New Zealand stands as an oasis of pristine and captivating land in the South Pacific. Comprised of two main islands – North Island and South Island – New Zealand has long enthralled visitors with its magnificent natural landscapes as well as Maori cultural traditions that remain strong today. New Zealand’s breathtaking natural scenery and dramatic beauty inspired many Hollywood blockbusters and fantasy epics to film there, bringing this ethereal realm onto screens around the world.

As New Zealand offers travelers many attractions and activities, creating an itinerary can be challenging. To help make planning easier, our editors worked closely with seasoned Kiwi travelers and experts to compile this definitive list of essential sights or activities spanning both islands – this list represents 10 essential experiences that capture some of its most stunning attractions.

Though visiting all ten sights may be impossible in one trip, this guide aims to inspire a customized itinerary centered on several key highlights. Use these natural and cultural treasures as must-see events when creating your New Zealand dream adventure; choose some favorites and see what other gems await along your route – glowworm caves, volcanic peaks or hobbit holes might strike your fancy; New Zealand offers stunning beauty across both islands that await discovery! Let these premier “Ten” set the scene for an incredible journey across this extraordinary land!

Dive Deep Into Waitomo’s Glowworm Caves to Experience an Enchanted Cave Environment

Bout inside Waitomo Caves

Few natural wonders of New Zealand capture the imagination like the glowworm caves. Commonly referred to as Arachnocampa luminosa, these bioluminescent larvae decorate damp limestone caverns emitting an ethereal blue-green glow as they seek prey into silk snares they weave and emit an ethereal blue-green light for attraction purposes – an amazing phenomenon readily accessible throughout New Zealand.

Australia may boast similar glowing relatives (Arachnocampa richardsae) as seen at New South Wales’ Glow Worm Tunnel or Queensland’s Tamborine Mountain Glow Worm Caves; however, none are as spectacular as New Zealand’s “glowers.”

Waitomo on North Island boasts some of the world’s most beloved glowworm caves, with underground rivers and limestone formations created over millions of years. As you silently float along Waitomo Cave’s glittering corridor, it may feel as if you are drifting under thousands of blueish-green stars! Waitomo offers different glowworm cave experiences; from sprawling Glowworm Grotto to intimate spaces like Spellbound Cave. Each experience seems almost close enough for touch.

Kawiti Glowworm Caves of Northland also feature thousands of glowworms illuminating dramatic 200-meter caverns lined with stalactites and stalagmites, providing stunning illuminations. On South Island travelers can visit Te Anau Caves. While still expanding from an underground river system, these relatively young caves feature less impressive glowing displays compared to Waitomo but remain a worthwhile option for visiting South Island travelers.

New Zealand Is Home to Amazing Waitomo Caves: Inside Waitomo Cave
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Stepping from the darkness of New Zealand’s glowworm grottoes will leave you mesmerised by nature’s brilliance; among all places worldwide to witness these living lights, New Zealand stands alone as an incredible experience.

Hike Through Volcanic Majesty: Tongariro Alpine Crossing through Emerald Lakes.

Emerald Lakes

New Zealand’s nine Great Walk trekking routes capture its alpine diversity best through Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4 kilometer (12 mile) trail that traverses Tongariro National Park’s dramatic volcanic landscape and has gained international acclaim as one of the best single day hikes available today.

Maori tribes accorded this stretch of volcanic landscape such great significance, that they donated it to New Zealand in exchange for creating Tongariro National Park as one of its first protected parks – with sacred summits included specifically. Because of this cultural and natural significance, UNESCO recognized it with dual World Heritage Site status–an award granted only rarely.

History and honors aside, what truly amazes visitors is the trail’s remarkable diversity of volcanic features packed into one day trek. Visitors from around the globe come here for its extraordinary array of volcanic extremes that compress volcanic extremes into an engaging journey spanning miles upon miles of active volcanic terrain – sights such as multicolored mineral lakes, steaming craters, frozen lava flows and moon-like volcanic plains will allow them to witness firsthand how powerful nature truly is as they traverse this active volcanic terrain.

Emerald Lakes are one of the most distinctive sights along this journey, boasting vivid hues of green, blue and turquoise due to minerals leached from thermal areas they feed from. Their vibrant colors rival only those seen in Himalayan lakes!

Follow this trail and you’ll soon get spectacular views of three major volcanoes within the park – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu – that are sure to astonish. Ngauruhoe may look familiar to fans of Lord of the Rings films since its near perfect cone shape acted as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s films.

