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10 must see places in New Zealand

by Sam
Mirror Lakes on the way to Milford Sound - one of New Zealand's must see places!

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New Zealand is blessed with astonishing natural beauty. Consisting of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, the country offers incredible diversity – and a number of must see places! You’ll find magnificent mountain ranges, active volcanic regions, picturesque lakes, mighty waterfalls as well as a fantastic array of wildlife. With so much to do and see it’s overwhelming deciding which places to skip and which things not to miss off your New Zealand itinerary.

From mid 2015, we spent 9 months living together in New Zealand on working holiday visas. We split our time between travelling around the country and working hard in order to do so, in the process discovering the cheapest ways to travel around New Zealand. Here are our top 10 things to do in New Zealand:

When travelling New Zealand it’s important to have travel insurance. We’ve personally saved thousands of dollars in medical bills thanks to travel insurance, and we don’t think it’s worth the risk travelling without it! Click here to get a travel insurance quote from World Nomads within seconds!

Kaikoura

Wildlife enthusiasts, you simply cannot afford to miss out Kaikoura – a charming coastal town on New Zealand’s south island. It’s honestly one of the best wildlife destinations we’ve ever visited, so if you’re an animal lover it’s bound to be one of your favourite places in New Zealand.

Take a whale watching tour and find yourself just a matter of metres away from some of the world’s most majestic marine life – including sperm whales, a number of other whale species, dolphins, orcas and seals. You’ll also have the chance to see wild albatross out at sea!

It will take your breath away to witness playful dolphins and diving whales in their natural habitat. This is a story you will tell for years to come!

Learn from our mistakes and take some dramamine or other seasickness medication. You don’t want to miss your chance to see these giants of the sea up close.

Another great thing to do in Kaikoura is see the seals at Kaikoura peninsula. It’s a lovely place to take a walk and get up close to the seals as they go about their day. You can also walk along the cliffs of Kaikoura to get some lovely views of the area, which we definitely recommend if you have the time!

With so many great opportunities to see wildlife, it’s one of the must see towns in New Zealand!

Tours/Activities in Kaikoura

Whale Watching Boat Tours

Don’t miss the chance to take an incredible whale watching boat trip in Kaikoura. We were fortunate enough to do one, and it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our entire time in New Zealand!

We recommend booking online in advance as the whale watching tours often sell out due to their popularity! Get Your Guide offer whale watching boat tours in Kaikoura from just $150 NZD per person.

Click here to book an incredible whale watching boat trip in Kaikoura!

Whale Watching Flights

For one of the most unique experiences in New Zealand, take a whale watching flight for the chance to see these beautiful creatures from above. The view from above is often much better than from the boat as you’re able to see the whole whale at once, rather than just part of it!

Although the flights are slightly more expensive than the boat trips, it’s well worth the extra money for such a special experience. Kaikoura whale watching flights through Get Your Guide start from $180 NZD per person.

Click here to book a once-in-a-lifetime whale watching flight in Kaikoura!

Sperm whale diving in Kaikoura - one of the must see places in New Zealand

 Franz Josef Glacier

Weather permitting, a trip to Franz Josef could be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand. You’ll take a short helicopter ride up to the glacier where you then hike across stunning glacial terrain.

Finding yourself amongst gleaming blue ice, with brilliant panoramic views represents a special opportunity which you should take advantage of!

We wish we had chance to do this but despite going in the middle of New Zealand’s summer, it rained for two days straight and our tour was cancelled. Many of our friends had better luck and assure us it’s one of the most amazing things they’ve done.

Although Franz Josef’s main attraction is the glacier, there are some other activities worth considering too. For those wanting to get the adrenaline going, it’s possible to go skydiving. The highest skydive possible in New Zealand is actually in Franz Josef if you want to really push the limits!

If you’re looking for something a bit less terrifying then you might want to visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre. At the centre you have the chance to see Kiwis – the famous flightless bird native to New Zealand. Tickets start at $36 NZD when booked online.

Tours/Activities in Franz Josef

Franz Josef Helicopter Trip and Glacier Hike

Take a helicopter trip up to the stunning Franz Josef Glacier before embarking on a guided glacier hike. It’s a great chance to learn more about the glacier as you spend over a few hours taking in its breathtaking beauty!

