A scenic island strand located at the border of Oceania, New Zealand may not be a rated travel destination, but it sure is an awe-inspiring island country regarded for its admirable methods of politics and countless natural landscapes scattered across its 600-so islands.
From glaciers to national parks – the rustic allures of South Island to the sunny lively North Island, we have put together a list of places to include in your New Zealand Itinerary. Sit back, relax and enjoy your read!
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Milford Sound is undoubtedly one of the greatest sites in New Zealand. A Fiordland located in New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound is part of the Tasman Sea. It’s known for its magnificent Mitre Peak, lush rain forests, steep cascading streams of waterfalls and marine life. This breathtaking site was carved out by glaciers in the ice ages. The Milford Sound was once the movie shooting site of the award-winning Lord Of The Rings. If you’re planning a trip to Milford Sound, Spring between September to November is the best time.
Travel to Queenstown in South Island
Overlooking the dramatic Southern Alps, the coastal city of Queenstown is one of the favourite travel locations in New Zealand. While travellers get to relax and indulge in natural ambience, Queenstown offers multiple extreme adventure activities for those hot-blooded thrill-seekers from across the world. Kawarau Suspension Bridge is such a location known for bungee jumping and jet boat adventures.
Apart from the Kawarau Gorge, the Coronet Peak area in Queenstown is famous for world-class snowboarding and skiing. That is not all. Vineyards here produce some of the best wines in New Zealand. The heart of South Island’s wine region, Queenstown is home to over 75 wineries. If you’re an experienced hunter and happen to be travelling through New Zealand South Island, remember to include Queenstown in your New Zealand road trip.
Join the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
By now, you probably already know that the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movie series was shot in the magical setback of the Waikato Region. Travellers are allowed to visit the location of the enchanting ‘Shire’ preserved in its original state. However, travellers must pay to join the exclusive Hobbiton tour to visit the movie set including The Green Dragon Inn – where the tour ends. The most exciting part about the Hobbiton tour is the concluding banquet fit for a Hobbit with low resting tables and traditional feasts.
Explore Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park
Located in the New Zealand North Island, Lake Taupo is known to be the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. Resting amid the Taupo Volcanic Caldera, this lake would cover the land area of Singapore. The crater was a historically significant one that took place at least 5000 years before. Swimming in Lake Taupo is restricted to several areas, but travellers don’t necessarily have to be in the water. The surrounding wildlife, marine life and plant species are all you need to see on your trip to Taupo.
The neighbouring Tongariro National Park is a dual world heritage site and New Zealand’s oldest National Park, home to three gigantic active volcanoes. The volcanic craters over the ages have accommodated boiling mud pools and emerald lakes that attract many travellers and photographers. Besides its scenic landscapes, Tongariro is a special place for Mauri people, as they have a spiritual link with the environment and their lives. If you’re planning a trip to North Island, remember to include Tongariro in your New Zealand Itinerary.
Go Dolphin and Whale Watching in Auckland
The deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean is a playpen for various marine life including Dolphins and Whales. While there are many private tour operators, Auckland Hauraki Gulf and Marine Park offer travellers promising sights of these majestic creatures and sea birds all year round. If you’re intrigued by marine mammals, go Dolphin and Whale Watching on a research vessel at Auckland Hauraki Gulf with expert guides who’d take you exactly where you need to be to sight the perfect angle.
Discover the Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands is a native territory on the east coast of North Island, consisting of 140 mini islands. It’s a famous tourist destination and a quaint fishing village with untrodden beaches and ancient Mauri artefacts. While the Southern region can be overwhelming with experiences, the Bay of Islands offers travellers a day to relax, enjoy a spa session, a seafood meal by the beach or even go dolphin watching. In addition to this, there are few remnants from the Colonial Era, back when it was the country’s capital. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand’s North Island, make sure to include the Bay of Islands in your itinerary.
Spend a day at Rotorua Island
Located in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, Rotorua Island is every nature lover’s dream come true. Encompassing 80 hectares, this beautiful Island is a flourishing sanctuary, home to a variety of endangered wildlife species and birds. It’s one of the best places to go bird watching in New Zealand. Rotorua is also famous for its award-winning museum exhibit that emphasises the rich history of Rotorua and the photographic Chris Booth sculpture. Situated close to Auckland, travellers can reach Rotorua Island via a ferry from downtown Auckland or Coromandel.
