New Zealand is an absolutely beautiful country with everything from beaches to mountains, glaciers to rainforests and geothermal springs to fjords. Photographers, filmmakers and nature lovers alike have fallen for the diverse landscapes of this small country and I am sure you will too – here are beautiful photos that will make you want to explore New Zealand as soon as possible!
Photos that will make you want to explore New Zealand
North Island, New Zealand
Often overlooked for the more popular South Island, the North Island of New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful place and you can’t miss it when you explore New Zealand. I spent five weeks exploring the country from north and south and absolutely fell in love with NZ – I will definitely be going back in the future!
New Zealand’s North Island is home to incredible geothermal wonders, epic hikes, beautiful islands (with excellent wine!) and so much more. Scroll down to see some of the amazing places you can see when you explore New Zealand!
Cape Reinga is one of the most northerly points of New Zealand and is particularly important in Māori mythology. Te Rerenga Wairua is the Māori name for the cape, meaning ‘leaping-off place of spirits’.
Spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife. They leap off the headland from the 800-year old pohutukawa tree and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki via the Te Ara Wairua, or the ‘Spirits’ pathway’. Cape Reinga is where they depart the mainland and they turn briefly at the Three Kings Islands for one last look back towards the land, then continue on their journey to the afterlife.
From Cape Reinga, you can also see two oceans colliding. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet here and you can see the collision in an impressive swirl of currents. It’s seriously amazing to see!
Puketi Kauri Forest
On your way to or from Cape Reinga, don’t miss a visit to the majestic Puketi Kauri Forest. The forests are home to rare native birds and you can explore the kauri forest by walking the trails – make sure to stay on the boardwalk though!
You can also visit the Waipoua Kauri Forest on the west coast, where you can find the largest kauri tree that remains standing. Known as ‘Tāne Mahuta’, it’s estimated to be 1,500-2,500 years old and the trunk has a girth of more than 45m!
Paihia is located in the north of the North Island and is known as the gateway to the Bay of Islands. A popular location for kayaking (including to Haruru Falls), visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and taking a cruise to the Hole in the Rock.
The three-hour cruise departs from Paihia and you get to see the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula on your way to the impressive Hole in the Rock – according to Māori legend, warriors used to paddle their canoes through the cave before departing for battle. If drops of water from the cave roof landed on the warriors, that was a good omen. You might even be lucky enough to see dolphins while on the cruise – they loved playing around our boat!
Think it looks amazing? Check out my article on things to do in Paihia!
Heading south from Paihia, you will reach the beautiful Whangarei Falls. You can see the 26m high curtain waterfall from different viewpoints, including from the top of the falls. The walking trail takes you from the top of the falls to the base through picturesque native bush.
A perfect day trip from Auckland or weekend getaway is to the beautiful island of Waiheke. There are so many beautiful beaches on Waiheke Island, including Oneroa Beach, Little Oneroa and Onetangi Beach. The island is particularly known for the wineries located there which you can visit and do tastings there.
The ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island only takes 40 minutes and you can enjoy some truly spectacular sunsets there.
Read more in my article about exploring Auckland and visiting Waiheke Island!
The Coromandel Peninsula is an absolutely beautiful area of New Zealand’s North Island and home to the dramatic Cathedral Cove. You can walk to the cove from Hahei Beach car park, which is about a 1-1.5 hour walk. There is also a Park & Ride that goes from Hahei Village and Hahei Beach to the top of the Cathedral Cove lookout, which is then a 45-minute walk down to the cove.
Hahei Beach – Cathedral Cove: 2-3 hours return
Lookout – Cathedral Cove: 1.5 hours return
If you don’t want to do all that walking (or if you have mobility problems), then you can also get to the cove by boat. A lot of companies offer boat trips to Cathedral Cove, including water taxis and scenic boat trips.
There is also the opportunity to kayak to Cathedral Cove (which I did) from Hahei Beach which is a lot of fun!
Fun fact: Cathedral Cove was used as a filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia! It features in Prince Caspian and the children use the tunnel to re-enter Narnia.
The Coromandel is also where you will find the dramatic Karangahake Gorge with lots of bridges crisscrossing the gorge (hope you have a head for heights!) and tunnel walkways following the old railway line that was used by miners in the early 1900s.
