Majestic snow-capped mountains, sparkling turquoise lakes, lush forests, sprawling wildflower fields… New Zealand is a collection of stunning diverse landscapes, each one more magnificent than the last.
Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s oldest national park is also one of its most diverse – close to 80,000ha of gob-smacking beauty. Jagged mountains flank rolling alpine meadows that seem to stretch to the horizon, vivid aqua-green lakes shimmer amid camel browns and dusty greys – it’s an assemblage of stunning landscapes, each one wildly different from the others.
Fringed by Mt John and the Southern Alps, the azure blue water of Lake Tekapo attracts visitors from far and wide. The lake gets its remarkable colour because of fine glacial rock-flour hovering in the lake and looks almost mystical set against a backdrop of soaring snow-capped mountains.
One of New Zealand’s most-visited destinations, the fjord of Milford Sound on the South Island is a tapestry of everything dramatic – massive rain-drenched granite bluffs, toothy cliffs draped with fast-flowing waterfalls (it’s the wettest populated area in the country) and a mist that rarely lifts, causing that magical ethereal effect.
Most visitors need at least a few hours to just gawk, but there are plenty of tour options too, including scenic flights, bus and boat trips, kayaking and trekking. Visitors can also enjoy the unforgettable 53km Milford Track walk, renowned as the ‘finest walk in the world’.
Visitors cite the Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay as one of Lake Taupo’s most outstanding attractions – and rightly so. The 10m tall artworks are only accessible by water, so joining a boat cruise or kayaking to the unique artworks is the best way to get up close and personal.
Just 20 minutes southeast of Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu, meaning Sacred Waters, is a wonderland of geothermal activity. Voted by TripAdvisor as one of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World, the area has been sculptured by volcanic activity thousands of years in the making. From geysers and bubbling mud to the spectacular colours of the world famous Champagne Pool, this is a must visit!
New Zealand’s smallest national park (and also New Zealand’s only coastal national park) is the opposite of small when it comes to holiday experiences. Sightseers can trek, cruise, sail, kayak or simply relax in the sun and take in the impressive vistas.
Welcome to New Zealand’s greatest underground playground! World famous for the thousands of tiny Arachnocampa luminosas (a glowworm species unique to New Zealand), the underground amble along the Waitomo River through the caves is unforgettable – there’s something truly magical about gazing at the galaxy of glowworms that are speckled throughout, not to mention the dramatic rock formations.
The Coromandel is a pocket of bush-and-beach paradise, just one-and-a-half-hour’s drive from Auckland. Here visitors relax in warm thermal pools, swim and surf on the many idyllic beaches, cycle, trek, fish, cruise… the list goes on!
The locals follow ‘Coromandel time’, a nod to the peninsula’s laid-back lifestyle (visitors get used to it pretty quickly, too). A short walk from Hahei Beach (about two hours return), Cathedral Cove is one of the most picturesque spots in the region.
It’s here visitors will find Te Hoho, a large pumice breccia rock segment that has been sculpted into a dramatic shape by wind and water over the centuries. The surrounding Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve is a watery paradise for snorkellers and divers, packed with vibrant sea life.
Sir Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills on Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain), before his successful endeavour on Mt Everest. Although most visitors don’t climb Mt Cook, the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to some of the best alpine hikes in the country.
For marine life encounters, the enchanting and picturesque seaside settlement of Kaikoura is the place to travel to. In fact, it’s one of the best places in the world for whale watching with plenty of giant sperm whale sightings year round.
Words by Tatyana Leonov