Comprised of two main islands, North Island and South Island, New Zealand (600 other small islands as well) is an incredible place to discover. In this article I have put together a list of top 15 places to see in New Zealand.
Why visit New Zealand?
Filled with beautiful landscapes, stunning scenery, and a great combination of lush greenery, lakes, and mountains, this island nation is truly a spectacular place to visit. New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and one among the most popular destinations for Backpacking. From its active volcanoes, deep glacier lakes, unique wildlife, and dazzling fjords, one thing’s for sure, in this country of kiwis there will never be a dull moment. The kiwis are friendly and welcoming people and the wine here is cheap!
Above all, with low crime rates and an excellent healthcare system, New Zealand is one of the safest places to visit even for solo female travelers. My safety advice – If you don’t do it at home, then don’t do it while you are visiting the country.
Top 15 places to see in New Zealand
Now, whether you’re looking to uncover the Maori culture, hit the slopes or sample delicious wine, there is plenty of diverse adventures to enjoy. So, here is my list of places you should visit in New Zealand.
1) Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands is one of the most popular holiday destinations in New Zealand. It has a great temperate climate and it consists of 144 islands, secluded bays and you can find a great deal of marine life such as the big marlin, whales, and penguins.
Things you can do / places to visit in the Bay of Island:
Paihia, this resort town is a popular spot and is an excellent base for exploring the culture of the bay of islands.
Close by to Paihia is the historic Treaty House at Waitangi. This place marks the beginning of New Zealand and is a great place to experience some Maori culture.
My suggestion for an activity is a 4 hours long relaxing cruise which will make your trip to this place worthwhile.
Nearly 4 hours’ drive from the Bay of Island is Auckland. It is also known as the City of sails and it is the largest and most populated city in New Zealand. Here you can climb the Auckland Harbor bridge for an amazing view of this beautiful metropolis. Visit the Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest part if you’re interested to learn more about the history and heritage of New Zealand. Most importantly, Auckland is a great place to experience vibrant Polynesian culture and food.
You can find more things to do in Auckland, here.
About one and a half-hour drive from Auckland is the Thames, a small picturesque city that has a deep gold mining history to it. Here you can catch the sunset from one of its famous white and golden sand beaches. I highly recommend you to go to the Hot water beach where visitors can dig their hot pool from the springs that you find under the sands.
4) Hobbiton / Mata Mata
One and half hour drive from the Thames and you can reach Hobbiton. Take a tour of the real-life set of Hobbiton in Mata-Mata and see J R Tolkien’s epic story brought to life with a wander through the heart of the Shire. You could stop by the Green Dragon Inn or visit the Bag End. Plan your day trip to Hobbiton here.
5) Waitomo Caves
A mesmerizing and perplexing sight would be the famous Waitomo Caves with their legendary blue glow worms. Thrill-seekers can glide down into this lost world, which takes about 20 mins and provides impressive views of gigantic stone formations on the way down.
North island’s most popular and must-visit destination, Rotorua is an hour drive away from Mata-Mata. It is situated in the heart of the volcanic zone, lying on the shores of a lake that it is named after. Here you can tackle the currents of Tutea falls along the Kaituna, highest commercially rafter waterfall in the world. Rotorua is famous for its hot springs and geysers. So, you must go see the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park. You can find more things to do here.
7) Tongariro National Park
If you’re a lord of the rings fan then you should visit Tongariro National Park, the first of its kind in New Zealand. It will surprise you with its diverse range of ecosystems that include herb fields, tranquil lakes like Lake Taupo, eerily barren landscape, untamed forests, meadows, active volcanoes, Geo-thermally heated waters of the emerald lakes and desert-like plateaus. You can spend 7 to 8 hours hiking here if you start your hike from the visitor’s center. In this place, you can get a view of Mount Ngauruhoe and also spot the beautiful Taranaki falls.
In Wellington, a day can be spent exploring the beautiful city which is on hilly terrain. Therefore, it’s easier to explore this city by walking. You can take a cable car ride to Zealandia, a wildlife sanctuary from Lambton Quay. It is the Capital city of New Zealand. And it has a busy nightlife, a huge range of attractions like art galleries, theatres, and cafes. You can take a short hike or drive up to the Mount Victoria lookout to get a stunning view of the city.
Advice: Spend 10 days exploring the South Island, New Zealand.
It is a lively city that is famous for its world-class attractions like International Antarctic Centre, Willowbank Wildlife Park, and Orana Park. Christchurch is also called the garden city because it is home to some spectacular gardens.
