This New Zealand Bucket List shares the very best NZ has to offer, so you can see it all on your visit! We cover the best things to do in NZ, the best places to visit, and some unique attractions in NZ too.
Why New Zealand?
New Zealand has a long history as an international tourist destination – mainly thanks to its stunning natural landscapes, unique wildlife, and marvelous Maori culture.
The two main islands have been a popular choice for travelers from all around the world for more than a century.
It all dates back to European explorers, like Abel Tasman and James Cook, who first arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries. These explorers’ reports sparked enormous interest when they returned home.
Tourism began to develop in the 19th century as long-distance travelers, and new settlers of course, were attracted by the pristine landscapes – from the fjords of the South Island to the geothermal wonders of the North.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New Zealand’s government actively promoted the country as a tourist destination. This was before mass tourism as we know it today.
Brochures, postcards, and travel literature were used to promote the country’s breathtaking scenery to audiences in the rest of the world.
Then in the late 20th century New Zealand became increasingly known for its adventure tourism, pioneering activities such as bungee jumping, white-water rafting, and jet boating.
Dramatic landscapes like the Southern Alps, fjords, and glaciers, provided the perfect backdrop for these adrenaline-pumping activities.
Also, the success of the film series The Lord of the Rings showcased New Zealand’s landscapes and led to a surge in interest from fans.
At the same time, the commitment to conservation made it a hub for ecotourism. Tourists come to explore national parks, bird sanctuaries, and unique wildlife, like the kiwi bird.
New Zealand Bucket List
New Zealand has now become one of the most popular bucket-list long-haul destinations in the world. Here are some of the best tourist attractions in New Zealand:
Hobbiton Movie Set (North Island)
This amazing film location near the town of Matamata is a must-visit for Lord of the Rings Hobbit fans. It’s a meticulously built movie set for ‘The Shire’ where the small human-like hobbits live in the films.
The wide set area includes their hobbit hole homes covered with grass and the lush vegetable gardens they so value in the books and films. There’s even a chance to visit the Green Dragon Inn, which features in the films too.
We recommend taking a tour to see all of the movie sites in the area and make sure your camera is charged and ready for lots of fun photographs!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves (North Island)
A guide typically leads visitors into a cave by bright torchlight and then suddenly turns off the torch to reveal a stunning galaxy of glowing lights all around.
Scores of New Zealand caves among the lush vegetation of the North Island are famous for their glowworms.
Visitors can take underground boat tours to see thousands of tiny worms naturally illuminating the dark cave ceilings. It’s a unique natural light display.
Rotorua Geothermal Areas (North Island)
Rotorua is like a theme park for geological wonders. The amazing natural thermal experiences here include massive steaming water geysers spurting high into the air, hot springs flowing non-stop from the rocks, and warm bubbling mud pools.
Towns like Wai-O-Tapu and Te Puia have become tourist centers where visitors can witness these examples of the Earth’s geothermal power along with fascinating local Maori cultural performances.
There are some tours available to see the national parks of New Zealand but you may find it easier to rent a car and explore the sites on your own.
Tongariro National Park (North Island)
Tongariro is New Zealand’s oldest national park and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s renowned for its dramatic volcanic landscapes, including active volcanoes like Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe.
Energetic visitors can walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the world’s best day hikes. This offers stunning views of volcanoes, crates, lava, and lakes.
Auckland (North Island)
New Zealand’s largest city stands around its stunning harbor with miles of waterfront and thousands of boats moored offshore. The city is prosperous, low-rise and relaxed.
Auckland offers a diverse culture and a wide range of attractions and is one of the best cities to visit in New Zealand.
Highlights include Auckland Sky Tower with panoramic views and fabulous tree-lined beaches like Mission Bay and Piha Beach. Tourists also explore the galleries, and museums or take a ferry to Waiheke Island for wine tasting.
Auckland is also home to the SkyCity Auckland complex, with hotels, bars, restaurants, and activities including SkyWalk, SkyJump, and SkySlide taking place here. Alternatively, adults can take advantage of the highest-paying sites available in NZ, or enjoy the luxurious bars at the resort.
Fiordland National Park (South Island)
The National Park is home to the awe-inspiring Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, two of New Zealand’s most famous and regularly Instagrammable landscapes.
The park itself features dramatic waterfalls, towering cliffs, and lush rainforests. Visitors often take scenic cruises along the fiords to spot wildlife, including dolphins and seals.
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park (South Island)
This is New Zealand’s highest peak and the national park surrounding it is a stargazing paradise thanks to the dark skies here.
The South Alps offers spectacular scenery and walking routes.
Highlights include an opportunity to explore the Hooker Valley and Tasman Glacier. It’s also home to Mount John Observatory for unparalleled stargazing.
Abel Tasman National Park (South Island)
Abel Tasman National Park boasts golden sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush coastal forests. It’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, with opportunities for kayaking, hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and spotting seals and dolphins.
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers (South Island)
New Zealand offers visitors two of the most accessible glaciers in the world. It’s easy to take guided glacier hikes here.
Less energetic visitors may enjoy scenic helicopter tours to see the dramatic ice formations and ice caves from above.
Whether you walk or fly, the juxtaposition of glaciers against a rainforest backdrop is one of the world’s most unique sights.
What is the future of New Zealand tourism?
New Zealand places such a strong emphasis on environmental conservation and sustainable tourism tourists are likely to be attracted to sights that echo these priorities.
That’s going to work fine – as more and more long-haul travelers are seeking eco-friendly and responsible tourism experiences.
New Zealand has already recognized the importance of managing tourism growth to avoid over-tourism and ensure a high-quality visitor experience.
Visitors are also increasingly interested in authentic cultural experiences, and New Zealand’s Maori culture is likely to increasingly be a significant draw. Cultural tourism, such as learning about Maori traditions, rituals, and art, is expected to grow.
New Zealand’s natural landscapes and outdoor adventure opportunities will continue to attract travelers seeking activities like hiking, kayaking, and bungee jumping. The country will invest heavily in improving its adventure tourism infrastructure.
New Zealand is also promoting luxury travel, food and wine tourism, and wildlife tourism. Everything from whale watching to casino resorts is likely to play a part in the appeal of the islands in the coming years.