It's a lengthy list so narrowing down the best New Zealand attractions is not an easy task.
But we will give it a crack for you.
Size wise, New Zealand is quite a compact place, and is roughly the same size as the United Kingdom.
But boy, does it pack a lot into a small space!
Comprised of two main islands, plus hundreds of smaller ones, this is one amazing country.
When you visit us, you can travel from snow capped peaks, to volcanoes and bubbling thermal reserves, then to beautiful beaches, all within a day.
On this page
There's lots of information about the best New Zealand attractions on this page, so just in case you are in a hurry, you can follow the links below to go directly to that topic:
* Two very different islands
Best New Zealand attractions on the North Island
* The Coromandel
* Our National Museum
* Maori cultural performance and Hangi in Rotorua
Our best New Zealand attractions on the South Island
* Queenstown and Wanaka
* Fiordland National Park
* Land on a glacier at Franz Josef
A tale of two very different islands
The North Island
Our Maori people and their culture feature throughout the north, and if you visit us, please take the time to experience our Maori history, song, dance and food.
Rotorua and Taupo both feature beautiful lakes but are also the centre of our thermal reserves. Bubbling mud pools, geysers, hot springs, and thundering waterfalls combine to make these a must do on your visit.
And the nearby Central Plateau is home to several ski fields including Ruapehu.
The stunning South is divided by the towering Southern Alps, which run almost the entire length of the island.
At the north of the South (if that makes sense), the Tasman region includes the famous Abel Tasman National Park, the vibrant artisan city of Nelson, the South Island ferry port of Picton, and the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds.
A little further south, the seafood delights, marine life and coastal scenery of Kaikoura will blow you away. And Hanmer Springs hot pools offer a relaxing break if you pass that way.
Christchurch is aptly known as the Garden City, and is a perfect spot to spend a couple of days as you traverse the South Island.
Have you ever seen a lake so blue that it doesn't look real? Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki are simply indescribable. And nearby, New Zealand's highest peak Aoraki Mt Cook towers some 4,000 metres above the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Most visitors will have heard of our Fiordland, and many of you may be coming here to see the twin sounds, Milford and Doubtful. And if you are, you will not be disappointed.
Here we go (we apologise to anyone that doesn't agree, but these are our personal faves).
In some case we have chosen a region, rather than a specific attraction. And that's simply because that region offers so much that it simply has to be experienced on your visit.
So here are our picks (not in any particular order) for the best New Zealand attractions.
The North Island's best New Zealand attractions
The Coromandel is located on a narrow peninsula east of Auckland.
The very creative Coromandel tourism board coined the slogan "Good for your soul", to describe the region.
And when you visit, you will understand why, as this is probably one of the most apt descriptions we've ever read.
Historic towns and villages, like Thames and Coromandel Town, reveal the history of the region. Boy our early settlers did it tough. And towns like Whitianga, Pauanui and Whangamata are true coastal delights, full of wonderful scenery and warm hospitality.
But the coastal attractions like Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach and New Chum Beach, reveal some of the best coastal scenery in the world (in our humble opinion).
On our last visit we enjoyed a great morning out with Ocean Leopard. Our tour took us out from Whitianga through Mercury Bay, then around the coast to Cathedral Cove. The tour was awesome, and contained a few surprises. At one point we approached a large sea cave in the cliff face, and we all thought "oh that's pretty neat". But the captain took the boat closer and closer and before we knew, we were inside the sea cave! Crystal clear water full of fish and a high ceiling took our breath away. After leaving the cave we headed back towards Whitianga and just before Cathedral Cove we stopped to snorkel in the middle of a large school of snapper. We then headed back to Cathedral Cove. What a beautiful place. Pictures don't really do it justice. We can highly recommend this Ocean Leopard tour. This is really one of our best New Zealand attractions!
A special mention about the local seafood. If you visit, please try the seafood! We repeat, please try the seafood!
The local scallops, greenlip mussels and fish (like our snapper) are simply mouth watering. Locals celebrate everything seafood with the Whitianga Oceans Festival, a showcase of local produce from the sea.
