Bucket List New Zealand Places to Visit

What New Zealand places to visit should be on your bucket list?

South Island road in winter heading toward mountains surrounding the Mackenzie BasinThinking about visiting Aotearoa / New Zealand and wondering what you should see here? We put our experience to work for you to come up with a bucket list of New Zealand places to visit. These are destinations you simply can’t miss — places that qualify you to say you’ve seen New Zealand.

First point to note: there’s a lot to see in Aotearoa (“The Land of the Long White Cloud” in Maori). It might be a small country in many people’s eyes, but it’s about the size of the United Kingdom or California. And making the most of your visit requires the right mix of destinations, time spent in each place and travel time.

So, where do you need to go? Let’s start at the top (in the North) and explore some bucket-list-worthy places to visit.

The Bay of Islands

New Zealand, renowned for its natural wonders, is a land of breathtaking landscapes and unparalleled beauty. Among its many treasures, the Bay of Islands stands as a jewel in the northernmost part of New Zealand’s North Island.

About 3.5 hours drive from Auckland Airport, The Bay of Islands offers 144 islands, each adorned with lush native forests and nestled in the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. The natural beauty of this area is awe-inspiring, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. And a feature of many North Island group tours.

This a coastal paradise beckons travelers with its stunning scenery, rich history, and abundance of activities. Its temperate climate, natural wonders, and cultural significance make it a destination that should not be missed by anyone visiting Aotearoa.

Highlights of the Bay of Islands

  1. Scenic Beauty: The Bay of Islands boasts some of the most breathtaking coastal landscapes in New Zealand. Turquoise bays, golden sandy beaches, and dramatic cliffs create a visual feast for visitors. Exploring the secluded coves and hidden bays is likely to leave the selfie-inclined traveller overwhelmed for choice.
  2. A Marine Wonderland: Boat tours and dolphin-watching cruises are a highlight of the Bay of Islands. The resident population of bottlenose dolphins is a common sight. And travelers can witness these intelligent creatures frolicking in their natural habitat. Snorkeling and diving reveal vibrant underwater ecosystems filled with colorful fish and corals.
  3. Rich History: The Bay of Islands holds a unique place in New Zealand’s history. It was here that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a pivotal moment that shaped the nation. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds provide a window into Maori culture and New Zealand’s founding and never.
  4. Adventure Awaits: For adventure enthusiasts, the Bay of Islands offers a range of activities. Kayak through serene coves. Hike along coastal trails with stunning views. Try your hand at big-game fishing. Parasail high above the bay provides an exhilarating experience. The options are almost too much.
  5. Culinary Delights: Seafood lovers are in for a treat. Freshly caught green-lipped mussels, plump oysters, and locally sourced fish are expertly prepared, offering a culinary journey that reflects the region’s coastal bounty.

Bay of Islands dolphin encounter
Seeking adventure? Relaxation? A deeper understanding of New Zealand’s heritage? The Bay of Islands offers it all, inviting you to discover and cherish the beauty of a remarkable part of New Zealand’s North.

View of Auckland Harbour from Devonport on The North ShoreAuckland

Auckland, often referred to as the “City of Sails” because of residents affinity with boats and yachts, is New Zealand’s largest and most vibrant urban center. Populating the isthmus between two harbors, and sprawling over 100km (about 60 miles) from it’s northern to southern edges, this dynamic city combines the best of both natural and cultural worlds.

Home to about a third of Aotearoa’s population, Auckland is a city of diversity. It offers a wide range of experiences, which cater to different interests and passions. And its location provides a stunning backdrop for its many outdoor adventures, cultural explorations, and culinary delights.

Auckland is home to Aotearoa’s largest airport and is often at the beginning of a visitor’s itinerary, but its a place well worth spending time. It makes this list of New Zealand places to visit on its merits not just because of its size or the importance of its airport.

Local’s tip… The city empties out in the height of the NZ summer. This makes the sometimes congested city much easier to enjoy. Visit when Aucklanders have headed off on holiday to see more of their city in less time.