All the necessary equipment is included in the price of the tour – from crampons to study boots to jackets – so everything is taken care of for you! The professional guides are extremely helpful and informative, so don’t miss out on this incredible experience!

The Franz Josef Helicopter and Glacier Hike tour costs $485 NZD per person, but it really is worth the money for such a unique experience.

You’re best to spend a few days in Franz Josef and book the tour for your first day as if the weather is bad tours may not run. If your tour is cancelled, the operator will try to book you onto another tour once the weather improves.

Click here to book the amazing Franz Josef Glacier Hike on Get Your Guide’s website!

Franz Josef Scenic Helicopter Flight

If you want to see the Franz Josef Glacier up close but don’t want to do the hike then a scenic helicopter flight is a great alternative. As well as getting stunning views of the glacier from above, you will also briefly land on the glacier to give you a close-up perspective of the stunning landscape.

Scenic helicopter flights of the Franz Josef Glacier cost just $280 NZD per person on Get Your Guide. Although it’s quite expensive, we think the one-off cost is well worth it!

Click here to book a spectacular Franz Josef Scenic Helicopter Flight!

Glacier in Franz Josef - one of the must see places in New Zealand

Queenstown

Take a trip to the adventure capital of New Zealand. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s something for everyone in Queenstown – offering skiing/snowboarding (when in season), bungee jumping, skydiving, white water rafting and more.

Even if you aren’t searching for thrills, the setting alone is worth the visit. This quaint town is set against a huge glacial lake with incredible views of the towering Remarkables mountain range, making it the perfect place for sharing a few drinks with your friends.

While you’re in Queenstown it’s well worth going on a hike or two for spectacular views of the area. We recommend the Queenstown hill time walk, which gives spectacular views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. It’s also worth hiking the Tiki trail beside the Queenstown gondola, which leads through Douglas fir and beech forest up to amazing views of the area.

Queenstown is a great place to visit no matter what the season. In winter you can warm up from the cold in the town’s many bars (check out Searle Lane for great drinks deals!) and try your hand at skiing/snowboarding. The summer is great if you want to hike and enjoy evenings drinking by the lake.

Tours/Activities in Queenstown

New Zealand’s Highest Bungee Jump!

One of Queenstown’s top attractions is the highest bungee jump in New Zealand – the Nevis Highwire Bungy. With a drop of 134 metres (440 feet), this bungee isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush it’s exactly what you want! Prices start at just $275 NZD per person.

Click here to test your nerve and book onto New Zealand’s highest bungee jump!

Canyon Swing

If you’ve done a bungee before and want to try something a bit different, then consider booking a canyon swing in Queenstown. You’ll have a 60 metre free fall before swinging 200 metres out into the canyon for magnificent scenic views as you swing back and forth. Prices start at just $249 NZD per person.

Click here to book an awesome canyon swing for your trip to Queenstown!

Shotover Jet Boat Ride

For another adrenaline rush take a ride on the famous Shotover Jet. Reach speeds of up to 85 kilometres per hour as you race along the river through the scenic Shotover Canyon. Enjoy the incredible views as this thrilling boat ride really gets your blood pumping!

Prices for the Shotover Jet start from $159 NZD per person, which includes a return transfer from Queenstown.

Click here to book an exhilarating ride on the Shotover Jet!

Other things to do in Queenstown!

If you’re looking for more ideas of things to do in Queenstown then Get Your Guide have plenty more to offer. Options range from wine tours to hikes to boat trips, so there’s plenty of great choice no matter what you’re looking for!

Click here to take a look at the wide range of activities and tours available in Queenstown!

View in Queenstown - one of the must see places in New Zealand

Milford Sound

A visit to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is one of the best things to do in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s one of New Zealand’s most iconic spots, most easily accessed as a full day trip from Queenstown – you can relax and take in the incredible scenery along the way, from rushing waterfalls to the beautifully still mirror lakes.

The highlight of your day will be a cruise through the Fiord itself. This gets you up close to spectacular landscape, with towering peaks, gorgeous green rainforest and the chance to get drenched under a powerful waterfall – which will leave your heart racing!

