New Zealand is made up of two islands, both of which have a diverse and beautiful natural setting. Known for its glaciers as much as its beaches, New Zealand is the perfect destination for adventurers and lovers of the great outdoors. Sensational national parks, diverse and exciting cities, and pleasant weather make New Zealand a location that should be on everyone's bucket list.
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Queenstown, on the South Island, is one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand for tourists. There are so many outdoor activities to be done in Queenstown that it's pretty much a requirement on any traveler's bucket list. Visitors can skydive or bungee jump, with amazing views of lakes, canyons, and mountains on the way down, or go whitewater rafting on the Shotover River. There are also opportunities to see some of the prominent and recognizable filming locations from the Lord of the Rings series on a guided tour of nearby Glenorchy.
2. Abel Tasman National Park
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Located on the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is renowned for its gorgeous sandy beaches and the granite cliffs that rise up above them. The perfect spot for a day trip to the beach, where visitors can kayak, canoe, and sunbathe on a secluded stretch of sand, Abel Tasman National Park is also well known for its hiking trails. The most famous of these, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, is nearly 40 miles long and takes an average of 3 to 5 days to complete, but there are plenty of other shorter trails for amateur hikers or those looking for a simple day trip.
3.Aoraki - Mount Cook
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The village of Mount Cook sits at the bottom of this massive mountain, which at 12,218 feet at its summit is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The mountain lies within the bounds of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, which is an exceptionally beautiful place, full of rocky snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear glacial lakes, and some lovely hiking trails. All the trails in the area provide some wonderful mountain views, and most take about 3 hours to complete, but climbing Aoraki / Mount Cook itself is not a feat that is recommended for amateurs.
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Auckland is one of the biggest cities on New Zealand's North Island and is one of the most major cities in the whole country. It's a world-class city with some unbelievable nature right at its doorstep, and it makes a great homebase for a stay in New Zealand. From here, it's easy to reach some of the wonderful surrounding nature and the adventure that it brings - kayaking to a volcano or strolling along the black sand beaches, for example - all while being able to return to a place with countless restaurants, shops, nightlife, and accommodation when you're done.
5. Central Otago
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Central Otago refers to the central region of the South Island, in the Otago Region. In sunny Central Otago, visitors will find dry, hilly landscapes and some beautiful heritage towns. Otago was the center of the gold rush in New Zealand, and some of the small towns there, like Bannockburn, Naseby, and Ophir, still reflect this history with their old-school charm. The region is also perfect for wine growing and is home to a number of excellent vineyards, which are especially famous for pinot noir. A tour of the local fare in Central Otago is sure to include some fantastic wines alongside local cheeses, meats, and produce grown in the region.
6. Chatham Islands
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The Chatham Islands are an archipelago of about ten islands located about 500 miles east of New Zealand's South Island. The Chatham Islands, with their sheer rocky coastlines and rugged green wilderness, were the ancestral home of the Moriori people, a Polynesian tribe very similar to the Maori of New Zealand's main islands. There are daily flights to the Chatham Islands via Air Chathams, which leaves from Auckland and Whanganui. The islands are famous for delicious, fresh seafood, which can be sampled at any of the restaurants on the Chatham Islands. There are also lots of opportunities to view wildlife, from the abundant birds and animals to the flowering plants in the archipelago.
7. Christchurch Canterbury
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Christchurch is a city on the South Island of New Zealand on the East Coast of the island and in the region of Canterbury. It's the second-largest city in New Zealand and is known as the Garden City for its gorgeous gardens and parks. The traditional English feel of Christchurch is offset by the common New Zealand feeling of never being too far from nature, and it's true: There are oceans, beaches, and mountains at the city's doorstep. The region of Canterbury is well known for its diverse landscape, with snow-capped mountains, beautiful blue lakes, and grassy plains.
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Dunedin, a city on the South Island, was founded by Scottish immigrants. It's a university town that isn't as often visited by tourists as other cities in New Zealand, so it has a best-kept secret feel to it. The beautiful Edwardian and Victorian architecture, trails for hikers and bicyclists, and diverse city life full of food, nightlife, art, and shopping all combine to make Dunedin a lovely paradise of a city. There are beautiful beaches, unique food, and even access to the Otago Peninsula, where keen-eyed visitors might spot an albatross or a yellow eyed penguin.
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Fiordland is named for the fiords of Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound, which were carved by glaciers millions of years ago and lie within Fiordlands National Park. The crystal-clear blue waters, from which mountains rise up on all sides, are part of some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of New Zealand. The mountain to sea vistas, with their forests and splashes of color, are picture perfect, as are many aspects of this beautiful place. For a fully immersive experience, visitors to Fiordland can go hiking, climbing, fishing, camping, or kayaking.
