Thinking 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Napier, 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.
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.
When 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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Kaikoura, 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.
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.
The West Coast is a remote and rugged region of the South Island, known for its untamed wilderness, dramatic landscapes, and a sense of isolation 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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 gem 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.
Wanaka is a lakeside paradise that invites you to discover the beauty of New Zealand’s alpine landscapes. This charming town offers 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.
(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…)
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 more.
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.
As 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.
The 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.
We 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.
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