I’ve rewritten the start of this first post over and over again and this is what I’m going for, so let’s see what you think: Basically, in 2018 I visited New Zealand after doing the very typical Munich girl thing of finishing school, going to Australia for work and travel and then flying over to New Zealand for a bit more than a month and a half and it was absolutely amazing.
There is hardly a country I can name that is all round more beautiful than New Zealand. There’s a reason that this is the country where so many great films are made, and breathtaking scenes can be shot.
Before I start going into the rankings and details it’s important to know that New Zealand consists of two islands – the north and the south. In general, and as most people will say, the south is certainly more worth the visit or at least worth more time. Also, it is important to remember that New Zealand is a very seasonal place which means that the winters are cold and snowy, and the summers are warm and sunny.
Honorable mentions to kick off the list are Mount Taranaki and Milford Sound. I tried to visit these two locations but encountered two different kind of problems. It was winter when I visited Mt Taranaki so halfway up the mountain we could go no further in the van and couldn’t see our own hand in front of our own face. Hence, we ended up turning back after one of the windiest and shakiest nights ever. Regarding Milford Sound, I simply ran out of money because I was a poor backpacker at the time and had already been going for a while. Both of these places are most certainly worth a visit though and should definitely be taken into consideration when planning that New Zealand amazing holiday trip.
10 – Wellington
Slot number 10 goes to the city of Wellington! Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and is especially well known for its cultural elements and craft beer breweries. The day my friends and I spent in Wellington was one of the few days I didn’t mind not driving because if there’s one thing that is a priority over my control freakiness, it’s a decent beer. We visited one of the many breweries and did a beer tasting that was definitely worthwhile and a certain can still holds its place on my shelf of memorabilia to this day.
New Zealand’s national museum, also known as Te Papa Tongarewa is also situated in Wellington. For access to most of the museum there is no entry fee, and this is a lovely place to find out so much about this great country’s history.
9 – Aoraki / Mount Cook
The southern alps are generally a sight to behold but Aoraki / Mount Cook and the surrounding area is especially beautiful. If you’re a dedicated hiker, there are more than enough trails here but most of them are only open in the summer. In the winter, the options are more limited but not completely closed. The visitor centre and staff there are fantastic. I can highly recommend researching the time of year you plan on going and which trails should be open during that time. They still can’t predict the future and the weather, but they do their best. The Hooker Valley track along the Hooker Lake is a trail that is very popular and filled with amazing views all year round! During the winter I found the lake to be particularly breathtaking. It can be a quite windy and cold walk so you should be prepared for sudden weather changes.
8 – Te Wai o Te Taniwha / Mermaid Pools near Matapouri
Back in 2018 I had never heard of the term “rāhui” because it wasn’t in place but now it sadly is. A rāhui is a traditional closing and prohibition of visiting an area which since 2019 had been put in place at the Mermaid Pools near Matapouri. It is such a shame that these amazingly beautiful pools have been closed off to the public, but it is understandable. The New Zealand government had been fighting with tourists leaving various kinds of rubbish threatening the purity and beauty of Te Wai o Te Taniwha. It is unclear how long the rahui will be in place for but if you get the chance to legally visit these pools at some point in the future, I would highly recommend it as long as you can respect the surroundings. The walk there can be very slippery and from personal experience, it can get a little dirty. The stunning reflective pools are a great destination at the end of the walk though, that’s for sure. Again though, it is important to respect the rules and regulations put in place by the local officials.
7 – Abel Tasman National Park
There are many things to see and do in this wonderful national park on the South Island. A famous Instagram and kayaking spot is the Split Apple Rock / Tokangawhā. This is more a sunset spot rather than sunrise due to its location but any time of day this is a very nice place. The Abel Tasman National Park offers great walks along the coast and water taxi services are available in most bays. This is an important point because the coastal walks are not loop routes. Parts of the trail can be walked to and back from within a day, but it does take a long time to do so. Once again, the staff at the visitor centre is really well informed and will give you personal recommendations to help you make the most of your time there. The coastal walks are long but not particularly difficult and there are so many great views on offer along the way.
6 – Tongariro National Park
Obviously one of the things New Zealand is most famous for is the filming of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films. One of the most famous spots from those films is the treacherous Mount Doom or in real life it’s known as Mount Ngauruhoe and reachable via the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This crossing is very weather dependent and not available to do throughout most of the winter but even then, the Tongariro National Park has other trails available that are stunning and can vary from easy walks and strolls to proper hikes. These trails include things such as rivers, bridges, fantastic views and even waterfalls. Camping in and near the national park is quite expensive so maybe stock up on supplied before heading that way if you’re in a van. There are shops on site but as mentioned before, they are very expensive so try and be prepared. Either way though, no matter what time of year, it is worth visiting the Tongariro National Park.