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Literally named for its food, kaikoura in the Maori language means "crayfish food." Most restaurants in Kaikoura serve this local specialty, caught right off the coast. Kaikoura is actually very well known for other marine life as well; there is an abundant population of seals, dolphins, and whales that live permanently in the ocean near the town. A whale watching tour taken from Kaikoura is almost always fruitful, with plenty of wildlife to observe, including a local population of fur seals that are pretty entertaining. Located just a few hours from Christchurch, Kaikoura is a great spot for a day trip.
11. Lake Tekapo
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This town in the geographical center of the South Island is named for the lake of the same name, which lies just north of the town. Lake Tekapo is beautiful and colored a unique cloudy blue due to the glacier-ground rock flour in its waters, and the town, with mountain vistas rising from the lake's turquoise edges, is both historical and friendly. Lake Tekapo might be gorgeous during the day time, but once the sun sets, this area is truly magical. It's part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, meaning that once night comes, the skies of Lake Tekapo are lit up by a mind blowing number of stars.
12. Lake Wanaka
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Lake Wanaka, the fourth-largest lake in New Zealand, is located inland on the South Island in the Otago Region. The crystal-clear waters of this gorgeous lake make for some beautiful photos, and the sunny inland weather makes for even more beautiful days spent out on the water. During the summer, Lake Wanaka is perfect for sailing, fishing, and kayaking, and the nearby mountains provide a great setting for hiking, climbing, and even skydiving. During the winter months, the peaks surrounding Lake Wanaka are busy with skiers racing down the slopes.
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Marlborough, a region located at the northernmost tip of the South Island, is a name that should sound familiar to anyone who appreciates a good wine. The region is famous worldwide for its sauvignon blanc, which is grown and produced at vineyards throughout the area. Other reasons to visit Marlborough include its delicious fresh seafood from the coastal waters and, like most of New Zealand, its gorgeous landscapes. Along the coast of the region are a mass of tiny coastal islands and waterways, with dramatically shaped pieces of green land rising up out of the blue water, which is very popular for boating.
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Matamata is a must-see destination for any Lord of the Rings fans visiting New Zealand. This small town on the North Island has a number of delicious cafes, and its location, set into the shadow of the Kaimai Mountain Range, is downright stunning. But what draws people to Matamata is what lies just southeast of the town, namely the filming set and location for Hobbiton, the home of Frodo Baggins and his hobbit companions in The Lord of the Rings series. There are 44 hobbit holes set into the hills of this location, including Bag End.
15. Milford Sound
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Milford Sound is a beautiful sight: Forged thousands of years ago by glaciers, its waterfalls and flowing waters are framed by sky scraping mountains, which reach up with their rocky fingers into the air. Boat cruises of the sound, which are offered both during the day and overnight, are an excellent way to interact with this piece of nature. There is also ample opportunity at Milford Sound to see the fiord from a sea kayak, from the air, or from beneath on a scuba dive. Along the edges of the fiord, hikers can traverse the Milford Track, which winds its way through the vivid wilderness and takes approximately 4 days to complete.
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In 1931, an earthquake devastated the town of Napier, killing over 250 people and destroying many of the town's central buildings. Resilient and determined, the survivors of the earthquake began to rebuild immediately, and they did so in the style of the period. As a result, the town of Napier serves today as an excellent example of art deco architecture, with distinctly New Zealand touches such as Maori patterns and aesthetic details. Delicious vineyards that produce pinot gris and Syrah, farmers' markets, and annual festivals to celebrate the town's heritage are just a few of the other details that make Napier feel like a step back to a simpler time.
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17. Nelson Tasman
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Nelson Tasman is the sunniest region in all of New Zealand, and its landscapes - full of golden beaches, dense green forests, tall mountains, and freshwater springs - reflect that sunny demeanor. On a sea kayak tour, visitors can spot penguins, seals, and maybe even some dolphins, while on land they can visit Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is a city famous for its Nelson Bay scallops, and restaurants along the coast will serve them with a delicious glass of local wine. It is also a city that has long drawn creative people into its arms, and the art galleries, craft fairs, and studios in the area provide visitors with an opportunity for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
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Northland is, as the name suggest, the northernmost region of New Zealand. Its climate is subtropical, with lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and pleasant days, and the region encompasses not just the main island but also the Bay of Islands as well as thick forests of kauri trees and an abundance of marine life. Snorkeling off the Poor Knights Islands, watching for dolphins from a boat tour, surfing down the Te Paki sand dunes, or enjoying a drink at the Duke of Marlborough - home of the oldest liquor license in New Zealand - are just some of the exciting adventures that await.
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Rotorua is lucky to be in possession of a veritable natural wonderland, with recreational options for families, adventurers, and sightseers. Its lakes are perfect for fishing, boating, and relaxing on the water. Maori culture is strong in this area, and visitors can catch a performance of a traditional Maori song and dance in the living Maori Village or at the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. In Whakarewarewa Valley, tourists can view the Pohutu Geyser, a 30-foot geyser that erupts multiple times a day, and see the bubbling pools of mud formed by the geothermal activity of the region.
