New Zealand is known for its stunning natural scenery. You can see many different landscapes as you travel around the country, such as dark beaches with volcanic sand, hot springs, hidden bays, towering mountains and blue-green lakes. You can also enjoy urban attractions in cities like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. But some of the most amazing places to visit in New Zealand are outside the cities, where you can connect with nature.
Here are nine places that you should not miss when you visit Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand).
Queenstown is a popular destination for visitors who love adventure and beauty. It is located by Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snowy mountains. You can ski on three different slopes and have fun at the lively bars and restaurants after a day on the snow.
Queenstown also offers many other thrilling activities, such as bungee jumping, zip lines, paragliding and jet boating. You can also enjoy hiking, biking and water sports in the summer.
Detour: Explore the nearby valleys and towns around Queenstown. Visit Lake Hayes, Glenorchy village and the historic Arrowtown. You can also spend a day or more in Wānaka, a relaxed town with a famous tree that is often photographed. The Gibbston Valley has some of the best wineries in the country.
If you want to relax on the beach, go to the Coromandel Peninsula, on the east coast of the North Island. The Cathedral Cove area is very beautiful, but it is hard to get there now because of the storm damage in 2023 (you need to take a boat or kayak tour). But there are many other gorgeous beaches in the area.
You can swim in the calm water of Cooks Beach or walk through the native forest to find the secluded New Chums Beach. You can also cycle through the Karangahake Gorge, hike the Pinnacles Trail and kayak to Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary (Donut Island), a pristine place that you can only see from the water.
Planning tip: Rent a bach (holiday house) in one of the coastal towns of Hahei, Pauanui or Whangamatā, and use it as your base to explore the area.
Abel Tasman National Park is a paradise of untouched nature, with green forests, clear bays and white sandy beaches. You can visit it on a day trip from Nelson, but it is better to stay longer if you can.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is a 60km (37-mile) walk along the coast with amazing views of the beach. It takes three to five days to do the whole walk, or you can do a part of it as a day or afternoon hike and use water taxis to go back to where you started. You can also kayak to the national park’s seal colony, swim in the water, or just relax in the small hidden coves and bays.
Planning tip: Cars can only drive to Tōtaranui on the north edge of the national park and Mārahau at the southern entrance, so you need to walk or take a water taxi to get to where you want to go.
Fiordland National Park is on the edge of the South Island and it has one of New Zealand’s most famous attractions, the Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. You can see waterfalls falling from the cliffs and rare animals, such as Fiordland crested penguins and Hector’s dolphins. There are also many hiking trails in the national park (including the Milford Track, the most famous multiday walk in the country), which take you past mountains and fiords, with more views of lakes, valleys and waterfalls.
Planning tip: Doubtful Sound/Patea is also very beautiful but harder to get to – you need to go with a guide and by boat.
The West Coast of the South Island is a wild and remote area with dense rainforests, rocky cliffs and ancient glaciers. The main attractions are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, which are rivers of ice that flow almost to the sea level.
You can take guided hikes, heli-hikes or scenic flights to see the glaciers. Other places to see include Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks, the blue Hokitika Gorge and the calm, mirror-like Lake Matheson.
Planning tip: The West Coast gets a lot of rain every year. The helicopter tours depend on the weather. If you really want to land on a glacier, make sure you have some extra days in case of bad weather.
The Mackenzie Region is a peaceful place with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. It is an International Dark Sky Reserve with very little light pollution, so you can see the stars very well. Check the weather forecast and go to the observatory to see the stars through a telescope, or just look up.
The Mackenzie is also where Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd are. The church is a stone building that is one of the most photographed places in the country. Nearby, the town of Twizel is a good place to stay and explore the region. From there, you can easily go to the lakes and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, which has many walks from short trails to full-day hikes.
Planning tip: Book a Tātai Aroraki (Māori astronomy) tour at the Dark Sky Project to learn about the meaning of the night sky to Māori. This tour is not affected by the weather so it is a good option for rainy days.
Rotorua is the center of New Zealand’s geothermal activity. You can see mud pools, geysers and steaming rivers. You can also relax in a thermal mud bath.
Rotorua is also a great place to learn more about Māori culture and language. You can visit a Māori marae (meeting grounds). For example, at Te Puia geothermal park, you can see Māori carvers working at the New Zealand Māori Art and Crafts Institute. This park also has the biggest geyser in the southern hemisphere. The nearby Whakarewarewa Forest (also called the Redwoods) has some great cycling and hiking trails, and a treetop walk that is lit up at night.
Napier was rebuilt in the art deco style after a big earthquake in 1931. Now, it has one of the best collections of art deco buildings in the southern hemisphere. You can experience Napier’s history through guided walks, vintage car tours and the Art Deco Festival, which happens every February.
Detour: Spend a day or two visiting the lovely village of Havelock North and the Hawke’s Bay wineries, which make excellent syrahs, chardonnays and reds.
The Bay of Islands is a beautiful area with many islands and clear water. It is also an important place for the culture and history of the country. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is where a document was signed between Māori chiefs and British representatives, forming modern-day New Zealand.
If you visit between November and March, you can also see traditional performances at the treaty grounds, and eat a hāngī feast, where food is cooked in the ground. Besides Waitangi, you can also go on a waka (traditional canoe) tour, where Māori guides tell you stories about their ancestors and the sacred places in the bay. In Paihia, you can download the Ātea Nuku app to do an augmented reality walking tour that shows the history of the town.
Planning tip: On Waitangi Day (February 6), all the Treaty Ground buildings are closed for the holiday. Instead, there is a big festival. You can join a dawn ceremony, eat from food stalls and watch cultural shows.