Great Reasons to Visit New Zealand

New Zealand’s faraway location ensures that its natural beauty is protected from the hordes of tourists who would overwhelm this place if it was easy to get to. True, New Zealand’s greatness has been exposed to the world by movies like The Lord of the Rings, but surprisingly few people make their way down here. But with places and activities like those listed below, New Zealand is clearly worth any journey:

Abel Tasman National Park
Gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park with a blue sky and green treetops
Stepping into Abel Tasman is in some ways like stepping into Thailand. The beautiful beaches and azure blue water feel like they belong in the tropics, not New Zealand. The hiking is beautiful, with giant ferns, trees, and a great climate. There are a lot of one- to three-day hikes here. But if you really want to see this park, kayak around. This lets you explore the tiny little coves and beaches that make the area so special. This park is best as an overnight or multi-day trip, as it’s too far from Nelson to really do in a day.

Glacier Trekking
Incredible glaciers in New Zealand
There aren’t many opportunities to hike glaciers in the world, and trekking up to the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers is something that just about every traveler should do. While the glaciers are heavily touristed, the experience lives up to the hype (though the Fox Glacier is a little less touristy). Yes, you’re walking on ice, but it’s a surprisingly cool experience, and you can even climb down and through tunnels in the glaciers.

Extreme Sports
A girl bungy jumping off a bridge in New Zealand
New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. From bungee jumping to sky diving to white water rafting, most people come visit New Zealand and blow their budget on a wide range of exciting activities. I enjoyed the canyon swing, the caving, the hiking, and zip lining. There are a million activities, and if you love adrenaline, New Zealand is your dream destination.

Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Crossing in NZ is a sight to see
Considered the best day hike in all of New Zealand, the crossing takes you to where they filmed Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. The 19.4 km walk is easy at parts and steep at others, especially after “Mount Doom.” But despite the sore legs, walking through this space-like environment of volcanoes, red colored land, and sulfur was the highlight of my whole time in New Zealand. Even if you aren’t a strong hiker, the Tongariro Crossing is easily doable, though expect your legs to be very sore for the next few days.

Maori Culture
Traditional Maori cultural dance show in NZ
Maori culture is a fascinating and important part of New Zealand life and history. My love of their culture started with the movie Whale Rider, and I’ve loved learning about their history, culture, and situation. Maoris are a friendly and proud people, and there wasn’t one Maori person I met who I didn’t like. My only regret is not spending more time learning about the culture. Rotorua is usually the main place to see any cultural shows.

Cityscape of the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington, on a sunny day
Wellington has character. Everyone talks about Auckland (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the capital), but the real magic takes place in Wellington (the capital). The architecture and eclectic vibe give this city a great personality that should not be missed. There’s a great nightlife, a concentrated center, and a beautiful harbour. I’d choose Wellie over Auckland anytime.

Glow Worms
Magical view of the Waitomo glow worm cave
Definitely one of the coolest things I did while in New Zealand, the Waitomo glow worm cave is hyped and touristy but amazing as you walk or abseil down into darkness and float down the (very cold) river while staring up at caverns covered in “lights.” It’s like looking at the stars. I found the three-hour trip long enough, but if you like to abseil, you should consider the five-hour trip. This experience is one of my most lasting memories from my trip to New Zealand.

Picturesque view of the adventure city of NZ: Queenstown
Everyone hypes up Queenstown. Everyone. But Queenstown is everything they say it is and more. I cannot express my love of Queenstown enough. Queenstown looks more like a mountain town in Canada than a town in New Zealand. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, has an amazing lake, and tiny little pedestrian streets. There’s such a great vibe and energy in this city. Most travelers come here because there’s a great party scene and most of the extreme sports I mentioned above are here, including the famous 417 meter Nevis Bungee Jump.

View of Lake Taupo
By far my favorite place here, I ended up visiting twice and always had to force myself to leave. Taupo has a lot of great hikes, a beautiful lake for fishing, and is the jumping off point for the Tongariro crossing. It lacks the energy Queenstown has but is certainly not lacking in beauty. Taupo is my third-favorite town in New Zealand, and I stayed weeks there because I enjoyed it so much.

