20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in New Zealand

Jul 22, 2021

Known by some as the "Middle Island", New Zealand is shaped a bit like a blue diamond, with most of its coastline hugging the Tasman Sea in the South Island. The main cities are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Despite the New Zealand name, most of the country is in the South Pacific Ocean, making New Zealand's beaches some of the world's most beautiful. New Zealand is considered by many to be an adventure travel paradise with endless adventure activities.

Known for its astounding landscape and incredible wildlife, New Zealand also offers amazing accommodations and food. Whether you are a surfer, skier, or backpacker, New Zealand has something for everyone. Discover the best of New Zealand with this list of the top tourist attractions in New Zealand.

Queenstown

Photo of Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand: en.wikipedia.org

Called Te Wananga (Lakeland) in the Māori language, Queenstown is a very attractive small town set in a deep glacial valley and surrounded by a rugged range of mountains. Located just 105 miles south of Wellington, the scenic city is a major destination for those traveling the New Zealand Great Taste Trail which circles the country. It's a thriving city with lively bars, restaurants and cafés, and many specialty shops and galleries. There are also fantastic options for outdoor activities including tours to see magnificent native wildlife, including the world's rarest bird, the Southern Brown Kiwi, as well as the world's deepest lake, Lake Wakatipu.

Bay of Islands

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Bay of Islands: en.wikipedia.org

The Bay of Islands is a compact archipelago and one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand. The national park spans an area of 24 square miles (63 sq km) and is surrounded by the sea and dominated by nine large islands. Its geographical location is key, as it's not as far from Auckland and the Cook Strait as some other islands on the West Coast, but it's the "big sky" factor that draws people here. There are many attractions for visitors, including the former penal colony of Rarotonga, French Polynesia, and the native island of Rarotonga (the southernmost of the main islands), the latter visited by the famous Maori Chief, Chief Tawhiao. Here, visitors can learn about the Maori culture and engage in guided tours of the beautiful marae or meeting place. A trip to the Bay of Islands also provides visitors with a chance to explore one of the most beautiful regions of the country.

Rotorua

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Rotorua: en.wikipedia.org

Rotorua's active geothermal energy makes it a thermal city like no other. The city, located in the middle of the beautiful New Zealand country, is known for its natural pools that look like an other-worldly desert lake. High on the volcanic mound (called Mount Ngauruhoe) where this city was built, steam jets break through the hot, acidic waters, making a huge river of mud and lava flow down the steep slope and into the valley below. While this is a unique natural environment, Rotorua is best known for the thermal wonders it offers, namely, thermal hot-water spa parks. These parks, with multiple springs and pools, offer an exciting way to cool off during a hot summer day. These spas, coupled with the other activities Rotorua offers, make the city one of the best holiday destinations in the world. To get to the different thermal pools and spas, there are a number of forms of transportation, including the city bus, and the scenic Paradise by Pistes cruise line.

Christchurch

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Christchurch: en.wikipedia.org

Now home to almost 400,000 people and the fourth-largest city in New Zealand, Christchurch is a relatively young city, having been flattened by a massive earthquake on February 22, 2011. The magnitude of the disaster was underestimated by more than half and the death toll from the quake, one of the strongest ever recorded, was nearly 200 people, while more than 18,000 homes were destroyed. A huge clean-up operation has begun, as the city is rebuilt from scratch, although some remains are still visible on the streets. The central business district is now covered with a metal skeleton of office blocks, hotels and shops, but many of the high-rise buildings, and the sea views in general, remain. Several new attractions, including the museum of New Zealand, have been built. Churches, the Botanical Gardens and the vineyards are other highlights. There are interesting museums, such as the Museum of Natural and Manmade Arts, a flamboyant museum that includes permanent and temporary exhibits. Christchurch is served by one airport, the only one in the country that is directly linked to two international air lines: Air New Zealand, which flies to Auckland and Sydney; and British Airways, which links the city to London. In the immediate area around Christchurch there are popular tourist spots like Kaikoura, which can be reached by boat or train. On the same coast, Hanmer Springs are other fine spots to visit, particularly during the winter.

