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New Zealand Travel Itinerary: Top Ten New Zealand Places to Visit

Updated on July 14, 2011

An Island in the Pacific. Middle Earth. A place for adventure. A land with mountains; a land with flat lands; and land with lakes and oceans.

Snow covered peaks. Rugged coastline. Animal safaris. Week long walks in untouched wilderness. Beautiful, unparelled, adventure.

New Zealand.

One of the most popular travel destinations in the world is New Zealand, and it's for different reasons than most tourists spots. It's so popular not because of it's lush beaches - although it does have some - but for it's unique display of everything else. The topography of New Zealand is the most diverse of the entire planet; it ranges from some of the highest peaks in the world, to some of the deepest valleys. Look up, look down - it doesn't matter. Either way you'll be seeing something spectacular.

There are so many places to visit in New Zealand that someone could spend their entire lives scouring the place. And perhaps that's something for you: a lifetime on middle earth. If not - if your like the rest of us and don't have that kind of time - then it's best you choose your destinations wisley.

In other words you need a New Zealand travel itinerary. So with that in mind here is a list of the top ten places to visit in New Zealand.


At certain times of the year, the wilderness surrounding the lake will be full of New Zealand Daisy's.
At certain times of the year, the wilderness surrounding the lake will be full of New Zealand Daisy's.

1 - Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana is the location of one of the nine Great Walks on New Zealand and is by far one of the most popular. Located in Te Urewera National Park in the north island, Lake Waikaremoano covers an area of 54km - which, if you are not very good at math, is quite big for a lake. In fact, it's so big, that hiking half the circumference of the lake will take you three to four days.

The Great Walk does just that.  It takes you around about half of the lake, weaving in and out of the coastline, taking you - in some places - into hidden mystical enclaves. Huts have been created at normal intervals - you have to book in advance, but it's worth it - and there many designated fishing and other recreational spots. it can be a place for the entire family, or just a solitary journey of peace - the choice is up to you.

Lake Waikaremoana is popular, but it's also very big; and this makes the perfect combination. You'll never be bothered by a mob of people, but you'll also never feel entirely alone. It's just humans enjoying some of nature's wonder together, peaceful and respectfully.  It's a must have on your New Zealand travel itinerary. 


Milford Sound
Milford Sound

2 - Milford Sound

This is the most famous travel destination in all of New Zealand; in fact I doubt I even have to tell you anything about Milford Sound - I'm sure you already know. Once called the 8th wonder of the world, the Milford Sound gets thousands of visitors a day, and over a million a year. No wonder it was ranked the number one travel destination in 2008.

Milford Sound is the most well renowned fjord on the entire planet. Large peaks overlook an ever expanding bay, sometimes snow-capped, sometimes not. Waterfalls fall gracefully, yet violently, from thousands of feet, stirring the calm, ice like, water below. It's a tranquil setting that is vicious at the same time, a great display of the complexities nature can present at any given time.  I

Entry into Milford Sound is by boat only. Many different companies offer an hour- two hour tours, and a few even have overnight trips. Doing one of these tours is a bucket-list must. Slowly entering the Sound through a narrow passage and watching as the bay opens up around you, all the while being surrounded by waterfalls and grand peaks, well, it's a sight that one must behold.  If anything it can be number one on the list of top ten New Zealand places to visit. 


Canoeing in New Zealand.
Canoeing in New Zealand.

3 - Whanganui Journey

Not, at least by definition, one of the Great Walks, Whanganui Journey has the same beauty and wonderment as any of them. A 145km journey by canoe, the Whanganui Journey, travels between Taumaranui and Pipirik; the journey is scenic, often traversing in between snow capped peaks, or forests filled with life. The river itself is only grade 2, so it can be enjoyed by canoers of all skilled levels; it does have some challenge for those who like there trips to have a bit of adrenaline.

Huts and campsites line the sides of the river and are very accommodating for the average folk. They cannot be booked in advance so be forewarned that during the summer season it may be difficult to get really good spots; although the campsites are usually big enough that everyone has a spot.

More serious canoeist can travel the extra 85 km after the 145 km journey and that will take another two days. The river becomes more difficult at this point so check the tides and plan your journey accordingly.


The World Heli Challenge which took place inside the national park.
The World Heli Challenge which took place inside the national park.
The park has some of the largest peaks in the world.
The park has some of the largest peaks in the world.

4 - Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring national park has the perfect name.

Say it with me, "A- spi - ir -ing"

Kind of sounds like inspiring, doesn't it? Because that what this national park is. Immensely inspiring.

In the heart of it all, Mount Aspiring national park is filled with glaciers, snowfields, mountains, valleys, and wildlife habitats that, at times, take days to reach. it's untouched beauty that to witness requires patience and work; it's the perfect kind of reward. On one end is extremely wet forest where new life is being born into everyday; on the other end, in the valleys that are divided by the biggest peaks in New Zealand, small rivers mingle through creating a picturesque scene.  You know that New Zealand travel itinerary you are trying to make?  Throw this one it NOW.

The two most popular activities in the park are taking the 3-day Routeburn Track, which takes you between two of the main valleys in the area. The other is to mountaineer up Mount Aspiring itself. It has been dubbed the 'Matterhorn of the South' so you know it will be an invigorating experience.


