New Zealand regularly tops the list of the world’s most beautiful countries, and for good reason. With sweeping beaches, ancient forests, snowy mountains, bubbling springs, and impossibly blue lakes, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
While there are vibrant cities in New Zealand, most people come here for an outdoor experience – whether it’s pushing their limits with adventure sports or hiking through the majestic scenery.
So, if you’re thinking about visiting New Zealand, which places are the most dazzling? Here are 8 of the most beautiful places to visit – along with what to expect from this small but stunning country.
1. Milford Sound and the Fiordlands, South Island
Located within the Southwestern corner of the South Island, the Fiordland region boasts the country’s two deepest lakes, dramatic fiords, lush rainforests, fascinating marine life, and some of the world’s rarest birds.
Rudyard Kipling famously called Milford Sound the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, and it’s not really an exaggeration. Carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, this secluded, mirror-like fiord is surrounded by hanging valleys, thundering waterfalls, and towering mountains. The stupendous scenery here is best viewed from the water, and there are many sightseeing cruises you can enjoy.
You can also explore this region on foot – and unsurprisingly, hiking is really popular in the Fiordland National Park. If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike the 34-mile Milford Track, which takes around four days, and winds through some of the region’s finest scenery. Or, if you want to be somewhere even more remote, head to nearby Doubtful Sound, which is accessible only by guide and boat.
2. Queenstown, South Island
Not for nothing is Queenstown known as New Zealand’s adventure sports capital, and it’s famously the birthplace of bungee jumping.
Whether you fancy throwing yourself out of a plane, white water rafting, mountain biking, or rock climbing, there’s no better place to be if you want to get your adrenaline pumping. Though Queenstown is much more than an adventure playground.
Tucked between the shores of the gleaming Lake Wakatipu and the snow-capped peaks of the Remarkables, Queenstown enjoys one of the most dramatically beautiful settings in the world. Gazing out at the shimmering blue waters and hulking mountains will genuinely take your breath away, and this stunning alpine scenery is home to an excellent network of hiking trails.
Queenstown is also home to a cosmopolitan food and arts scene – and if you’re into wine, its vineyards are well worth a visit. It’s also a great base for exploring the Central Otago region, where you can visit gold-mining towns and scenery that looks straight out of Middle Earth.
3. Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park, North Island
In the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll find its largest lake. Technically a volcanic caldera, at nearly 30 miles long Lake Taupo is the size of Singapore, and its sparkling blue waters have led to it becoming the North Island’s most popular resort town. From adventure sports, lakeside hikes, hot springs, and the blue cascades of Huka Falls, there’s a wealth of things to do here.
A key reason why Taupo is so popular is its proximity to Tongariro National Park, where the volcanic peaks loom just beyond the lake. One of the oldest national parks in the world, Tongariro’s beauty looks almost otherworldly. Home to turquoise lakes, alpine meadows, snow-capped volcanoes, arid plateaus, and impossibly blue rivers, photographers will be in their element.
If you have limited time in New Zealand, you might want to consider hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is one of the most popular – and most beautiful – day walks in the country. The path takes you past the rocky landscape of Mount Ngauruhoe (or Mount Doom, for fans of the Lord of the Rings films!), glittering green-blue lakes, and some of New Zealand’s most diverse scenery.
4. Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Located on the Northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, Abel Tasman National Park might be the smallest national park in the country, but its humble size belies both its beauty and diversity.
Less than 40 miles from the city of Nelson, the Abel Tasman National Park’s crystal-clear waters, white sand beaches, dense bushland, and rocky outcrops are captivatingly beautiful.
This part of New Zealand is the sunniest place in the country, so if you’re looking to hit the water, you’ll be spoiled for choice. There are many secluded coves and sweeping golden beaches here, and the pristine waters are popular with swimmers, snorkelers, and kayakers. You may also be lucky enough to spot fur seals, dolphins, and penguins, as well as a wide range of birds.
But most people come to Abel Tasman National Park to hike. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand, and though it takes between three to five days to complete the full trek, you can hike a section in a day. If you want to trek through cool forests, along coastal cliffs, and swim up to dramatic rock formations – like the famous Split Apple Rock – it’s unmissable.
5. Wanaka, South Island
While Queenstown is New Zealand’s most famous lakeside mountain town, Wanaka should not be overlooked.
Queenstown may have more opportunities for outdoor adventures, but Wanaka’s laidback small-town ambience and gorgeous natural beauty might make it your favourite. Draped around the shores of its eponymous lake, this humble town is a lovely place to spend a few days.
In the town itself, you can relax in the cute cafes or restaurants, or kick back on the beach-like lakefront – but most people will be drawn to the outdoor surroundings.
Lake Wanaka is circled by hills and mountains, from the popular-dotted hills of Central Otago to the craggy peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, so if you’re looking to stretch your legs, you’re in the right place!
During the warmer months, Wanaka is filled with hikers, as well as adventure-loving visitors looking to enjoy water sports in the pristine lake. Then in winter, it’s an extremely popular base for skiers and snowboarders. The town is within easy reach of the ski-fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona, as well as the challenging terrain at the Snow Farm.
