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. 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!).
How could we possibly start this post any other way? Milford Sound is simply breath-taking. 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. You can even take a cruise through the Sound or Kayak it to get even closer to this spectacular place.
There is nothing about Milford Sound that doesn’t perfectly depict the natural beauty that is New Zealand.
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 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.
Queenstown is arguably one of the most popular areas in New Zealand. 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 skydiving to snowboarding. There is truly something for everyone in Queenstown.
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. 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.
It’s no mystery that New Zealand is the real-life Middle-Earth, so naturally, it is also the home of Hobbiton. While this area is clearly man-made that doesn’t take away from the magical experience. Even if you aren’t a big Lord of the Rings fan seeing this small village that has been built into the rolling green hills of New Zealand is something you don’t want to miss out on.
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.
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. Making it a pretty unique place at night. During the day the lake itself shines a bright blue thanks to its rock flour content. So really, no matter what time you see Lake Tekapo, you can guarantee it will be gorgeous.
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. They’re not a place you are bound to forget anytime soon.
Nugget Point Lighthouse
Nugget Point Lighthouse is an iconic sweeping landscape in the Otago region of New Zealand. It steep hill with the lighthouse perched on top is set in front of smaller scattered rocky islets known as the nuggets. 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 as you can see anytime you visit is just as spectacular.
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.
If there is one waterfall you see while on the North Island of 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. With three viewing platforms, there are plenty of ways to take in the beauty of the Whangarei Falls. If you’re visiting on a warm summer day take a dip in the pool, it’s a very popular swimming hole!
Waipu Glow Worm Caves
Glow worms are an extremely popular thing for tourists to see when visiting the country. 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.
Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Panoramic coastal views are exactly what you should expect when visiting Cape Reinga. See two seas collide as the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean churn together in a foaming swell of water over the Columbia Bank. 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 inhabited 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.
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. 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.