New Zealand's Must-See Spots
by Jamie Penno
So you’ve bought the ticket and have been bottling up your excitement for months. Or maybe you’re still deciding between us and Australia (yuck). You’re ready to step onto the fine shores of little ol’ New Zealand but you have no idea where to start. But whether you’re the sort to lounge on a sun-soaked beach or tramp deep into lush forest, NZ is sure to please.
Below are some of our hottest tourist spots, as well as a few that are a little more off the grid. Kia Ora bro, and have a blast while you’re here.
I’m going to cheat a little and include more than one spot here. Because you’re probably going to be flying into Auckland, and because it can all seem a bit crowded and busy if you’re not the city type and don’t know where to stray outside the main centre. But don’t panic! Auckland has some beautiful wee gems if you know where to find them.
A beach with stunning views, a giant rock hill to climb, sweet surf, and a cute little township to boot. Nestled in on Auckland’s West Coast less than an hour’s drive from the city, Piha definitely deserves a spot on your itinerary. Do be careful swimming though and always stay between the flags!
Make sure you check out Kitekite falls while you’re there. Only a few minutes out of the township, and a short (and beautiful) bush walk in, and you can swim and take Instagram snaps to your heart’s content. Take the track right up to the top of the falls and take a dip in the pools there too.
Piha is also conveniently close to the Waitakere Ranges, where you’ll find a load of great hiking trails.
Take a ferry trip over from the waterfront to character-filled Devonport. With a sweet wee beach and park, a navy museum, and a handful of colourful shops, you really can’t go wrong here.
Here you will also find Mount Victoria (“Mount Vic” to the locals). Walk to the top and take in some of the best views of Auckland city itself. Head up here for sunset and watch the city lights come alive, or take a flattened cardboard box during the day and slide down the hills (it’s a thing, I promise.)
The volcano you can see from almost anywhere in Auckland makes for a perfect day trip. Take one of the ferries out there and make the climb to the top. The Summit Track will take you through lava rock fields and the world’s largest pōhutukawa forest. The hike is around two hours return, but make sure you pack a picnic (and your camera) for the top!
A coastal town in the North Island, this place has more than its fair share of tourist hotspots.
Cathedral Cove (above) is a must-see along with the beautiful local beaches, and the Lost Spring Spa in Whitianga. Hike to the top of the mighty Pinnacles track, dig yourself a bath at Hot Water Beach, or bike the Rail Trail.
Coromandel is also home to the giant L&P bottle (an iconic New Zealand landmark) – so make sure you grab a selfie while you’re there!
Taupo is one of New Zealand’s literal hotspots, with a heap of geothermal activity. Visit the beautiful Lake Taupo with its not-so-ancient Maori rock carvings. See the powerful Huka Falls. You’ll also be able to check out boiling mud pools and steaming vents at the Craters of the Moon walkway. And if you’re the type to seek a little more adrenalin on your holiday, then Taupo also has prime skydiving and bungee jumping spots. Also a great place to use as a base on your way to the ski fields at Mount Ruapehu!
Tip from a local: if you’re after a free natural hot spring that’s a bit less touristy then make sure you visit Spa Park
The capital of New Zealand! Although still beautiful, Wellington is a bit more of a cultural hub than a nature one. Find Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, along with Weta Workshop (for any Lord of the Rings fans). Visit the parliament buildings and creative architecture of the city, and spend an afternoon down at the waterfront. You’ll also find heaps of historic sites and landmarks around the capital.
If you’re into wildlife then Kaikoura is the place to be! The locals include seabirds, a few hundred seals, and even sperm whales. Unfortunately a recent earthquake took out a waterfall that was a natural sanctuary for the baby seals, but you can still find huge groups of them anywhere along the coast. Take a boat out to go on a whale watching tour, or swim with the dolphins and keep an eye out for Albatross.
6. Hanmer Springs
A stunning resort town in Canterbury in New Zealand’s South Island. Go skiing at Mount Lyford, check out the animal park, and walk in the Hanmer forest. And best of all is the beautiful Hamner Springs Thermal Pools.
Home to classic architecture, expansive botanical gardens, and a handful of local markets (not to mention great restaurants!) Take a ride up the Gondola, visit Hagley Park, or travel out of the centre to Akaroa to swim with New Zealand’s special wee dolphins. One of my personal favourites is punting or kayaking on the Avon River (and remember to take some bread for the hoards of local ducks).
If you’re a horse lover then head South out of Christchurch to Rubicon Valley horse treks – it’s well worth the drive, and the couple who run it are true-blue kiwi locals.
8. Milford Sound
A fiord on the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, and a true kiwi classic. Milford Sound boasts some of New Zealand’s most iconic and breathtaking views. The Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory offer a unique view into the marine life here, and the fiord is home to fur seals, penguins, and dolphins. With waterfalls and nature hiking, as well as the boat tours out into the bay, it really is a bucket-list level must-see.
Slightly less touristy, but stunning as anything, is the South Island’s must-see Tekapo. Explore hiking trails and fields of wildflowers. Take a dip in the ridiculously freezing snow-fed Lake Tekapo. Tekapo is also home to one of the world’s best observatories. The middle-of-nowhere feel of Tekapo and the lack of light pollution means that the stars here are some of the best you’ll ever see.
The Tekapo Springs are another stunning hot spa spot, particularly in winter if you’re lucky enough to visit with snow on the ground.
At the end of the day, your trip is going to be a once in a lifetime wherever you go. New Zealand is one of the world’s true gems, and we can’t wait to have you visit!