New Zealand Highlights – our Top 12: You should not miss them!

Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island New Zealand

New Zealand Highlights: There are so many sights to see, we could have easily spent 8 weeks here.

BREATHING! This is the word that comes to mind when we think back to New Zealand. This versatile country with its countless scenic highlights has inspired us so much that we would like to pack our bags again and travel to New Zealand right away.

We enjoyed every minute of our trip through this fascinating landscape. So it's not surprising that we needed much more time than we could have imagined for almost every section of the tour. The saying "The way is the goal" got a completely new meaning for us in New Zealand.

You are planning a trip to New Zealand? Is it maybe even your first trip to this wonderful country? How beautiful! The anticipation is certainly huge.

To help you plan your New Zealand trip, we have summarized our best New Zealand highlights for you.

Of course there are many more sights, but we didn't want to overwhelm you with too many New Zealand highlights. After all, most of us have only 3 – 5 weeks to explore this country. Unfortunately it is not possible to see everything in time.

Fortunately we haven't explored all the regions yet. Popular attractions like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Northland or Queenstown are on top of our bucket list.

In our opinion, you should definitely take a closer look at the following 12 New Zealand highlights when you travel to New Zealand for the first time.

Abel Tasman National Park: Sunshine and tropical feeling

The smallest national park in New Zealand convinced us with its golden sandy beaches, turquoise water and numerous hours of sunshine. A boat trip along the coast was definitely a highlight of our New Zealand round trip.

Apple Tree Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, New ZealandAnchorage, Abel Tasman National Park New Zealand

From the water we enjoyed unique views of the picturesque bays surrounded by dense forest and fascinating granite rocks. For us the perfect opportunity to discover the Abel Tasman National Park and enjoy the tropical feeling of this region.

Boundary Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Boundary Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Did you know that Abel Tasman National Park is one of the sunniest areas in New Zealand?? In our blog post Our Top Highlight: A Boat Trip in the Abel Tasman National Park we will show you our tips for an unforgettable day trip.

New Zealand Highlights

Catlins: Pure nature off the beaten track

In the southeast of the South Island a very special New Zealand highlight awaits: the Catlins. This is an untouched coastal landscape with a lot to discover. Our journey took us past waterfalls, lonely beaches, Nugget Point and the southernmost point of the South Island.

Nugget Point, Catlins New ZealandRoaring Bay in the Catlins New Zealand

We watched sea lions, seals and dolphins in the wild and waited for yellow-eyed penguins to arrive. The petrified forest at Curio Bay, which was formed more than 180 million years ago, shows again a completely different side of this remote area. In the Catlins we had for the first time the feeling to be "as good as alone" in New Zealand on the road.

Fossil logs at Curio Bay, Catlins New Zealand

Sea lion at Surat Bay, Catlins New Zealand

In our opinion the Catlins should not be missing on a New Zealand tour. Would you like to know what there is to discover in the Catlins?? Then check out the article Catlins Sights: Top 10 off-the-beaten-path attractions and get inspired.

New Zealand Landmarks

West Coast& Pancakes Rocks: Wild and unpredictable

At the west coast of New Zealand the rainforest meets the wild Tasman Sea. Here you can expect rough coasts, roaring waves, deserted beaches, unique contrasts and great viewpoints.

Beach near Barrytown at the west coast of New Zealand

Viewpoint on the West Coast New Zealand

Great Coast Road along the west coast of New Zealand

The top highlight along the Great Coast Road are the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. This is an incredible rock formation that has been sculpted by the power of nature over millions of years.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki West Coast New Zealand

A large part of the 101 kilometer long Great Coast Road leads directly along the coast. For us, this is clearly one of the most impressive routes in New Zealand. Would you like to get more impressions and helpful travel tips about the wonderful west coast of New Zealand?? Then check out our post Pancake Rocks& Great Coast Road: Highlights of the West Coast of New Zealand to.

New Zealand Highlights

Milford Sound: The eighth wonder of the world

Milford Sound is definitely one of the most popular New Zealand highlights. Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to this remote region every year. In spite of mass tourism we ventured on one of the numerous boats and sailed through the fjord.

Mitre Peak, one of the highest and most prominent mountains on Milford Sound (1'692 meters)

We enjoyed fantastic views of the impressive mountain world, which seemed to be within reach. Another highlight were the dolphins and seals, which we observed from the boat. With a little luck you can even spot penguins at Milford Sound.

Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound New Zealand

Boat tour through Milford Sound, New Zealand

Seals sunbathing on Milford Sound, New Zealand

Also during the drive to Milford Sound there is a lot to discover. The Milford Road is considered one of the most beautiful routes in New Zealand.

In our blog post Milford Sound: The Eighth Wonder of the World? we take you on our day trip to Milford Sound. In addition, we give you the best tips and show you the most beautiful highlights of the journey and the boat trip.

New Zealand Highlights

Hooker Valley Tack: The dreamlike way to Mount Cook

The imposing Mount Cook has fascinated us since we first saw it from a distance in Fox Glacier. At that time, it was reflected impressively in Lake Matheson and stole the show with its height of 3,724 meters and its striking shape of all surrounding mountains.

Hooker Lake and Mount Cook in the background

For us it was clear, we want to get as close as possible to the highest mountain in New Zealand. This opportunity was in Hooker Valley.

Mueller Lake with Mount Sefton in the background

Mount Sefton from Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

The Hooker Valley Track is an easy hiking trail in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, which offers fantastic views of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in the country. It takes you past two enchanting glacial lakes. Important tips and more pictures can be found in our article Hooker Valley Track: The most beautiful day hike in New Zealand?