The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings official movie cover
If you’re a The Lord of the Rings junkie, New Zealand is perfect for you. This is where they did all the filming, and you can take The Lord of the Rings tours throughout the country and visit the spot where Frodo destroys the one ring, where the forests are, and where Gondor lay. Most of the sets were taken down, but a bit of the Shire still remains on the North Island and you can still see some of the hobbit houses on the North Island.

This list only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in New Zealand. In a country filled with adventure and wildlife, everyone will find something here. Travelers rarely have anything bad to say about the country, and, as you can see, there’s good reason for that.

For more information on traveling this country, costs, and things to do, visit my guide to New Zealand travel.

  1. Nadia Ahmad Kamal

    Thanks for pointing out the best of New Zealand, Matt! I enjoyed this post. I will be going to New Zealand (one of the must-visit countries this year for me!) this June/July to visit a friend who’s living in Auckland, and he suggests that we go skiing at Mt. Ruapehu. :)

  2. Brian

    Thanks for sharing the pics. Hard to believe thee are so many different outdoor experiences in such a small country. Beaches and glaciers, unbelievable.

  3. I have been reading up on New Zealand as I am planning to visit next October and I am just so impressed with all of the natural beauty there! I can’t wait to see it myself.

    Are you going to write about your experiences with the hop on hop off bus? I’d be interested to know how that went for you.

    • Gen

      Hey Stephanie! How long will you be in NZ? I didn’t do the hop on/hop off bus because it’s extremely easy, affordable, practical (and I think preferable) in this country to buy a car or campervan when you get there and sell it when you leave. If you’re only going for a week or two this might not be worth it, but any longer than that and I would say it is, especially if you’re traveling with others and can split the cost.

      For example, I picked up a beautiful, fully-loaded 2-year-old Toyota Camry for $1100 NZD and sold it 9 months and the entire country top-to-bottom later for…$1100 NZD. I never could have (or would have!) afforded that car back home. It was awesome.

      The campervans are a great and popular option too depending on what time of year you go. Either way, having your own set of wheels to explore NZ is an excellent way to do it.

      (But that being said…just go! You could go through NZ on your hands and knees and still have a blast. :))

      • I’m planning about three weeks in NZ, traveling solo. Not really long enough to go through the hassle of buying a car (not to mention mastering stick shift). I’m still rather loathe to do one of the hop on hop offs because I feel like they are a very touristy experience. Right now I’m leaning towards taking public buses to get around but I’ll be interested to hear Matt’s opinion.

  4. No question that NZ offers more environmentally (especially geographically, maybe not in terms of fauna) in a smaller area than perhaps any other place in the world. It’s pretty unique when you can glacier hike and surf not very far apart!

    But what’s with all the sheep, : ) ?!

    • Having never been, I’m not sure it’s overrated but people don’t talk about NZ quite as often as Australia… which in and of itself has great appeal.

      • Kevin

        Jim – there’s a bigger population in Australia & more points of entry, so it goes without saying that Australia gets more lips flapping.

        We Kiwis (the human variety, not the flightless bird variety) like it that way – it’s not over-run by tourists. :)

        One other great reason for visiting NZ – what snakes? What spiders? 😉

    • louisa klimentos

      Australia isn’t overrated I have been to alot of national parks in Australia that are rally beautiful.I think too many tourists just visit the heavily commercialised places ,Hir e a four wheel drive and you will experience great scenery.Besides all that i can’t waite to visit New Zealand .We all no it is one off the most beautiful places in the world.

  5. I had the best time visiting the North Island last year and doing many of the things you mentioned (Tongariro, Taupo, etc.) but I cannot cannot cannot wait to make it back and see the South.

  6. Gen

    I’m so glad you loved Queenstown. If you like to ski or snowboard you’ve gotta go back for the winter sometime. I lived in a hostel and worked on the mountain there for the ski season in ’06 and had such a blast. The town is alive with energy and almost totally focused around snowboarding. All the bars have fires roaring in the fireplace and many have amazing videos of skiing and snowboarding playing on loop. It’s a really magical atmosphere, enough so that I’m headed back there at the end of this 3-year Asia journey to do it all again!

  7. Absolutely fantastic. Would love to check out that glow worm cave, looks like something out of a bad sci-fi flick from the 70’s 😉

    This all makes me go visit NZ, as soon as possible.

