A thrill-seeker’s playground, an oenophile’s wonderland and a geographer’s dream, New Zealand offers the perfect blend of adventure and indulgence. Home to sprawling mountain ranges and glacier carved fjords as well as mouth-watering wine scenes and mystical Lord of the Rings scenery, this southern hemisphere superstar definitely deserves a top spot on your bucket list. Combine the North and South Islands for an epic adventure spent wandering from one vibrant vista to another as the scent of salty sea air (often mixed with the funkier smell of sheep farming) wafts by. With its borders opening this week, now is the time to pick our expert’s brains so that you can discover their favourite must-sees in New Zealand…
Marine Wildlife Watching in Kaikōura
Towering snow-capped peaks and verdant green pastures roll gently to the sea at the small coastal town of Kaikōura, located on the east coast of the South Island. The Kaikōura seal colony is one of the area’s must-sees, and as the population encompasses most of the headland, you will have no trouble spotting them. Just offshore, there is a deep undersea canyon that attracts an abundance of wondrously wacky wildlife, making this area a hub for boat trips and whale-watching expeditions. Spend time scanning the horizon until you see the flicker of a sperm whale’s fluke, or the dorsal fins of a playful pod of dolphins, followed by an acrobatic show of flips and tricks as they frolic behind you in the wake.
Lord of the Rings Experience
Make Middle Earth a reality by exploring New Zealand’s mountain ranges, golden plains and wild rivers. Many of the Lord of the Rings film locations are on our list of the must-sees in New Zealand. On the North Island, Venture to Matamata to The Shire and Hobbiton movie set and explore the Hobbit Holes and the Green Dragon Inn, or lace up your walking boots for a hike up Mount Ngauruhoe, known in the movies as Mount Doom, for one of the best walks in New Zealand. On the South Island, head to the Pelennor battle fields or to Crown Range for a panoramic view over Middle Earth where, as J.R.R Tolkien once said, the “moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars”.
Lake Taupo From the Sky
The glassy waters of New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo, can be found in the caldera of a vast volcano, and - believe it or not - are the same size as Singapore. The Lake Taupo region is one of our must-sees in New Zealand and is known for its sheer beauty, alpine meadows and hot springs. We recommend seeing Lake Taupo from above. Float over the Craters of the Moon bubbling below, the Huka Falls as they glisten in the sun and the imposing snow-capped Mount Ngauruhoe, after jumping from a plane in the skydiving capital of the world. This is one of the most exciting ways to explore the Lake Taupo region.
Paddle Around Abel Tasman
Grab your paddles and jump in a kayak to explore the tropical coastline of Abel Tasman on the South Island, New Zealand’s smallest and most accessible national park. With tropical plants overhanging the emerald waters that surround the coastline, this is a true natural haven. Stop for a picnic lunch on the golden crescent of Onetahuti Beach, one of the best places in Abel Tasman to settle in for an afternoon relaxing by the water, as flightless weka and web-footed shags chatter in the forest behind you.
Enjoy Wine in the Marlborough Sounds
In New Zealand, adrenaline-fueled activities such as skydiving, water sports and whale watching tend to hog the limelight. Once you’ve had your fill of action-packed escapades, head to the Marlborough Sounds – the country’s largest wine-growing region – where you can sip Sauvignon Blanc in world-renowned wineries. Referred to by Māori as ‘the place with the hole in the cloud’, this wine-lovers dream is known for its mild and dry climate, making it the perfect place to enjoy some wine in the sunshine.
Go on a Heli-Hike at Fox Glacier.
With adventure fueling many activities across New Zealand, heli-hiking on Fox Glacier slots right in. Soar over the brilliant blue ice caves and vast icy expanses of the Fox Glacier and watch as light bounces off frozen cliffs and ripples across the swathe of ancient frozen water as your helicopter finds a place to land before embarking on an ice-hiking adventure. The wonderfully wild weather system dictates which route you will take, but all of them boast Insta-worthy vistas and exciting geographical features so you’re guaranteed a heavenly hike no matter which one you end up on.
Explore Māori Culture
New Zealand wouldn’t be New Zealand without Māori culture. From their unstoppable rugby players with their blood-curdling haka, to Māori face tattoos and delicate sculptures, much of what New Zealand stands for is based on Māori culture. There are hints of the culture throughout the countryside as well as in the cities that dot the nation. On the North Island, take a trip through time and learn about the Māori history in Queenstown at a cultural show (Tāhuna in Māori). Or, on the South Island, dive into Māori life in Christchurch (Ōtautahi) with a visit to a traditional village complete with authentic food and entertainment. The ultimate Māori experience can be found in Auckland (Tāmaki Makaurau). Be the first to see the sunrise on a dawn tour of the Maunga Hikurangi Māori rock, or learn about the journey of Kupe, the great Polynesian navigator. These cities are firmly on our list of must-sees in New Zealand.