New Zealand highlights as ranked by the Editor of Travel Bugs World.
When I first came to New Zealand, twenty years ago, as I flew above the country, the thing that stood out is the wide open spaces and farmlands. It looked like a patchwork quilt from the skies. I noticed the freshness of the air immediately as I walked out on the tarmac. And then some of the friendliest airport staff in the world welcomed me to their country.
My love affair with New Zealand began that day, and I’ve always yearned to keep coming back.
As I traveled around New Zealand, I noticed more open spaces than I had seen anywhere else in a first-world country. Unless you count the sparse Australian outback. You can drive for miles, and miles and see no cars. The quaint towns along the way are inviting and interesting.
New Zealand is a small country with the four bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Hamilton. Besides that, New Zealand is filled with many small towns. Even the larger cities Dunedin, Napier, and Palmerston North maintain that small town feeling. And, having come from Sydney, Australia, I noticed the small-town friendliness everywhere I went, even in the big cities.
Twenty years later, the population has grown, but the small town feeling still remains away from the city. In the cities, the roads are more congested, but you can still be in farmland within half an hour of the city center.
But aside from that, you drive for miles through beautiful green rolling hills and farmland and sometimes see no cars for hours.
In a one-day drive, you can go from the city to the hot springs to the mountains to isolated coastlines and deserted beaches.
New Zealand is an incredible country full of diversity. The country is made up of two main islands. The South Island has more national parks and wilderness. The North Island is more populated and has more farmland. There is also more cafe culture and nightlife in the larger towns and cities.
My Top 6 New Zealand highlights
There are many fascinating areas to explore and something for everyone. My favorite places in New Zealand include nature and water views. My Top 6 New Zealand highlights are visited by many people who visit this gorgeous, epic country.
There are not many places in the world where you can drive for 500 kilometers through rainforest hugging the rugged coastline. The land on the wild West Coast is Jurassic. The bulk of the area is national parks. From the entry to the West Coast at historic Murchison, you travel through some of New Zealand’s most rugged and mammoth mountain forest areas. The 100-kilometer coastal drive from the fishing port town of Westport to the administrative center of Greymouth is among the best coastal drives in the world.
The West Coast is my favorite place in New Zealand. The landscape is epic and like nowhere else in this world.
To discover what to see, do and where to go on the West Coast, you can read more about the West Coast on NewZealandSouthIsland.com
Rotorua is an excellent place to learn about the fascinating Maori culture. There are traditional cultural centres you can visit. If it is your first time visiting New Zealand, I urge you to take a day tour to learn and experience the culture. You will see traditional singing and dancing and cultural ceremonies. Some tours include the opportunity to take part in a hangi – a traditional Maori feast. Hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking the food in a pit on heated stones. It’s absolutely delicious.
Besides the vibrant traditional culture, there are the natural phenomena of sulphuric thermal water surrounding the town. There are large spa complexes, and some hotels have their own thermal pools. There are also a few places you can visit where you can bathe in a hot river surrounded by a natural setting. This, to me, is one of those out-of-this-world experiences.
Taupo is one hour drive from Rotorua. The towns prominent feature is the stunning Lake Taupo. This immense freshwater lake has refreshing swimming, and there are boat cruises around the lake.
The impressive Huka Falls, one of my favourite rivers in New Zealand, is a popular attraction. The highlight of many tourists is the jet boat ride. And, if you wish to go on a bungee jump, (it is spelt Bungy in New Zealand) you should not miss New Zealand’s most epic bungy jumping experience with awe-inspiring river views to greet you.
In the town, there is a lake view dining strip from which you can enjoy sunset drinks. There is also thermal water in the area. A few hotel options have natural hot springs either in the bathroom of your room or a communal thermal swimming pool.
Kaikoura is a gorgeous harbour town with a beautiful coastline and calm blue seas. It is known as the whale watching destination of New Zealand. It is also the place to go dolphin watching. Additionally, there are sea kayak tours at sunset time. It is a surreal experience, and everything looks magical during the golden hour.
Kaikoura has abundant marine life. You can view the colonies of fur seals that call Kaikoura their home on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. It is an 11-kilometre track offering spectacular sea and mountain range views.
The town itself has a laid back vibe with great coffee shops with sea views. There are delightful seafood places to eat. My favourite is one of the BBQ seafood kiosks on the beachfront. Nothing says beach holiday more than feasting on freshly caught and grilled crayfish, scallops, mussels, washed down with breathtaking views of the ocean.
Coromandel is one of my favourite places in New Zealand. With impressive summer weather, the winding roads pass through natural New Zealand old growth forests and mountains. The pristine beaches are heavenly.
One of the unique highlights of the area is the natural hot pools at the beach. At Hot Water beach you dig a hole in the sand at low tide and relax in your own pool.
The Coromandel has spectacular coastal walks and drives. The dramatic Cathedral Cove is a favourite short walk. The walk down to the beach is through native New Zealand bush with breathtaking ocean views. It ends at the limestone formations of Cathedral Cove. You will never want to leave this Paradise.
The road trip to the Coromandel through the immense old-growth forests is one that beckons me regularly.
Marlborough Sounds are one of those places you fall in love with and decide you could live there. The ferry crossing from North to South Island is the most exciting way to view The Sounds. Departing from Wellington, it is three hours of stunning sea and bay views. You experience a cruise through gorgeous bush-clad mountains and hills dropping into the calm sea.
I have been on many cruises around the world. The Marlborough Sounds is a highlight that I compare in the visual spectacle to the fjords of Norway. There is no other place closer to heaven that I can imagine.
From arrival into the laid-back port town of Picton, you can spend hours on a road trip through the amazing bays. Some of New Zealand’s best walks are in this area. And, you can find taxi boats in Picton to take you to remote bays.
New Zealand is a journey back in time. With fewer people, more majestic nature and a plethora of adventure activities, the biggest problem you will have is fitting it all in. The other problem is you will find you need to pull over every few minutes to take photos. It is an Instagrammers dream.
These are my Top 6. However, there are other fascinating places such as Napier, Queenstown, Wanaka, Dunedin, Wellington, Tauranga to name a few of the places I love. Come to New Zealand and bring some extra time with you.
Read next – Wild West Coast of New Zealand. It’s the soul.