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The 10 Most Beautiful Places I Visited in New Zealand

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:

10. Napier

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.

napier Beachfront greenspace napier beach 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 beach at west coast 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.

waikato river The exotic blue waters of the Waikato huka falls Huka Falls waikato 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.

franz josef lowlands The lowlands west of the glacier trees The lower three-quarters of the mountain is covered in temperate rainforest mountains franz josef 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.

abel tasman beach One of the many beaches along the coastal track abel tasman sandbar A sandbar where I stopped for lunch Cove torrent bay 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.

old pier A decaying pier out near where we camped golden bay One of Golden Bay’s wide beaches farewell spit sandstorm 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 Muriwai Beach, home to a few thousand migratory birds called Ganets Anawhata beach 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 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.

tongariro crossing red crater The “Gates of Hell” at Red Crater, near the high point of the crossing emerald lakes The fantastic Emerald Lakes south side of the crossing 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.

coromandel An outcrop near the Peninsula’s remote tip pohutukawa silhouette A pohutukawa tree in silhouette great barrier island 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 milford track mountain Everywhere you go on the track there are sheer mountain walls on either side, streaked with waterfalls lake mintaro 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.

 

R

All photos by David Cain

Jay Schryer May 14, 2010 at 6:29 am

These are all really beautiful! It seems like a hiker’s paradise, I know you had a great time.

But what I want to know is, did you see any hobbits? Elves? Wizards? Where are *those* pictures, David? Hmm? :D

David May 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

They demanded ten dollars per photo. I refused, and Gandalf zapped my camera with his staff, erasing them all.

Eric August 8, 2012 at 2:41 am

Did you see prudo & Bilbo Baggins there? Lol nice place ..hoping that one day i ll be there..

Sarah December 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Yeah, I’ve seen Bilbo. Nice little hobbit, I must admit, though he takes handkerchiefs far too seriously. NZ is a wonderful place, so glad I live here.

zarah September 11, 2011 at 12:03 am

nz isn’t all about the lord of the rings movie you know

Jaytee October 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm

You’re right…It’s about Rat Monkeys infecting people, making them murderous zombies.

Jay November 26, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Especially since LoTR are boring movies.

Douglas May 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

My girlfriend has always wanted to take a trip to New Zealand, and now I see why.

I will have to experience this place myself some day.

David May 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Putting all these pictures together made me realize how special a place it really is. I had only ever looked at my photos from one place at a time. And there’s so much more to see.

Tim May 15, 2010 at 12:00 am

I really like it. It’s on the list. NZ is waiting for me.

Thanks for sharing the pictures. I just love it when you don’t talk about something incredibly profound. It’s just refreshing to hear you talk from your heart about all that beauty.
.-= Tim´s last blog ..Really? =-.

David May 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm

This post was really fun to put together. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a 33000-word article.

Jill May 15, 2010 at 1:44 am

New //////zealand new it was beautiful….You just reminded me I must get my passport up and going!!!THANKX

David May 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Do it!

Joy May 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm

David,
I live in paradise and I’m completely blown away by your photos…makes me appreciate my little corner of the world as much…..
Such stunning beauty captured in each photo! Gorgeous!!! Just one spot is exquisite–all together is almost overwhelming…how can you possibly let it all soak in??? Your heart must be absolutely overflowing with all that you’ve experienced in these past few months, and now you’re on to a new adventure….May all that you’ve experienced be an amazing foundation for all that you are about to experience…
.-= Joy´s last blog ..Fearless Fun Friday…Fun in the Bathroom Mirror…. =-.

David May 15, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Going through my photos, I was amazed at how much I’ve seen in such a short time. New Zealand is very casual about its natural beauty… you could make your way to a little-known lookout point, which might be completely free of tourists, even in high season, and see something literally worth writing home about. There’s just so, so much.

Maybe it hasn’t soaked in fully… I suspect it will when I get home.

waheedullah musleh March 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

that’s very good

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) May 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm

It is so great that this is the world we live on~

David May 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Yes! Beauty in ridiculous excess.

Vincent Nguyen May 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Just amazing and stunning photos of New Zealand David.
Thank you for sharing them with us.
Did you encounter any exotic wildlife along the way?
.-= Vincent Nguyen´s last blog ..The Soldier =-.

David May 16, 2010 at 1:10 am

Yes I had a few wildlife encounters: Wekas, eels, keas, and a lot of other birds. I also saw three sperm whales on a whale tour. New Zealand’s wildlife is pretty low-key. There are no native mammals (other than bats) so most of the life-forms are plants and birds. They are quite distinct though, having evolved in isolation.

zarah September 11, 2011 at 12:09 am

nz has native birds, bats and lizards
no snakes thankfully

Dr. G May 16, 2010 at 3:25 am

Fantastic photos, David!

