Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve seen so many wonderful places. The country’s full of them; beauty spots beyond counting. But some of them have stayed with me more than others. Some places are just so wonderful, so beautiful…
This is a personal list. You might not agree, but I think these ten places are amongst the best places to visit in New Zealand:
10) Te Puna Quarry Park
I love this place. It makes me feel like a kid exploring Wonderland. I mean there’s a dragon and everything! The first time I went, I just knew I’d be back again and again. Te Puna Quarry Park is really close to Tauranga – click the link to see my blog about it.
9) Cathedral Cove
The name of what I think is New Zealand’s most beautiful beach certainly does it justice. Cathedral Cove is on the Coromandel Peninsula. You can only get there by bush walk or boat, but it’s totally worth it. If you’re still not convinced, check out the Cathedral Cove bit from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. (No CGI there – except the ‘ruins’, of course.)
8) The Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton is often accused of being a boring city, yet people flock from afar to the Hamilton Gardens. Completely free to enter, Hamilton’s greatest asset was named Garden of the Year at the 2014 International Garden Tourism Awards in France. What I love about the place – which grows with every visit – is it has heaps of small gardens within it, each with a different theme. It’s like having lots of little pockets of paradise to sample. And it has a lake with a waterfall.
7) The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
I have fond memories of visiting the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. They were beautiful, but more importantly they were sights out of the ordinary – they took my breath away. We didn’t walk onto them, just up to them. They’re possibly the world’s most easily accessible glaciers. You don’t have to climb halfway up a mountain or trudge through snow; you simply walk up to them from their respective car parks, enjoying the refreshing breeze coming off the ice as you go.
Be warned, however: the photo above was taken when I visited the glaciers with my family, and that was about a decade ago. The glaciers have gotten smaller since then, thanks to global warming, and I don’t think you can get as close anymore. (You can still walk on top of them if you take a commercial tour.)
6) White Island
White Island is one of the most wonderful places I’ve been in my life. It’s the top of an active volcano, rising out of the sea amidst plumes of white steam. I’ll never forget it, seeing all the vibrant colours; hearing the bubbling acid; smelling the sulphur; feeling the warm rocks and the air tingling on my skin. It was like walking on an alien planet – such a different experience. I can’t recommend it enough.
Visiting Hobbiton was like going home. There was something comfortingly English about it, but it was also – quite literally – stepping into a childhood fantasy. It was amazing. For anyone as Lord of the Rings-obsessed as I am, it’s simply a must-go. More than worth the admission price – I loved every second.
4) The Otago Peninsula
If you want dramatic scenery, awesome wildlife, romantic villages and a castle, spend a day or two on the Otago Peninsula. I went there with my boyfriend a couple of years ago and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Hire a budget car – that’s what we did – and explore its peaceful roads, winding over sheep-scattered hills and around beautiful bays. The peninsula is home to the world’s only colony of royal albatrosses breeding on an inhabited mainland. The fluffy, white chicks are so cute!
3) The Waitomo Caves
I don’t believe in magic, though I’ve spent my life writing fantasy stories. The closest I’ve ever come to experiencing real magic – magic as the raw force of nature I write about – was in one of the Waitomo Caves. It was with a tour group. We’d been led through a dark labyrinth, had many fascinating features pointed out along the way, and now we were helped into a small, inflatable boat. As we drifted silently through the pitch-black tunnel millions of tiny, electric-blue lights appeared like stars above our heads. They were the famous Waitomo glowworms – an awe-inspiring sight everyone should see.
2) The Shotover River Canyons
The whole area around Queenstown is staggeringly beautiful – possibly the most beautiful place in the world. One part of that area in particular stands out in my memory: the Shotover River Canyons. It was one of the great treats of my family’s South Island campervan rental holiday. We all had a jet boat ride on the Shotover River with the only company that can enter the canyons. And though the ride itself was fun – the best jet boat ride in New Zealand, in fact – what makes it memorable is the scenery. Oh. My. God.
North of Queenstown, Glenorchy is a self-proclaimed paradise. I won’t argue with them. The drive towards it is jaw-dropping, (but only if you like mystical lakes and snow-capped mountains.) The reason Glenorchy has stayed with me is the view of the Wizard’s Vale from The Lord of the Rings, (where Saruman lives.) My heart captured this view on the Dart Stables ‘Ride of the Rings’ tour. I had never ridden a horse before, but I felt like a fantasy character – a warrior maiden – as we emerged from a forest, crested a rise, and looked out over heaven.
(Read more about Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island.)