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10 Fantasy-Like Landscapes to Visit in New Zealand

One of the most spectacular countries on Earth, New Zealand is filled with beautiful destinations. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time to take in everything the country has to offer, from the North to the South Island. If you’d like to experience some of its most fantasy-like landscapes, be sure to put at least some of these places on your itinerary. Odds are, you’ll be planning a return trip to check more of them off your list before you catch your flight home.

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, South Island Stirling Falls, one of South Island New Zealand's most spectacular waterfalls
Credit: Stirling Falls, one of South Island New Zealand's most spectacular waterfalls by Bigstock.com

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, South Island

Milford Sound, the “eighth wonder of the world,” as poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling called it, is truly one of the most stunning places in the world. One of the top natural wonders in New Zealand, it is home to countless waterfalls, and Stirling Falls, which is three times the height of Niagara Falls plunging nearly 500 feet, is especially impressive. As the cascades spill vertically over the cliff into the fjord, many boat cruises will bring you up close, so close you can be right under the water.

Taupo Bay, North Island Tapou Bay, New Zealand
Credit: Tapou Bay, New Zealand by Bigstock.com

Taupo Bay, North Island

Located near the northern tip of the North Island just north of the Whangaroa Harbour entrance, a four-hour drive from Auckland, Taupo Bay is home to Taupo Bay Beach, one of the most stunning beaches in the country with its glittering white sands surrounded by vibrant, lush greenery. Due to its isolation and distance from the city, you won’t find any crowds here, but you can enjoy wonderfully secluded swimming.

Lake Tekapo, South Island Tekapo Lake with milkyway in the background
Credit: Tekapo Lake with milkyway in the background by MawardiBahar / shutterstock.com

Lake Tekapo, South Island

The color of Lake Tekapo is so intense that when most people see a picture of it they assume it’s been Photoshopped, but in reality, it may be even more brilliant. The turquoise shade is a result of fine rock-flour which comes from glaciers in the region. In November and December, and sometimes into January or longer. If you want to see it from above, scenic flights are available from Lake Tekapo Airport.

Glenorchy/Paradise, South Island Glenorchy/Paradise area, South Island, New Zealand
Credit: Glenorchy/Paradise area, South Island, New Zealand by K.C. Dermody

Glenorchy/Paradise, South Island

Just a short drive from Queenstown, Glenorchy is tucked along the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu, serving as the gateway to “Middle Earth” and miles and miles of hiking trails. The scenery is absolutely jaw-dropping and if you continue past the lake you’ll reach “Paradise” which boasts one of New Zealand’s most photographed road signs. While you might think you’ve truly reached paradise, the name is said to be derived from the country’s endemic paradise shelduck, a large goose-like duck. The fantasy-like scenery has been featured in many films, including “Lord of the Rings,” “Wolverine” and “The Hobbit.”

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, South Island Mount Cook from the Hooker Valley Track, South Island, New Zealand
Credit: Mount Cook from the Hooker Valley Track, South Island, New Zealand by K.C. Dermody

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, South Island

One of the top reasons travelers visit New Zealand, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a natural beauty. You can marvel at some of the most mind-blowing views, including the country’s highest mountain, which soars more than 12,200 feet. There are glistening glaciers, permanent snowfields, waterfalls and rushing rivers here too. One of the best ways to experience it is to take the Hooker Valley hike following the flat, groomed trail through Hooker Valley, across suspension bridges and to a glacier lake that sits at the base of the mountain. It takes about three hours to complete, up and back, but you’ll want to add extra time for capturing photos.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island Cathedral Cove,  Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
Credit: Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand by Bigstock.com

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island

One of the top photogenic, fantasy-like spots on the North Island is Cathedral Cove, a giant arched cavern that passes through headland linking two remote coves, set along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. In C.S. Lewis’ book Prince Caspian, it was the home of the Kings and Queens of Narnia. It’s the perfect place to enjoy on a sunny day – you can visit on a kayak tour or boat tour that also brings the opportunity to view wildlife like fur seals, whales, dolphins, blue penguins and gannets.

Tongariro National Park, North Island Tongariro National Park
Credit: Tongariro National Park by Bigstock.com

Tongariro National Park, North Island

Tongariro was the first national park to be established in New Zealand, featuring some of its most contrasting landscapes focused around the Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe mountains. It includes brilliant lakes in surreal shades of emerald and turquoise, hot springs, active volcanoes, alpine meadows, herb fields and desert-like plateaus. A three-hour trek from the Whakapapa Visitor Center will bring you to spectacular scenery including untamed forest, Taranaki Falls and across the lava line of volcanic eruptions that took place centuries ago.

Pancake Rocks, South Island Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
Credit: Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki by bigstock.com

Pancake Rocks, South Island

The Pancake Rocks are an incredible geological wonder along the west coast of the South Island. Here in this eroded limestone area, the ocean bursts through vertical blowholes during high tide that makes it appear as if there are geysers along the coast. An easy walk through the forest will take you out to catch the action, with information signs pointing out what you’re seeing – just be sure to check the tide table and plan to arrive around high tide before you go to witness the most stunning effects.

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, North Island Geothermal pools in Wai-O-Tapu park, Rotorua, New Zealand
Credit: Geothermal pools in Wai-O-Tapu park, Rotorua, New Zealand by © Gerold Grotelueschen - Dreamstime.com

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, North Island

Wai-O-Tapu, or Waiotapu as it’s also spelled, is an active geothermal area that looks as if it might be something found on another planet. It showcases some of the most unique and colorful geothermal features sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity. Just a short drive from Rotorua, it includes the famous multicolored spring known as Champagne Pool; Devil’s Lake, a neon green sulfur lake, bubbling mud pools and huge volcanic craters amid a steaming landscape. The Lady Knox Geyser is also a highlight erupting as high as 65 feet every morning at 10:15am.

Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island, New Zealand
Credit: Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island, New Zealand by © Hugoht - Dreamstime.com

Mount Aspiring National Park, South Island

Covering 1,375 square miles deep within the Southern Alps, Mount Aspiring National Park is the least developed and the third largest of the country’s national parks. A hiker’s paradise, its diverse landscape includes stunning alpine lakes, dramatic mountains, cascading waterfalls, dense forest and more than 100 glaciers. The Rob Roy Glacier Track is the hike to do if you only have one day here, with the four to five-hour trek bringing close up views of the glacier, breathtaking lakes and magnificent tumbling falls. There’s also a very good chance you’ll spot a few keas, New Zealand’s mountain parrots, along the way.

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