Highlights of Auckland

  1. Iconic Skyline: The Auckland Sky Tower dominates the city’s skyline, offering panoramic views of the surrounding harbors, islands, and volcanic cones. It’s an ideal spot to start your Auckland adventure.
  2. Rangitoto viewing point looking back to Auckland across the harbourVolcanic Landscape: Auckland is built on a volcanic field, and its landscape is dotted with dormant cones. Mount Eden and One Tree Hill (recognisable as a U2 song to fans of the Irish band and inspired by a kiwi roadie and friend of lead-singer Bono) provide fantastic vantage points to appreciate the city’s geothermal wonders and enjoy a scenic hike. And the distinctive volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island overlooks the city’s eastern and northern suburbs from across the harbour.
  3. Stunning Beaches: Auckland boasts beautiful beaches, including the iconic Mission Bay and Piha Beach on the rugged west coast. Whether you’re looking to relax on the sand or catch some waves, you’ll find a beach to suit your mood.
  4. Cultural Diversity: Auckland is a melting pot of cultures, reflected in its diverse neighborhoods. Indeed, it is the largest Polynesian population centre in the Pacific. Explore the vibrant streets of Ponsonby. Enjoy the flavors of Chinatown in Dominion Road. Or immerse yourself in the Maori culture and history at cultural centers like the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
  5. Hauraki Gulf Islands: Just a short ferry ride away lie the Hauraki Gulf Islands, including Waiheke Island, known for its vineyards and memorable cellar door experiences, and Rangitoto Island, a volcanic wonderland. These islands offer a perfect day-trip escape.
  6. Dining at Auckland's Sky TowerCulinary Excellence: Auckland’s food scene rivals many much larger cities. Sample fresh seafood at the Viaduct Harbour. Savor international flavors at the city’s many restaurants. Or explore local farmers’ markets for gourmet treats.
  7. Adventure Sports: Auckland is a hub for adventure enthusiasts. Try your hand at bungy jumping off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, go sailing on the City of Sails’ busy waters, or take a thrilling jet boat ride in the harbour.

Auckland is a multifaceted gem that combines natural beauty, cultural richness, and outdoor adventure. Its a must-visit destination for anyone exploring New Zealand and a great start or end point for your NZ experience. Auckland’s unique blend of urban sophistication and natural wonders creates an unforgettable “vibe” that invites travelers to discover the best of the city and its surrounding beauty.


Rotorua is a captivating destination known for its unique geothermal wonders, rich Maori culture, and stunning natural landscapes. It is often called the “Sulphur City” due to the distinctively pungent aroma the city’s geothermal activity produces. It is a place where the Earth’s fiery forces are on full display, creating a landscape that is both otherworldly and enchanting. A place on the bucket list tourist trail of New Zealand alongside places like Waitangi and its Treaty Grounds in the North and Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and Queenstown in the South Island.


Highlights of Rotorua

  1. Geothermally heated pool near Rotorua, NZGeothermal wonders: Rotorua is home to a mesmerizing array of geothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Te Puia are must-visits. Witness the explosive eruptions of the Pohutu Geyser and marvel at the vibrant colors of the Champagne Pool.
  2. Maori culture: Rotorua has welcomed tourists since the 1870s and been a place where visitors can experience Maori culture in New Zealand since then. Visitors have the opportunity to engage with the local Maori community, attend traditional cultural performances, and explore the living Maori village of Whakarewarewa.Maori Warrior welcoming visitors to Tamaki Village, Rotorua
  3. Redwood Forest: The Whakarewarewa Forest, also known as the Redwoods, offers a serene escape into towering Californian redwood trees. Explore a network of walking and mountain biking trails that wind through this lush forest.
  4. Lake Rotorua: The city is situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua, a pristine body of water surrounded by scenic beauty. You can enjoy a leisurely cruise on the lake or partake in water activities like kayaking and fishing.
  5. Adventure Activities: For thrill-seekers, Rotorua offers a range of adventure activities, including white-water rafting, ziplining, and off-road 4×4 experiences and a visit to the Skyline Gondola, whether you brave the luge or other activities or simply enjoy the view is another must-see.
  6. Relaxing Hot Pools: Rotorua’s thermal activity has created a plethora of natural hot pools and spa facilities including the famous Polynesian Day Spa. Unwind in soothing mineral-rich waters, perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Rotorua is an enchanting place to visit that offers a unique blend of geothermal wonders, Maori culture, outdoor adventures, and relaxation. Its distinct character, rich history, and stunning natural landscapes make it a must-do when exploring New Zealand and a feature on many tour itineraries. Visit to witness the earth’s raw power and cultural richness, creating memories that will stay with you long after your visit.