Relax on the plains of One Tree Hill
Known in Mauri as Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill is a volcanic plain in Auckland, which is considered a significant place for the natives. Standing at a height of 182 meters, One Tree Hill features an obelisk – a tall monument – at its summit which inscribes the Mauri relationship with early settlers. Built-in 1940 by an architect named Abbot, it is estimated that the carved volcanic rock dates back 28,000 years to the past. If you’re fascinated by geological findings and native heritage, add One Tree Hill to your New Zealand Road Trip.
Witness the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Although the two sites are completely different, and it would take a 16-minute drive to reach one from the other, both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier offers travellers one thing – scenic bliss. Fox Glacier – located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, follows the Fox River into the Podocarp Rain forest. It is visited by 1000 people daily during peak times. If you’re up for some serious ice hiking, Fox Glacier will guide you to wonderland within 40 minutes of walking. It is believed that the bedrocks of the glacier are at least 400 million years old. If you head towards Lake Matheson, you can catch a clear glimpse of the majestic Fox Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier – on the other hand – is one of the most breathtaking natural sites in South Island, which is easily accessible through a temperate rain forest. The glacier is one of the steepest in New Zealand, but travellers can hike the base trail without a guide. Unlike the Fox Glacier, Franz Josef is full of ice caves and crevasses that gives hikers a better opportunity at witnessing blue ice.
Leap off the Sky Tower in Auckland
A telecommunication tower to the regular people, an adventure tower to the daredevils, Sky Tower in Auckland is a significant building in the urban city hosting the world’s largest FM radio transmitter, a weather measuring technology and local TV broadcasting. The tower stands at 328 meters with an observation deck that provides visitors with stunning views of the city. However, what’s most enthralling is the Leap off Auckland Sky Tower. The jump would be a 192-meter fall and is specifically created for true daredevils who don’t fear heights. Remember to include Sky Tower in your New Zealand road trip itinerary.
Enjoy Marine Wilderness in the village of Kaikoura.
Referred to as the best place in New Zealand for Whale Watching, Kaikoura located in the Canterbury Region – close to Christchurch – is one of the most scenic coastal villages on the Island. Renowned for its marine wildlife offerings to visitors, Kaikoura is the perfect place for a getaway from the city. If you’re a whale watching enthusiast, you’d be excited to know that Kaikoura’s waters attract many sperm whales, orcas, humpbacks and even dolphins all year round. So be it a trip of any season, you’re sure to spot something. To enjoy a complete tour, make sure you stay in Kaikoura for two days.
Visit the Christchurch Botanic Garden
Christchurch is the hub of South Island’s explorations. Set against the enchanting backdrop of the Canterbury Region, most sites within Christchurch are picturesque. Such is the Botanic Garden built-in 1863 when a Royal commemoration oak tree was planted on the very grounds. It is now inhabited by exotic plant species, bridges, Victorian floral arches, and fountains. The Botanic Garden is home to many seasonal plants, hence during different seasons, you’ll see a variety of blooms. As the Christchurch Botanic Garden is considered a living museum, picnics are not allowed. But a trip here is a worthy experience.
Explore the Canterbury Museum
Established in 1867, the Canterbury Museum at Christchurch houses some of New Zealand’s richest cultural remnants, heritage and geographical values. Before exploring the insides of the museum, the exterior architecture too must be appreciated. Designed according to the Gothic Revival style, the Canterbury Museum was first a provincial council building that featured geological specimens of Dr Julius von Haast. Located only a 10 minute walk away from Cathedral Square, Canterbury Museum should definitely be in your New Zealand Road Trip itinerary.
Visit Abel Tasman National Park
Located on the northernmost end of South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a small coastal wilderness reserve covering 22,530 hectares of flourishing landmass. The National Park is widely known for its golden beach strands, hiking trails, water activities such as kayaking, forest explorations and many more. It is the ideal destination for a relaxing vacation. Travellers can also visit the famous Tonga Island that is home to Little Blue Penguins and Bottlenose Dolphins. Abel Tasman is the perfect end location to any South Island Road Trip itinerary.
Discover Marine Life at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium
Built by Kiwi Marine Archeologist and Diver Kelly Tarlton, the Sea Life Aquarium is a public site in Auckland and one of the most famous Aquariums in Australasia. Although it is mostly visited by children, Sea Life is an amazing place to visit even for adults. Many conservation projects are currently undergoing, including protecting Hoiho – the native endangered penguin species. Apart from all the marine species, the museum exhibits shipwreck discoveries, turtle rescue projects and Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic hut. Make sure to include Sea Life in your day trip.
