Narrowing a list down to only 19 of the best places to visit in New Zealand is no easy task. With its amazing beaches, spectacular waterfalls and magnificent mountains, it’s probably been on your bucket list for a long time. This blog isn’t going to suppress those itchy feet because we both know it – New Zealand is one of the best and most beautiful countries in the world. Both the North and South Islands have heaps of natural wonders to explore and lots of activities on offer. On the North island you’ll find New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, and plenty of dreamy beaches. The South Island takes adventure seriously, because this is where you’ll find the high-adrenaline city of Queenstown. Everywhere you look is like a picture-perfect postcard and everyone you talk to is your new best mate. Here are the 19 best places to visit in New Zealand and why you should get here. Like, now!
1. Muriwai Beach, Auckland
In just a 40-minute drive from Auckland’s city centre you’ll find yourself on the west coast. Massive black sand dunes, amazing surf and killer sunsets make this one of the best places to visit in New Zealand’s biggest city. Visit on a stormy day and see why it’s earned its nickname of the Wild West Coast. Don’t forget to check out the gannet colony that overlooks two stunning bays and has hundreds of huge birds flying right over your head! Here you can hire blokarts and bikes and ride around the seaside paths, or even test out the waves at the local surf school. The Muriwai Beach Loop trail takes you right through the sand dunes, across the beach and through a walkway along the Coast Road (it takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete).
The hostels in Auckland perfectly reflect the city’s laid back vibe. Oaklands Lodge is a great bet, with a city location, but a homely and chill feel. They offer family dinners, movie nights and quiz nights regularly, so the fun times are just waiting for you!
How many days: day tripCompare all hostels in Auckland
2. Milford Sound
The ultimate New Zealand experience. This is hands-down the most beautiful place in the entire country – if not the world. Get ready to be completely mind blown by expansive rainforest, towering mountains, hundreds of cascading waterfalls and DOLPHINS! The Sound can be explored by boat, kayak or plane, each offering their own unique point of view. You’ll quickly realise not a single image you’ve ever seen compares to how magnificent this place is in real life.
Hikers will love the Milford Track, which starts at the northern end of Lake Te Anau and ends at Milford Sound wharf. For those wanting to get up close and personal with the beautiful mountains and forestry, this one is for you.
For fans of the fishies, Milford Sound has an underwater observatory where you can learn more about the local marine life (you’ll need to get there via boat).
From Te Anau, it’s around a 1 hour and 45-minute drive. There are also scenic coach rides available between these two destinations. From Queenstown, it’s around a 3 hour 45-minute journey by car. Rental company Jucy offer affordable coach and cruise services from Queenstown and Te Anau.
This is a popular day trip from Queenstown or Te Anau, so it’s best to look at hostels in these areas. Adventure Q2 Hostel in Queenstown is one of the top hostels in the country, with plenty of activities like rock climbing, wine tours, movie nights and pub crawls to keep you busy. Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers is a stone’s throw from the beach in a beautiful and sunny spot. Take part in their regular movie nights, or just chat with other guests in the common room and talk about those great views!
How many days: day tripCompare all hostels in Queenstown Compare all hostels in Te Anau
3. Matapouri, Northland
One of the best places to visit in New Zealand if you’re looking for mermaids! Okay, that was a lie. But you can find a place here where they would definitely hang out if they existed. Named “The Mermaid Pools”, these huge hidden emerald rock pools are so deep you can dive right on in. Top tip: avoid visiting at high tide as the waves can crash over the rocks at an alarming speed and sweep you off your little sunbathing perch!
There are lots of scenic walking tracks here, like the 45-minute Whale Bay track from the Northern end of Matapouri through the sand dunes to the beach’s coves. The 2-hour (one-way) Tane Moana bush walk starts in Clements Road and ends at Waitoi Road. It will take you through beautiful bushland and past the largest kauri tree on the east coast.
