14 places in New Zealand you have to see

We asked members of the KAYAK team who actually come from New Zealand to tell us what they think are the top places in New Zealand to visit

New Zealand. Top of most peoples ‘Places I Have To See’ or ‘Bucket’ lists. But when everywhere in the country is so damn beautiful it’s hard to know sometimes which places to prioritise – especially as everyone who has ever been has their own (quite often strong) opinion. With this in mind, we asked our own KAYAK Kiwis what the Top 10 places are that they would recommend you see. After much debate, a final Top 14 (10 places was apparently far too difficult to decide on) places were agreed on, which we present to you below:

1. Milford Sound

Located within Fiordland National Park, the staggering views the Milford Sound affords are what travelling to New Zealand is all about. Even people that come from the area never get used to the fiord’s beauty. Even Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘The Jungle Book’ called the Milford Sound ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ so it’s little wonder that it’s often referred to as one of the top places people want to travel to in the world. Many visitors to the sounds will take a boat tour which is in itself a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for our money we’d recommend heading out onto the waters with a kayak tour, putting you on even footing with the wildlife that frequents the area.

2. Waiheke Island

Accommodation in Auckland from £10

Located in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke is located just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland Harbour. But why should you leave the City of Sails to go exploring this little piece of land? Well, there’s the fact that the island is covered in incredible vineyards, most of which offer wine tastings, world-class cafes or restaurants, and sometimes even a place to stay the night. Other sensory feasts to be had on Waiheke may come from the olive groves pressing their own oils, more restaurants offering the best in Pacific Rim delicacies, or maybe you’ll be happiest browsing the arts and crafts stores scattered across the island. And don’t forget that at every moment you are surrounded by the ocean and pristine white-sand beaches, perfect for relaxing on.

Video © Up In The Air

3. Hobbiton

Search for accommodation in Matamata

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the start of the millennium there’s a good chance that the need to visit New Zealand was exacerbated by seeing the country’s landscape as portrayed in the LOTR & Hobbit trilogies. For the complete Middle Earth experience head to the Hobbiton™ Movie Set where a range of incredible tours are on offer. You’ll be shire to have a good time!

4. Franz Josef Glacier

Accommodation in Wanaka from £36

If you have a bucket list then climbing a glacier should be on it. The Franz Josef Glacier is 7.5 miles long, and while walks in the glacier valley are charming enough, it’s the massive stretch of ice that you really want to get onto. It’s not cheap, and it’s not easy but oh, is it worth it!  The majesty of nature is almost overwhelming (have a look at the group of people seen in the bottom left of the picture above for perspective) as you traverse the blue ice past scenery like you’ve never seen before. While experienced professionals can take an unguided walk on Franz, we recommend you book yourself a tour, especially as, due to an unstable ice face, the glacier can only be reached by helicopter.

5. Wai-O-Tapu

Accommodation in Rotorua from £11

Heading to the city of Rotorua is a must for anyone who visits the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. Famed for its geothermal activity, you can visit geysers, bubbling pools of mud, get very well acquainted with what sulphur smells like (eggish), and even take a dip in steaming hot springs. But for the must-see factor, it’s to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (Māori for ‘Sacred Water’) you should really head. Featuring incredible natural phenomena like the Lady Knox Geyser, it’s the rich palette of colours present in the Geothermal Park that makes you feel like you are in a land before time.

6. Moeraki Boulders

Accommodation in Dunedin from £12

Koekohe beach, situated on Otago’s coast, is home to the mysterious spherical stones known as the Moeraki Boulders. These otherworldly formations each weigh several tonnes and can be up to two metres in height, and while scientists explain them as calcite constructions formed on the ocean floor 65 million years ago, Maori legend believes them to be the remains of gourds washed ashore and turned to stone, from the great canoe Āraiteuru, that brought the ancestors of the Ngāi Tahu people to New Zealand.

Video © natural wonders

KAYAK Insider Tip: As the boulders are east facing head to Koekohe beach at first light for the most dramatic photo opportunities.

7. Bay of Islands 

Accommodation in Kerikeri from £30Accommodation in Paihia from £28

Located north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is an enclave consisting of more than 140 subtropical islands and some of the most charming towns you’ll ever see complete with excellent cafes, restaurants and colonial architecture. But it’s the sea that reigns supreme here. Encounter dolphins in their natural habitat? Check. Take a dive in a world-renowned dive site? Check. Go sea kayaking? Check. Or head out onto the open water for some deep sea fishing? Check…

8. Gisborne, Mount Hikurangi and the East Cape – The First Sunrise of Every Day

Accommodation in Gisborne from £54

Tourists often skip the East Cape of New Zealand, but Gisborne and its surrounds have so much to offer. The coastline is pocketed with hidden bays, waterfalls and surf beaches – the sun shines strong here in the summer, and the region is steeped in Maori culture and tradition. On top of that, Gisborne is nicknamed the ‘Chardonnay Capital’ due to the fine wine growing conditions in the area and, as is often the case, with good wine comes good food. Geographically there is something extra special about the East Cape though, as this is where the sun rises first in the world during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, specifically at the peak of Mount Hikurangi.

