There are many amazing places to visit in New Zealand and it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular countries to travel.
Its diverse landscapes, friendly people, and pristine environment are just some of the reasons why.
Aside from that, the place is just so beautiful.
From the airy mountain tops of the Southern Alps to the stunning beaches in the north, there are so many breathtaking things to do in New Zealand.
I was lucky enough to spend an entire year traveling New Zealand and during that time I fell in love.
And I ventured on hundreds of adventures and visited a vast number of places.
Where is New Zealand?
Located in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand (NZ) consists of two main islands – the North Island and the South Island.
It lies approximately 1,200 miles east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly 600 miles south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
There are a few specific places in New Zealand that stand out from the rest – the ones that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Here they are!
Places to Visit in New Zealand ( South Island)
Milford Sound is one of those places you simply can’t miss when you visit New Zealand.
Located in Fiordland National Park about a 4 hours’ drive from Queenstown, Milford Sound is often referred to as the 8th wonder of the word, and after visiting a few times I must say that I totally agree!
Boat cruises are the best way to explore Milford Sound but there are also other options such as kayaking trips or scenic flights.
Some kayaking trips are full day adventures and others run for an hour. The great thing about Milford is that there’s room to personalize your own trip.
The most common way to travel to Milford Sound is from Queenstown via a scenic coach tour and cruise. This day trip involves a lot of driving and usually runs for 13 hours.
However, if you want an even better experience you can actually stay in Milford Sound or do a Milford Sound overnight cruise!
These allow you to see Milford from a whole new perspective once the tourists have left and Milford Sound returns to the quiet place it once was.
In my opinion, spending the night in Milford was one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
I called Queenstown home for seven months and it’s one of my favourite places in New Zealand, I loved every second of it.
And it’s just one of the most amazing places to go in New Zealand regardless of what you’re here for.
There are so many things to do I Queenstown it’s crazy, but, Queenstown is well-known as the adventure capital of New Zealand.
This means there are tons of adventure sports offered such as skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoning, jet boating, skydiving, and bungee jumping – all world class!
In Queenstown, there is also a huge range of stunning hiking trails suited to all fitness levels.
If you’re keen to tackle one of the harder hikes then consider hiking to Ben Lomond Summit. This 8-hour hike isn’t for the faint hearted but from the top, the views are out of this world!
For a shorter hike, I recommend Queenstown Hill.
This hike only takes around 2-hours return and leads you to spectacular views overlooking Queenstown.
Queenstown’s not just about adrenaline filled activities though, and there are plenty of the finer things in life to enjoy such as a wine tour through the stunning Gibbston Valley or a scenic cruise on the famous Lake Wakatipu!
With so much to offer, its no wonder this town of 28,000 people sees over 3.2 million visitors every year!
The west coast is one of the best places for a New Zealand road trip and at the center of it is Franz Josef, one of the top New Zealand landmarks.
This small town offers a range of places to visit and hiking trails to explore.
From the trails that lead to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers to the peaceful Franz Josef Hot Pools, this small town is quite the place to explore!
One of my favorite hikes in New Zealand to do is the Lake Matheson Walk. This short 2-hour walk leads to one of the most amazing views.
From the viewpoint, the Southern Alps reflect perfectly off the lake. I’m not the only one who thinks this trail is amazing though, so to avoid the crowds be sure to set off at sunrise when it’s less crowded and the water is more likely to be still!
No trip to Franz Josef would be complete without a visit to one of the two very accessible glaciers in the region.
Both the Franz and Fox Glacier are located within 15-minutes of the town and both have short 1-hour hikes that lead to viewpoints of the glacier.
These viewpoints once walked right to the face of the glacier, however, in recent years both glaciers have retreated massively.
With that said you can still catch a glimpse of the glaciers from the viewpoints.
If that’s not close enough to the action for you, then there are also companies that offer glacier trekking with a helicopter flight to land on the glacier!
This is hugely popular but it does come with a hefty price tag!
Mount Cook National Park
If I had to rank my favorite New Zealand National Parks, Mount Cook would be number one!
Not only is the park easily accessible, but the one-hour drive from the main highway to Mount Cook Villages is, in my opinion, the most beautiful drive in New Zealand.
Once you arrive in the village the park just keeps getting better and now it’s time to ditch the car and explore Mount Cook’s stunning hiking trails.