I toured the North and South Island on a motorbike last Christmas/New Year for 3 weeks, and I have seen most of the places you mention, except Milford Sound – so I have a good reason to go back ;-)

It was truly fantastic, but for climate reasons, I prefer to stay in Bangkok (even though it’s getting a bit too hot now not only in terms of temperature…)

David May 16, 2010 at 3:42 am

I’ve been hearing a lot about Bangkok recently. I’m in Sydney now, and I’m met more than a few backpackers who are delaying the Thailand portion of their trip. Is the violence localized to just one part of Bangkok?

Dr. G May 16, 2010 at 4:06 am

Sorry to spoil this nice blog with such an unpleasant topic, but since you have asked: basically the violence is localized, but since things escalated since last Thursday, you’ll never know…
It has become very quiet on the streets, and as curfew is under discussion for tonight (for the first time in my 6 years in Thailand) it seems wise to delay trips that are not necessary, and observe the situation over the next days.

Rong zhao May 16, 2010 at 8:56 am

I almost lost!!! thank you for sharing!

Simon May 16, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Awwww… I’ll have to go back… I like the Coromandel Peninsula too, it didn’t feel completely discovered. Two great holidays in NZ aren’t enough.

Mathieu D May 17, 2010 at 6:22 am

You, sir, just reminded me how badly I need to get traveling again. Peru was awesome but it’s so far away already.

It’ll be in my next goals list for sure. And New Zealand just got up in my list of MUST-GO places.

Thanks for sharing that!
Mat
.-= Mathieu D´s last blog ..Challenge #3, part 2: THE BRIDGE =-.

John May 22, 2010 at 7:39 am

Such a friendly site you have, David. Congratulations. I am happy to have stumbled upon it. I know it will do me a world of good.

David May 23, 2010 at 1:00 am

Happy to have you, John.

Sasa June 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Gah! The terrible homesickness that you are inducing in me!

David June 12, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Sorry!

I’ve been gone a month now and I miss New Zealand too. I will definitely come back, it’s an incredible place.

Naresh August 1, 2010 at 4:31 am

Im new in New-Zealand through ur reasearch I find many important things for my study.Im happy to have this.Thank you.

Emma September 25, 2010 at 10:35 am

I’m a New Zealander living in Belgium right now and I love this post of yours. I have to say that it wasn’t until I left the country that I realised just how special and beautiful it is! Your photos are stunning and I think you have a very good top ten. :) If you ever return I would recommend you make the drive out to a place called Cape Palliser near the Wairarapa. It’s very remote and it takes a couple of hours to get out there, but it’s absolutely worth it.

David September 26, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I will return some day. There are a lot of places I haven’t been or haven’t explored much. I love NZ.

Mollie October 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I enjoyed looking at your photos and I am delighted you enjoyed this beautiful country that I am lucky enough to call my home. You appreciation for NZ makes we realise how much I take it for granted!

Madison January 9, 2011 at 1:47 am

Im glad you enjoyed New Zealand, I live basically on Anawhata Beach. Next time you come you might prefer the upper Northland it has a beautifull setting and is widely credited for its wildlife

R.SAILESH January 22, 2011 at 11:56 am

very,very beautiful

Makayla June 8, 2011 at 5:10 am

These pictures are stunning. I’m glad to be living in New Zealand… Next time you come, you should take a trip to some of New Zealand islands, such as tiri tiri matangi island, and many more. Thank you for sharing these amazing pictures- i can feel your passion for the country ! :)

dayangani June 22, 2011 at 4:57 am

being a human we should be proud because we have opportunity to see pictures like these. but i can’t to visit see these places because i am belongs to poor family. however i want to thanks for u. i love NZ.

Jon June 22, 2011 at 9:19 am

New Zealand looks absolutely fantastic! I’m going to start my first year of college in the fall, and soon I’ll have to submit my request for where I want to study abroad. I’ve never traveled more than two days’ drive from my house, but I’d love to have some sort of career where I could travel all the time when I graduate. Anyway, you’ve convinced me to put New Zealand at the top of the list of places I hope to study in a few years (right next to Austrailia and England). Thanks for such a great website!

Belinda Tipene June 24, 2011 at 1:13 am

These pictures are beautiful… So proud to be from NZ

JAYARAM August 9, 2011 at 2:34 am

What a beautiful places in Newzeland !!!!!. I wish that the next time I will be in Newzeland.

zarah September 11, 2011 at 12:12 am

New Zealand is spelt like that

marina August 16, 2011 at 6:11 am

wow what a beautiful places you are very lucky that you have seen all that places.may you seen more more and moreeeeeeeeeee beautiful places bye

Rubaiya Jahan Bani September 5, 2011 at 3:28 am

really very nice….

zarah September 11, 2011 at 12:16 am

ANYONE FROM AMERICA WISHING TO GO TO NZ?
be warned if you ask for a kiwi [the fruit] you’ll get some funny looks
kiwi is our national bird
in nz the fruit is called kiwi-fruit

zarah September 11, 2011 at 12:19 am

any aussi wishing to go to nz should be warned that we hate possums they are like wild rabbits on farm land
pests
i saying this cause i heard that australians love possums

Muhammad Naeem September 14, 2011 at 12:25 am

hi! im Muhammad Naeem from Pakistan . New zeland so really so beautifull. i like new zeland .