With some luck, you may even catch a glimpse of dolphins, penguins and seals to make the day even more special!

Milford Sound Tours

Coach Tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown

Coach tours run daily from Queenstown and include a cruise through Milford Sound as well as a number of beautiful stops on the journey there, including the amazing mirror lakes. The cruise lasts for 2 hours and includes a delicious buffet lunch, which you can enjoy whilst admiring the breathtaking scenery.

Visiting Milford Sound is one of the most popular things to do from Queenstown, meaning trips can sell out in advance – so don’t leave it to the last minute to book! Prices start from $205 NZD per person.

Click here to book an amazing coach and cruise tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound!

Milford Sound Scenic Flight and Cruise 

Make your trip to Milford Sound one to remember by treating yourself to this incredible scenic flight and cruise package. Fly directly from Queenstown to Milford Sound whilst enjoying stunning views of the Southern Lakes, Tutoko Glacier, Milford Fiord and more!

Once you arrive you’ll cruise through the fiord, allowing you to get a closer look at the amazing scenery. Your flight back to Queenstown takes an alternate route so that you can see even more of New Zealand’s remarkable landscape!

Prices start from $565 NZD per person, but it’s a truly incomparable experience and is worth every penny! 

Click here to book an incredible scenic flight and cruise trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown!

The incredible Milford Sound - a must see place in New Zealand

 Rotorua

Found in one of the country’s most volcanically active regions, Rotorua is a geothermal paradise and one of the most interesting places to visit in the North Island of New Zealand. Marvel at erupting geysers, bubbling mud pools and fluorescent green sulphur pools.

Alternatively, immerse yourself in the fascinating Māori culture. Treat your taste buds to a traditional Māori Hāngī and learn to perform the world famous Haka.

Be warned before you visit though, Rotorua does have an overpowering sulphur smell but don’t let that put you off taking in such rare geothermal phenomena and educating yourself on the ways of the Māori.

An added extra for fans of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is the chance to visit Hobbiton. You can explore the Shire and see where scenes were filmed on this fun guided tour. If you’re a fan of the movies at all, this journey to Middle Earth is bound to be one of your New Zealand travel highlights.

Tours/Activities in Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Enjoy discovering the fascinating geothermal activity with a trip to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. You’ll see a fascinating mixture of geothermal wonders, including the famous Lady Knox geyser.

Tours cost $128 NZD per person and include the entrance fee, a guide and round trip transport to and from Rotorua. 

Click here to book a tour and discover some of Rotorua’s best geothermal activity!

Hobbiton!

YOU SHALL NOT PASS through Rotorua without making sure to visit Hobbiton. Exploring the film set is one of the most fun things to do in the North Island of New Zealand.

You get to visit the various hobbit holes, discover about how the films were made and finish up with a free drink in the Green Dragon Inn.

Click here to venture to Middle Earth with a Hobbiton tour!

Devil's bath in Rotorua - one of the must see places in New Zealand

Taupo

Home to the luscious blue waters of the vast Lake Taupo, which itself is roughly the size of Singapore, you won’t find yourself short of things to do here. Take the time to relax in beautiful natural hot springs, spend an evening sailing the lake, stare in awe at the sheer power of the Huka falls or challenge yourself to take on the Tongariro Alpine crossing for a real sense of accomplishment.

The near 20-kilometre Tongariro Alpine crossing hike takes you past the iconic Mount Ngauruhoe, instantly recognisable as Mount Doom from the famous Lord of the Rings films, as well as stunning emerald lakes making it particularly rewarding for lovers of the outdoors. The incredible landscape and nature throughout the hike are a must see on the North Island.

Tours/Activities in Taupo

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Get up close to Mount Doom by hiking the Tongariro Alpine crossing. The best way to do the crossing is by booking round trip transport from Taupo, as this way your transport back to the town will be waiting for you once you finish the hike.

With amazing scenery throughout the hike it really is one of the top attractions and best things to do in the North Island of New Zealand. 

Click here to book return transport from Taupo to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

Huka Falls Jet Boat

If you’re looking for thrills take a jet boat ride on the Waikato River to see and feel the impressive force of the Huka falls. It’s a great way to see the falls from another perspective, with prices starting at just $139 NZD per person!

