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5 must-see locations in New Zealand

An island nation in the South Pacific, New Zealand’s landscapes are home to astonishing diversity. From the mud pools and geysers of Rotorua to the skyscraping peaks of the Southern Alps, our natural grandeur promises to inspire and delight. Read on to discover the best way to see some of New Zealand’s many highlights.

Milford Sound  

Every aspect of a visit to Milford Sound is simply incredible – as soon as you arrive, you’ll discover why famous British author Rudyard Kipling named it the ‘8th great wonder of the world’. Milford Sound is the jewel in the crown of Fiordland National Park, and even the journey there is impressive. The Milford Road grants access to this wilderness, traversing a spectacular route considered to be one of New Zealand’s best scenic drives. Jagged mountain peaks soar above sheer granite cliffs and valleys of golden tussock add to the magic.

Milford Sound itself showcases some of the most dramatic scenery in the country. The fiord’s plunging cliffs, imposing peaks and inky blue water will leave you awestruck. Getting out on the water allows visitors to enjoy the landscape from a different perspective, and the pods of dolphins and families of fur seals bathing on the rocks only add to the experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to soar above the mountains and fiords on a scenic flight – a birds’ eye view of these landscapes is a must-do while touring New Zealand.

There’s no better way to experience Milford Sound and the surrounding Fiordland region than with a combination of coach, boat cruise and scenic flight. Travel Milford Road in a coach, board a boat to cruise the inky waters, admiring the towering waterfalls along the way. Afterwards, return to Queenstown via a magnificent scenic flight soaring over the Fiordland landscapes and turquoise blue Lake Wakatipu.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park 

The grand Southern Alps stand sentinel above the West Coast and, to the east, the Canterbury Plains. Reaching a lofty 3,754 meters (12,349 ft.) above sea level, Aoraki/Mount Cook dominates this skyline as New Zealand’s highest peak. The mountain is also an iconic representation of the pioneering kiwi spirit. Aoraki/Mount Cook hosted the endeavors of great adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary, who trained here for his legendary expedition to Mt Everest, making history as the first successful person to summit the Himalayan giant.

When touring New Zealand, strolling in the landscapes that surround the mountain is a privilege – a number of easy-going walking tracks grant access to the scenic valleys, and walkers are rewarded with plenty of vistas of soaring summits along the way. During springtime, these valleys come alive in a riot of purple, pink and blue lupins. Whether you are visiting the Canterbury Plains or exploring the West Coast, Aoraki/Mt Cook is an ever-present spectacle in the landscape of the South Island.

Journey to the foothills of the Southern Alps to the Hermitage Hotel at the foot of Aoraki/Mount Cook. Then stretch your legs, fill your lungs with mountain air and enjoy snowy peaks and grand alpine scenery with a stroll in the nearby valley.


It could be said that few other locations on the Pacific Ring of Fire portray their tempestuous, tectonic character more boldly than Rotorua – New Zealand’s ultimate geothermal hotspot and a resounding highlight on our New Zealand small group tours. And it’s easy to see why: Rotorua is studded with majestic lakes and offers one of the hottest live theatrical performances on the planet – literally. Here, restless forces claw their way to the surface in the form of boiling mud pools, hot springs, bursting geysers and colourful mineral depositions.

Further adding to the unique appeal of Rotorua is its status as the Maori Cultural Hub of New Zealand. The region is steeped in Maori history, and today visitors can experience vibrant renditions of a culture that found its roots here almost 1000 years ago. In Rotorua, the spirit of Manaakitanga (hospitality) is alive and well – delicious dining experiences combine traditional Maori foods with warm, embracing hosts to create a cultural experience visitors remember for life.

Explore the reaches of beautiful Lake Rotoiti on a cruise aboard a luxury catamaran – visit natural hot pools on the edge of the lake that are only accessible by boat. See the famous ‘Buried Village’ of Te Wairoa before learning all about the amazing efforts going in to helping our national icon at the Rotorua Kiwi Encounter. Walk through Ohinemutu Village, a living Maori settlement on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Take a guided tour of the enchanting geothermal hideaway of Wai-O-Tapu, where bubbling mud pools and colourful silica terraces create an otherworldly and unforgettable landscape.

West Coast of the South Island 

They don’t call the West Coast ‘wild’ for nothing. This spectacular stretch of paradise unfolds over 600km (372 miles) of incredible coastline, hemmed in by the mighty Southern Alps and the endless Tasman Sea. The tempestuous weather for which the region is so famous for constantly shapes the environment, adding drama to the grand natural orchestra. The glaciers of this region are notable for their accessibility – tumbling down from the Southern Alps, their lower reaches are surrounded by temperate rainforest and they descend nearly to sea level.

It’s no wonder this land of extremes has created such a unique breed of resilient kiwis. The culture here is different to the rest of New Zealand – perhaps due to the isolation and hardships that the first hardy settlers who etched out a living here had to endure. Hokitika is a great place to get a feel for this pioneering spirit. In the north of this region, the stacks of limestone that form the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are not to be missed on any small group New Zealand tour. At the right tide, water shoots up through cracks in the rocks, creating a show of blowholes and sea spray.

