New Zealand has a beautiful landscape and is unique, but you cannot imagine how great it really is until you have spent a few hours on New Zealand soil. There are highlights waiting all over, be it adventures or just a breathtaking view of the extraordinary nature of this island. In New Zealand you can see fjords, lots of mountains, surreal turquoise lakes or enjoy geothermal wonders!
Amazement never ceases here, the New Zealand landmarks are endless and you will return home with lots of new wonderful impressions that are absolutely unique. We compiled the highlights of the North and South Island so that you don’t miss the most beautiful places and best adventures!
“Roadtrip through New Zealand”
12 New Zealand landmarks that you should not miss!
The South Island
1. Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook
The name of the road there, ‘Scenic Inland Route’, already gives it away: the drive to the lakes is beautiful. And suddenly it is in front of you, this bright turquoise lake surrounded by mountains. You will probably first come to the smaller lake Tekapo. Get rid of your clothing and quickly dive into the cold wet, don’t think about the water temperature! Because even in summer this mountain lake is still pretty cold but the feeling is rewarding once you are inside. The water seems so unnaturally blue, like the colours from a paint box, and together with the snow-covered mountains right behind you this is like a scene from a dream!
Right next to this lake lies its larger brother, Lake Pukaki, which is just as turquoise and even a bit larger. If you like salmon then stop by the side of the road at the Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon Farm, get yourself some fresh salmon and sit down by the shore. A wonderful place for a lunch break! Sunsets too are absolutely beautiful here.
Not far from Lake Pukaki is Mount Cook which has a few wonderful trails. Hike over to Hooker Lake for example, the trail takes you through valleys and over wobbly rope bridges. At the end there is a small lake surrounded by mountains waiting for you with sheets of ice floating on the water like artwork.
2. Queenstown the adrenaline capital
Queenstown is beautifully located by Lake Wakatipu right under the gigantic Remarkables. The city center is quaint but small. Lots of nice cafes, restaurants and small shops to linger and rumage. But they are not the reason to come to Queenstown, it really is known for the most insane adventures in all of New Zealand: skydiving, bungee jumping, wild water rafting, canyon swinging and much more! So make sure to stop here during your roadtrip on the South Island.
Which of those you do is your choice in the end but skydiving here definitely is unique. If you have not dared to do it so far, then go here! The flight and the panoramic view of the mountains alone are breathtaking. And then at some point comes your turn and you are pushed down by your tandem partner and find yourself flying! Pressure on your ears – doesn’t matter, pressure on your eyes – doesn’t matter, not enough air for breathing – doesn’t matter! Just enjoy this amazing feeling because the free fall usually only lasts 60 seconds followed by a few minutes of paragliding to the ground for taking in the view, then you feel the ground under your feet again.
3. Kayaking the Milford Sound!
The Milford Sound is about 4 hours away from Queenstown. It isn’t that far really as the crow flies but you have to drive a big detour around the mountains. Or you get on a plane and simply fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound – which is already worth the money for the views and the adventurous landing! But the camper too makes for an interesting ride, you are always driving past beautiful landscapes.
When you arrive at the fjords of New Zealand’s West coast you will be blown away because this is one of the most incredible places New Zealand has to offer! And it had no trouble winning that title with all its cliffs, deep canyons and spectacular waterfalls. The best way to explore the Milford Sound is up close from the water, in a kayak for instance. You get to all the hidden places a lot better and the impression is very different from the view you get from a boat. Waterfalls, rainforest, turquoise water sometimes with the reflection of snow-covered mountains on it, create a fantastic image that is so typical for New Zealand.
4. Hiking at Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park might well be one of the most beautiful parks to get active and especially to go hiking. It is located in the Northwest of the South Island and you will love its beautiful quiet beaches, the stunning views and the jungle-like forest. The best way to get into the park is to take a water taxi from Motueka or Kaiteriteri. You can have it drop you at a stop or a beach of your choice, walk for a bit and then have it come collect you at a different beach.
There are chilled hikes of about two hours but also longer trails that take several days. They are not really strenuous but when it is hot and humid two hours feel more like four. So don’t take on too much to make it back to the boat in time! There are a few places where one can spend the night in the park, book in advance and you won’t have to stress about anything.
5. Picton, the Marlborough Sound and the wine region
Picton itself is not really a New Zealand landmark but you have the Marlborough Sound right in front of your doorstep or in front of the coast I should say. With its rolling tongues of land, green islands and little bays this area is made for being explored by kayak, boat or in hiking boots. The famous ‘Queen Charlotte Track’ runs just above the land tongues and takes you through the woods to lonely bays with beaches and spectacular views in between.
The climate has made this area the largest wine growing region in New Zealand. There are many fantastic wineries that offer tours and wine tasting right between the vines. Really a nice experience to taste your way through all of the wines and have some local snacks to go with it and if you are lucky and the weather plays along to do all this sitting outside.
6. Get up close to sea mammals in Kaikoura!
Kaikoura on the East side of South Island is all about getting out on a boat with one goal: to find whales and dolphins! There is an underwater canyon close to the coast here which the animals like to come to, so your chances of seeing some are good. As soon as the crew has spotted a school of dolphins and if these dolphins don’t have young ones with them then you can put on your snorkel and finns and get into the water. Dolphins are very curious and will definitely come closer to inspect you, so close you can almost touch them. A truly unique and unforgettable experience!