The two most popular trails are the Hooker Valley Track and the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint.
The Hooker Valley leads to the Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook – New Zealand’s tallest mountain. This trail takes around 3 hours return and is a very well maintained and easy, flat trail.
The Tasman Glacier lookout is even shorter and the hike to the Tasman River mouth only takes around 10-minutes one way. From the river mouth, you can look out at the Tasman Lake and watch icebergs float towards the river and see the Tasman Glacier.
If you’re after even more adventure then the Mueller Hut is a great choice.
The Mueller Hut is an alpine hut situated near the Mueller glacier high above the valley floor.
The hut sits at an elevation of 1,800m and the hike there takes 5 hours one way. The hut has 36 beds for hikers and is one of the best places to spend the night in New Zealand.
Christchurch is the largest city in the New Zealand South Island.
However, despite its large city feel it’s actually a really cool place to visit during your New Zealand vacation.
Some of the best things to do in Christchurch include exploring the epic street art or visiting the Canterbury Earthquake National Museum.
For the best street art check out Brockworth Street. Here, you can find the Brockworth Street Art Gallery and it’s where some of the best murals in the city are located!
Another cool thing to do in Christchurch is taking the gondola up to Mount Cavendish. The gondola is 1km long and at the top of Mount Cavendish, you can enjoy stunning views of the city.
If your feeling more adventurous, then from the top you can explore some of Christchurch’s best hiking trails such as the Crater Rim Trail and Bridal Path.
Moving further out of the city you’ll find even more amazing places to visit.
The Godly Head hiking trail is arguably the most popular and spectacular. This trail hugs the rocky coastline and from the cliffs, you can spot a range of natural wildlife including dolphins and penguins.
During certain times of the year and with a little luck on your side, you can even see whales (June to July) or Orcas (November to February).
The Catlins Region is one of the most underrated places to see in New Zealand.
Located in the very south of the South Island between Invercargill and Balclutha, the Catlin’s is a place filled with both stunning landscapes such as waterfalls and forests, and of course an abundance of wildlife.
One of my favorite places to visit in Catlin’s is Curio Bay, one hours drive from Invercargill.
At Curio Bay, you can see not one, but two penguin species! They are the Little Penguin, and one of the rarest penguins in the world, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin.
The Yellow-Eyed Penguin can be hard to spot and in fact, the only chance you’ll get to see them is at sunset when they head home after a day catching fish.
There is a lookout at Curio Bay for this and it’s a really cool thing to see.
If you’re satisfied with just spotting a Little Penguin then you’re in luck. At night can you usually find these guys walking around the Curio Bay Campsite.
As mentioned, it’s also a great place to see waterfalls and some of the best that you need to check out are Koropuku and Mclean Falls.
Mclean Falls is super popular and you’ll often see large crowds of people visiting, however, Koropuku Falls is almost unknown and I personally think that it is far more beautiful.
The Marlborough Sounds is located at the very top of the South Island across the Tasman Sea from Wellington. And the town of Picton is known as a gateway to the islands and inlets.
Marlborough Sounds is another place that showcases New Zealand’s abundance of wildlife.
From birds to marine life, the Marlborough Sound is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand for nature lovers!.
The most popular way to explore the sounds is on a boat cruise.
These cruises head out to explore the small islands and rugged coastlines in search of seals, rare birds, and even Kiwis (the bird – not the fruit or the people!)
Of course, it’s almost impossible to spot a Kiwi bird during the day but if you’re lucky enough you may witness the DOC (Department of Conservation) releasing Kiwis into the wild on one of the predator-free islands in the Marlborough Sounds.
The DOC use these islands to raise the birds in the wild until they are one-year-old and big enough to survive on the mainland.
This increases there survival rate from 5% to over 80%!
On the predator-free islands, you can also see Little Penguins nesting. As you explore the island your guide will check the nesting stations on the island in hopes to spot one.
Of course, the middle of the day is fishing time for Penguins so you’ll only see one if they’re being a little lazy!
Kaikoura is a beautiful little town located on the east coast just north of Christchurch.
Although out of the way on most visitor’s road trips in New Zealand, this places is well worth checking out for one major attraction – swimming with the world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector Dolphin.
When it comes to wildlife interactions New Zealand is one of the most ethical places to do it.
