New Zealand is a beautiful country with such a diverse landscape, containing a colourful mix of mountains, beaches and countryside. It’s hardly a wonder that I’ve found it so easy to spend the last 12 months here (12 months?! Whaaaat). In that time I’ve visited so many incredible places and have somehow, after considerable thought, come up with a list of my favourite 10.
Before I go any further I must mention that I have still got quite a few places to visit, mostly on the North Island, so this may not be the final version. But here we go!
10. Marlborough Sounds
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about our trip to the Marlborough Sounds, but anyone that’s been on the Interislander ferry will know how gorgeous it is. Home to the Queen Charlotte Track – one of NZ’s great walks – and a heap of marine wildlife, these Sounds are a great introduction to those just arriving into the South Island from the North. We spent a day (regretfully not more) cruising around over to Furneaux Lodge, and were lucky enough to come across a pod of Orca’s which was *possibly* the greatest experience of my life to date. In a few weeks time we’re getting the ferry over to Wellington, so I’m excited to capture some final moments of the Marlborough Sounds then.
Had I had more time in Marlborough Sounds: I would have loved to of spent more time walking the Queen Charlotte track, exploring the variety of viewpoints and bays, and staying in the huts dotted along it. Apparently you can also swim with Dolphins here so that would have definitely been on my list had we known sooner.
9. Doubtful Sound
I’ve written a post about our overnight cruise with Real Journeys here, which will tell you all you need to here about this wonderful place. Had it not been for the weather then maybe I would’ve rated it higher, but I can only judge based on my own time there. If you’re going to Doubtful Sound I would 1000% recommend the cruise because, although a little pricey, it allows you to see every corner of the sound, AND you get to kayak (or wuss out like Dave and I did and then you can do a little boat ride instead) AND you get wonderful guides to tell you all that you need to know and more. OH and you get an all-you-can-eat buffet. And believe me, we pushed the boat out with the ‘all-you-can-eat’ part.
Had I had more time in Doubtful Sound: This one isn’t really about having more time, but I sort’ve wished I had just man-ed up, braved the weather, and got myself into one of the Kayak’s with the rest of my Cardies colleagues. What a cool thing to say that you’ve been kayaking in Doubtful Sound, but hey ho.
Situated on Christchurch’s peninsula, Akaroa is home to a French-themed town surrounded by the ocean and stunning views. In the one night that we spent here we sat by the ocean and had ourselves a little BBQ with some beers. It was the last night of our South Island road trip, so we were celebrating all the memories we had made over the last two weeks, and sat together as the sun faded behind the sea. We parked up along the waterfront, just beside a street filled with pubs and cute cafes, before playing cards on a bench outside. The next morning we were quick out of bed as we were teased by the thought of French pastries for breakfast. With the sun warm already I actually felt like I was in the South of France, even more so with French music playing and hanging baskets and the beach nearby. It’s the perfect holiday retreat!
Had I had more time in Akaroa: With more time I would have really liked to explore the Marina and swim with Dolphins here – the bay seemed really calm so I’m sure there’s an abundance of sea life around.
Oh, Napier. You scrummy and underrated place. I lived here as an Au Pair with the Easthope’s for three months last year, but for anyone just tourist-ing here you’ll probably miss a lot of the best bits. It’s 1920’s Art Deco theme (of which there is a festival every year in February and everyone lives in 20’s clothing for four days) gives the city a unique vibe, which is set off nicely with its coastal views and warm climate. It’s a great wine region, perfect for wine-tasting and has a wide variety of walks – especially around Te Mata Peak.
Had I had more time in Napier: I would have loved to of tried out the wine-tasting, ‘taste trail’, tour on bikes. Because what what better way to feel royally bungalowed than wobbling on two wheels?
