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Mt Cook, New Zealand

My favourite places to visit in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most appealing destinations for Australians to visit.

From where I live on the east coast, it’s a reasonably cheap and quick 3-hour flight to reach the majestic landscapes, picturesque towns, and happening cities that are scattered across the islands of New Zealand.

I’ve ventured “across the pond” (Aussie slang for over the Tasman Sea) to explore New Zealand as a destination four times, and on every trip I’ve found it to be extra special.

There’s a possibility that the current travel restrictions will ease between NZ and Australia before other international destinations, so I’ve compiled a list of all my favourite places to visit in New Zealand to inspire any dreamers who are hoping to visit this south Pacific country!


A dolphin jumping at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Hilly islands at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is one of those places that I’d never even heard of before I went there. It was one of the destinations on the North Island Contiki tour that I booked to celebrate my 23rd birthday, and it ended up being one of my absolute faves!

I’m not generally one to participate in extreme sports, but at the time I was going through a stage where I wanted to do some adventurous activities. I had organised a skydiving experience for my arrival in Rotorua, but the weather conditions weren’t good enough for it. I ended up skydiving over Bay of Islands a few days later instead.

I’m really glad that it happened that way, because the view of the bay with the scattering of tiny islands were a stunning place to view from the sky! It was wild to be falling through a gap in the clouds towards the stunning green and blue landscape below.

Down at sea level, the scenery looked just as beautiful. Dolphins followed our boat as we ventured from the mainland out into the bay. Lush green hills poked their heads out of the water. I was so surprised by this spot that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known that it had existed. I guess New Zealand has such a huge number of pretty locations that this one just gets lost in the mix!

A boardwalk leading to Craters of the Moon in New Zealand
Steam clouds at Craters of the Moon in New Zealand

Craters of the Moon

I’ve been to a ton of strange places on my various trips, but Craters of the Moon Park definitely tops the list as the most otherworldly. The crust of the Earth is so thin at this spot near Rotorua that you can see mud bubbling up through cracks in the surface. Huge plumes of sulphuric gas float up from seemingly nowhere. And somehow we were allowed to walk right through it.

I found it to be both freaky and beautiful. Walking along the wooden boardwalks in this park stands out in my memory as being one of the wildest experiences I’ve had. And I vaguely recall being hungover as hell that day as the Contiki tour I was on had a boat party the night before, so the park must have been pretty good to impress me through that!

Views of Wellington from the Botanic Gardens, New Zealand
Wellington waterfront, New Zealand

Wellington

Wellington is one of those cities that made me immediately think “I could live here”. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why I had that positive reaction, and it’s especially surprising as my last visit to Wellington had been preceded with a cancelled flight and overnight delay, so I was reasonably tired and grumpy by the time I got there.

I think I liked Wellington so much because it seems like a perfect combination of big city and small town. It has all the conveniences that come with living near a large population, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded or claustrophobic. I thought that the streets felt super clean and the vibe was very relaxed. The people who lived there seemed like they were genuinely happy. That’s my kind of place.

Sunrise on the mountains in Queenstown, New Zealand
Sightseeing cruise on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown NZ

Queenstown

Amazingly, I’ve been to Queenstown three out of the four times that I’ve visited New Zealand. It’s a super pretty little town in the alps. You won’t find many Kiwis here – it’s mostly internationals who come to stay in one of the many cheap backpacking hostels or who are working on the slopes during the ski season.

Although the lack of locals makes it feel a bit ‘touristy’, it’s actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The location is just phenomenal. Surrounded by jagged mountains on all sides and perched beside a vast lake, Queenstown’s location is truly magical. The town itself is gorgeous, too. The food is excellent, the people are friendly, and there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied for a week or more.

A helicopter on the snow near Mt Cook in New Zealand
Standing atop a mountain near Mt Cook in New Zealand

Mount Cook

Another event that really stands out in my memory is standing at a lookout point at Mount Cook and listening to the distant sound of huge chunks of ice cracking and falling into alpine lake. I imagine you can hear something similar in Antarctica, Greenland, or at other places surrounding the Arctic Circle, but Mount Cook was the only place that I’ve experienced it.

Mount Cook was also the place that my family took a helicopter ride up to the snow on top of untouched mountains. I’m not usually one to blow so much money on sightseeing activities, but my parents were the ones funding this trip so no complaints! I still have the footage that I took on my crappy digital camera back in 2007, and I remember it being one of the first times that I just couldn’t put my camera down because of how amazing the views were.

The helicopter pilot did a little trick as we flew off the mountain. We went right over the top of a glacier and could see the ocean on both sides of New Zealand. Truly awesome.

Cardrona Alpine Resort, Queenstown NZ
Cardrona Alpine Resort, Queenstown NZ

Cardrona

Can you tell I have an obsession with snow? I guess it’s pretty obvious. I remember visiting at Cardrona ski resort for the first time as a teen, and being totally amazed that I could do my favourite winter sport at a place that had such incredible mountain views. The outlook over the alps was just totally gorgeous.

I enjoyed Cardrona so much that I went back a second time when visiting Queenstown with my family in 2019. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the same views as a snowstorm hit just as Rob and I were about to head out on the slopes, but I still had a ton of fun on my second trip to the ski resort. I managed to fit in a snowboarding lesson and drink a few mulled wines and boozy hot chocolates while the snowflakes fell around us.

What are your favourite places to visit in New Zealand? Share with us in the comments!

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