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
Photo of Thalita Alves
9 September 2020

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

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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.

The Bay of Islands

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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.

Hobbiton Movie Set

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Summer in Hobbiton
Courtesy of Hobbit Tours | Courtesy of Hobbit Tours

Middle-earth comes to life at the Hobbiton Movie Set. A two-hour drive from Auckland will enable you to see the original hobbit holes and several film sites from up close – it’ll almost feel like you’ve stepped into a Tolkien-esque world of your own.

Waiheke Island

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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.

Sky Tower

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new zealand auckland new zealand north island auckland skyline Waitemata Harbour panorama of cbd sky tower and wharf area of the waterfront auckland
© eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo

Where else will you find a landmark that brings fine dining and adventure activities into a single location? Auckland’s Sky Tower is the highest man-made monument in the Southern Hemisphere, and is also renowned for its remarkable views of the Hauraki Gulf.

Mount Maunganui

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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.

Wai-O-Tapu

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Waiotapu colorful thermal lake, Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
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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.

Lake Taupo

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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.

Waitomo Caves

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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.

Tiritiri Matangi Island

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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.

Marlborough

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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.

Franz Josef Glacier

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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.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

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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.

Hot Water Beach

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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.

Nelson Lakes

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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.

Hamilton Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park
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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.

Pelorus River

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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.

Te Papa Tongarewa

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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.

Atmosphere:

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

Cape Palliser

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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.

Milford Sound

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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.

Stewart Island

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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.

Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd

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