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Lake Taupo, on the North Island, is a large and beautiful lake that formed in the caldera of a volcano of the same name. It is the largest lake in New Zealand based on surface area, and the lake, in its volcanic bowl, is a beautiful place to visit. Visitors to the area can soak in the warm, geothermal pools at Wairakei Terraces, fish for trout in the lake's waters, or cycle along the trail that follows the edges of the lake. There are also opportunities for adrenaline sports, such as bungee jumping and skydiving, and a strong presence of the Maori people. Some of the most beautiful Maori artwork can be found on Lake Taupo at the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings, and with the Kai Waho native experiences, visitors can experience traditional Maori food and music.
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21. Tongariro National Park
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In Tongariro National Park, which is a World Heritage site, there are three active volcanoes, including Ngauruhoe, which served as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings series. On the slopes of one volcano, skiers race down the sides, and on another, there are boiling pools of mud and emerald lakes full of volcanic gas. Hiking trails lead to the Red Crater, an active crater on top of Mount Tongariro. At the base of the volcanoes, visitors can paddleboard, kayak, and enjoy the large lakes that lie peacefully at the bottom.
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The Waitaki Region stretches through the center of the South Island, meaning that it contains beautiful coastlines as well the imposing mountains and green plains of the island's inland regions. In the coastal town of Moeraki there are boulders strewn upon the beach that are over 65 million years old, and in the waters off the land's edge there are dolphins that leap into the air as they play. Further inland, the town of Oamaru and its white stone buildings are a lovely and charming stop on the way to the famous Aoraki / Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
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Waitomo Township is green and hilly, but underneath the sunny, glassy area lies something much darker and more intriguing: A system of caves and underground streams. Visitors to the Waitomo Caves can see the massive stalactites and stalagmites all lit up by the population of phosphorescent glow worms that live in the caves and illuminate the space with an eerie light. Those with a more adventurous heart can also choose to explore the caves via a zipline or by blackwater rafting, which involves holding tight to a rubber tube as they navigate the twists and turns of the underground river.
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Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, is located at the southern end of the North Island. There's a huge art scene in this city, which is well known for its creative spirit. Visitors to Wellington will enjoy its many art museums and galleries, tours of movie sets and locations, and all the shopping and food that the city has to offer. A quick ride on the famous Wellington Cable Car will provide visitors with a gorgeous view of the city and surrounding areas, and a short drive out of the city will find tourists in some truly beautiful natural areas.
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25.West Coast Glaciers
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The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, located on the West Coast of the South Island, are two large glaciers that still flow nearly to sea level, even in this age where most of the world's glaciers are shrinking. Their lower altitude relative to most glaciers and the mild climate of the region mean that these two glaciers are very easy to visit, and tourists will get a kick out of climbing among the ancient ice, parts of which have open tunnels like caves that visitors can explore. To visit the glaciers, guests must book a helicopter or ski plane to the starting point and hire a guide to lead the trip onto the ice.
25 Best Places to Visit in New Zealand
- Queenstown, Photo: Courtesy of filipefrazao - Fotolia.com
- Abel Tasman National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Robert CHG - Fotolia.com
- Aoraki - Mount Cook, Photo: Courtesy of Victor - Fotolia.com
- Auckland, Photo: Courtesy of mickael - Fotolia.com
- Central Otago, Photo: Courtesy of NigelSpiers - Fotolia.com
- Chatham Islands, Photo: Courtesy of naruedom - Fotolia.com
- Christchurch Canterbury, Photo: Courtesy of Deyan - Fotolia.com
- Dunedin, Photo: Courtesy of ThoreHertrampf - Fotolia.com
- Fiordland, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Pichugin - Fotolia.com
- Kaikoura, Photo: Courtesy of Pouf - Fotolia.com
- Lake Tekapo, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Pichugin - Fotolia.com
- Lake Wanaka, Photo: Courtesy of Stphane - Fotolia.com
- Marlborough, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Matamata, Photo: Courtesy of elophotos - Fotolia.com
- Milford Sound, Photo: Courtesy of shirophoto - Fotolia.com
- Napier, Photo: Courtesy of David Pimborough - Fotolia.com
- Nelson Tasman, Photo: Courtesy of NigelSpiers - Fotolia.com
- Northland, Photo: Courtesy of corners74 - Fotolia.com
- Rotorua, Photo: Courtesy of Henner Damke - Fotolia.com
- Taupo, Photo: Courtesy of boyloso - Fotolia.com
- Tongariro National Park, Photo: Courtesy of mikasek - Fotolia.com
- Waitaki, Photo: Courtesy of pitsch22 - Fotolia.com
- Waitomo Caves, Photo: Courtesy of cloud9works - Fotolia.com
- Wellington, Photo: Courtesy of Martin - Fotolia.com
- West Coast Glaciers, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Naumov - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: VacationIdea LLC