We spent nine months traveling all over the beautiful island of New Zealand and want to share our top ten must see locations.
#1. KAREKARE WATERFALL & BEACH
This beautiful beach and waterfall are located on Auckland’s west coast and just a short 50 min drive from downtown Auckland. This was our last day in Auckland and we almost didn’t go on this adventure but we are so happy we did.
It place that literally took our breaths away. It was like stepping into a completely different world. One min we were walking in what felt like a tropical forest the next we were sitting in front of this amazing waterfall. Then a short walk in the opposite direction we were walking through fields of flowers and native grasses surrounded by huge rolling green hills till we reached a black sparkling beach as long as the eye could see. ⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀
Isn’t it a bit crazy to think these two photos were taken in the same location!?
This place really was out of this world!! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•swimming-yes but must stay between the flags
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic
#2. COOKS BEACH
This place really is a bit of a hidden gem. Not as popular as its neighbor Cathedral Cove but if you are anything like us and prefer places off the beaten track this place is for you. If you time it right you will basically have the beach all to yourself!! It’s crystal clear aqua waters are insane!! We did so many things while at Cooks Beach including; kayaking, a boat ride, saw stingrays, went swimming, built sand castles, and went on an awesome hike to a beautiful look out of the area – Shakespeare Cliff Lookout. ⠀⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀
Not to far away are several popular and fun attractions including Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, local vineyards, and Whitanga. We enjoyed all of these places as well while in the area but we will forever have a soft spot for Cooks Beach.
The most amazing part of this experience for us was that we made our first friend while staying here. He-John- was awesome and we spent many nights hanging out, drinking wine, and learning all about the area and the history of New Zealand, and about him and his awesome life.
We know for sure when we return to New Zealand Cooks Beach will be one of our first stops.
Top things to do while here:
•take a hike up to Shakespeare Cliff Lookout and then hike down to Loney Bay
•swimming-Yes, however if going to one of the neighboring sites be sure to look this up as Hot Water Beach can be very dangerous to swim in and you must stay between the flags
•Food-There are a few restaurants in the area
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic
This was one of the only things we knew for sure we would be doing while in New Zealand because Lorena-the mom of our travel fam is a huge Tolkien fan and has slowly started converting the rest of the family. Sean read the hobbit before we started this journey and is well on his way to becoming a true lotr nerd. The girls were kind of like sure sounds cool but not jumping for joy. However they loved this place just as much as the adults if not more (ok that is not possible this was Lorena’s dream come true).
This place was really so much fun for the entire family! The amount of detail, the stories about the films, the child sized hobbit holes, and a beer (apple cider for the kids) at the green dragon.
This was one of the very rare occasions we spent money to do something while here in New Zealand and it was worth every penny!! It was also what we decided as a family would be our Christmas gifts to each other (of course we still got the girls a couple of small things). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•book in advance they sell out
•price in NZD
$84.00 Adult (17 years +) $42.00 Youth (9-16 years) $0.00
Child (0-8 years)
What to bring: Sunblock, a camera, comfortable shoes, my precious
#4. MOUNT MAUNGANUI AKA THE MOUNT⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This extinct volcanic soars a whopping 232 meters (762 feet) from the sea and was hands down the hardest hike we did while here in New Zealand. However the amazing panoramic views from the top were so worth it!! You can see the entire length of the Bay of Plenty and the colors of the sea and vegetation along the way are so vibrant and pleasing.⠀
Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach has been crowned the ‘Best Beach in New Zealand’ by TripAdvisor and you can probably see why with its white sand beach and amazing blue waters. We saw so many people swimming, surfing, kite surfing, and just hanging out.
Unfortunately this adventure was sort of a spur of the moment trip that we did after our Hobbiton Movie Set tour and we didn’t come prepared for a beach day (minus sunblock, water, and a change of shoes- we always traveled with these while here in NZ) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
However this did give us a chance to take in the town and eat at one of the local restaurants located nearby. The town is lined with cool shops, cafes, and restaurants and we could have easily spent hours exploring it on its own but given the exciting and exhausting day we had had, we called it a day after eating our meal and we all slept like boulders that night.
•track difficulty-Hard (lots of stairs and usually walking without any shade or any place to take a short rest)
•swimming-yes but must stay between the flags
•Food-Lots of restaurants nearby on the main street
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic
#5. CASTLE HILL
These grand limestone rock formations are truly out of this world!! They are truly monumental and magnificent!! We all enjoyed walking around exploring them, climbing (or attempting to climb) them, and photograph them. They really look like they belong on a galaxy far away.
This place is a rock climbers dream and seriously made us want to learn how to rock climb so that maybe in the future when we return to NZ we can climb these bad boys however we are so far away from being able to do that but we can dream though right.
We had the pleasure of visiting this site twice! Once in Feb & again just recently in May. Swipe right to see what a difference the seasons can have on a place. We truly enjoyed seeing it both ways but if we could only see it once we would chose to go during the warmer months. Mainly because we are all wussies and don’t like the cold. Also the ice/snow gets really slick so it makes exploring a lot more difficult but then again it does make for some great sledding. So it is really up to you and what your family prefers. Either way this is a must!
What to bring: Sunblock, a camera, comfortable shoes, a picnic, water, and if you are a rock climber your gear. Also be aware of your surroundings as there maybe rock climbers above you that you do not want to be directly underneath
#6. PANCAKE ROCKS
Our all time favorite place to be in New Zealand is the West side of the South Island you really can’t go wrong if you make it there. You have so many options on what to do and see and this is one that you should definitely put on that list. It’s an easy short walk to get to this point and you can see so many different things in this one location. Blowholes, pancake like limestone formations, mountains, surge pools, and the sea.
