The order of places is in decending order of importance (so number 1 is at the bottom of the page). This list is only our opinion of course, but my guess is that most who have seen all of New Zealand would compile a similar list.
Situated on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island lies the seaside town of Kaikoura. The town overlooks majestic mountains which are snow capped for many months of the year. Besides the beautiful landscape, the real attraction lies in the waters off the coast where an anabundant rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds exists. Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where whales can be seen all year round. In addition, you can see dolphins, seals, as well as enjoy swimming, fishing, and diving (including shark diving). In short, Kaikoura offers a large number of both land and water based activities like no other. It also has good restaurants that serve up fresh produce such as crayfish.
Kaikoura is situated in the Canterbury region.
Accessible within a two hour drive from New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, the Coromandel is blessed with a superb climate coupled wih some of New Zealand's best beaches. A thermal beach called Hot Water Beach is one attraction worth seeing. Volcanic heat rises through the ground allowing you to create your own spa pool by simply digging a small hole in the sand and waiting for it to fill up with warm sea water. Other coastal attractions include the spectacular Cathedral Cove and the great beach at Whangamata. Inland this area is covered with extinct volcanos which rise above the forests to provide some great vantage points. These volcanic hills and the surrounding area are either farmland or left in their natural state which is a covering of lush temperate rain forest, making the the terrain ideal for trekking/walks. The forests also contain the tallest fern trees in the world, some reaching heights of 20 metres or more. The abundance of fern species in the Coromandel gives the area a subtropical look and feel even though it has a temperate climate.
The Coromandel Peninsula is situated in the Coromandel region.
Tongariro National Park is a World Heritage Park and one of the oldest National Parks in the world. The park contains 3 prominent active volcanos that are situated in a desert like landscape. The area gets regular snowfalls in the winter and is home to most of the ski fields in the North Island. Mt Ruapehu the largest volcano last erupted in 1995 and 1996. A conical volcano called Mt Ngauruhoe located next to Ruapehu is the location for the famous Tongariro Crossing. This walk is a tough one day trek that comes highly recommended, as it shows off the best that this park has on offer. At one time, National Geographic even classed this walk as one of the top 10 one day walks in the world.
Tongariro National Park is situated in the Taupo region.
This national park is part of the South Westland World Heritage area and is famous for its mountains and two dominant glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. They are the closest glaciers to the coastline of any in the world outside the polar regions. This means they are not only accessible, but the climate is much warmer compared to other glacial sites in the world. Lowland areas in the park are covered in an ancient Beech forest which are backed by steep cliffs and mountains. Its a contradiction to view glaciers from a rain forest, but this phenomenon is explained by the areas steepness and high rainfall. The coastline is a short drive away and onroute there are some great views of the glaciers and mountains reflecting in lakes that are scattered around this area. Westland National Park offers many activities for visitors such as a guided trek up one of the glaciers or a helicopter ride to the top of the Southern Alps, a mountain range bigger in area than the European Alps. If you want nature and spectacular scenery, and you don't mind the likelihood of some rain, then Westland National Park is a great place to visit.
Westland National Park is situated in the Westcoast region.
Mt Cook and the surrounding area is an alpine park within the World Heritage listed South Westland. The biggest peaks in all of Australasia are here including the highest mountain, Mt Cook, and neighbouring peaks such as Mt Tasman, and Mt Sefton. The park doesn't contain many trees or plants due to the altitude, but this rugged and alpine terrain is covered in colourful lupins which gives the area a more gentle and picturesque look than the rocky environment that it is. The main accommodation here is the Hermitage Hotel and this grand hotel is also the main departure point to the many scenic walks and guided treks on offer. Walks range from a two hour stroll to difficult tracks suitable for experienced mountaineers only. A helicopter or plane ride gives visitors unsurpassed views of the mountains with the option of landing at the top of Tasman Glacier a true perpetually snow covered alpine environment. This glacier is New Zealand's longest and has one of longest ski runs in the world if you decide that you want to decend without the plane.
Mt Cook National Park is situated in the Canterbury region.
