Places To Visit in New Zealand
New Zealand is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean consisting of 2 main islands, both marked by volcanoes and glaciation. Capital Wellington, on the North Island, is home to Te Papa Tongarewa, the expansive national museum. Wellington’s dramatic Mt. Victoria, along with the South Island’s Fiordland and Southern Lakes, stood in for mythical Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s "Lord of the Rings" films. Popular destinations are Auckland, Rotorua, Queenstown, Christchurch, Taupo, Napier & Wellington
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Auckland, based around 2 large harbours, is a major city in the north of New Zealand’s North Island. In the centre, the iconic Sky Tower has views of Viaduct Harbour, which is full of superyachts and lined with bars and cafes. Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park, is based around an extinct volcano and home to the formal Wintergardens. Near Downtown, Mission Bay Beach has a seaside promenade.
The island nation’s Maori and Polynesian history is explored at Auckland Museum, and Otara’s Polynesian market in South Auckland sells local foods and crafts. The Ponsonby area's hip boutiques, and the international designer stores along Nuffield Street offer more shopping options. At the Toi o Tāmaki art gallery, more than 10,000 Kiwi and European works from the 14th century to the present are on display. Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium has a penguin colony exhibit and offers the chance to snorkel or dive with sharks.
Queenstown, New Zealand, sits on the shores of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu, set against the dramatic Southern Alps. Renowned for adventure sports, it’s also a base for exploring the region’s vineyards and historic mining towns. There's bungee jumping off Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge and jet-boating on the Shotover and Dart rivers. In winter, there's skiing on the slopes of The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.
The Skyline Gondola carries passengers to Bob’s Peak for views of the mountains and Lake Wakatipu. The Queenstown Trail is a cycle path following lakes, rivers and vineyards, while the Routeburn Track is a high mountain hike heading into the glacial landscapes of Fiordland. In Queenstown, visitors cruise the lake aboard the coal-fired TSS Earnslaw steamship, or take scenic helicopter flights. In nearby Arrowtown, the Lakes District Museum examines the region's 19th-century gold rush. Excursions from Queenstown also include the 300km road trip to Milford Sound, a steep-sided fjord with boat cruises and kayaking.
Rotorua, a town set on its namesake lake on New Zealand's North Island, is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. In Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley, there are bubbling mud pools and the 30m-tall Pohutu Geyser, which erupts many times daily. It’s also home to a living Maori village and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, with traditional wood carving and weaving schools.
Archaeological excavations at buried Te Wairoa Village document its destruction in an 1886 volcanic eruption. Run as commercial ventures, Maori villages such as Mitai and Tamaki offer traditional song and dance performances, "hangi" feasts and visits to glow worms and clear rivers. The Tudor-style Rotorua Museum in the city’s Government Gardens traces the history of the indigenous Te Arawa people and European settlers. Mountain-biking and hiking trails wind through local redwood forests. The region’s lakes and rivers offer white-water rafting, kayaking and boat trips.
Christchurch, known for its English heritage, is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Flat-bottomed punts glide on the Avon River, which meanders through the city centre. On its banks are cycling paths, the green expanse of Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanic Gardens. In 2010 and 2011, earthquakes destroyed many of the historic centre's stone-built buildings.
Christchurch’s "Cardboard Cathedral,” named after one of its primary construction materials, is a temporary stand-in for the former neo-Gothic edifice. Stores and cafes inhabit shipping containers at the Re:START retail complex. Canterbury Museum, telling the story of the city, also has Maori and Antarctic exploration collections. Christchurch Gondola travels up Mt. Cavendish for panoramic views of the city, the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps. Christchurch is a gateway for dolphin-spotting in the Banks Peninsula's Akaroa Harbour, skiing at Mt. Hutt and scenic TranzAlpine railway trips through the Southern Alps.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, sits near the North Island’s southernmost point on the Cook Strait. A compact city, it encompasses a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, a working harbour and colourful timber houses on surrounding hills. From Lambton Quay, the iconic red Wellington Cable Car heads to the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Strong winds through the Cook Strait give it the nickname "Windy Wellington."
On the waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (commonly shortened to Te Papa) is the national centre focusing on the country’s natural history, cultures and art. From the city centre, a promenade lined with restaurants, parkland and heritage buildings leads to Oriental Bay. The Mt. Victoria Lookout has panoramic views of the city and harbour. Also reached by the Wellington Cable Car is the Carter Observatory, which houses the Space Place planetarium. A national arts hub, the city is home to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (in the Michael Fowler Centre) and the Royal New Zealand Ballet (in St James Theatre).
Taupo, a town near the centre of New Zealand's North Island, is distinguished by its lakefront setting and outdoor sports ranging from fishing to jet-boating. The vast waters of Lake Taupo, a volcanic caldera, drain into the Huka Falls, dramatic, crystal-blue cascades reachable by hiking and biking trails. Surrounding Taupo are hot springs like those filling the Craters of the Moon reserve.
Along the lake, the Taupo Museum and garden showcase local Maori heritage and native plants. At the Aratiatia Rapids, spectators can watch water rushing into the Waikato riverbed after its dam gates open. Inland, the Volcanic Activity Centre explores the area's geothermal activity using tools like weather simulators, and Huka Prawn Park offers a glimpse at the local prawn-fishing industry. Taupo is also a gateway to Tongariro National Park, which draws skiers and hikers to its 3 volcanoes, and the towering Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay.
Napier, a coastal city on New Zealand's North Island, is set amid the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke's Bay. Rebuilt after a 1931 earthquake, the city is known for art deco landmarks like the zigzag-patterned Daily Telegraph Building. Along the tree-lined waterfront promenade the Marine Parade, the Pania of the Reef statue depicting a Maori maiden, is a symbol of the city.
Other bayfront attractions include MTG Hawke's Bay, a complex encompassing a performing-arts theatre, art gallery and a museum with exhibits on local Maori heritage and the 1931 earthquake. At the National Aquarium, sea life encounters include swimming with sharks. South of Napier, 399m-high Te Mata Peak offers hiking trails and panoramic views. To the east is Cape Kidnappers headland, which shelters massive Gannet seabirds. The city of Taradale is home to many of the region’s most venerable vineyards, which produce popular red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon.