I’ve just spent the last four months in New Zealand, and boy what a country! From the very top of North Island down to Milford Sound, I was able to see some sights that completely redefined “breathtaking” for me. I’ve had to use the thesaurus to find some other words besides “beautiful” and “stunning.” Unfortunately the English language is not quite sufficient to really describe New Zealand. New Zealand must be felt and experienced because any description will fall short.
I’d like to share with you my NZed top ten. In no particular order, these are ten sights that you should see if you are visiting New Zealand.
- Milford Sound and Fiordland
I just should just post pictures and leave it at that. Milford Sound is considered the unofficial 8th wonder of the world, and it is justly merited. Located within Fiordland National Park in New Zealand’s South Island, Milford is three hours away from Queenstown and an hour and half from Lake Te Anau. It is the only Fiord within New Zealand that is accessible by road. Do not let that fool you though, getting to Milford is quite the trek. There is remote and then there is New Zealand remote. Hundreds of kilometers of road go by without gas station or house to be found.
The trek is well worth it; your reward will be some of the most pristine landscapes you’ve ever seen. Waterfalls glide down the mountains like gossamer ropes. Penguins, dolphins, whales, seals and a variety of rare birds make the Sound their home. I chose to do the sunrise kayak tour and as I was kayaking dolphins appeared and swam around me. In the quiet mist of Milford Sound, for a brief period I experienced nirvana; absolute unity with the divinity of nature. The feeling over peace and awe completely filled me. Milford Sound’s dark waters welcomed me with a gentle embrace.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth, with the waterfalls reaching sometimes thousands of meters in length. There isn’t anything in Milford but the sound and one café at the iSite center. The next available accommodations are located North by Lake Te Anau. If you are brave, camp at the many campsites between Milford and Lake Te Anau. Bring your sand fly spray though as the sandflies are truly vicious. They will ferociously devour any exposed skin.
The best village in all of New Zealand hands down. I loved everything about Queenstown. Nestled in the mountains and sitting on Lake Wakatipu it is postcard perfect. Queenstown is the adrenaline hub of New Zealand, with bungee jumping and any other sport hyphenated with “extreme” offered in Queenstown. If you are not an adrenaline junkie then you can amuse yourself by visiting the many great restaurants, bars, and shopping. Just make sure you make the drive in the day time, the landscape leading into Queenstown is extraordinary.
- Lake Tekapo
The drive between Christchurch and Queenstown is long, more than six hours. If you are making the drive then you have much to look forward to in Lake Tekapo. One of the most astoundingly beautiful lakes I have ever seen. If you are lucky and it is a clear day you will be able to see some of New Zealand’s tallest mountains in the background. The waters change color depending on the time of day; regardless of the color of blue you’ll be mesmerized. Do not forget to breath when you round the corner on State Highway 8 and first glimpse Lake Tekapo. Campsites are available if you want to stay a little longer.
Portland, Oregon meets New Zealand. There are more bars and restaurants per capita in Wellington than anywhere in the world. After all your experience with nature and you want to get back to some civilization, do not miss Wellington. Wellington is located on at the bottom of the North Island and is surrounded by a lovely harbor close next to the Marlborough Sounds. Do not miss the Wellington Botanical Gardens and Te Papa Museum of New Zealand (one of the top 50 museums in the world), both which have free admission.
- Abel Tasman
Oh Abel! You are my one regret! I only visited Abel Tasman for a day. I kayaked, hiked, took some pictures and left. I wish I would have allotted at least two or three days to Abel Tasman. It is such a gorgeous National Park and there are so many things to do there. From hiking, swimming, kayaking, camping, fishing, pretty much any outdoor activity can be had at Abel Tasman and it is gorgeous. Mild(er) climate compared to some of the other National Parks within South Island.
If Switzerland had a beach it would be Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a picturesque coastal town located on the Eastern Shore of the South Island two hours south of Blenheim and an hour and half North of Christchurch. Due to the Hikurangi Trench trench off the coast, Kaikoura is known for its permeant whale population. Get in touch with your inner explorer and take a whale watching tour. If you are lucky enough you may see dolphins, seals, and a variety of whales from killer whales, Sperm Whales and Blue Whales.
- Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is the uttermost point of New Zealand’s North Island. Something about standing on the very edge of the cape that makes you feel as if you are at the very edge of the world itself. In local Maori legend it is a place where souls go after death. Even without the knowledge that lost souls use this place as their departure point, Cape Reinga is haunting. Perhaps it is the spiritual significance or the stunning outline of the jagged coast, but my spine tingled as I hiked around the cape.
Wine, ocean views. Need I say more? Marlborough is the wine region of New Zealand and produces some of the countries best Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Gris. The vineyards dotting the landscapes are incredible and well worth a drive around. The local winemakers are extremely friendly, knowledgable and love to show off their New Zealand wine so make sure you have enough time for a chat when you make your itinerary around Marlborough.
- Arthur’s Pass
Nestled in the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass links the South Island’s East and West Coasts. Riddled with hiking trails for every level of expertise the landscape is diverse. From beautiful forests, waterfalls, and alpine plans the landscape is diverse and a total pleasure to spend a day or evens hiking the trails. Keep your opens up for the cheeky Kea’s that roam the National Park, they are extremely friendly but also very mischievous.
- Fox Glacier
One of the coolest things I have ever done is taken a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier, strapped on some crampons and hiked on NZ’s second largest glacier, Fox Glacier. Measuring over 8 miles in length, it is one of the few glaciers in the world that end in dense rainforest. I loved the juxtaposition of the freezing and moving ice and the lush and green rain forrest. The glaciers are extremely dynamic and the landscapes change every day, which makes the photography opportunities unforgettable. What you capture today, will be gone tomorrow. Located on the South Island’s West Coast, Fox Glacier is a place of wild and frozen beauty that is not to be missed.
This is just my top ten list, New Zealand cannot be encapsulated into one basic list nor can it be easily described by words. New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful place; visiting changed my life. I visited to have adventure, and I found a place to be amazed, a place to connect with raw beauty and a place to find peace. There are many beautiful places to travel to in our glorious world, but do not forget about this little island down under…you will not regret visiting this paradise.