Wellington

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Wellington: en.wikipedia.org

The South Island of New Zealand's capital, Wellington, is one of the country's most underrated cities. Home to many students, it has a thriving café culture and plenty of good bars, restaurants and bars. Many of the most interesting sights, however, can be found along and around Parliament Street and Lambton Quay. A walk through the leafy Botanic Gardens or up to the Sky Tower, which offers panoramic views over Wellington, can offer more insights into the fascinating history of the city. A visit to one of the museums, such as the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, is essential to get to grips with the country's colonial heritage. The nearby bays of the Waitemata and Hibiscus Sounds, or the sheltered waters of the ocean, are great for swimming.

Dunedin

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Dunedin: en.wikipedia.org

Dunedin is situated on the southeast coast of the South Island, approximately the same size as Auckland. Apart from being New Zealand's second most important city after Auckland, Dunedin is the birthplace of the modern Christian missionary movement. An important fishing port for more than a century, Dunedin is a great base for exploring the rugged country surrounding its coast. There are several interesting museums and galleries. One of these is the Otago Museum of natural history and anthropology. Just beyond the city, on the Otago Peninsula, stands historic Otago Heads with the Windjammers and Maori headland sculptures. Accommodation in Dunedin is plentiful and there are good selections of hotels and guesthouses. Motels also abound. There is a considerable concentration of backpacker hostels. Dunedin has one of the most lively and interesting college towns in the world. Dunedin's university (DUni) has produced famous alumni including the physicist Ernest Rutherford and the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Several markets are held in Dunedin each week and a great farmers' market is held every Saturday. Other markets are held regularly on the University of Otago campus and some on central Otago.

Mount Taranaki

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Mount Taranaki: en.wikipedia.org

Also known as Mount Egmont, and volcano Taranaki is on the northeast coast of New Zealand. It is highest peak of the Taranaki Massif and the tallest point in the North Island. New Zealand’s only true ice cap lies to the northeast, on the southeast flank of the main cone. This huge ice cap sits on the slopes of the mountain; at the foot of the ice cap, it is possible to see blue water, and this, the Ijen Plateau, was one of the main filming locations of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The mountain is well-known for a huge amount of rockfalls, which sometimes cause a dramatic appearance to change suddenly. This is the second highest volcano in the Southern Hemisphere after the dormant Mount Yasur on the island of Vanuatu, and the third in the world. To get to the Taranaki area, visitors must first get to New Plymouth. There is a daily bus service that leaves from the bus station to the Taranaki National Park Visitor Centre.

Hokitika

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Hokitika: en.wikipedia.org

New Zealand's southernmost town sits in a valley that's surrounded by snow-capped peaks, on the fringes of the lush West Coast. Hokitika attracts a crowd for its surf beaches, which run in a beautiful horseshoe shape along the surrounding coastline. It's also home to a variety of treks and adventures such as zorbing, white water rafting, kite surfing, and the Albatross Swim, a timed plunge into the clear waters of Lake Okarito that's popular with locals.

Napier

Photo of Napier, New Zealand
Napier, New Zealand: en.wikipedia.org

Climb up the easternmost point of the North Island, from where you can see South Island, on an authentic Maori War Rig. A pleasure for those who like a bit of old-fashioned adventure, the trip takes you up to Napier's highest point – the 360-metre-high Point Danger, and then back to the summit, a 2.5km-walk along a reasonably steep track, which has some decent views of the Kaipara harbour. Nearby, New Zealand's highest residential building, the 393-meter-high Mount Maunganui, has an observation deck, but that's the only concession to modernity.

