Kia Ora or Welcome to New Zealand! The land of the Kiwis is a magnificent place where culture meets breathtaking scenery. Nicknamed the Land of the Long White Cloud or Middle-earth, the country is the ideal place to relax and appreciate its environment. Its shimmering lakes and natural beauty are sure to enchant. So let’s dive into the magic of New Zealand.

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North Island

Auckland

Auckland in New Zealand
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

Sometimes confused with the capital, Auckland is in fact one of New Zealand’s main cities. With its extinct volcano, famous Sky Tower and trendy restaurants and cafés, let me introduce you to the country’s most populated city.

1. Mount Eden/Maungawhau

Mount Eden/Maungawhau in New Zealand

It’s Auckland’s highest volcano, but I’m still glad it’s extinct. Just thinking about its past activity gives me the shivers. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly offers the best view of the city and harbour. You can even see the famous Sky Tower in the distance. And at 196 meters high, it’s a pretty easy “hike”.

2. Wander the city by night & eat at the night markets

New Zealand by night

Exploring a city at night is one of my favorite things to do when I’m in a country. The lights illuminate the streets, everyone gathers after a busy day to relax…. I love seeing the change in atmosphere and the way the city is still bustling, but differently from the day.

While in Auckland, be sure to stop by the night markets. They offer a wide range of food and entertainment to keep you going all night long. You might want to go on an empty stomach to try a different cuisine for starter, main course and dessert!

3. Waitākere Ranges Regional Park

Waitakere Ranges NP in New Zealand
Photo by Yathursan Gunaratnam on Unsplash

A 40-minute drive from Auckland lies the magnificent Waitākere Ranges Regional Park. Waterfalls, pools, bush, black sand beach. I’m pretty sure you’re already convinced, and if not, I invite you to google Piha, Karekare or even Whatipu. The images will undoubtedly seduce you, and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination!

4. Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island or “Bloody Sky” in Māori is another of the many places around Auckland where an extinct volcano is located. It only takes a 30-minute ferry ride to land on the island. Exploration can then begin, and you won’t be disappointed as the place boasts abundant flora and fauna.
Finally, the hike up to the crater, once again filled with lush greenery, will give you a complete and magnificent view of Auckland.

Whakatāne

Whakatane in New Zealand

It may not be on everyone’s travel list, but Whakatāne holds a special place in my heart since I lived and worked there for a few months. The great thing was that there really weren’t many tourists, almost none in fact, so it was perfect.

5. Moutohorā Island Tour/ Whale Island

Moutohora island in New Zealand

This small, unpopulated island is one of the world’s most restricted and pest-free wildlife sanctuaries, home to endangered species of birds, reptiles and plants. For this reason, strict rules must be observed (your belongings will be checked for traces of soil or seeds) to enter the island.

You’ll visit the hot-water beach and discover the geothermal zone. You can also book guided kayak tours to fully admire the scenery.

6. Ōhope Beach

Ohope beach in New Zealand

Paddle boarding, surfing, swimming: take your pick and relax on this superb beach. Although outside the city, the spot is popular with locals who spend time with loved ones playing games and having barbecues facing the ocean.

7. Puketapu Lookout

Located right in the center of town, this lookout is an easy activity for everyone. With only a few steps to climb, breathe, relax and soak up the view at the top of Puketapu Lookout!

8. Warren Cole Walk & bike trails

Warren Cole walkway in NZ

Another easy and free activity to do in Whakatāne, the walkway offers surprisingly pleasant scenery along the river. You can also see Māori carvings on your way into the town center, and many people come here not only for exercise, but also to spend time with their families.

Miniature trains, amphitheatre, restaurants – this was my favourite way into town!

Rotorua

Rotorua in New Zealand

Known for its geothermal activity and mud baths, Rotorua is a must-see on your trip to New Zealand. Beware of the strong smell of sulfur that emanates from Rotorua: not for sensitive nostrils!

9. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Rotorua thermal attraction
Photo by Holger Offermann on Unsplash

If you want to witness an astonishing experience of thousand-year-old geothermal activity, this is the place to go. This authentic, natural attraction will leave you dazzled by its fascinating colors and erupting geysers.