A beautiful sunset in the southern alps.
A beautiful sunset in the southern alps.

5 - The Foothills of the Southern Alps

The southern alps extend 650 kilometers along the western side of New Zealand and are often obscured by clouds. The largest mountain in these alps is the year round snow covered Mt Cook, which reaches up to almost 13 000 feet. To stand at the bottom of this beast is breathtaking; it makes you feel extensional for a moment and that's a good thing.

There are many roads, both commercial, and non, that carry through the Southern Alps. If you have 4WD you can travel on most of them and this can be a very intriguing and appealing experience. The scenery is breathtaking as you cross a narrow mountain pass; the rush of the river as you drive over tree stump in a forgotten valley, peaceful. This kind of adventure is for everyone, of course; it's something you undertake at your own risk.

However if you are the adventours type then the foothills are place for you. You can sign up for a bush camp package where you and a group of people have traditional fire and accomdation under the stars; most of the time these packages include days of fishing, hunting, hiking heritage trails, and many other adventures.

The wide-openness of the New Zealand backcountry is energy for the soul; looking out at the top of some summit and seeing endless waves of snowcovered peaks...


6 - Waitomo Caves

Ever wanted to feel what it's like to live like are great ancestors did thousands of years ago. You know, when they lived in caves, hunted animals for survival, didn't even know how to make fire? Surprisingly (I say this sarcastically) New Zealand has just the adventure for you. There are many different places where there are an abundance of caves in New Zealand but the best experience, by far, is the one in Waitomo.

There are tours which you can sign up for which replicate the whole pioneer cave exploring experience perfectly. In Waitomo you can traverse large caverns, squeeze through tight rocks, crawl through a passageway, even slide down an abandoned waterfall. You know those scenes in Lord of the Rings - you know when there in the Dwarf mountain - Yeah, it's something like that. Want to go yet?


Photo(s) by courtesy of
Photo(s) by courtesy of

7 - Tongariro Plateau

How does the best one day hike in the world sound to you? Because that's what the Tongariro Plateau is - the best one day hike on the entire planet. And i'm not trying to sell it here; it doesn't even need selling, it's just that brilliant, that profoundly inspiring.

Located in New Zealand's first ever national park, Tongariro national park, the Tongariro Plateau is a 6-8 hour hike that is simply amazing. It lies in the heart of the volcanic plateau; Mt Doom, that masterpiece of a mountain that was filmed in Lord of the Rings, is called Mt Ruapehu,and is in view the entire hike. A nearby Mt Ngauruhoe is constantly emitting steam; it creates an eerie and unique atmosphere.

The walk itself takes you through a landscape that is familiar at times and original in others. When it's familiar your traversing peaks, overlooking valleys, standing at precipice that overlook the entire planet. In others you're walking up the shoulder if of a towering volcanic cone, or passing by calm emerald lakes.

It's simply amazing and is one of the top ten New Zealand places to visit. 


8 - Franz Josef Glacier

Water. It's part of us. We need it to survive. We are surrounded by it daily; our planet is mostly covered with it; without we wouldn't exist in this universe.

With this in mind it's fitting that we enjoy being surrounded in it when it's not exactly being it. Thousands of glaciers fill this world with frozen water; they are the real reservoir of the world; they are the real thing that we know, as long as they still exist, then we will too. We like this idea, and I think that's why we like exploring glaciers, to be surrounded by them. At least that's how I feel.

Franz Josef Glacier is just that type of setting. A convoluted ice fall that is full of crevices, caves, lakes, icy points, a small valley of snow. It's the only glacier, at such a low latitude, to be so close to see; it moves forward one meter a day - which is very fast for glacier standards. To be there is to invigorate ones soul.

There are a few ways to view this masterpiece. Guided tours will take you there, as well as flying tours which will give you a wonderful aerial view.


Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson

9 - Lake Matheson

Another of the must see travel destinations in New Zealand is Lake Matheson, only six kilometers away from Franz Josef Glacier. Formed when the glacier retreated at the end of the last ice age, it's a lake that is juxtaposed with two towering snow covered peaks in its background. In the morning the water is so calm, like a brand new mirror, that Mt Cook and Tasman reflect perfectly off it.


Let the adventure begin.
Let the adventure begin.

10 - The Rest of New Zealand

The truth is is that a New Zealand travel itinerary could carry on forever, and a list of the top new Zealand travel destinations is really something that is purely superficial. This is a country that doesn't need any direction; you can get off the plane, head to the coolest thing in your surroundings and from there you would pointed to the next wonderful thing, and the next and the next...

It's impossible to go to New Zealand and not find a moment of profound wonder of beauty; the country is full of these constants. Bungee jumping, diving, fishing, national parks, glaciers, great walks, hunting, rafting, peaceful sceery, camping, canoeing, caves,the 8th wonder of the world, waterfall, ice, water... it's all of nature put together onto one single country. This place isn't quantity,but all quality.

Not to say the above nine places won't blow you away; they will, I promise you that. They will amaze so much that you will want to see more, experience more. That two week adventure will turn into a month, a year.

What are you waiting for?



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    • realfree profile image


      7 years ago from Indonesia

      I visited New Zealand in 1992.

      I love Mount Cook and have a cup of tea in a very old coffee shop in New Zealand.

      Great article.

      Please visit:


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