The following post is by Liz Carlson:
New Zealand is truly a country that can take a lifetime to explore. From the lush fern-covered rainforests to world-class beaches, to towering mountain ranges. A visit to New Zealand will give you an overwhelming selection of activities, all of them worthy of your time. But unless you’re planning to spend decades exploring this special country, you’ll have to be deliberate in what you see and what you do.
While every area is deserving of your time, here are the 10 iconic views in New Zealand you truly can’t miss!
1. Walk to the top of New Zealand at Cape Reinga
Located at the far north of New Zealand at the tip top of the North Island, Cape Reinga is known as the point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet.
A short walk to the picturesque lighthouse puts you nose to nose with the “leaping off” place. Māori legends have it that the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their path to the afterlife, where the leap off the land and climb up the roots of the 800-year-old Pōhutukawa tree where they enter the underworld and return to the homeland. Enjoy the stunning coastline or head to the surprisingly massive sand dunes for a bit of sand dune surfing.
Northland at the top of New Zealand is home to some of the best views and is still relatively unexplored by international visitors.
2. Enjoy sunset at Piha Beach
The coastal towns west of Auckland boast some of the most unique beaches in the country. This black sand beach can be quickly accessed from Auckland, making it a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers.
Despite its popularity, the isolation and ruggedness make it feel like you’re far away from the real world.
3. Dig your own spa at the Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula extends east of Auckland and offers the best combination of dense vegetation alongside rocky coastal roads. Pack your hiking boots and your sandals for this special area.
The mountainous peninsula lets visitors explore some of the best beaches in New Zealand as well as some epic mountain hikes through thick rainforest covered peaks.
After a long hike, reward yourself with a good soak at Hahei Beach where, if you time it right at low tide, you can dig your own thermal hot pool and soak your weary bones.
4. Admire the perfect volcano of Mt Taranaki
Traversing to the western side of the North Island will put you at the bottom of Mt. Taranaki, which is actually an active stratovolcano in the Egmont National Park.
A huge, perfect conical volcano, this area is fun year-round with skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. If you’re experienced and fit and the weather is fine in summer, it’s a great peak to tackle – or get your ass kicked.
Once you’ve had your fill of adventure in the mountains, spend some time exploring one of New Zealand’s up and coming trendy towns, New Plymouth.
5. Live your your Middle Earth fantasies at the Tongariro National Park
The Tongariro National Park is a must-see for any Lord of the Ring fan (i.e. everyone in the universe, I’m assuming). Home to one of New Zealand’s best day walks, the Tongariro Crossing, this national park will keep you busy for days.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a doozy of a day hike and is the top of the bucketlist for many. Traversing a lunar landscape of toxic lakes, steaming vents and active volcanoes, it truly feels like you’re on mars.
For those with a real sense of adventure, hike to the top of Mt. Ruapehu, an active volcano and the highest point in the North Island. If you make it to the top, you’ll actually be able to feel the warm rocks of the volcano top.
6. Go kayaking in the Abel Tasman
The Abel Tasman is an adventure seeker’s dream!
Known for its golden beaches and year-round good weather, it’s no wonder it’s a dream location for most visitors. The Abel Tasman is the only Great “Walk” that can also be kayaked. For those who prefer to see the sea, kayak your way along beautiful coastlines, exploring the bays and coves, maybe even kayaking your way to one of the handful of DOC huts for the night.
If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the neighborhood stingrays and dolphins or even orca! For those who want to walk a bit, get a taxi to any point and walk yourself back. The area is the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation.
7. Hike around the Nelson Lakes in summer
This gem of an area often gets overlooked for travelers on a time limit but it’s worth the stop as you make your way down the South Island. This area is a good introduction to the stunning mountain ranges you’ll find in the South Island.
Relax by Lake Rotoiti where you can catch a water taxi or stay overnight in a hut that you hike to. For those looking for a bit more adventure, a 2-3 day walk into Angelus Hut will give you the best snapshot of this magical area but best come prepared.
8. Road trip down the wild West Coast
For those looking for a place that is truly rugged and untouched, look no further than the West Coast. This sparsely populated and remote area is the famous home of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers but that’s not all there is to see in this vastly expansive area.
Most alpine hikes will perch you on mountains that offer views of both the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. Even if you’re not an adventure seeker, this area is a must see. The drive alone down the rugged and densely vegetated coastline will surely be one of the most memorable parts of your trip!
9. Get up into the mountain and admire Mt. Cook
Perhaps the most iconic view in New Zealand is one of the ever impressive Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Regarded as the home of alpinism in New Zealand, this area is steeped in climbing history. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to tackle Mt. Everest, grew his mountain legs in the Mt. Cook mountains. Although the weather can be fickle, this area is worth holding out for. When you finally get a glimpse of this famous mountain, you’ll want to stay forever! Whether you go for an easy stroll down the Hooker Valley track or tackle some of the bigger peaks, there are plenty of great views to be had here.
10. Explore the 8th wonder of the world at Milford Sound
No iconic New Zealand list is complete without a mention of Milford Sound.
Located in Fiordland National Park, this area should be on every traveler’s list. Vertical cliffs, rushing waterfalls, cheeky keas, and peaceful sounds are all part of the package in Milford. Whether you explore by foot, helicopter, boat or kayak, it’s impossible to have bad views. Even in the pouring rain (which is a frequent occurrence), Milford Sound never ceases to be amazing and comes alive with hundreds of temporary waterfalls cascading down its cliffs.
This magical place is well worth a detour from your South Island road trip Trust me, you won’t regret spending any time here!
About the Author: Liz Carlson is the founder of Young Adventuress, a solo female travel blog. An American based in the mountains of New Zealand, Liz has spent the past seven years sharing stories of her misadventures, crazy moments and big screw-ups on the road on her blog and Instagram.