Must-Visit Attractions in New Zealand

The Queenstown skyline gondola downtown overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range
The Queenstown skyline gondola downtown overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range | © eye35 / Alamy Stock Photo
New Zealand is the place to admire unspoiled natural landscapes, incredible national parks and monumental adventure-filled destinations. With so many choices at your fingertips, it might be hard to decide what to check out first. But Culture Trip is here to help you with that: just take a look at our pick of the country’s must-visit attractions.

Abel Tasman National Park

Park
Walking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
© David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo

Home to the renowned Abel Tasman Coast Track (one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks), Abel Tasman National Park sits right at the northwestern tip of the South Island. Hiking is just one of the must-dos in the area. You can also kayak the serene blue waters and its surrounding coves – if you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins and swimming next to you.

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The Bay of Islands

Natural Feature

Within a three-hour drive from Auckland lies the incredible Bay of Islands Region. Island trails, secluded coves, an abundance of marine life and exquisite rock formations are some of the key highlights that visitors can look forward to. Some of the area’s most popular destinations include Cape Brett, the Poor Knights Islands and the towns of Paihia and Russell.

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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Waiheke Island

Natural Feature

A ferry ride from Downtown Auckland is all it takes to reach this incredibly popular island destination. Spectacular beaches, remarkable vineyards and plenty of lush forestry adorn Waiheke’s picturesque shores. The island is bigger than it seems, and there are plenty of activities to try out on a single day trip.

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Mount Maunganui

Natural Feature

Home to one of New Zealand’s most popular beaches, Mount Maunganui is definitely worth visiting if you’re passing through the Bay of Plenty Region. Choose between walking around its namesake mountain, or right to the top; the latter will reward you with wonderful panoramas of the Tauranga Harbour.

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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Wai-O-Tapu

Natural Feature
Waiotapu colorful thermal lake, Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
© Travel Pix / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand has plenty of geothermal treasures to be discovered. Rotorua is where you’ll find the very best. Among its magnificent spouting geysers, mud pools and volcanic lakes you’ll find the famous Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, a place that’s famous for its awe-inspiring forces of nature and uniquely coloured thermal waters.

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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair)

Lake Taupo

Natural Feature

Head to the middle of the North Island to encounter the country’s largest lake. This prominent gem, better known as Lake Taupo, is a popular stopover for water-sports enthusiasts and adventurous travellers eager to try the lake’s water-touch bungy jumps. The lake’s Huka Falls are also worth seeing if you’re passing through.

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Waitomo Caves

Natural Feature
Glow worms in Waitomo Caves, Waikato Region, North Island, New Zealand, Pacific
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Visitors from all over the world head to the Waitomo Caves to catch a glimpse of the native glow-worms that light up its subterranean limestone walls. You can immerse yourself in this natural luminescent showcase through a leisurely underground tour, or you can take the adrenaline route by caving, hiking or heading on a rafting expedition.

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Lake Wakatipu

Natural Feature

A sparkling blue glacial lake that practically envelops New Zealand’s most popular tourist town. Queenstown is filled with sensational sights and activities, and Lake Wakatipu seems to be right at the forefront of many of these – it’s a popular place for walking, cycling and even picnicking.

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Southern Alps

Natural Feature
Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook (Aoraki), Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand
© GRANT ROONEY PREMIUM / Alamy Stock Photo

Extending almost the entire length of the South Island, the Southern Alps mountain range is the highest in Australasia. It is home to Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Mount Tutoko, along with various other mountains, glacial lakes and enchanting forests.

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Hokitika Gorge

Natural Feature

Here’s an underrated treat for you. Hokitika Gorge is located in the South Island’s West Coast region, and its waters have a remarkable turquoise tinge that you won’t get to see elsewhere. Walk around the gorge to marvel at a concoction of sublime glacial waters, rock stilt and plankton.

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Tiritiri Matangi Island

Natural Feature
Tiritiri matangi island, north island, new zealand
© JONATHAN AYRES / Alamy Stock Photo

Located on New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, Tiritiri Matangi Island is an incredible wildlife sanctuary that’s home to various native and coastal birds. It is a predator-free island, where a number of threatened and endangered species have been introduced and protected from extinction.

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Tunnel Beach

Natural Feature

Tucked away just south of Dunedin, Tunnel Beach is famed for its secluded coastlines, incredible rock formations and compelling excavated tunnels. A short walk along a fenced, downhill track is all it takes to reach this hidden treasure.