There are a variety of walks at Karangahake Gorge including the Windows Walkway (which we did), a short 2.5km walk that crosses swing bridges and goes through the dark tunnels. The ‘windows’ are four openings throughout the tunnels that were used to tip tailings into the Waitawheta river below.
Lord of the Rings fans assemble! Would a trip to New Zealand REALLY be complete without a visit to the Hobbiton movie set?!
Used for filming in both the LOTR trilogy as well as The Hobbit films, Hobbiton was transformed from the original temporary movie set into the permanent set that it is today. You can take a tour of the set and even end your visit with a drink in the Green Dragon!
Te Puia (Rotorua)
A visit to the thermal wonderland of Te Puia is an insight into the incredible geothermal activity that our earth has – see famous geysers, cook an egg in a hot spring and get an insight into the Māori culture with a visit to the Māori Arts & Crafts Institute.
You can also visit the kiwi sanctuary and you might be lucky enough to see one of New Zealand’s native birds!
In the heart of the North Island, you will find the city of Rotorua. Home to the Whakarewarewa geothermal valley (where you find Te Puia, mentioned above), Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity including hot springs renowned for their health benefits.
Head up via gondola to Skyline Rotorua to go on the luge, a ‘gravity fuelled’ toboggan-cum-go-kart that is fun for all ages, children and adults (big children) alike! If you don’t fancy racing down luge tracks, then simply take a leisurely gondola ride up to the Skyline complex and enjoy the spectacular views over Rotorua city and Lake Rotorua.
Rotorua is also considered one of the mountain biking meccas of New Zealand so if you’re a fan, don’t miss out on the routes here! 160km of MTB trails are on offer in this area of North Island, including through the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest.
Located on the shore on Lake Taupo is the town of the same name (pronounced ‘toe-paw’). Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and, in fact, in all of Australasia. Take a cruise on the lake to see the Māori carvings, visit Huka Falls or hire a bike and cycle around part of the lake.
Taupo is also the gateway to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best-known hikes in New Zealand. Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4km hike and is considered the best day hike in the country. The track takes you from the Mangatepopo trailhead via Soda Springs (pictured above), Red Crater, Blue Lake and eventually to Ketetahi trailhead. You will also be rewarded with majestic views of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as ‘Mount Doom’ thanks to its fame through the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Possibly my favourite city in New Zealand! Wellington is home to excellent coffee as well as spectacular views, particularly from Mount Victoria or the Botanic Gardens.
Check out my article on free things to do in Wellington!
Wellington is a truly beautiful city and is also the gateway to the South Island – book your Interislander ferry to travel from Wellington to Picton and explore New Zealand’s other half.
South Island, New Zealand
Ah, South Island. Known for its mountains, lakes and glaciers and the famous Aoraki/Mount Cook, South Island is a paradise for photographers, hikers and nature lovers alike. Adrenaline junkies can head to Queenstown for bungy-jumping, jet boating and more adventures for thrill-seekers. Head to Wanaka or Queenstown for epic mountain biking and take a trip to the west coast for surfing.
Skydive over glaciers at Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, kayak on glacial lakes at Lake Mapourika and cruise the world-renowned Milford Sound in Fiordland. New Zealand’s South Island definitely has something for everyone!
The Interislander ferry bridges the gap between New Zealand’s North Island and South Island, crossing the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton. Enjoy the stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds as you relax on the 3.5-hour ferry journey.
New Zealand’s smallest national park is Abel Tasman National Park, located in the north of the South Island. Kaiteriteri (above) is the town that serves as a gateway to the national park and is home to beautiful beaches as well as walking tracks such as Kaka Pah Point walk, which offers stunning views over Kaiteriteri Beach.
Venturing further into Abel Tasman National Park, take a water taxi from Kaiteriteri or Marahau to access more exquisite beaches with turquoise water. The national park has lots of walking and hiking trails, such as the Pitt Head Track (4km loop from Anchorage to Pitt Head), Torrent Bay to Bark Bay (7km one way) or the 3 to 5-day hike on the Abel Tasman Coast Walk (60km).
See local wildlife (including seals!) on a boat cruise or while kayaking around the National Park. Abel Tasman is also the only place in New Zealand that you can skydive and see both islands!
