Reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier New Zealand.

New Zealand is often cited as a dream destination, and regularly tops lists of must-see places around the world. That’s probably because, despite its small size, New Zealand has it all. Mountains, lakes, glaciers, beaches, coves, big cities, quaint towns and so much more can be found here.

Its natural beauty has made New Zealand a top choice among filmmakers, and indeed the country has become synonymous with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. However, compiling a list of unmissable destinations is difficult, as all of it is incredible. Nonetheless, here are 11 places you absolutely MUST see in the country:

1. White Island
The impressive White Island, about 50 kilometers off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island

The country’s most active volcano, White Island is usually covered in the white steam that gives its name. Called ‘Te Puia o Whakaari’ (The Dramatic Volcano) in native Maori, this is not a place for the faint-hearted. You can take a boat ride to the inner crater, go scuba diving to see the underwater vents, or – most popularly – take a scenic helicopter ride over the volcano.

2. Hokitika Gorge
The vivid turquoise water of Hokitika Gorge

Located in New Zealand’s South Island, the glacial water of Hokitika Gorge is especially striking. Due to a unique mix of minerals and plankton, this river is naturally a vibrant blue. There are many walking trails around the gorge, and the adventurous can even take a dip in the freezing waters.

3. Waiheke Island
A vineyard and winery on Waiheke Island overlooking the bay

Only 45 minutes away from Auckland, Waiheke Island is a tropical paradise. It’s stunning coast, with palm trees and white sand beaches, is also home to some of New Zealand’s finest vineyards. Make sure to attend a wine tasting session at one of the many picturesque vineyards. Each vineyard offers something different, apart from its delicious wines, such as lawn games.

4. Hobbiton
Hobbit Holes in Hobbiton near Matamata, a small town on the North Island of New Zealand

Visiting Hobbiton is on the to-do list of many Lord of the Rings fans. Located on a farm in Matamata, it’s more than just a film set. Jackson’s vision of The Shire whisks you away to Middle Earth, with the tiny houses, gardens with perfectly manicured hedges, and functioning pub at The Green Dragon Inn. Don’t forget to visit Bilbo Baggins’ house at Bag End!

5. Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula

While New Zealand is well known as the location for the LOTR films, its also featured in the recent adaptations of Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps the most famous location is Cathedral Cove, from Prince Caspian, located on the Coromandel peninsula. The gorgeous stretch of sand with lush rainforested hills, offers a blend of relaxation and activity, with hiking and water sports available for the more active.

6. Wellington
Downtown Wellington in the summer

The seaside capital city of Wellington is full of character. With quirky side streets, pop up restaurants, street markets, and panoramic views, it blends arty with urban in a unique way. The city on the North Island is home to hundreds of restaurants, with something for everyone. Mount Victoria rises over Wellington, offering spectacular views of both the city and the coastline.

7. Waitomo Cave
The cathedral-like Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are one of the most unique places in the country. Naturally illuminated by thousands of glow-worms, a visit to these caves is an experience like no other. There is much to do inside the caves themselves, from informative boat rides to jumping off waterfalls and rappelling down cave walls, you can choose your own adventure.

8. Milford Sound
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most important tourist attractions and world famous for its natural beauty

Set in the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most iconic spots. The fjord was created by a melting glacier and is home to magnificent jagged cliffs, thousands of cascading waterfalls, dolphins, seals, and penguins. Even though it rains here though most of the year, a cruise through The Sounds is truly a mesmerizing experience.

9. Glacier Country
Climbing the Franz Josef Glacier in the Southern Alps

On the Western Coast of South Island, is the Westland National Park, and its breath-taking Glacier Country. The Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier are the most famous. While the Franz Josef Glacier is the most accessible, you can go on guided hikes along both glaciers, and also as relax in their incredible hot pools.

10. Rotorua
The Champagne Pool thermal lake at Wai-O-Tapu near Rotorua

Rotorua and the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is home to a number of active geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. The otherworldly beauty of Wai-O-Tapu, with brightly colored lakes and steaming craters, is one of the most spectacular sights in New Zealand. Nearby, you can find Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you can sample authentic Maori ‘steambox meals’ prepared using ancient geothermal cooking techniques.

11. Queenstown
Sunset in Queenstown

The South Island city of Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. This beautiful city is surrounded by the Southern Alps and is on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. During the winter, it is known for its world-class skiing, and bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain-biking, jet boating, and river rafting are available all year-round.

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