Matapouri is a 40-minute drive from the town of Whangarei. There are two hostels in Whangarei and from them it’s an easy walk to the beach. The Cell Block gives off eclectic, bungalow vibes – which is odd considering its history as a jail!
How many days: 2Compare all hostels in Whangarei
There’s no better way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city than to hit a cute little surf town. One of the best off-the-beaten track places to visit in New Zealand, Piha is known for its surf and rugged beauty. It sits on the west coast of Auckland and hosts international surf competitions.
Thrill seekers will be glad to hear that this is an ideal place to take surfing lessons. You can also try abseiling around Piha canyon. The giant rock – Lion Rock – that sits on Piha beach, is climbable and gives some spectacular 360 views. The waves and currents can be quite strong, so it’s best to visit in summer where there are lifeguards patrolling the area. Nearby KiteKite Falls is a stunning spot which is easily accessible via a 45-minute walking track. To get to this surf town, it’s an easy 50-minute drive from Auckland by car.
There is one hostel in Piha, Piha Beachstay, which is so dreamy that its almost unfair. The common room has a massive window that overlooks the incredible mountainous landscape, which you can snuggle in and stare at all day!
How many days: 2-3Compare all hostels in Piha
5. Mount Cook
The magnitude of this place needs to be seen to be believed. Taking the Hooker Valley walking track, you’ll be met with dramatic scenes of New Zealand’s highest mountain. An easy journey takes you alongside the rushing Hooker River, over very photogenic swing bridges and offers views of humongous ancient glaciers. If you stand still and listen, you can hear the glacier constantly cracking and moving. If you’re short on time, head to Tasman Lake – an easy 20-minute walk from the car park – where you can see Mount Cook reflected in the water and big icebergs just floating on by!
The hostels in Mount Cook are affordable and social. YHA Mt Cook is situated between the stunning mountains. For the views alone, this place is worth a visit. From Christchurch it’s around a 4-hour drive by car, and from Queenstown it takes around 5 hours. It’s perfect final destination on any road trip!
How many days: 3Compare all hostels in Mount Cook
Over the Crown Range from Queenstown lies Wanaka. If you’re looking for the best places to visit in New Zealand where you can escape the crowds of Queenstown and immerse yourself in a slower-paced mountain town, this is it. You can visit the famous Puzzling World, kayak the lake and explore the most incredible walking & biking trails. Nearby you can hit world class snow on the slopes of Treble Cone and Cardrona Ski Resorts. Even if you’re not a skier, the trip up to take in the view will be enough to keep you from ever wanting to go home.
This is a great place to visit all year round, as activities like cycling and hiking are ideal in summer and spring, while skiing and snowboarding are popular in winter. There are plenty of activities for the most serious adrenaline junkies too, like paragliding from Treble Cone Mountain, skydiving, horse trekking and rock climbing!
There are a lot of awesome hostels in Wanaka to choose from. Wanaka Bakpaka overlooks the waterfront and has a large outdoor area that’s perfect for a summer BBQ. For food and drink, Relishes Café is only a short walk from the hostel and overlooks the waterfront.
How many days: 3-4Compare all hostels in Wanaka
7. Takapuna Beach
Nestled right in Auckland’s urban area, North Shore, you can find this stunning stretch of beach loved by all the locals (and their adorable doggies!) With frequent dolphin and orca sightings in the springtime and so many incredible restaurants right on its doorstep, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Head to the Takapuna Beach Cafe and get some of their famous gelato! Bonus adventure: the island you can see from the beach is a dormant volcano called Rangitoto Island – you can actually climb to its summit! It’s well worth the hike, with insane views of the entire Auckland Harbour.
Activities at Takapuna Beach include stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing, yachting and boating. The popular coastal walk – the ‘lava’ trail – starts from Takapuna north and runs to Milford across all sorts of terrain, from beaches to rocks and bushland. It takes around 45 minutes (one-way) to complete. Takapuna beach is easy to get to as it’s only a 10-15-minute drive from central Auckland.