  8. Would love to go glacier trekking plus experience as many extreme sports as possible. Great picks! I’ve heard that Nelson on the top of the South Island is well worth visiting as well.

  9. Sofia

    I absolutely loved Golden Bay and Abel Tasman. The sand truly is golden, and the kayaking is great!
    Queenstown was alright I thought, but the most beautiful parts were just outside like in Glenorchy.

  10. Tongariro Crossing looks awesome. I always love a good hike and I hope it’ll be more like your picture rather than the life and death journey of Frodo and Sam.

  11. Tom Scanlon

    Sorry to say that as a young American Sailor I missed so much while visiting N.Z. back in the 70’s. There’s an old saying; “Wisdom is wasted on youth”. I’m living proof of that except for the youth part.
    Don’t procrastinate, just GO!

  12. Matt, great list of New Zealand famous destination. My next trip probably Tongariro hiking and Queenstown.

    This is my recent trip to Cape Reinga and fortunately I was able to capture the beautiful blue sky, white sand beach and amazing scenic views.


  13. I went to New Zealand for 5 weeks in total. I hired a car in the North Island for 2 weeks and a car on the South Island for 3 weeks. This is a must as it allows you the freedom to explore all the remote nooks and crannies of this diverse country. In the 5 weeks I was there, I managed to white water raft, bungee jump in Queenstown, go hiking at the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, visit the glow worm grottos, stand at the Bluff signpost and most of all make some new friends for life. New Zealand has so much to offer every visitor. I highly reccomend everyone should visit at least once in their life. I certainly will be visiting again sometime in the near future.

    • Simon

      Hi everyone,

      Can anyone give us some advice on how to choose between the foot hike and heli-hike tours at the Franz Joseph Glacier? what are the differences, besides the cost, of course.
      Would you see better blue caves if you do a heli-hike up there? I would appreciate if anyone who has been the the Franz Glacier to comment on this.


  14. What a great set of pictures and well written coments. I really must move back soon. A few other places to add to the list are the Coramandel, Waiheke and the are around Nelson. Take a look at some more pictures

  15. Matias

    Hi all!
    I’m planning to go to NZ in April but I can stay only two weeks there… is it worth it? or should I wait until I have over a month to spend there?


    • Jessica

      My husband and I visited NZ for 3 weeks (Sept. 19 – Oct 12). We rented a car in Christchurch and returned it in Auckland. We spent the first two weeks in the south island and the last week in the North and stayed at all Top 10 camping sites (top 10 also has a member card which saves you money on other places around town and also saves money on the ferry). They were all very nice and it was very nice to be able to use a shower and be able to cook our own food in their kitchens. We brought our tent and stayed in that the whole time, which it ended up being quite cold so be prepared if you are going then, we had to buy more sweaters and such when we got there. Over night it was about 35 degrees or so. But we had the most amazing time and would go back in a heart beat and would love to move their. Everyone was so extremely friendly and willing to help with any questions. The people were a lot more considerate of each other and it was amazing to see and a very nice change to the U.S. Both my husband and I would love to live there.

  16. robbie

    i came here for a holiday from the uk….that was nearly three years ago. i live in the bay of plenty, right on the coast, in nz’s sunniest place (now official)…whakatane. i’d like to add some places well worth a visit if i may…
    i recently toured the south island for three weeks, travelling every highway…in my opinion, places not to be missed there are….
    malborough sounds, abel tasman, kaiteriteri, farewell spit, kaikoura, moeraki boulders, hooker valley (eye popping views of mt cook) the catlins, slope point (most southerly point of the south island), haast pass, lewis pass, hanmer springs, arthur’s pass, pancake rocks, milford sound…the drive there alone is awesome!! wanaka, buller gorge, waikarepupu spring (the world’s clearest fresh water….has to be seen to appreciate the stunning clarity).
    i notice no mention of some of the north islands secrets…lake waikaremoana…lake tarewera…the green lake…te urewera national park……take a drive down the forgotten world highway, from taurangi to taumaranui…awesome!! big game fishing here in the bay…white island (nz’s most active volcano)…the list is truly endless, but these are my favourite places…oh and don’t forget the coromandel….hotwater beach, cathedral cove, whitianga, blah blah blah….just do it!!!

