New Zealand is a fascinating island country in the Pacific, the world of few people, magnificent forests, live volcanoes, moving glaciers, dense jungles, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and ancient Maori culture. Two main islands are home to many parks and wilderness reserves where New Zealanders protect their heritage. Abel Tasman National Park is famous for its fantastic golden beaches while Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the home to New Zealand's highest mountain Aoraki / Mount Cook. The Fiordland and Southern Lakes were introduced to the world in Peter Jackson’s "The Lord of the Rings" films.
Nearby trips: Best Beaches, Best Weekend Getaways, Best Day Trips
1. Fiordland National Park
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Located at the southwest tip of New Zealand’s South Island, Fiordland National Park is a 1.2-million hectare protected area known for the magnificent fiords in Doubtful and Milford sounds carved by glaciers eons ago. There is a trail through the beech forest running along the sandy shore that offers fantastic views of the massive Mitre Peak. The rugged Earl Mountains located nearby are mirrored in the quiet surface of Mirror Lakes. The Chasm Walk crosses bridges on the Cleddau River, offering breathtaking views of several massive waterfalls. The park, which has been established in 1952, includes a range of habitats that support a diverse and unique flora and fauna, many developed in isolation, resulting in endemic species that don’t exist anywhere else. One example is the Takahe, a bird that is much larger than its cousins that live elsewhere. Fiordland was also a home to Kakapo, the only flightless parrot in the world.
Te Anau 9640, New Zealand, Phone: +6-42-49-79-24
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2. Abel Tasman National Park
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Abel Tasman National Park is a 22,530-hectare wilderness reserve located on New Zealand’s South Island. New Zealand’s smallest national park, it is known for beautiful golden beaches, rough granite cliffs, and the famous coast track. Abel Tasman Coast Track winds along beaches and over coastal ridges between the towns of Marahau in the south and Wainui in the north. The coastal headland at Separation Point provides home to New Zealand large fur seal colonies. The park was established in 1942 and is a popular tourist destination year around. The nearest fair size towns are Motueka, Takaka, and Kaiteriteri. Lush vegetation covers some parts of the park as some were lost in fires and other cleared by humans. But, the forests are rapidly regenerating, especially in humid gullies. Dry ridges are mostly covered in black beech. Most commonly seen birds in the park are bellbirds, tui, and pukeko.
Harvey Road, Marahau, Abel Tasman National Park 7010, New Zealand, Phone: +64-35-46-93-39
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3. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
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Located near the town of Twizel in the New Zealand’s South Island, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the inhospitable land of rough rock and ice, with the New Zealand's highest mountain Aoraki / Mount Cook dominating the landscape. The park has 19 peaks higher than 3,000 meters. The park and the reserve that is part of the park were established in 1887 to protect the area's unique landscape and vegetation. In spite of its alpine characteristics, the area is fairly easily accessible via State Highway 80, starting near the town of Twizel. The road ends at Mount Cook Village, which has a hotel and motels.
1 Larch Grove, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Phone: +64-34-35-11-86
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4. Lake Taupo
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Lake Taupo is located in the center of the New Zealand’s North Island, about three and half hours from Auckland. The lake was formed about two thousand years ago as a result of a massive volcanic eruption and there is still evidence of volcanic activity. Just north of Taupo is an area full of craters and boiling mud pools and shooting steams called Craters of the Moon. At some of parts of the Lake Taupo, swimmers enjoy warm, geothermal water. Taupo is popular destination for water-skiing, kayaking, and sailing. At Mine Bay, boaters can see the beautiful Maori rock carvings, which can be seen only from the water. The lake is surrounded by dense forests with great hiking and biking trails. The lake is famous for its trout fishing – the town of Turangi is the location of the world’s largest natural trout fishery.
Taupo District, Waikato Region, North Island
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5. Larnach Castle
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Located in the charming South Island city of Dunedin, Larnach Castle is one of very few castles in New Zealand. Built high up on the green hills of the Otago Peninsula, the castle has fantastic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. Built in the late 19th century by the rich politician and banker William Larnach for his family, the castle is a majestic post-Victorian wonder built with extravagant materials brought from all over the world and furnished with luxurious and opulent treasures. The castle is linked to a few scandals, a ghost story or two, curious cat designs, and some well-hidden secret architectural details. Larnach Castle changed several owners until the Baker family bought it and put a lot of effort into restoring it to its former glory. The garden that surrounds the castle is a beauty in its own right and is declared a Garden of International Significance.