Out of everywhere I’ve visited, this is the one place that I could see myself living permanently. Windy, yes, but it’s got so much going for it. Pubs and clubs and shops (Topshop!!!) and tourist bits and scenery and beaches and lots of people but not too many, if you get what I mean? It just has a real quirky vibe and I feel instantly cooler just being there. Although in the two weeks that Shannon and I were here we spent a fortune, not because it’s unusually expensive but because we ate out all the time at pretty much a new place every day. We had a pretty sweet deal here too as we were WWOOF-ing for someone that lived basically in the middle of town, but he didn’t really care what we did or the hours that we worked so we ended up with a lot of time off. We visited Te Papa, experienced the LOTR tour with a stop off at WETA Workshop, and learnt all about New Zealand’s native plants and animals at Zealandia. It was an epic couple of weeks all in all.
Had I had more time in Wellington: It would have been great to do one of the walks over more towards the west coast, up and over Mount Victoria and by the seal colonies. There are quite a few walks over this way, and we unfortunately didn’t get ourselves into gear enough to try any of them out.
The place that never sleeps, and that people don’t stop talking about. I can confirm that the rumors are true, and this is the perfect hot spot for both quick getaways and month long holidays. For a start it is beautiful, with Lake Wakatipu and the snow covered mountains in the background, and endless views of scenic landscapes. Then you have the mile long list of activities (bungee jumps, canyon swings, the Shotover Jet, boat rides, paragliding, the luge… you name it they’ve got it) that are all very much worth the extortionate price that they cost. Oh boy, I could have, and did, spend a fortune here. And I can’t miss out the lively party scene that never ends – night after night you will walk around town of an evening dancing to the different sounds coming out of the vast numbers of pubs and clubs. It’s SUCH a fabulous place. My only reservation is that it’s just a bit too much. There’s too many people, too many drunken nights, too many photo’s taken in what was once a hidden gem. It’s definitely a must-see, and yes you do have to have a Fergburger (and a Devil Burger, just to hush the haters) and yes you do need to go to Winnie’s and get your groove on until you crawl back to your Nomad’s hostel, but I wouldn’t advise getting caught in the trap and spending your entire time in NZ here.
Had I had more time in Queenstown: And if I’d had more money, I would have liked to have skied up at the Remarkables or Coronet Peak. I can’t believe that I only made it up to Cardrona, so it would have been really interesting to compare that to the other popular NZ ski fields.
5. Lake Tekapo
Tekapo as a town is very small, with not a great deal going on. There is one main road and a few houses and what-not but that’s about it. However, if you’re looking to just breathe and be surrounded by beautiful things and feel more relaxed than you ever have before then you need to get your bum over here. The blue of the lake is so vivid it just doesn’t look real. When you contract that against the white peaks of the snow capped mountains, and the greens of the surrounding bush then you know you’ve hit the jackpot. And that’s just Tekapo in the day time. As the sun slips away we were very quickly overcome with excitement as one by one the stars came out, and boy were they dressed to impress. They filled every part of the sky, some bright and some dimmed. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sky quite so lit up. It’s a definite must seen in NZ, just don’t expect too much of a social scene if you do decide to pay this hot spot a visit.
Had I had more time in Tekapo: I would definitely have hit up the hot pools. These natural, but man-made, spa’s and pools that overlook the lake supposedly make for the most relaxing experience of your life. Again, a little pricey, but who wouldn’t pay a little bit of money to feel like you’re in some hip, American movie? Me please.
4. Milford Sound
Surprised that this isn’t number one? We’ve all heard that Milford Sound is the best thing since sliced bread, and it really is. It’s not number one because I couldn’t live there and it rains for the majority of the year, but when you visit on a sunny day (which we were fortunate enough to do) then it is absolutely unbelievable. Like, breathtakingly beautiful. We saw penguins and dolphins and seals, and the mountains displayed random shows of mini avalanches that had us all ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’. Then to top it off we had complimentary fish and chips too. Yup, if you weren’t sold before you are now. The number of day cruises that are run here all seem very well priced, although the road getting to Milford Sound is a bit hit and miss (we had to wait a couple of hours in the morning before the road could open – snow causes a few issues here). But plan ahead and you’re in for the greatest cruise of your life.
Had I had more time in Milford Sound: It would have been amazing to do one of the walks. We were on a pretty tight schedule so we didn’t get much of an opportunity, but it’s just so gosh darn beautiful there that I’m sure there are a ton more incredible views to, um, view.