  17. Great post, I love New Zealand too, and you mention some of the reasons here. I also like Wellington much better than Auckland, even though this might not be a fair judgement since I was in Wellington for 2 weeks, and in Auckland only 3 days. There are so many wonderful nature around Wellington that are free, Cape Palliser that is a natural seals habitat being one of my favourite.

    Unfortunately I didn’t have time to taste the South Island at all. I didn’t have much time in the North as well, so I take a conclusion that I need to go back there :)

  18. Conny


    I went to NZ two years ago and miss it so much. Ill go back to Auckland next year..
    But the next months make me crazy..

    Auclad is the most beautiful city in the world and NZ the most beautiful country..

  19. Anushree

    that was an amazing experience shared by u.. NZ is truely an amazing, beautiful country.. I hope that one day i get a chance to visit NZ n share my experience… btw luved the pics..

  20. 2 weeks until I’ll be in NZ for the first time. I can’t wait to see and experience what you have listed, especially glow worm caves, Tongariro Crossing and bungy jumping!

  21. Beautiful pictures. Reminded me of my last trip to NZ many years ago with my family.
    Still remember vividly our helicopter trip to MT Cook as well as Queenstown’s Bungee jump, though I didn’t had the guts to do it.

  22. sarski

    I was in NZ in Nov-Dec 2008, and absolutely loved it. Friend and I hired a car and stayed in variety of youth hostels, backpackers, and bed and breakfasts, and motels. Loved Nelson and Abel Tasman Park, drove to Kaiteriteri, and got the water taxi up the coast, and hiked the trail back down the coast. Fabulous.

    Akaroa near Christchurch was lovely, went swimming with the Hector’s dolphins in the bay there, a really good experience. Heli-hiking on Franz Josef glacier, Milford Sound, Bay of slands in North Island, Coromandel, and too many other beautiful places to mention. The people were wonderful, very friendly and laid back. I can’t wait to return, and hope I do one day.

  23. Wow! We really want to go to New Zealand and this just made it even more appealing to us! It looks so beautiful and I bet it is amazing seeing the Maori culture. I really can’t wait to see New Zealand for myself!

  24. Like I needed anymore reasons to want to visit New Zealand. I never knew about the Glow Worm Caverns and will definitely have to add it to my list of places to visit. I have been planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia for awhile now. They have also been filming “The Hobbit” down there too and part one comes out this year.

  25. James

    Matt, you should come back for the Cricket World Cup in 2015. Not sure if you were here in 2011 for the Rugby World Cup, but New Zealand really comes to life for any sporting event.

    Since you’re not a typical American and probably don’t need your sport presented to you with a coating of sugar and $30m commercial breaks, you might enjoy yourself, even if you find cricket confusing.

    Don’t know what times of year you’ve been here but February and March are beautiful in NZ (aka the months that don’t rain as much as the rest of the year). It might also give you an opportunity to change your low opinion of ‘bland’ Auckland (my home city, thanks).

    I’d also suggest going to Raglan on the west coast. Hell, you even stay at my bach down there!

  26. T M Jones

    I’m a born & bred Kiwi but spent a number of years living overseas and have visited many other countries around the world. From Africa, Europe, Middle East, The Islands & Asia.

    BUT with no disrespect to any other nation, overall none compare to New Zealand.

    Its isolation & natural beauty, mountains, deserts, volcanoes, forests and beaches are just unimaginably beautiful. Clear, clean air and sparsly populated, crystal clear sparking lakes .. it is the only place I want to live.

    I’m biased yes – as Im a New Zealander but I have been around the globe and this is indeed, the shimmering jewell at the bottom of the world.

    Tip: When travelling down the East Cost of the South Island (where a lot of seal colonies live along the road side and there is whale watching tours) when you get to Kaikoura ask about the Ohau Stream Walkway off State HW 1, Nth of Kaikoura. Kaikoura means: ‘meal of crayfish’ (and get some too cause nom, nom,nom)

    Just a 10 mins trek off road and there is a natural baby seal nursery there. Its free, and you can sit and watch the pups play happily under water falls in their own private pool.. Their parents drop them off there to keep safe while they head out into the Pacific Ocean to fish for the day. Is very cute.

    Thanks for all the lovely comments re my country. :) See you all soon!

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