145 Camp Rd, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand, Phone: +64-34-76-16-16
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6. Tongariro National Park
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The oldest New Zealand’s national park, Tongariro National Park is located in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island and has been declared by UNESCO as one of the natural and cultural World Heritage Sites. The park has three active volcanoes: Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, and Tongariro and is a location of numerous Maori religious sites. Some of the park’s peaks such as Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu are considered sacred. There are several towns within the park’s boundary as well as one of the most famous day hikes in the world – the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The trail runs by the Emerald Lakes, geysers, and boiling mud pools, ending at active Red Crater. The park is home to rich native wildlife such as the blue duck or whio and brown kiwi. Tongariro River is full of trout.
Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand
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7. Spiritual Center of the Universe
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If anyone had to guess where the Spiritual Center of the Universe is, a farm in New Zealand would be the least likely spot. Located on New Zealand’s South Island, the Castle Hill area is what is called in New Zealand a high country station – a big farm used for the grazing of cattle and sheep. The area, at an altitude of 700 meters, is covered by curious, massive boulders that look like the ruins of a castle, popular spot among New Zealand rock climbers for bouldering and climbing. When the Dalai Lama visited the area in 2002, he was so taken by the energy and beauty of the boulder field and surrounding landscape that he named it the “Spiritual Center of the Universe.”
Castle Hill Drive, Castle Hill 7580, New Zealand
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8.Big Dog and Sheep
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As you travel through New Zealand, you will notice many buildings made of corrugated iron, as well as numerous “Big Things.” But in a small town of Tirau, this humble material is used by the local artist Steven Clothier to create giant sculptures of animals that serve as public buildings. It all started with a Big Sheep built for a wool and craft shop, then a dog was added to serve as a Visitors’ Center, and now there is a cow with a shopping cart, a shepherd standing outside a church, and a huge praying mantis. While the small town only has a population of 800, it certainly leaves a big, actually giant, impression.
Tirau, New Zealand, Phone: +64-78-83-12-02
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Electrum is a giant sculpture created by artist Eric Orr and the electric engineer Greg Leyh, built around the largest Tesla coil in the world. The coil is 37 feet high and produces three million volts of electricity. As tall as a four-story building, the coil produces an arc that shoots 15 meters into space, runs power of up to 130,000 watts and produces three million volts on the terminal when operating. On top of the sculpture is the spherical Faraday cage that can safely hold one person. The sculpture is installed on a private Gibbs Farm in New Zealand, as a part of the art collection of Alan Gibbs.
North Island 0843 New Zealand
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Fox Glacier is an 8.1-mile long temperate maritime glacier located on the west side of the South Island of New Zealand. It is part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and is one of the most accessible glaciers in the country. After a long period of retreating, the glacier started advancing in 1985 and is constantly transforming terrain in its path, creating magnificent ice caves. The glacier is bordered on all its sides by mountains and rainforests, and the whole area is stunningly beautiful. The beauty comes with some danger because of possible rock falls and ice breaks so the visit is allowed only in tour groups. Numerous tours arrive on small planes that can land on ice or in helicopters.
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11.Franz Josef Glacier
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A 7.5-mile long Franz Josef Glacier is one of the two temperate maritime glaciers in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the New Zealand’s South Island. It is descending from the Southern Alps to about 980 feet above sea level. The whole glacier area is part of Te Wahipounamu, which has been declared a World Heritage Site park. The Waiho River runs from the glacier terminal. The formidable power of moving ice is constantly reshaping the valley, reforming the moraine and creating the massive wall of ice at its terminus. In 1865, Sentinel Rock emerged from beneath the Franz Joseph glacier, a very hard schist bedrock that was scraped by the power of passing ice. The Rock offers great view of the glacier valley, the glacier itself and the Waiho River. A number of plants grow from the rubble dumped by the glacier, ranging from low shrubs of tutu and tree daisy to kamahi and rata forest. Mosses and lichens cover the rocks. The glacier can be visited by car. There is a short walking path from the parking lot.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park, New Zealand
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Gibbs Farm is a 100-acre farm and a sculpture garden located on New Zealand’s North Island, owned by the businessman and art collector Alan Biggs. He purchased the rolling farmland in 1991 and transformed it into a sculpture garden. Since then, 22 sculptors from all over the world have been commissioned by Gibbs to create large sculptures on the hills on the farm. The sculpture garden is open to the public one day per month. Some of the most famous sculptures are Neil Dawson’s “Horizons,” Sol LeWitt’s “Pyramid,” Anish Kapoor’s “Dismemberment” and the four-story high Electrum, the world’s biggest Tesla coil.
