Flickr © Andy Maw
New Zealand is a country well known and loved for its rugged natural beauty, and its fame rose exponentially after it became the filming site for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The blockbusters’ locations were well chosen – many of New Zealand’s landscapes seem as if they could only come out of storybooks. If you’re headed to this corner of the word, don’t miss these spectacular spots.
This slice of Fjordland National Park is one of the South Island’s most famous sights, made all the more glorious by tramping the Milford Track. If, however, a multi-day trek isn’t your style, a bus ride along the Milford Road will escort you through some equally beautiful scenery, from rainforest to mountains. Explore the fjord by cruise or kayak. You’ll have a bevy of scenic photo ops to choose from, including Mirror Lakes and Eglinton Valley. Milford Sound is a great destination for families thanks to the floating underwater observatory, granting kids a special look at the vibrant sea life.
The South Island may get more attention from nature lovers, but New Zealand’s North Island has its treasure too. Waitomo is particularly known for its Glowworm Caves, thanks to the one-of-a-kind Arachnocampa luminosa. A guided boat tour will educate you about the caves’ geology and history, but the main attraction is the ethereal light emanating from thousands of these unique critters. There are other caves at Waitomo worth your time, including the massive Ruakuri Cave and the delicate, dry Aranui Cave. Thrill seekers can join a black water rafting expedition through the caves.
Bay of Islands
Comprised of over 100 islands, this enclave three hours north of Auckland draws travelers to its superb big-game fishing and pristine beaches. The boutique towns of Paihia and Russell are popular bases, but cruising via sea kayak or chartered yacht is the best way to explore the area. Animal lovers can spot marlin, dolphins, whales, and penguins, while stunning landscapes abound on all sides. The area is rich in Maori culture, and many visitors enjoy sampling traditional hangi food and paying their respects at Tane Mahuta, the world’s largest Kauri Tree.
Looming over the South Island’s west coast, Franz Josef and its neighbor Fox are considered must-dos for New Zealand backpackers. Their rivers of ice plummet through rainforest to reach nearly to sea level, making them some of the most accessible glaciers in the world. It’s a wholly unique chance to experience this type of environment. Hiking is naturally the most popular activity choice, but there is also plenty of rafting, kayaking, and skydiving in the area.
Tongariro National Park
New Zealand is chock full of beautiful national parks, so it can be hard to select just one or two for your itinerary, but Tongariro is one that should always make the cut. The UNESCO World Heritage Site lies smack in the middle of the North Island, and was the country’s very first national park. Volcanic mountains rise majestically above emerald lakes, making the site as irresistible to photographers as it is to hikers, cyclists, and rafters. Nearby Whanganui Park also attracts its fair share of acclaim.