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Top 10 Places to See in New Zealand


Beautiful New Zealand

It's difficult to choose one top place to see in New Zealand. After all, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is one of the most popular countries for tourists to travel to. Last year, I had the chance to visit it and I now understand where this reputation comes from. Filled with mountains, valleys, lakes, and of course, sheep, New Zealand's beauty is constant.

I've put together a list of my top places to see when visiting New Zealand, ranging from the top of the north island to the bottom of the south island. These are just a few of the wonderful places to see, but I think they're among the best of what New Zealand has to offer.

If you travel to New Zealand, make sure to visit as many of these places as you can!

All images are author's own unless otherwise credited.


1. Te Anu Glowworm Caves

An Unforgettable Experience

As much as I loved every aspect of New Zealand, I would have to put the Glowworm Caves in Te Anau on the south island at the top of my list. Unique to New Zealand and Australia, glowworms are a must see on your trip. They are magical and truly a wonderous miracle of nature.

To reach the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, you travel from the town, by boat, across Lake Te Anau. The ride got a little rough on our trip, but it was exceptionally windy. If you get motion sick, I recommend some ginger ale (or ginger beer, which is the New Zealand and Australia equivalent). Upon reaching the opposite shore, you are placed into groups to see the caves. (This site must be seen on a guided tour.)

The caves are very young, so you will not see the typical stalactites and stalagmites of other, older caves, However, they are still impressive, especially if caves are a relatively new experience for you. As you travel through the cave, you will begin to see a few glowworms dotting the ceiling. If you are lucky, you will see the threads they hang from the ceiling to catch bugs. The threads also glow and are quite the spectacular site. The walk through the cave is just as fantastic as the glow worms cavern, so make sure to take it all in.

When you reach the end of the accessible part of the cave, you will be put into a small rowboat to travel to the place where the glowworms live. This part of the tour is entirely dark and when you reach the cavern with the glowworms, it's a unique experience, to say the least. There are hundreds of them on the ceiling, making you feel like you're floating under a starry night sky.

The overall experience of the Te Anau Glowworm caves is incomparable to anything else. It was one of the best nights of the trip. I had the chance to go to the Waitomo Caves, too, and while they were stunning, I felt that the caves were more impressive than the glowworms. In Te Anau, the glowworm cavern was entirely dark, only the glowworms lighting it up. In Waitomo, the glowworms lived close to the outside, so there was some sunlight filtering in, somewhat drowning out the experience.

If you have the time, you should do both, but if you need to choose, I recommend Te Anau. The only drawback is that photography inside of the caves (in both Te Anau and Waitomo) is not allowed, but it is worth it anyway.

New Zealand Guide Book


2. Rotorua

An Explosive Town

Rotorua is a small town of only 70,000 people and is a significant tourist town. However, it doesn't have the feel of most tourist towns. It feels just like a small town but with tons to do.

You can easily spend a week in Rotorua and never run out of things to do. Between spectacular volcanic activity and nearby nature walks, to local wildlife habitats, there's a myriad of options that will please any visitor. If your travel time is more limited, though, make sure you take in the volcanic sites since they are unique to the area.

There are several day tours you can take. Rotorua Day Trips has an extensive list of options, including several tours that include volcanic and geothermal sites. This tour is the one I took and is a great way to see many sites if you are pressed for time. It was run by a local Maori man who was both extremely knowledgeable about the area and fluent in Maori. Hearing him speak the language was a real treat. He made sure we saw the best sites and didn't rush us if we wanted more time somewhere.

A tour of a Maori village is also at the top of the list, especially since these include a show and dinner. It's a great way to experience the culture firsthand. For animal lovers, the Agrodome, Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, and Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park are all fantastic options for getting up close to the other locals. I didn't get time to see the Kiwi Wildlife Park and it is one of my biggest regrets about the trip because I didn't get to see a live kiwi bird anywhere else. If you have time, tour both parks. The Paradise Valley is small and doesn't take much time. However, it doesn't have kiwi birds, so if you have to choose, choose Rainbow Springs.

A car is definitely an asset in Rotorua, especially for the further out sites, however, since it is a tourist town, there are other options if you are not planning to rent a car. Grumpy's is a local taxi service that will take you to any local spot for a fair price and will usually offer some great advice at the same time--the drivers were fantastic. There are also city buses that run daily.

The main catch with Rotorua is the smell of sulphur that fills the air. It is perfectly safe, caused by the nearby volcanic activity rather than pollution. It does take some getting used to, but after a day most people stop noticing it. Don't let it deter you from visiting the city as it is truly one of the best places in New Zealand. When you are travelling through the country, make sure you plan a few days in Rotorua.

