13 Of The Most Breathtaking Places To Visit In New Zealand
Of all the places to visit in New Zealand, these are by far the top 10 most breathing and honestly, it’s hard to believe we even managed to widdle this list down to only 10 locations. We could have easily listed the entire country because everything about it is incredible.
Looking out our apartment window upon the majestic Rocky mountains and knowing that Banff is only an hour away is a true privilege. Growing up so close to arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world has really allowed us to truly appreciate the planet and just how beautiful every little thing is. We never honestly thought we could see something nearly as beautiful as our own backyard – if you’ve ever spent a summer in Banff, you know almost nothing compares to those incredibly blue and perfect mountain lakes.
We truly believed this, until we visited New Zealand.
Around every corner, on every coast, and everything in between is breathtaking which is why it was so hard to pinpoint only 10 of the top places to visit in New Zealand. New Zealand is what dreams were made of. Peter Jackson knew it was an out of this world place when he decided to make it the backdrop of JRR Tolkiens fantasy world Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings.
We like to try and live by tour motto, ‘live a life you will remember, in places you won’t forget,’ and New Zealand is not one of those places you ever forget. These pictures speak for themselves and hopefully encourage you to take a trip across the globe to the small country of New Zealand, where there are more sheep than people (true story!).
If you’re looking for more specific places to visit in New Zealand that are on the North Island click here, if you’re looking for specific New Zealand destinations on the South Island, click here.
1) Milford Sound
How could we possibly start a post about the most breathtaking places to visit in New Zealand any other way? Milford Sound is simply that, breath-taking. There is no better way to describe it.
The dark black water sits calmly below the towering mountains peaks as waterfalls stream down the rocky sides into the deep abyss of the sound. Seals bask in the sun on the smooth rocks as the rare and special Fiordland Crested Penguin plays in the water alongside the dolphins that swim in the waves at the bow of the boat. In the middle of it all is the most photographed peak in the country and one of the most iconic, Mitre Peak.
There is nothing about Milford Sound that doesn’t perfectly depict the natural beauty that is New Zealand. Which is exactly why is comes in at number 1 on our list of the best places in New Zealand.
You can even take a cruise through the Sound or Kayak in it, read about our experience with that here.
2) Lake Wanaka
Lake views never get old, especially when they look like Lake Wanaka. Growing up in Canada we have seen our fair share of beautiful mountain lakes, but none compare to Lake Wanaka. It’s certainly a pleasant surprise when you drive up to the small town and the bus or shuttle drops you off on the doorstep of this pristine lake with mountains that if you’re lucky perfectly reflect on the clear, calm water. It was one of our favourite places to visit in New Zealand and was extremely hard to leave.
There are tons of outdoor activities to do in this area, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, the list goes on and on. Don’t forget to visit one of New Zealand landmarks, That Wanaka Tree. It’s truly its own New Zealand destination and is one of the most photographed things in the entire country.
Queenstown is arguably one of the most popular New Zealand destinations. It’s a hub for the adventurous, the foodies, the nature lovers, and everyone in between. Without a doubt, if you are planning a trip to see the country Queenstown has come up on your radar.
And so it should. Not only is it nestled the mountain range known as The Remarkables (and they really are remarkable) but it’s placed at the feet of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s longest lake and third largest. On top of its incredibly beautiful landscapes, Queenstown offers everything from vineyards to old mining towns and bungee jumping (it’s home to the highest jump in New Zealand, the Nevis) to snowboarding.
There is truly something for everyone in Queenstown. That combined with its beauty brings it in at number 3 on our list of the most breathtaking places to visit in New Zealand.
4) Cathedral Cove
If you’re thinking, ‘where have I seen this before?’ It may be because it was used as a scene in The Chronicles of Narnia. Making it one of the more famous places to visit in New Zealand (literally).
This secret, not so secret, beach is a little piece of paradise with a view for days. Even the short hike to reach this location is beautiful beyond words. So bring a bathing suit and have a little fun in the New Zealand sun in a place that is straight out of a fantasy (again, literally).
