Lake Tekapo New Zealand

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You are planning a trip to New Zealand and you don’t know where to go, you’re looking for ideas? I might tell you right now, you’ll have a little problem. There’s just too much to see. Really, there are amazing places everywhere. Volcanoes, mountains, geothermal areas, fantastic lakes (watch out for sandflies!), glaciers next to rain forests, even heavenly beaches.

Really, it’s complicated. The idea is not to show you EVERYTHING, it’s impossible (and it would be too long) especially since I am far from having seen everything, but to share with you the places I really loved. During one month there, I saw a lot of things but the distances are long, and we are really dependent on the weather which is very changeable (sweet euphemism!).

Anyway, I hope I’ll make you want to discover them, among many others, both on the northern and southern islands 🙂

1. Tongariro National Park

Simply outstanding. First of all, the Tongariro park is a volcanic area acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and I have to say there is a lot to see. Because we find volcanoes, craters, emerald lakes, fantastic landscapes.

And the good thing is that it is one of the most beautiful treks in the world: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is usually done in one day. A day where your calves will suffer, but it is so worth it! We are going to zigzag between volcanoes and lakes, views to fall, descents to fall too because there are one or two passages a little bit funny 😀

But it will remain one of your most beautiful memories, without any doubt. So if you are on the north island, take a day to do this hike!

You can find out more about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in this article (still in French)!

Practical information about Tongariro

So be careful, because of the crowd, we can’t leave the car on the main parking lot more than 4 hours. What is annoying because we don’t have time to make the return trip. So you will have to take a shuttle from National Park (more information here).

  • Price of the hike : free
  • Price of the shuttle : 26€ A/R
  • Duration of the hike : between 4h (the pros) and 12h (me)
  • In winter (but in October), you will need a guide or a great experience because it is covered with snow and ice
  • It’s often closed because of the weather
Tongariro Alpine crossing emerald lakes New Zealand
Red Crater tongariro alpine crossing New Zealand

2. Abel Tasman National Park

It’s the smallest national park, but it’s resourceful! Abel Tasman Park is the idyllic spot on the South Island, the last place you’ll see heavenly beaches before heading down to the mountains.

And really, the beaches are beautiful, the coastline is stunning, it’s a fantastic place to hike. In fact, these different hikes usually start with a little cruise to get you to the heart of the park, to a beach, and there you can walk for a few hours and either go straight back to the village or get picked up elsewhere.

Honestly, I loved this place (and I’m not saying that because I had bad weather afterwards)!

Practical information about the Abel Tasman Park

  • I recommend at least one full day to hike in the park
  • Doable all year round, 15° in winter, 25 in summer
  • Cab boats are not cheap : from 80 NZD for the round trip but it allows to go to the heart of the park
  • Discover the cruises + hikes  here
  • But it is also a great place to kayaking
  • Recommended accommodation : Haven on Glenaven
Abel Tasman Park New Zealand
Abel Tasman Park New Zealand

3. The beautiful fjords of Milford Sound

You know me (well probably!), being a fan of Norway I find fjords majestic. And I have to say that Milford Sound is definitely one of the most beautiful in the world. Located in a remote area and with very little infrastructure, it is truly a magical place.

Milford Sound is located in the sumptuous Fiordland Park, a rather wild region in which few roads pass. This gives it a unique end-of-the-world feel. You can only get there by the only road in the region from Te Anau. In fact, take the time to enjoy this road which is sumptuous! Especially since you could see the keas.

We discover Milford Sound by boat. There are many different companies but all propose almost the same program: 2 dreamy hours in the fjord. I advise to take the first boats to avoid the groups of tourists

You can read more about Milford Sound in this article (in French)!

Practical information about Milford Sound

  • Can be visited all year round, but depending on weather conditions, the road may be closed
  • The distance between Te Anau and Milford Sound is 120km
  • The boat trip lasts 2 hours and costs 60€ minimum
  • The first departure is at 8:45 am and the last one at 3:30 am
  • Recommended cruise : Mitre Peak
Sunrise Milford Sound New Zealand cruise
Milford Road to Milford Sound New Zealand

4. Te Anau and its surroundings

Te Anau isn’t just good for getting to Milford Sound. It’s also a beautiful place, for me a little haven of peace as I like : beautiful landscapes, mountains, hiking everywhere and a lot of activities to do. Milford Sound of course, but also the superb Doubtful Sound, to see the glowworms which are really surprising.