Bag End

Bag End

3. Hobbiton

The Shire

This locale is a bit different since it is specific to the Lord of the Rings movies. For me, it was a big deal because the first half of my time in New Zealand was actually spent on a Lord of the Rings tour. As such, not everyone will agree that this is a top attraction. However, even if you aren't a massive fan of the movies, if you enjoyed them, Hobbiton is still well worth a visit.

My friend and I joined our Lord of the Rings tour a few days into it. The group had already gone to Hobbiton and we spent a great deal of time listening to them rave about it. It hadn't been really high on my "to see" list, so I wasn't terribly disappointed at missing it, though I have to admit that their stories were making me a little jealous. Either way, I already had a full, planned itinerary, so I accepted that I wouldn't be going. Then a glitch in that itinerary happened where I suddenly had the possibility of an open day. I was convinced by my new friends that I should go to Hobbiton, and in the end, I relented. Believe me, I haven't regretted it for a second. Aside from the sheer gorgeousness of it, I have to admit I get a bit of a thrill every time I watch the movies and can say "I've been there!"

Hobbiton is located on a farm about an hour drive from Rotorua (you can get picked up in town for a tour-easy!). The farm itself is gorgeous with rolling green hills dotted with sheep. The tour bus takes you to the part of the farm where the movie set was built (and never taken down) and if you're a fan, the scenery starts to become very familiar. Hobbit holes line the hills, pathways leading you from home to home. There are signs pointing you to various locations, such as East Farthing, and small hobbit tools are laid out on the front lawns. The Green Dragon and The Mill can be seen across a small lake and, of course, the party tree stands tall at the bottom of the hills.

If you go to New Zealand as a fan of the movies, Hobitton is an absolute must see.

View from the top of the Skyline Gondola Hill

View from the top of the Skyline Gondola Hill

4. Queenstown

Adventure Capital

Often referred to as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand, Queenstownis an absolute top site when visiting New Zealand. "Adventure Capital" is a more than appropriate term, as there are so many choices of adrenaline pumping activities. Just outside of the city is the World Home of Bungy where commercial bungy jumping began in 1988. There is also a bungy jumping option in the city itself, but why not do both? There are also flying fox and canyon swing adventures.

There are certainly less extreme options, of course. At the Skyline Gondola hill (in the city and easily accessible) you can try your hand at ziplining. It's the activity I chose and it's a great option for anyone wanting a thrill without too much danger. There are two options to choose from: a 4 line Moa tour and a 6 line Kea tour. The Kea tour finishes with a 30 story, 70km/hour line that takes you by stunning scenery.

If the adrenaline addicts still aren't satisfied, try skydiving, paragliding, or hang gliding. There's no better way to take in the beauty of the area than by seeing it from the air. The tricky part is making sure you don't land in the lake-we saw one guy come awfully close! If you're not so sure about trying it, it's also a lot of fun to watch others do it from the ground. At any given point in time, you can watch the sky and find people soaring through the air.

Even if adventure is not your cup of tea, there's lots to do in Queenstown. From boat rides to nature walks to shopping, it's impossible to get bored! And as the icing on the cake, the city is simply gorgeous. Be sure to ride the gondola to the top of the Skyline Gondola Hill to take in the view. You can see part of it in the picture above.

Adorable New Zealand alpacas! Wool is a major export of New Zealand.

Adorable New Zealand alpacas! Wool is a major export of New Zealand.


5. Auckland Skytower

A Panoramic View

Of course, The Auckland Skytower is similar to towers in other cities, but that doesn't mean it's not worth going to! No matter how many skytowers you travel to, they are always unique because the view changes at each one. The panoramic view of Auckland from the top of this 328 meter tower is breathtaking and despite the fact that I've been to the top of the CN tower in Toronto and the Sydney Skytower, it doesn't take away from the view in Auckland.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can try the Sky Jump. From 192 meters, leap off the Skytower and enjoy the exhilarating ride to the ground. Or, for a slightly less extreme option, try the Sky Walk, where you will walk around the tower's pergola while safely attached via body harness.

Once you've descended (inside or outside the tower!) a fantastic gift shop waits at the bottom. There is quite a few movie paraphernalia for various movies shot in New Zealand, including some life sized statues you can have your picture taken with.

6. Te Papa

The Wellington Museum

Located in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, the Te Papa Museum is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the countries culture and history. Some exhibits do require an admission fee, but most of the museum is free, which is a nice perk for anyone travelling on a budget. Guided tours are also available. From information and displays about Maori culture, to the natural wonders of New Zealand, to recent and current pop culture, there are hours of displays to explore. Among the highlights are a life sized reconstruction of the extinct Moa and the skeleton of a giant squid.

