Whether visiting the North, South or both of New Zealand’s main islands, there is a ton of nooks and crannies for you to explore. Highlighted in this list are some specific places you should seek out, given the chance. From cities to bird colonies and everything in between, New Zealand promises to placate the traveler inside us all.
Christchurch has been included in this list for honorary purposes. It used to be considered New Zealand’s crown jewel of the South Island. Its architecture and overall quaintness made it a location for romantics the world round. Much of the ambiance resonates from being the oldest declared city in New Zealand. However, Christchurch has found itself decimated by a long series of constant earthquakes from 2010-2012, and has yet to find its feet again. Many of its iconic buildings have been damaged beyond repair. Not content with abandoning the city, Christchurch’s residents are rebuilding (whether this is a good idea or not remains to be seen). But rest assured that this gem is still worth a visit and will be even more so in the near future.
9. Muriwai Gannet Colony
Ask many New Zealanders about the Muriwai Gannet Colony and you might be surprised at the nonchalance they exhibit. You park at a lot and you see some birds, no big deal. Don’t let the apathy fool you, the gannet colony is a legitimate slice of National Geographic quality nature found right outside the city of Auckland’s back door. This spot is a mere thirty five minute drive from the central business district. Once you arrive, a well-worn path and wooden rails lead you to a bird’s eye view of the shorebirds’ colony. The best time to visit the Muriwai gannet colony is during the Jan-Feb birthing season. You will find the gannets nesting a mere 10 feet or so from the railings. Watch them fly past at staggering speeds. Your heart can spend hours gazing at parent gannets nursing their young or sink as you watch them try to resuscitate dead chicks. The cycle of life is on full display. In addition to the gannets, New Zealand is an ideal destination for any bird lover as they have some of the coolest flightless birds in the world. But that is another list for another time.
8. Kerosene Creek
Kerosene Creek is a (small) geothermal heated river near Rotorua, New Zealand. This rivulet runs through a series of small waterfalls and pools. The real experience is only a bit further down where the largest waterfall lets out into the widest swimming hole Kerosene Creek has to offer. Experience the feeling of fine gravel and smooth rocks underfoot while a hot waterfall rushes over your back. Recent rainfall can cool it down a bit, so try to go when there hasn’t been a downpour in a while. Also, like many places in NZ beware of sand flies!. There are many other (some are more secretive) geothermal hot springs scattered throughout the Rotorua region. Rotorua itself has lodgings aplenty that include their own geothermal heated pools and baths.
7. Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is probably the best option to visit in New Zealand that doesn’t include a lot of walking to enjoy. Travelers who are looking for a little less adventure and more casual surveying of natural beaches and rolling vineyards are best suited for this trip. You can catch a ferry out of the Auckland Viaduct and enjoy a relaxing trip through the Hauraki Gulf. Past Mt. Rangitoto, the Volcano that stares at and can be seen from the city of Auckland, you will find Waiheke. There will be a wealth of ways to get around including all inclusive bus packages. Look for the bus route that suits you best and go visit the many wonders Waiheke has to offer. Whether you soak in sun and sand at Palm Beach or enjoy a bush walk through one of the many nature reserves, Waiheke provides a unique island expedition. The island is especially known for the liquid treasure found at its many wineries.
6. Stewart Island
Right off the southern tip of New Zealand there is Stewart’s Island. It can be reached by way of Invercargill and is one of the most pristine, untouched places you can find in the country. Stewart Island is a great place for unbridled nature and viewing fauna. There is only a mere 400 or so people that call the place home permanently, mostly living in a town of Scottish origin, Oban. The major drawback is that it is quite expensive and out of the way of New Zealand’s many other natural attractions. So while it is probably one of the best trips you can do in the country, it is far from being the most practical.
5. Ninety Mile Beach, Northland
It is not an uncommon site in New Zealand to see automobiles mixing it up in the sand. Nowhere, however, is this practice as famous as at Ninety Mile Beach. The straight stretch of flat sand makes for a highway unlike any other. Sadly, most rental companies won’t allow you to take their cars for a spin. Be sure to make friends with the right local kiwi! Besides your other typical beach activities, body boarding down the towering sand dunes has become a popular hobby. For all the stress on being kind to nature, the kiwis have yet to understand the concept of staying off the dunes. For now there aren’t enough people in Northland to do serious harm to the dune system, so suppose it is alright to give bodyboarding a whirl or two.
4. The Tongariro Crossing
For those looking for a true adventure, the Tongariro Crossing provides eight plus hours of scenic trekking. Side adventures are available such as visiting Mount Ngauruhoe. The area itself is valuable culturally to Maori. Scenes from the Lord of the Rings were filmed here due to the pristine environment. Perhaps the best one-day hike you can do in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing covers 15 miles of volcanic terrain. The trail was shorter, but an eruption in 2012 caused it to be rerouted. Yes, there was an eruption: Mt Tongariro is an active volcano, after all. One of the hazards of this trip is that unlike many other hiking locations, there can be very little or no freshwater available to drink at all (due mostly to the volcanic nature of the area). Everything must be carried in and carried out.
3. Hot Water Beach
One highly suggested New Zealand tour would be of the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island. This peninsula is swollen with sub-tropical rain forest, sea cliffs, pristine beaches, and (small) charismatic towns. It is here that two of the North Island’s prime features, beach and geothermal activity, come together to make the distinct Hot Water Beach. Located on the east coast, Hot Water Beach has a hot spring along the shore of the ocean. During low tide, tourists and locals alike bring shovels and dig at the area of sand left by the retracting surf. It isn’t far down until you start reaching fresh hot water. Dig your hole to your liking and settle yourself in for a relaxing experience. If you get too hot, have a dip in the cool Southern Pacific Ocean. Some people are very industrious and clear out huge areas in the sand to share a soak with friends. Of course, be sure to check the tide charts before you go!
Kiwi’s might cherish Wellington as their prided city, but Queenstown is a thrill seeking paradise. The town itself is a unique global experience that is worth its own spot on this list. You might not find many native kiwis in town, but you will find a vast array of seasonal (or permanent) workers from different countries. The architectural integrity of the city (I use the term city very, very lightly) is enough to give you the European feeling of walking through stone streets and paths. Geographically, Queenstown is second to none: it borders Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by the “Remarkables”, a set of mountains known for their spectacular beauty. Other mountains and glacier hikes that could be conquered while in the general area include Mt. Cook, Rob Roy Glacier Trail, and the famous Franz Josef Glacier if you have the time and the money. Queenstown is not simply a launching pad to other great adventures, it also has a special charm all its own.
1. Milford Sound (Fiordland)
There are two exceptional experiences you can have in Milford Sound. One is that you have a sunny day with high visibility making for great pictures and more chances of seeing the Fiordland’s penguins. The other is that the weather can be rainy and miserable, but the waterfalls will be flowing full blast! Either experience is worth the trip. If you get the chance, you owe it to yourself to take a cruise around this spectacular fiord. Seals and waterfowl frequent the area and you are bound to see some wildlife. There are many iconic rock formations to be seen such as the Bishop’s Hat. Traveling through Fiordland and into Milford sound is taking a step back in time, when the impact of humans was much, much smaller.