If you’re itching for some adventure without the long overseas flight, there is plenty to do in our own backyard. While New Zealand might be little in surface area, it sure packs a huge punch when it comes to jaw-dropping natural beauty. There aren’t many countries in the world that offer such stunningly diverse landscapes, and the opportunities to view them while you’re swinging, hiking, horseback riding, or paddling past. Here are our top picks of places that might be flying under your radar. Don't forget to protect your Kiwi holiday with Domestic travel insurance.

North Island

Active volcanoes, geothermal wonders and Hobbiton top the list for magical wonders in the North Island. Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the popular one-day hikes in New Zealand, and for obvious reasons. During this hike, you’ll pass three of the most iconic and active volcanoes in New Zealand also known as Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe—which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. But brace yourself, this 20 kilometre hike will test your fitness level, so be sure to wear special hiking boots and pack lightly. Check the weather on the day, so you can dress to the conditions and pack some snacks as you’ll need to make some pit stops to refuel your body.

new zealand walk

Known as the adrenalin capital of the North Island, Rotorua is home to bubbling mud pools and a lot of geothermal activity. But be warned, the smell of sulphur is quite strong and some even say it almost resembles the smell of rotten eggs. If you’re looking to revitalise your skin, then check out Hells Gate where you can experience a relaxing geothermal mud bath. Other activities in Rotorua include rafting, gliding, jet boating and zorbing—which all make Rotorua an adventure playground with a wide range of activities and attractions to enjoy.

A visit to the North Island isn’t complete, without a visit to Auckland city. It may be a hustlin’ and bustlin’ city, and you might even feel a little out of your comfort zone, but there’s plenty to do and lots of trendy cafes and restaurants to check out, particularly if you’re a foodie. Other attractions include the Sky Tower, War Memorial Museum and Auckland Zoo. If you’re a nature lover, then you’ll enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Waiheke Island, Mount Eden and Rangitoto Island. And just a few hours’ drive from Auckland, you can discover some iconic Kiwi attractions like the Hobbiton Movie Set (a must if you’re a Middle-Earth fan) and Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Hot Destination Pick - The Bay of Islands, North Island

Just a short three-hour drive or 35-minute flight from Auckland is the intriguingly named Bay of Islands, which unsurprisingly is a bay of 144 islands.  With its subtropical climate, the bay has remote beaches, lush greenery and a strong connection to its Maori culture. Like the rest of New Zealand, you’ll find there are plenty of outdoor activities and hikes to fill your days with, but unlike the country’s Alpine areas, it might just be warm enough for a swim.

The historic town of Kerikeri on the mainland is worth a visit, as is the 4km Rainbow Falls walk nearby. If you’re looking to get underneath the water, the bay is also great for scuba diving. Check out the Paihia region for a chance to see The Rainbow Warrior (a sunken Greenpeace boat) and the HMNZS Canterbury. The subtropical climate means there’s a good chance you will see a variety of colourful tropical fish. Dolphins are also a regular fixture in the bay and you’ll find that there are a number of tour operators in the area which will allow you to swim with them. If you would rather stay dry, kayaking is popular too and a great way to really get a feel for the bay.

bay of islands new zealand

South Island

From adventure to relaxation, Queenstown is a vibrant destination set against a backdrop of the Southern Alps. Queenstown also offers some of the most extreme and adrenalin-racing activities in the world like sky diving, bungy jumping and canyon swinging—just to name a few. Our favourites include the Shotover Canyon Swing and the Nevis Bungy. If heights aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities like skiing and snowboarding, hiking, and wine tours. If you have some downtime, the Onsen Hot Pools is a boutique spa experience like no other that overlooks the famous Shotover River and is a great way to relax after a day on the slopes.

A must see on your trip around New Zealand, is the Fox Glacier. Named after Sir William Fox, New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 1869 to 1872, the glacier is one of the most accessible in the world and offers a unique and rare experience. The best way to access the glacier is by helicopter, where you get to explore the stunning and icy landscapes of the glacier—a real opportunity to experience its true size and beauty. You’ll also want to check out Lake Matheson where you can capture the snow-capped Mount Cook in the reflection of the lake.

And last, but certainly not least, Milford Sound, is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular natural wonders. Milford Sound sits within Fiordland National Park—a secret gem waiting to be discovered. It’s surrounded by steep cliffs, dense rainforests and gushing waterfalls. You might even get up close and personal with some of the most unique animals and plants in the world. There are a number of ways to get to Milford Sound, but only one road provides access known as the State Highway 94. You might like to book a cruise in advance where you can kayak and scuba dive within the natural attraction.

Hot Destination Pick - Lake Tekapo, South Island

People bound for the Otago region from Christchurch often zoom right on past the little town of Tekapo. If they do stop, it’s to take a quick rest stop and a snap of the brilliant blue lake. While it might not have the rock star appeal of its cousins in the south, Queensland and Wanaka, Tekapo stands proudly on its own with its picturesque lake, world-renown stargazing, and hideaway alpine feel.

While other places in the country strap your feet into a bungee cord or at least plant them firmly on the ground, Tekapo throws you out into the universe. Home to the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and NZ’s largest telescope, Tekapo has some of the best stargazing in the world. On a clear night, every eye in Tekapo is turned towards the heavens - and for good reason. When the stars are tucked away for the day, Tekapo is laced with hiking paths, horse riding tracks and lakeside strolls for the leisurely walkers. When your legs are hurting, there are the Tekapo Springs hot pools to soak in. With a view of the lake, staying in the steamy pools all day is an excellent way to spend the day - especially in winter when you might be showered with a sprinkling of snow.

Lake Tekapo, South Island

Hot Destination Pick - Haast Pass Area, South Island

A mountain pass on the road from Wanaka to the coast, Haast Pass is the place the cliche “It’s about the journey, not the destination” was written about. A drive through the area will have you stopping and starting more times than a learner driver with a heavy foot for the break. There are more waterfalls than you’ll even care for - who would have thought that could happen - forests of 60-metre tree-giants, and a series of rapids dramatically called ‘The Gates of Haast’.

While it’s hard to pick a highlight from Haast Pass, the blue pools definitely warrant a mention and because they haven’t quite made it onto everybody’s collective radar, there’s a good chance you’ll have the path to yourself if you time it right.  A twenty-minute walk across a swinging suspension bridge - Hello, Instagram - the glacial pools are a Gatorade blue. While the words ‘blue’ and ‘pool’ might inspire a swim, the water is icy cold and could possibly turn you a similar shade.

haast pass

While it might be tempting to jet-off to an exotic location, sometimes your bank account or other commitments won’t allow it. Don’t dismay, there are so many hidden gems and hideaway spots here in New Zealand to explore. So why not discover the beauty of your own backyard and check out some of the most scenic natural wonders on the planet. Venturing out and seeing what our country has to offer will make you truly proud to call New Zealand home!

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