NapierVintage cars in Napier on Art Deco Festival weekend , a charming coastal city located in the Hawke’s Bay region of Aotearoa’s North Island, is a destination that offers a unique blend of history, art, wine, and stunning landscapes. Known for its beautifully preserved Art Deco architecture, Napier has earned its reputation as an inviting and culturally rich city.

This provincial city’s story is one of resilience and reinvention. In 1931, a devastating earthquake leveled the city, necessitating a complete rebuild. The result is a cityscape that showcases the distinctive Art Deco architectural style, making Napier a unique and visually captivating destination.

Highlights of Napier

      1. Art Deco Architecture: The heart of Napier is a living museum of Art Deco architecture. Stroll along Marine Parade and the city center to admire the beautifully restored buildings or join a guided tour. Regardless, you won’t miss the characteristic geometric shapes, pastel colors, and intricate detailing of the 1930s. And if you really want to dig into the look and feel of the ’30s, visit Napier during its annual Art Deco Festival.
      2. World-Class Wineries: The Hawke’s Bay region, with Napier at its center, is renowned for its vineyards and wineries.
        Napier Waterfront Art Deco Features

        Napier’s art deco waterfront

        Take a wine tour to savor award-winning wines, including exceptional reds and Chardonnays. The region’s Mediterranean climate is ideal for grape cultivation and you can sample it’s product and other local delicacies via the region’s many cellar door experiences.

      3. Marine Parade: This scenic waterfront promenade offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. You can explore the Napier Soundshell, the Sunken Garden, and the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
      4. Cape Kidnappers: A short drive from Napier, Cape Kidnappers is a stunning coastal reserve and home to one of the world’s largest mainland gannet colonies. Guided tours allow you to witness these remarkable seabirds up close.
      5. Ocean Adventures: Napier’s coastal location provides opportunities for a variety of water-based activities, including fishing charters, dolphin watching, and kayaking.
      6. Cultural Experiences: Napier is home to several museums and cultural attractions, including the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery, which features an impressive collection of Maori art and artifacts.

    Hawkes Bay Winery with sea and local coastline in the backgroundWhen visiting Napier, expect to be transported back in time as you explore the city’s Art Deco heritage. The relaxed pace of life and friendly locals contribute to the city’s welcoming atmosphere. You’ll find a mix of cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, and culinary delights (made from amazing local produce) in this charming coastal enclave.

    Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, a wine connoisseur, or simply seeking a delightful coastal escape, Napier offers an enriching and picturesque experience that celebrates both the past and present.


    Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city at the southern tip of the North Island, may be small when it comes to size, but it is vibrant and culturally rich. Often referred to as the “Coolest Little Capital in the World,” Wellington lives up to its reputation with a thriving arts scene, a stunning waterfront, and a welcoming atmosphere.

  1. View of central Wellington from Mt VictoriaOur capital effortlessly combines a bustling urban landscape with the natural beauty of its harbour and surrounding hills. It’s a place where creativity thrives, and innovation is celebrated. A place where a walk around the compact city centre will reward you with a lively atmosphere. And lots of places to sit and enjoy “the vibe” with a drink in hand.

