Last Updated April 26, 2022 4/26/2022

20 Top Attractions in Spectacular New Zealand

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New Zealand offers it all as one of the best country’s for spectacular scenery with everything from towering mountains and glaciers to magnificent beaches, thermal regions and fjords as well as charming villages and cosmopolitan cities, making it a top destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. With so much to offer, where do you begin? These top attractions will help you plan what’s sure to be an unforgettable adventure.

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Waitomo Caves
Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Waitomo Caves

One of the top adventure activities in New Zealand, Waitomo is famous for its glowworm caves, a major attraction in the King Country region on the North Island, noted for their stalactite and stalagmite displays, and for the presence of glowworms. You’ll marvel at the ceilings and walls lined with shimmering blue and green fairy lights. You can explore this fascinating labyrinth netherworld by floating on an inner tube, or via a boat trip through the caves, with only the glowworms to guide your way. These magical caves formed more than 30 million years ago, beginning with the creation of limestone at the bottom of the ocean – standing today as one of the country’s most inspiring natural wonders.

Stewart Island
Stewart Island

Stewart Island

The kiwi is a national symbol of New Zealand, native to the country. Stewart Island offers one of the best opportunities for wildlife watching in New Zealand, with the chance to see this rare, flightless bird in its natural habitat. In the Maori language, it’s known as Rakiura, or “the land of glowing skies,” as it’s also one of the few places on earth to view the Southern Lights. More than 85 percent of the island is national parkland, with most coming for the peaceful, laid-back atmosphere, hiking and bird watching. By walking the Rakiura Track, you’ll get up close and personal with the island’s wild, breathtaking beauty, and likely, a kiwi or two along the way.

Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro encircles the volcanoes of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, featuring some of the country’s most contrasting landscapes. It’s filled with surprises and extremes, with a diverse range of ecosystems that includes emerald lakes, hot springs, active volcanoes and alpine meadows as well as herb fields and desert-like plateaus. One of the best ways to see it is to take the three-hour hike starting at Whakapapa Visitor Center, leading to Taranaki Falls. The trek will bring you through untamed forest and scrubland, across the lava line of volcanic eruptions that took place centuries ago.

TranzAlpine Train
Ride the TranzAlpine Train

TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth along the west coast of the South Island offers a trip of a lifetime. It’s been voted one of the top train journeys in the world, bringing passengers from the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains through 16 tunnels and more than five viaducts with jaw-dropping views of snow-capped peaks, icy rivers, forests, stunning gorges and river valleys. Your destination, Greymouth, makes an excellent base for exploring this unspoiled region with wild rivers, glaciers and the renowned Punakaiki pancake rocks – another must-see attraction.

The Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s top holiday destinations, a subtropical micro-region about a three-hour drive from Auckland on the North Island. This beautiful area contains 144 islands, many secluded bays and some fabulous sandy beaches, while the magnificent bay is home to an abundance of marine life like whales, penguins, dolphins and marlin. One of the best ways to see it all is by taking a cruise or paddling through the waters on a sea kayak. Many of the islands also have hiking trails, and visitors can camp on Urupukapuka Island.

Auckland Sky Tower
Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland Sky Tower

While you’re in New Zealand’s largest city, you won’t want to miss Sky Tower, an observation and telecommunications tower. It’s the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and an iconic landmark in Auckland’s skyline. It offers amazing views up to about 50 miles away as well as fine dining in its revolving restaurant. The more adventurous might even want to jump off – SkyJump offers an especially thrilling adrenaline rush as the country’s highest jumping point where you’ll plummet nearly 630 feet off the tower at over 52 mph.

Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga, set on the northwesternmost tip of the Aupouri Peninsula on the North Island, is a fantastic place from which to start your trip to New Zealand. For the Maori, this is the most spiritually significant place in the country. Some believe that when you pass away your soul travels up through the island to Cape Reinga. Everywhere you look in the surrounding landscape, evidence of human settlement can be found, hundreds of years in the making. Today it’s a popular tourist destination featuring the iconic Cape Reinga Lighthouse and panoramic views of the ocean, Three King Islands and Cape Maria Van Diemen.

Waimangu Valley
Waimangu Valley

Waimangu Valley

The Waimangu Valley can be found in Rotorua, known as New Zealand’s thermal wonderland, with geysers and hot springs in and around the city. Natural eruptions of steam, hot water and mud occasionally sprout up in new locations. The valley was completely reshaped when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886, while the Maori villages of Te Wairoa, Te Arihi and Moura disappeared under masses of lava and ash. Organized tours of the area include walking the shores of Lake Rotomahana, passing the now inactive Waimangu Geyser, viewing Cathedral Rocks, Warbrick Terrace and the Waimangu Cauldron, a 10-acre lake of steaming hot water. Just below Mount Tarawera, you’ll discover Maori rock drawings on the shores of Lake Tarawera followed by a boat excursion across the water to the partly excavated buried village of Te Wairoa.

Te Wairoa
Te Wairoa

Te Wairoa

Exploring the buried village of Te Wairoa is a must. For those who don’t take the organized tour of the valley and boat excursion, it can easily be reached in just a 15-minute drive from the city of Rotorua. The once serene village was destroyed on June 10, 1886, including more than 5,000-square-miles of surrounding scenic countryside. An exhibition of old photos and objects uncovered beneath the lava provides a glimpse as to what the village was like prior to its destruction. Several houses were excavated, and there are also remains of a mill, tourist hotel and an ancient stone Maori storehouse with archaic figures. A museum highlights the artifacts and remnants.