The Coromandel is full of opportunities. Wander through quaint villages, take a cruise along the rugged coastline, dig your own hot bath in the sand, or just sit by the shore and admire the views. Take a ride through native bush on the Driving Creek Railway, or visit the beautiful Karangahake Gorge. There's so much to see and do here.
You can learn more about this beautiful region on our dedicated Coromandel page by clicking here.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Regarded as New Zealand's best single day trek, and one of the best in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Trek traverses the almost lunar landscape of the Central Plateau.
At just over 19 klm long, the full trek takes between six and eight hours to complete.
This challenging walk will test your fitness, so if you are not fit, it's not for you. It is well marked, but steep in sections, and climbs and drops as it snakes along the mountainside.
But, if you decide to take up the challenge, Tongariro's breathtaking scenery awaits you.
Active volcanoes, multi coloured lakes, lava flows, steam vents, and alpine scenery are all features of this unforgettable experience.
In the winter months, the trek may be covered in ice and snow, so extra care and equipment is required. If you are not an experienced alpine trekker, a guided trek is highly recommended in the winter months. Either way, it will be a memorable experience.
Even in the warmer months, weather conditions can change rapidly, so always be prepared with warm clothing and supplies.
The trek comprises six stages, and it is possible to walk just part of the trek. However, in our opinion, you need to experience it in full.
Parking at either end is restricted, so we highly recommend using one of the local transport companies to drop you off and pick you up.
You can check out a range of guided tour and shuttle transport options on our dedicated Tongariro activities page here.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) have a wealth of information on the trek, and if you are thinking of doing the walk, we highly recommend visiting their website here, or the official website for the trek here.
Visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Take a day and visit Te Papa (or "Our Place"). Located in our capital Wellington (at the bottom of the North Island), Te Papa is a visual and interactive feast for visitors of all ages.
With numerous interactive displays and a vast array of kiwi memorabilia and art, Te Papa is a wonderful exhibition of New Zealand's history, culture, and lifestyle.
Kids will love it with so much to see and do. And adults (like us) become "big kids", wandering through, reminiscing and interacting with some of the most thoughtful and well researched displays that you could imagine.
New Zealand's natural resources and environment, art, culture, fashion, history, sports (including the mighty All Blacks) are just some of the topics covered in detail in the wonderful displays.
One of our favourite exhibitions is "Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War", which details New Zealand's involvement in World War 1. Told through the eyes of eight New Zealander's it's a mesmerising experience. The displays, created by the Weta Workshop are unbelievable. See the picture below. Wow! We almost expected the figures to stand up and start walking, they are so realistic.
You can learn more about available tours of Te Papa here.
Enjoy a traditional Maori performance and Hangi (dinner) in Rotorua
The Maori people are our original inhabitants.
According to Maori tradition, around 1000 years ago, the great navigator, Kupe, used the stars and the currents, to navigate from Hawaiki, their mystical homeland in Polynesia.
This journey paved the path for future generations to make the crossing in their waka (canoes) and establish their iwi (tribes) here.
The Maori people co-existed with nature, gathering food, growing crops, and hunting and fishing in what was at times a very harsh environment.
Today, the rich Maori tradition and culture is re-lived through various shows and displays throughout our country.
One of the best and most informative of these is at the Tamaki Maori Village near Rotorua.
Here you can experience a re-creation of the living environment of Maori settlers.
The guides are amazing, funny, and inclusive, giving guests a unique insight of the Maori heritage.
Topped off with the opportunity of a beautiful hangi feast, it's no wonder that Tamaki Maori Village was voted by TripAdvisor in 2018 as the 7th best experience in the world!
From the traditional Maori welcome, to song and dance, craft displays, and wonderful food, this is a "must do" if you are on our North Island.
You can find out about one of the great tours of Tamakai Maori Village here.
South Island's best New Zealand attractions
Queenstown and Wanaka
No list of the best New Zealand attractions would be complete without mentioning Queenstown.