    Highlights of Wellington

    1. Te Papa: New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is a must-visit. It offers immersive exhibits that showcase the country’s rich history, Maori culture, and natural wonders. Admission is free, making it accessible to all but guided tours are also a good way to ensure you see it all.
    2. Wondrous Waterfront: Te pap Museum from outsideWellington’s picturesque waterfront is the ideal place for a leisurely stroll or bike ride.You can explore the waterfront promenade, visit the iconic Wellington Cable Car , or take a guided tour of the historic waterfront sheds.
    3. Cultural Hub: The city boasts a thriving arts and cultural scene. You can catch a show at the renowned Wellington Opera House or enjoy a performance at one of the city’s many theaters. Cuba Street, a vibrant thoroughfare with a famous water feature, is lined with cafes, boutique shops, and street art.
    4. Culinary Delights: Wellington is a food lover’s paradise. And the drink in your hand, as you take in city sights, will inevitably be  complemented by tasty local food .The city’s dining scene offers a diverse range of cuisine, from local seafood to international flavours. Cafe culture thrives here. Be sure to try ordering a “flat white” coffee (a less frothy local style of latte).
    5. Nature and Outdoors: Wellington’s natural beauty is accessible within minutes of the city center. You can hike to the summit of Mount Victoria (taking in the Victorian homes on its slopes as youclimb) for panoramic views, visit the nearby Zealandia ecosanctuary to see native wildlife , or explore the nearby Red Rocks coastal reserve.
    6. Film Capital: Wellington sometimes like to style itself  “Wellywood”, due to its association with the film industry. You can visit the Weta Workshop, where props and creatures for famous films like “The Lord of the Rings” were created.

The city’s compactness makes it easy to explore on foot, and its vibrant cultural scene ensures there’s always something happening. You’ll find a mix of artistic expression, natural beauty, and culinary delights around every corner. Wellington, the “Capital of Cool,” is a city that encapsulates the essence of New Zealand’s creativity, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring its world-class museum, enjoying a coffee on the waterfront, or hiking in the nearby hills, Wellington invites you to experience the best of New Zealand’s vibrant urban life and picturesque landscapes.

Marlborough Sounds

Interislander Ferry approaching Picton in the Marlborough SoundsThe Marlborough Sounds is a pristine and enchanting labyrinth of waterways, lush forests, and secluded bays at the Top of Te Wai Ponamu / The South Island. This stunning area is often visitors’ introduction to “The Mainland” as they sail into Picton on the Interislander ferry from Wellington. And its serene beauty, offers a captivating escape from the hustle and bustle of city life .

The region is defined by its intricate network of submerged valleys, creating a complex and picturesque coastline. The area is a haven for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and those seeking tranquility.

Highlights of Marlborough Sounds

  1. Cruising and Sailing: Exploring The Marlborough Sounds by boat is a must and many of Aotearoa’s best short cruises and boat trips are to found here. The calm waters and sheltered bays make it ideal for sailing, kayaking, and cruising. You can rent a boat or join a local guided tour like the Marlborough Sounds Seafood Cruise to discover secluded coves and taste treasures.
  2. Queen Charlotte Track: This famous hiking trail offers breathtaking views of the sounds, lush forests, and abundant wildlife. It’s a multi-day adventure that takes you through some of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes.
  3. Wildlife Encounters: Marlborough Sounds is home to diverse marine life, including dolphins, seals, and penguins. Dolphin-watching cruises are a popular activity, allowing you to witness these playful creatures in their natural habitat.
  4. Marlborough Wine Region: The surrounding Marlborough region is renowned for its wine production, particularly its world-class Sauvignon Blanc. You can visit nearby wineries to sample exceptional wines and savor delicious cuisine.
  5. Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds: These two major sounds within the Marlborough Sounds offer a quieter and less touristy experience. You can explore their tranquil waters, lush hillsides, and quaint settlements.

View over Marlborough vineyard looking toward the hills behindThe region offers a sense of seclusion and tranquility, making it an ideal escape from the noise and stress of daily life. Outdoor activities, hiking, and water adventures are at the forefront, allowing you to connect with nature and immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes.

Whether you’re cruising its calm waters, hiking along the Queen Charlotte Track, or simply savoring a glass of Marlborough’s finest wine, this enchanting region offers an escape into a world of tranquility and natural wonder. It’s a place where the symphony of nature plays in harmony, creating memories that will resonate long after your visit.


KaikouraWhale jumping out of the water off Kaikoura, NZ, a small coastal town on the South Island’s East Coast, is a place where the rugged beauty of the coastline meets the rich marine life of the Pacific Ocean. Known for its unparalleled wildlife encounters and breathtaking landscapes, Kaikoura offers a unique and unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

Kaikoura’s location where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the Kaikoura Mountain Range, creates a dynamic and thriving ecosystem. The resulting nutrient-rich waters provide a bountiful feast for marine life, making Kaikoura a premier destination for wildlife encounters.

