Dubbed the prettiest toilets in the country—perhaps in the whole southern hemisphere—the Hundertwasser toilets are a work of art in their own right. They were designed in 1975 by the legendary artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian expatriate living in Kawakawa, and this is reflected in the intricate patterns of mosaics that make up every bit of the toilets, from the sinks to the floor. They are also some of the greenest toilets in the world: the materials were all made out of recycled glass and plastic, and grass was planted on the roof. Unsurprisingly, it is the most-photographed toilet in New Zealand, and has also won a coveted Golden Plunger Award.
Called the ‘adventure capital of New Zealand’, Queenstown is packed full of exiting things to do, but one of the best has to be the Shotover Gorge just outside the town. Not only is it possible to walk the gorge and take a zip wire across the river, but historically the area was home to many gold miners, who panned for minerals in one of the most gold-heavy areas in the word. It is still possible to pan for gold today, but one of its main attractions is the Shotover Jet. Due to the river’s raging rapids, it is possible to ‘ride’ the currents in a jet boat, which is fantastically exciting.
For those people who love the Lord of the Rings franchise, look no further: this is the place where it all started. Located in Petone, a suburb of the capital city Wellington, the studio and its team of gifted artists create special effects and prosthetics for films from Lord of the Rings to Avatar. Their works of art are dotted all over Wellington, from the Gandalf statue on the High Street to the massive rendering of Gollum in the Wellington Airport. Going into the studio is an eye-opening experience: you can see swords, building plans and Gollum…and that’s only in the gift shop.
Ignoring the smell of eggs that lingers around the town of Rotorua, there are also some really beautiful hot water springs. Formed by the high amount of tectonic activity in the northwest of New Zealand, these waters are pushed to the surface near the town and have been a tourist attraction for years—whether for the supposed health benefits of the springs or the unusual crystals and formations caused by the minerals in the water. For those looking for some excitement, there are also geysers and hot mud pools to contend with, as well as several Maori marae, or traditional meeting halls.
Situated in one of the most isolated areas of the North Island, the Tongariro Crossing is a seven-hour walk that takes you through a World Heritage site and passed several volcanoes. New Zealand’s varied natural tourist attractions are visible here, from the popular skiing resort Mount Ruapehu, to the Rangipoe Desert and the Ketetahi Hot Springs. One of the mountains, Ngaurauhoe, was used as a stand-in for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, making for some pretty stunning scenery.
If you’re interested in the culture and heritage of New Zealand then the National Museum in Wellington, the country’s capital, is definitely the place to go. Bursting with artifacts and exhibitions that document almost every facet of the country’s history, from the elaborate Maori carvings which are at the entrance to the building to the huge whale skeletons and local legends on the first floor, anybody who goes there will need at least three or four days to see everything properly, all the way up to the giant embalmed squid tucked in the corner of the museum.
Who doesn’t like penguins? Perhaps one of the more exotic choices on this list, the tip of the South Island is one of the only nesting places of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, which is one of the rarest bird species in the world. You can view the nesting beaches through small wooden huts, and catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s amazingly diverse aquatic life—as well as penguins (though they’re cute enough by themselves) there are also seals and albatrosses. If you’re feeling brave enough, there’s also Stewart Island, which with only 381 people is one of the most deserted places in the country.
Despite its rather suspect name, this spring is actually one of the clearest in the world. Located on the Golden Coast in New Zealand’s South Island, it is incredibly beautiful. The waters are so clear that you can see the bottom of the springs—and clean enough to drink straight from the source—which at some places measures up to 63 meters deep. In addition, the waters have special significance to the Maori tribes of the area: the springs are thought to be the home of the powerful female taniwha (water spirit) Huriawa, and are classified as a national treasure.