With strict laws in place to protect the dolphins, it is a great experience that you don’t have to feel bad about.
Dolphins are so common in the area you don’t even need to do a tour to have an encounter and a trip to one of the many beaches could give you the experience you wanted for free.
Aside from the dolphins, you can also enjoy the stunning beaches and other marine life such as whales, stingrays, and Orcas.
Kaikoura isn’t as well established on the tourist route yet but it was becoming one of the best places in New Zealand to visit.
Places to Visit in New Zealand (North Island)
The Coromandel Peninsula
There are few things to do on the north island that are as iconic as visiting the Coromandel Peninsula.
From the moment you enter the peninsular the landscapes around you begin to change dramatically.
From stunning beaches, amazing hikes and unique things to see and do, the Coromandel Peninsula is a New Zealand must see!
One of the most famous things to do in Coromandel is to dig your own spa on Hot Water Beach. It sounds crazy, right? But thanks to three thermal vents you can dig a small hole that fills with hot water and create your own hot springs.
There is a catch though, and you need to do 2 hours either side of low tide. Any time after or before and the vents are under water.
Some other really cool places to check out are Cathedral Cove (a film location in the Narnia Films) and the Pinnacles hike.
The Pinnacles hike takes around 4-hours one way and if you want to break it up you can stay the night in the largest, and arguably the nicest, DOC hut in New Zealand.
A night at the hut will set you back $15 per night and is located only an hour for the top making it perfect for a sunrise mission!
The Northland Region is one of the most popular New Zealand destinations for the locals during their summer holidays.
Not only do the beaches there rival those in places like Australia, but it is also its remote and somewhat uncharted vibe that draws people here.
The Bay of Islands is without a doubt the most popular place to visit in the region but to me, it’s not the best spot.
In fact closer to Auckland you can find even better beaches and attractions.
One of my favorites is Matapouri Bay. The beach here is not only pristine but nearby you can swim in natural pools called the Mermaid Pools.
The pools sit in the reef between the sand and the ocean and provide the perfect spot to relax.
Another great place to visit is the Waipu Caves where you can see glow worms.
From the car park, you can explore the caves safely without a guide and wander into the darkness to see these amazing creatures light up the sky, or cave I should say.
I preferred this experience to other glow worm caves in New Zealand as it was much more personal and far less crowded!
I fell in love with Mt Taranaki the very minute I saw her piercing above the clouds from the town of New Plymouth.
This active volcano lies smack bang in the middle of nowhere and is one of those New Zealand points of interest that can be seen from miles away.
The funny thing is though, it’s often missed by tourists.
To me, there is no better way to see the volcano than from the Pouakai Hut. This small hut is situated around 6km from the base of the volcano and offers a view like no other.
From the Pouaki Tarn (Alpine Lake), Mt Taranaki reflects perfectly from the surface making for one of the single most beautiful sites I have seen in New Zealand.
The Pouaki Hut requires a serviced hut pass ($15) and no bookings are required in advance as it is a first come first serve hut.
The hut has 32 beds and from the Mangorei Road carpark, it takes around 2 hours to reach the hut. You can both camp (for free) or stay in the hut!
I much preferred camping, however, the hut was nice too.
The other very popular hike in the area is the Mt Taranaki Summit. I personally have a lot of hiking experience and consider myself relatively fit, but wow this hike was a challenge!
Overall it took 7 hours and was a struggle both up and down due to the steep rocky face of Mt Taranaki.
If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a must do in New Zealand!
What is famous in New Zealand?
Well, the Waikato region of NZ has shot to fame thanks to two extremely popular New Zealand tourist attractions.
They are the Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton!
The famous film set used in both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies is a great place to explore and for some, the reason they traveled all the way to Middle earth (NZ), to begin with.
At Hobbiton, you can take a range of tours like a Movie Set Guided Tour, some even involving an overnight stay.
However, the most common tour runs for around 2 hours in which you’ll get to explore the set with a guide and take some awesome photos while you’re there!
Where to go in New Zealand to see glow warms?
The Waitomo Caves are the most famous glow worm caves in NZ, and doing a glow worm caves tour to one of the top New Zealand attractions is very popular!
In my opinion, it was a little over touristic but totally worth it once I got the see the worms.
