New Zealand boasts a visual spectacle like nowhere else on Earth, with dramatic mountains and plunging fiords rubbing shoulders with primordial woodland and some of the world’s most spectacular beaches.
For thousands of years, this immersive natural beauty has proved an invaluable source of spiritual fulfilment for New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. The Maori hold each peak, pond and grain of sand sacred, and are fiercely proud of their beautiful, extraordinary homeland.
To showcase the depth of beauty available on this scenic archipelago, here we explore New Zealand’s incredible natural wonders.
Bay of Islands
Let’s begin our journey of NZ’s natural wonders at the Bay of Islands, a string of sub-tropical islets that are paradise found for the discerning beachcomber. Located on the east coast of the Northland Peninsula, the Bay of Islands is renowned for its peaceful and unspoilt beaches, each fringed with a thicket of emerald woodland, as well as its Maori cultural artefacts.
Thanks to its peaceful inlets and coves, the Bay of Islands is popular among yachtsman, divers and canoeists, and is also one of New Zealand’s foremost marine life hotspots. One of the must-see natural features of the region is Hole in the Rock, a spectacular at-sea passageway that’s navigable by boat.
Cape Reinga forms the most northerly tip of NZ’s North Island, and overlooks the point where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. Marked by a traditional Victorian lighthouse, Reinga is a stirring, wild vista, where the force of nature can be truly enjoyed in all its elemental power and wonder. The Cape is located 100 miles from the nearest village, which can be partly reached via Ninety Mile Beach — a 55-mile stretch of sand forming part of New Zealand’s official road network.
Like many sites on the Northland Peninsula, Cape Reinga is of deep spiritual significance to the Maori, who refer to the cape as ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, or the ‘leaping-off place of spirits’.
The diversity of New Zealand’s landscape is seemingly infinite, and nowhere is this more evident than Rotorua. Taking its name from a neighbouring lake, Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity, and is home to a series of hot springs and geysers, most notably the Pohutu Geyser.
While the fierce beauty of Rotorua is enough to secure a place in your holiday photo album, the region is also renowned for its ancient Maori influence. Rotorua is home to perhaps the most immersive Maori attraction in all of New Zealand, a living village and art institute dedicated to this indigenous community and their impact on the region.
Lake Taupo and Huka Falls
Resting in the crater of one of the world’s most violent volcanoes, Lake Taupo is a vast, beautiful lake whose peace and tranquillity belies its volcanic roots. The lake is flanked by a continuous ribbon of snow-capped mountains, and has become particularly popular among swimmers thanks to its clean, fresh waters and outstanding scenic backdrop.
A must-see feature of Lake Taupo is Huka Falls, one of New Zealand’s most powerful waterfalls. Every second, 220,000 litres of water barrel over this 11-metre-high fall, creating a dizzying elemental spectacle for the senses. The word ‘Huka’ means ‘foam’ in Maori, and on visiting these impressive falls, you’ll quickly understand why.
Franz Josef Glacier
Of all New Zealand’s geological wonders, the Franz Josef Glacier is arguably the most spectacular. Descending for 12km down a steep valley in NZ’s astonishing Southern Alps, this colossal ice structure advances and retreats according to the weather, and is currently receding at a rate of around 70cm a day — making it one of the world’s fastest flowing glaciers.
Given its spectacular scenic beauty, the Franz Josef Glacier is now considered one of the South Island’s foremost attractions, with an average of 250,000 visitors a year. Walking tours are particularly popular around the glacier - however, we think the best way to see this astonishing structure in all its splendour is with a helicopter tour.
Situated in the extraordinary Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is easily one of the world’s finest natural sights — a vast marine reserve lauded as the eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling. The fiord boasts some of the most spectacular peaks in all of New Zealand, and is best explored by boat from the peaceful waters of the fiord.
Aside from its jaw-dropping good looks, Milford Sound has a rich history and a deep spiritual significance to the Maori. The entire region has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status on account of its supreme natural beauty, and was judged the world’s top travel destination in a recent international survey by TripAdvisor.
Though less striking than other sites on this shortlist, the mystery and intrigue of the Moeraki Boulders secures them a spot in our list of New Zealand’s most beautiful natural wonders. These unusually large boulders rest on the golden sands of Koekohe Beach, on the South Island’s preeminent Otago coast, and no one can yet explain how, when and why they appeared.
According to Maori legend, the Moeraki Boulders are petrified examples of eel baskets and calabashes, washed ashore from the wreck of Arai-te-uru, an ancient sailing canoe. The boulders are vast in size, with some measuring up to three metres in diameter — making for a truly unique spectacle on this beautiful stretch of beach.
The Mackenzie Basin lies at the centre of the Southern Alps, and is home to a series of three parallel lakes — Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau. Though not the largest of the three, Lake Tekapo is regarded as the most picturesque, boasting a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, charming sheep farms and endless wild Lupin meadows.
With the sun high above, there’s no finer way to spend the day than with a gentle walking tour on the banks of Lake Tekapo. One of the highlights of Tekapo’s banks is the Church of the Good Shepherd, an ancient Presbyterian chapel built directly on the water’s edge.
Mount Cook, or Aoraki in Maori, is the highest mountain in New Zealand, rising over 3,000 metres in the midst of the exquisite Southern Alps. The peak itself lies within the Mount Cook National Park, a vast nature reserve first granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1953 on account of its exquisite natural beauty. The park contains over 140 distinct peaks, the highest of which offer challenging conditions for climbers.
For a more serene experience of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, walking tours around the neighbouring Hooker Lake offer the best views of Mount Cook. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the summit of this dramatic mountain, and the image of the peak reflected in the glassy surface of the water promises to live long in the memory.
If you’ve long dreamt of exploring the wild wonders of New Zealand, an escorted touring break from Scenic offers the perfect opportunity to do so. Our luxury New Zealand tours visit some of the country’s most esteemed beauty spots, so you can take in all of its natural beauty at a pace that suits you. To browse our complete range of luxury touring holidays in New Zealand, click here or call us on 0161 163 1950.