These amazing pancake like rock formations were formed over 30million years ago from pieces of dead marine creatures and plants! Yes it was all a bit creepy but we all really loved learning about how they were formed and all about how the blow holes spray-they form from a mixture of compressed water and air escaping through the caverns below and being forced upwards. Or according to Gaby-they are things you stand on to get wet and go up high. Lol. It all became a bit of a science and history lesson. Which we love! Any opportunity to learn something new and we are all in!! #nerds ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We spent an entire afternoon here and had so much fun just hanging out, checking out the cool pancake rocks, watching the blowholes, talking about the best pancakes we had ever had, and just taking in these stunning views. ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•Food-there are some cafes but make sure to check times
•Accessibility-With the exception of an optional short section with steps, the walk is suitable for wheelchairs (with assistance)
#7. HOKITIKA GORGE
This place is one of those places you see photos of all over Instagram-the internet-etc and think there is no way it actually looks like that in real life. We are here to tell you it really does!! The shade of the water can change from more of a blue to a green to a gray depending on the weather. When we went it was slightly overcast and had not rained for a while. So we got this.
A local Kiwi told us that if you come when the sky is blue it looks even more amazing because it reflects the blue sky above. We have also heard and seen photos of what it looks like a day after it rains-gray and not as majestic. So our advise is to keep your eye on the weather and try and go on a day it hasn’t rained, if you get a blue sky even better!!
The water is really unlike anything we had ever seen before with its aqua color and mirror like surface. Reflecting the rocks, trees, and swing bridge above the water. We heard somewhere that some people believe that these waters have healing powers. However it comes with a price – the water is freezing!! If you are brave enough to take a dip in these icy waters give it a go. Sean did!! Swipe right to see. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•kid friendly-Yes •price-FREE!!
•Food-Yes small cafe truck •Accessibility-The walk is suitable for wheelchairs (with assistance)
Tips: cover up or bring bug spray the sandflies here are no joke!, a swimsuit if you dare
#8. AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
We spent four days in this area and made the most of it by doing two of the hiking tracks located here – the Hooker Valley Track & The Tasman Glacier & blue pools track (as well as checking out Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki along the way). The Hooker Valley track was partially closed due to flood damage so we weren’t able to walk the entire track but we still had such a great time on this walk. It was here that we had our first close up view of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook. We also learned all about the glaciers here and how they have shaped this area and changed over the past 100years. #worldschooling
For us the Tasman Glacier walk was our favorite and this view is only one of the reasons. It was on this walk that we saw the beautiful kea for the first time!! We had been longing to see these amazing mountain parrots since we arrived in New Zealand and not only did we see them on this walk, they got up close and personnel with us. Letting us photograph them and admire them in this amazing place. It was truly one of the most magical moments we have had here. If you like birds check out our post a few rows down all about these guys they really are awesome. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Side note: This was also the backdrop to many aerial shots in the LOTR trilogies as well as Lake Town in The Hobbit!!!
Tips: check the weather for closures, dress for the weather it gets cold here-we recommend layers because you heat up as you climb the stairs but then get cold at the top, wear sturdy shoes-it’s a fairly easy walk but there are lots of stairs
Queenstown is considered the adrenaline capital of the world to many. If you are looking for something to get your blood pumping this is the place to do it!! Bungee jumping, paragliding, the luge, helicopter rides and so much more. Mireya was offered a job at one of the top adventure companies in Queenstown and had the great opportunity to live and work here on her own for a few months. ⠀
We had the pleasure of coming to visit her and doing so of these things for free as her guest. We rode the gondola and the Luge on two separate occasions and all had so much fun. It really is like a real life Mario cart race. Set in the most majestic place. We also explored the town and enjoyed a wonderful meal and shopping.
Here are a few quotes she gave us while she lived there that should give you a glimpse of what is in store for you here “I’m blown away everyday that I walk to work or just look outside! I live here!!” “This is the happiest I have ever been!!” ”I don’t want to leave.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•price-expensive (unless you get lucky and have family or friends who can hook it up) •kid friendly-Yes
•Food-Yes Tips: If possible do not drive here or park by the lake and walk or grab an Uber or taxi. Parking is limited here and is usually for very short time limits. Stay a little outside of Queenstown to save money, look for coupons on bookme for most activities
#10. MILFORD SOUND
Our list would be incomplete without this place!! Located deep within Fiordland National Park, it was one of the most beautiful places we have seen as of yet. With its impressive green peaks, dark ocean waters, waterfall after waterfall, and the adorable fur seals!! This really was a highlight of our time here in New Zealand. ⠀⠀
⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This was one of the rare times that we paid for an adventure but it really is a must see and we were able to snag some discounted tickets on bookme so that helped seal the deal. We decided on a cruise because it was the most affordable and drove ourselves to the cruise departure site. However if you have the time and money you can take a coach cruise or helicopter ride here. The drive is spectacular and we stopped several times to admire the view and soak it all in. There are several walking tracks and the beauty of this place can be admired from these tracks for free!! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
•price-we managed to snag a cruise for about $50NZD for adults and $15NZD for a child •toilets-yes
•kid friendly-Yes Tips: looks for discounts, book earlier in the day to save, bring a raincoat, give yourself plenty of time to get there and make stops along the way
Our New Zealand Adventure took us to so many amazing places as you can see here from our map and we didn’t get to see everything so we definitely plan to return but for now this concludes our list and our time here in New Zealand. As I type this we sit in the airport awaiting our flight to our next big adventure-Australia here we come!!