Lady Knox Geyser
Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser is the top attraction in the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It sends a jet of water high into the air, with almost unvarying punctuality at 10:15 a.m., though its punctuality does require a little help. Soap powder is thrown into the water to set it off. As it contains sodium carbonate, this decreases the surface viscosity which helps to spark the event. If that sounds a bit hokey, there are numerous other sights here to explore that make it well worth a visit anyway, including mud pools, a champagne pool and Devil’s Bath, with its bright, almost neon green color, caused by suspended sulfur.

Shotover River
Shotover River

Shotover River

The Shotover River on the South Island is home to the internationally renowned Shotover Jet, a favorite with adventure travelers. The world’s ultimate jet boat experience, this is a unique ride that will take you through narrow, dramatic canyons and exhilarating full 360-degree spins, battling against strong currents. It certainly lives up to all of the hype, leaving passengers breathless by the end of the journey. If that sounds a little too thrilling, organized raft trips are also available – you’ll want to take in the views that are straight of the “Lord of the Rings.”

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

Beautiful Lake Taupo is nearly the size of Singapore. It’s also home to a fascinating legend – some Maori believe a sea monster, or Taniwha, is lurking beneath its waters. It was created almost 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption so huge it darkened the skies in China and Europe. By visiting the Craters of the Moon, you can also view evidence of the lakes fiery birth it boiling mud pools, steaming craters and geysers. In area beaches, you can even enjoy a swim in the warm, geothermal water currents. By paddling out in a boat or kayak, you can explore some of the secluded coves and beaches, stopping at the intricate Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay, only reachable via the water.

Paparoa National Park
Punakaiki National Park

Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park is home to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes along the rugged and wild west coast of the South Island. The curious limestone rock formations look like giant pancakes and are especially stunning at high tide in a westerly sea. They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants which landed on the seabed about one and a quarter miles below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify into hard and soft layers. Over time, seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed, while mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the unique shapes. An easy, 0.7-mile walk winds through the formations, providing a closer look.

Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach, located along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island, offers yet another very unique New Zealand experience. This world-famous attraction draws visitors within two hours either side of low tide to the normally deserted beach to enjoy the hot water that bubbles right through the golden sands. You can dig your very own natural spa bath in the sand, and relax inside the soothing, natural springs. Before heading here to check it out, be sure to pick up a tide table chart as digging for hot springs is something that can only be done around low tide. If you arrive early, there are a number of great art galleries and cafes here too.

Ninety Mile Beach
Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety-Mile Beach is a legendary strip of sand stretching from Ahipara to Scott Point on the North Island, just a few miles south of Cape Maria van Diemen. Its giant sand dunes and windswept shores play host to sand surfers and stranded cars alike. While it’s officially a highway, it’s really only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles – and at specific tide times. At low tide, digging for tuatua, a native shellfish, in the sand is a special treat.

Marlborough Wine Region
Marlborough Wine Region

Marlborough Wine Region

The Marlborough Wine Region, on the north end of the South Island, is the largest wine-producing region in the country, home to world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc as well as New Zealand’s sunniest and driest climate. Wine enthusiasts can enjoy plenty of tasting opportunities with wineries, many of which have open cellar doors for sampling and buying. There are also reserves here, offering all types of outdoor activities like swimming, boating, diving and kayaking as well as mountain biking and hiking. One of the best ways to explore the waterways is by renting a kayak, with friendly, curious dolphins likely to approach.

Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park, located at the north end of the South Island, but it packs a punch as a hiker’s dream with mountainous terrain as well as a beach lover’s delight with some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the nation. It’s closed to vehicles, but the effort to get here by foot, plane or boat is well worth it. Stroll beaches in shades from white to gold that look out to the magnificent clear waters of the Tasman Sea. Rent a kayak and you’ll have access to all of its sandy beaches as well as swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing. If you’re up for an adventure, try the Abel Tasman Coastal Track which takes 3 to 5 days to complete, climbing around the headlands, through native forests to a series of beaches. This is also a bird watcher’s paradise, with blue penguins, wekas and oystercatchers just a few of the birds often spotted along the way.

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the west coast of the South Island. This region is known for the incredible amount of rainfall it receives annually, its jaw-dropping beauty and its accessibility to fascinating glaciers. Visitors can walk right up to the foot of the massive Franz Josef Glacier, or embark on a helicopter tour over this dazzling Ice Age remnant. The terminal face of the glacier is less than 1,000 feet above sea level, and just one of three this close to the coastline. It provides a rare opportunity to experience a dynamic glacial environment while being within easy driving and walking distance from the main roadway.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Mueller Glacier Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, featuring a number of skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snowfields. While it’s popular with mountaineers, you don’t have to be a climber to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, with a number of fairly easy alpine walks that start near the village of Mt Cook, set at the base of the mountain. Flightseeing tours offer another great way to see it. Helicopter and plane rides provide unsurpassed views, including the option to land at the top of Tasman Glacier. While the rugged alpine terrain doesn’t contain many trees or plants due to its altitude, it’s covered with colorful lupins that brighten the rocky landscape.

Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is another one of New Zealand’s legendary parks, and a must to explore. This is the country’s largest national park, and the world’s, covering 4,286-square-miles, set in the southwest corner of the South Island. Discover numerous waterfalls, jagged mountains and exotic rain forests, as well as one of the nation’s most famous tourist attractions, Milford Sound. Lying at the park’s most northern, and accessible end, it offers some of the planet’s most stunning coastal scenery with magnificent dark blue waters and dramatic peaks.

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