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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.