5 – Whakarewarewa, Rotorua
One of the great highlights on the northern island is a cultural and a natural feature: the village of Whakarewarewa in Rorotua. This was one of the most interesting experiences I had on the entire New Zealand trip. Whakarewarewa is known as “the living Maori village”. The Maori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand and to this day are a thriving people and have a large presence in life and culture on the islands. During a tour of this village the staff and inhabitants give you such a great and firsthand insight into the Maori culture and traditions. Be sure to visit the interactive areas and use the chance to watch a haka and other cultural performances. They are definitely things you’ll come away remembering about the Maori culture when you’re back home. Rotorua is also very well known for its geothermal activity which is also part of the Maori village experience. This is all really interesting and great to see but be warned, it stinks! When you’re in Whakarewarewa, you know it and close by is the Wai-O-Tapu “Thermal Wonderland” if you’d like to see and learn more about the geothermal activity in this part of the world and see natural pools in various colours.
4 – Hobbiton
It has been mentioned but for a film nerd such as me, it can’t be mentioned often enough. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were primarily filmed in the beautiful country of New Zealand when it was not in the studios and for good reasons. A permanent reminder of the filming process is the set and Hobbit village known as Hobbiton, home to famous characters such as Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. This isn’t the cheapest day event but for anyone who is a fan of the films even in the slightest it is certainly worth it. The friends I went with hadn’t even seen the films and even they said that it was one of the best parts of our trip and a great sight to visit. You find out so many fun facts about the set and filming process and the set in itself is a sight to behold. The tour ends at the tavern with a drink and throughout the whole tour, there are more than enough photo opportunities and chances to explore some of your favourite movie relics and sights.
3 – Queenstown
Lovely lake, bars, mountains and beautifully clear stary night skies – sound nice? Then Queenstown is absolutely the place to be. To be honest, even if it doesn’t sound nice yet, Queenstown should still be near the top of your list on places to visit on your New Zealand trip because there is something there for everyone. If you’re the nature and walking type, you can pick any trail near or on Lake Wakatipu and the views and walk will be breathtaking. Every now and then you may even come across another film set by accident and learn some more interesting facts along the way. There are even perfect free camping spots directly by the lake. The town is always hustling and bustling with locals and tourists alike. There is definitely an active night life scene in Queenstown which also includes loads of nice places to get food or even just some drinks in the evening. Wherever you are in the city, please don’t forget to look up at the sky at least once every night. You will see so many bright stars and especially if you’re near the mountains or the lake, it is fantastic.
2 – Te Whanganui-A-Hei / Cathedral Cove
My absolute favourite place on the north island and probably the best sunrise I’ve seen so far on my travels was at Cathedral Cove / Te Whanganui-A-Hei. Cathedral Cove is a cove – surprise, surprise – on the Coromandel Peninsula. The best thing you can do on your visit to Cathedral Cove is to be sure to get down to the beach about half an hour before sunrise. Hardly anyone will be there yet, the atmosphere is calming and pure and the sky and general views are fantastic. The rock formations are phenomenal, the walks and trails to and around Cathedral Cove aren’t too hard but very nice and like I said, the sunrises are amazing. The cove fills up as the day goes on and the fuller it is, the more the beauty is swallowed up by the cameras and selfie sticks etc. If you’ve ever wanted a sunrise picture at the beach with some lovely rock formations in the background, then this is most certainly the place to do that.
1 – Roy’s Peak
The moment everything’s been leading up to – special slot number one. There is no debate for me, the top of Roy’s Peak is my favourite place in New Zealand. It is about a 2 – 2,5h pretty steep hike to the top, so about a 5 – 6h round trip and it is worth every step. The later you head off, the more people will be there and the longer you’ll have to queue to get the popular Instagram Roy’s Peak shot. I’ve heard about great sunrise views from the peak but as I am not a great morning person and we’d already seen so many stunning sunrises, we walked up a bit after sunrise, but this was ideal for us. The views in the summer are very clear and Lake Wanaka is very visible, and the pictures look great…buuut our winter views were absolutely awesome, and I don’t use that term lightly. We hiked up and could see the clouds above us. Then we were walking through these clouds and it was not easy to see and actually kind of foggy and almost mystical. Finally, we emerged from those clouds and I couldn’t believe it. The world below was lost beneath this thick blanket of clouds and the mountain peaks were looking out into this beautifully coloured sky. It was a phenomenal experience, and this is the one hike I would always recommend to anyone visiting the South Island. In my opinion, this is very often an underrated spot in New Zealand. Make sure to check in at the visitor centre at least one day before going up to check that the conditions are ok and even if the conditions aren’t great on the first day, the view and hike is worth waiting a couple of days.
So, there you have it! Those are Meg’s top 10 in New Zealand.
I hope this helped you get a better idea on what to do during your trip to New Zealand and hopefully this list can lend a helping hand in prioritizing where to go depending on what you’d like to experience. Honestly though, anywhere you decide to go in New Zealand will be a fantastic and beautiful experience.
If you have any comments, questions or personal experiences you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to get in touch.
There will be more information and experiences from my New Zealand trip coming, so stay tuned and feel free to let me know what you think!
2 Comments Add yours
LOVE IT!! It looks like we did a lot of the same things, we too were in NZ for a month though, how long did you spend?? We didn’t get to Te Whanganui-A-Hei / Cathedral Cove however, did you know that one of the movies- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was filmed there?? It looked pretty awesome!! Anyways, nice post! =)
Hi there! I spent about 7-8 weeks in New Zealand and absolutely loved it! Can totally understand why so many films are shot there – the surroundings are stunning. Glad you enjoyed my article 🙂