New Zealand is a country of undeniable beauty. It has mountains, sea, fjords, volcanoes, glaciers, colorful lakes and mirror lakes, ancient forests and unreal landscapes that seem taken from another world. Here I present you 10 places to visit in New Zealand that I highly recommend.
New Zealand. What to say about New Zealand! It’s a country that leaves me speechless, that makes me wonder if it’s really part of this world. I completely felt in love with New Zealand for its undeniable beauty.
And it’s not that it hasn’t history, culture, cities and friendly people. It has everything. But its landscapes, nature, colors, are just impressive. New Zealand is a paradise for outdoor lovers. I was there for more than 5 weeks and it never stopped surprising me.
I spent more time in the South island than in the North island, that’s why this list of places to visit in New Zealand has more destinations in the South island. But it doesn’t mean the North island is less interesting. In fact, my favorite place is in the North island!
Places to visit in New Zealand South island
Queenstown is settled between the mountains and lake Wakatipu. It’s the most well known city in the South island, the most lively, and the dream of many Working Holiday Visa holders.
It’s also the capital of adventure sports. Rafting? Jetboating? Climbing? Skydiving? Anything is possible in Queenstown.
However, it’s not necessary to be a fan of adventure sports to enjoy Queenstown, there are other interesting things to do:
- go up the hill where the Skyline Gondola is (hiking or by cable car).
- try the famous Fergburger (very popular among locals and tourists).
- visit the surrounding region, specially Glenorchy and Paradise (yes, it’s called like this!).
More about Queenstown: Queenstown, Glenorchy and Middle Earth
Milford Sound is the most famous fjord in New Zealand. A very impressive place.
I have to warn you though: it wasn’t as I expected. You see, postcards always show the fjord with blue sky and the mountains perfectly reflected on the water, but the reality is different. The West coast of the South island is one of the rainiest regions in the world, so the chances to see the fjord under the rain are very high.
Still, it’s a magnificent place that is worth a visit. The rain, mist and wind are its natural state and they give it a unique atmosphere, almost mystical.
More about Milford Sound: Milford Sound in usual weather conditions
Glaciers: Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier
Something I really wanted to see in New Zealand were the glaciers. Permanent ice, blue ice. Magic. Fascinating.
I visited two: Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. They’re both in the West coast, as Milford Sound. You know, the rainy place with sudden changes of weather. You need to be patient but it’s worth.
Both glaciers can be visited on your own, there are maps and signaled paths to see them from different points. You do need to book a tour with a guide to walk on the glacier.
More about the glaciers:
- Playing hide-and-seek in Franz Josef glacier
- Fox glacier and lake Matheson: do not believe in postcards
They say that the South island in New Zealand looks like Switzerland, and that’s why its mountains are called “Southern Alps”.
The TranzAlpine is not a destination by itself but it’s a train journey. It starts in Greymouth and finishes in Chirstchurch (or viceversa), crossing the Southern Alps and offering spectacular views. This journey takes about 5 hours and it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
More about the TranzAlpine journey: TranzAlpine: introduction to New Zealand
If I ever thought that New Zealand was only about beautiful landscapes, Christchurch made me change my mind.
Christchurch is a city that suffered a series of earthquakes in 2010-2011 that destroyed the city center. To bring back life to the center, and to brighten up the empty spaces during the long rebuilding period, a lot of creative and innovative projects are being developed, like:
- a commercial center built with renovated shipping containers.
- a church made of cardboard tubes.
The story of Christchurch is a story of destruction and reconstruction, of creativity and hope. I felt so moved. It’s a story that talks about reinvention and keeping a positive attitude towards the difficulties of life.
More about Christchurch: Christchurch: destruction, creativity and hope
Banks Peninsula was a surprise. Even more than that, it left me speechless. It’s a place where I went just like that, because it was close to Christchurch. I didn’t expect much and it was one of my favorite places.
Banks Peninsula is a peninsula of volcanic origins, hence its unusual cogwheel shape. The best of it are the views from the Summit Road, and explore the numerous hidden bays. If that wasn’t enough, if you sleep far from the village, at night you can see a million stars. Impressive.
More about Banks Peninsula: Awe-inspiring Banks Peninsula
Kaikoura is a coastal town, but the most interesting things about it are not the beaches. The best of Kaikoura is the marine wildlife. From Kaikoura you can see whales, dolphins and seals.
Seals are the easiest to see, lying by the seaside. Next to the city there is an elevated peninsula which offers nice views, and down there, by the sea, there are seal colonies. Many seals. Just beware, do not get too close to them to take a photo… they have a bad temper!
More about Kaikoura: Kaikoura: sleepy seals and a funny truck driver
Abel Tasman National Park
Something that I really liked about New Zealand is that it’s very well prepared to walk. And I love walking, it’s my favorite way to explore a new place.
Most cities, towns and villages have walking tracks clearly marked. In addition to these short walks, there are plenty of day and several-day tracks in the countryside, a lot of them in National Parks.