Hooker River and Mount Cook in the background, New Zealand

New Zealand Highlights

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Steamy, colorful and fascinating

A wonderland indeed: we had the feeling of being on another planet. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is considered one of the 20 most surreal places on earth. In our opinion, this designation is fully justified.

Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland New Zealand

Our highlights of the park are the Champagne Pool, the Artist's Palette, the Devil's Bath and Lake Ngakoro. These are all exceptional sights that you should not miss out on.



Lake Ngakoro, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland New Zealand

Want to know more about this geothermal attraction?? Then click here to read our blog post Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Not of this Earth!

New Zealand Sights

Lake Pukaki: The most beautiful lake in New Zealand

Lake Pukaki impresses with its unique color. See for yourself and search for Lake Pukaki on Google Maps (satellite view). The color is really special!

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Embedded in the beautiful landscape of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the glacial lake is a very special photo motif. If you follow the shore road far enough, you can take a picture of Lake Pukaki with the impressive Mount Cook in the background.

Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background

Viewpoint at Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

The different blue tones of Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

In our article Lake Tekapo& Lake Pukaki: The most beautiful destinations for two days in the Mackenzie District we take you on our trip to one of the most beautiful regions of New Zealand.

New Zealand Highlights

Mount John Observatory: Dreamlike view of Lake Tekapo

From Mount John Observatory we enjoyed a unique view of the beautiful Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains. Already on the way up it is worth to make some stops, as the panoramic view is fantastic. On a clear night, you can see the stars from up here.

Lake Tekapo from Mount John Observatory New Zealand

Motuariki Island on Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Mount Dobson, a famous ski resort in winter, New Zealand

If you travel New Zealand in spring, with a little luck you can admire the beautiful lupias on the shore of Lake Tekapo. When exactly they bloom and what else there is to discover around Lake Tekapo you can read in the article Lake Tekapo& Lake Pukaki: The most beautiful destinations for two days in the Mackenzie District.

View from Mount John Observatory to Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

New Zealand Sights

Lake Matheson: The natural mirror

Lake Matheson is one of the most famous postcard motifs in New Zealand. Its smooth surface reflects the famous Mount Cook and Mount Tasman mountains and the surrounding mountain range. This idyllic reflection is created by the dark brown water of Lake Matheson. The reflection can best be admired on windless days during dawn and dusk.

Reflection on Lake Matheson New Zealand

Of course, the area around Lake Matheson has much more to offer. Other highlights include Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier and the blue Whataroa River.

Whataroa River near Fox Glacier, South Island New Zealand

Fox Glacier from a distance, New Zealand

New Zealand Highlights

Coromandel Peninsula: Green hilly landscape& Dream beaches

Green hills and the sea in the distance. Some cows grazing peacefully on the meadow in the sunshine. This is exactly how we imagined New Zealand. Along the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula there are great viewpoints, which completely fulfill the cliche of New Zealand.

Green hills on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Other highlights of the Coromandel Peninsula are the Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach. Even if the roads are very curvy and you sometimes have to be patient, a trip to this area is definitely worth it.

Te Hoho Rock, Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island New Zealand


View from the west coast Coromandel Peninsula

New Zealand Highlights

Lake Wanaka: The outdoor paradise

Embedded in a dreamlike mountain scenery lies the idyllic Lake Wanaka. The water surface reflects the mountains that rise majestically on the western shore. Right next to Lake Wanaka is Lake Hawea, which is also well worth a visit.

Dreamlike mountain scenery at Lake Wanaka New Zealand

The surrounding mountains are reflected in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Hawea, South Island New Zealand

On the way from Fox Glacier to Wanaka we crossed a part of the wonderful Mount Aspiring National Park, where there are many sights to discover. You should definitely plan a stop at the Blue Pools.

Lake Wanaka is located on the South Island of New Zealand

New Zealand Highlights

Te Waikoropupu Springs: The clearest springs in New Zealand

The Pupu Springs, as they are affectionately called, form the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand. The springs eject about 14'000 liters of water per second. The water is so clear that we could effortlessly see all the way to the bottom. Really impressive! The Pupu Springs can be reached from the free parking lot via a short, leisurely walk through the forest.

Waikoropupu Springs, New Zealand

Waikoropupu Springs, New Zealand

Waikoropupu Springs, New Zealand

The journey over Takaka Hill to Pupu Springs was also a real highlight for us. The view from the pass over the landscape and the sea is simply fantastic.

New Zealand North or South Island?

Did you notice that almost all of our New Zealand highlights are on the South Island?? Are you concerned with the question whether you should travel the North Island or the South Island?? Or maybe even both islands? In our blog post New Zealand North or South Island? To help you decide, we show you the main differences between the two islands. We also reveal our favorite.

To further assist you in your travel planning, we have created the following post for you: Best time to travel New Zealand: what to know about the climate

For all of you who travel through New Zealand by car, we have summarized the most important information for you: Driving in New Zealand: The most important tips for your road trip

>> Reading tip: Do you like to discover new destinations in Europe?? Our personal travel tip: Madeira! The diverse volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean has a lot to offer. For inspiration, check out our articles Hiking Madeira: The 5 Most Spectacular Hikes on the Island, Madeira Sightseeing: The most beautiful places on the island and Madeira Insider Tips: Dreamy places off the beaten path.

Have you ever traveled through New Zealand?? If so, what were your favorite New Zealand highlights??

This blog post contains unpaid advertising and location mentions. We report about our travel experiences and mention which providers we used and if we can recommend them to you. This should serve as a guide for your travel planning. We do not receive any money or other services in return and have paid for everything ourselves. It is important to us to report honestly and authentically about our experiences.