Aw, I miss it already. I’ve spent the last half-year in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and I’ve got thousands of photos to show for it. A few days ago I moved along to Australia, but New Zealand is still very much on my mind. I visited dozens of gorgeous and unique places there, but here are my ten favorites:
The first and only city on my list, Napier stands out among New Zealand communities. Much of its distinctive character came after a 1931 earthquake leveled the city. The rebuilding effort spurred the local economy out of its depression, and the facades were styled in progress-oriented Art Deco. It’s a city that values form and aesthetics, both natural and man-made. Exceptional weather doesn’t hurt either.Beachfront greenspace Clean lines are everywhere in Napier Both evenings I spent there ended with a world-class sunset
More Napier pictures can be found here.
9. Punakaiki coast
South Island’s west coast feels a lot like the edge of the world. The beaches are violent and rocky, and the lush vegetation gives it a primal, wild sort of atmosphere. Punakaiki is a tiny settlement that exists for no purpose other than to service the hordes that come to see the area’s most striking feature: a unique coastal rock formation called Pancake rocks.Beach walkway behind my accommodation “The Pot” — a tumultuous, football-field-sized basin in the Pancake Rocks The beach behind Te Nikau, where I stayed
8. The Waikato River
As it spills out of Lake Taupo, the Waikato is an unreal blue color. It’s so vivid, it almost looked fake to me, like it was an elaborate, river-shaped swimming pool. I hiked a few kilometers alongside it until I reached the famous Huka falls. Taupo’s Bungee Jump is situated above a picturesque bend in the Waikato.The exotic blue waters of the Waikato Huka Falls Taken from the footpath on the return from the falls
More Waikato River pictures (including the bungee jump site) can be found here.
7. Franz Josef Ranges
Franz Josef Glacier is a huge draw on the South Island’s West coast. I teamed up with an American girl I met in Punakaiki to tackle a 1300m mountain called Alex Knob to get a higher (and cheaper) vantage point of the glacier than we’d get from a guided tour. The mount was shrouded in mist the whole time, so we didn’t see much of the glacier, but we still got some incredible views of the surrounding rainforest and mountains.The lowlands west of the glacier The lower three-quarters of the mountain is covered in temperate rainforest As we looked out into the whiteout, this mountain ridge materialized and then disappeared again
More Franz Josef (and Punakaiki coast) pictures are here.
6. Abel Tasman Coast Track
I spent the week of Christmas in the South Island’s Abel Tasman National Park. My original idea was to do a whole five-day coastal trek and spend Christmas Day in the backcountry, but I decided to cut it short when I realized I was the only solo hiker on the trail — among about a dozen vacationing families. I also had horrible blisters from wearing brand-new shoes. So I turned back after one night out there, to spend Christmas Day with my friends in nearby Marahau. Still, I saw a good 12 kilometers of the track and it didn’t disappoint.One of the many beaches along the coastal track A sandbar where I stopped for lunch A cove at the end of the beach near Torrent Bay hut
5. Golden Bay
I made two visits to this laid-back area north of the Abel Tasman. On the second trip, some friends and I explored the bay’s northern edge — a 30-kilometer expanse of sand called Farewell Spit. We braved a sudden sandstorm on the way across, then hiked into 80-kph winds on the way back inland. I didn’t take many pictures of it because I was afraid to get sand in my camera, but I’ll never forget the experience.A decaying pier out near where we camped One of Golden Bay’s wide beaches The sandstorm on Farewell Spit. If you look closely there are two wayward hikers in the distance.
4. Waitakere beaches
On my first full day in New Zealand, my Auckland host took me out to three incredible beaches in the Waitakere range, west of the city. I was dumbfounded by the effortless beauty of these places. It was the perfect introduction to New Zealand.Muriwai Beach, home to a few thousand migratory birds called Ganets My favorite beach in the whole world — a lesser-known spot called Anawhata Beach. It takes a 20-minute hike to get to, and the two of us were the only ones around. Karekare beach — a dramatic, endless sheet of black sand. It’s the beach where mysterious strangers wash up at the beginning of episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess
More Waitakere pictures are here.
3. Tongariro National Park
Mordor! A rugged, volcanic landscape that more closely resembles Mars than typical North Island New Zealand. It provided the perfect filming location for the evil realm of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There is a famous 19km hike through its center called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I lucked out with the weather and had an unforgettable day.The “Gates of Hell” at Red Crater, near the high point of the crossing The fantastic Emerald Lakes The beginning of the descent
More Tongariro pictures are here.
2. The Coromandel
The Coromandel is a wild, green peninsula shaped vaguely like a hand giving the middle finger to nearby metropolis Auckland. I spent most of my last week in New Zealand cruising its winding coastal roads in a rental car. I loved it and wish I’d given myself more time. Supposedly it’s the region where the first human beings landed in New Zealand a thousand years ago. Understandably, they never went home.An outcrop near the Peninsula’s remote tip A pohutukawa tree in silhouette Looking out at Great Barrier island from a really high sea cliff
More Coromandel Pictures will be posted on David Goes Kiwi soon.
1. The Milford Track
I think the first thing I did to prepare for my New Zealand trip was to book a spot on the famous Milford Track. It’s New Zealand’s most well-known hiking trail, and only a limited number of spots are available every year. I booked in August and the first available spot was January 29th. That exclusivity set some pretty high expectations in me, but the “finest walk in the world” lived up to them, it really did. Fiordland is a magical place. Hikers are advised to prepare for heavy rains, as the Fiordland area gets pounded year round, but miraculously, we had four straight days of sunshine. The 300+ photos I took don’t really do it justice.One of countless river crossings throughout the track Everywhere you go on the track there are sheer mountain walls on either side, streaked with waterfalls Looking down the valley from Lake Mintaro. On the mountain face you can see dozens of tiny waterfalls coming off the snow field. The mossy basin at the bottom of the 600-meter Sutherland falls. We all took turns climbing on the rocks behind the falls. The falling water creates a powerful wind — it’s hard to catch a breath in the thick spray. In the foreground is a Swedish hiker, making her way to the base.
The natural beauty of New Zealand blew my mind many times over. These are just ten of the places I visited in my six months, and there is so much I didn’t see. New Zealand has a piece of my heart forever. I will be back one day, no question about it.
Don’t die without seeing this place. Get a guidebook now and start planning. [The National Geographic ones are great.]
Nobody regrets going to New Zealand.
All photos by David Cain