Hikers, mountaineers and avid nature lovers head into Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to marvel at its mountain ranges, glaciers and remarkable rocky terrains. The national park, part of Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage area, in the southwest of the South Island, is home to Aoraki/Mt Cook – New Zealand’s tallest mountain.
Popular among surfers, landscape photographers and holidaying Aucklanders not wanting to go too far from the city, Piha Beach has something for everyone. Black sand and a rugged appearance are part of this beach’s appeal. The Lion Rock, a volcanic monolith with a war memorial and unique Māori carvings, is a favourite photo spot for visiting shutterbugs.
Cape Reinga is right at the top of the North Island – though it’s not quite the northernmost point in New Zealand. Māori legend tells us this is the place where the spirits depart from earth and into the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. The walk to Cape Reinga’s famous lighthouse provides some spectacular views of the coastlines and its surrounding greenery.
During the day, Lake Tekapo dazzles with its bright-blue glacial waters. At night, the area becomes a stargazing haven, with the township, its stunning lake and the nearby Mount John Observatory all part of the South Island’s International Dark Sky Reserve. In spring, you’ve got another picturesque bonus: the lupins that colour the roadside in a carpet of purple and pink hues.
Milford Sound is a secluded fiord in Fiordland National Park that welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, many of whom come from Queenstown or Te Anau to spend a day cruising the clear waters and admiring the natural scenery. The more adventurous might explore the Milford Track – one of New Zealand’s most highly sought-after multi-day hiking routes.
The Coromandel peninsula is a summer holiday favourite among New Zealanders. A collection of picturesque coastal towns, campsites, surf spots and fishing locations are some of its assets. Beautiful 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. Its symmetrical shape gives it a strong resemblance to Japan’s Mount Fuji – so much so that Mount Taranaki served as the backdrop for the famous mountain in the Tom Cruise film 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 amazing 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: this is the ultimate spot for a photo opportunity.
With its small-town friendliness and incredible lake and alpine features, Wanaka has become a much-loved getaway for those needing a breather from its dynamic cousin, Queenstown. In winter, Wanaka is the ideal base for skiers, as the town is en route to some of the South Island’s premier resorts; summertime offers plenty of water-based activities for those wanting to admire the expansive lake that gives the town its name.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, just outside Rotorua, has impressed visitors with its geysers and hot pools throughout history. The geothermal park is notable for its colourful springs, including the vibrant Champagne Pool and the fluorescent-green Devil’s Bath, as well as the spouting Lady Knox Geyser and the bubbling mud pools that aptly showcase the area’s remarkable volcanic activity.
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 spots 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.
The North Island’s Tongariro National Park holds a Unesco Dual World Heritage status because of its 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) and the boiling mud pools of the active Red Crater.
Many people are lured to Marlborough by the wine tasting. This beautiful stretch of the South Island has put New Zealand’s viticulture on the world map – not least because of its pioneering cultivation of sauvignon blanc varietals. If you like hiking, pay a visit to Marlborough Sounds and Queen Charlotte Sound.
When one thinks of Moeraki, the first things that come to mind are the compelling 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. The boulders, often in clusters, have been carved out of mudstone erosion and turbulent waves.