9 Spectacularly Beautiful Places in New Zealand

The mountains and forest of Westland Tai Poutini National Park reflected in Lake Matheson with a clear blue sky and a few low, white clouds
Vast wilderness and diverse landscapes are found throughout Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

New Zealand Department of Conservation / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

As an island country, New Zealand is a uniquely beautiful place. With landscapes ranging from forested national parks to wide beaches with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, the opportunities to experience nature in New Zealand are unparalleled.

The country is teeming with endemic plants and wildlife, many of which are protected by the Department of Conservation. From mountains and glaciers to volcanoes and waterfalls, it’s nearly impossible to decide what to see first on a visit to the island nation.

Here are nine spectacularly beautiful places to discover in New Zealand.

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Milford Track

Part of Milford Track: A suspension bridge over the Clinton River, a narrow river with lush, green trees on both sides and mountains and blue sky in the distance

Martin Vlnas / Getty Images

Considered by many to be New Zealand's most famous walk, the Milford Track earned accolades more than a century ago when New Zealand poet Blanche Baughan referred to Milford Track as "the finest walk in the world." Located within Fiordland National Park, Milford Track is in Southland on New Zealand's South Island.

The 33-mile trail starts at Lake Te Anau and crosses boardwalks, suspension bridges, and a mountain pass. Hikers who explore the track—best experienced from October through April—will also discover Sutherland Falls, one of New Zealand's tallest waterfalls.

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Nelson Lakes National Park

A wooden jetty on Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lake National Park with lush, green mountains in the distance

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At the center of this 250,000-acre national park are two large alpine lakes—Rotoiti and Rotoroa—formed by massive glaciers during the late Pleistocene era. Nelson Lakes is in the South Island and is home to the beginning of the Southern Alps. 

Encompassing more than 12,000 acres, a nature recovery project has worked to control introduced predators and restore the native beech forest along Lake Rotoiti. These trees support native birds like the great spotted kiwi, white-faced heron, and New Zealand dotterel.

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The black tale of a whale as it dives into the blue/green sea off the Kaikoura coast with rocky mountains covered with green vegetation and a blue sky and white clouds above

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Located between the Seaward Kaikōura Range and the Pacific Ocean, the village of Kaikōura is about a two-hour drive from Christchurch. Kaikōura was once a whaling town, but today it's the perfect place for marine mammal encounters. Fur seals and dolphins live in the waters and opportunities for whale-watching are plentiful. 

Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway is a seven-mile marked track along the coastline that allows visitors ample space to observe mountains, ocean, and marine wildlife at close range.

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Tongariro National Park

one large and two smaller emerald green lakes surrounded by mountains with a bright blue sea of water, blue sky, and low, white clouds in the distance at Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Boy_Anupong / Getty Images

The oldest national park in New Zealand, Tongariro is protected as a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural and natural importance. Surrounded by lakes, meadows, and hot springs, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro are active volcanic mountains at the center of the North Island park. The mountains have cultural and spiritual significance for the Māori people. 

A popular activity in the park is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a challenging, 12-mile (each way) trek that traverses valleys and mountains at elevations ranging from nearly 2,500 feet to over 6,100 feet. Along the way, hikers are treated to views of Red Crater, South Crater, and the brightly colored Emerald Lakes.

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Cape Reinga

Aerial view of the Cape Reinga lighthouse atop a mountain covered in lush green vegetation where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet

Chrisp0 / Getty Images

At the northern tip of the North Island, the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. From this location on the Aupouri Peninsula, it's possible to watch the two seas come together. This remote area is sacred to the Māori people as a place of spiritual importance. A short trail runs from the parking area to the lighthouse with plaques explaining the area’s significance.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, a working lighthouse, and a pōhutukawa tree, estimated to be over 800 years old, sit at the northernmost tip of the cape. Incredible views of the Northern Coast, the ocean, and the sea are all visible from the path surrounding the lighthouse.

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Mount Aspiring National Park

Thunder Creek Falls waterfall pouring water down from a tree-covered mountain into a pool of green water filled with rock formations

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Named for one of New Zealand's highest peaks, Mount Aspiring National Park, at the southern end of the Southern Alps, is known for its unspoiled beauty. A diverse combination of mountains, glaciers, and river valleys, the third-largest national park in New Zealand is popular with hikers looking for natural wilderness. Visitors can enjoy a variety of short or long treks to sites like Thunder Falls, a five-minute walk from Haast Highway, or Routeburn Track, a three-day transalpine hike.

Mount Aspiring is home to many endangered endemic birds, including the kea in the alpine areas, the black-fronted tern on the riverbeds, and the kaka in the forests.

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Westland Tai Poutini National Park

View of the Franz Josef Glacier from Alex Knob in Westland Tai Poutini National Park with the ocean in the distance and a blue sky abovce.

New Zealand Department of Conservation / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Known for its glaciers, this national park is located on the western coast of New Zealand's South Island. Protected as part of the 6.4 million acre UNESCO World Heritage Site Te Wähipounamu, Westland Tai Poutini extends from the tall peaks of the Southern Alps down to the coastline and its remote beaches. 

The fast-moving Fox and Franz Josef glaciers move almost continuously, making them popular with tourists. The walk to the Franz Josef glacier viewing area is just over three miles each way. While fairly accessible, some parts of the trek require climbing and walking on rocks and uneven ground.

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Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve

Two tourists on a trek in the Putangirua Pinnacles, large geological formations surrounded by a forest of green trees, in Aorangi Forest Park

NataliaCatalina / Getty Images

Located in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, the Putangirua Pinnacles are also known as hoodoos. These tall, thin rock formations occurred in the valley of the Aorangi Range after thousands of years of erosion, as parts of the mountains were slowly washed down the coast.

These otherworldly-looking pillars were featured in a “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" scene.

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Abel Tasman National Park

a wide, cream-colored stretch of beach along a blue/green sea with a lush, green mountain in the distance and a bright blue sky with high clouds at Abel Tasman National Park

Laura San Fillipo / Getty Images

New Zealand's smallest national park, Abel Tasman, is known for its beaches, granite cliffs, and amazing views. Located at the north end of South Island, Abel Tasman's famous coastal track is one of the country’s “great walks.” The track, which is open year-round, leads hikers through beaches, headlands, and native forests, and it takes between three and five days to complete.

Since 2012, Project Janszoon—a planned 30-year collaboration between private philanthropists, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust, the Department of Conservation, and others—has been working to control invasive animals and plants, restore endemic wildlife, and prepare this unique park for continued conservation.