3. Mount Cook & Lake Pukaki
Views, views, oh glorious views! New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook, is truly majestic. I’ve seen a lot of mountains in my time and whilst Mount Cook looks an awful lot like most mountains, it’s its surroundings that really set it off. Numerous glaciers and emerald lakes line the walking tracks that take you all around the area. And all of which is the perfect backdrop behind Lake Pukaki – a stunning lake that we camped beside when on our South Island road trip. There’s something about this part of New Zealand that literally takes your breathe away. Like, we all sat around our campfire and actually didn’t know what to say (which is unheard of, especially with Karen). I wrote a ton more about Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki here, so fill your boots with all of the cool stuff we got up when we visited.
Had I had more time in Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook: to put it bluntly, I would have just sat and gawped at is some more. I would never get bored looking at it’s blue and sparkly dreaminess. Although I supposed if I had to, I would maybe of dragged myself away from the Lake to go on another walk around Mt Cook.
2. Abel Tasman
As I write this I’m dusting off sand from my bed from our weekend spent on the beach. I’ve been living in Motueka for nearly three months now, and I’ve only just begun to appreciate its incredible beauty and the vast selection of adventures that can be had here. During our first month in Motueka we were hit with terrible weather on our days off, but as the weeks have gone on we’ve been on so many adventures in both the Abel Tasman and the Kahurangi National Park. In between the two is Golden Bay, another area that we’re exploring next weekend but that I already know would be right on this list under its own heading. The Abel Tasman is unique because it has so many hidden bays with the so desperately sought after turquoise seas and golden sands, but on top of that you have so many options of ways to see and experience it all. Hike, kayak, sail, skydive, canyon – each activity allowing you to see the Park in a way like no other. Had the weather been better I think this place would have been a good contender for number 1, but that plus Motueka’s lack of community vibe (it’s been SO hard to make new friends here) means that I’ll have to leave it at number 2.
Had I had more time in Abel Tasman: We did go Kayaking and we did see the seals, BUT I didn’t get to go Kayaking around the seals. Gutted. Either this or I would have quite liked to walk the entire coastal track, whilst staying in the huts etc, but it takes 5 days to do and we just didn’t have the time.
Wanaka I love you. You sensational little beauty, with your lake and mountains and views and weather and gahhh. After living here for 5 months through the winter season I can safely say that this is my favourite place in the whole of New Zealand. It’s small town fills up with snow bunnies in the winter time, making it the perfect place to meet new people and feel a part of a cosy little community. It’s a very minimalist place with not many shops, even less bars and zero clubs – which, for a ski town, is pretty unheard of – but this creates a really peaceful vibe which is perfect when all you want to do is breathe deeply and gaze at sun setting behind the mountains and just zen. Many people will compare Wanaka to Queenstown, and I guess they are quite similar, except in Wanaka you feel less crowded and more at home and comforted by familiar faces everywhere you go. I loved that you would go to New World after work and you would know at least a third of the people in there; but that you could also just walk by the lake by yourself and take it all in and then walk head off to a party with all your favourite new friends.
For your days off you could climb Roy’s Peak, visit the Diamond Lakes, kayak across Lake Wanaka, hike through the Aspiring National Park, have BBQ s by the lake or stroll along the ‘beach’ to visit the iconic Wanaka tree. There was so much to do here, without even considering day trips to Queenstown or Lake Hawea. I had the best time living in Wanaka. It was the highlight of my working holiday by a long shot, and if I were to advise anyone of where to go in NZ, this would be the place.
Had I had more time in Wanaka: I wished I could have stayed in one of the huts in Mt Aspiring National Park. Which we planned to do with lots of friends but, y’know, everyone was busy with life and stuff.
So there we have it ladies and gentleman! My wonderful top 10. There’s nowhere in New Zealand I wouldn’t go back to visit – except maybe Invercargill – so everywhere deserves at least a little visit. And if, after exploring more up North, I find somewhere new equally sensational as my above 10, then I’ll certainly be adding it on.