2421 Kaipara Coast Hwy, Makarau 0984, New Zealand
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13. Hamilton Gardens
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Hamilton Gardens is a 54-hectare park on the banks of the Waikato River south of Hamilton. The park includes formal gardens, manicured lawns, a small lake, a nursery, a convention center, and the cemetery. The park is a popular venue for public events, and it hosts over 2,000 per a year. Although not technically a botanic garden, the park has 21 gardens that represent the art, traditions, beliefs, and lifestyles of various civilizations. There are various types of gardens such as productive, cultivar, fantasy and landscape collections. The garden’s development started in 1960s on the city's waste disposal site. Today’s enchanting garden has won numerous awards, and it attracts thousands of visitors.
Hungerford Crescent, Hamilton 3216, New Zealand, Phone: +64-78-38-67-82
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14.Hobbiton Movie Set
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Young or old, fans of the world of Hobbits have long dreamed of stepping on the lush green hills of Shire. Now they can, if they visit the site where the movie The Hobbit was filmed, on a family farm near the town of Hinuera in New Zealand. The farm was used for filming both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and is now a major tourism destination for the fans of Tolkien and his fantasy world. It is easy to fall in love with the charming Alexander family sheep farm, just as movie director Sir Peter Jackson did when he was searching for the location for the Hobbit movies. The lush beauty of the land with massive Kaimal Ranges towering over it easily evokes the Shire as you tour the area with your knowledgeable guide. You will tour the 12-acre movie set and pass by Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and the Green Dragon Inn, where you will have a complimentary Hobbit™ Southfarthing™ drink. Read more
501 Buckland Road | Matamata, Hinuera 3472, New Zealand, Phone: +64-78-88-15-05
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New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato River flows peacefully from Lake Taupo until it comes to a shallow ravine made of hard volcanic rock. Suddenly, what was placid, quiet water rumbles and roars at tremendous speeds before shooting out into the space before crashing 11 meters into a churning pool. The best place to see this natural spectacle is a footbridge at the top of the falls. If you wish to see the enormous power of the falls even closer, you can take a jet boat ride. A hike to the Spa Park along Huka Falls trail will allow you to follow the river and watch the build up to the falls. It is an easy one-hour hike to the area where the river is still slow and wide. You will pass through beautiful native forest full of exotic greenery.
Taupo 3377, New Zealand
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16.International Antarctic Centre
© International Antarctic Centre
If you would like to experience the magic of Antarctica without actually joining an expedition, you should visit the International Antarctic Centre, one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions in the heart of Christchurch. You will experience the true snow and ice of “Antarctica”, watch light and sound show representing the four seasons of Antarctica, experience an Antarctic storm by stepping into an indoor polar room chilled to five degrees below zero Celsius, learn more about life in today’s Antarctica and Scott Base, and even meet close and personal iconic Little Blue Penguins. Some of the most popular attractions are Hagglund ride – a ride in an all-terrain original amphibious Antarctic vehicle, Happy Feet 4D, a simulated 4D cruise, and many others.
38 Orchard Rd, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch 8052, New Zealand, Phone: +64-33-57-05-19
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17. Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium
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Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium is located just a step away from the beautiful Mission Beach at Oaky Bay on the waterfront of Auckland, one of New Zealand’s largest cities. The aquarium is home to more than 30 exhibits with live animals set in their vivid, colorful natural habitat display. The star of the show is Antarctic penguin colony exhibit, the largest such exhibit in the world. The penguins can be observed from special underwater viewing tunnels, or you can step on the ice to join them. Aquarium’s Animal Adventure exhibit allows visitors to come close to large sharks in the adrenaline-pumping Shark Cage. The aquarium was opened in 1985 and is created by New Zealand’s renowned marine archeologist Kelly Tarlton.
