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8 Must-See Destinations In New Zealand

January 12, 2021

With talk of a NZ travel bubble coming there is no doubt you'll be excited to venture overseas for the first time in almost a year. So why not start planning your dream NZ holiday.

Since the breathtaking scenery in Lord of the Rings put NZ on the global stage as a leading natural travel destination twenty years ago, our neighbours across the ditch have been a bucket-list travel destination for many travel lovers. We’re lucky enough to have all that natural beauty, fascinating culture and friendly folk just a short plane trip away.

Here’s 10 top things to do in New Zealand that deserve a spot on your itinerary; and remember, your friendly and knowledgeable ATAS-accredited travel agent can make valuable recommendations on and where to go and what to do in NZ, tailored just for you and your family.

Hobbiton

Once a perfectly run-of-the-mill sheep farm in the quiet, sleepy town of Matamata, Hobbiton is now a top Kiwi attraction. Back in ’98, famed NZ director Sir Peter Jackson came across this farm while searching for suitable film sites, and site construction took place in 2009; when the site was rebuilt again for the Hobbit trilogy in 2009, new structures were built out of permanent materials, turning the fictional “Shire” hobbit village a beloved tourist attraction and offering a great boost to NZ tourism in the process. LOTR fans won’t want to miss out on this very special place during their trip to the home of “Middle Earth” (NZ), it really does feel like you’re walking around a hobbit village in real life.

Hobbiton

Photo: Discover real Middle Earth in the middle of New Zealand's North Island. Credit: Tourism NZ.

Mount Tongariro National Park

This UNESCO-listed Dual World Heritage Park is home to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a stunning 19km journey which crosses the volcanic centre of the North Island, between the summits of Mt Tongariro (1967m) and Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m). The main track peaks at around 1880m, but you can also climb the summits of both summits as you go. This is considered NZ’s top one-day walk, which we reckon puts it well in the running for best one-day hikes worldwide.

This is another spot of interest for LOTR aficionados; Mt Ngauruhoe is affectionately known as Mt Doom after the fictional volcano in the series and was Jackson’s inspiration for Mt Doom in the movie. It’s also an apt name considering the very challenging trek to the summit, making it suitable only for experienced climbers only; but if you’re confident, it’s certainly a great adventure.

The Alpine Crossing trail itself is relatively easy, and passes some incredibly spellbinding scenery: the gorgeous Emerald Lakes, ancient lava flows, and cool mountain springs. You’ll have great visibility of nearby Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu, too. Plenty of Instagram fodder!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Ruapehu

Photo: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Ruapehu. Credit: Tourism NZ.

Larnach Castle

Looking to channel your inner King or Queen? How about a fairytale wedding in a castle? Larnach Castle is just the ticket. NZ’s only castle was built 250 years ago in Dunedin, a town settled largely by Scots, named after Edinburgh and full of old-world charm. The castle was built by Kiwi merchant & politician William Larnach for his wife Eliza, and it’s truly a labour of love: the exterior took 200+ workmen three years to build, with European artisans spending more than a decade getting the interior just-right after that. It features what were then the finest materials available around the world. It’s now owned by the Barker family, who spent decades restoring it to its astonishing glory. This fascinating slice of Kiwi history is open to the public, and it’s a fab place to visit as you enjoy gorgeous tower views, and enjoy the stunning and internationally-significant castle gardens. You can even stay over in the boutique lodge, or hold a function (yes, like that wedding we mentioned earlier!) in the beautiful expansive ballroom. Huzzah!

Larnach Castle

Photo: Larnach Castle. Credit: Tourism NZ.

Christchurch

The gateway to NZ’s spectacular South Island, Christchurch is a fab place to visit in its own right. It’s a vibrant, artsy city that’s popular with backpackers and working holiday makers, giving it an international feel. Some of the scars of the 2011 earthquake still remain, but have led to a strong, tight-knit feeling of community, as well as the extraordinary colourful street art painted on earthquake-damaged buildings, brightening the cityscape. What’s more, it’s got quite a reputation as a foodie hub, so bring an appetite.