Tourism in New Zealand

Tourism is a critical part of New Zealand's economy and in fact recently became its biggest export. With over 2 million visitors a year, all parts of the country thrive on this industry. Approximately 10% of New Zealanders are employed in the tourism industry, accounting for about 180,000 full time jobs.There is some concern about long-term continued tourism growth because of environmental concerns, however it is expected that the industry will continue to grow for the forseeable future.

It's easy to see why it is such a popular destination. While it is rather far away for any visitors (except Australians--it's actually quite convenient for them!), the journey is well rewarded. With gorgeous, lucsious landscapes and a wide range of adventure activities, anyone can easily fill a couple weeks of an itinerary. It's also a developed country and is considered very safe, even for those travelling alone. (Now, if you decide to bungy jump, that might be another story!) New Zealand Air is also considered to be a top-notch airline.


7. Buried Village

History Frozen

Nearly a hundred and thirty years ago, Mount Tarawera erupted, burying the nearby village of Te Wairoa under ash, mud, and rock. More the 150 people were killed in the eruption and the Pink and White Terraces, which would have been one of the Natural Wonders of the World, were destroyed. The village has since been unburied and you can now tour what remains. The history at this site is quite remarkable and is a unique attraction to the area. It is located just outside of Rotorua, making it another reason to visit the city. In addition, there is a beautiful nature walk where the Wairere waterfall waits to be discovered. Wairere is enchanting, so don't miss this side trail if you visit!

Waterfall at Buried Village

Waterfall at Buried Village

Waterfall at Buried Village

Another view of the gorgeous waterfall

Another view of the gorgeous waterfall

Another view of the gorgeous waterfall

New Zealand National Symbols

Every country has symbols that people associate with them more than with any other place. However, often these symbols are still found in other countries. For example, Canada's national animal is the beaver, but the beaver of course is found in other places. New Zealand, on the other hand, has several symbols that are entirely unique to the country. Not all of the symbols are official, but they are widely accepted as national symbols.

  • National Bird: the kiwi (The kiwi is also the national symbol of New Zealand.)
  • National Sport: rugby
  • National Food: there is no single official national dish. However, the traditional Maori form of cooking, called Hangi, is popular. This is when food is wrapped and slowly cooked underground by using hot rocks. Pavlova, a meringue desert, is also a traditional New Zealand favourite.
  • National Flower: the Kowhai

8. Cathedral Cove

A Natural Wonder

Located in the Coromandel Peninsula on the north island, Cathedral Cove is a beautiful beach. It's a favourite spot for tourists, yet it is expansive enough that it doesn't feel crowded. From the top of the hill where the parking lot is located, it's about a 45 minute walk to the bottom (and the water), but it's an easy trek with a great deal of beauty in its own right. The beach is gorgeous with natural rock formations and a small waterfall. The real attraction, of course, is the beach's namesake. Dividing the beach in half is a giant rock archway that resembles a cathedral. The natural beauty of the area is unrivalled. It's easy to want to stay on the beach for hours, so I would highly recommend bringing a picnic lunch. The day I was there, the water was a little rough for swimming, but there is a washroom on the beach level, so you can always bring a bathing suit with you just in case! Regardless of swimming, Cathedral Cove is a must see place if you are in the area.

Have you Been to New Zealand?

9. Fox Glacier

A Force to be Reckoned With

My last two locations are ones which I unfortunately didn't make it to on my trip, but which are high on my list for next time. The Fox Glacier is a stunning example of nature and it's awesome power. Currently advancing at about 1 metre per week, it is continuing to shape New Zealand's terrain. It's located on the western coast of the south island in Westland Tai Pourtini National Park. The Franz Josef Glacier is located in the same park; the two glaciers are among the most accessible in the world. They are also two of the only glaciers to end in rainforest.

10. Bay of Islands

A Water Lover's Haven

Located in the very northern part of the north island, the Bay of Islands is a popular tourist spot. While I didn't have time to make it this far, it was very tempting and I nearly chose it over a couple of other options when I was planning my trip. Boat trips that tour the 144 islands are a popular option for visitors, along with sailing and fishing. If you'd rather relax, there's also beaches where you can work on your tan. While all of these are wonderful options, the reason I was so tempted to go the Bay of Islands was the opportunity to swim with dolphins. There are a few options for whale and dolphin watching in the bay and several cruises offer the chance to swim with the dolphins. Of course, this is never a guarantee since they are wild creatures, but some cruise lines offer very high success rates. Kaikourais another location (on the south island, this time) where you can swim with dolphins.

Leave a Comment!

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on June 25, 2018:

It looks so gorgeous!!!