23 Tamaki Dr, Orakei, Auckland 1071, New Zealand
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Lake Tekapo is a beautiful turquoise alpine lake at the foot of Mt. John on New Zealand’s South Island. The unique color of the lake is created by rock flour – a fine dust grated from the underlying rock by the surrounding glacier. The amazing blue color of the lake, the majestic backdrop of snow-covered mountain peaks, and the riot of colors of wild flowers make Lake Tekapo exceptionally photogenic and dramatic. The best spot for seeing the lake is the top of Mt. John, where you can also visit the University of Canterbury’s Mt John Observatory.
Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand, Phone: 08-00-23-53-82-83
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19. Milford Sound
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Located on the southwest coast of South Island, Milford Sound is one of many New Zealand’s magnificent fiords, known for majestic Mitre Peak, surrounding rainforests, and several spectacular waterfalls. Bowen and Stirling falls are true natural wonders, plummeting 1000 meters down fjord’s steep sides. The fiord provides home to large fur seal colonies, dolphins, and penguins. The Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory is located at Harrison Cove, a fascinating source of information on the marine environment of the fjord and home to the black coral, 11-legged sea stars and sea anemones. The best way to explore the sound is on one of several boat cruises. More adventurous types probably prefer sea kayaking, diving, or flightseeing.
Te Anau, Fiordland National Park 9679, New Zealand
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20. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
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The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa ("the place of treasures of this land") is the major national museum and art gallery in Wellington. The museum was established in 1992 on the Wellington’s waterfront. Its main building has six floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions, cafés, and gift shops. The History Collection has antique native textiles and dresses, some dated to the sixteenth century. It also includes the collection of 20,000 stamps and related objects. The Pacific Collection has over 13,000 exhibits from the Pacific Islands. There are several collections of fossils and archaeo-zoology,, a collection of about 70,000 specimens of New Zealand native birds, a herbarium with more than 250,000 dried plants and a specimen of world’s largest squid, weighing over 1000 pounds.
55 Cable St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand, Phone: +64-43-81-70-00
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21.Auckland War Memorial Museum
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The Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga is a war memorial and one of the New Zealand’s most important museums. Its collections focus on the history of New Zealand, particularly the history of the Auckland Region, as well as the country natural and military history. The museum has a significant collection of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts such as Hotunu, a whole carved 1878 meeting house and Te Toki a Tapiri, a 1830 Maori war canoe. The museum also has 1.5 million natural history specimens and the biggest collection of decorative and applied arts in New Zealand. The museum is located in the Auckland Domain public park in one of the most iconic Auckland buildings, built in the neo-classicist style. Read more
Victoria Street West, Auckland, 1142, New Zealand, Phone: +64-93-09-04-43
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© Aro Ha
Aro Ha is a Zen-inspired luxury retreat on New Zealand's South Island, located approximately 40 minutes by car from downtown Queenstown. The retreat, which was founded in 2010 by Damian Chaparro and Chris Madison, focuses on unique, eco-friendly wellness adventures with an emphasis on alternative health practices, self-development, and results-oriented fitness. Signature wellness adventure programs include yoga courses, sub-Alpine hiking opportunities, integrated mindfulness practice, un-cooking classes, and trips to regional World Heritage natural sites. All retreat guests receive daily massages and spa treatments, along with functional strength training and whole foods-focused vegetarian meals. Simple, uncluttered accommodations help to clear the mind, merging ancient traditions with modern amenities.
