Top visited travel sites in New Zealand
New Zealand has so many outstanding places to visit during a vacation that it is difficult to choose among them. We know that your vacation time is both brief and valuable. Our recommendations for the best places to visit will help you find the right place for your vacation in New Zealand.
Be sure to note that the period of the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere is the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. During our summer they are experiencing winter. So if you want to ski in Queenstown, July and August can be the heart of the season. If you are not a skier, don't let the concept of winter stop you from taking your summer vacation in New Zealand, since the snow pretty much stays at the higher elevations.
A trip to New Zealand should cover the country's two major islands, known simply as the North Island and the South Island. Both islands are interesting, but we recommend that you spend the majority of you time on the South Island, which is pretty close to paradise.
The team at ThereArePlaces has developed a proprietary method for evaluating the attractiveness of towns and regions as tourist destinations. We used this methodology to create our list of the best places to visit in New Zealand. We believe that the cities and regions described below are the country’s key tourist destinations, contain New Zealand's best attractions and urge you to visit them during your travels in New Zealand.
Read our sections on New Zealand Travel Information and New Zealand Facts to complete your basic preparation for vacationing in New Zealand.
We have created a New Zealand travel map to show you the detailed locations of the Best Places to Visit in New Zealand. The base map is a Google product overlaid with our recommendations. The New Zealand map cannot be used to produce routings, but is does have satellite image background if you click the satellite button on the map display.
The South Island is sparsely populated and brimming with outdoor adventure. You may see landscapes and scenery that you have not seen before, packaged in the most beautiful and moving of environments.
One popular way to see the South Island is a drive that starts at Christchurch, heads to Mt. Cook, down to Queenstown, over to Fiordlands NP, up through Westland NP, and crossing to the North Island using the ferry from Picton to Wellington. For information on the Interislander Ferry that connects the islands, visit this site.
- Queenstown, sited on the shore of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, is surrounded by the luscious beauty of a mountain chain known as the Remarkables. The town is the focal point for a large and diverse recreational area. Queenstown is a place where you can "sit and think" or participate in various outdoor activities, some of them quite unique. The shopping is OK but limited and cultural attractions are sparse.
- We doubt that you will tire of the view of the Lake at Queenstown and suggest that you take one of the many cruises available. We recommend a voyage on the TSS Earnslaw, an older steamship that somehow fits the area like a comfortable glove.
- For other attractions in Queenstown, visit the area's marketing site for tourism ﾠhere.
- Fiordland National Park
- The Fiordland NP is one of the wildest areas in New Zealand and one of the most beautiful (and this in a country where the comparatives are superlatives). Even if you do not want to tour Fiordlands, be sure to plan a trip to Milford Sound.
- Milford Sound
- We think that cruising Milford Sound (a glacial fjord/fiord) is worth the cost of the trip to New Zealand. The Sound's scenery is spectacular - do not miss it!
- Most rental car agreements prohibit you from driving your rental on the road to Milford Sound. The Milford Road is subject to avalanches and landslides and is often closed on short notice. We recommend you sign-up for a tour and leave the driving to someone else. For information on the conditions along the Road to Milford Sound, visit this site.
- Te Anau
- The lake and town have the same name and this is a good place to start your tour of Fiordlands National Park. The Lake is beautiful but remote and a prime area for recreational activities. Consider it for a day trip from Queenstown.
- Many of the tours of Milford Sound leave from Te Anau.
- Westland Tai Poutini National Park
- Driving the west coast of the South Island is highly recommended. You will pass through rainforest and then find yourself exploring active glaciers. The scenery is spectacular. The driving can be challenging but is well worth the effort. See the New Zealand Department of Conservation website for more information.
- Fox Glacier/Franz Joseph Glacier
- See either or both of these glaciers. They are the most visited attractions in the Westland NP and relatively close to the main highway, although they have receded over the past decade.
- Mt. Cook
- During most of your trip on the South Island, Mt. Cook will be staring over your shoulder. Give in and visit the spectacular scenery of Mackenzie Country.
- Abel Tasman National Park
- If you have time, this park in the northwest features a beautiful coastline and an interesting coastal track for the hiker. Visit the New Zealand Department of Conservation's website for more information.
- Due to its International Airport, Christchurch is the starting point for many visits to the South Island. The town is moderately interesting and a pleasant place to spend some time while rebounding from jet lag. If you have time, head out to the Banks Peninsula and visit
- A small coastal town, situated on a collapsed volcanic cone that gives the area a unique and scenic setting. The drive from Christchurch is a delight but you may need to slow to allow the sheep to use the road. Look for the bakery when you enter town, the breads are wonderful.
The North Island is the economic and political focus of New Zealand. While it does not have scenery comparable to the South Island, it does offer a unique culture, interesting cities, and the Maori Heartland at Rotorua.
- Rotorua, with its geothermal hotspots, beckons to the tourist, as it must have attracted the Maoris over a half millennia ago. The city is fairly touristy, but the Rotorua region is worth a visit.
- Lake Taupo
- Lake Taupo is the center of a volcanic area noted for its geothermal activity. The lake itself sits in a collapsed crater (caldera) and provides good fishing and great scenery. The region between Lake Taupo and Rotorua is riddled with geysers, and hot springs that make for interesting touring (see this site for information on the geothermal areas.
- Due to the presence of its international airport, Auckland is often the beginning or the end of a vacation in New Zealand. If you arrive here, tour the city, perhaps sail to one of the close islands, while spending some time to let the jet lag pass. If you need a "city fix" Auckland is a great city in a pleasant setting.
- New Zealand's capital offers good restaurants and a ferry terminal to the South Island.
- Ninety Mile Beach
- Although not for everyone, Ninety Mile Beach is heaven for those who like to drive along the ocean (not to mention driving on the beach). Located at the top-end of the North Island, Ninety Mile Beach is part of the Northland, an area of New Zealand that is compelling due to its pristine coastal environment.