These are unprecedented times. At last, New Zealanders have the opportunity to visit all New Zealand’s very best tourist attractions – without the tourists! Even better, the tourism industry is so desperate for customers that many operators have drastically reduced their prices. So, if you’re a New Zealander who hasn’t yet managed to experience New Zealand’s most famous spots, get out there. They’re famous for a reason.
To get you started, here’s a list of ten places all Kiwis should visit:
1) The Waitomo Caves
I was a kid the first time I went to Waitomo and the caves blew my mind. The idea that there was this mysterious, scary, beautiful world beneath the ground made me feel very small. Quite literally, in the case of some of the subterranean chambers. I found the glistening stalactites, disconcerting drops, and eerie whispers of waterfalls echoing through the rock both exciting and fascinating. What really enchanted me, though, were the glowworms: whole galaxies of electric-blue fairy lights!
2) Milford Sound
No doubt you’ve heard that Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World. Floating across the dark, mirror-like fjord, surrounded by bush, waterfalls and peaks, you may well believe it. When I was there, on my family’s first South Island campervan trip, I felt quite overwhelmed. Struck by the sheer force of nature on display, on suppose. Of course, Mitre Peak is just as stunning as its pictures promise.
3) The Bay of Islands
Sounds idyllic – and it is. As well as being a sub-tropical haven of beaches, orchards and water sports, the Bay of Islands is historically important. It’s home not only to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but New Zealand’s very first European settlement, Russell. I had fun searching for the musket ball holes in the side of the church! Walking along Russell’s waterfront is lovely, and it has a row of great-looking restaurants to choose from.
4) The Glaciers
The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are known for being the most easily accessible glaciers in the world. When I was a kid, we did both on the same day, simply walking up to them. We didn’t walk on top of either of them, which is expensive, but just seeing them was awe-inspiring. I remember imagining one as a crystal wall, magically imprisoning an ice dragon! You should see them before they disappear.
You haven’t lived until you’ve inhaled the gloriously gross, eggy fart aroma of New Zealand’s Sulphur City. Or gazed into its steaming pools of gloopily bubbling mud. Or soaked in a natural spa bath. Then there are the endless thrill-seeking activities, the unmatched displays of Māori culture, and the gripping history of the Mount Tarawera eruption. I have many fond memories of Rotorua, a lot consisting of a teenage me hooning down a luge track!
6) The Otago Peninsula
I’ve been up Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula a few times. The first, it was all about the wildlife: seals, penguins and the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony. The second, it was all about the views. My fiancé and I spent the day just driving around it – it was very romantic! The third time, we visited New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach, which is worth visiting even though it isn’t actually a castle.
7) Cathedral Cove
The Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove is one of the most amazing beaches I’ve been to in my life. Its name is well-deserved. It’s not an easy beach to get to, however. It’s a bit of a walk from the car park, which is torturous in hot weather. That’s why some people catch a boat there from Hahei. It’s also a marine reserve and a fantastic place to kayak.
The name says it all, really. Only once have I been to Paradise: it can be found an hour northwest of Queenstown. The drive takes you along the shore of Lake Wakatipu and through the picturesque settlement of Glenorchy. The surrounding countryside was used in The Lord of the Rings and it’s so beautiful I almost cried. I experienced it from horseback, but, of course, there are lots of tracks and tour options.
9) Tongariro National Park
One does not simply walk into Mordor. One drives there. Despite standing in for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, Tongariro National Park is far from a desolate hellscape. It’s home to three volcanoes, three ski fields, a myriad of hiking tracks and a glamorous hotel from the 1920s. The Chateau Tongariro, as it’s called, does a delectable high tea in a room overlooking Mount Ngauruhoe. When we were there, my fiancé and I did a short walk in the morning, had high tea for lunch, and embarked upon another walk in the afternoon. We want to do the Tongariro Crossing one day.
10) Mount Cook
I’m not suggesting everyone has to climb New Zealand’s tallest mountain, but you at least need to look at it! The landscape for miles around Aoraki is epic. The view of it over Lake Pukaki, for example, is sublime. (Provided it isn’t cloudy like the last time I was there, camping on the shore in a campervan rental.) There are many easy-yet-awesome walks to choose from around Mount Cook National Park. The Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre’s pretty cool too.
You know what? I’ve just remembered I met Sir Edmund Hillary. It wasn’t long after I arrived in New Zealand, aged ten. I can’t remember much about it, but there was a massive, Mount Everest-shaped cake that I got a piece of in a napkin. It was at the Auckland Museum. My dad was giddy with eagerness to get the old man’s autograph.
Wow. That’s the first time I’ve remembered that in years. It’s hazy, though. I should ask my dad about it.