Tongariro National Park stands out among volcanic parks worldwide as it offers unparalleled diversity of scenery in just a day hike on the Tongariro Crossing. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may be comparable, featuring similar terrain with lava flows, craters and steam vents; however, you won’t find anything comparable to Tongariro’s Emerald Lakes here!

Green Lake, Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Red Crater Summit can all be reached from this route.
Mount Ngauruhoe, better known to Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom, and Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be found within Tongariro National Park.
Mount Ngauruhoe (known to Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom) encases much of New Zealand, including Mount Ngauruhoe or “Mount Doom.” In summary, Tongariro Alpine Crossing rightfully deserves its renown as one of the world’s premier day hikes. Traversing Middle Earth-esque landscapes while taking in New Zealand’s thrilling volcanic attractions is undeniable proof that this trail deserves this title – travelers looking to experience all its finest features must consider taking on this unforgettable trek as soon as possible.

Navigating Ancient Fjords in Fiordland National Park

This aerial photo depicts Milford Sound within Fiordland National Park.
Milford Sound should be on any first-time visitor’s itinerary when visiting New Zealand, and Fiordland National Park is one of its premier natural sights – including lush rainforests, glacier-carved valleys, towering waterfalls and breath-taking fjords along the southwest coast.

Fiordland covers over 1.2 million acres and features some of the world’s purest, remote wildernesses. Milford Sound is among its 15 fjords; taking a boat tour will bring you close to sights such as Mitre Peak and its thundering waterfalls tumbling off thousand-foot cliffs directly into the sea; seals and dolphins may make an appearance, too! For those who seek more solitude, Doubtful Sound might just be more suitable, with larger depth and greater remoteness – some even describe as its greatest beauty by some!

Fiordland offers much more than its famed fiords; the park contains classic New Zealand wilderness landscapes including endless ancient rainforests, tussock-filled valleys, icy mountain peaks, turquoise alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls around every turn. Hikers can spend days hiking here without seeing anyone other than native birdlife – remoteness being its greatest strength; Fiordland contains some of New Zealand’s least visited corners – offering unspoiled wilderness experiences!

New Zealand stands out as a distinct alternative to Norway’s stunning fjord country due to the density of diversity concentrated within Fiordland, formed through isolated evolution. While Norway boasts nearly 1,200 fjords, most are larger in scale with more accessible shorelines for day trips or short stays on roads and ferries, unlike Fiordland which features rugged wilderness terrain and lush rainforest that exude remoteness and inspire awe – creating what feels like the edge of the world – some may argue Norwegian Geirangerfjord boasts more picturesque mountain scenes while none can match New Zealand’s extensive fiord network in terms of diversity or primordial feel!

Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. These include Stirling Falls and Milford Sound for Fiordland National Park as well as Sutherland Falls which form part of Fiordland National Park and Mitre Peak with Milford Sound also included in this park.
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound
For visitors seeking unspoiled natural grandeur and solitude in their wilderness travels, Fiordland National Park promises an incredible adventure into true wilderness. Its scenic fiords and flourishing ecosystems create an environment which is found nowhere else and shouldn’t be missed.

Admire Nature’s Works:

Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park’s Champagne Pool and Thermal Wonderland provide breathtaking examples.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in New Zealand’s Wai-O-Tapu District features vibrantly-hued hot springs and erupting geysers to form some of its most dramatic geothermal activity. Few places can compare with these surreal natural marvels; Iceland and Chile may boast impressive geysers but you won’t see their colorful landscapes like you will in Yellowstone National Park of the US which boasts its own impressive geysers and vivid pools!

Wai-O-Tapu’s Champagne Pool is its star attraction: an impressive 65 meter wide hot spring formed 900 years ago that features bright orange edges and bubbly, azure waters. A striking sight, the Champagne Pool stands in stark comparison to Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring in terms of beauty. Yet still striking.