Blenheim

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Blenheim, New Zealand: en.wikipedia.org

Blenheim is a seaside town in the center of the South Island of New Zealand. The quaint little town of 20,000 people enjoys a beautiful location on a peninsula surrounded by the Marlborough Sounds. Its gorgeous views can be enjoyed from the upper slopes of the Tararua Range that form part of the New Zealand Alps, or from the more challenging Mountain Horse Trail. Draped around Blenheim's rocky coastline is a sandy beach which stretches for miles, with some of the deepest bays and beaches in New Zealand. The beaches are never crowded with tourists, yet they are the most popular destinations for swimming and surfing. In fact, they attract the most number of surfers in New Zealand. Although the town is the largest settlement in the Marlborough region, there is little to do here other than relax and enjoy the area. Those in the mood for a hike, however, can head for the mountains, or visit nearby Russell and Richmond bays. For the more adventurous, a gondola lift at Palmerston North can provide access to highlands.

Abel Tasman National Park

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Abel Tasman National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand's North Island is the most popular New Zealand spot for tourist landings and there are excellent resorts for those seeking an action-packed vacation. To the west is the popular Dunedin suburb of Portobello, a lively college town with a great bar and live music scene. The stunning scenery of the Abel Tasman and Otago regions is where all the world-class activities take place. There are kayaking, sailing, rafting, and fishing options, but for those with the most active adventure-seekers in mind, there are helicopters, hot air balloons, and paragliding. Abel Tasman's top land-based activities include fishing, water skiing, body boarding, and surf kayaking. Beaches: including Little River and beautiful Palm Beach, which is regarded as one of the finest in New Zealand. For a truly adventurous land-based adventure, visit the Southern Wilderness Sea Kayaking, which specializes in guided trips with a chance of dolphin, fur seal, and penguin sightings. There are also golf courses and easy, secluded beaches nearby.

Taupo

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Taupō: en.wikipedia.org

Taupo is the largest city in the North Island. It is surrounded by the country's biggest lake, Taupo, a deep volcanic crater. It also has several other smaller lakes and lakes around, which are popular for recreation. Lake Taupo is famous for its trout and sport fishing, and is also a world-class center for windsurfing and kiteboarding. The main attractions of the area are the Matakana Hill Climb and the New Zealand International Film Festival, which takes place every year in late January and February.

Auckland

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Auckland: en.wikipedia.org

Auckland, the "City of Sails," is New Zealand's largest and most famous city and has a global reputation for its unique laid-back attitude. Its streets, like those of all the world's great cosmopolitan cities, are one of the world's great experiences: colourful, hectic, hot, hilly, historic, charming, frightening. Its pristine natural setting, the harbor and beaches, make it a hugely popular resort destination and for travelers keen to explore the city's burgeoning metropolis there are the liveable streets, bars and clubs, cafes, markets, shops and restaurants in the downtown area.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Auckland

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

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Aoraki / Mount Cook: en.wikipedia.org

The Aoraki/Mount Cook region of New Zealand's South Island provides its visitors with a mix of natural beauty and white-knuckle adventures. Activities that range from cycling, horse-riding, rafting and abseiling to climbing and scenic flights are available. Visitors can soak in the beautiful geothermal glow of the ground beneath their feet at active volcanoes, such as Mount Cook, which straddles the southwest coast of New Zealand's South Island. And if the high-altitude terrain gets you, so to does the view. Follow signs to the hut-topped glacier-covered volcano on a day hike, or pay a premium for the option of riding a helicopter over the northern icecap of the world's highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook.

Franz Josef Glacier

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Franz Josef Glacier: en.wikipedia.org

New Zealand is home to a number of impressive glaciers. By far the largest is Franz Josef Glacier, which rises 16,000 feet into the Southern Alps above Queenstown. These mountains form part of the Alpine National Park, located on a glacier between the Southern and the Western Alps. For over a century, the glacier has been retreating from an altitude of 6,000 feet to 5,500 feet, giving an idea of the drastic changes that have occurred in this part of the world. You can travel here by land, river or sea.

