This is a Top 10 list of places in New Zealand I thoroughly enjoyed and think you might, too. These are also not in any particular order, either. They are merely an organizational tactic.
Kaikoura is a small peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. It recently got worldwide attention from a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the area, literally lifting up it’s shorelines 2-3 meters.
Besides the fact that it just rose a few meters out of the ocean, this town is a hotbed of aquatic sports activities, marine animal viewings, and outdoor sports. It’s also a popular area for locals to unwind at. It was cut off from the rest of the country after the earthquake destroyed highway 1 but it recently opened up again (as of 24/2/17). Do not let the fact that earthquakes are prevalent in this are deter you from this top 10 choice.
There are snow-capped mountains in the winter and stunning scenery year-round so there isn’t really a preferred season but try to time it with when whale migrations are coming through that area (June through August).
One of my favorite places on this top 10 list, or even in the world, is the New Zealand Fjiordlands. I think the New Zealand Fjiordlands should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Fjoirdlands mostly cover a majority of the Southeastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
This area boasts massive glaciers, gorgeous valleys that are remnants much larger glaciers, and just about every scenic view that you could ever want. In fact, three out of the nine Great Walks in New Zealand are contained within this fantastic area. If you see anything in New Zealand on this top 10 list, at least consider this one.
You can do full day tours into the Milford Sound from Queenstown, stay just outside of the Fjiordlands in Te Anau to do day hikes, or sign up for any of the Great Walks in the area. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure your spot on the MilfordTrack.
Dunedin is a major cultural city in New Zealand. It is the second largest city in New Zealand in land mass and one of the earliest settlements established on the islands.
Dunedin is a great blend of students, outdoor culture, and coffee/artist culture. In fact, Dunedin is considered a Unesco City of Literature for it’s massive amount of events it hosts in literature and creative writing.
Since it’s also a coastal town, it’s a great place for marine wildlife viewing, as well. In fact, it’s one of the few places you can view yellow-eyed penguins in the wild.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Christchurch’s nickname is “The Garden City”. Do yourself a favor and check out why this city has this nickname if you are in town. It is a popular spot for people just getting back to civilization from Antarctica, which is why it is on my top 10 list.
Besides the endless parks and gardens, the city boasts a massive botanical garden. It is a massive chunk of the downtown area and one of the largest rose gardens I have ever seen. The rose garden has an experimental area that creates new varieties of roses, too.
It is 150 years old and includes a cafe, historical museum, and an elaborate events center. This garden truly is the heart of the city and has become a Mecca for all Antarctica program participants after leaving “the ice”.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands and the surrounding landscape is arguably one of the most well preserved wildernesses I have ever been to. It encompasses several North Island towns and has an estimated 140 sub-tropical islands with serene beaches.
Located about halfway up the North Island, it marks where the cities end and wilderness begins.In fact, if you end up in the outer-lying areas, the only civilization you will see are small Maori settlements.
It can feel very rural and the New Zealand Department of Conservation suggests that if you go camping in this area, be sure to get most of your food in cities south of here, as there is not many places you can stock up.
I spent two weeks sailing the Bay of Islands and I can honestly say that was not enough time. If I did it again, I’d likely spend the whole summer in that area. Pahia, Keri Keri, Whangaruru, all of these places are great places to see.
This small town was one of my favorite places in all of New Zealand. It is the Jade capital of New Zealand.
You are more likely to see a grungy Jade mining local than a tourist. In fact, I ended up at the local Subway sandwich shop during a torrential downpour besides my mother, the only other people that were in there were locals that just got done wading through rivers in the area.
The charm of this town is undeniable. The Jade business in New Zealand is a special entity. Most of the native tribes own the Jade mines and refuse to let their reserves to be mined. This forces the West Coast locals looking to find some Jade walk up river beds or comb through the beaches for materials.