Lady Knox Geyser is another notable highlight, erupting daily at 10:15 am for over an hour to 20 meters high and lasting over an hour. While not the tallest geyser – Iceland’s Great Geysir stands 70 meters and Old Faithful ranges between 27 and 56 meters – its consistent daily schedule makes Lady Knox Geyser an irresistibly captivating must-see attraction.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Devil’s Cave Pool at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (pictured here).
Wai-O-Tapu features more than just its iconic landmarks – from Lady Knox Geyser and boiling mud pools, to steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pools – unique to New Zealand’s volcanic regions. From bubbling mud pools to steaming fumaroles, its alien colors and textures create an almost extraterrestrial landscape for visitors – an experience not to be missed on Earth! Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland shouldn’t be missed

Admire New Zealand’s Starry Skies at Lake Tekapo:

Lupin Fields The milky way can be seen above fields of lupins at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, creating an unforgettable scene.
Once you experience Lake Tekapo’s spectacular star gazing, nothing else compares. Thanks to its high altitude location and pollution-free skies, Lake Tekapo offers some of the finest star gazing opportunities in New Zealand.

Lake Tekapo stands out as an exceptional location for stargazing thanks to its designation as an International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, an honor given only to destinations which showcase exceptional night sky quality, natural darkness and efforts made to preserve it. Being the first Dark Sky Reserve outside North America means Lake Tekapo boasts impressive displays of Southern Hemisphere constellations such as Southern Cross as well as unparalleled views of the Milky Way across its entirety in a single night.

Lake Tekapo offers breathtaking natural phenomena such as the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis), which light up the heavens with shimmering curtains of green, pink and purple light reminiscent of Northern Lights but with their own signature southern flare.

Visitors to Tekapo can experience its breathtaking nighttime display through various stargazing tours, but you don’t need a telescope to enjoy this stunning show – simply head down to the lakefront, stretch out on some grass and let your eyes adjust until space begins revealing itself overhead with stunning clarity.

Although Lake Tekapo shines at its brightest at night, its breathtaking natural beauty still impresses during daylight hours. With its distinct turquoise-blue waters framed by the Southern Alps and rolling Mackenzie Basin landscapes, Tekapo offers stunning photographic opportunities. In springtime lupine flowers cover the ground around it creating a colorful natural mosaic that perfectly contrasts against its vibrant waters of Lake Tekapo.

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in Canada offer similarly stunning mountain scenery, but they cannot compete with Tekapo’s award-winning Dark Sky Reserve or colorful floral display during springtime. Within New Zealand, Lake Pukaki provides stiff competition – yet Tekapo stands out with its accessibility and wealth of viewing platforms that showcase all its charms from every perfect angle.

Starry sky above Lake Tekapo in New Zealand. Lush green fields of vibrant lupins set against its turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo are all set against an expanse of starry night skies. Finally, Panorama of Lake Tekapo with colorful lupins in bloom makes an impressionful view.
View of Lake Tekapo with Lupin Flowers
Lake Tekapo is one of New Zealand’s must-see alpine destinations, offering beautiful alpine scenery as well as world-class stargazing opportunities. Its waters evoke wonder by day while at night its dark skies have earned Tekapo worldwide recognition as an exceptional stargazing location.

Conquer the Clouds:

Mount Cook/Aoraki Road Leading to Mount Cook
Mount Cook (known by Maori as Aoraki), New Zealand’s highest mountain, stands at an altitude of 3,724 meters (12,218 feet). While not reaching Everest or K2 heights in Nepal or Peru, Mount Cook remains one of the more difficult peaks to scale around the globe and deserves equal consideration as one of Earth’s greatest challenges for climbers.

Mount Cook stands out for its isolation from other large mountains, exposure to unpredictable high-altitude weather patterns, and complex mix of rock, snow and ice climbing conditions. Most guides do not permit inexperienced climbers up Mount Cook; even Sir Edmund Hillary used Mount Cook as training ground prior to climbing Everest for training purposes.

Hiking trails like Hooker Valley Track provide another way to experience Mount Cook. Winding through alpine vegetation and over glacial rivers, this 10 km round trip winds to a viewpoint with views of Mount Cook’s sheer precipices and Hooker Glacier’s terminus lake – making this peaceful valley accessible for most fitness levels.

Scenic flights provide a unique aerial showcase without the inherent dangers associated with summit climbing. Departing from Mt Cook Airport, scenic flights offer breathtaking aerial views of Aoraki’s jagged alpine peaks from an aerial perspective. Flights circling Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest at 29 km), before approaching Mount Cook and its surrounding summits from an aerial perspective. Aoraki presents visitors with unparalleled alpine wilderness not found elsewhere on its islands.