Highlights of Kaikoura

  1. Whale Watching: Tick getting up close and personal with a whale off your New Zealand bucket list. Kaikoura is renowned for its year-round whale-watching opportunities. Embark on a boat tour to witness the majestic sperm whales as they breach the surface, as well as other species such as humpback and orca whales.
  2. Seals near Kaikoura NZDolphin Encounters: The waters around Kaikoura are home to playful dusky dolphins. Join a dolphin-swimming tour to swim and interact with these intelligent and acrobatic creatures.
  3. Albatross Encounters: Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see albatross in their natural habitat. Take a guided tour to view these magnificent seabirds up close.
  4. Seal Colony: The Kaikoura Peninsula is home to a large fur seal colony. You can observe these charming creatures in their natural environment along the peninsula’s rocky shores.
  5. Coastal Walks: Kaikoura offers scenic coastal walks that showcase its rugged beauty. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway and the Kaikoura Peninsula Seal Colony Walk are popular options.Kaikoura Peninsula walkway
  6. Fresh Seafood: The town is renowned for its seafood, particularly crayfish (known locally as cray) and other fresh catches from the ocean. Be sure to sample the local culinary delights.

Expect to be immerse yourself in a world of natural wonder and marine life when you visit Kaikoura. The town is a hub for eco-tourism, and opportunities to interact with wildlife abound. Friendly locals and a relaxed coastal atmosphere create a welcoming environment for travellers.

Whether you’re embarking on a thrilling wildlife encounter or enjoying a scenic coastal hike, Kaikoura promises a memorable and enriching experience. It is a place where nature takes center stage, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

West Coast

The West Coast is a remote and rugged region of the South Island, known for its untamed wilderness, dramatic landscapes, and a sense of View of Southern Alps from Lake Matheson near Fox Glacierisolation that immerses you in the heart of nature. This wild and enchanting coastline offers a glimpse into the untouched beauty of Aotearoa, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a genuine wilderness experience.

Its untouched beauty is characterised by lush rainforests, soaring mountains, and its rugged meeting with the Tasman Sea. It’s a region where adventure meets tranquility, and the spirit of exploration is alive and well.

Highlights of the West Coast

  1. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks:Limestone formations - Pancake Rocks - with a blowhole in Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park.Located in Paparoa National Park, these unique limestone formations resemble stacks of pancakes. Witness the power of nature as seawater shoots through blowholes in the rocks during high tide.
  2. Hokitika Gorge: A stunning turquoise river surrounded by native bush, Hokitika Gorge is a hidden gem. We’ve added it to our West Coast places to visit for a reason. The vibrant blue waters are a result of glacial silt, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding greenery that is truly unforgettable.
  3. Wilderness Walks: The West Coast offers a network of hiking trails that lead through ancient rainforests, including the Heaphy Track and the West Coast Wilderness Trail to name just two. And there are almost endless opportunities for short walks from along the way north or south.
  4. Gold Rush History: Explore the region’s gold mining heritage in towns like Greymouth and Shantytown Heritage Park, where you can step back in time to the gold rush era.
  5. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers: These iconic glaciers are Franz Josef township West Coast New Zealandsome of the most accessible in the world and their namesake villages — Fox & Franz Josef — are frequent tour stopovers. You can take guided tours to explore their ice formations, hike to their viewing points, or even embark on a scenic helicopter ride for a bird’s-eye view.
  6. Fiordland: While technically not part of the West Coast, the nearby Fiordland region is easily accessible. It’s home to the famous Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, two of New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring fiords (we were a bit loose with our definitions and called them Sounds).

The region’s remoteness and limited urban development make it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and those seeking solitude. You’ll find a mix of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and serene moments of reflection in this untamed paradise.

Whether you’re exploring ancient rainforests, witnessing the majesty of glaciers, or simply savoring the serenity of the coastline, the West Coast invites you to step into a world where adventure awaits you around every corner. It’s a place where the untamed wilderness of Aotearoa comes to life, leaving indelible memories of its rugged grandeur.


Christchurch, often referred to as the “Garden City,” is a city of resilience, innovation, and natural beauty on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a city is on a journey of rebirth and renewal,

The city has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. While still honouring its heritage and lush green spaces, it has embraced innovation and creativity, making it a captivating destination that combines the old and the new. We’ve previously highlighted the delights of a spring visit to the South Island’s largest city, but it is a great place to visit at any time of year.