Surf’s up! Located in the Buller District, Westport is the biggest town and the hub of the area. It’s one of the top places to try surfing in New Zealand!
(For more surfing, head to the North Island and to Piha and Raglan!)
The Buller region is also home to New Zealand’s longest swingbridge as well as the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Dolomite Point, halfway between Westport and Greymouth.
Experience the stunning blue-green water of the Hokitika River as you explore the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve. Walk through native bush on your way to the mesmerising turquoise water – it’s only a short 10-minute walk from the car park but you will definitely want to stop way more often to admire the view.
Note: Sandflies are evil little buggers and there are lots here. So stock up on your insect repellent!
Only half an hour from Hokitika Gorge is the beautiful Lake Mahinapua. Admire the mirror-like reflections during the day or visit in the evening to experience a dramatic sunset.
Head on further south to Franz Josef town, the gateway to the magnificent Franz Josef Glacier. The valley is accessible from the town via walking and hiking tracks such as the Roberts Point Track (4-5 hours, includes the strikingly reflective Peters Pool near the starting point), Alex Knob Track (6-8 hours), Glacier Valley Walk (the classic 1.5 walk) and the Tatare Tunnels Walk (1.5 hours, take waterproof shoes!).
The ‘holy grail’ of experiences in Franz Josef just HAS to be the incredible HeliHike on the glacier – this 4-hour experience includes a short helicopter ride from the valley to the glacier, followed by a 2-3 hour hike on the glacier. Even if you’re not much of a hiking person (*ahem* like me), this is definitely a must do in New Zealand!
Lake Mapourika (Franz Josef)
Less than a 10-minute drive from Franz Josef town and you’ll find the beautiful Lake Mapourika. The largest lake on the west coast, this lake is remarkable due to the major difference in colour it has from the other lakes in the region – while the others are usually a turquoise blue due to the glacial silt (scroll down to Lake Tekapo for more explanation!), Lake Mapourika is a rich, dark colour due to the rainwater draining through the forest floor (collecting tannins) into the basin.
Kayaking on Lake Mapourika is a great way to appreciate the beauty of this area and from the middle of the lake, you get a stunning view with Franz Josef Glacier in the background. Stunning!
Located near Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson is a must-see on the west coast. Just like Lake Mapourika, it has a darker colour due to water leaching through the forest floor. It’s also fairly well shielded from the elements which means that it produces the most spectacular reflections!
The best times to go are dawn and dusk but you will be amazed by the views of Mount Cook (Aoraki) and Mount Cook whatever time you visit. The loop trail takes about 1.5 hours, depending on how quickly you walk and how many stops you make!
Ah, Wanaka. Possibly one of my favourite places in New Zealand! Particularly well-known for the Roys Peak hike, it’s also the location of the insta-famous #thatwanakatree. Every evening at sunset, you are bound to find photographers capturing the iconic tree in Lake Wanaka.
For adventure in Wanaka, try the Wildwire Wanaka, which is the highest via ferrata in the world! There is also great mountain biking in the region – try the Dean’s Bank track or experience the highest heli-biking track in New Zealand. Yep, helicopter up and biking down!
A haven for adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers, Queenstown has something for everyone! Whether it’s a leisurely walk around Queenstown Gardens and along the Lakefront Walk Trail (above) or a gondola trip up to Skyline Queenstown for sunset (below), the adrenaline capital still has so much if you’re not feeling the thrill-seeking adventures.
Take a wine tasting tour around the wineries of the Otago region or a leisurely boat cruise on Lake Wakatipu, or, if you are feeling adventurous…
- Go bungy-jumping from the ‘K-Bridge’ (Kawarau Bridge) or The Ledge
- Experience a thrilling ride on the Shotover Jet at Shotover Canyon – definitely an incredible experience!
- Hike the Tiki Track (base of Queenstown Hill to Skyline)
- Do a full day hike to Ben Lomond, either starting at Skyline or from Queenstown itself
- Skydive from 15,000ft for spectacular views over the lakes
- Experience rafting the rapids at Skippers Canyon
- Try the Dart River Funyaks (inflatable kayaks) downstream after jetboating up the river
After I saw photos of Glenorchy on Instagram, I knew I had to visit! Just a short drive (50 minutes) from Queenstown along the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is almost Paradise.
