The remote and popular travel destination New Zealand is known for its beautiful scenery and also it’s fondness for extreme sports. Although a sparsely populated with an exceptionally relaxing atmosphere there is still plenty to do for its many visitors. We think independent travelers, adrenaline junkies and photography enthusiasts would especially enjoy a trip here.
Once in New Zealand, it’s a very easy place to travel around. The country relies on tourism and the travel system is set up very well. If you want to party every day then the Kiwi Experience is a hop on hop off bus very popular with backpackers. For those who want a quieter life then its rivals the Magic Bus might be a better option.
I personally had a great time in New Zealand and would have preferred to stay much longer than the six weeks I allocated. Here are my ten favourite spots which I would recommend visiting:
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and for those who don’t start your journey in Auckland then you’re likely to land here. It’s a beautiful and friendly city, as you walk around the streets you’ll be amazed how peaceful the city is.
Christchurch is known as the “Garden City” because of it’s natural and photogenic beauty. One place that should be visited is the Botanical Gardens which was founded in 1863. There are lots of activities and attractions available here including museums and a thriving art and cultural scene. It will also be hosting various Rugby World Cup games next year. I would recommend The ‘Bard on Avon’ which is a great lively pub where you can drink, eat and watch any sporting events.
There are plenty of hostels and hotels available which makes it easy finding accommodation at short notice – ideal for backpackers. You will find lots of ex-pats in the city. My sister went to New Zealand with the sole intention of using it as a stepping stone to return to Australia but it wasn’t long until she fell in love with the place and ended up staying three and half years.
Kaikoura is a small town on the east coast of the Southern Island, approximately two and a half hours north of Christchurch. Kaikoura is a wildlife lovers dream, there’s a wonderful coastline, incredible scenery and plenty of Maori and European history to learn about. The biggest draw is the ‘Whale Watching‘ tours it offers, you can choose to take a boat tour or even take a flight. The latter isn’t a cheap option but a lot of fun.
3. Mount Cook
After Christchurch, one-stop has to be Mount Cook (Aoraki), which is New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3,754 metres (12,316 ft). The more adventurous can climb the mountain or go on a guided trek which would take you very near the mountain. Although if you’re like me you may just want to witness the incredible Tasman Glacier on the east side and the Hooker Glacier to the west. If so an option is to take a plane ride, there are plenty of trips available to the public but if your budget allows I would recommend the small plane trip for the great views and an unforgettable experience. In good weather, you can even land at the top and take a walk around.
Nelson is a small city in the north of the South Island, it’s almost in the centre of New Zealand. Nelson attracts many arts and crafts lovers and it hosts a Arts Festival every year. There are some beautiful scenery here and some interesting attractions but my main reason for recommending Nelson is the Happy Valley Adventures. They offer a guided ATV 4 wheel quad bike tour, a ride on the world’s only Skywire Flying Fox and paintballing. I went on a quad bike tour and the views from the mountain are incredible.
For true adrenalin seekers, Queenstown will be their ultimate destination. Almost every extreme sport you can think of is available here and the international resort attracts people from all over the world who want to skydive, bungee jump or go snowboarding.
Queenstown is built around Lake Wakatipu, a long thin lake which is shaped like a lightning bolt and connects with Shotover River. Shotover River is now home to the Shotover Jet an incredible and unique vehicle that skids along the river surface. The jet drivers try to get as close as they can to the edge of the cliffs which is a pretty hair-raising experience. I would also recommend the white water rafting and there is even an option to get to the river by helicopter.
Punakaiki won’t provide an adrenalin rush but it will provide you something different. Punakaiki is a small settlement on the West Coast of the South Island which is famous for its “Pancake Rocks.” It’s a very popular stopover where most visitors see the unusually shaped rocks and wonder why they are shaped like they are. The truth is that they’re heavily eroded and there are lots of blowholes where you can get some excellent photographs during high tides as water shoots into the air. You’ll only need a day to see the rocks but it’s worth it and there are also lots of excellent postcards on offer.
Dunedin is the second-largest city in the South Island, it’s a University town and is classed as one of New Zealand’s main cities. Dunedin has been built on hills and valleys which was once a volcano. It’s a laid back place with some great scenery and attractions. I would recommend taking the old steam train over Taieri Gorge – it takes around half a day and for those who have the budget you can have lunch on the train. The journey is very interesting and it feels very authentic – an altogether charming experience.
The Speights Brewery produce a local beer which can be found all over the South Island. It’s an informative and interesting Dunedin attraction with enthusiastic employees and plenty of free pints available!
8. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is an incredible place, it’s a fjord located in the southwest of the South Island, within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Milford Sound has won many awards for being a top tourist destination and Rudyard Kipling named it the eighth Wonder of the World.
Thousands of people flock to Milford Sound every day to see the wonderful sight, most tend to go on a boat tour (often lasting between one and two hours). The boat tour allows you to get up close and personal to the amazing waterfalls and you’ll even feel the water come crashing down, although beware you’re likely to get wet! The most impressive waterfall is ‘Stirling Falls’ which are an incredile189m (480ft) tall – you’ll need to go on a boat tour to get the full effect but if you’ve travelled all the way to Milford Sound you might as well make the most of it.
I can’t recommend Rotorua enough, it’s a stunning location found in the heart of the North Island, 230 kilometres (140 miles) southeast of Auckland. Rotorua is a great tourist attraction for two reasons; the first is for the city’s geothermal activity and the other is because it offers a chance to experience Maori culture.
Here you will see steam rising from the ground which is an impressive sight. There are lots of geysers on view, most famously the Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa, just remember to be careful as the water and mud is very hot. Another essential travelling tip is to not to chance opening your window at night as you’ll wake up with your room, bags and clothes stinking of sulphur.
I would recommend visiting Rotorua’s Maori cultural exhibition. You will start off by being given an official Maori invite into the arena and then you’ll be treated to a traditional show which includes an intimidating Hakka. You will also get shown how to cook traditional food ‘Hunga style.’ A hole is dug, stones are put at the bottom of the hole, then the food is laid on top and the thermal heat heats up the stones and cooks the food. Once you’ve learned about Maori history and their traditional way of life you get to have a very tasty feast. It was very well cooked and even though it was cooked underground I was pleasantly surprised to find that I couldn‘t taste any sulphur at all.
10. Bay of Plenty
The Bay of Plenty is a truly beautiful destination in the Northern Island, it’s quite out of the way so if you want to visit then you’ll need to plan your time correctly. It’s a preferred holiday destination for New Zealanders which means it must be worth visiting. There’s something for everyone, for those people who want a relaxing time then you can go walking and take in the fabulous scenery, alternatively if you want something a bit more fast-paced then white-water rafting, kayaking, parasailing or jet boating is also on offer here.
The excellent scenery attracts many artists and Katikati is an art-loving town where there are lots of murals painted on the walls of commercial buildings.
Although these are my ten recommended places, New Zealand offers many more interesting activities and charmingly beautiful spots and I’m sure you wouldn’t regret a visit.
I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 Places to Visit in New Zealand, I’ve also written a Top 10 Places to Visit in Australia
Top photo credit: Photo