Highlights of Christchurch

  1. Christchurch Botanic Gardens: These expansive gardens are the heart of the city and a testament to its “Garden City” nickname. Stroll through lush greenery, vibrant flowerbeds, and serene waterways, enjoy a guided tour or take a punt ride on the Avon River.
  2. Transitional Cathedral: “Cardboard Cathedral,” a symbol of post-earthquake resilience, is an architectural marvel made partially from cardboard tubes and a striking piece of modern design.
  3. Street Art: Christchurch boasts a vibrant street art scene, with colorful murals and graffiti art adorning many buildings in the central city. Explore the streets to discover these dynamic artworks.
  4. Quake City: This museum tells the story of the earthquakes that shook Christchurch and its people, offering an informative and moving experience.
  5. Port Hills: Just a short drive from the city center, the Port Hills provide panoramic views of Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury Plains. Hiking, biking, and paragliding are popular activities here.
  6. Canterbury Museum: Located in the historic Canterbury Museum, this institution offers a fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage.

The central city’s innovative architecture and vibrant street art coexist with the timeless beauty of the Botanic Gardens and the historic charm of the Avon River. Christchurch’s warm and welcoming atmosphere, combined with its commitment to sustainability, makes it an ideal destination for travellers of all interests.

Whether you’re exploring its lush gardens, admiring street art, or simply savoring the relaxed atmosphere of the Avon River, Christchurch invites you to be a part of its remarkable journey of renewal. It’s a place where resilience, creativity, and natural beauty converge to create lasting memories and a deep appreciation for the spirit of this extraordinary city.

Mt Cook & the Mackenzie Basin

View over Lake Pukaki in the Mackenzie Country toward Aoraki Mt Cook.The South Island of New Zealand is renowned for its dramatic landscapes. But the region around Mt Cook and the Mackenzie Basin stands out for the breadth of its skies and the drama of its views. This captivating area offers towering peaks, glacial lakes, and a sense of rugged grandeur that beckons adventurers and nature enthusiasts from around the world.

Mt Cook, also known as Aoraki in Maori, is New Zealand’s highest peak, rising 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) above sea level. The surrounding Mackenzie Basin is a stunning alpine region characterized by vast plains and a network of dazzling turquoise lakes, all set against the backdrop of the Southern Alps.

Highlights of Mt Cook & the Mackenzie Basin

  1. Aoraki / Mt Cook: The star of the show, Mt Cook, dominates the landscape. Hiking trails of varying difficulty levels provide opportunities to get up close to this majestic peak. The Hooker Valley Track is particularly popular for its views of the mountain and its glacier-fed river.
  2. Glacial Lakes: The Mackenzie BasinSummer view of Lake Tekapo with lupins in bloom is dotted with glacial lakes of astonishing beauty. Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo (a charming place to spend some time) are renowned for their vivid turquoise waters, a result of fine glacial silt suspended in the lakes.
  3. Stargazing: The Mackenzie Basin is home to some of the world’s clearest night skies. Visit the Mount John Observatory in Lake Tekapo for an unforgettable stargazing experience.
  4. Tasman Glacier: Take a boat tour on the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake to witness icebergs and the ever-changing glacier face, providing insight into the dynamic nature of glaciers.
  5. Skiing and Snow Sports: In winter, the region becomes a playground for snow enthusiasts. Skiing and snowboarding are popular activities, with several ski fields in the vicinity.
  6. Dark Sky Reserve: The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is a designated area with minimal light pollution, offering unparalleled opportunities for stargazing and astrophotography.

View of the sky from Mt John Observatory in the Mackenzie Country dark Sky ReserveThe crisp mountain air and awe-inspiring landscapes create an environment of tranquility and adventure in the this stunning part of Aotearoa. Whether you’re gazing up at the Southern Alps, exploring glacial lakes, or marveling at the brilliance of the night sky, this alpine wonderland invites you to be a part of its majestic tapestry.



Wanaka is a hidden gemA lake on an island in a lake - a walker explores Mou Waho Island nestled among the Southern Alps and fringed by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wanaka. Renowned for its stunning alpine landscapes, outdoor adventures, and a laid-back atmosphere, Wanaka offers a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration. Wanaka is a place where natural beauty takes center stage.