Try Bungee Jumping at Auckland Harbour Bridge
A motorway bridge located over Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, the Harbour Bridge is the second-longest road bridge in New Zealand. But the significance of the bridge rests elsewhere. Adventure seekers travel from across the world either to witness mesmerizing sites of the cityscape and the alluring skyline of Auckland or to jump off the bridge – of course – with a bungee cord attached. If you’re an adventure enthusiast travelling across West Coast, make sure to head over to the Harbour Bridge or make it a thrilling day trip.
Immerse in Victorian Architecture at Albert Park
Located in downtown Auckland, Albert Park is a historically valued public site visited by many tourists from around the island. The park maintains a great number of exotic flower beds, old trees, a Victorian architectural fountain and statues. Albert Park provides a clear view of the Auckland Sky Tower and is a short walk from the Art Gallery. Even though the park is quite small, the beautiful splash of floral colours and eloquent structure, makes visitors feel welcomed. It is the ideal place to relax on a busy day and watch the world go by;
Discover Wellington on Cable Car
A funicular railway running between Lambton Quay and Kelbern, Cable car rides are the best way to discover Wellington at its most scenic state. The Cable car would take travellers across some of the Key sites in Wellington, such as the Botanic Garden, the Parliament, Historic Zealandia Conservation, Victoria University Art Collection, The Clifton Mural and the Rainbow Mural. One of the highlights is the Tunnel Light Show where the cable car goes through the LED illuminated 100m tunnel. An absolute marvel. It’s referred to by locals as the ‘Time-Travelling Tunnel’. Make sure to add Wellington to your New Zealand Itinerary.
Relax by Lake Wakatipu
Known as the Finger Lake, Lake Wakatipu is an inland water source located in the Otago region of South Island. Wakatipu is the longest lake in New Zealand at a length of 80 meters. It is also the third-largest lake in the country. Famous amongst locals for fishing trout, Wakatipu is a huge lake that offers tourists scenic views through motorboat expeditions. Apart from the lake, the Wakatipu Mountains and the Devil’s Staircase are also some of the must-visit destinations.
Escape to Hawke’s Bay
A coastal city and a prime wine region in the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is the ideal holiday destination for travellers looking for a temperate climate. Hawke’s Bay produces some of the known classical red wines including synah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and more. Apart from all its prestigious vineyards, Hawke’s Bay is also famously known for its Oceanside cliffs, hiking trails, peaks and even the National Aquarium of New Zealand – where travellers can witness the feeding of Shark. If you happen to be on a road trip around North Island, make sure to include Hawke’s Bay in your New Zealand Itinerary.
Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves
A stunning natural phenomenon taking place in one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking sites, Waitomo Glowworm Caves are home to the Arachnocampa Luminosa – a native worm species found in New Zealand. Waitomo derives from the Maori dialect translating to the water hole. The pitted walls of Waitomo Glowworm Caves are inhabited by thousands of these glowworms that illuminate in the darkness like magical fireflies on a night sky. Travellers can take boat tours along the stream-way system that includes Ruakuri caves and the Tumutumu caves.
Relax at Coromandel Beach
The Coromandel coastal town in the Coromandel Peninsula is a scenic ancient city in the North Island of New Zealand, which is also a famous holiday destination amongst locals. While travellers can surely enjoy the sightseeing tours and treks along the misty forests, the pristine beaches are the biggest highlight. Te-Whanganui-A-Hei (also known as the Cathedral Cove) is one of the most photographed destinations in the Coromandel Peninsula. Visitors will have to walk a long way from the car park area to reach the coast and the cave, but the end destination is worth it.
Have fun at Tekapo Thermal Pools
Lake Tekapo is a small town located beside Lake Tekapo in New Zealand’s South Island. It’s famous for its breathtaking landscapes, vast valleys and mountains. Although the scenic beauty itself is remarkable, Tekapo is particularly famous for its Hot Springs – also known as the Tekapo Thermal Pools located between Christchurch and Queenstown. It is one of the leading sites around the region where travellers can relax in the thermal waters or even enjoy a sauna experience overlooking Lake Tekapo and Mount John.
Visit Larnach Castle
An intriguing castle located in the Dunedin of the Otago Peninsula, off the east coast of the South Island, Larnach Castle rarely makes it to a New Zealand travel destination list. But it definitely should be! Larnach Castle and Gardens is the only castle in New Zealand. Built by prominent personality – William Larnach back in the 1870’s, the Larnach Castle is modelled according to Scottish baronial-style architecture that can be evidently seen across the rooms. Ever since the latter part of the 1960s, the Larnach Castle publicly became a tourist attraction. Today there is accommodation for visitors who likes a touch of Royalty in their stay.
