It took three expeditions and seven months for the adventurer James Cook to explore the coastlines of New Zealand. Today, you can travel the entire country inside out in a couple of weeks, navigating a 4-wheel drive, listening to your favourite playlist. As one of the most rewarding road trip destination in the world, New Zealand is a mandatory experience in every world traveler’s resume.
1 Canterbury, South Island. With hypnotic names, derived from old Maori words, the turquoise lakes of Canterbury is a fantasy kind of land found only on the South Island. This is where you encounter a herd of sheep at Lake Pukaki, see snow-capped mountains mirrored in Lake Tekapo, and navigate winding roads through deep valleys. Set course towards Tasman Lake in Mount Cook National Park, a wild and untouched land where you can drive for hours without seeing a living soul.
2 Bay of Islands, North Island. Not many people get to see the Bay of Islands, situated at the very north of the North Island. Even less get to see it from above. A myriad of islands scattered in the blue New Zealand water. But the dedicated traveler makes it a sailing destination. A cruise among tropical islands, white glittering beaches, and mysterious rock caves, that, at least for a second, makes you believe you are in the middle of the Caribbean.
3 Milford Sound, South Island. Forget the fake sceneries at Hobbiton, the spellbinding nature at Milford Sound is the real deal. Leave your car in Queenstown and chart a turboprop, taking you over the Southern Alps and into the majestic Fiordland National Park by air. Fasten your seatbelt as the final approach takes you side by side with steep cliff walls before putting you down on a thin airstrip, just in time for the slow catamaran cruise around Mitre Peak. A world of snowcapped mountains, deep valleys, and tropical waterfalls.
4 Hahei, North Island. It wasn’t before I got to Hahei, that I understood that New Zealands’ North Island has a subtropical summer climate and beaches as beautiful as the nature. Spend your day at Hahei Beach and visit the mesmerising Cathedral Cove, reachable only by boat or through a rough one hour walking trail. Shake the crowds off by going there early morning or stay until late sunset. Even better, make up a fire and spend the night on the beach under the open sky. You won’t regret it.
5 Tongariro, North Island. Of all the trails and treks of New Zealand, Tongariro is the wildest, toughest, and most rewarding experience. The sign at the Mangatepopo starting point simply has one question: “Are you fit enough?”. If you are, the 19,4 kilometres Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes you along boiling lakes, red coloured mountains, and a volcanic crater at 1862 meters above sea level. Look inside and teleport yourself to the surface of planet Mars.
6 The West Coast, South Island. They call it the ”wild west”, a large portion of untamed nature stretched out along the northern west coast of South Island. Find absolute tranquility at Lake Matheson, and follow the Great Coast Road to the eroded limestone rocks of Punakaiki. This is the place to experience blowholes, a signature natural phenomenon of the Pacific Ocean and one of the many originalities of New Zealand.
7 Rotorua, North Island. A boiling hell-broth of green, yellow, and orange, surrounded by hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools. The geothermal area of Rotorua might be a bit touristy, but it’s a different experience for sure. Meaning “sacred water” in old Maori language, the colourful hot springs of the North Island are as mythical as they are fascinating.
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