There are many hostels in Auckland that are located in the centre of town and prove the welcoming Kiwi culture. The Attic Backpackers is right in town and gives off a cool, chilled-out vibe.
How many days: day tripCompare all hostels in Auckland
8. Great Barrier Island
One of the best places to visit in New Zealand that not many people make the effort to reach, but the trip is so rewarding. A 4-hour ferry ride or a 30-minute flight from Auckland will see you frolicking on white sandy beaches, jumping off secret waterfalls and chilling in natural hot springs hiding in the bush! Often you will find yourself alone while exploring this epic island. To blend in with the locals, don’t bother wearing any footwear and say hello to everyone you see!
This beautiful and largely untouched part of the world has become the 3rd Dark Sky Sanctuary on Earth, meaning that visitors can understand the night sky with access to telescopes and local guides to explain the constellations.
If you need a bit of pampering, the island is blessed with natural hot springs. Yep, you can roast at Kaitoke Hot Springs and walk along its nearby hiking trail. This free day spa is a must do!
How many days: 2Compare all hostels in New Zealand
9. Mahurangi West
Mahurangi West is a little-known place and somewhere I have only just discovered myself! Many people pass by this turn off on their way north from Auckland. If you can’t make it to the Bay of Islands on your trip, this is as close as you’ll get without the big drive! Hidden away here you’ll find stunning views & clear waters. There is a perfect little campground right on Sullivan’s Bay beach – the most amazing spot to watch the sunrise from your tent! If you fancy swimming, fishing, kayaking, or just relaxing on the beach – all without the crowds – then this is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand.
It’s best to stay in one of the hostels in Auckland, and then make the journey by car or bus. Base yourself at YHA Auckland International, which is surrounded by Auckland’s best attractions, restaurants and cafes.
How many days: day trip from AucklandCompare all hostels in Auckland
10. Cathedral Cove
While this is a top spot to hit on your New Zealand backpacking trip, it can get a bit crowded, so it is well worth a sunrise mission! Head to the very right-hand side of the beach to find a fresh waterfall trickling down the cliffside – the perfect way to rinse off after a salty swim. Also, don’t neglect the other bays you will pass on your walk back. Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay are just as beautiful in their own way, and because people often don’t make the effort to visit you can have them all to yourself for a swim. Gemstone Bay is amazing for snorkelling, so take a snorkel and mask!
If you’re seeking a place to visit in New Zealand that’s a bit more hidden, then this is your pick – it’s only accessible by walking, kayaking or by boat! If you want to avoid the crowds, head there in autumn or winter when there will be less people and more opportunities to take breathtaking photographs.
How many days: 2-3Compare all hostels in Whitianga
11. Russell, Bay Of Islands
As the first permanent European settlement, Russell’s original street plan from 1843 still stands and features some of New Zealand’s oldest historic buildings – some of which now house cute cafes and delicious restaurants. Russell is also the gateway to a stunning enclave with more than 140 subtropical islands. Imagine crystal clear waters, dolphins, incredible fishing and starry skies so bright you won’t believe your eyes.
There are a lot of walking and cycling trails you can take around this picture-perfect area. The Flagstaff Hill Loop walk combine beach, forest and the local town history. It starts at the northern end of Kororareka Bay and ends at Titore Way/Flagstaff Hill.
If you’re coming from Auckland, you’ll need to get a bus to Paihia then catch the passenger ferry to Russell. Otherwise, you can take a scenic 4-hour drive from Auckland. It’s 15 minutes by ferry from Paihia, and an hour by car from Whangarei.
How many days: 3Compare all hostels in Paihia
12. Owharoa Falls, Karangahake Gorge
It wouldn’t be a successful road trip if you didn’t make a stop in the Karangahake Gorge to ogle the gorgeous Owharoa Falls. These are super easy to get to (right next to the road), making it an easy stop off on your travels. Perfect for a swim on a hot summer’s day!
