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If there’s ever been a stand out contender for the title of “World in One Country” then it’s surely New Zealand. Other countries boast glaciers, mountains, geysers and beaches but it’s rare to find them all in one place, and rarer still to find that they’re so conveniently packaged into such a small area.
It only took one visit for me to be hooked and I’m sure you would be too, once you check out these suggestions for the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
The Coromandel peninsula is home to stunning Cathedral Cove, framed by a natural arch. This beautiful beach is part of a marine reserve known to the Maoris as Te Whanganui-a-Hei, a protected strip of coastline which extends from the northern end of Hahei Beach to Cook Bluff Scenic Reserve. It is well worth getting up early to miss the crowds that flock to this pretty spot later in the day. That’s the time to take a boat trip and see the cove from the water instead. Further along the coast is Hot Water Beach, where for a couple of hours either side of low tide it’s possible to relax in geothermally heated pools that fill hollows in the sand.
Though it’s built up and a full on visitor attraction, the sight of Pohutu Geyser when she erupts will grab your attention and you won’t even notice your wider surroundings. Located in Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley on the outskirts of Rotorua, it’s the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. The name in Maori translates as “constant splashing” and while that’s not strictly accurate, twenty or more times a day, this impressive geyser shoots a jet of boiling water as high as thirty metres into the air.
Tacking a visit to Orakei Korako on to nearby Rotorua proves you can never have too much of a good thing when it comes to geothermal landscapes. Accessed by boat across to the far side of the Waikato River, this place is named “the place adorned by white glitter”. Steam rises beyond the wooden boardwalk and mineral-rich water leaves behind deposits in a gorgeous palette of ochres, charcoals and soft whites. Though a shadow of its former self thanks to a dam built downstream in the 1960s, when you climb through the Hidden Valley to reach the Rainbow and Cascade terraces, the panorama that unfolds before you is breathtaking.
Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s oldest national park and, more recently, one of its UNESCO World Heritage sites, is a delight. This North Island gem is home to three volcanoes: the one which lends the park its name, the 1967m high Tongariro, Ngauruhoe at 2287m and mighty Ruapehu which measures up at a staggering 2797m. Summer hikers and winter skiers can’t get enough of the place, but both would probably agree the park is at its prettiest when the snow melts to make way for a carpet of mountain buttercups, daisies, purple parahebe, blue gentian and ice-white foxgloves.
Franz Josef Glacier
One of the west coast’s most popular visitor destinations is Franz Josef Glacier. This spectacular finger of ice is unusual as it descends from the tops of the Southern Alps into rainforest close to sea level. Weather permitting, helicopters land on its surface and deliver passengers to a snowy meadow in front of a dramatic overlook offering unspoilt views. Walkers are also well catered for, with guided ice hikes a means of getting up close to the blue ice crevasses that characterise this awe inspiring natural landform.
Located in one of the country’s wettest areas, chance plays a huge part in your Milford Sound experience. But if you get lucky with calm waters and blue skies, there are few places that are more beautiful anywhere on the planet. This stunning fiord bounded by steep cliffs and dominated by the distinctive Mitre Peak receives more than half a million visitors each year come and few leave disappointed. Even if the weather isn’t being kind, those downpours create impressive waterfalls that tumble over the sheer rock face into the water below. It’s close enough to visit as a day trip from Queenstown but to avoid the crowds, stay overnight.
If you just can’t bear to limit your sightseeing to daylight hours, this gorgeous lake forms part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Star gazing tours to Mount John Observatory are a must, and you might be fortunate enough to get a rare glimpse of the Southern Lights. When the sun comes up, the milky turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo is revealed in all its glory, contrasted against the distant snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps. Don’t miss the charming Church of the Good Shepherd which sits right on the shore. Come in November for the best chance of seeing the vivid purple and pink displays of the lupins which bloom beside the lake at this time of year.
In a country where incredible coastal scenery is in plentiful supply, the Moeraki Boulders still somehow manage to be a stand out. Situated a 30 minute drive from Oamaru, these almost perfectly spherical rocks were lifted from the muddy sea bed and dumped on the beach by powerful waves. Some measure 2 metres across, making this a splendid beach which definitely has the wow factor. But geologists don’t deserve to have the place all to themselves. Koekohe Beach is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts who come in the hope of seeing the seals and dolphins that swim close to the shoreline here.
Home to perhaps the most photographed tree in the country, thanks to the impact of Instagram, the appeal of this South Island body of water extends far beyond that single most popular view. This iconic crack willow, whose roots withstand the frigid Lake Wanaka waters, began life as a fence post. But it also has Mount Aspiring National Park as a backdrop, which goes some way to explaining why so many tourists want a souvenir snapshot to remember it by. For an adrenaline-fuelled adventure in the area set your sights on Twin Falls, the highest waterfall reached by via ferrata in the world. To reach the top involves no fewer than seven bridges, 2500 rungs, over 3200 feet of cable and a Tyrolean traverse. And the view at the top? Now that really is worth photographing.