Make sure you bring some sunscreen as well it does tend to get very warm in this region and you will be so in awe that you’ll forget about protecting yourself from a sun burn!
It’s no mystery that New Zealand is the real-life Middle-Earth, so naturally, it is also the home of Hobbiton. This one one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand because I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan and it was incredible to immerse yourself in such an environment. Even if you aren’t a fan of the movies or have never seen them before it is still very much worth it to visit Hobbiton.
While this area is clearly man-made that doesn’t take away from the magical experience. The tour guides are also incredible and help give you as much information about the filming and the small village that is built in the sides of the rolling green hills of one of the most popular New Zealand Landmarks.
We were fortunate enough to spend nearly two weeks in Kaikoura, which meant a lot of time staring at the incredible scenery. Kaikoura is well known for its whale and dolphin watching as well as its large seal colony. Not only is there an abundance of ocean life, but its also where the Mountains reach the coast, and it’s a sight you won’t soon forget.
There is a beautiful hiking trail that starts from the Kaikoura sea colony that takes you up above and gives you some incredible views of the ocean and the famous Kaikoura mountains. Sometimes on a clear day, you can even see islands in the distance or whales!
Kaikoura has a deep ocean trench that brings in tons of aquatic life close to shore that you would not normally see elsewhere. Whales tend to frequent the area quite often searching for food and you can take tours out to see to get closer to these mystical creatures as well as the ‘most legendary of all birds,’ the Albatross. Making this not only one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand but also one of the most unique.
7) Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is just as beautiful during the day as it is at night. It is home to not only the only Dark Sky reserve in New Zealand but to the only Dark Sky Reserve in the entire southern hemisphere. The way the stars light up the sky certainly helped ensure it landed a spot on our list of the most breathtaking places to visit in New Zealand.
The Church of the Good Shepard is also one of the most photography New Zealand landmarks and makes one of the best backdrops for your night photography shots. If you do want really good shots of the church we recommend going a bit later at night to avoid crowds. Don’t forget a tripod!
During the day the lake itself shines a bright blue thanks to its rock flour content. much like many of the most famous lakes in Banff. So really, no matter what time you see Lake Tekapo, you can guarantee it will be gorgeous and well worth a visit. You can kayak on the lake and see the small town from a different view just keep in mind the water is cold and the area can get quite windy so make sure you are experienced or book an appropriate tour.
8) Moeraki Boulders
These unusually large, spherical boulders lay across the Koekohe Beach in the Otago region of New Zealand. No matter what time you visit them these oddly perfect and unique boulders will blow you away. The Moeraki Boulders are a huge tourist attraction in the region thanks to a lot of social media attention, we were lucky enough to catch them at sunset (we obviously planned that part) while the tide was out, giving us an epic opportunity to get up close and personal.
Access to the beach is completely free, although you may notice signs or nearby restaurant that charge for access to the boulders. YOU DO NO NEED TO PAID. Because this is one of the more popular New Zealand destinations people try and take advantage of the tourists who are unsure, so don’t fall for this scam! You simply need to walk down the beach from the free, designated parking lot.
They’re not one of the places to visit in New Zealand are bound to forget anytime soon.
9) Nugget Point Lighthouse
Nugget Point Lighthouse is an iconic sweeping landscape in the Otago region of New Zealand. and is one of the places to visit in New Zealand photographer flock to It’s a steep hill with the lighthouse perched on top is set in front of smaller scattered rocky islets known as the Nuggets set against an ocean backdrop, it’s no wonder photographers love it. It’s a short walk from the parking lot and offers epic views of the coastline.
Down below on the rocks seals bask in the sun and play among the rocks, if you’re lucky you may even see yellow-eyed penguins, sea lions or elephant and leopard seals. Better yet, keep an eye on the water and see if you can spot Hector’s Dolphins playing in the water. The best times to see this area is sunrise and sunset as the sun casts beautiful shades of colour on the lighthouse.