10. Whakarewarewa Forest (The Redwoods)

Redwood forest in NZ
Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

On foot, by bike or on horseback, the choice is yours as you explore the 5600 hectares of forest that open up before you. Being surrounded by these massive trees made me feel even smaller than I already am. If you love outdoor activities, you should definitely visit this forest. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale.

11. Hobbiton

Hobbiton in New Zealand

When you travel to New Zealand, you’ll probably hear a lot about The Lord of the Rings, as the film was shot entirely here. You’ll meet a lot of travelers who mainly go to New Zealand to see all the filming locations!

I won’t say I’m a die-hard fan of the film, but it was still one of the things I wanted to visit during my stay.

Hobbiton is just an hour from Rotorua, and as soon as you step off the bus (if you’ve taken a guided tour like me), you’re whisked away into the world of the silly, fat Hobbits!
The experience itself was a lot of fun thanks to our 2 guides, and I was very impressed by all the work that went into the film sets. After a visit and a cider at the Green Dragon Inn later and lots of photos, the tour finally came to an end.

I really enjoyed the activity, but I’d say that if you don’t like movies at all, you’d better skip it. You won’t learn much more about the Lord of the Rings, and as it’s a bit expensive, you might think it’s a waste of time.

12. Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Located 2 hours from Rotorua, the glow worm caves were a magical adventure for me. The calm and enchanting atmosphere, the legends of the cave…., it’s like being transported into another dimension. A dimension where tiny creatures are the only light in total darkness.

Taupō

Taupo in NZ

Taupō and its largest lake in New Zealand was a last-minute stop for me, but one I really enjoyed. Whether by the lake or exploring its surroundings, the town offered me a moment of relaxation after many days on the road.

13. The Huka Falls

Huka falls in Taupo, NZ

The power of the water flowing between the volcanic rocks and the sound create a dramatic atmosphere, to say the least. I can’t imagine the experience of falling into those roaring waterfalls… But seeing them from the footbridge was more than enough for me!

14. Lake Taupō

Itinerary in NZ
Photo by Callum Parker on Unsplash

While in Taupō, you should take a kayak or boat trip to the Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings, in addition to seeing the lake. The artworks represent Ngātoroirangi, a Māori navigator who guided the tribes over a thousand years ago. The sculptures, by master sculptor Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, date from the late 1970s and took many years to complete.
When you see the skill required to create such a beautiful masterpiece, you can’t help but be amazed.

Wellington

Wellington in NZ

The first thing I noticed on arriving in Wellington was that the town lives up to its name, or nickname. Windy Welly is indeed, well, really windy. In a matter of seconds, you can go from hot and sweaty to cold and at risk of blowing away.

But, Wellington, despite being the capital, is a calm, relaxing city with something for everyone.

15. Mount Victoria Lookout

Mt Victoria Lookout in NZ

If you want the best view of the city, you must take one of the many nature trails up to Mount Victoria Lookout. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset, admire the harbour and enjoy a picnic on the grass.

16. Te Papa Tongarewa Museum

Museum in New Zealand

As much as I love learning about a country through direct contact with its inhabitants, I also love spending hours in interesting museums. The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited. Whether it’s Māori culture, history, art…, this museum is what you’re looking for in New Zealand. I was even lucky enough to see an exhibition on the funny and quirky film> What We Do in the Shadows!

17. Wellington Botanic Gardens

If you’ve taken the cable car, why not continue your visit with the botanical gardens. Here you’ll find exotic trees, ducks, the famous Lady Norwood Rose Garden and much more, as well as a café to sip a cup of coffee or tea in charming surroundings.

18. Cuba Street and the Central Waterfront

Waterfront in Wellington

Cuba Street is home to art galleries, musicians, fashion stores and the bucket fountain! Don’t get too close if you don’t want to get wet, as this is the main feature of this work of art. After spending your morning in Wellington’s main creative district, why not head to the Waterfront?

Enjoy the sea views as you pass the many restaurants, commemorative plaques and various pieces of art. You can continue until you find yourself on the beach for a well-deserved picnic.