10) Abel Tasman National Park
Along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, travelers can enjoy more than 40 kms of golden sand beaches, subtropical bushlands, and granite cliffs, accented by clear waters and fur seals. Keep in mind that several tidal inlets mean that you will need to time your crossings with low tide, so plan accordingly.
This is a picture-perfect coastal town located few hours north of Christchurch. It is well known for its eco-friendly lifestyle, marine mammals, and its stunning landscape. In Kaikoura, one can easily spot whales, dolphins and especially exotic marine life like sea lions, otters, etc. You can see these while you’re on a cruise or you can join them in the ocean with a wetsuit. You can go scuba diving amidst some of the best reefs in New Zealand. Some of the best activities here are snorkeling with fur seals, giant sperm whale watching, swim with dolphins, and more.
12) Glacier Country: Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier
Located on the western coast of the South Island, it is famous for the Westland National Park. Here you will have the chance to see the country’s two most spectacular glaciers which are Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers on the planet. As a result, you can either take a helicopter ride to this place or walk up the valley. Hence, there are multiple ways to access this glacier. Guided tours are a great way to get a closer look at the glaciers. After a day of hiking, you can loosen up by dipping in the extremely relaxing glacier hot pools. Fox Glacier is approximately 30 mins drive towards the southwest of Franz Josef glacier. Therefore, both the glaciers can be visited on the same day. Franz Josef is more popular between the two and there are chances of spotting kiwis here.
Recommendation for a guided tour here is the Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
Glacier Country to Queenstown – Road trip
The drive from Glacier Country to Queenstown is 5 hours long. It is a very beautiful and scenic road trip to embark on. So, you can stop at places like Bruce Bay, Knights point lookout, Ship creek beach, Haast pass, Thunder creek falls, blue pools, and Lake Wanaka while making your way to Queenstown.
Situated right on the banks of the deep blue Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the towering peaks of the southern alps this is an incredibly beautiful place. The place has a vibrant nightlife with bars and restaurants close to the lake. The best way to experience the scenery here is to visit the lake itself. Queenstown is the best place for adventure sports like bungee jumping from bridges, skiing down the world-renowned peaks and valley, sky diving, and whitewater river rafting.
14) Fiordland National Park
One of the most scenic spots with breathtaking views awaits you at the Fiordland National park. Moreover, it includes four major tracks – Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, and Hollyford. Milford is famous for its hiking tracks and for the cruise (you can take this cruise from Queenstown) that gives you spectacular views of the fjords in the South Island. Milford sound is the biggest attraction here, which is a fjord created by a glacier.
15)Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, South Island
Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain. Consequently, Mount Cook National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations. In this alpine park, you can go hiking, skiing in winter, mountaineering, take scenic flights, and Camping. It’s a great place to get lost amidst nature.
Tips for your New Zealand trip
- I-SITE New Zealand – Visitor Information center. Every town has its own. You have access to any information from maps for directions to sightseeing suggestions.
- You can find a good airport transfer option in Queenstown, here.
- Some of the budget rental car options are: Rental cars, Budget.com, and Drive now.
- Choose a mode of transportation that suits your itinerary.
- Hikers, be prepared for sudden weather changes.
- Don’t try to see too much in one trip. You won’t be able to take in everything or enjoy it properly if you do this. You must plan with enough rest time in between the driving sessions and try to not rush from one place to another.
- Do not park your vehicles in remote or isolated places with important belongings left inside. Although it’s a very safe country, there are reported cases of break-ins of parked tourist cars.
Things you must know before visiting New Zealand
- There are three official languages in New Zealand – English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign language. But you will be able to get up just fine with English.
- In the case of Emergencies, dial 111.
- Hopefully, you love furry animals because you will see a lot of sheep in New Zealand.
- There is never a bad time to visit this lovely island nation, though travelers should be ready for unexpected weather changes regardless of the time of year. Summer is between December to February which is the peak travel season. Spring temperatures can be enjoyed from September through November and during this time New Zealand offers a beautiful combination of spring blossoms and snow-capped mountains.
- Some of the best budget hostels in New Zealand are Nomads (Queenstown), Ponsonby Backpackers (Auckland), Urbanz (Christchurch), YHA Wellington City (Wellington) and Montrose (Franz Josef)
- The average daily cost for a mid-range traveler would be around 320 AUD and for a backpacker, it would cost around 150 AUD per day.
- If you have a long flight to New Zealand then read some tips on planning a layover here.