6. Bay of Islands, North Island
If you think you can’t go island hopping in New Zealand, think again! About a three-hour drive north of Auckland, in the North Island, you’ll find the beautiful Bay of Islands.
Comprising of 144 islands scattered between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula, this is one of the best places in the country to go sailing, kayaking, or swimming – or just to kick back on a sub-tropical island.
While there are other lovely spots along this part of the coast – especially Whangaroa and Hokianga harbours – what makes the Bay of Islands so special isn’t just how easy it is to access the islands, it’s also its history. Before the Europeans arrived, the climate and sheltered harbours meant there was a thriving Maori settlement here, and it’s a good place to learn about Maori culture.
With so many gorgeous islands to explore, it might come as a surprise to know that most of your time here will be spent on the mainland, as there are no settlements on the islands themselves. But the islands are really accessible, and you can spend your time here diving shipwrecks, hiking island trails, swimming in secluded coves, or simply sailing along these tranquil seas.
7. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, South Island
If you find glittering glaciers and ice caves more alluring than white sand beaches or turquoise waters, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers should definitely be on your New Zealand itinerary.
Along the mountainous west of the South Island, two white rivers of ice carve their way down to the coastal plains, forming a tangible connection between the tall peaks of the Southern Alps and the coast.
Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier are two of the most accessible glaciers in the world, so if you like the idea of hiking up a glacier, this is where to come. One of the best ways to explore either glacier is via guided hike, where you can trek across the frozen landscape and over icy pinnacles. Alternatively, you can take a helicopter ride to enjoy a stunning aerial view of the glaciers.
While it might sound freezing, the temperate coastal climate here means you won’t be too cold – and if you do feel chilly after exploring Franz Josef Glacier, you can warm up with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools, which are fed by the waters from the glacier. You can choose to stay in the villages of Franz Josef or Fox, although the former is livelier and larger.
8. Aoraki National Park, South Island
Another must-visit if you like mountains, hiking, and more glaciers, is Aoraki National Park, which is also called Mount Cook National Park.
Home to the country’s highest mountains and longest glacier (over 40% of the park is covered with glaciers!), Aoraki is a popular destination for mountaineering – and Sir Edmund Hillary trained here in preparation for Mount Everest.
There are excellent hiking opportunities here, no matter how experienced you are. You can enjoy gentle walks including the popular Hooker Valley Track. This is a six-mile loop that winds through alpine streams and glaciers and rewards you with gorgeous views of the towering Mount Cook. Or, if you fancy a challenge, there are 23 peaks standing over 9,800 feet!
If you like stargazing, you’re also in luck; the park is a Dark Sky Reserve with minimal light pollution, and at night the sky glitters with bright stars. Aoraki National Park is also popular with nature lovers, as it has an incredibly diverse range of flora and fauna, and 40 species of bird.
Finally, Mount Cook Village is an ideal base for discovering the beauties of the park and organising tours and activities.
New Zealand - what to expect
Best time to visit
The South Island is much rainier than the North, with the Fiordlands and West Coast among the wettest places in the world – so if you’re planning on doing plenty of hiking, keep this in mind!
New Zealand’s winter (May to September) is the wettest and coldest time to visit, and the most popular time to visit is in the summer, from December to February.
However, you can visit any time of year provided you choose your destinations carefully. In the North, summers are warm and gentle, and the winters mild and wet, whereas in the South, the weather is more seasonally distinct.
Spring and autumn are generally always good times to visit, as sights are quieter and accommodation is easier to find, as well as cheaper.
Money and currency
The currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar. New Zealand is not a cheap country, but its high standards of service and quality mean you get good value for your money. Tipping isn’t expected, though if you receive excellent service, it’s always appreciated.
While getting around isn’t cheap (and the flights themselves will be expensive), there are ways you can save money while over here. The prevalence of decent hostels (with private rooms) means there are plenty of options for both singles and couples. And using public transport where possible will save you a lot of cash too.
Tours and activities will usually be expensive, but luckily, the best way to see the country – hiking – is absolutely free.
The word Māori refers to the country’s indigenous people, who arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand’s mainland) from the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki over 1000 years ago. And today, Māori culture – which is the cultural practices, customs, and beliefs of the Māori people – is still an important part of New Zealand life.
Though tribal costume is only worn for special occasions (such as during a spine chilling haka at a rugby match or cultural event), there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about Māori culture. You can hear the Māori language being spoken across the country, watch Māori TV, visit a Marae (tribal meeting ground) through an organised tour, and try Māori foods.
New Zealand is a country of sweeping sandy beaches, majestic mountains, primaeval forests, glittering glaciers, and astonishingly blue lakes.
It’s a country of laidback culture but also extreme adventure – where you can just as easily unwind in lakeside towns, visit vineyards, and sip fine wine as you can go caving, hiking, or bungee jumping.
Known for its enchanting scenery, Maori culture, chilled-out lifestyle, and friendly locals – if you visit New Zealand once, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll want to return time and again.