But don’t feel like you can only visit at sunset or sunrise, this is one of those places in New Zealand that is spectacular even when the weather is crap and the sky is one tone. There is a viewing platform at the other end of the lighthouse, make sure you catch the views from there too!
10) Rotorua Redwood Forest
California and New Zealand’s North Island merge in Rotorua. Rotorua is more known for its geothermic activity, but it’s also known for its amazing mountain biking and walking trails in the redwood forest. These redwoods are direct descendants of the California redwoods and offer a unique connection between North America and Oceania.
Seeds from the California redwoods were brought over and planted in 1901 and have continued to thrive since. In 1925 the Redwoods Grove was declared as a memorial for veterans of WWI. With over 21 suspension bridges you’re bound to get epic views and have an unforgettable adventure is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand.
11) Whangarei Falls
If there is one waterfall you plan on adding to your list of places to visit in New Zealand, make sure it’s this one. This 26m high waterfall is surrounded by native New Zealand flora and is the perfect picnic spot or swimming hole. With three viewing platforms, there are plenty of ways to take in the beauty of the Whangarei Falls.
You can also view the falls from the top from designated platforms, but make sure to keep on them the area is slippery and the last thing you want to do is slip and fall.
This was one of the most unsuspecting New Zealand landmarks because we didn’t really have high hopes for it, but it turned out to be one of the most gorgeous and one of our favourites!
12) Waipu Glow Worm Caves
Glow worms are one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand and tourists FLOCK to them. Why? Because they’re a once in a lifetime experience and New Zealand know how to do it best.
With plenty of glow worm caves across the country (mostly on the North Island though), you can pick which cave you’d rather see. If you don’t mind doing a little driving and cave exploration visit the Waipu Glow Worm Caves. These caves are free for individuals to roam around in, but make sure you wear appropriate shoes and bring a headlamp because you will walk through water and the cave is dark and slippery. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.
If you’re not wanting to take the risk you can visit the more famous and popular Waitomo Caves. The Waipu Caves are free but the Waitomo Caves come with a fee. You can take photos in the Waipu Caves (as they aren’t monitored) but not at the Waitomo Caves, so you can want some photos of these glowing creatures, head to Waipu!
The entry fee to the caves is typically around $51NZD ($35USD).
13) Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Panoramic coastal views are exactly what you should expect when visiting Cape Reinga. From the viewing platform, you can see two seas collide as the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean churn together in a foaming swell of water over the Columbia Bank, making it another one of the more unique places to visit in New Zealand. Sometimes you may even see the waves burst into the sky as the currents conflict one another.
If you are extremely lucky and go on a clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of the uninhabited Three Kings Islands on the horizon.
While Cape Reinga may be beautiful it is also steeped in Maori tradition. According to the Maori history, the deceased Maori leap off of a nearby Pohutukawa tree into the Ocean in order to return to their ancestral home of Hawaiki. Cape Reinga is also the most northern spot that is accessible to tourists.
That concludes our list of 13 must-see places to visit in New Zealand that are absolutely breathtaking. There are plenty more New Zealand destinations that deserve to be on this list. Honestly the entire country could be on this list.
We spent nearly 6 months in the country and were able to live in a campervan for 5 of them, which gave us a lot of opportunities to just take in this incredible country. There is something about New Zealand that makes it extremely difficult to not fall in love with. Perhaps it’s the beautiful landscapes themselves (and these ten are just scratching the surface) or perhaps it’s the way they all captivate you in such a different way.
For us, it’s the idea that these landscapes have the ability to absolutely captivate you in a way no other place could. It’s almost like these areas (and tons of other New Zealand landmarks) are straight out of a book or a fairytale.
There are no two places in New Zealand that look alike and around every corner is a new adventure with an epic view. New Zealand is not just a breathtaking country, it’s a paradise at the bottom of the world in the Pacific Ocean.
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