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on September 21, 2014:

Friends of mine from years ago had a sheep farm I actually helped them out from time to time with the shearing. They hired a guy from New Zealand to come out and do the actual shearing and then we'd have a wonderful meal afterward. I had so much fun. Hobbiton above is another place of interest. Travel, world wide, is on my bucket list and Australia, New Zealand and a few other places in that region are on my list to visit.

asereht1970 from Philippines on July 05, 2014:

Would love to visit if God permits. Nice place.

DavidMoses1986 on June 12, 2014:

New Zealand looks awesome, nice lens :)

teelover on February 23, 2014:

Great lens, thanks for sharing! New Zealand is one of our must see destinations!

Stephanie (author) from Canada on February 05, 2014:

@RhondaAlbom: Thank you! It's a wonderful place--you're very lucky to live there. :)

AJ from Australia on February 01, 2014:

Thank you for a wonderful introduction. I am embarrassed, living so close, to have not visited - I think it is a clear case of taking things for granted. You've tempted me.

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on January 31, 2014:

I have been here in New Zealand for nearly 11 years now. I think you did a great job of pointing out the highlights. I have been to 9 out of 10 on your list.

Mohan Babu from Chennai, India on December 16, 2013:

Beautiful post about Newzealand. You have captured the virgin beauty of this place through this lens. You have not shared your bungy jumping experience in great detail. Possibly that could be your next lens.

Beatriz from Portugal on September 13, 2013:

Loved your lens, hope to visit new zealand one day :)

Michelllle on September 09, 2013:

I hope i get to go someday.

Stephanie (author) from Canada on September 07, 2013:

@DrMAnderson: Wow, that's pretty impressive! Actually, I can deal with the time it takes, since it's so gorgeous there. But I can't afford the plane ticket that often! lol

Shinichi Mine from Tokyo, Japan on September 07, 2013:

What a beautiful place. I would love to visit there one day.

DrMAnderson on September 03, 2013:

@Stephanie36: Oh it is definitely worth the trip!! It's not soo far away, I make the trip from New York at least 2x a year! Maybe I'm just used to traveling across the world and back (since I'm from NZ and every other country is at least a few hours travel away), but it's really only 24hrs of bleurgh :)

steadytracker lm on August 24, 2013:

A great lens and very informative too. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

SavioC on August 18, 2013:

NZ is on top of my bucket list. It is amazingly beautiful. God's wonder . Thanks for sharing.

Traveller579 on August 07, 2013:

Lovely post your lens about in New Zealand.

Stephanie (author) from Canada on August 04, 2013:

@SteveKaye: Thank you! I's a shame it's so far away. It really is well worth the trip, but still difficult.

SteveKaye on August 04, 2013:

Fantastic lens. Thank you for this tour. I wish New Zealand was just a hop down (or up) the freeway from where I live.

Stephanie (author) from Canada on August 04, 2013:

@happy-birthday: Thank you!

Birthday Wishes from Here on August 04, 2013:

What a beautiful lens! Now I would love to visit New Zealand! Thanks a lot for sharing!

Stephanie (author) from Canada on July 31, 2013:

@squid-janices7: You'll love it! It's such a great place to visit...beautiful scenery and the people are so nice.

squid-janices7 on July 31, 2013:

Heading to New Zealand in about a month so I'm planning right now. I think I've got 7 of the 10 things you suggest on the list so we'll see how we do. I can't wait to go :) Thanks for sharing such great tips!

Stephanie (author) from Canada on July 16, 2013:

@joanride: Yes, Queenstown is beautiful. We were lucky to get only a little rain (though I did do a day-long hike when it started pouring). It's always up to luck on the weather...

joanride on July 16, 2013:

Wow, this reminds me how wonderful this country is. I've visited there in 1994. It may be time to come back. I guess I've missed some attractions. I loved sunny Blenheim, and Queenstown's area is amazing. It was raining most of our time there :(

Stephanie (author) from Canada on June 15, 2013:

@sybil watson: Thank you very much!

sybil watson on June 14, 2013:

This is a fabulous lens - it's everything I look for in a purple star nomination.

Stephanie (author) from Canada on June 14, 2013:

@clevergirlname: Thank you very much! It's nice to hear. :)

clevergirlname on June 14, 2013:

Very pretty! Immense amounts of information - someone around here does their homework.

Loved it - thanks!

Stephanie (author) from Canada on May 19, 2013:

@SheGetsCreative: Definitely! I was in Rotorua for about 3.5 days and it wasn't enough. There's tons to see and do in the area.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on May 07, 2013:

NZ is on my bucket list. Never heard of Rotorua, but think I'd definitely have to stop there for at least a couple of days.