Winding Road with Mount Cook Views from Hooker Valley Track at Dawn. Sunrise view from Mount Cook with Hooker Valley Track in background at right. View of Mount Cook from Helicopter from Helicopter.
Mount Cook and Glacial Lake View from Helicopter In many ways, Mount Cook embodies the wonder and grandeur that draws outdoor adventurers to New Zealand from around the globe. Though only expert climbers can hope to scale its summit, travelers of all abilities can still marvel at its magnificent magnificence as per Maori proverb: if one must bow their head at any point then let it be before Aoraki Mountain which continues dominating landscape while casting an everlasting shadow over all who dare cross its path.

Explore Franz Josef Glacier by Hiking

Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is one of its most spectacular natural attractions. Stretching 12 km along the West Coast of South Island and unique among glaciers due to descending to temperate rainforest, Franz Josef offers rare opportunity to see dynamic glaciers up close and personal.

Franz Josef glacier is one of the fastest moving in the world, covering five meters per day at speeds that reach five meters an hour. Due to this constant motion channeled between rock walls in the Southern Alps and ever-changing ice formations that form spectacular caves, arches, tunnels, and crevasses along its leading edge, it remains in constant state of movement.

The glacier has long been revered as an epicentre for hiking and adventure across its stunning terrain, drawing enthusiastic groups to traverse its ever-evolving surface and experience glacier hiking’s signature activity: crackling creaking ice. Local guiding companies offer two hour hikes as well as full day expeditions covering longer distances with greater challenges; adventurous visitors may opt for heli-hiking which combines walking along icy landscapes with helicopter rides for aerial views of its terrains.

Franz Josef stands out among other well-known glaciers like Patagonia with its dramatic landscapes and trekking experiences, but what sets Franz Josef apart is its lush rainforest setting, providing a contrast to the more barren, colder environments of Patagonia. One of only three glaciers worldwide to descend into a temperate rainforest environment; Fox Glacier in New Zealand and Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier also feature this feature.

Franz Josef Glacier in Austria with its impressive ice formations is visible from space via helicopter. These images show what can be seen from space when flying over Franz Josef Glacier from above by helicopter and looking down. Hiking Franz Josef Glacier or exploring its Ice Cave are among many activities available nearby the glacier.
At Franz Josef Glacier, the combination of fast movement, accessibility, and temperate rainforest surroundings create an extraordinary experience that is only found here in New Zealand’s spectacular scenery.

Photograph and Hike Up New Zealand’s Mt. Fuji:

Taranaki National Park With views from Pouakai Tarn to Mount Taranaki’s perfect reflection viewed from Pouakai Tarn is this hike up New Zealand’s Fuji.
Mount Taranaki rises majestically from its surroundings with a perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone shape that has earned it international renown as one of the most exquisitely formed mountains on Earth. Although dormant since 1775’s last eruption, this 120,000 year-old mountain towers an incredible 2,518 meters into the sky and commands its surrounding lush green terrain like no other mountain on the planet can. View from Pouakai Tarn

Mount Taranaki may look familiar – and that’s because it bears an amazing resemblance to Mount Fuji, one of Japan’s iconic mountains. Taranaki’s symmetrical slopes and conical peak recall Fuji-san so perfectly that Tom Cruise used Taranaki as a stand-in in “The Last Samurai.” For anyone wanting a taste of Japan without leaving New Zealand itself, Taranaki offers an iwi gateway into Japan!

Taranaki holds deeper significance for Maori tribes who have lived here for centuries, particularly Mount Taranaki which received legal personhood status last year in recognition of its spiritual significance to local iwi (tribes). Any harm done to Mount Taranaki now carries serious repercussions just like harm done to any individual or tribe within it.

Mount Taranaki offers visitors seeking adventure the thrill of hiking to its summit with breathtaking 360-degree views from its glacial peak, often described as New Zealand’s most-climbed mountain. Summit attempts do require proper precautions and equipment in order to manage challenging icy conditions near its glacial peak, though easier walking tracks exist within Taranaki National Park for all abilities and skill levels; Lonely Planet even named Mt Taranaki one of their Top Hikes both New Zealand and Australia!

Photography enthusiasts flock to Taranaki Mountain in search of that perfect shot, including photographers seeking the iconic image of its peak reflected perfectly in a pristine alpine lake. For this, head towards Pouakai tarns; these small glacial lakes make an excellent setting in which to snap that iconic photo!

Path to Mount Taranaki Aerial view of New Plymouth Coastal Walkway with Mount Taranaki visible in the background
Mount Taranaki stands out as an iconic mountain, its distinctive shape and photogenic features captivating imaginations across the world. But more than its surface beauty, Mount Taranaki holds significant cultural significance to both native people and vibrant green lands surrounding it; anyone visiting Taranaki National Park might just return home refreshed in spirit as well as photos.

