During the past years I was blessed to visit New Zealand more than once and absolutely fell in love with the country. The kindness and openness of it's people combined with the raw, majestic landscapes make it my favourite place in the world.
One of the best parts about NZ is, that nearly everywhere you go is breathtaking. That's why it was difficult to narrow this list down to only 10 spots. Make sure to travel with open eyes and also stop in the less touristic places, that's where you will find the true beauty of New Zealand.
Let's get started...
1. Egmont National Park
Close to New Plymouth on the North Island lays the mighty Mount Taranaki. If not covered in clouds it's, for most of the year, snowy peak can be spotted from kilometres away. Based on my experience you will get the best views from the Taranaki Tarns that take a 3-4 hour hike to get to or Lake Mangamahoe that is accessible by car.
In addition there are many other great places to see in this area like Dawson Falls or the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock.
2. Lake Wanaka
One of the, if not the best place to spend a hot summer day in New Zealand. There are so many hidden bays here, that make you feel like you're completely sheltered from the outside world. If you're into action, you can easily rent a Jet-Ski or other exciting gear in town. For Photographers the main attraction will be "That Wanaka Tree" standing in the water close to the shore. The lakefront itself is pretty too and offers plenty of cute places to go for lunch or coffee.
Another Must-Do is the now famous Roys Peak hike. It took us around 3 hours on a continuous incline trail but rewards you with an impressive view over the entire lake Wanaka. When planning your trip, make sure to keep in mind that the track will be closed in winter and also during lambing season.
3. Tongariro Crossing
Hiking straight into the heart of Mordor. Yes, the famous Mount Ngauruhoe better known as Mount Doom was actually used in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. After seeing the volcanic landscape for the first time, it truly did not look like something out this world.
To be honest, the hike was challenging and took us around 4 hours to complete (in the dark) but once again you get rewarded for your hard work. Because from the top it feels like you're overlooking the entire North Island of New Zealand.
4. Milford Sound
It's difficult to put this location into words as they simply can not do it justice. Starting from Te Anau the 95 will guide you towards the Gates of Milford Sound. Make sure to take plenty of stops along the way to experience the entire atmosphere and scenery of the National Park. After driving through the Homer Tunnel you have entered into Milford and the street will lead you down to the water. That's where you will see the famous angle of Mitre peak and the Fjord being surrounded by high mountain walls with waterfalls. From here you can either rent kayaks, do a boat cruise, that I can highly recommend, or even go on a scenic flight. Whatever you decide to do, you might want to book in advance as it gets very busy during the day.
I have had the privilege to visit Milford three times now with all kinds of conditions you can imagine. Even though the Sound looks fabulous with sunlight and blue skies, it looks as dramatic with massive rain clouds and waterfalls coming down the mountain walls. My advice is to make this part of your trip in whatever weather New Zealand throws at you.
It needs to be mentioned that Milford Sound is only the most famous attraction in the Fiordland but you can find plenty other wildly impressive locations around the National Park.
5. Mount Cook
Another area worth visiting whilst on the South Island is Mount Cook National Park. It is named after New Zealands highest mountain, Mount Cook or otherwise called Aoraki. Many beautiful hikes start from the tiny village, they either take you up into the mountains or to one of the glacial lakes. If you don't feel like exhausting yourself, you can take a scenic flight to get a better overview.
I tried to visit Aoraki a couple of times and found out that it is very dependent on the weather. Once the entire road from Lake Pukaki was closed due to snow, the next time the mountain was hiding behind the clouds all day. But when it worked out and we finally got to see the mighty peak it was worth all the hassle.
My recommendation is to stay in the Pukaki/ Tekapo area for a few nights and do a day trip to Mount Cook when the weather looks promising. Otherwise you can enjoy the pretty lakes or continue your drive South.
6. Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo is home to a large underground cave system which you can explore by booking various tours. From above the area does not look too promising but when you get underground it will introduce you to another world. There are plenty of options to choose from, wether you only want to see glowworms, take a quick cave tour or abseil down a huge hole in the ground.
We decided on the latter and I will never forget this unbelievable experience. After a short walk into the jungle we stood on top of the lost world cave, an approximately 100 m rappel took us around 30 minutes and was the Highlight of the tour. From the ground of the cave we made our way into a natural tunnel system that we explored for a few hours before climbing back up and exiting the caves in the middle of the jungle.
When I first got to New Zealand in 2014, Tauranga was my hometown for almost a year. It is famously known for the Mount Maunganui, a lonely mountain that watches the entrance into the harbour. From up there you can get the best view of the entire city and its long beach stretching towards the horizon. As mentioned the beach is another Highlight in the area, the perfect place to spend a hot summer day and go for a surf. A few times a year, you might get lucky spotting some Orcas further out in the ocean.
8. Hokitika Gorge
The Hokitika Gorge is only one of the many impressive locations to visit when driving the West Coast on the South Island. I have never seen water this blue before, have a look for yourself.
Honestly this is not a place you have to stay long at but make sure to at least check it out!
The extreme sports capital of New Zealand. If you are looking for adrenaline rushes and outdoor activities you will love Queenstown. Wether it's Bungy-jumping, skydiving, mountain-biking, speedboating, skiing or rafting, this city has it all.
Being surrounded by mountain ranges and at the shores of Lake Wakatipu it is difficult to ever leave this place again. My secret advice is to not miss out on the scenic drive to Glenorchy.
10. Haast Pass
Connecting Wanaka to the West Coast, this is not only a useful route but one of my favourite drives in New Zealand. You will spot plenty of waterfalls whilst driving through the vibrant green forest or next to washed out river beds. I can recommend stopping at the visitor center on the way into the National Park and gathering information about the short walks. If you make the drive early in the morning you will have most of the places to yourself.
Thanks for reading!