I’ve visited New Zealand three times (an easy 3 hour flight from Sydney!) and travelled by campervan, bus, plane, and ferry around both of its unique islands. This diverse country is packed with a range of activities and cultural experiences, and has something to offer every type of traveller. It’s one of my absolute favourite places to visit due to it’s spectacular scenery and laid back atmosphere. I’d like to share with you my top travel spots from North to South.
Bay of Islands
A spectacular and lesser known part of New Zealand is the Bay of Islands. 3 hours north of Auckland you’ll discover the township of Paihia, where you’ll find most of the accommodation in this area. This is also the departure point for boat trips where you’ll be taken through giant holes in ragged rocks protruding from the ocean, weave around the many small islands, and see dolphins jumping behind your boat.
Mostly known for it’s sulphuric smell (you get used to it, I promise), this city is set on one of the thinnest parts of Earth’s crust. The nearby Craters of the Moon park offers visitors the chance to walk through an geothermal area with steam plumes shooting into the sky and hot mud pools bubbling beside you.
Rotorua is the heart of Maori culture in New Zealand. You can take guided tours through existing Maori villages (I visited Whakarewarewa, but there is also Tamaki and Mitai) and experience the way they have lived here for over 200 years. Many of the villages also offer traditional Maori dinner and dancing performances.
New Zealand’s capital city is precariously placed among jagged hills on the South coast of the North Island. Oops, it’s built on a major tectonic fault line so it’s kind of prone to earthquakes. But don’t worry, the city’s people are well aware of this so most of Wellington’s buildings are built to survive the occasional seismic activity.
Wellington has a super relaxed seaside atmosphere and is world famous for having amazing coffee. Pick any cafe in the city and the barista will make you something fabulous. There’s also great food (head to the Friday night markets on Cuba Street) and sampling some of the local seafood is a must.
If you’re into specky views and nature, take the cable car up to the botanic gardens then do the downhill city walk through the botanic gardens. Mt Victoria lookout is also well worth a visit for 360 views of the city and ocean.
Lord of the Rings fans will love Wellington (skip this paragraph if that’s not you!). You’ll find the Weta Cave here, and many filming locations are in and around the city. You’ll find a few on the walk up to the lookout on Mt Victoria, and a 40 minute drive will take you to Kaitoke Regional Park, host to the beautiful scenery of Rivendell. If you’d like to see some of these locations, I’d highly recommend doing a day tour as the guide will be able to pinpoint the exact spots where certain scenes were shot.
Yes, a helicopter ride is damn expensive – but if you are ever planning on doing one, do it here! It will be totally and utterly worth every cent.
On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the ocean on both sides of the south island and you can actually land (and walk) on pristine untouched snow on top of a mountain! Surrounded by icy peaks and glaciers flowing through this incredible alpine environment, you’ll feel as though you are on top of the world. You won’t regret it.
Around Mount Cook there are more activities. Walk through jagged rocky terrain to get up close to a glacier where you can hear sheets of ice breaking off during Spring, and see lakes with hundreds of large and small icebergs floating on the surface.
A must visit for every traveler. Host to almost 2 million visitors per year, the population of Queenstown swells to almost double during the winter season when everyone flocks to take advantage of its proximity to 4 major ski fields, including the Remarkables which also act as a spectacular backdrop to Lake Wakatipu.
Adventure travellers will never get bored with the insane amount of extreme sports available in and around Queenstown. Skydiving, jet boating, white water rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking… you name it.
Queenstown has of the largest concentrations of backpackers hostels in NZ, most of which are an easy walk of the town centre. Partygoers will find an abundance of eccentric bars and watering holes. A great selection of cuisines are available and are scattered throughout the centre (be sure to check out the famous Fergburger for the best burgers in Queenstown).
For those not into adventure sports or partying, Queenstown still has something to offer you! Lakeside scenery more spectacular than you’ve ever seen awaits as you drive along the lake in any direction. The Skyline Gondola, though touristy, is worth a trip up the hillside as the views it offers are rather incredible. Hiking trails are abundant along the lake and hilltops, and you can drive to a number of cute townships (such as Arrowtown or Glenorchy) within an hour.
The breathtaking Milford Sound is one of the most spectacular places on Earth, and is the only glacial fiord accessible by road in New Zealand.
The 4 hour drive from Queenstown is almost as spectacular as the fiord itself, taking you through winding valley roads, rainforest, and mountain tunnels.
Once you arrive, jump on one of the many boat tours that take you right up close to sheer cliffs with waterfalls cascading down the sides and rich green forest created by the semi-permanent rainy mist hanging overhead. It’s worth the journey – you won’t be disappointed!
Have you been to NZ? What was your favourite place, or where are you looking forward to visiting? Please share in the comments!