Image: Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula
The Otago Peninsula
Right next to the city of Dunedin, yet a whole world away, the Otago Peninsula is one of the most beautiful and romantic places on the planet. Not only does it have dazzling views, gorgeous beaches, a charming settlement and a CASTLE, it is home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross colony, as well an abundance of seals and penguins. The place simply blew me away – you absolutely HAVE to go there.
Aptly nicknamed the Sulphur City, Rotorua is one of the most exciting tourist destinations in New Zealand. Even if you prefer to stay away from over-commercialised tourist towns, it’s worth visiting. The whole place smells like eggs, but that’s because it’s bubbling with wonderful geothermal activity. There are hot pools, mud pools, geysers and steaming lakes – it’s like walking upon the surface of an alien world. There are spas, Maori villages, museums and – my personal favourite, a must for kids and thrill-seekers – the Luge.
The Waitomo Caves
Deep in the Waikato Region, the Waitomo Caves make for a truly magical experience. They are consistently rated amongst the top tourist attractions in New Zealand and no wonder: they offer both mystical and thrilling opportunities to raft along underground rivers, abseil down into chasms, observe ancient skeletons and exquisite rock formations and, most unmissable of all, drift in a boat beneath millions upon millions of glowworms. It’s like you’re in a tunnel of blue stars… utterly enchanting, awe-inspiring and unforgettable.
On the eastern shore of the South Island, between Picton and Christchurch, lies the best place in the world to eat crayfish, Kaikoura – the name literally means “a meal of crayfish”! The sea is Kaikoura’s speciality. It used to be a whaling station, but nowadays the whales are merely watched, along with seals, birds and dolphins. Of course, you can swim with dolphins all around New Zealand, but Kaikoura also offers the opportunity to swim with seals.
Called the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound is a fjord of dramatic, pristine beauty. You can marvel at the views while tramping around it, flying over it, or kayaking upon it, but I think the best way to see it is by taking a cruise upon its mirror-like water. It is a place of utter serenity surrounded by mountains, complete with fantastic waterfalls and even bottlenose dolphins.
Just a forty-minute drive from Auckland City, Muriwai Beach has black sand that feels like velvet and rugged, west coast waves that are brilliant for surfing on. It’s good for fishing, too, and has a very entertaining blowhole, but its main attraction is the huge colony of gannets that graces the cliffs. You can watch them from lookout platforms, greeting their partners, tending their nests and diving like golden arrows into the sea. And the best part? It’s all completely free.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, right in the heart of the South Island. There are so many exciting activities on offer that more than a few days here will bleed you dry, nevertheless it is a place you must see once. It is relentlessly beautiful, located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, cradled by mountains. I highly recommend the Shotover Jet ride – it was the most exhilarating and the most scenic jet boating experience I’ve ever had, plus they used the Shotover River as the Anduin in The Lord of the Rings.
The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are a twenty-minute drive away from each other in Westland National Park, on the South Island’s West Coast. They’re both well worth seeing; they’re about the most accessible glaciers in the world. You can walk right up to them by yourself for free – and we’re talking a short, easy, flat walk, not a mountainous tramp. There are guided tours as well, some of which take you directly onto the glaciers themselves by means of a helicopter.
Located in the Bay of Plenty, White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano. You can take a scenic flight over the small, steaming island, but nothing compares to walking upon it. You must be part of an official tour to do this, as it can be quite dangerous. For example, there is an acid lake in the centre of the island, which would kill you very quickly if you fell into it. The ferry journey to and from the volcano is pleasant in itself, but the actual island is amazing and it has a haunting history to boot. It has to be one of my all-time favourite New Zealand experiences.
Less than an hour away from Christchurch, nestled next to a harbour on Banks Peninsula, is the picturesque village of Akaroa. Influenced by the French settlers that made it their home, Akaroa not only has some wonderful restaurants and cottages with beautiful gardens, it is the only place in world where you can swim with the rarest and cutest dolphin of them all, the Hector’s dolphin. It also has, as my family discovered on our South Island campervan tour, a really nice holiday park with a glorious view.
List compiled by Abigail Simpson