…According To The Locals!
We’re excited to feature a post from guest blogger Holly Brace of Where’s Holly, an avid nature enthusiast and conservation advocate who’s lived in New Zealand for two years.
New Zealand is a dream. A nature-filled, snow-capped mountainous dream. Visiting New Zealand means you can take your pick of epic glaciers, grand waterfalls, and vast blue lakes, all presented over two alluring Pacific islands. Perfect for the nature-lover within us.
After calling Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) home for almost two years, I've experienced my fair share of nature's great wonders. Here, I list my 10 must-see spots for nature lovers in New Zealand from a locals’ perspective. No doubt after reading through the following you’ll understand New Zealand’s status as the most naturally beautiful country in the world!
#1 - The Coromandel
Just a two-hour drive outside of Auckland is the stunning Coromandel. This picture-perfect peninsula has a coastline of over 80kms and gorgeous native forests. Though the main attractions of the Coromandel are undoubtedly Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, driving along its stunningly scenic roads is another clear highlight. A beautiful wonder of erosion, Cathedral Cove is accessible only by foot, boat, or kayak (you may even recognize the unmistakable rock formations from the Chronicles of Narnia movie).
The aptly named Hot Water Beach boasts geothermal hotspots right underneath the sand! Hire spades from the local shop, head on down at low tide, and build your own volcanic hot-tub in the sand. The most ideal time is to go at night under the stars, away from the large daytime crowds. If you're looking for a more active adventure on the Coromandel, the Pinnacles hike is a glorious way to see its stunning beauty. One of New Zealand's hidden treasures, the 8-hour hike takes you through the grand Kauaeranga Valley and gives you 360 views spanning both coasts of the Coromandel.
#2 - White Island/Whakaari
Sitting quietly off the Bay of Plenty coast is the fantastic White Island (or it's Māori name Whakaari). White Island is an active volcanic island, with its steamy crater poking out just above sea level. It is New Zealand's most active cone volcano, and a marvel to be seen - though accessible only through booking a tour.
Prefer an inactive volcano? New Zealand can help! Why not stay on dry land in the region and hike up the ancient volcano of Mount Maunganui, where you can bask in beautiful Bay of Plenty views.
Rotorua, the adventure capital of the North Island, comes equipped with its fair share of natural wonders. Here, you can explore New Zealand's ancient forests and bask in the glory of its native trees, some of which were here long before humans ever set foot in Aotearoa. For those wanting to explore the ancient forests, and looking for a bit of a thrill, the Canopy Tour will take you through and above the dream-world full to the brim of ancient plants and trees. A huge focus of the Canopy Tour experience is conservation. Their mission is to restore the whole 500 hectares of forest to its pre-human state.
Surrounded by volcanoes, there are also plenty of geothermal parks and walks in Rotorua like the stunning Wai-O-Tapu. Sometimes you don't even need to search far - geothermal vents are known to spew out sulfuric steam from peoples back gardens!
#4 Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Voted the best day-hike in the world, Tongariro Crossing is located in a national park full of the North Islands speciality which you should realize by now is: active volcanoes! Located just an hour from Lake Taupo, it has dual status as a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site… so it's pretty much a nature-lovers fantasy.
If you want to brave the 19km crossing, make sure you're fully prepared as it is not an easy hike. You will traverse up and down steep volcanic basins, and conditions can change rapidly. However, the exquisite views of crater lakes and steaming vents will definitely be worth it.
#5 - Punakaiki
This little community on the west coast of the South Island is home to an array of natural wonders from dense subtropical rainforest to alpine mountains and white sandy beaches. There is something here for everyone to unearth. The local community in Punakaiki actively cares for the dense forest, and the whole area is considered a nature reserve.
Pancake rocks in Punakaiki are a must-see attraction in the area. These eroded limestone rocks have several blowholes where the sea bursts through, and yes they do look like a stack of pancakes!
