My Favorite Places in New Zealand
First, I want to say that New Zealand has so many places to see and a lot of activities to do which makes it really hard to choose especially if you have limited time. But in a short distance you are able to change landscapes and go from the coast with beautiful beaches to the mountains, explore caves, paddle or fish in pristine rivers, swim in beautiful lakes or hike to the waterfalls. I personally loved this about New Zealand because it made our trip very diverse and exciting. We were road tripping in New Zealand for two months, and it definitely wasn’t enough time to explore and do everything we wanted. Nonetheless, we still visited a lot of awesome places, and I wanted to share with you some of my favorites. I picked places that I found most unique and memorable.
#1 aoraki/mount cook National Park
This is my number one favorite place in New Zealand. I am sure that a lot of people would agree with my choice. This national park offers spectaculars views right as you drive into the park. You don’t have to go far to find the view of towering mountains with glaciers and glacier fed lakes. In fact, there is a very popular little hike called Hooker Valley Track that we initially didn’t want to do because it gets a lot of traffic but I am glad we ended up doing it. It is popular for a good reason. This is probably the most beautiful easy day hike I’ve ever been on. You get to cross three swing bridges and end the walk with a view of Hooker Lake and Mount Cook. We also hiked and camped by the Mueller hut, and it was one of my favorite experiences. The views from above are even better. We were able to enjoy the views of Mount Cook right from our tent. Curios kea (alpine parrot) came to check out our tent right as I was preparing a bottle for Zoey. We woke up to an amazing sunrise, and heard and saw glaciers fall multiple times. I'd say it is a must stop.
#2 Lake Tekapo in spring
Okay, I just couldn’t not include this place. I LOVE flowers. While lake Tekapo is beautiful and has stunning mountain backdrop, it is all the lupines that made the entire difference for me. We wanted to experience spring in New Zealand with all the beautiful flowers, and it didn’t disappoint. I got terrible seasonal allergies for a good portion of our trip in New Zealand but it was all totally worth it. I don’t think that I need to say more. Just look at the picture and if you love flowers like I do you’ll understand. An interesting thing is that lupines are not native to New Zealand so they are actually trying to get rid of them in some areas. I think these flowers are awesome, and I wouldn't mind them to invade my garden.
#3 Fiordland National Park
We arrived to Fiordland National Park on a moody rainy day. We’ve heard that it rains a lot in this area, and indeed it did live up to its reputation. On our afternoon drive to Milford Sound the rain was coming down really hard but it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I never appreciated downpours like I did on that day. We were driving between massive steep cliffs and there was water coming down everywhere. I saw more waterfalls on that day than I did in my entire life. It was simply spectacular. The interesting thing is that when it stopped raining a lot of those waterfalls were just gone just as if someone turned them off. While it was still a pretty cool place the experience wasn't the same. So I do recommend to do the drive when it rains hard. Well, that was our introduction to the Fiordland National Park but there is a lot more to do there. We did Milford Sound boat cruise where you get to see a number of waterfalls cascading right into the ocean. It was a lovely ride, and if you don’t mind getting wet you can get really close to some of the waterfalls because they drove the boat very close to them. Another favorite adventure was Routeburn Track which is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. It is a very beautiful multi day hike. We’ve done only two of the nine Great Walks but we did hear from a number of people that Routeburn Track is one of the best. I can see why people would say that.
#4 Abel Tasman Track
This is the other of the Great Walks that we were able to do. Great Walks are very popular and most of the time do require reservations several months in advance if you want a guaranteed spot. But even if you don’t get to do the track itself there are plenty of other day activities. We saw people taking water taxi and doing some day hikes. Other people were doing day kayak touring. We didn’t want to pay for kayaks so we brought our own inflatable two person packraft. We did the track in an unconventional way and definitely got a lot of questioning looks. Not often you get to see a family in an inflatable packraft with me seating in front of the raft holding a baby and a sun umbrella, and my husband paddling in the back. We could just walk the track but exploring by water gives you an opportunity to see more of the coast's secluded spots where the wild life likes to hangout. We got to see a number of seals that were chilling on the beach or swimming by our raft. There were even a couple of friendly seals that were chilling not far from us when we stopped to have a lunch on a secluded little beach. There were also a number of birds and we even got to see the blue penguin which is the smallest penguin in the world. I would come back and do it again in a heartbeat.
#5 Glowworm Caves
Okay, now this was one of the most unique, weird and at the same time really cool experiences I had in nature. It honestly blew my mind that nature created something like this. You go inside a very dark cave and when the headlamp is off it’s like looking at the night sky with hundreds of stars. But those, of course, are not stars but hundreds of glowworms. I have to say that these are pretty cool little worms, and I don’t praise worms very often. We spent a bit of time in the cave while my husband was taking long exposure pictures, but I really didn’t mind just standing there and looking at “the starry sky”. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and it was definitely one of the most memorable moments. Now, there are few glowworm caves in New Zealand. Waitomo caves are the most famous but you do need to pay for a guided tour. You are also not allowed to take pictures there. There are also other free caves such as Waipu and Abbey caves where you can explore at your own time and you can also take pictures there. We went to the Waipu Cave and it was nice to be there for a while.
#6 Hot Water Beach
New Zealand has a number of beautiful beaches on both North and South islands. One beach that was particularly unique and fun is called Hot Water Beach and it's located on the Coromandel Peninsula. I have to confess that I am not a big fan of cold water. So finding a beach where you can dig out a hot water pool for yourself in the sand was pretty fun. This beach has underground hot springs, and you need to come at low tide and know where to dig. You can have your pool hotter or warmer by digging it closer or further from the source. I think that I also really enjoyed it because my daughter Zoey loved this place. I’d even say that it was her favorite of all the places. She got to sit naked in the warm water and play with a lot of sand. That is all that a little kid like her needs to be happy. So if every beach had hot pools, Zoey and I would be okay with that.