South Island

Picton

Picton in NZ

After a pleasant ride on the ferry, I landed in Picton. Relaxed atmosphere, palm trees and seaside restaurants – that’s how I’d describe this harbour town. As I didn’t have much time in Picton, I took the opportunity to plan the rest of my trip and relax. But if you’re in the area, don’t miss the following activity!

19. Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte track in NZ
Photo by SpacetoCo on Unsplash

Although you’ve probably already travelled the Marlborough Sounds by ferry, the hike is well worth a visit! New Zealand is somewhat famous for its panoramas, and this one doesn’t prove me wrong, so grab your hiking boots, cap, water and snacks and enjoy the view!

Nelson

Nelson in NZ

Welcome to Nelson, home to three national parks, beautiful Tasman Bay, year-round sunshine and a creative scene. Whether in the city itself or in the surrounding area, there’s so much to do and little time to get bored!

20. Centre of New Zealand Monument

I don’t know why, but I found this “hike” more challenging than others I’ve done in New Zealand. Maybe because everything is always at the end of a steep slope here. In any case, if you’re looking for magnificent views of the Nelson Tasman, look no further!

21. The Grampians Reserve

Grampians Reserve in NZ

With numerous trails and different levels of difficulty, you’re sure to have an adventure. You’ll walk among the vegetation and many trees that make up the trails and end up in front of an old TV transmission tower with a superb view over Tasman Bay.

22. Tāhunanui Beach

Tahunanui beach in NZ

Swimming, paddling, kayaking, this beach is packed with activities for adults and children alike. And at low tide, another world opens up. Crabs, fish and rock pools appear, to the delight of kids and fishermen alike.
And when you look out over the horizon, you get the impression that the expanse of sand is truly infinite. All in all, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Plus, it’s right near downtown!

23. Abel Tasman National Park

Itinerary in NZ
Photo by Lesly Derksen on Unsplash

It may be New Zealand’s smallest national park, but there’s nothing shameful about it. On the contrary, the golden sands, crystal-clear waters and wildlife make Abel Tasman NP a genuine New Zealand gem. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in the country.

To take full advantage of the park’s tranquility and beauty, you might want to spend the night under the stars!

Aoraki/ Mount Cook

Aoraki in New Zealand
Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

Sometimes a photo is enough to convince you to go somewhere, isn’t it?

24. The Hooker Valley Track

It’s not considered a difficult hike, but be prepared to be amazed! Swing bridges, mountains, glaciers – New Zealand proves once again that it’s one of the most picturesque places on earth!

If you have plenty of time, don’t hesitate to visit the other trails

Franz Josef Glacier (Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere)

Franz Josef Glacier in NZ

The town of Franz Josef is like a haven of peace, lost in the middle of nowhere but home to a glacier I couldn’t wait to see. And the legend attached to it added a little something to my already amazed eyes.

Legend has it that Hine Hukatere once climbed the glacier with her lover. But her less experienced lover was caught in an avalanche. Heartbroken, Hine Hukatere couldn’t stop crying, and her tears filled the valley between the mountains, forming the glacier we all know today.

A heartbreaking but beautiful story, isn’t it?

25. Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Franz Josef Glacier picture in NZ

After setting off early to avoid the crowds, walking along the beautiful Waiho River and past waterfalls, you’ll arrive at the base of the glacier.

Although happy to get there, I was shocked and saddened to see how profoundly global warming has affected the glacier….

26. Callery Gorge Walk & Terrace Walk

Callery Gorge walk in NZ

Walking through enchanting forests, getting lost and finally finding my way back to the waterfalls sums up my experience of the Callery Gorge walk.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I was completely alone when I finally discovered the blue water of the gorge. The beauty of it made me completely forget about past events and I just stood there, enjoying the roar of the water as well as its mesmerizing color.

How to end a beautiful day? By seeing glow worms, of course! As Terrace Walk was close to my accommodation, I went there in total darkness to be amazed once again by the beauty of these creatures. To see them, you have to spot the tree stumps or the little nooks and crannies where they like to “hide”.