Queenstown is known as the "Adventure Capital". But it's much more than that.
Can you imagine sitting on your balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu (Wok-a-tip-oo), watching the historic steamer the TSS Earnslaw as it slips gracefully past. In the distance the buzz of a jetboat catches your ear. Then your eyes focus across the lake to the snow capped peaks of the Remarkables, towering over 2,000 metres above.
What to do today? A jetboat ride through the gorge? Or for something a little less frenetic, relax on the lake aboard the TSS Earnslaw. We lounged back with a fresh muffin and a coffee and watched the scenery sail past. Beautiful. You can even take the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Station for a yummy lunch or dinner.
One of our favourites is the trip up to the Skyline complex on Bob's Peak via the Skyline Gondola. The views are AMAZING! And when you get to the top, have a meal or a snack at the Stratosfare restaurant or at the cafe, then watch the world flash by as you race down the hillside on the luge. We love it!
Yes, Queenstown can be as mild or as wild as you like.
Bungy off a bridge. Swing over a canyon. Or relax in a spa overlooking a rambling river far below. Walk along the wharf and spot the huge trout and eels swimming below. Dine at one of the many lakeside restaurants and watch night descend. Visit historic Arrowtown. Rent a mountain bike and experience the region's numerous trails. Take a drive along the lake to either Glenorchy or Kingston. Keep the camera handy as every bend in the road reveals a new vista.
And if you like your golf, Queenstown is home to several world class courses such as Jack's Point, Millbrook, The Hills, Arrowtown, and Kelvin Heights.
We don't know of anywhere else that provides such an enormous variety of experiences. And all with that jaw dropping backdrop of the lake and the mountains.
Throw in some world class ski fields, hundreds of pubs, bars, restaurants, and wineries, and Queenstown is a place you simply have to visit.
We have spent a week here on several occasions, and it's never long enough. This magical place keeps drawing us back.
You can find out more about Queenstown here.
A special mention also goes to nearby Wanaka. Around 100 kilometres away by road, Wanaka, like Queenstown, sits on the shores of a beautiful lake, with a backdrop of towering mountains. Perhaps a little more laid back than Queenstown, Wanaka is also one of our highly recommended South Island spots.
Home to the Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields, Wanaka is a winter wonderland.
But there's lots to do all year round here.
Have a meal at the historic Cardrona Hotel. Visit the intriguing Puzzling World (fun for all ages), take a winery tour, play a round of golf overlooking the lake, try and catch a trout, or just chill out.
Wanaka has something for everyone.
People will argue long and loud about the best New Zealand attractions.
But in our opinion, this is it. New Zealand's number one.
Frequently topping the list of the best New Zealand attractions, and located on the South Island's lower West Coast, Fiordland National Park is quite simply a place you cannot miss.
Milford Sound, and the less well known, but equally impressive Doubtful Sound, offer visitors mind blowing scenery.
Mountains that disappear into the clouds, thundering waterfalls that plunge into deep, dark water, and a variety of wonderful wildlife, all combine to make this a very special part of New Zealand.
Most people take one of the many organised tours from Queenstown to Milford or Doubtful. It's a big day (around 12-13 hours) if you do it that way.
A more leisurely approach is to stay a couple of nights at Te Anau, the nearest town to Milford and Doubtful. From there it's around 120 kilometres to Milford Sound. Trips to Doubtful Sound begin at the village of Manapouri, around 30 minutes drive from Te Anau.
The majesty and drama of the sounds is hard to describe. I've never seen so many open mouthed people in one place, all staring at the view unfolding in front of them.
There's something very special about being on a tour boat as the skipper noses it under the spray of a waterfall.
Special tip if you do a tour of Milford Sound, see if you can include a visit to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. Here you descend ten metres below the surface to see corals, fish, anemones and a variety of other marine life. We highly recommend it.
More Information about Fiordland
There's lots more information on our dedicated page here.
Kaikoura - a marine wonderland
Kaikoura is a stunning seaside town located around 2 hours drive north of Christchurch, on the South Island's east coast.
