Celebrated for its amazing scenery and enjoying worldwide attention thanks to its appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand’s stunning landscapes make a perfect holiday destination. With so much to see, it can be difficult to ensure you don’t miss out on the best sights, but we’ve put together a list of ten must-visit destinations on both the North and South islands to get you started.
Situated in the Mackenzie Basin of the southern island, Ohau forms the convergence of the Hopkins, Dobson and Ohau rivers. There are numerous hiking trails around the area; for the most adventurous, the Maitland Hut to Snowy Gorge Hut route is unmarked and stretches over 8km of conservation land. If you don’t feel up to a five-hour trek, a ten-minute climb up the hill next to the car park affords a view over the beach and the forest.
As the second-largest city in the South Island, Dunedin has a thriving arts scene, and popular cultural attractions include the Public Art Gallery and the Fortune Theatre, home to the world’s southernmost professional acting company. Climbing Mount Cargill will give you a panoramic view of the city, the harbour and the peninsula beyond. And if you’re into indie rock music, ask in local music shops for examples of the Dunedin Sound, a style created in the university city during the 1980s.
Franz Josef Glacier
Tucked away in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the Franz Josef Glacier attracts around 250,000 tourists each year. Some choose to walk up the glacier, but if you’re pressed for time or prefer not to have to break out the crampons, helicopter tours will drop groups of visitors between the first and second icefalls for a shorter guided walk along the top.
Not for the faint of heart, the town of Hanmer Springs provides a wealth of sporting opportunities, including bungee jumping, mountain biking and bushwalking. The local Adventure Centre runs quad biking, clay bird shooting, archery and ski hire, as well as a wine trail for the refined traveller.
Thirty plant species unique to Southern New Zealand are found in the nearby Molesworth Station, which can be reached by coach and includes a guided tour of the area’s history. If you’d like a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking landscape, chartered helicopter flights over North Canterbury are available daily.
The Bay of Islands, a natural harbour in the Northland Region, is one of the most popular fishing and sailing destinations in New Zealand. As its main tourist town, Paihia offers a huge range of attractions, including the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty was signed between the British settlers and the indigenous Maori in the 1800s. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out Haruru Falls, a concave waterfall on the river. There’s also a theme park offering flying trapeze, circus high wire and climbing wall sessions, and a Culture North Night Show six days a week, which rounds off the evening with a dramatic interpretation of the history of the country.
Not for the claustrophobic, Waitomo’s main attraction is its network of underground caves. Featuring rock climbing, blackwater rafting and tours of the multiple glow worm colonies, this is a once in a lifetime experience that will leave you awestruck. And if you’re travelling with less intrepid friends, you could always send them off to the nearby town of Te Kuiti, self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world, which houses the local historical foundation and a shearer over seven metres high – the largest in the world.
Home to Huka Falls, an 11 metre drop on the country’s longest river, the area around Lake Taupo is one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. The lake itself has a surface area of more than 600 square kilometres, making it the second largest freshwater lake in Oceania. Boat trips around the Western Bay provide an up-close look at the impressive Maori carvings, the tallest of which is over ten feet high and depicts the face of Ngatoroirangi, a navigator who guided the local tribes to the area over a thousand years ago.
Close by, the Huka Honey Hive produces manuka, ginger bee and bush honey, as well as mead and liqueurs. Visitors can tour the production centre and see the bees, before heading to one of the other attractions in the vicinity, such as the Craters of the Moon, Wairakei Terraces and the Huka Prawn Park.
The largest city on the South Island has sprung back to life remarkably well since the 2010 earthquake. Notable attractions include the Court Theatre, which holds productions every evening, and natural sights such as Port Hills summit and the Banks Peninsula. The intriguingly named Taylor’s Mistake provides a safe, secluded swimming area, and a quick boat trip will take you across to Quail Island, an uninhabited key that is now used as a recreational reserve.
This southern resort town is a famous haunt of tourists from all over the world. With five ski resorts, a 150-kilometre biking route, and a whole host of panoramic vistas and nature trails, there’s something to please all tastes. The Kiwi Birdlife Park and Underwater World Aquarium provide a glimpse of the local animals, and if you’re feeling peckish, you could always swing by Cookie Time on Camp Street. The creators of the world’s largest cookie opened their first Cookie Bar in 2010 and business has been thriving ever since.
The capital city is nestled between Mounts Victoria & Albert and the Porirua Harbour. Nearby Pauatahanui is the largest remaining wetland in the North Island, and some of its lagoons have been developed into a public park comprising playgrounds, duck ponds, a rose garden and a miniature railway.
Museums abound in the city itself, the most well-known of which is probably Te Papa Tongarewa, the official museum of New Zealand’s cultural history. Other attractions include the World of Wearable Art, the Karori Sanctuary and the Botanic Garden. When night falls, a visit to the Carter Observatory will let you stargaze through the historic Thomas Cooke Telescope, and Planetarium shows occur about once an hour throughout the day.
With so many options, it can be hard to know where to start, but luckily companies such as Contiki provide comprehensive New Zealand tours for all budgets and timescales. Enjoy your holiday, and let us know if you found any other hidden gems!