If you’re looking to explore some truly beautiful destinations, you really can’t go past New Zealand. Snow-capped mountain peaks, vibrant glacial lakes, lush forests, pristine beaches and more to explore – NZ has it all. And with the Trans-Tasman Bubble set to open on April 19, Aussie travellers will be more excited than ever to pop across the ditch and travel around this stunning country. So, we’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
1. Abel Tasman National Park
We’re kicking things off in one of the dreamiest landscapes on the South Island: Abel Tasman. This wilderness reserve is famous for its turquoise waters, long sandy beaches and a bunch of cool coastal walking tracks. Hiking, kayaking, sailing and swimming will keep you entertained in this national park, where you can even spend a few days camping for optimal adventure.
2. Marlborough Sounds
Not far from Abel Tasman, the famous Marlborough Sounds is another stunning location frequented by adventurous travellers. The region is made up of four different sounds – which, if you don’t know, means the landscape consists of sea-drowned valleys, with forested green bays scattered throughout the waters like islands.
More water activities like kayaking and paddle boarding await in the colourful waters, while the trails are seemingly endless for hikers. You can also stay in the nature reserve, at places like Lochmara Lodge with Contiki.
3. Lake Tekapo
One of those serene, otherworldly places, Lake Tekapo is a beautiful small town perched on the southern end of a glacial lake. With fields of the famous purple and pink Lupin flowers, views of the Southern Alps and some seriously blue waters, this is a beautiful place for your bucket list.
The Church of the Good Shepard on the outskirts of Tekapo is one of the most picturesque spots and is a perfect place to watch the night’s sky. In fact, the whole town is a star-gazing dream, especially at the Mt. John Observatory, where you can see the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis).
4. Franz Josef Glacier
One of the most incredible glaciers in New Zealand, Franz Josef Glacier in the Southern Alps spreads from an immense height of 3,000m above sea level, over a distance of 11km. Visitors can explore caves, crevasses and more on guided ice walks or heli-hikes. It’s pretty cool, if you’ll pardon the pun.
5. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Another alpine destination to visit, the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park boasts the tallest mountain and longest glaciers in New Zealand. Shorter trails like the Governors Bush Walk, Glencoe Walk, Kea Point, Hooker Valley Track and Red Tarns Track are popular with travellers, while the Mueller, Copland and Ball mountain pass routes are best for avid hikers. Of course, the Tasman Glacier can also be explored on guided climbs or helicopter rides!
6. Fiordland National Park & Milford Sound
You’ve no doubt heard of Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand (and the world). Milford Sound is part of the greater Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO protected region known for grand fiords, mountain peaks, spectacular waterfalls and lakes. Milford Sound is celebrated for its unparalleled natural beauty and powerful scenery.
7. Nelson Lakes National Park
Straight from the front of a postcard, Nelson Lakes National Park is a picturesque region known for its signature mountain lakes, Rotoiti and Rotora. The tranquil valleys of the national park are perfect for campers, with walking and cycling trails to explore in the surrounding mountain ranges.
8. Dart River
This vibrant river runs between mountain peaks in the South Island’s Mount Aspiring National Park. Surrounded by green forests, the glacial lake is perfect for a photo pit-stop or an adventurous day out. Jump on a Jet Boat or take the Funyak tour of the waters for an experience you’ll never forget.
9. Lake Wānaka
Another ethereal landscape in the Southern Alps, Lake Wānaka is famous for its crystalline waters, alpine views and the unique slanted willow tree, which is submerged in the south end of the lake. Seriously, how unique and special does this place look? The town of Wānaka is also a perfect, charming place to base yourself to explore the other adventurous sights of the region.
10. Mount Taranaki
Beautiful green rainforests and waterfalls are waiting for you in Egmont National Park on the North Island – but it’s the volcanic peak of Mount Taranaki that really wows travellers. Especially when the (almost) perfectly symmetrical peak is viewed from Lake Mangamahoe, where the powerful volcano is reflected in the waters.
Once you’ve scored a few killer snaps for your ‘gram, you can explore the region on foot with the Pouakai Trig Circuit for a small walk. Or, if you’re a keen hiker, take on the Mount Taranaki Summit Track if you’re up for something more extreme.
11. Mount Tarawera
Near the town of Rotorua lies Mount Tarawera, another volcano that was famously transformed when it erupted in 1886. Take a guided hike along the Mount Tarawera Crater Walk to really admire all the sights, including the surrounding Lake Tarawera and the geothermal valley of Waimangu.
12. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Another incredible natural sight to enjoy near Rotorua, this active geothermal region has to be seen to be believed. One of the most surreal sights to see on the walking tracks through the Wonderland is the Champagne Pool, a colourful hot spring. There are also mud pools, volcanic craters and the incredible erupting Lady Knox Geyser.
13. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
These iconic caves in the North Island are positively radiant – another cheesy pun, but it’s true. The Arachnocampa Luminosa (AKA glowworms) of the Waitomo Caves are a natural phenomenon you simply must see for yourself. Take a guided boat ride through the 30 million-year-old caves, which includes the Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Cave with limestone formations and the Aranui Cave with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites.
14. Waitākere Ranges
The expansive Waitākere Ranges are jaw-droppingly beautiful and diverse. With famous black sand beaches like Piha Beach, native rainforest and more than 250 kilometres of walking tracks, it’s a must-visit when exploring the North Island.
15. Paihia, Bay Of Islands
In stark contrast to the dark beaches of Waitākere, the Bay of Islands is a sun-drenched enclave with more than 140 subtropical islands. Golden sand beaches, lush greenery and those bright blue waters make this one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
16. Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve
Here in the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island, a cathedral-like tunnel separates two white-sand beaches in the marine reserve, making for a pretty spectacular photo opportunity. You can swim, dive and kayak in the crystal-clear waters, or simply stroll between the beaches by walking through the photogenic tunnel.
17. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
If you’ve ever seen a snap of this epic destination, you’d likely describe it to your friends as “that place with the lake in the mountain.” Because that’s basically what it is. In the world heritage-listed Tongariro National Park, this tramping trail stretches for 19km and takes hikers past the South Crater, Ketetahi Hot Springs and the iconic Emerald and Blue Lakes, pictured below.