Te Anau is worth a stop for a few days, to discover the bird park with the rare takahe, or the kaka parrot. But you can also start the famous Kepler Trak, Milford Track or Routeburn hikes, 3 of the Great Walks, the best hikes in the country!

Practical information about Te Anau

Doubtful Sound New Zealand
Mirror Lakes Milford Sound Te ANau

5. Glenorchy and the beautiful road from Queenstown

I found Queenstown a bit too American/Australian for my taste, but it is the starting point of many activities (see here). And it’s in a great area with a beautiful lake, the Wakatipu lake, surrounded by great mountains. It’s like being in Scotland !

And it feels so much like Scotland that at the end of the lake, in a really special atmosphere, some Scots came to settle down. They left the cold, the lochs, to settle at the other end of the world… in the cold and a loch. But! This village called Glenorchy (a name that smells good whisky) is connected to Queenstown by what is considered as the most beautiful road in the world. Seriously!

During these 50km, you will really be amazed, following mountains and a magnificent lake in an atmosphere of the end of the world

Practical information about Glenorchy

  • you have to drive this road to stop whenever you want (and also because there is not much transport)
  • 50km of pure happiness, and even 100 in return
  • Glenorchy is the starting point of the Routeburn Track
  • Discover Glenorchy from Queenstown !
Glenorchy queenstown road new zealand
queenstown glenorchy road

6. The fantastic Lake Tekapo

Look out, heaven on earth. Lake Tekapo is my favorite place in New Zealand. A beautiful lake really, turquoise especially when the sun is out, surrounded by beautiful mountains.

But Tekapo is a very peaceful place, relaxing, for several reasons. First of all, you can enjoy the lake, do a lot of hikes around and near it. Then, you can go a little further, a place at the foot of the mountains, with absolutely nobody and beautiful landscapes.

Finally, the Tekapo lake is the perfect place for the observation of the milky way. It is a paradise for astrophotography because the sky is considered the second purest in the world (after the Atacama), and there is absolutely no light. Outside of summer, you can also see the Northern Lights with a little luck!

Practical information about Tekapo

  • You can discover Lake Tekapo in this article (still in French)
  • How long to stay : between 2 days and 1 week (it feels really good!)
  • Best season: summer (mid November/mid December) for the lupins around the lake, spring/autumn are nice too, winter is cool!
  • Discover the fantastic night sky at the Observatory with the Dark Sky Project
  • Recommended accommodation: the Lake Edge Holiday Parkfor both cottages and camping
Lake Takapo new Zealand
Mountains Lake Tekapo New Zealand

7. Kaikoura and its marine life

Another paradise on the south island! Kaikoura is a marine wildlife paradise. Thanks to its extremely rich marine canyon, you can find whales (especially sperm whales) all year round and in great numbers. But also lots of dolphins, sea lions everywhere. Really, it’s so nice!

And all this in an exceptional setting because the sea is on the side of the mountains, with a ski resort nearby.

For example, in the morning I had my coffee in front of the dolphins which jumped by ten. Then during the walks I crossed the sea lions basking on the rocks, the public benches. And finally during a cruise I could see the whales.

Hey, I told you it was paradise!

Practical information about Kaikoura

  • marine life (whales, dolphins, sea lions) are visible all year round
  • spring, summer, early fall are the best season
  • a minimum of 2 days, 3 is not bad at all
  • recommended excursion to see the whales: Whale Whatching Kaikoura
  • recommended accommodation : Alpine Pacific Holiday Park
fur seal kaikoura new zealand
Dolphins Kaikoura New Zealand
whale watching Kaikoura New Zealand

8. Mount Taranaki

I went there at the end of my stay, on my way back from Wellington, and I would have liked to spend a little more time there, especially having the possibility to hike there with a good weather. Because Mount Taranaki is THE emblematic volcano of New Zealand, one of those rare perfect cones.

Well, even if you don’t climb it, you can still have great views. The most famous one requires a good physical condition, it is the Henry Peak Lookout. Otherwise, near Stratford, there are some very nice parks which offer a very nice view.
Finally, you can take the car to North Egmont Visitor Center or Dawson’s Falls to get close and then continue to walk.

