A visit to New Zealand will allow you to enjoy some of the most beautiful and geographically diverse landscapes in the world. From rocky alpine terrains to pristine beaches, here are 15 exquisite destinations you won’t want to miss.
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Hiker? Mountaineer? Nature lover? If you’re any one of these things, head into Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to marvel at mountain ranges, glaciers and rocky terrains. The national park, part of the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage area, is in the southwest of the South Island. It’s home to Aoraki/Mt Cook – the tallest mountain in the country.
Piha Beach is most popular among surfers, landscape photographers and holidaying Aucklanders not wanting to stray too far from the city. Black sand and a rugged appearance make this a natural idyll, while Lion Rock – a volcanic monolith with a war memorial and Māori carvings – is a ‘grammable manmade marvel.
Cape Reinga is at the northernmost of the North Island – though it’s not quite the northernmost point of New Zealand. Māori legend tells us this is the place where spirits depart from Earth and into the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. However, for those not quite ready to pass into the underworld, the lighthouse provides some spectacular views of the coastlines and surrounding greenery.
During the day, Lake Tekapo dazzles with bright-blue glacial waters. At night, the area becomes a stargazing haven, with the township and nearby Mount John Observatory all part of the International Dark Sky Reserve. In spring, you get another picturesque bonus: the lupins that colour the roadside in a carpet of purple and pink hues.
The Coromandel peninsula is a summer holiday favourite among New Zealanders. A collection of picturesque coastal towns, campsites, surf spots and fishing locations are serious assets; gems such as Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach are bonuses.
Also known as Mount Egmont, Mount Taranaki is a quiescent stratovolcano on the western coast of the North Island. The symmetrical shape gives it a strong resemblance to Mount Fuji – so much so that Taranaki stands in for the Japanese peak in The Last Samurai (2003). Hiking tracks around Egmont National Park provide access to this magnificent summit.
Located on the west coast of the South Island, the Hokitika Gorge is one of those rare places that look as good as the pictures. A walking track 33km (20.5mi) outside the town of Hokitika will bring you to the shimmering turquoise waters and densely forested surrounds. As you reach the viewing platform, a stunning swing bridge comes into view: the ultimate spot for a photo opportunity.
Just an hour’s drive from Queenstown, Wanaka is a getaway loved for the small-town quaintness and incredible natural beauty. In winter, it’s an ideal base for skiers, as the town is en route to some of the premier resorts on the South Island; summertime offers plenty of water-based activities in the expansive lake.
Set on the upper end of the South Island, Nelson Lakes National Park marks the beginning of the Southern Alps. At the heart of the park, you’ll encounter two breathtaking alpine lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa, surrounded by forested valleys. The lakes and parkland are great for camping, fishing, hiking and swimming.
Castlepoint is a small seaside town on the Wairarapa coast, just north of the capital city, Wellington. Its lighthouse is the tallest on the island – a walk to this 23m (75ft) beauty will expose you to some of the North Island’s most dramatic seaside views. A collection of fossil shells are found on the lighthouse route; if you’re lucky, you might spot native fur seals and birds hiding in full view. The sheltered lagoon at the base is another highlight.
Tongariro National Park is a rare Unesco Dual World Heritage site, because of both the Māori cultural associations and remarkable volcanic features. The park is home to three active volcanoes – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and the ski slopes of Ruapehu – as well as the glacial Emerald Lakes (best viewed by hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing). For something a bit more “out there”, there’s also the boiling mud pools of the active Red Crater.
Many are lured to Marlborough by the wine tasting. This beautiful stretch of the South Island has put New Zealand viticulture on the world map – not least because of the pioneering cultivation of sauvignon blanc varietals. If you like hiking, pay a visit to Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Sound.
The claim to fame Moeraki has is the spherical boulders scattered around Koekohe beach. These intriguing rock features on the Otago coast are notable for their size; they’re also of great interest to geologists, making this area part of a protected scientific reserve. Ooften in clusters, they’ve been carved out of mudstone erosion and turbulent waves.
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