D October 5, 2011 at 11:05 pm

If you were to go to NZ for a week where would you go?

David October 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Hmm… I would do everything possible to extend that stay but if it wasn’t possible, I’d fly into Auckland, spend a day at the beaches in the Waitakere area, then drive out to Mt Maunganui, then down to Taupo and Tongariro National Park, then back.

Danni June 17, 2014 at 12:08 am

Mt Maunganui is a beatuiful place, I live there =3

Amrit October 24, 2011 at 4:22 am

These r fantastic and wonderful pictures. Now i also want to visit there. Thanks friends for these.

ivin October 27, 2011 at 1:28 am

i am very excited while i am watching your photos ,these are beautiful picture and nz looks like the praradie in the world . i dream to visit nz someday.i really love it . thanks so much for your sharing .

Rohan November 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Great pics David!!! While I am watching your pics, I am looking at my calendar to plan a trip :) Thanks a ton for sharing ! :)

asanka November 7, 2011 at 12:48 am

DEAR DEVID . I M VERY POOR. BUT TRY TO VISIT NEW ZEALAND. I HOPE I CAN DO IT.

Haji gul April 6, 2014 at 8:56 am

i love new zealand i hope one day i will must see new zealand

Mel January 3, 2012 at 1:17 am

Loved reading this post – and for once I don’t need to get travel-envy, since I live right here! I’m going to make the most of tomorrow’s sunshine. :-)

Bren February 16, 2012 at 8:11 pm

WOW! Soo ahhmazing, thanks for taking time to show us all about these wonderful places!(:

MAYMAY March 6, 2012 at 1:26 am

i like all the places i wish that i can go there to visit this places … i cant see like places her in Philippines

Montez Purifoy April 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

judging by the sites, I wish Ilived in New Zealand

Ed June 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

That’s so beautiful. I wish I could do that trip sometime. The Milford track especially

naveen June 21, 2012 at 6:53 am

really superb,,,fantastic place for live and for tour………
i love newzeland and i want to come there……

Divine June 23, 2012 at 6:34 am

i love reading all those comments.. Now i am more excited to be in NZ and explore those beautiful places i have seen in the pic.. It’s fabulous and amazing..

Princess Fiona July 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I also dream to live in New Zealand someday…

မုဒိတာ July 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm

VERY VERY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY

Nish August 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Hi David

Amazing information and pics. I am planning a trip in Dec this year. Have 2 weeks. I know you would suggest to extend it, but can’t. Saw your reply above places to visit if there for a week. Coming from North America, I am not into beaches(unless they are really comparable to Caribbean), but really want to see landscape of NZ. Any suggestions?

z September 11, 2012 at 4:12 am

*sigh* nz isn’t all about the lord of the rings u know
i agree that milford sound get first place

{if u anyone goes to christchurch,nz -visit kaiteriteri beach

Galina September 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi Dave,

question for you – we have a total of 2 weeks to go to Australia and we want to spend maybe 9 days in AU and 5 days in NZ…how would you recommend spending those 5 days? I am torn between Christchurch, Auckland and Queenstown.

Ollie October 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Cheers for this mate, I didn’t realise how much we actually have in this country. Been looking for some stuff to do this summer, your list definitely helped my plans. Thanks man :)

Kimmy October 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Hi David,

I totally agree with you. I was in NZ back in the 90’s for just 1 week and definitely not enough!
Such, I plan to go again next year :-)
This time would be 2 weeks :-)
And contemplating whether to go during spring or Autumn. I have not seen autumn and I love to see those colourful leaves :-D
What would you suggest?

You should visit Malaysia too. She too is a beautiful place and with the lower currency, you get to spend more :-)

David October 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

Honestly, it’s beautiful any time. Go whenever it works best for you. Just remember than their autumn happens when spring happens in the northern hemisphere.

I’d love to go to Malaysia.

Jason Glover February 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Being an island nation the seasons lag quite considerably. Meaning that the beginning of spring feels like its still winter, the first half of “summer” feels like spring, the first half autumn still feels like summer, etc.

For instance it is February right now and summer only just got its straps on!

Feb-March is pretty bloody nice. April is nice still too but starting to get nippy.

Follow your instincts, come see the beautiful autumn colours.

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