The country of New Zealand lies in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main islands, namely North Island, and South Island. There are a number of smaller islands such as Stewart Island. The two main islands are divided by the Cook Strait which is a 22 km stretch of water. Both the islands are formed of volcanoes and glaciers, with dramatic coastlines and rugged outcrops.
It is no surprise that New Zealand is often thought to be the most picturesque and photogenic countries in the world.
1. Milford Sound
You may have heard of this amazing place as the eighth wonder of the world – that’s the way Rudyard Kipling described it, and it certainly is breath-taking in its beauty. The sound was carved in the ice ages by glaciers, leaving cliffs which rise up out of the water, and mountain peaks with cascading waterfalls as high as 1000 metres.
The best way to see the Sound is to take a boat cruise. These leave many times a day from Queenstown and Te Anau. Some of them offer diving and kayaking as part of the trips.
There is an underwater observatory at Harrison Cove where you can see some of the amazing water creatures.
Some boat trips will take you to the Milford Track where you may enjoy a good hike through amazing terrain.
You should plan to spend a full day in the area, or even longer if you have the time.
2. Aoraki/Mount Cook
This is the highest mountain in the country, listed as 12,218 feet. This is a very popular destination for tourists who enjoy hiking, walking or just admiring the spectacular scenery.
You will notice that there are three summits, which are Low peak, Middle Peak, and High Peak.
There are many places in the vicinity where you can stay in accommodation for a few nights while you explore the area.
Be aware that weather conditions may change, so make sure you are prepared for adverse conditions.
3. Museum of New Zealand
This is the national gallery and is found in Wellington. You may also hear it called ‘Te Papa’.
The museum is divided into two parts, namely the past and the future. The History section include textiles and clothing dating back to the 16th century.
Fossils and archaeology collection number over 250,000 specimens of birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians.
Plan to spend a full day here, there is a café where you can get lunch or a snack.
4. Fox Glacier
You will find this glacier on the South Island, and is well known as one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.
You can reach the face by walking from the Fox Glacier Village. About 1000 people climb it daily in the tourist season.
Make sure you pay attention to weather conditions and stay in the designated areas. This may not be suitable for people who are unfit, or for children.
5. Cable Beach
This magnificent beach is 6 km west of Broome, and is a 22 km stretch of beautiful white sands.
The waves are very gentle during the season from May to October. After that, there is an influx of jellyfish, so swimming is not advisable.
Take a camel ride along the beach at sunset and sunrise, and look out for the ‘clothing optional’ area, if this appeals to you.
If you head for the southern part of Cable Beach you will find Gantheaume Point where you may be lucky to see whales and dolphins as they migrate.
6. Waitangi Treaty Grounds
This is significant because it is the place where the Maori Chiefs signed their accord with the British Crown. There is now a museum on the spot, and a magnificent Carved Meeting House. The views of the Bay of Islands is well worth waiting for!
It is a short walk up to the Treaty House through delightful gardens.
Plan to spend a half day here, although you may stay longer if you are an avid photographer as this is a very well photographed spot.
7. Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
The caves are found 12 km northwest of Te Kuiti, on the North Island.
This spot is famous for the population of glow-worms only known to exist here. At the entrance you will be able to take an organised tour which includes a boat ride under the glow-worms.
Note the 16m vertical shaft of limestone which links the chambers.
The third level will take you down to the Cathedral, with the demonstration platform and the jetty. On occasions there are shows held here as the acoustics are superb. If you plan to attend one of them, you must book in advance.
Allow yourself a full day here, you can buy lunch at the visitor’s centre.
8. Bay of Islands
You will find this area about a three-hour drive north of Auckland. It is also possible to fly there, which takes less time, just 35 minutes. The whole area is made up of 144 islands, some of which are scarcely populated, while others are full of small, unique shops.
You will find tour operators running trips Between islands, either by sea or air, and there is also a ferry car link between Opua and Russell.
Once you are on an island, you will be amazed at the terrain, which may range from subtropical rainforest to river and seaside beaches.
Look out for dolphins and penguins, and if you are very lucky, you will see marlin and whales.
Most of the islands have good walking trails, while some of them have campsites where you can stay a few days.
9. Westland Tai Poutini National Park
This is found on the South Island, on the western coast. In the park you will find glaciers and temperate rainforests, as well as scenic lakes.
Look out for the remains of the old gold mining towns along the coast.
If you enjoy wildlife, look out for red deer and chamois. There is a very popular trail which runs from the Karangurua Bridge.
This is a great place to take an RV and spend a few days exploring the area.