This is a very special part of the country, so take several days to get a feel for the landscape and pioneering spirit. Beginning by journeying through the native beech forests and cascading waterfalls of the Haast Pass, enjoy a short stroll to crystal-clear blue pools. Continuing towards the coast, top off the day by viewing Fox Glacier along with picture-perfect Lake Matheson – known for its mirror reflections of the Southern Alps. See Okarito a feeding ground for the rare white heron (Kotoku) and a rare experience that’s off the tourist trail.

View the artisan art galleries of Hokitika before driving the coastal road to the Punakaiki Pancake rocks to admire prehistoric formations, dramatic blowholes and a wild coastline.


Kaikoura is a coastal town of the South Island of New Zealand known for its abundant wildlife, its sperm whale population and New Zealand fur seals. Here you can relax and let the worries of the world wash away as the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash to the shore, surrounded by fresh sea and mountain air.

Not only is Kaikoura home to one of New Zealand’s best beaches, but this town is also the only local authority in the Southern Hemisphere to be awarded an EarthCheck certification for its dedication to sustainable tourism. Located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand, the small township of Kaikoura can be found on a craggy peninsula, sitting on pastoral farmland and lying beneath the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains.

With vast stretches of blue-green ocean as far as the eye can see, giving life to a vibrant marine-eco system, home to some of New Zealand’s rarest marine wildlife and seabirds, Kaikoura is perhaps most famous for its exceptional seafaring adventures and is a must-do if you are a wildlife lover wanting to experience the best of pure New Zealand. No visit to Kaikoura would be complete without experiencing a whale-watching tour for which this town is world-famous. Out in the Pacific Ocean, the stunning sperm whale makes the waters off Kaikoura its playground, giving you the perfect opportunity to see this gigantic mammal in all its natural glory.

The playful Dusky Dolphin is also found in the waters of Kaikoura. If you’ve ever dreamt of swimming with these majestic creatures, known for their acrobatics and inquisitive nature, then this is the place to tick this experience off your bucket list. This unique breed of dolphin is abundant in Kaikoura’s sub-Antarctic waters and a dolphin watching and/or swimming expedition is the perfect place to get up close to these beautiful mammals.

And, if the above marine-adventures are not enough, Kaikoura also offers you the chance to snorkel with the cheeky New Zealand fur seal. This trip takes place in the sparkling shallow waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula, giving you the chance to experience the raw beauty of natural New Zealand.

Miles Clark is the Owner of MoaTrek New Zealand Small Group Tours. MoaTrek was started in 1971 by Miles’s mother, Ena, and they’re still going strong sharing all their favourite New Zealand spots and experiences with guests on their tours.

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  1. So many of the people I know are very keen to visit New Zealand. It is becoming THE place to travel to. It is becoming such a bucket-list destination. For those of us in the U.K. it is a long way to travel so many of my friends have it as their number one retirement plan or are planning a bit of a Gap Year, well a few months off anyway, to visit this amazing country. This is a very useful guide to the top places to visit. But it is only going to further fuel my friends’ desire to travel!

  2. We are definitely overdue a Big One, haven’t travelled anywhere major for 3 years now. Milford Sound would have to be the heart of the trip and what a way to do it – land, water and air. For me that would be the dream way of doing the trip, seeing it from all angles.

  3. Milford Sound really is breathtaking. I can see why Kipling called it the 8th great wonder of the world. I think the film Wolverine was filmed there too!
    Kaikoura would be such an impressive place to explore and it’s brilliant that they’re so dedicated to sustainable tourism. Eco friendly credentials are also becoming increasingly sought after and important to tourists too which is a sign things are hopefully going in a better direction towards caring for the planet and its inhabitants in a time where tourism and travel is peaking.

  4. As I had never heard of EarthCheck, when I read that Kaikoura is the only Southern Hemisphere Council to have been awarded the certification, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to go and look it up.

    I was amazed to learn that EarthCheck, which claims to be “the world’s leading scientific benchmarking certification and advisory group for travel and tourism”, has been around since 1987 trying to get businesses, communities and governments
    to provide clean, safe, prosperous and healthy destinations for travellers to visit. Maybe it’s an award that businesses rather than communities target but it is rather disappointing that there are not more communities looking to achieve accreditation. Also I would have thought that after 32 years the organisation would have had a higher profile.

  5. You often find that beautiful coasts tend to get extreme weather too. I don’t think the West Coast is going to be any different. I can just imagine those crowds rushing in from the Tasman Sea hitting the high barrier of the Southern Alps and depositing their rain in some almighty tempests along that amazing coastline. It is just Geography, the way things are.

  6. The red of those mineral deposits is an amazingly beautiful colour. Who needs interior designers and paint colour creators when nature can create such great colours?

  7. I was searching for places to see in New Zealand and came across this amazing post. I particularly like South Island and how remote and tranquil it is. Looks very much like the exact place I want to escape to. Once in a while you want to just get away from technology and the frenetic pace of city living and just live “raw” and New Zealand’s South Island, as far as I’ve read, has all the ingredients I want for just that holiday.

  8. I don’t know anyone that’s been to Milford Sound and must admit that even though I’ve obviously heard of it I didn’t know all that much about the area. New Zealand certainly has a lot of incredible natural wonders and landscapes with mountains, geothermal hotspots, lakes and so on. It’s no wonder it’s often a top bucket list destination, much like swimming with dolphins that you mentioned too. Wonderful post, very uplifting to get away from the current situation and daydream about what feels like another world right now.

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