New Zealand has 2 main islands and around 600 smaller islands. The North Island is famous for its beautiful beaches, volcanoes and the South Island for its nature, mystical fjords, immense mountains and glaciers. Both islands are amazing and offer some similar and different attractions you can immerse in.
The North Island
The Glowworms Caves
Well, this is certainly one of those things you don’t see every day or in every part of the world for that matter. One of the ways to see them is in the Glowworms Caves, where you’re taken into the abyss of a beautiful cave, that offers a close encounter with the worms on a mesmerizing boat ride along with a lot of fun facts about them. It’s mesmerizing, like looking at the bright starts on a calm night.
Near the Waitomo Glowworm caves, there are a few beautiful areas to explore. Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk, where you’ll see limestone gorge that passes underneath a 17 metre/56 feet high natural arch. And don’t miss a walk to the beautiful 35 metres/115 feet high Marokopa Falls.
If you’re a The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit junkie, or even if you’re not a fan or haven’t seen the films, this is such a cute little gem, you must visit. Go on an adventure between Hobbit holes, drink a beer at the Green Dragon Inn and discover a bit of Middle-earth. It’s the best, the tour is well organized and informative.
Learn the ways of the original inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori’s. Book a Maori cultural experience, one of the best is in Rotorua, the Tamaki Maori Village, where you’ll get to know about their history, culture, participate in activities such as the Haka dance and have a traditionally cooked dinner in the end.
There are some great geothermal areas near Rotorua. You can visit the Wai-O-Tapu or Te Puia. In Wai-O-Tapu you’ll find the colorful Champagne Pool, bubbling water and really colorful lakes. Te Puia is full of mud polls and the sight of the famous Pohutu Geyser. Both are worth a visit.
Relax in the natural Spas
There’s a lot to choose from. You can visit the Hell’s Gate or Polynesian Spa or dip in a natural wild spot near the Huka Falls. Soak in the natural springs, there are 28 hot pools in the Polynesian Spa or cover yourself up with mud in Hell’s Gate. It’s a perfect way to relax after a day of hiking.
Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
This is one of the best day hikes you can do in New Zealand, also the track takes you to the set where they filmed the scenes for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings! The hike is 19,4 km/12 miles long, with some steep parts, so be prepared. It usually takes you from 7 to 8 hours with stops. You’ll pass some amazing blue lakes, Volcanoes and craters. It’s a surreal sight for your eyes.
See the Huka Falls, the natural hydropower is amazing, or explore the scenic beauty of Taupo lake, take a boat ride or indulge in some adrenaline activities such as skydiving.
Adventure in Auckland City
Hop in an elevator to the top of the Sky Tower, where you can try a Sky Jump or a walk on the edge at 192 metres/630 feet above ground level next to the incredible view of Auckland. You can discover art and the culture in one of the museums or watch the sunrise, an ancient Karakia ceremony with Auckland’s Maori people.
The South Island
Exploring Arthurs Pass
Arthur’s Pass is one of the most spectacular passes in the Southern Alps, offering a look at the diverse vegetation, waterfalls and mountain views that take your breath away. Some of the tracks you should hike when passing through:
- Kura Tāwhiti Access Track where hundreds of boulders are spread across the land,
- Avalanche Creek Falls a 5-minute walk to a beautiful 80 meters/262 feet high waterfall,
- Arthur’s Pass Walking Track a 2 hour and 40 minutes long walk offering a sight of diverse alpine vegetation and stunning views,
- Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track a beautiful 1-hour track to a 131 meters/430 feet high stunning waterfall.
A cool little town on the West Coast, where you can chill on the beach, take a pick near the Hokitika sign and enjoy a stunning sunset. This is also a perfect spot to see glowworms in the night at the Glow Worm Dell. And a must stop, if you’re looking for the mesmerizing turquoise water, is the Hokitika Gorge.
Glacier trekking on Fox and Franz Josef Glacier
A great highlight of our trip was definitely the gorgeous views of Fox and Franz Josef Glacier. You can take the walking trail to get somewhat close to them, go on a helicopter ride or book a hiking tour on the Glacier. Either way, you’ll get amazing views of the glacier. The walk to the Franz Josef Glacier takes an hour return as does the walk to Fox Glacier. Both walks are easy, just stay on the path.
Wanaka, Wanaka, Wanaka
This little gem hidden between the mountains is one of the most amazing cities in New Zealand. There are plenty of options to enjoy, a perfect location for the outdoors. Just wander through the city, find That Wanaka Tree and wait for the sunrise. The city offers the best hikes that offer an amazing view of the whole valley. The recommended walks are Diamond Lake, Rocky Mountain walks (various tracks, all under 3h) and Mount Iron Track where you’ll get a 360-degree view of Wanaka). Overall, it’s a nice getaway in the Southern Alps where you can find glaciers, beech forests, alpine lakes and ski resorts.
Queenstown, the city on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is a slightly more touristy city, filled with people and you’ll see why. You can get your blood pumping through your veins by bungee jumping, jet boating, white water rafting, skydiving and more. It’s a lovely city surrounded with amazing mountains, perfect for hiking, walks on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and a vibrant nightlife. For a nice view of Queenstown, hike or take the gondola to the Skyline Queenstown and ride the Luges, they’re so much fun!
Journey to Middle Earth
Book a helicopter tour from Queenstown to enjoy the astonishing views from up top. This is a perfect place to take a Lord of the Rings helicopter tour. The one we went on (www.glaciersouthernlakes.co.nz) took us through Isengard, Misty Mountains, Amon Hen and Lothlórien. You’ll fly above the Shotover River and Skippers Canyon, where they shot Arwen conjuring the magical flood to dispel the Nazgûl and over the mountain range which was the opening scene of The Two Towers.
The road to Glenorchy
The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most amazing road trips you’ll take. The road offers beautiful spots with amazing views. Glenorchy is a city at the far end of Lake Wakatipu and it was one of the locations for filming many scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Milford Sound – the Eighth Wonder of the World
A few hours drive from Queenstown, this region is one of the most remote and scenic locations in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord that stretches into the Tasman Sea. The sound is filled with gigantic mountains and waterfalls, that cascade from 1000 meters/3280 feet high, where you’ll find dolphins, seals and penguins. It was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. Take a boat ride and make sure your camera is ready because the views are breathtaking.
Aoraki – Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki or Mt Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3724 meters/12217 feet high. To experience this beauty that this region has to offer, take one of the walks or hikes where you’ll experience fascinating views. One of the easiest is the Hooker Valley Track.
This is the perfect place to go stargazing because there is almost no light-pollution and vast, clear skies, so be sure to visit the Mt John Observatory, to get a good look at the stars, although, at night, the road to it is closed, you may need to book a tour or hike up. But don’t skip the daytime activities, there are a lot of things to see an do, like hiking, walking around the blue lake and taking great pictures of the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Christchurch must be on your itinerary. The city has a really special vibe, funky bars and restaurants, nice markets, beautiful parks, gardens and great exhibitions. The city is recovering from the severe earthquakes in the last few years.
Though we spent only 3 weeks in New Zealand we managed to pick up some tips on how to save precious time and a few bucks here and there.
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