10. Shotover River
You will find this in the Otago area of the South Island. The river is fast-flowing with many rapids, so is great for white water rafting trips and jet boating. You will be able to arrange this or hire equipment in Queenstown, which is close-by.
There are three jet boat operators who have the rights to use the river, as well as two rafting companies.
This is a great place to spend a few days, and perfect for taking an RV.
11. Doubtful Sound
This is a natural fjord in the far south west of the country. It is the second most popular tourist destination.
Doubtful Sound is 26 miles long and up to 1,300 feet deep in places. The only way to reach the Sound is to take a boat, and there are many cruises available. You can find tour operators in the town of Manapouri. The trips normally last a full day, although some of them offer overnight options.
Join an all-day day cruise or an overnight 16-hour cruise for an experience on the fiord.
12. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
This is possibly one of the most popular areas for day hikes in the country. The path will take you over the volcanic terrain of the active volcano Mount Tongariro. If you want to go further, then you can branch off along the eastern side of Mount Ngaurunhoe, and climb the side.
You will notice that the lakes and pools are deeply coloured by the volcanic minerals, and there are some springs which give off near boiling spurts of water.
Make sure you wear appropriate shoes as the area has sharp pieces of volcanic rock in some places.
13. The Great War Exhibition
You will find this in Wellington. It is the most amazing collection of scenes from the war, depicted year-by-year.
Look out for the enormous 10-tonne tank, and the 11-tonne gun. Perhaps most thought provoking are the hundreds of photographs from the war years.
This is a truly amazing collection, which honours the brave people who lived and fought at that time, and it is well worth a visit.
Plan to spend a full day here, it is certainly worth it.
14. Te Mata Peak
This peak is south of Hastings in the Hawke’s Bay area. You will easily spot it as it rises up about 400 metres. There is a road which leads to the summit, as well as different trails for hikers and mountain bikers.
When you get to the summit, be sure to look for Heretaunga Plains, and Hawke’s Bay. On a very clear day you may see as far as Mahia Peninsula.
Allow yourself a full day to get up and down, and be sure to take provisions with you.
15. Christchurch Botanical Gardens
You will find the gardens in the centre of Christchurch. They were founded in 1863 after an English Oak was planted to celebrate the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra.
There is an amazing collection of exotic and local plants. Be sure to check out the Curator’s House, and the Herb garden.
If you love roses, then look for the Central Rose Garden with over 250 varieties of roses.
There is a café and a gift shop, so you may want to spend a full day here.
16. The Otago Peninsula
This is an area, rather than a single thing. It is a section of land that forms the eastern part of the town of Dunedin. The peninsula is east of the Harbour. There are several things of interest in the area such as the Otago Peninsula Museum, the Historical Society Museum, Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens, and the Royal Albatross Colony – which is the only mainland colony of Albatrosses in the world.
This is a great place to spend a few days, either in a hotel or in an RV, and explore the area.
17. The Hooker Valley Track
This short walking trail is found within the Mount Cook National park. The walk is only 3.1 miles, going up to 330 feet, but the track is well formed and suits people of most fitness levels.
The walk has great views of Hooker Lake which typically has icebergs in it.
Aim for the lookout at the end of the trail as this is where you will have the best views of Mount Cook.
Look out for Hooker Glacier in the valley below you.
Plan to spend a full day here, and make sure you take enough water and food with you.
18. Fiordland National Park
This park is found in the southwest corner of the South Island, and is one of the largest national parks in the country.
Boat trips and kayaking are very popular here, and you will find several boat operators offering trips.
If you enjoy camping, then perhaps stop here for a few days, as there are several campsites.
The closest town is Te Anau where you can stock up on all provisions.
19. The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
This museum is in the centre of Dunedin very close to the railway station. The museum covers the old Otago Province and is the country’s most extensive and the oldest museum.
Look out for the research centre and the memorial to Otago’s War Veterans. You will also find 20th century artefacts here, along with a transport hall with historic vehicles, one of them being a trolley bus.
There is a section which houses some of the first computer equipment in the city, including an ICT 1301 mainframe – one of four in the entire world!
Allow yourself a half day here.
20. Abel Tasman National Park
You will find this wilderness reserve at the northern end of the South Island. This is most well-known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track. If you are a hiker, then make sure you see this.
The trail winds over beaches, then goes across ridges between Marahau and Wainui.
Watch out for the colonies of seals and the little blue penguins, as well as the bottlenose dolphins who live in the area.
Plan to spend a full day enjoying the area, and be sure to take a camera.