The highlights of New Zealand

July 2, 2019

I’m sure you have seen plenty of images of New Zealand’s well-known sights such as Aoraki/Mount Cook and Milford Sound, but if you’re like me and have the travel bug, those photos would have inspired you to plan a trip to the other side of the earth to see them for yourself. If so; here are a few highlights of New Zealand that you should not miss for your next trip.

Auckland – Located at the top of New Zealand’s North Island, is a beautiful city surrounded by two large harbours and plenty of volcanoes.  Auckland’s CBD  is the perfect place to start exploring New Zealand and offers visitors a range of areas to see Auckland from above.  First things first; head up 220 metres to enjoy panoramic views from Auckland’s Sky Tower. The tower has three observations levels with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to help orientate yourself if you are new to the city.

Thereafter, make your way across the Auckland Harbour Bridge towards Mount Victoria to see a different perspective of the city. It’s a beautiful view of Auckland’s skyline with the Sky Tower standing tall in the city.

Taupo – If you’re coming from the north, make a quick stop at the rumbling Huka Falls. The falls are caused by the increased flow of the Waikato River as it goes down a very narrow volcanic canyon and bursts over the end of the gorge. The water is also beautifully blue and can be seen from observation decks all around the falls.

The other sight you cannot miss when in Taupo is its giant lake. Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and easily looks like the ocean when the waves start rolling in. There are plenty of areas to pull-off around the lake if you would like to get a photo, but my favourite view is from the Five Mile Bay Campsite.

Wellington – If you’re stopping in Wellington, your first visit should be to Mount Victoria where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city as well as watch the ferries and sailboats in the large harbour. You can also enjoy scenic views from Oriental Bay Beach at the waterfront or relax at one of the cute cafés in the area. If you are travelling from Wellington to Picton with the ferry, I recommend taking the later ferries to catch the sunset in the New Zealand Sounds.

Marlborough Sounds – The top of the South Island is beautifully scenic and should not be missed when visiting New Zealand. There’s a lot to explore in the area but my favourite is Elaine bay and the surrounding area. We would love to have spent many more days here, but we will definitely be back to explore further.

Lake Mahinapua – We decided last minute to stop here and didn’t realise how scenic the view would be until the clouds dispersed revealing a snow-capped mountain range, and the water calmed.

Lake Matheson – A small gravel pathway leads you to a variety of different vantage points where you can see Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflecting in the lake. There’s also a nice gift shop with local souvenirs.

Mount Aspiring National Park – Your first stop should be to see the rushing water of Thunder Creek Falls which is right next to the road. Thereafter, enjoy a stroll between the moss-covered trees at the Blue Pools Track. The track takes you to two suspension bridges overlooking the clear, blue water of the Makarora River. There’s a parking area at the start of the track and a longer (unnecessary) one starting from Cameron Flats Campground – don’t get confused.

Hokitika Gorge – On the West Coast is the famous sight of Hokitika Gorge. Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the water wasn’t very blue but if you ignore what could’ve been, it’s still a very beautiful area with a swing bridge and a viewing platform looking out to the gorge.

Wanaka – My favourite view in all New Zealand is from Roy’s Peak Lookout. It’s a gruelling steep 6.5km to the lookout (one-way) with views over Lake Wanaka and the small town. With the constant incline, I had to stop several times to catch my breath but once you’re at the top, a whole new view awaits which cannot be seen while hiking. It’s another 1.5km to the actual top of Roy’s Peak but I will leave that for another time. Don’t forget to make a quick stop to see the famous Wanaka Tree once you’re back in town.

Queenstown Queenstown’s city centre is quite cute, and I can imagine doing quite a bit of shopping here or even visiting some of the many vibey restaurants but the best thing to do in Queenstown is skiing. We chose to snowboard and ski at The Remarkables and could not recommend it more.

Fjordland National Park – The national park is famous for Milford Sound but there are a few stops you can make before getting to your destination.

Your first stop would be at Eglinton Valley where you can admire the open landscape with the spectacular jagged-peaks in the distance. As we were in a self-contained van it was the perfect spot to make a quick grilled cheese sandwich as the road still takes quite a bit of time before getting to Milford Sound. You can also make a brief stop at the Mirror Lakes where you can see the giant Earl Mountains reflecting in a small piece of water. The final stop before Milford Sound is The Chasm which was formed by the powerful currents of the Cleddau River which sculpted the rocks into smoothed-out basins over many, many years. It really is a spectacular sighting.

Finally, once you’re in Milford Sound, a tour by cruise is a must. There are quite a few companies to choose from but they all do the same route so it’s up to you which one you like more. You’ll get to see and learn about the area’s unique geology, vegetation and wildlife such as the wonderful dolphins who like to swim with the boat’s wake. It’s recommended to choose the earliest cruise before all the tour buses from Queenstown make it to Milford Sound. However, that also means that the sun might not have reached the mountains yet.

If you are looking for Milford Sound accommodation, I recommend staying at the Milford Sound Lodge as it’s the most convenient option.

Remember; there are no shops, petrol stations or even reception between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

Lake Pukaki – The magnificent turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki with its surrounding peaks are a photographer’s dream but what makes this area even better are the views of New Zealand’s highest mountain in the distance; Aoraki/Mount Cook. You can enjoy these views all day if you camp right next to the lake or enjoy them briefly at Peter’s Lookout.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park – If there’s anything that needs to be seen in New Zealand, it’s Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park as the views are breath-taking in every direction. Once you start exploring, the first sight to see is the Tasman Glacier which has a depth of over 600 metres and is 27km long; the longest in New Zealand. There are also ginormous icebergs which have broken off the glacier and now fill the lake which is incredible to see as 90% of their bulk is underwater. As the glacier is shrinking considerably, this could be a once in a lifetime experience. Follow the directions to the river to get the closest to the icebergs.

The famously scenic Hooker Valley Track was unfortunately closed while we were there, but we hope to do this as well as the hike up to Mueller’s Hut on our next visit.

New Zealand has tons of spectacular nature to discover and I hope you will add all these sights to your New Zealand tour itinerary. As we could not see everything during our first trip, I’m sure you would also be interested in seeing The Coromandel’s, Egmont National Park and Abel Tasman National Park. Enjoy!