There’s so much to see and do in this major NZ city, so mosey over to christchurchnz.com to find out why you should devote at least a few days of your trip to this top spot.

Larnach Castle

Photo: Christchurch City. Credit: Tourism NZ.

Otago Wine Region

Located in the southern part of the South Island, the Otago Wine Region is a firm favourite for local and international tourists alike for both its stunning landscapes and delicious food and wine. All the main winegrowing sub-regions are a stone’s throw from each other, with the spectacular mountain terrain providing unique microclimates for a variety of tasty tipples. The drive between sub-regions is spectacular too; consider a cellar door tour that lets you take in a few areas while teaching you fascinating facts. You’ll find award-winning pinot noirs, sauvignon blancs and chardonnays here, attracting wine lovers from all over the world.

You don’t have to be a wine lover to love Otago; the rugged snow-capped mountains, sparkling rivers, winery restaurants and quaint towns seemingly frozen in time are reason enough to adore the region.

Rippon Vineyward

Photo: Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wanaka, Otago Wine Region. Credit: David Wall & Tourism New Zealand.

Milford Sound

One of NZ’s most iconic natural destinations, Milford Sound is on the West Coast of the South Island, in the Fiordland National Park. Lauded by Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world”, this breathtaking spot was carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, and is an absolute must-do for visitors to NZ. The fjord’s cliffs rise from dark waters towards the sky, with waterfalls cascading down the cliff faces, for extraordinarily dramatic scenery. Make sure you take a day or overnight cruise so you can fully experience the Sound in all its glory, and if you’re up for a bit of bit of adventure, join a kayaking tour – great exercise, great views.

While you’re in the Fiordland National Park, there’s plenty to explore: particularly, the lush forests with abundant wildlife. You might even be lucky enough to spot a kiwi or a crested penguin.

Milford Sound
Photo: Milford Sound. Credit: Rob Suisted & Tourism NZ.

Waikehe Island


A half-hour ferry ride from the hustle and bustle of Auckland, Waiheke Island feels like a million miles away with its relaxed bohemian vibe, thriving arts scene and natural beauty. You’ll find 40km of pristine white-sand beaches fringed with trees, fabulous vineyards with tasting rooms, and top-notch restaurants serving up mouthwatering fare with stunning views to boot. There’s a series of walking tracks showcasing the island’s natural beauty, many of which are within the virtually unspoiled Onetangi Forest and Bird Reserve. There’s plenty here for adventurous types to do: kayaking, watersports, mountain biking and even ziplining through the trees. Fun for everyone!

Rotorua

Rotorua is commonly known in NZ as “Rotovegas”, for good reason: the volcanic activity in and around Rotorua attracts about 3.5 million people a year, of which more than half are locals. Just over two hours from NZ’s biggest city, Auckland, it’s a beloved tourist getaway famous for geothermal attractions, natural hot springs and Maori cultural attractions. Some must-dos include Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland and Hell’s Gate with their spectacularly active volcanic landscapes. Hell’s Gate even offers NZ’s only geothermal mud spa, which is fantastic for the skin and a very relaxing experience; in fact, local Maori have been soaking in the mud for around 800 years. There’s also Te Puia, home to steam vents, boiling mud pools and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a Kiwi House; it’s a great spot to catch a Maori cultural performance, the erupting Pohutu Geyser and the beloved kiwi bird, all in the one place. And while you’re in Rotorua, you won’t want to miss the iconic Polynesian Spa, where you can immerse yourself in geothermal hot springs and soak your travel-weary body into pure bliss.

Tredwoods Treewalk

Photo: Tredwoods Treewalk, Rotorua. Credit: Tourism NZ.

We hope we’re inspired your Kiwi travel adventures, and you’ve got plenty of ideas on what to do in NZ. Of course, this is only a brief intro to some of our fave spots; you’ll find a ton more to see and do in New Zealand at the excellent official tourism website newzealand.com. And if you’re interested in checking out some fun things to do on our side of the Tasman, check out our blog for articles like:

Happy travels from everyone here at ATAS.

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