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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Marlborough

Natural Feature
Marlborough sounds in the north of south island
© Laetitia Fernandez / Getty Images

Right at the tip of the South Island you’ll find the Marlborough Region. Along with comprising New Zealand’s largest vineyards and wineries, the area is loved for the spectacular river-drowned valleys that make up the famous Marlborough Sounds, as well as the fantastic hiking and cycling opportunities one can find along the Queen Charlotte Track. An inter-island ferry trip from Wellington is all it takes to reach this wonderful destination.

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Franz Josef Glacier

Natural Feature

Glacier hiking is on top of many New Zealand visitors’ bucket lists. One of the country’s best-known glaciers, Franz Josef is highly desired by those wanting to get on the ice. While you’re in the region, definitely consider taking the time to visit its other famous neighbour, Fox Glacier. While Franz Josef is the steepest of the two, Fox Glacier is noteworthy for being the longest and fastest moving.

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

Natural Feature
Punakaiki rocks in New Zealand
© Oliver Förstner / Alamy Stock Photo
Situated on the South Island’s West Coast, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are the West Coast’s most popular tourist attraction. Watch as the Tasman Sea bursts through vertical openings in the limestone rocks. The best time to watch this live entertainment from nature is at high tide. Keep an eye out for Hector’s dolphins which like to swim in shallow waters near the shoreline.
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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Hot Water Beach

Natural Feature

The Coromandel Peninsula’s movie-worthy Cathedral Cove gets plenty of love, but Hot Water Beach is a local treasure worth cherishing too. With its golden sands and bubbling hot waters, this deserted piece of coastline is sure to enthral all travellers who spend some time familiarising themselves with the North Island’s natural beauty. Don’t forget to bring a shovel so you can scoop out your own thermal mineral water spring to dip into.

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Nelson Lakes

Natural Feature
Backpacker on Lake Rotoiti in New Zealand
© wildnerdpix / Alamy Stock Photo
As the start of the South Island’s Southern Alps mountain range, the Nelson Lakes National Park is an exciting place to explore for adventure seekers. With glacial lakes, red-and-silver beech forests and a network of mountain ranges, this picturesque area can be explored over a multi-day hike with stopovers at mountain huts. Day visitors can try one of the lakeside walks around Lake Rotoiti or Rotoroa.
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Hamilton Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park

The Hamilton Gardens is different to any other you’ll find in New Zealand. Unlike the ones in Queenstown, Wellington or Auckland, it is not a botanical garden in the strictest of terms. Rather, the 54-hectare (133.4-acre) park is a showcase of 21 gardens that symbolise the art and traditions of different civilisations, including Maori, European and Southeast Asian.

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Pelorus River

Natural Feature
Pelorus River, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand
© Douglas Peebles Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Situated between Picton and Nelson, the emerald-green waters of the Pelorus River are great for kayaking and whitewater rafting. If just driving by, stop at the Pelorus River bridge and do the loop walk that goes up one side of the river to a rope bridge, cross over and explore the native forest before heading back to the car park. There is also a walk down to the river itself for those who want to cool off in the river.
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Te Papa Tongarewa

Museum

A visit to Wellington is not complete without dropping by the Te Papa Museum. This is the place to familiarise yourself with local history, Maori culture and many other important aspects of New Zealand society. The regular line-up of exhibitions also make this a great place to keep coming back to.

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Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

Cape Palliser

Natural Feature
Cape Palliser lighthouse standing atop a cliff up 252 steps, New Zealand.
© Phil Crean A / Alamy Stock Photo

Head two hours outside of Wellington to soak up this coastal gem. Wildlife lovers should keep an eye out for the seals that lounge around Cape Palliser’s rocky beaches. If you want to get your heart racing, hike up the stone steps that lead to the lighthouse – the magnificent views are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

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Milford Sound

Natural Feature

Perhaps New Zealand’s most famous natural location, Milford Sound on the Southwest Coast of the South Island is an outdoor lover’s dream. This pristine environment with sparkling lakes bordered by towering glaciers and snow-capped cliffs is best explored on a cruise or a kayak with a local tour operator. The Sound can be explored on a day trip from Queenstown or Te Anau.

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Stewart Island

Natural Feature
View of Native Island from Stewart Island, Wohlers monument lookout, New Zealand
© Piter Lenk / Alamy Stock Photo
Often referred to as New Zealand’s third island, the subantarctic Stewart Island is situated 30km (19mi) from Bluff and is the southernmost tip of this Pacific island country. Most of the island is considered to be part of the Rakiura National Park and is a great place for hiking and spotting the elusive kiwi.
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Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd

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These recommendations were updated on September 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.