#6 - Abel Tasman National Park
Loved by tourists and locals alike, Abel Tasman's turquoise blue waters and golden beaches will leave you in awe. There are so many coastal activities here and plenty of opportunities to bask in nature's glory. Kayak on the flat waters, take a slippery ride down natural water slides and trek through the kiwi bush.
The national park is also home to project Janszoon - who work with the department of conservation to preserve the biodiversity of the site, such as returning lost bird species the kākā and the kākāriki to the park. So get those bird watching binoculars ready!
#7 - Akaroa
Akaroa is a small French settlement town in the heart of an ancient volcanic basin. Nestled away just 75 km outside of Christchurch, this tranquil town has natural wonders at every turn. The peaceful waters surrounding Akaroa are home to Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest and rarest kind of dolphin. Here, you can swim peacefully with them in a memorable encounter led by an ethical tour operator.
Undoubtedly the best thing about Akaroa is that it's home to the largest colony of little blue penguins on mainland New Zealand. At one point, little blue penguins were declining at an alarming rate due to introduced predators like dogs and ferrets, and some colonies were wiped out forever. The tours that run to see the penguins are all led by conservation teams, who have achieved a remarkable increase in the little blue penguin population and help protect the native forest .
#8 - Wanaka
The lakefront town of Wanaka is a sleepy little town known for its breathtaking scenery (and hardly any tourists compared to its neighbor - the ultra-busy adventure capital of Queenstown). Wanaka is a mecca for nature lovers due to the abundance of free hikes, the most popular being the dazzling Roys Peak. Strolling along the lakefront shores, you'll find the "most-photographed tree in the world" (#thatwanakatree), a lone tree that found its way out of the pristine waters and stands sheepishly in front of the dramatic Alps.
Another great thing about Wanaka is it’s proximity to so many other places. World Heritage Area Mt Aspiring National Park and all it’s wonderful hikes are only an hour drive away. On the other side, you’ll get easy access to The Remarkables in all their glory - especially during snow season. For the daring, you can also opt for a waterfall climb from Wanaka, perhaps even the highest waterfall via ferrata in the world!
#9 - Lake Tekapo (and surrounding region)
The bluest lake you ever did see! Lake Tekapo is a must-do for nature lovers, if just to witness the spectacular turquoise color of the lake itself. Getting its blue hue from rock sediment from surrounding glaciers, Lake Tekapo gives you floral serenity in the front (especially in the spring months!) and mountainous drama in the back. But Lake Tekapo isn’t the only surreal blue lake in the region - nearby Lake Pukaki may give Tekapo a run for its money as you drive along it’s shores to Mt Cook (Aoraki) and the easy but dramatic Hooker Valley hike. From several points in the area you can also hop on a bike for world-famous Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.
If you look up at night anywhere in the region, you'll see the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world. On a clear night you'll be able the view the milky way, the southern cross constellation, and possibly even the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).
#10 - Fiordland
Fiordland National Park needs to be seen to be believed. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, its exceptional beauty is well known. For nature lovers, Milford Sound is by far the main attraction in Fiordland. Often dubbed the most beautiful place on earth, Milford Sound boasts nearly 4000ft snow-capped mountains flanking the open sea. Here, you can see wild seals, dolphins and countless waterfalls (especially when it rains)! Cruising or kayaking the fjord is a massive crowd pleaser, but there's also many walking and tramping tracks to take in the beautiful views.
Be sure to look out for the South Island native Kea birds while visiting Fiordland. These super-smart birds are cheeky and mischievous, and naturally curious about humans. These bold birds will approach you, just make sure not to feed them.
If you’re anything like us then your nature-loving urges must be firing on all cylinders by now!! Lucky for you, we’ll visit almost all of the above destinations on our two New Zealand itineraries! Take your pick and get ready for the completely unfair natural beauty that New Zealand boasts.
A New Zealand Fantasy - A 10-day exploration of nature and culture in New Zealand’s North & South Islands
New Zealand Hiking - A 10-day journey bringing you deep into the stunning landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island with multiple overnight hikes.