Lake Hāwea

Lake Hawea in NZ

A place chosen completely by chance and because I wanted to avoid the tourist crowds of Wānaka, Lake Hāwea was perhaps my big crush in New Zealand. I sometimes spent hours sitting in front of the lake, letting my mind wander and really wishing I’d stayed longer! What’s more, for the duration of my stay, I literally had the whole place to myself!

27. Beach in Lake Hāwea

Beach in Lake Hawea in NZ

Only a minute from my accommodation was this magnificent spot where I could dip my toes in the relatively cold water, I must admit. But this place is perfect all the same, as the beach seems to stretch on forever and makes for a breathtakingly picturesque walk.

I tried to imagine what it would be like in winter, when the mountains in the distance are covered in snow, or in summer, when the lake is full of locals relaxing and swimming with a panorama like this.

Well, let’s just say that, personally, Lake Hāwea is really close to my ideal spot!

28. The viewpoints around Lake Hāwea

Viewpoint around lake Hawea in NZ

To be honest, there are viewpoints just about everywhere in Lake Hāwea. You just have to wander around a bit to be enthralled. No wonder I fell in love with this little town!

29. The Gladstone Track

Gladstone track in NZ

You can do it on foot or by bike, the choice is yours. It only takes 3 hours in total, more if you decide to picnic or rest in between. You’ll also come across some beaches along the way, which have toilets so you can take a break or simply enjoy the scenery.

Queenstown

Queenstown in NZ

I risk upsetting some people if I say this, but I’ll say it anyway. I was far from convinced when I arrived in Queenstown, and after all, it was only a short stopover on the way to Milford Sound. And if you ask me why, the reason is simple: it’s true that there’s a pretty inland lake, but apart from that, I think the town is far too touristy for me.
And it seems you have to pay for everything. There are a lot of expensive restaurants, travel agencies and activities to do for a city that isn’t that big after all. For a country that’s already not cheap, this may not be the best option if you want to save money.

Nevertheless, here are some of the things you can do in Queenstown if you’re on a budget.

30. Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu in NZ

The third-largest lake in New Zealand and surrounded by mountains, Lake Wakatipu has been sculpted by glaciers. It is famous among tourists for its many activities: parasailing, jet boating, semi-submersible boats to feel like a shark (I’m not kidding…) ….

If you don’t want to spend too much money, you can also relax by the lake.

31. Ben Lomond

Grab your hiking boots – the Ben Lomond trail awaits! With a vertical drop of 1438 m, it will take you the whole day, but the reward will make you forget that you’re drenched in sweat, don’t worry! However, I must warn you: the hike can be tough, especially as you approach the summit.

Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)

Milford Sound in NZ

Some might say I was unlucky as I did Milford Sound in the rain, but I actually enjoyed the gloomy atmosphere it created. The mist, the power of the waterfalls, everything combined to make the experience more mystical and magical. I think visiting the fjord is definitely one of the things to do in your life, it was worth it and it’s still vivid in my memories, even today!

32. Scenic drive

The best way to enjoy the drive to Milford Sound is to stop whenever you want and can. The scenery was simply breathtaking, and foreshadowed great moments on the cruise ahead. Mirror Lakes, Falls Creek…, the road to the Sound was superb.
I even saw a Kea: a bird belonging to a protected species perched on the roof of a car! A truly unexpected but very cute sight!

33. Cruise the famous fiord

Milford Sound in New Zealand

Taking a cruise to explore Milford Sound is usually the way most people choose to see the fjord. Although the trip aboard the boat was quite windy and rainy, I was still impressed by the experience.

After the well-known tradition of showering under a waterfall: compliments from the captain (don’t worry, it’s not compulsory, especially if you’re not wearing a raincoat) and watching fur seals lounging on their rocks, it’s already the end of this amazing experience.

And if you want to discover more of Milford Sound, you can also go kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and hiking!

Final Thoughts

Made up of two main islands and over 700 smaller ones, New Zealand once again showed me the beauty of Mother Nature. Its lakes, mountains and fjords enchanted me, and its culture and traditional crafts took me back in time.

The country has a lot to offer, whether you’re an adventure-lover or simply want to discover unique places and people.

Kia Ora!

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