You can also hike around Karangahake Gorge on its easy walking trails, or even explore the old gold mining tunnel.
To get there you’ll need to drive around 2 hours from Auckland, or 1 hour from Tauranga. By staying at a hostel in Tauranga, you can be close by to explore the waterfall and the park. Arthouse Accommodation Boutique Backpackers is right in the city and is 2 minutes from the ‘The Strand’ walkway and plenty of restaurants.
How many days: 2Compare all hostels in Tauranga
13. Whangarei Falls
Many visit this picturesque spot to take their ‘gram pics and just leave. But a lesser known secret is that you can actually climb in behind the falls! Head there nice and early to miss the crowds and if you’re lucky the rising sun will hit the water in just the right spot and you’ll be covered in rainbows! Take care climbing over the slippery rocks while getting in behind the falls. There are scenic and easy walking tracks around the Falls that are worth taking the time to explore.
The Falls can be viewed all year round, but in a dry summer there might not be much of a waterfall, or none at all, so try to aim for springtime. The falls are only a 10-minute drive from Whangarei city centre, or a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Auckland.
The hostels in Whangarei are conveniently located and affordable. YHA Whangarei Falls Backpackers is only a 2-minute walk to Whangarei Falls. They’ve also got some cool extras like a swimming pool, hot tub and BBQ!
How many days: 2Compare all hostels in Whangarei
This is the ultimate adventure playground nestled on the North Island. Surfing, mountains, great walks, snowboarding and sunsets – Taranaki has it all. The good thing about Taranaki is that it can be enjoyed all year round. From river rafting, surfing and hiking during summer to snowboarding in winter – with the activities on offer, you’ll busy for the whole year! Be sure to take in the beauty of Mount Taranaki, which was featured in the film Last Samurai as a placeholder for Mount Fuji in Japan.
The highly recommended Pouakai Crossing is a must-do. This full day hike will take you past the Pouakai Tarns – on a calm day you can see Mount Egmont reflected in the water and it’s crazy beautiful! You can also visit Cape Egmont lighthouse, one of the last lighthouses still operating in New Zealand.
Where to stay hey? Booking a hostel in New Plymouth is your best bet, as it’s only 45 minutes away. Ducks and Drakes hostel has an excellent rating because the hostel staff create a homely atmosphere. The hostel is only minutes from the city centre, where you’ll find Pukekura Park, museums and galleries.
How many days: 3-4Compare all hostels in New Plymouth
15. North Head
This is another sneaky spot in Auckland that you can hit to escape the busy city. Located in the suburb of Devonport is an underground system of old war tunnels built for WWI and WWII. It was originally a major coastal defence site for New Zealand and is now a popular cultural attraction. Grab a torch and explore underground or frolic on the grassy hills with a picnic blanket in tow. On top of these hills you’ll get 360-degree views of Auckland. Be sure to take some flattened cardboard and have a go at grass surfing down the banks!
Opening times: 6am-10pm Monday to Sunday (vehicle gates close at 6pm).
Lucky for you, there’s heaps of variety when it comes to hostels in Auckland. Looking for a social hostel that’s great for solo travellers? Check out TMACS Backpackers, a new and stylish option in central Auckland that has heaps of common areas and an outdoor terrace for you to chat up a storm.
How many days: day tripCompare all hostels in Auckland
16. Roys Peak
If you’re keen for a mission, this 6-hour return hike is worth every step you’ll take. Making the effort will reward you with some serious lactic acid build up and epic views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, the Matukituki Valley and Wanaka (given it’s a clear day!) Be prepared for rapid weather changes here – take appropriate shoes and warm windproof clothing. You can get sun, rain, wind, sleet and snow in the space of just a few minutes! The views can’t get much better than here, and when you picture New Zealand it probably looks a little something like this.