33 Station Valley Rd, Wyuna, Glenorchy 9350, New Zealand, Phone: +64 3-442 7011
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Located in New Zealand's Taupo Volcanic Zone, about 27 kilometers from Rotorua, Waiotapu or "sacred waters" in Maori is an active 18-square kilometer geothermal area north of the Reporoa caldera. Dramatic geothermal activity under the earth results in many hot springs, boiling mud pools, Champagne Pool, the Lady Knox Geyser, Artist's Palette, and Primrose Terrace. Most can be seen from the walking trail. These can mostly be accessed by foot. Throughout history, the area was the home of the Ngati Whaoa tribe, descendants from the Arawa waka. The area is a popular tourist destination operating under the name Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
201 Waiotapu Loop Rd, Rotorua 3073, New Zealand, Phone: +64-73-66-63-33
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24. Waitomo Caves
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Waitomo is a small village on the New Zealand’s North Island 12 kilometers from Te Kuiti and the large underground system of solutional caves. Most famous are Glowworm caves, a home to rare glow-worms that light up the underground world. The huge Ruakuri Cave has fascinating limestone formations and features several waterfalls. Other significant caves are Aranui Cave, Ruakuri Cave, and Gardner's Gut. West of the village is Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a limestone arch spanning Mangapohue Stream. Northeast of the village is Otorohanga Kiwi House, which protects several species of the native kiwi bird. The Waitomo Walkway passes through the Waitomo Stream valley, between the Waitomo village and Ruakuri Scenic Reserve.
Waitomo Caves 3977, North Island, New Zealand
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25. Wrights Hill Fortress
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Built in the early 1940’s, the Wrights Hill Fortress is an artillery embankment, a circular base for three large guns, constructed as a defense from the Japanese forces. Below ground was a labyrinth of narrow concrete tunnels, some as deep as 50 feet, mostly used for storage and diesel engines used for power. The fortress was never used for defense and was closed in 1960. Today the fortress is a historic landmark and has been restored by a preservation society. The 2,000 feet of tunnels are opened to visitors. They were also used during filming of the Mines of Moria and Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring.
50 Wrights Hill Rd, Karori, Wellington 6012, New Zealand, Phone: +64-44-76-85-93
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25 Best Things to Do in New Zealand
- Fiordland National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Paul - Fotolia.com
- Abel Tasman National Park, Photo: Courtesy of daboost - Fotolia.com
- Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Martin Capek - Fotolia.com
- Lake Taupo, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Naumov - Fotolia.com
- Larnach Castle, Photo: Courtesy of tana2222 - Fotolia.com
- Tongariro National Park, Photo: Courtesy of boyloso - Fotolia.com
- Spiritual Center of the Universe, Photo: Courtesy of vichie81 - Fotolia.com
- Big Dog and Sheep, Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Howey - Fotolia.com
- Electrum, Photo: Courtesy of underworld - Fotolia.com
- Fox Glacier, Photo: Courtesy of grace - Fotolia.com
- Franz Josef Glacier, Photo: Courtesy of ratnakorn - Fotolia.com
- Gibbs Farm, Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Poloha - Fotolia.com
- Hamilton Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Iriana Shiyan - Fotolia.com
- Hobbiton Movie Set, Photo: Courtesy of elophotos - Fotolia.com
- Huka Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Ian Woolcock - Fotolia.comr
- International Antarctic Centre, Photo: International Antarctic Centre
- Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of Sam D'Cruz - Fotolia.com
- Lake Tekapo, Photo: Courtesy of juancat - Fotolia.com
- Milford Sound, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Pichugin - Fotolia.com
- Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Photo: Courtesy of Rafael Ben-Ari - Fotolia.com
- Auckland War Memorial Museum, Photo: Courtesy of alarico73 - Fotolia.com
- Aro Ha, Photo: Aro Ha
- Waiotapu, Photo: Courtesy of Sorang - Fotolia.com
- Waitomo Caves, Photo: Courtesy of cloud9works - Fotolia.com
- Wrights Hill Fortress, Photo: Courtesy of virsuziglis - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: VacationIdea LLC
The Tree Church
The Tree Church is the product of the belief of Barry Cox that the face of God can be seen in the beauty of nature. He combined it with his love of beautiful church architecture he has seen during his travels all over the world. This very patient New Zealander from Ohaupo spent the last six years planting various trees over a metal frame to create a full size church. Barry used his skills as tree-transplanting serviceman to move different species of mature trees to his property. He used each tree for its different quality. For the walls, he planted leptospernums because of their beautiful color. For the roof, he planted cut leaf alders because their sparse canopy allows the light into the space. He trained the tree branches over the metal frame until they started growing together into a gable shape of the church roof. The church and trees will continue to grow until one day the metal frame will not be needed any more. Already, the Tree Church is a popular venue for weddings, celebrations, and other events.
119 West Road M, Ohaupo 3881, New Zealand, Phone: +64-2-76-90-31-05