If you’ve ever watched the movie The Lord of the Rings, then you’ve already had a glimpse of the amazing natural beauty that New Zealand is so famous for.
The fairytale-like scenery around the country makes for an excellent road trip — and for most foreign travelers the best way to see New Zealand is by renting a camper van. This way you will have the freedom to explore the country at your leisure while staying at the many scenic camping options.
There are many amazing sights to see in this wondrous place, but here are eight of the best destinations in New Zealand.
1. Tongariro National Park – The North Island
While we’re on the subject of The Lord of the Rings, the area where it was filmed is number one on the list. Located in the center of the North Island, Tongariro National Park is hard to miss. This large park is an excellent place to take a quick hike, or spend a few days.
New Zealand is one of the most stunning countries on the planet and this area is known for its high quality hiking trails — so it’s safe to say that these treks are some of the best in the world. If you want to try the best of the best, we recommend the Tongariro Crossing trek which travels between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe and is full of interesting contrasts. You are guaranteed to take tons of photos, each one more beautiful than the next.
2. Queenstown – The South Island
Queenstown is a quaint ski-town that packs a lot of punch. This adrenaline addict’s paradise is filled with all the things that make New Zealand famous, including a variety of thrilling activities to get your heart pumping, and mountainous panoramic scenes to explore.
If you’re not afraid of heights, check out the Skyline Gondola. After you’re finished riding the Gondola, the Shotover Jet Boat offers heart pumping fun. When you’re ready to jump into the big leagues, stop by the Nevis Canyon Bungee and World’s Biggest Swing. This attraction is definitely not for the faint of heart.
3. Rotorua – The North Island
Some consider Rotorua to be the Queenstown of the North Island. Its many options for fun make it the perfect stop for those who won’t make it past Wellington. Whether you want to ski, bar hop, or explore a hedge maze, you can’t go wrong with this charming town.
Other activities to enjoy while in the area are:
- Rolling downhill in a giant Zorb ball like a gerbil.
- Take a ride on Skyline Gondola, which also features a thrilling luge-kart track.
- Try out wild and crazy adventures at Agroventures.
- Take a walk on the south shore of Lake Rotorua to relax at the end of the day.
4. Otago Peninsula – The South Island
Just a short distance from the historic city of Dunedin is a watery reserve that you must take a look at. It’s home to a large variety of wildlife, not limited to kiwis, seals, and penguins.
The Otago Peninsula isn’t as touristy as Queenstown so it’s harder to get to, especially if you don’t have a vehicle. This shouldn’t be a problem for you, because your camper van can handle the terrain. It’s a great detour to take as you make your way south to Invercargill or north to Christchurch.
When visiting the Otago Peninsula, you must stop at the Royal Albatross Reserve. Doing so also gives you an excuse to drive to the end of the peninsula. Be sure to check out the seal and penguin hotspots that are along the way.
Another must-see destination is the enigmatic Moeraki Boulders that lie near Oamaru. These mysterious stones are perfect circles and no one knows where they came from.
5. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Pools – The North Island
Just a short drive from Rotorua are the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Pools. This geothermal wonderland is a vivid landscape of strange sights and smells. To get a good look at these wondrous pools, take a day and hike one of the park loops. Also, make sure to check out the Lady Knox Geyser, the Devil’s Ink Pots, and the Champagne pool. You won’t regret it.
6. Frans/Fox Glaciers and Arthur’s Pass – The South Island
Virtually every list of The Best Things to Do in New Zealand includes a visit to these majestic glaciers. But what many of these lists don’t tell you is how much fun it is to get there.
If you are coming from the Christchurch area, you will have to go through Arthur’s Pass to get to the glaciers. Arthur’s Pass is a twisty — but scenic — mountain route filled with beautiful views.
After making your way through this breathtaking pass, you can take it easy for the next couple of hours as you ride down New Zealand’s exquisite coast. The final leg of your journey will take you through the serpentine but stunning Haast Pass. It is important to note that Haast doesn’t usually open at night, so make your travel arrangements accordingly.
Once you arrive at the glacier, we recommend that you pay the small fee for a guided tour so you can experience the splendor of the Fox and Frans firsthand.
7. Auckland – The North Island
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand. Although it is a thriving metropolis, it’s also filled with scenic natural sights.
While in the area, make sure to visit Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium for a wildlife fix. Another great destination is the Sky Tower. Not only does this spire rival the ones found in Seattle and Sydney, but you can go for a Skywalk or even SkyJump off it. When it’s time to eat, grab a streak and oyster surf n’ turf meal. New Zealand’s famous for both and its a delicious way to end a day full of adventure.
8. Milford Sound – The South Island
If you love basking in scenic landscapes, Milford Sound is the place to be. This stunning harbor is best seen by boat, so consider hopping on one of the tour cruises in the area so you can see dolphins, waterfalls, and rainbows.
The only downside to this area is that it’s about four hours from Queenstown and it is only accessible by one road, which can make it hard to get to.
Have you ever visited any of the spots on this list? Are there any places that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.