On the classic tour, you’ll be guided through the cave before taking a short boat ride through an area with so many glow worms it’s actually out of this world!
Volcanic Beaches on the North West
Looking for places to visit near Auckland?
Just west of Auckland are some of the most stunning black sand beaches.
These New Zealand beaches are remnants of the volcanic days that formed parts of the country.
The steep cliffs and rock formations are really amazing to see, and on top of that, they are covered in lush green vegetation that thrives in the mineral-rich soil.
There are two beaches among them that stand out to me, the first is Piha.
A Piha Beach day trip from Auckland is popular as it’s one of the most famous beaches in New Zealand both among surfers and people wanting to see this amazing coastline.
It often very busy but to be honest it’s so beautiful you just have to see it!
Muriwai is the other beach and this place is special for its own reason – the Gannet Colony. Gannets are large sea birds who nest in large groups.
At Muriwai Beach there is a Gannet colony on the cliffs near the beach. During the months of October to March, the Gannets come to the cliffs at the beach and nest.
There is a boardwalk that takes you to the nesting area and you can get within meters of the colony.
It’s really an amazing experience well worth a visit.
Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park, about 1.5 hours drive from Taupo, is a World Heritage Site and home to three of New Zealand’s active volcano’s.
The last eruption occurred in 2012 on Mt Tongariro. But despite the regions active volcano’s, it’s still one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand both in summer and winter.
In the summer months, the park fills with keen hikers from all around the world, most of which come to complete the Tongariro Crossing.
The crossing is so popular that every year over 1 million people complete the trail!
The hike itself takes between 8 to 10 hours (do a guided hike here) and is only safe to hike in late spring to early autumn.
During winter, Tongariro National Park becomes a skier’s paradise.
In the park, there are two ski resorts which are both on the active Mt Ruapehu. Both resorts offer skiing and snowboarding for all levels and are the best places to ski in North Island of New Zealand.
Another neat thing you can do all year round is go white water rafting on the Tongariro River.
The Tongariro River is one of the countries most famous rivers and white water rafting this river is one of the top things to do in New Zealand.
On the tour you take on 60 rapids over the course of only two hours – that’s one every 2 minutes!
Last but certainly not least is the small surf town of Raglan.
Raglan isn’t the most “wow this place is amazing” but I included it in this New Zealand travel guide as it’s a very relaxed beach town that just brings this amazing vibe to the streets.
It a place you really want to be and never want to leave.
The most popular of things to do in Raglan is surf and there is plenty of beach for both beginners and more advanced surfers.
On the beach, you can take a surf lesson, rent a board, or simply just relax.
If surfing is not your thing then you could explore the nearby Bridal Veil Falls. This stunning waterfall is only a 10 minutes drive from town and is accessed by a stunning boardwalk.
Alternatively, simply hit the streets and enjoy the small cafes and bars that are always pumping under the New Zealand sun. Here you can find amazing places to eat and drink with all the quirky atmosphere a small beach town brings!
Well, that’s the 15 best places to visit in New Zealand according to me.
These places made my New Zealand trip as good as it was and a trip like no other.
Regardless of the places in New Zealand you visit, you’re sure to have an amazing time. It’s such a beautiful country with so much to see!
Planning a New Zealand Trip
Booking Hotels in New Zealand
- Check out the properties available on booking.com on the North Island and South Island of NZ. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
- If you fancy a home and living like a local, or have a large family or traveling with a group of friends, consider Airbnb. They can be a better option than booking several hotel rooms.
Flights to New Zealand
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Car Rental in New Zealand
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.
Tours of New Zealand
- Our partner, the Get Your Guide tour company offers many New Zealand tours and attractions. They have lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges.You can pre-book tickets and skip the line at top attractions and cancel up to 24 hours before.
See all New Zealand tours here and read the reviews!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Not having travel insurance on an overseas trip (or domestic) is not worth the risk. Anything can, will, and sometimes goes wrong.
What happens if:
- You need to cancel your trip unexpectedly
- You get sick or injured on your trip
- Your luggage is lost or stolen
- There is a terrorist event
- You lose your passport
- A hurricane damages your destination
Travel insurance is designed to cover unexpected medical emergencies and events such as trip cancellation, your personal effects, lost, stolen or damaged luggage by an airline, and other related losses incurred while traveling.
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