Tour the Auckland Art Gallery
Referred to in the native language as Toi o Tamaki, the Auckland Art Gallery is the largest and the most prestigious art institution in the nation, hosting some award-winning masterpieces, Maori works and International exhibits that attract many tourists from across the world. The Art Gallery was first established in 1888 as Auckland’s Free Public Library. The chateau-style renaissance French architectural building today is a must-visit destination in North Island. If you’re on a road trip around Auckland, remember to head over to the Art Gallery.
Visit the Geothermal Valley of Te Puia
Preserving the Maori heritage, Te Puia in Rotorua is home to the famous geothermal valley – the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, and New Zealand’s Maori Arts and Crafts Institutes. The geothermal valley, in particular, attracts many travellers at night, who come to witness the multi-sensory experiences under the starry night sky of Rotorua. Guided tours are mandatory at Te Puia, where the guides provide all necessary equipment needed for the 90-minute hike. However, visitors should prepare for a decent distance of trekking, but it sure is worth it.
Visit New Zealand’s Best Beach – Mount Maunganui
A peculiar, yet famous holiday destination on the North Island of New Zealand, Mount Maunganui is a residential area of the Tauranga Metropolitan Area. The town got its name from the Mount itself which is an extinct volcano, and an important site for the native Maoris. The site is surrounded by a breathtaking stretch of white-sand beach and its main beach was awarded as the ‘Best Beach in New Zealand’ and listing among the top 25 beaches around the world. Hiking enthusiasts can climb up the Mount to catch a glimpse of the 360-degree view, while surfers can make memories at Pilot Bay.
Explore Kahurangi National Park
Spanning over 450,000 hectares, Kahurangi National Park in South Island is the second largest National Park in New Zealand. Not only is it a wilderness paradise home to over 18 species of native birds, but the park is also a habitat for large cave spiders, kiwis, nocturnal wētā and other carnivorous creatures. Apart from wildlife expeditions, the highlight of Kahurangi National Park is Heaphy Track for Hikers – New Zealand’s longest Great Walk. In addition, visitors can explore the Dry Canyons, Mt Owen – a Lord of the Rings attraction and even go White Water Rafting. If you’re an adventure lover, Kahurangi belongs in your New Zealand Itinerary.
Hike up Cape Kidnappers
Located in the famous wine region Hawke’s Bay of North Island, Te Kauwae-a-Māui, also known as Cape Kidnappers, may sound a little alarming, but the beauty you’d find at the location stands nowhere close to its name. Situated at an elevation of 113 meters, the scenic headlands got their name after the incident in which the native Maori traders attempted to kidnap one of Captain Cook’s crew by the shore in 1769. Hiking the cape has been a renowned tourist activity for years, where the final destination results in breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the lush valleys.
Trek along Mount Aspiring National Park
Belonging to the Southern Alps of South Island, Mount Aspiring, also known as Tititea, is a famous hiking destination amongst extreme adventurers. The peak is surrounded by the Aspiring National Park that also houses many glaciers, alpine lakes, rivers and lush valleys. It is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in New Zealand. Travellers can journey on a jet boat, walk along the blue pools, go mountaineering or even hike through the common trails while enjoying beautiful views.
Admire the Beautiful Mount Taranaki
A mesmerizing stratovolcano located on the west coast of North Island, Mount Taranaki is a scenic peak and one of the most photographed destinations in New Zealand. The name derived from the meaning of the Maori language ‘shining mountain’ due to its clear snow-capped peak that can be seen from even the far side of the region.
The Volcano last erupted in the 1800s. The Taranaki Region is a protected forest reserve, and the Mount is best viewed in the late afternoon as the sun directly glistens over the snowy peak. If you’re an adventurist who’s ready for a hectic hike up the hill, Mount Taranaki will pose a thrilling challenge for you. The journey would last at least 8-10 hours so remember to get yourself energised for the adventure.
Ride a boat across Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau in South Island is the second largest lake in New Zealand and the largest freshwater body in Australasia. Promising visitors with magnificent views of the flourishing valleys and mountains, Lake Te Anau is the perfect wind-off destination for a New Zealand road trip. Those who enjoy long strolls by the lake and boat rides would find Te Anau the ideal destination to be in during summer. In addition, you can swim in the lake as it’s quite safe. However, due to the waters being extremely cold in the middle, swimmers will have to make the swim quick to keep themselves warm.