I did two day treks, and the first one was in Abel Tasman National Park. This park is located in the north of the South island, at the coast. It’s a paradise of mountains and sea. The trek, 12km long, was quite easy and from time to time it was possible to go down to a secluded beach. So beautiful!
More about Abel Tasman National Park: A beautiful, pleasant walk in Abel Tasman National Park
Places to visit in New Zealand North island
Tongariro National Park
My favorite place in New Zealand. The Tongariro National Park is unreal, like taken from another world: smoky volcanoes, lonely valleys, colorful lakes. It’s an active volcanic region.
The day hike I did is called “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” and it’s 19km long with quite a lot of slope. For me it was a real challenge, but it was so amazing that I couldn’t stop moving on (and taking a thousand photos on the way). The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the best day hikes in the world.
A curiosity: this is the film location of the Mount Doom scenes in The Lord of the Rings. This place… is Mordor!
More about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Hiking in Mordor (Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
Rotorua is another unreal place: a city that smells like rotten eggs, that has colorful lakes, boiling mud and smoke emerging to the surface from the very heart of the planet.
It’s not magic. It’s geothermal activity.
You can see it in the city itself (for free) at the park and around the lake, or in a larger park called Wai-O-Tapu (paying), which is a few kilometers away. Or both! I don’t know if there are other places like this.
In addition, Rotorua has another highlight: culture. The Maori revered this place and even today Rotorua is one of the towns with a higher Maori population.
More about Rotorua: Rotorua: Maori cultura and geothermal activity
Have you visited any of them? Can you recommend any places to visit in New Zealand?
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Crazy Travelista says
Love this list!! I went a few months ago and have a rough draft on my blog of my fav places and only 2 of them are the same…meaning there is SO much more I need to see there. Wasn’t it just incredible! I really wish I could have seen Abel Tasman National Park, it looks insanely gorgeous!!! Great pics!
Wow, isn’t it amazing? Only two of them are the same… there are many places I didn’t see, I guess I’ll find a lot of them in your list! New Zealand is incredible!
Wow just gorgeous! I wanna go! Christchurch looks amazing ! Fab pics!
Thanks Val! Yes, New Zealand is gorgeous!!!
Joy Generoso says
Wow! These are all amazing places to explore. I haven’t been to NZ and hopefully I can visit all the places you’ve listed here. I want to meet the seals in Kaikoura. 🙂
All New Zealand is amazing, such a beautiful country! And the seals were so nice 🙂
I hope you can make it there!
New Zealand is on our wish list! I work for a company that was founded in New Zealand, hoping they send me one day:) Abel Tasman National Park would be a must for me- looks gorgeous!
Ahh that would be cool if your company sends you to New Zealand! Abel Tasman was great, and so sunny!
What a wonderful collection! There are even a couple i never heard about. Tongariro NP looks wonderful, I can´t wait our little one gets a bit bigger and as soon as he´s able to walk this distance we´re off to explore the rest of the northern island 😉 Such a beautiful country!
Hi Kat! I think I saw kids about 11-12 (or maybe a bit older?) in Tongariro NP, and they seemed to enjoy it. I believe New Zealand is amazing for all ages 🙂
tracy collins says
Looks amazing – the more photographs i see of NZ the more I want to go! We are moving to Australia and I am sure (like 100%) that we will be spending time in NZ!! Cannot wait to see it!!
Hi Tracy! Oh yes, if you’re moving to Australia I think it’s the right time to explore New Zealand! From Sydney it’s only 3hours flight to Christchurch, from other parts of Australia might be a bit more. I have a friend who lives in Sydney and she’s been there a couple of times. I’m sure you’ll love it!
Kiara Gallop says
Reading your post is making me nostalgic about my own travels in New Zealand (Over 10 years ago now!) I remember the incredible landscapes on the TranzAlpine train journey, and I absolutely loved Queenstown, despite it being about -5 when I was there!
I was due to do a hike up Franz Josef Glacier, but unfortunately it got cancelled due to bad weather, however I did manage a skydive over Fox Glacier instead 🙂
I never made it to Milford Sound or Abel Tasman National Park. they’re on my list for next time! (hopefully there will be a next time!)
I didn’t know you had been in New Zealand Kiara! Wow skydiving over Fox Glacier must be an amazing experience! I thought about skydiving somewhere but it was very expensive (maybe next time?). I guess you were there in winter, -5 in Queenstown! I was there in autumn and though it was cold, I don’t think it was below zero.
Your photos of New Zealand are beautiful, I am wondering what type of camera you use to take such wonderful images. I am learning how to take nice photos with Canon 1300d,planning to visit South Island either this autumn or next year.
Thank you! Glad that you like my photos. I actually use a good compact camera (by good I mean that has a good sensor). It’s not as good nor fast as a reflex but it’s small and light and I’m happy with the quality of the photos. It’s a Sony cybershot DSC-RX100.