New Zealand Jade is also a specific strain of Jade only found in New Zealand, making it even more rare. The shops running up Hokitika’s small streets consist of artisian Jade jewelers and high-end Jade shop.
If you don’t want to spend a sizable chunk of money on a stunning piece of Jade art, you can just walk up and down Hokitika’s magnificent beach. You might get lucky and find yourself a unique piece of Jade. You will also find lesser-known Jade artists selling unique jewelry made from beach Jade.
Abel-Tasman National Park has by far the most picturesque beaches I have ever been to. Not only that, but this remote park is home to the Abel-Tasman Track.
Just like the Milford Track, this hike is a multi-day walk through rocky coast lines and blue skies. It is part of the eight “Great Walks” of New Zealand. If five days hiking on the beaches sounds fun to you, make this a center point of your trip.
Even though it is the smallest National Park in New Zealand, it is still one of the hardest to get to. Located at the Northern tip of the South Island in New Zealand and the only way to get there is by driving up the West Coast highway or driving through Kaikora.
Since the highway leading up to Kaikora was closed due to the 2016 earthquake uplifting a portion of the east coast by a couple meters, I drove up through the mountains north of Hokitika. This route can be slow since the roads are very windy. It was a stunning drive though!
Sunset on the Queenstown Gondola
The Queenstown Gondola is one of the many tourist traps in the adventure capital of New Zealand. Just because it is a tourist trap does not mean you shouldn’t consider it, which is why this mountain view made it onto my top 10 list.
There is a reason that it became so popular. The mountain it is perched on overlooks the entire valley. It is hard to beat that kind of view. The lift tickets are not cheap, though.
The main activities at the top include mountain biking, a reasonable restaurant, and a mountain luge that is incredible. Again, all of these things cost money.
The restaurant has combo deals that include the lift ticket, the price of your meal at the restaurant, and a (semi) traditional Maori performance. This sounds kind of gimmick-y but it is enjoyable.
The best thing to do is mountain biking. All you have to pay for is a lift ticket for 65 NZD and you can mountain bike some legendary trails. Bike rental is not included, though.
One of my favorite days I have been in New Zealand was when my mother and I got to spend the day walking around Hobbiton. Hobbiton is the actual film set that Peter Jackson built for the filming of many scenes in every Lord of the Rings film. The best part about this set is it’s a life-sized set built into the actual New Zealand rolling hills.
The guides that give you a tour of the massive film set are incredibly knowledgeable. Also, the attention to detail that Peter Jackson and his crew put into this set is an inspiration. It may be super touristy but the beauty of the grounds are why Hobbiton made it onto my Top 10 list
The only downside to this stunning film set is the price. Since the actual film set is so far away from any major city, most tour operators can charge a premium to for a shuttle service to get you there. The cheapest option is to actually rent your own car and buy a ticket from the film set separate. This gives you the freedom to make as many photo stops that you want along the way.
Glow worm Caves
Glow worms in New Zealand are one of the magical natural events in this world that I love. It even rivals Auroras at both polar regions of our world. Needless to say, it had to make it on my top 10 list of New Zealand.
Glow worms can be found all over cliff faces and caves in New Zealand. The major cave systems that run actual tours to see these little critters are very well done. Located at the Waitomo Cave systems of the North Island, it is another activity that can be hard to get to, i.e expensive.
Once again, renting your own car is your best bet here. You can easily purchase a ticket from the Waitomo Caves website. Just show up to the ticket office to claim your tickets. There is also a massive car park. You do not need to worry about where you will park the car.
The Waitomo Caves are an intricate system of three separate caves that feature the glow worms. Since I love Caves, I did not even hesitate to buy tickets to all three of them. The tickets can be pretty expensive, either way. It is a good thing you saved a hundred bucks by just renting a car!
What are your favorite places in New Zealand? Obviously I was not able to see everything New Zealand had to offer so comment on your favorite activity! When I am in New Zealand again, I will check it out and update my top 10 list from there!