Explore Middle Earth’s Shire of Hobbiton

Enter Middle-earth at Hobbiton Movie Set, used by Peter Jackson to depict Middle-earth and its inhabitants in his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Situated amongst rolling hills of Alexander Farm in Matamata, Waikato – Hobbiton brings JRR Tolkien’s vision of their home alive!

Hobbiton stands apart from typical movie sets in that its structure was meticulously rebuilt after Jackson completed filming of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, using durable materials designed to last. This meticulous approach makes for stunning results in terms of detail. Recreated straight from Tolkien’s novels are the forty-four Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, Mill and Party Tree. Holes don’t just look like holes – they feature full interiors as well. Gardens brim with vibrant flowers and vegetables as imagined by Hobbits in Middle-earth, while every detail on this twelve-acre site from rustic fences to scattered farming implements is purposely placed to give an immersive Middle-earth experience.

Similar to how Tolkien’s fantasy world came alive on film, visiting Hobbiton brings Tolkien’s words vividly to life. Guided tours take you through its heart shire as guides provide behind-the-scenes views of how movie magic was made; your visit culminates with a stop at Green Dragon Inn for a pint at this pub that hobbits and wizards alike frequent.

Tourist attractions featuring Hobbit-related tourism have cropped up around the globe, yet none can capture its true spirit and appeal like New Zealand has done. Underground hygge hobbit holes and luxurious versions on Airbnb may offer accommodation, but none capture its surrounding scenery and meticulous detail like Hobbiton does. While England may offer its share of Middle Earth-esque landscapes such as its Lake District does – only New Zealand offers the full experience of Tolkien’s fantasy world come to life!

Gandalf Cuts Hobbit Hole
24 Gandalf’s Cutting Hobbit Hole The Green Dragon Inn’s interior shows Gandalf cutting into Bilbo Baggins house for his Hobbit hole taithering operation (hobbit mill, etc).
Bilbo Baggins House
Any Lord of the Rings fan visiting New Zealand should make time to explore this meticulous hobbit village crafted to replicate Tolkien’s Shire with accuracy and dedication by an artist – it provides an amazing opportunity to bring their favorite stories vividly alive!

Create Your Own Natural Spa:

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Coromandel Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island is renowned for its rugged natural beauty, from pristine beaches and lush native forests, to relaxed beach living and hot water beaches like Hot Water Beach where visitors can dig their own makeshift hot tubs in the sand – this is made possible thanks to underground thermal springs which warm water enough for it to seep up through the sand creating an accessible natural spa complete with ocean views!

At low tide, two hours before and after, tidal zones reveal their warmest sands. Armed with a shovel (available for rent nearby), find a suitable location and start digging to create your very own DIY hot tub experience on a beach – temperatures can reach 64degC providing an unforgettable hot tub experience on land!

Hot Water Beach isn’t the only spot with hot springs in Coromandel; similar “dig-your-own” spots can also be found at Kawhia Hot Water Beach on Waikato’s west coast, though temperatures tend to be much cooler. For an alternative experience, The Lost Spring offers geothermal pools set among woodland gardens in Whitianga – making a luxury alternative.

Coromandel Peninsula is famed for more than just hot springs; its natural attractions also include Cathedral Cove. Renowned for its iconic rock archway and beach fringed with cliffs, Cathedral Cove is an outstanding highlight of this part of New Zealand and forms an essential component of its natural offerings. Hot Water Beach stands as another highlight among many.

Occurring across many countries like Japan and Iceland are hot springs; however, none offer you the unique ability to dig your own on-demand spa overlooking the ocean as can only be done here in New Zealand – giving a whole new meaning to ‘hot tubbing’!


In the end, New Zealand offers an unbeatable variety of stunning natural attractions and experiences that draw visitors from all over the globe. From the captivating Glow-worm Caves at Waitomo to the stunning Fjords of Milford Sound, and from Wai-O-Tapu’s geothermal wonders Thermal Wonderland and the dazzling blue skies over Lake Tekapo, the country has a wealth of unforgettable experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to experience excitement through the rugged mountain ranges, a relaxing time at pristine beaches or an immersive experience in stunning landscapes such as Hobbiton, New Zealand has plenty to offer all. With its variety of activities that span the two islands, a trip across New Zealand promises to be an unforgettable experience that is filled with wonder and amazement.

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