It’s only a 5-minute drive from Wanaka, or it’s a 1 hour and 45-minute drive from Queenstown. Once you arrive, start the walk from Roy’s Peak Track carpark on Mount Aspiring Road. Make sure to carry lots of water with you, as drinking water isn’t available along the trail. The best time to visit would be summer and spring. The trail is closed between the 1st of October to the 10th of November every year.
The hostels in Wanaka are regularly praised for their great locations and homely vibes. Flying Kiwi Backpackers wants you to get out and explore! They have on-site bike and ski maintenance and are happy to help organising your treks.
How many days: 3-4Compare all hostels in Wanaka
What a view! 📷 @hayden.griffiths
No list of the top places in New Zealand would be complete without Queenstown. Renowned for its adventure activities (bungee jumping anyone?), thousands of backpackers flock to see this incredible town every month and it’s not hard to see why. Heading up the gondola presents you with the most amazing views of the Southern. Imagine flying down a mountainside on a small cart with The Remarkables mountain range as your view. Too. Much. Fun!
Thrill seekers can’t get enough of this high-action town and it’s clear why! How does white water rafting and jet boating sound? What about sky diving, zip lining and bungy swinging over some spectacular mountain ranges? All this and more is on offer in this natural adventure park.
Summer (December to February) is when you’ll get the most out of the activities and great weather, but spring is cheaper and less busy while the weather is still warm enough for outdoor activities.
If you’re looking for a classic Kiwi meal, stop by Eriks Fish and Chips for a good feed by the water.
As this town is practically made for adventure-seeking backpackers, you’ll be happy to know that so are the hostels in Queenstown! The fun never stops at Adventure Queenstown Hostel, where you can take part in regular pub crawls, movie nights and even Mario Kart challenges!
How many days: 4-5Compare all hostels in Queenstown
18. Tongariro National Park
Sitting in the middle of the North Island you can find New Zealand’s oldest National Park. This area has 3 volcanos including Mount Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu – a huge active stratovolcano that you can ski and snowboard on in the winter! If you’re looking for places to visit in New Zealand from Lord of the Rings, then you might recognise Mount Ngauruhoe, which goes by the name of Mount Doom in the movies.
For any hiking enthusiasts, the Tongariro Crossing is a must-do during the spring and summer months! In winter, strap on your skis or grab your snowboard because this is a great place for winter sports. Throughout the year you can also test your luck with some of the water sports on offer like stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, rafting and canoeing.
If you fancy some all-day brekkie, Macrocarpa Café has you covered. Plus, they have those dreamy mountain views to look out upon while you snack.
The hostels in Tongariro National Park are great places to base yourself while you explore. Plateau Lodge offers daily transport to popular spots around the park and the hostel is within walking distance to a supermarket, bars, cafes and bus and train stops. For that added luxury, wind down from a busy day in their indoor hot tub!
How many days: 3Compare all hostels in Tongariro
19. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Are you just waiting to explore that hidden natural wonder that takes your breath away, but you don’t know what it is yet? We’d like to introduce you to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Glow-worms illuminate these stunning caves, providing an unexplainable experience – even your Instagram can’t do it justice! Keen adventurers will love this one, because you can take part in guided walks or boat tours. If you really want to put your body to the test, then try black water rafting, where you crawl, swim and float through caves on a rubber tube.
From Auckland it’s a 2 and a half hour car ride to access this natural wonder. It’s 2 hours from Rotorua, or just 1 hour from Hamilton.
There are hostels in Waitomo, woo-hoo! Juno Hall YHA Hostel Waitomo treats its guests with access to a swimming pool and a tennis court so you can keep the action going. Near to the hostel is The Long Black Café that sells tasty food and coffee for those needing a snack before and after visiting the caves.
How many days: 2Compare all hostels in Waitomo
📷 Getty Images
Do you think you’re ready for what New Zealand has to offer? What place on this list would you be most excited to visit? Let us know in the comments! 👇
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📷 All images are by Lola Photography unless credited otherwise.
About The Author
Lola is a photographer and traveller from New Zealand. Follow her adventures over on Instagram at @lola.photography.