Practical information about Mount Taranaki

  • If you want to climb to the top, you need equipment and experience because it is always frozen, even in summer. In winter, it is inaccessible unless you have a lot of experience.
  • The volcano is visible all year round from the surroundings
  • Recommended duration: 1 day to admire the volcano and the surroundings
  • I advise you to leave by the Forgotten Highway and the self-proclaimed republic of Whangamomona
  • Recommended accommodation : Amity Court Motel (well there is not much choice)
Mount Taranaki New Zealand

9. A sunrise on Lake Matheson

A great classic in terms of New Zealand glaciers. The country has many beautiful lakes but Lake Matheson is special. A fantastic setting, view on the mountains and especially Mount Cook, it is really the place for sunrise but not only.

You will have to arrive early to get to the bridge, but on the way you will pass through a beautiful mist, a mystical atmosphere.

The sunrise is famous mainly for the calmness of the lake, the absence of the wind which allows a perfect reflection.

Practical information about Lake Matheson

sunrise lake Matheson New Zealand
Sunrise lake matheson new zealand fog

10. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

In the middle of extremely dense rainforests, we’re going to find glaciers. It is super surprising in this region, but Mount Cook and Westlant Tai Poutini National Parks have magnificent mountains and their glaciers reach almost to the sea!

Easily accessible, we will have the Fox Glacier but especially the Franz Josef Glacier, where it is easy to hike to get close to it and even along it without difficulty. Unfortunately, this glacier is a real symbol of global warming because it is retreating a lot.

A bit further south, you can get a little closer to the Fox Glacier, especially if you opt for a guided tour which can be very interesting to learn more about these glaciers.

Although these glaciers are not the most impressive (cf Iceland, Alaska or other), they are superb and what I prefer is their unique location in the world, because you really don’t expect to see them there!

Practical information about the Franz Josef glacier

  • How long: at least 1 full day (1 sunrise in Matheson, then discovery of the 2 glaciers)
  • visible all year round, obviously in winter they will be bigger but the conditions could be more difficult to approach
  • going there is free
  • the paths to get closer are easy, but you need good shoes
  • to see them even better, you can take a helicopter tour and even land on them! To discover here.
  • Recommended accommodation (the village of Franz Josef is very close) : Glow worm Accomodation
franz josef glacier new Zealand
franz josef glacier helicopter new zealand

11. The Huka Falls

This was one of my very first contacts with New Zealand. The Huka Falls are in the Taupo area, with lots of other nice things to see around, like the Orakei Korako geothermal area (second image) or the Wairakei Terraces.

But for me the most beautiful discovery of the area was the Huka Falls. The longest river in the country and powerful waterfalls, all that coupled with a beautiful turquoise water. It’s a very surprising place, noisy as possible, beautiful. And free!

The waterfalls are easy to discover, relatively quickly, but you feel hypnotized by the flow and the colors. Really, it is captivating!

Practical information about Huka Falls

Huka falls New Zealand
orakei korako new Zealand

12. Wanaka and its surroundings

Wanaka is still a dreamy place. The opposite of Queenstown, but still with activity. It is the main town of this lakes area (Wanaka, Hawea, Tekapo, Pukaki…) with… 5000 inhabitants.

There are crazy mountains, besides the road coming from Haast Pass is fantastic and both to go to Queenstown and further north, we will take a lot of eyes.

Wanaka is especially the starting point of many hikes, not necessarily obvious, which give ultra beautiful points of view. As Roy’s Peak, Isthmus Peak, Rob Roy… imagine 15km hikes which take 6 hours. So it’s a steep climb!

But Wanaka is also the place of the most famous tree of the country (of the world?) the Wanaka Tree, which is all alone in the water and with a magical panorama.

Practical information about Wanaka

  • How long to stay : 2/3 days, more if you want to explore the area
  • What is the best season : all seasons are good, in winter there are activities that go with it
  • Take a little cruise on the lake Wanaka !
  • Recommended accommodation: Wanaka Riverside Apartment
wanaka tree new zealand by night
Wanaka new zealand


There you go! And to think that this is only a small sample of what you can see in the country. I had to avoid some areas because of the weather (like Aoraki, the whole southern part) and change my plans at the last moment (the joy of being in a van!), but even without that, I had a lot of things to see. And as there are so many things to see, the advantage is that you can’t be satisfied with one trip, so you’ll have to come back. Well ok it’s not the next door, but it’s worth it!

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