If you prefer staying dry and want to see the giants of the ocean out in the wild then book a whale tour. You have a 95% guarantee of encountering humpback whales, killer whales, sperm whales or even blue whales which are the largest animals on earth! Usually you will only see a part of these giants but simply watching the finns descend into the water or hearing it blow water from its hole will give you goosebumps!
1. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
The most beautiful one day hike awaits you in the oldest national park in New Zealand. It should be part of the mandatory program not only for fans of ‘Lord of the Rings’! Right at the beginning you are greeted by a sign that warns you that you are in an active volcanic area. But never mind, through yourself right into the adventure! Demanding ascents and descents, emerald green sulfur lakes, barren moon landscapes and great views of far-away lake Taupo really make this hike unique.
You need around six to eight hours for the 20 kilometers. In the end you will probably emerge with shaking legs but proud and happy!
Book a shuttle that brings you to the starting point in the morning so that when you arrive at the end in the afternoon you can get right into your car. And start early, because like with all beautiful places in the world, the later it gets the more crowded it gets too.
2. Adventure paradise Lake Taupo
There are several opportunities to experience adventures around Lake Taupo, not far from Tongariro National Park. On the one hand you have the water with parasailing, speedboating or rafting, on the other hand Lake Taupo is also great to look at from the air, especially from the surrounding mountains and volcanos. No wonder that New Zealand’s second most popular place for skydiving is here.
So if you have always wanted to experience the kick of jumping with a parachute then the time has come for it in New Zealand! This is about the incredible feeling of free fall as much as about seeing the world from a whole new perspective, from above. New Zealand’s landscape really is perfect for that!
And for relaxing you can head over to the Wairakei Terraces. The pools are filled with volcanic water which is especially rich in minerals. This is super relaxing in the evening.
3. Rotorua sulfur oasis
Even though rotorua might be a challenge to your stomach you have to have experienced this place! The smell of rotten eggs is ubiquitous here by day and by night. There is no fresh air because every second there are harsh sulfur fumes escaping from the ground as the earth is bubbling, steaming and smoking. Even in the park in the middle of the city some areas where the earth is bubbling and smelling from holes in the ground are closed off. There is just so much activity underground Rotorua that it cannot really be controlled. It is remarkable that people can actually live here!
At Waiotapu Wonderland you can get up close to some of these holes and puddles of mud and marvel at some geothermal wonders. Bright yellow or toxic green water collects in various lakes, the colour of the water depends on the minerals it contains. A surreal world that you dive into here!
4. Gas mask alarm at White Island
You have already had first encounters with volcanos and barren landscapes at the Tongariro Crossing but here on White Island, an active volcano island out in the ocean, you get dangerously close to the inside of a volcano!
The drive from Rotorua to Whakatane from where the boat to the island departs is about an hour. Upon arrival on White Island you are equipped with a gas mask and helmet. You feel like you are in another world where it is smoking and steaming and the sulfur gas irritates your throat and it gets warm – really warm! When you arrive at the side of the crater you can catch a glimpse of the inside of the volcano but you will quickly shy away a few meters because the fumes here really are extremely rough. The excursion to White Island is a unique and adventurous experience that you should not miss out on!
Many people think that Auckland is the capital of New Zealand, but it is not. Still the pace feels more cosmopolitan than Wellington, the actual capital. There are lots of typical high rises in the city center which are more or less beautiful. Still taking a look at the skyline is worthwhile, you have the best view from the North Warf.
So leave behind downtown and drive out to Parnell or Ponsonby where you will find lots of young people, nice cafes and good restaurants. Or you take the boat over to Devonport, a small suburb from which you have a great view of Auckland. Walk up the former volcano Mt. Victoria and enjoy the stunning view there! And if you simply walk East along the ocean you will find some nice hidden beaches.
6. Heavenly Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is perfect for enjoying life by the sea and giving your soul some time off for a few days: 144 islands promising quiet and relaxation. Away from the adrenaline kicks you can turn to calmer activities like kayaking, diving or cool sailing tours that let you really enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
Compared to Paihia Russell is rather quiet. You can get to know Maori culture here. Among others the typical Haka, the war dance of the indigenous people, is performed several times a day. At the very tip of North Island, at Cape Rainga, you find a lonely lighthouse and have an amazing view out onto the ocean. You could hike from here to the remote dreamy Te Werahi Beach.
Ripiro Beach is especially good for snorkeling while the surfing scene thrives at Piha Beach. So there is a lot to experiene but also plenty of beaches for just chilling and being lazy!
New Zealand awaits you with great adventures and breathtaking landscapes!
New Zealand has so much to offer on a rather small area! There are loads of great activities and adventures but also plan enough time for relaxing and enjoying nature because it is the great outdoors that make New Zealand so unique. New Zealand will give you unforgettable moments every single day, be it daring to jump from a plane, hiking to your heart’s content at the Tongariro Crossing or enjoying the paradise beaches of the Bay of Islands.
Even more tipps for unforgettable adventures, routes, budget planning and great coupons to save hundreds of dollars can be found in our New Zealand ebook you can download right here.
What were your favourite New Zealand landmarks? Let us know in the comments!