New Zealand has been on the top of our travel bucket list since, like, forever! And last year we finally made our way across the world to the “Land of the long white cloud” with one goal in mind: explore its stunning nature and make memories that will last a lifetime. Okay, two goals.
To be honest, before setting off to New Zealand we had no idea just how diverse this country really is. But isn’t that part of the charm, though? Traveling to a new country and not knowing exactly what to expect makes you more aware and appreciative of the things you encounter on the way. At least that’s what happened to us.
As a result of our plan to not overplan our time in New Zealand, we were absolutely blown away by the beauty, greatness, and contrast this country possesses in its nature. To convince you to go see it for yourself, we’ve come up with a list of our favorite places to visit and things to do when in “Kiwiland.” Here goes!
(Doubtless Bay, North Island)
A popular picnic spot for locals, Lake Rotopokaka has aptly been nicknamed Coca-Cola Lake due to its brownish color. The water is said to have healing properties and while we were there, a lady was collecting it in a water bottle to take it home and use it as hair conditioner. And so did we. #noshame
(Dunedin, South Island)
Dunedin is a cool city to visit by itself, but when you are there make sure to go another mile or two and drive along the coastline of Otago Peninsula. The road is winding, there is a historical castle with the most beautiful gardens, and an abundance of wildlife you don’t want to miss. We’re talking penguins, seals, sea lions, and if you drive all the way to the end of the peninsula there’s a big chance you’ll see the king of all seabirds, the Royal Albatross.
(Abel Tasman National Park, South Island)
Usually if there is a chance to rent a kayak as a way of exploring a certain area, we’ll take it. And while there are many possibilities around New Zealand to do so, Abel Tasman NP has to be the top of the list. Rent a kayak in Marahau, explore the crystal blue waters, relax on a deserted beach, and watch baby seals play in the sea. By far one of our favorite days in NZ!
(Waipoua Forest, North Island)
Kauri trees are the largest species of trees in New Zealand and among the oldest in the world. You can see the largest specimen, called Tāne Mahuta and meaning “Lord of the Forest” in the native Māori language, in a lush tropical forest on the west side of New Zealand’s Northland region. The size of this thing is beyond any expectations you might have!
(Arthur’s Pass National Park, South Island)
Stunning nature, open roads and views for days have to make New Zealand one of the best countries for road trips. The road through Arthur’s Pass NP connects the East and the West Coast of the South Island and has the most amazing views and some pretty cool sights along the way. Our favorites are Lake Pearson, Castle Hill, and let’s not forget the cheeky keas, the only alpine parrots in the world, striking a pose while looking for leftover food in Arthur’s Pass Village.
(Wanaka or Queenstown, South Island)
If you are an adrenaline seeker or even if you used to be, but you’re not sure if you enjoy the rush anymore, and you also don’t want to miss the incredible opportunity to see New Zealand’s spectacular nature from above and at the same time test your limits, then consider going skydiving. Tina says you won’t regret it and Teo says it looked pretty cool from the ground.
(Auckland, North Island)
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland, take a day trip to one of the islands nearby. Rotoroa Island used to be a rehabilitation center for alcoholics for over 100 hundred years and has recently been turned into a conservation park. Walking around this car-free island is a calming and refreshing experience, so prepare yourself for not wanting to leave. Bringing food and water is a must, and so is having a picnic with a view.
CRUISING MILFORD SOUND
(Milford Sound, South Island)
This is the kind of place you just have to see it in person to feel its mighty presence. With towering mountains rising from the sea, some of the tallest waterfalls in the world, and curious dolphins to keep your ship company, cruising this fjord is like slipping into a different world. Not only is Milford Sound the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand, some would go as far as calling it the 8th wonder of the world. There are plenty of cruises available year-round; we recommend you go with Real Journeys.
HIKING MOUNT TARANAKI
(New Plymouth, North Island)
At 2,518 meters high, Mt. Taranaki literally overshadows everything else in the Taranaki region. The walking track itself is not one of the easiest, since a good part of it consists of loose stones and scree, but the feeling of being on the top of a still active volcano is definitely worth the effort. The resemblance with the worldwide known Japanese Mt. Fuji is pretty stunning too!
(West Coast, South Island)
The glaciers of New Zealand are one of the most spectacular natural sights to see. Although there are more than twenty glaciers spread throughout the country, Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers stand out the most. Both are located in the rainy, but scenic West Coast region and are easily assessable by a short hike. Word of advice: check the weather forecast before visiting; although not always reliable, it can spare you the effort of getting all the way to the glacier, only to get soaking wet and wrapped in a cloud of fog.
SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS
(Curio Bay, South Island)
We saved the best for last as this truly was the highlight of our time in New Zealand. It is no secret that we love animals and one of the most humbling experiences one can have with them, in our opinion, is to share their natural habitat on their own terms. This is possible at the very south of New Zealand’s South Island where the rarest and smallest species of dolphins, Hector’s Dolphins, roam the shallow waters and curiously approach people very close to the shore. If you wish to meet them, go in the water and wait for them to come and say hi. It will be an experience you will never forget!
P.s.: We didn’t take a camera in the water with us so we could have a true being-in-the-moment experience and not need to worry about getting a good picture, so here’s a shot of dolphins that were swimming alongside our ship in Milford Sound.
P.p.s.: We strongly encourage you to do your research before taking part in any paid activity that involves animals, as they are usually conducted for monetary purposes and with little regard to animal well-being.
We all know this list could/should be longer, but let’s leave it at that for now. We know you’ve got better things to do, like starting to plan your own trip to the Home of Middle-earth (if you’re into that sort of thing). 🙂