 Click here to see book a thrilling jet boat ride at the Huka falls!

One of the emerald lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing near Taupo - one of the must see places in New Zealand

Auckland

When you go to New Zealand the chances are that your inbound/outbound flight will be going to/from Auckland. Having lived and worked there for around 6 months, we can categorically say there aren’t many exciting things to do in Auckland itself. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave before checking out some of the beautiful surroundings.

Some of the best places to visit in New Zealand are near Auckland. Visit the volcanic island of Rangitoto and hike to the crater, passing wonderful viewpoints along the way.  If that’s not for you, spend a few days on Waiheke Island appreciating the vineyard tours and gorgeous beaches.

Alternatively, rent a car and head up north to the seemingly never-ending Omaha beach and a number of waterfalls along the way.

In the city itself we’d recommend taking a stroll to Auckland viaduct and the Wynyard Quarter. The waterfront is a nice area and there are a number of restaurants and bars there if you fancy food or drink in the area.

You can also head up the Auckland Sky Tower to get 360˚ views of the city from 220 metres high. If you’re feeling brave you can take a Skywalk on the outer rim of the tower or do the Skyjump and fall at a speed of over 85 kilometres per hour before safely landing at the bottom. The Skywalk and Skyjump are some of the best things to do in Auckland for thrill seekers.

Tours/Activities in Auckland

Waiheke Island Food and Wine Tasting

Visit Waiheke Island for a food and wine tasting tour to see 3 of the island’s best vineyards. Tours include the return ferry and a light lunch too! 

Click here to book a food and wine tasting tour on Waiheke Island!

Auckland Sky Tower

For incredible views of the city, take a trip to the Auckland Sky Tower – one of the few man made attractions in New Zealand. If you’re up for thrills then consider the Skywalk or Skyjump to really get your heart racing!

Click here to book the Skywalk or alternatively click here to book the Skyjump!

Whangarei falls near Auckland - a must see place in New Zealand

Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook

Whether you’re looking to get out into nature, or just want that picture-perfect Insta shot – make sure to visit Lake Pukaki. Glacial waters make it a mesmerising shade of blue that will make you question whether your eyes are deceiving you.

If that isn’t enough to convince you to visit, it offers dramatic viewpoints of the colossal Mount Cook – New Zealand’s highest peak. Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook are some of the most beautiful sights in New Zealand, so we strongly recommend at least a quick stop in the area!

Tours/Activities at Mount Cook

Ski Plane and Helictoper Tour of Mount Cook

Take a Ski Plane and Helicopter tour to get extraordinary views of Mount Cook – one of the best places to visit in the South Island of New Zealand. If that’s not enough, you’ll also land on the longest glacier in New Zealand – the Tasman glacier. 

Click here to book the incredible Ski Plane and Helicopter tour of Mount Cook and the Tasman glacier!

Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook are both must see places in New Zealand

Wellington

Prepare to be blown away – New Zealand’s capital is the world’s windiest city! Take a cable car ride to the alluring colours of the botanic gardens, head up Mount Victoria for sensational panoramic views, educate yourself on the intriguing Māori culture at the national museum of New Zealand (Museum Te Papa) or just take a stroll to appreciate the beauty of Wellington’s waterfront.

Consistently ranking as one of the world’s most liveable cities, you may just find yourself not wanting to leave! Make the most of your time there with this list of free things to do in Wellington.

Wellington, the country's capital, is a must see place in New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand’s smallest national park is home to some of the most alluring golden beaches you’ll find anywhere in the country. Hike to waterfalls hidden in the forest, search for Cleopatra’s pool (which has its own natural waterslide) or relish the opportunity to kayak through the park’s exquisite waters.

Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun on blissful beaches or adventure into nature, Abel Tasman is a wonderful place to spend some of your trip.

The park covers 237 square kilometres, and is one of the most naturally beautiful places in New Zealand! There are a number of campsites in the park and lots to discover if you follow the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Tours/Activities in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park Cruise

Take a cruise to explore the beauty of Abel Tasman National Park. You’ll have the chance to see some of the park’s marine and brid life as well as having impressive views of the park itself. There are 2 options in terms of cruises – one which involves a hike and one which doesn’t. 