Lake Tekapo

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Lake Tekapo: en.wikipedia.org

The scene on a clear summer day is something like a postcard out of heaven. In the center of the North Island in New Zealand is Lake Tekapo, a beautiful, shallow lake which is enclosed by craggy, red-and-black cliffs and surrounded by the breathtaking tussock-covered mountains of the Southern Alps. On its shores is Lake Tekapo, and beside it, in one of the prettiest lake resorts in the country, is the village of Tekapo. Popular with visitors during the northern summer, the village's streets are busy with tourists, and there are a number of things to do, some of them in conjunction with fishing, hiking, skiing, or other activities in the area. In the center of Lake Tekapo is the turn of the century Tekapo Homestead, a lakeside homestead which has been faithfully restored and turned into a guest house. The homestead has a number of historic displays and excellent views of the surrounding countryside. The homestead was originally built in the 1890s for sheep shearing and dairy farming and, at the time, was the second-largest homestead in the world. Today, the homestead is still home to the Otago Farm Society, which continues the traditional activities of the farm, using sheep, cattle, horses, and llamas.

Waitomo

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Waitomo: en.wikipedia.org

Waitomo, known as "the water adventure capital of New Zealand," offers a raft of exciting water adventures ranging from fun luge rides, boat rides, white-water rafting, tube trampoline, biking, and bungee jumping. You can also indulge in a number of other adrenaline-fueled activities, such as skydiving, horse riding, zip-lining, and even helicopter tours. The only downside to this extensive choice of activities is deciding what to do first! Jump in the river and throw yourself down a tube, then throw yourself down another tube and another? Before you know it you've spent hours getting up, down and around all the attractions on offer. Alternatively, you can spend a day on one of the driving tours through the area, which take in some spectacular scenery. If you fancy doing this in style, then book a self-drive tour with Toucan Adventure Tours, who can arrange for the chauffeur to take you on your adventure.

Northland

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Northland Region: en.wikipedia.org

Sitting on a clear turquoise sea just 15 minutes by plane from Auckland, Northland is New Zealand's largest and most diverse island, home to scenic mountains, farmland, glaciers, wine-growing regions and sheltered bays. It is also very good for seaside holidays as several of its beaches can be reached by regular ferries. The isolated nature of Northland is best experienced by staying away from the modern capital of Auckland. Kauri Gold, the world's largest exporter of kauri timber, is based here and all its timber is cut and processed on site. The rich biodiversity of New Zealand is nowhere better demonstrated than in Northland's rugged and spectacular inland national parks. For wildlife lovers there are some excellent hikes, including to the 3,000m Mount Maunganui and southwards through the Waiohiki Scenic Reserve, which has some very impressive kauri trees. There are also numerous great cycle rides and tours. As with many rural destinations in New Zealand, Northland is at its best during the summer, but the winters can be pleasantly mild.

Southland

Photo of Southland, New Zealand
Southland, New Zealand: en.wikipedia.org

New Zealand's South Island is the most frequently visited of the two. It has the largest cities of Christchurch and Dunedin, as well as many attractive lakeside towns and historic sights. Southland is centered around Queenstown, one of New Zealand's most charming cities, in which there are lots of activities to do. This is the "Gondola Coast," famous for gondola-shaped cable cars. Many people visit for the great skiing opportunities, but there are also enjoyable walks, parks and museums. Queenstown is also known for its famous wineries, but don't forget about the other valleys: you can easily get to this area by waterway. Here are some of the places you should visit.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Photo of Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo Glowworm Caves: en.wikipedia.org

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, near Waitomo Village, is New Zealand's most accessible and accessible glowworm cave. The cave itself is a murky river system, lit by glowworms that hang from wooden poles suspended throughout. Tours run for an hour, but there is no guarantee of seeing any glowworms, due to their need to stay at certain locations within the cave. Entering the cave is free. People who have lost all their senses of feeling, smell, taste or hearing are no longer able to see the glowworms. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the glowworms are sometimes found in remote locations, tours occasionally lose clients. The cave system is an easy hike, and allows for exploration. At the bottom of the cave there is a picturesque water hole, providing a great opportunity to view the cave, and to catch some refreshing, and reasonably priced, cold water. At the bottom of the cave there is a picturesque water hole, providing a great opportunity to view the cave, and to catch some refreshing, and reasonably priced, cold water.