New Zealand truly is one of the most picturesque and photogenic places on earth. It offers terrific experiences that should be on every traveler’s list. New Zealand has the kind of scenery that demands a standing ovation — and it’s all in such close proximity. There are Milford Sound’s arrow-headed peaks, and stretches of sand so vast they earn outlandish names (‘Ninety Mile Beach’). Caves spangle with glow-worms like a million fairy lights. Stratovolcanoes rise above grassy plains. Ice fields career down almost to the edge of the Tasman Sea. And that’s just for starters. Here are our top picks for a memorable trip.
1 Abel Tasman National Park
As New Zealand’s smallest and most visited park, Abel Tasman offers visitors golden beaches, limestone caves, and awesome rock formations, all easily accessible via hiking or kayaking.
From Marlborough to Hawke’s Bay to Wairapa, New Zealand is world-famous for fine white wines and rich reds, thanks to its cool winters and mild summers.
3 The Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
Thanks to its role as the filming location for the Lord of the Rings movies, New Zealand has become synonymous with Middle-earth. Multiple tours will take you from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom.
New Zealand’s capital city is filled with fascinating museums, a blossoming art scene, and some of the country’s best culinary offerings.
After a series of earthquakes, this quirky city has reinvented itself as an artsy mecca, thanks to projects like its cardboard cathedral and the stunning Center of Contemporary Art.
6 Stewart Island
On this small remote island, explore Rakiura, the country’s newest national park, glimpse kiwi birds in their natural habitats, and spot the stunning southern lights.
7 The Coromandel Peninsula
A remote getaway of white-sand beaches, native forest, and quirky cafés, this low-key part of the country is filled with fishing, cycling, and relaxing with locals.
The country’s Southern Alps serve as a wonderland of glacier-filled landscapes, with plenty of opportunities to trek and explore these icy behemoths up-close.
As New Zealand’s national sport, rugby union is serious business here, with fans rooting feverishly for the All Blacks Rugby team. Catch a match at a stadium or just watch a game at a bar for an authentic Kiwi experience.
10 Whanganui National Park
New Zealand’s longest navigable river serves as the centerpiece of this park, and you can explore the Whanganui via canoe, kayak, or raft.
11 Waitomo Glowworm Caves
This massive system of underground limestone caves is filled with electric blue inhabitants that give off an otherworldly glow.
12 Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Rising 12,316 feet, Aroraki is New Zealand’s largest mountain. Its national park also offers turquoise glacial lakes and high alpine tundra hikes.
13 Rotorua Hot Springs
Sitting on top of the most active segment of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, Rotorua offers a multitude of volcanic springs and thermal pools that serve as nature’s hot tubs.
14 Milford Sound
Within glacier-carved Fiordland National Park, you’ll find sublime Milford Sound and its dramatic waterfalls, glacial lakes, and awe-inspiring mountain peaks.
15 The Bay of Islands
A collection of 144 islands, the Bay of Islands is a stronghold of both New Zealand and Māori history, along with chances for scenic kayaking and fishing.
16 The Great Walks
Scattered over New Zealand’s national parks are 10 Great Walks, ranging from day hikes to multiday tracks that explore the country’s diverse and spectacular scenery.
From kiwis on Stewart Island to royal albatrosses in Otago to penguins in Fiordland, you don’t have to be a bird nerd to appreciate New Zealand’s diverse feathered population.
New Zealand has over 9,300 miles of coastline, which ripples and zigzags to create bays, coves, fjords, and countless beaches perfect for surfing, sunbathing, and swimming.
19 Tongariro National Park
If you’ve ever wanted to hike a volcano, New Zealand’s oldest national park is home to three (including the one that stood in for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Ring movies).
New Zealand’s biggest city is the entryway for most visitors to the country, welcoming travelers with its vibrant restaurants, gorgeous beaches, and active harbor filled with chances to set sail.
21 Whale-Watching in Kaikoura
The Pacific coastline of Kaikoura is the country’s best spot for whale-watching and one of the only places in the world where you have the chance to spot a sperm whale.
Long known as the Adventure Capital of the World, this small and lively city is a jumble of ski slopes, rivers, and alpine areas that make it a haven for everything adrenaline-pumping.
23 Māori Culture
There are many ways to learn about the vibrant culture of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, from visiting the Te Papa Museum to participating in a traditional hāngi.
With all its mountains, New Zealand is a skier’s paradise, from volcanic cones like Mt. Ruapehu in the North Island to the massive Southern Alps on the South Island.
25 Extreme Sports
If you’ve ever wanted to sky-dive, cliff-dive, or bungee-jump, New Zealand has the best variety of adventure activities, in unbelievably gorgeous settings.