The town is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, lush forests, and pristine lakes, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a tranquil escape.

In winter, with multiple ski fields within easy reach, it is a popular ski destination for skiers and snowboarders from Australasia and beyond. In summer, the town is at its busiest as the population explodes with holiday home owners and visitors in town to enjoy long warm lakeside days and explore the surrounding area.

Wanaka exudes a relaxed and welcoming vibe, making it a perfect destination for those seeking both adventure and tranquility. The diverse range of outdoor activities, combined with the stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka, creates an environment of wonder and exploration.

Highlights of Wanaka

  1. Lake Wanaka: The shimmering waters of Lake Wanaka are the town’s centerpieceRoy's peak walk view. You can swim, paddleboard, kayak, or simply relax on its serene shores, taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. And active relaxers will enjoy the miles of lakeside tracks for mountain biking or walking/hiking.
  2. Roys Peak Track: This iconic hiking trail rewards you with panoramic vistas of Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps. The sunrise hike is particularly spectacular. And you may well have seen pictures of the view up the lake from the walk, such is its popularity with visitors.
  3. Treble Cone and Cardrona Ski Fields: In winter, Wanaka becomes a hub for skiing and snowboarding. Treble Cone and Cardrona Alpine Resort offer excellent slopes and stunning alpine scenery. Even if you don’t hit the slopes a visit to Treble Cone in the winter will reward you with breathtaking views.Treble Cone with skiers and the view of Lake Wanaka
  4. Puzzling World: A quirky attraction featuring a maze and optical illusions, Puzzling World is fun for visitors of all ages. Three generations of families are often seen attempting puzzles in the cafe or lost in the maze.
  5. Rippon Vineyard: Located on the shores of Lake Wanaka, Rippon Vineyard is known for its stunning views and exceptional wines. Wine tasting with a view is a must-do. Another location you may have come across on your social media travels, this must be one of the most picturesque vineyards in the world.
  6. Adventure Activities: Wanaka is an adventure lover’s paradise, offering activities such as skydiving, jet boating, canyoning, and rock climbing.


Wanaka is a lakeside paradise that invites you to discover the beauty of New Zealand’s alpine landscapes. This charming town Looking north over Rippon Vineyard, Wanaka NZoffers a unique blend of natural wonder and outdoor adventure. Wanaka’s picturesque setting and welcoming atmosphere create memories that resonate with the spirit of exploration and appreciation for the beauty of the world.


Wanaka’s more famous neighbour, Queenstown is a hour or so south over Aotearoa’s highest highway. It too sits on a lake shore. Queenstown is a resort town where adventure and natural beauty intertwine on the shores of Lake Wakatipu .

Known as the “Adventure Capital of the World,” this vibrant town offers a thrilling playground for adrenaline junkies, along with stunning alpine landscapes that captivate the senses. Queenstown is a town that lives up to its reputation. Surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range and perched on the edge of a pristine lake, it offers a backdrop of scenic beauty that enhances every adventure.

Aerial view of Queenstown NZ

Highlights of Queenstown

(Note: more than any other destination, we are barely scratching the service of things to do in Queenstown here. If there is a single Aotearoa destination that is bucket-list worthy this is it…)

  1. Adventure Activities: Queenstown is synonymous with adrenaline-pumping activities. Bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and canyon swinging are just a few of the thrilling options available.Queenstwon Bay
  2. Queenstown Hill: For a less intense adventure, hike to the top of Queenstown Hill for panoramic views of the town, lake, and surrounding mountains.
  3. Milford Sound Day Trip: While not in Queenstown itself, a day trip to Milford Sound is a must. It’s known for its stunning fiord, waterfalls, and dramatic scenery.
  4. Lake Wakatipu: The lake offers opportunities for water sports, leisurely cruises, or simply relaxing on its shores while taking in the breathtaking views.
  5. Fergburger: A visit to Queenstown wouldn’t be complete without trying a Fergburger, an iconic local burger joint known for its delicious and hearty burgers.
  6. Wine Tasting: The Central Otago wine region, just a short drive from Queenstown, is renowned for its pinot noir. Explore the region’s wineries and enjoy tastings with a view.

