich water. Rotorua is also one of the best places in New Zealand to experience Maori culture first-hand at one of the many Maori tourist villages around town. The cost of visiting the major attractions will add up, but a few of the natural attractions are free and, despite the year-round crowds, the unpredictable and volatile atmosphere seemingly seeping up from beneath your feet sets Rotorua apart.

Location: North Island

3. Kaikoura

Known as the crayfish capital of New Zealand, Kaikoura has grown rapidly in recent years from a sleepy little fishing village to one of the country’s premier wildlife destinations. The highlight is the proximity of sperm whales, which feed within one kilometre (0.6 miles) of the coast, but there are plenty of other opportunities to interact with nature if you have the time (and cash) – whales, dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, penguins, shearwaters, petrels and wandering albatross all stop by or make this area home. Wildlife aside, the setting is nothing short of stunning, with the town fronting the sparking blue Pacific Ocean on one side and the steep mountains of the Kaikoura Range as a backdrop.

Location: South Island

2. Bay of Islands

Situated 257 km (160 miles) north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and historic areas. Ever since its discovery by Captain James Cook in the 18th century, its quiet coves, soft sandy beaches, sparkling waters and island groves of pohutukawa trees have been attracting visitors from the world over. Turquoise waters lapping in pretty bays, dolphins frolicking at the bows of boats and pods of orcas gliding gracefully by are some of the images you can expect to see on a holiday to the Bay of Islands. There are myriad options to tempt you out on the water to explore the 144 islands that dot this beautiful bay, from subtropical diving to kayaking or sailing.

Location: North Island

1. Queenstown

Set on the edge of the glacial Lake Wakatipu, with stunning views of the sawtooth peaks of the Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown is the most popular tourist stop in the South Island. With ready access to mountains, lakes and rivers, Queenstown has become the adventure capital of New Zealand. While Queenstown may be renowned as the birthplace of bungy jumping, there’s more to New Zealand’s adventure hub than leaping off a bridge attached to a giant rubber band. Travellers can spend days skiing, hiking or mountain biking, before dining in cosmopolitan restaurants or partying in some of New Zealand’s best bars. Next-day options include hand-gliding, kayaking, or river rafting, or a detour to Arrowtown or Glenorchy.

Location: South Island

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