Click here to book the cruise and hike at Abel Tasman National Park or alternatively click here to book just the cruise.

The beautiful Abel Tasman National Park is one of the must see places in New Zealand

New Zealand is a truly beautiful country, with an abundance of activities and must see places to visit on both islands. With such wonderful nature it really is a country begging to be explored. For even more inspiration, check out these 20 photos to inspire you to travel to New Zealand’s South Island. Take your time making an itinerary to suit you. That way you can make the most out of your trip to one of the world’s most scenic countries.

Looking for accommodation for your trip? Click here to find the best properties in New Zealand on Booking.com!

Explore the country below with this map of New Zealand!

Please note that some links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase we make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This money is used to support this website and cover the costs of keeping it online and free to access!

Like this guide to the must see places in New Zealand? Pin it!
New Zealand is a bucket list travel destination with beautiful places, mountains and nature throughout the North and South Island. If you’re backpacking on a budget or on a road trips in a campervan there are landscapes, routes and beaches to see and include on an itinerary. These are our top 10 things to do in New Zealand whether it’s the winter or summer, from Auckland to Wellington to Christchuch to lotr such as hobbiton there’s lots of adventure and photography to be had! #newzealand #nz
New Zealand is a bucket list travel destination with beautiful places, mountains and nature throughout the North and South Island. If you’re backpacking on a budget or on a road trips in a campervan there are landscapes, routes and beaches to see and include on an itinerary. These are our top 10 things to do in New Zealand whether it’s the winter or summer, from Auckland to Wellington to Christchuch to lotr such as hobbiton there’s lots of adventure and photography to be had! #newzealand #nz
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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20 comments

Medha Verma June 23, 2017 - 4:00 pm

Missed Kaikoura and Wellington on our trip. We had two weeks yet it was too less! We definitely need to go back!

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:21 pm

great excuse to go back!

Jiahui June 24, 2017 - 10:29 am

This post comes in handy as i am planning for solo new zealand trip!

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:21 pm

thank you, hope you have a great trip!

TravellingDany June 24, 2017 - 10:52 am

New Zealand was already on our bucket list. Well, it’s been there for a while now! But your photos really gave it a kick, we need to plan a trip over there, wow! Besides, seeing whales up close would be a dream come true for me!

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:20 pm

thats what made it a dream come true for us!

Earth's Pilgrim June 24, 2017 - 11:34 am

Well written.. sums up the most important places to visit in New Zealand.. Kaikoura reminds me of my Whale watching trip to Iceland. highly recommended to take seasickness medication 🙂

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:20 pm

Yes we highly recommend that as well!

ambujsaxena05 June 25, 2017 - 11:07 am

I have read so much about New Zealand in my 9th standard (year 2000) and remember that New Zealand offers the perfect weather for milch animals to survive and thrive. This post rekindles those memories of fond reading and absorption of facts. Among all the places mentioned, Queenstown looks like a bundle of activities. would love to do bungee jumping here!

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:20 pm

thank you!

Rahat Arora June 25, 2017 - 11:28 am

Newzealand is one of my best places in the world. Thank you so much for sharing post on Newzealand.

Sam June 25, 2017 - 6:20 pm

thank you for reading it!

Clare C June 26, 2017 - 9:02 am

This is such a great article! I really want to visit New Zealand, but the amount of info out there is overwhelming. Your article focuses on things I would actually really like to do. It will definitely come in useful when I’m trip planning later this year 🙂

Sam June 26, 2017 - 9:25 am

Thank you very much!

digitaltravelg June 26, 2017 - 10:47 pm

I I am planning a trip to New Zealand, and this post is a greta post of each place, and I loved your photos, especially the water
falls. I’ve bookmarked..

Sam July 20, 2017 - 11:28 am

Thank you!

Shaun June 28, 2017 - 10:27 pm

Great list! There is so much to see, do, and love about NZ! This is a great start!

Sam July 1, 2017 - 4:59 pm

Thank you!

Kathleen July 16, 2017 - 1:36 am

What a great list. New Zealand is on my husband’s bucket list, so we will get there eventually. Love the photos.

Sam July 16, 2017 - 12:05 pm

thank you! We hope you get there as well!

Comments are closed.