When it comes to scenery, the island nation of New Zealand certainly does not disappoint. From Northland’s Bay of Islands to the South Island’s Catlin Coast, New Zealand really does seem to have it all – snow-capped crests, undulating glaciers, majestic volcanic massifs, jewel-toned lakes, enigmatic fiords, and arresting coastal landscapes. While the famously-scenic country offers more than a lifetime’s worth of staggering views, here were 10 of our favorites:
Tongariro National Park
Easily one of the most spectacular day hikes we’ve ever completed, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is bursting with dramatic views of rust-hued stratovolcanoes (Mounts Tongariro & Ngauruhoe) and the aptly-named Emerald Lakes, mineral-rich pools that shimmer with an intense aquamarine hue.
At the southern tip of the South Island, Nugget Point is a gorgeous feature of New Zealand’s Otago Coast. Balanced precariously atop a sheer cliff, Nugget Point Lighthouse overlooks a cluster of giant monoliths erupting from the swirling, turquoise currents of the South Pacific.
Roy’s Peak, Wanaka
About 70 km (40 miles) northwest of world-famous Queenstown, Lake Wanaka offers some seriously incredible scenery. Aside from soaring some 600 meters (2,000 feet) above the lake in a vintage biplane, one of the best ways to enjoy some stunning views of the water and surrounding crests is to head up to Roy’s Peak, a steep summit at the southern tip of Wanaka’s shores.
Scattered along the sands of Koekohe Beach are large ‘rocks’ known as the Moeraki Boulders. The giant spheres are actually ‘calcite concretions’ – composed of solidified sediments from prehistoric seabeds – estimated to have been formed ~60 million years ago and since exposed by relentless ocean erosion.
Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands
With 144 small islets bursting from the blue-green waters of the Pacific, New Zealand’s Bay of Islands is a true coastal paradise – rife with staggering shorelines, undeveloped beaches, and lush, rolling hillsides. The largest of the bay’s islands, Urupukapuka, offers a 7.3 km (4.5 mile) walking trail that leads visitors around the isle’s perimeter, offering commanding seascapes and secluded coves at nearly every turn.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
The highest peak in the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s prominent Mount Cook dominates the surrounding landscape. The peak’s Maori name – Aoraki – means ‘cloud piercer,’ a fitting title as the snow-capped summit towers above the turquoise waters of neighboring Lake Pukaki & Lake Tekapo.
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s smallest national park, what Abel Tasman lacks in size it makes up for in scenery. Golden shores give way to glassy, green seas while lush, subtropical forests drape the hillsides beyond the sand. The park is also rich in marine and bird life, and the celebrated Abel Tasman Coast Track winds through it all.
Mt. Luxmore & Te Anau, Fiordlands National Park
With the glacier-sculpted fiords of Milford and Doubtful Sounds, a passel of pristine lakes, the rugged peaks of the Southern Alps, and three world-renowned, multi-day tramping routes – the Kepler, Milford, and Routeburn Tracks – Fiordlands National Park is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. While we were unable to fit in a multi-day excursion, we were able to turn Mt. Luxmore (Day 1 of the Kepler Track) into a one-day out and back. After enjoying some incredible views, we hope to return and tackle the longer routes.
As we headed up to Whangarei from Auckland, we decided to make a stop along Bream Bay, a scenic stretch of coastline with a seemingly infinite stretch of white-sand beach. After enjoying a sunny stroll, a late-afternoon storm rolled in, creating an ominous backdrop.
Part of the ‘Roaring Forties,’ a stretch of the Southern Hemisphere (between 40° and 50° latitude) characterized by fierce, westerly winds, New Zealand’s Cook Strait is notorious for its unpredictable seas. And while the weather can at times be a bit precarious, the 3-hour voyage between Picton and Wellington has also been described as one of the world’s most beautiful ferry rides.