KAYAK Insider Tip: Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Gisborne and greet the rays of the new year’s first sun from the top of Mount Hikurangi.

9. Tongariro crossing

Accommodation in Taupo from £11

One of the best day hikes in the entire country is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the Tongariro National Park. This 8-hour walk will have crossing lava fields, hiking an active crater, skirting the shores of the bewitching Emerald Lakes (the unique colour comes from thermal minerals bleeding into the water) and finally descending to lush green forest to balance out the volcanic landscape. A truly unparalleled hike, be sure to bring the proper gear as weather conditions can change very quickly and make sure to organise drop-off and pick-up transportation.

Video © NonStopNeal

10. Glenorchy

Accommodation in Glenorchy from £50

If open skies, the great outdoors and a feeling of solitude are what you seek, then Glenorchy is the right place for you. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, but a far cry from the tourist bustle that is Queenstown, Glenorchy’s surrounds are at once sobering and uplifting. The regal mountains frame the landscape which is in itself a gateway to some of the best horse riding and hiking trails in the south while the lake opens into Dart River which you can traverse by jetboat, kayak or (again) by horse into the untouched beauty that is Mount Aspiring National Park.

11. Abel Tasman National Park

Accommodation in Nelson from £10

A nature and marine reserve, found at the north end of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is somewhere you’ll never want to leave. One thing that makes New Zealand so unique is the light and way it colours NZ’s environment; this is something you’ll immediately notice in the Abel Tasman National Park. The deep green of the treeline is sporadically broken by golden sands and the clearest water – whether vivid blue as it cascades through the valleys to meet the ocean, itself a prism of blues and greens. Geological formations, like Split Apple Rock or the Ngarua Caves, act as a good distraction from the seemingly perfect beauty of the shoreline.

12. The Coromandel

Accommodation in Coromandel from £35

Imagine lying in your own private hot tub just metres away from the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the sound of waves lapping in your ears. That’s Hot Water Beach for you. For two hours on each side of low tide, an area of the beach that has natural hot water mineral bubbling just beneath the surface is exposed. Head towards the rocks at the southern end of the beach and dig your own spa pool. Brilliant! But Hot Water Beach is just one of the myriad reasons to visit the Coromandel. The juxtaposition of golden beaches with craggy mountains and misty rainforests makes for incredible hiking opportunities and heading to places around the Coromandel, like the wonderfully named New Chums Beach or Cathedral Cove, will be sure to give you that New Zealand uniqueness you are seeking.

13. Lake Tekapo 

Accommodation at Lake Tekapo from £62

Lake Tekapo is stunning no matter the time of year. Found in the Mackenzie Basin in Canterbury, the town looks out across the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo towards the haughty ranges of the Southern Alps. During winter you have two ski fields close by and a skating rink overlooked by the natural Tekapo Hot Springs, and in summer the fields are full of the purple Lupin flower in dramatic bloom and the hiking opportunities. While all of the above reasons may be enough to send you packing right now, the real reason to head to Lake Tekapo is that its part of the UNESCO Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve meaning that the stargazing here is unparalleled. You can watch the skies from the hot springs, take a tour, or just find yourself somewhere quiet down on the lakefront and look up.

14. Waitakere Beaches 

Accommodation in Auckland from £10

The Waitakere Ranges National Park spreads over 16,000ha of native bush and coastline and is a wonderful example of New Zealand rainforest; home to many native species of both plant life and birds. You can go hiking here (there’s a 4-day tramp if you fancy total immersion), or take the Rainforest Express, a railway – perfect for kids – that takes you along narrow gauges into the heart of the bush. But for many, the real magic of the Waitakere’s are its beaches. Each of the region’s beaches is wild and unique in its own way, here are a few of them:

Video © Gipfellust

  • Piha Beach is an amazing surf beach, features the stunning Lion Rock, and is probably the most accessible. It also has a great cafe at which you can enjoy a drink and a bite.
  • Karekare is the epitome of a rugged and wild New Zealand beach. While the black sands and crash of the surf can be imposing, the wildness is softened by the forest glades that flank the beach and the two waterfalls that cascade into the lagoons below.
  • Anawhata Beach is only accessible by foot meaning it’s quieter than other beaches making its raw beauty even more palpable.
  • Te Henga/Bethells Beach is as beautiful as its counterparts but what makes it unique is the swimming possibilities. While the wild beauty of the West Coast can mean equally wild water, Bethells Beach is also home to the placid waters of Lake Wainamu, found just behind the dunes.
  • Murawai is unkempt and untamed, maybe even more so than its neighbours. To really see Mother Nature unfettered by humans, head to Otakamiro Point at the southern end of the beach to see the gannet colony.

If you want to keep the ‘Top 14’ debate raging, please feel free to drop your personal recommendations in the comment section below!

Note: These rates are based on search queries made on KAYAK.co.uk on September 27th, 2017. The prices are quoted in GBP. Flight prices are based on results for a return economy flight search. Hotel prices are for double occupancy and include taxes and fees. Prices are subject to change, may vary, or no longer be available.

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