No, I mean it’s almost AT Paradise – only half an hour further along from Glenorchy and you’ll find yourself in the sleepy little town of Paradise. Cute, huh?
If you have a car then you can easily drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy or you can even hitchhike there as we did! New Zealand is possibly the safest place you can hitchhike and since the public transport to Glenorchy is a little lacking, it’s one of the few affordable ways to get there if you don’t have a car yourself.
Glenorchy is also home to the Dart River Adventures company (funnily enough we actually hitchhiked with one of the guys who works there!) so if you’re going on a Funyak adventure, horse riding tour or jet boat at Dart River then you will also get to see beautiful Glenorchy.
Fun fact: Milford Sound is actually not a sound, it’s a fjord! A fjord is formed when a glacier retreats and seawater fills the basin left behind, while a sound is a valley (usually created by a river) filled with seawater, for example when the land sinks or there is a rise in sea levels.
Well, whether it’s a sound or a fjord, it’s truly astounding (aSOUNDing, hehe) and well worth a visit! It’s possible as a day trip from Queenstown or as part of a longer trip around Fiordland National Park including visits to Doubtful Sound and Te Anau.
Whatever the weather, a Milford Sound cruise is always fabulous – if it’s been raining (or is currently raining) you suddenly end up in a world of waterfalls and if the sun is shining then you get to see the sound bathed in sunlight. The perfect place!
The largest of the three alpine lakes in the Mackenzie Basin, Lake Pukaki offers amazing views of New Zealand’s famous peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook. The water is a stunning turquoise shade due to the glacial silt (also known as glacial flour) – it’s not just editing!
Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast when I visited but it was still just as beautiful!
The better-known sister of Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo is a popular lakeside resort village as well as the lake itself. Again, the colour of the lake comes from the glacial silt – glacial silt (aka glacial flour or rock flour) is fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock created by grinding of bedrock by glacial erosion. The silt ends up in meltwater, which flows into these glacial lakes and produces the stunning colour you see!
Church of the Good Shepherd (Tekapo)
One of the most beautiful views from a church… ever?! The church is a very popular wedding location, as well as a stop on tours of the Lake Tekapo and Mackenzie Basin area. Definitely a top photography location in New Zealand!
The Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1935 to commemorate the early pioneers of the Mackenzie region. Pictures aren’t allowed inside the church but you can definitely enjoy a moment of quiet reflection with spectacular views over Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is an International Dark Sky Reserve and the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere! This means that light pollution is strictly controlled so the view of the night sky is truly incredible.
Head up to Tekapo Springs to soak in the hot pools while stargazing or go on a tour to the Mount John Observatory, New Zealand’s premier astronomical research centre.
The highest mountain in New Zealand is truly an iconic location – Mount Cook, or Aoraki in Māori, is a spectacular place to visit on South Island. The Hooker Valley track (3-hour loop) is a popular walking track in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and provides endless photo opportunities!
Aoraki, the Māori name, translates as ‘cloud piercer’ and I think you can see why! According to Ngāi Tahu legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. They were on a sea voyage in their canoe when their canoe overturned – the four brothers climbed on top of their canoe but were turned to stone by the freezing south wind. The canoe became the South Island (Te Waka o Aoraki, ‘Canoe of Aoraki’) and Aoraki (who was the tallest) and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.
TranzAlpine – Christchurch to Greymouth
Considered one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine crosses the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth via the majestic Arthur’s Pass.
Read more in my article all about the TranzAlpine train journey!
One of the top places for dolphin watching in New Zealand is definitely Kaikoura! You can also go whale watching, see albatross and even spot some fur seals. One of the few places where the mountains reach almost to the sea, Kaikoura is an amazing place for beach lovers and mountain fans alike.
The Coastal Pacific train, which goes from Kaikoura up to Picton, reopened in December 2018 after being rebuilt after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. I completely fell for Kaikoura when I visited and I don’t doubt you will too when you explore New Zealand!
There is so much to do in NZ and I hope these photos have really inspired you to visit and explore New Zealand! I fell hard for the country and hope to go back again sooner rather than later – I still have lots more to see and lots to see again.
Have you been to New Zealand? Let me know your favourite places in the comments!
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