But wait. There’s more. Queenstown also offers world-class golf courses, skiing, scenic flights, world-class restaurants, Lord of the Rings experiences and much, much moreSkyline Gondola in Queenstown.

Queenstown offers a lively and dynamic environment, with a wide range of activities to choose from. It’s a place where you can push your limits with extreme sports or simply soak in the natural beauty of the surroundings. The Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu provide a stunning backdrop to every experience.

Queenstown is a place where adventure knows no bounds and natural beauty surrounds you at every turn. Whether you’re leaping from heights, exploring the great outdoors, or savoring local cuisine, this dynamic town invites you to experience the thrill of life to the fullest. Queenstown is not just a destination; it’s an adventure waiting to happen and, simply, unforgettable.


Boat cruise on Milford SoundAs far south as this list will take you, Fiordland is a two hour drive south of Queenstown. It encompasses the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s South Island. And this remote region is a land of untamed beauty, where nature reigns supreme.

This pristine region is renowned for its deep fiords, lush rainforests, and dramatic landscapes. Indeed, one of the wettest places on Earth this National park is shaped and characterised by an abundance of water. Fiordland beckons adventurers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts to explore its rugged terrain and immerse themselves in a world of wilderness and wonder.

Fiordland is a place where the forces of nature have sculpted a landscape of unparalleled beauty. Its fiords, carved by glaciers over millennia, plunge into the Tasman Sea, creating dramatic cliffs that rise from the deep waters. And the region’s lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and pristine lakes add to its allure.

Highlights of Fiordland

  1. Te Anau: The town of Te Anau serves as the gateway to Fiordland and offers opportunities for lake cruises, glowworm cave tours, and access to the national park.
  2. Milford Sound: Mitre Peak, Fiordland NZThe “eight wonder of the world” according to Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound is the most famous of Fiordland’s fiords. The quintessential bucket-list destination, its towering cliffs, waterfalls, and wildlife make it unmissable. Cruise along the fjord to get up close to its stunning features amongst other local attractions.
  3. Doubtful Sound: Slightly less accessible but equally awe-inspiring, Doubtful Sound is a place of serene beauty. It offers a quieter and more remote fiord experience.
  4. Fiordland National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage site is New Zealand’s largest national park and a paradise for hikers. The Kepler, Routeburn, and Milford Tracks are renowned multi-day hikes that take you through the heart of Fiordland’s wilderness.
  5. Kepler Track: A popular hiking trail often overshadowed by its more famous rival, The Milford Track, the Kepler Track offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Te Anau.
  6. Wildlife Encounters: Fiordland is home to a variety of wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and the elusive kiwi. Wildlife cruises and tours provide opportunities to observe these creatures in their natural habitat.

Kea in Fiordland National Park NZThe region’s remote and pristine landscapes offer a sense of solitude and tranquility that is both humbling and rejuvenating. Outdoor activities, including hiking, boating, and wildlife watching, are at the forefront of Fiordland’s attractions. And this makes Fiordland a place to connect with nature in its purest form.

Fiordland is a realm of fiords, rainforests, and wilderness where the forces of nature have created a masterpiece. Cruising the majestic Milford Sound. Hiking through ancient forests. Or simply soaking in the serene beauty of Doubtful Sound. Fiordland invites you to step into a world of untamed wonder.

It’s a place where the raw power of nature meets the serenity of the deep fiords, leaving indelible memories. You’ll leave with a profound appreciation for the beauty of our planet.

Your Bucket List New Zealand places to visit

Sperm Whale off KaikouraWe had to qualify our list of Queenstown highlights because of the sheer number of things we were missing out. And you could say the same of this list in general. It should serve, though, to inform your own New Zealand bucket list. There really is a lot to see and do in Aotearoa (“The land of the Long White Cloud) and our goal here was to help you understand your options.

We have worked our way south from the far north to the south. But you should consider taking two trips — many people visit twice to take in a major island at a time. (Not to mention Stewart Island, special for its remoteness, wildlife and unspoilt environment.) Self drive or guided tour, options abound and we’ve also put together a list of bucket list small group tours.

A bit overwhelmed by your choices of New Zealand places to visit? We have tour specialists with a wealth of experience who can help.