Rimmed by mountains that run down to the sea, Kaikoura is a beautiful spot, particularly in winter when snow covers the peaks.
Kaikoura is best known for it's plentiful marine life. Just off the coast, the water conditions offer a perfect environment for marine life to flourish.
Sperm whales, a variety of dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, and many other species frequent the area, and if you love nature, this is an ideal place to get up close.
Whale Watch Kaikoura are the local tour specialists and are so confident in their ability to show you the local whale population, that they offer to refund 80% of your fee if they don't spot a whale!
Their tours are great fun. Finding the whales is all part of the enjoyment and whilst there is a method to locating the whales, on our tours, the "chase" began with a fellow passenger yelling out "there's one". At which point everyone rushed back to their seats and the skipper turned the boat and raced off in the direction of the sighting.
Watching these huge mammals breach and tail slap is something we will never forget.
We also saw large pods of acrobatic Dusky dolphins, and lots of birds, including a gregarious albatross that followed us for a while.
There are also tours in Kaikoura where you can swim with the dolphins and seals, or even kayak with them.
You can learn more about the range of Kaikoura wildlife tours here.
If you want to stay on solid ground, the area around Kaikoura is a wonderful place to see New Zealand Fur seals, which frequent the shoreline in various spots.
On State Highway 1, around 27 kilometres north of Kaikoura, at Ohau Point, there's a permanent colony which can be viewed from the rocks above.
The Point Kean colony, just north of the town is an amazing spot to see them. From the car park, you can walk out to the point and watch the seals lounging on the rocks. But when we were there last time, seals and pups were scattered around the walkway adjoining the car park. I was surprised as a pup poked it's head out from under the walkway (see picture).
The lookout above Kaikoura gives wonderful views of the area, as does the journey along State Highway 1 north and south of Kaikoura.
Special tips - If you are in the area and want somewhere nice to stay, our fave is the Anchor Inn. Located across the road from the ocean a couple of kilometres north of the town centre, the Anchor Inn is a lovely, clean motel, with beautiful views. Highly recommended.
If you head out to Ohau Point, about five kilometres before there, you will see a white and blue caravan on the ocean side of the road. It's the famous Nin's Bin. This place is a Kaikoura icon and has been selling fresh crayfish for decades. Stop and try some. You can sit by the road side overlooking the ocean while you eat. Delicious.
Land on Franz Josef Glacier
If you are on the South Island's wild West Coast, this is a "must do".
We did this one several years back. What a great experience.
From the car park in Franz Josef village, we boarded the helicopter, wondering what the trip would be like. We had never been on a helicopter before, so we were all a little nervous.
But as soon as we lifted gently into the air, our fears were gone. It's like sitting in your lounge chair as it gently lifts into the sky.
As we ascended, we followed the glacier ever upwards. From high above, we saw the glacier from a perspective not available if you just do the walk to the face of the glacier.
Huge crevasses cut their way through the glacier, and we were surprised by the blue tinges as the light reflected through the ice.
During the flight we flew close some towering cliffs and waterfalls, before finally landing on the enormous neve (the compacted snow) at the top of the glacier.
Our skipper opened the door and out we hopped. Wow! The views were UNBELIEVABLE!. And the air was so crisp and clear.
We looked over at some peaks which, to us, seemed very close by. We asked the skipper how long it would take to walk there, and he replied "a few hours". The vastness of the space was so deceptive. We've included one of our old pics below. Sorry about the quality, but it will give you an idea of what we are talking about.
Before we knew it we were back on the helicopter, descending to Franz Josef village.
These flights are not cheap, but it was one of the best New Zealand attractions that we have ever been to, and we thoroughly enjoyed every second.
These flights are very much dependent on the weather. Our advice is to book your flight early, and try for a morning flight, as the conditions may be better. And keep your fingers crossed that the weather gods are kind!
You can find out more about the trip here.
Best New Zealand attractions - The Coromandel
Best New Zealand attractions - Queenstown
Best New Zealand attractions - Fiordland
Best New Zealand attractions - Ocean Leopard tour