The subtropical Bay of Islands is the finest maritime park in New Zealand. There are around 150 islands to explore, many with superb beaches and secluded bays. This park has an abundance of marine life, including marlin, whales, penguins, and dolphins. The Bay as it is known attracts many people the world over including fishermen, golfers, marine enthusiasts, and of course tourist who just want to enjoy the sub-tropical climate and swim in some of the best beaches in the country. The mainland near The Bay of Islands is also the historical heart of New Zealand where the The Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which is the founding document of the nation.
The Bay of Islands is situated in the Northland region.
Accessible from New Zealand's biggest city, (Auckland), Rotorua is famous for its volcanic activity. The area is one of the world's great geothermal areas. Geothermal reserves such as Waimangu, Waiotapu, and Te Puia are found here. These reserves are situated in beautiful natural surroundings and have spectacular examples of geysers, boiling pools, hot springs, boiling mud, volcanic terraces, fumeroles, and craters. Rotorua is also famous for its plentiful lakes which are great for swimming and fishing. The surrounding area contains plenty of native bush ideal for trekking. Mt Tarawera a nearby volcano offers spectacular scenery including superb views inside the rim of the volcano. Rotorua is also the best area in the country to experience and learn about Maori Culture.
Rotorua is situated in the Bay of Plenty region.
For action adventure and scenery, Queenstown has it all. Fit for a queen, this beautiful lake side town is surrounded by mountains and is one of New Zealands premier tourist destinations. It is also the home of bungee jumping which was first commercialised by New Zealander A J Hackett as well as jet boating which was invented in New Zealand. Other adrenaline activities include parapenting and white water rafting. Queenstown is also one of the southern hemispheres premier skiing destinations and enables skiers from around the world to ski during the northern hemisphere's summer. If you are not an adrenaline junkie then Queenstown is absolutely still the place to go, even if it is to just admire the spectacular mountain scenery while enjoying the many cafes, restaurants, and shops on offer.
Queenstown is situated in the Otago region.
Abel Tasman may be New Zealand's smallest national park, but the attractions are huge. Located in one of New Zealand's sunniest spots, it almost seems planned that the area also has the best beaches in the country. The beaches have a range of coloured sand from gold to white that look out onto the clear waters of the Tasman Sea. Beyond the beaches, the park is covered in lush temperate rain forest and manuka, a type of tea tree. The popular Abel Tasman Walk is a great way to see this park, it takes 3-5 days to complete. Sea Taxis are also available and can drop you off at any number of beaches within the park. This gives you the complete freedom to do a full or partial trek, or alternatively you can be whisked away from the entrance of the park to a beach of your choice. Kayaking here is popular and gives you access to all the beaches, including those that the walk misses out on.
Abel Tasman National Park is situated in the Nelson region.
No 1 on this list is Fiordland National Park. This park is part of the South Westland World Heritage area and is New Zealand's largest national park and one of the largest in the world. The scenery in Fiordland is nothing short of stunning, with deep fiords, steep mountains, raging waterfalls, and lush rain forests.
Fiordland is home to Milford Sound described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and Doubtful Sound which many say is even more spectacular. The area also has some of the world's great walks including the world famous Milford Track, which was billed as the finest walk in the world in the early twentieth century by the London Spectator. That said, there are a number of walks here that rival the Milford, including the Routeburn and Kepler. In addition to the walks, there is Sutherland Falls one of thousands of waterfalls in the park, and one of the highest in the world. You can also dive in the fiords and see deep sea plants growing near the surface and the chance of seeing dolphins, seals, and rare bird life is high. If you are still not convinced about visiting, then there is also Mitre Peak a mountain that rises to the staggering height of 1 mile straight out of the ocean.
Fiordland is however one of the wettest places on Earth and when it rains, thousands of waterfalls put on quite a show, (imagine countless raging waterfalls side by side thundering into the salt water of the sea). On a fine day however, the landscape is so other worldy that you would think that you were in the movie Lord of the Rings, which is no exaggeration given that much of the movie was filmed here.
Douglas Adams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, said it best in his book 'Last Chance to See'.
Fjordland, a vast tract of mountainous terrain that occupies the south-west corner of South Island New Zealand, is one of the most astounding pieces of land anywhere on God's earth, and one's first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause. It is magnificent.
Fiordland is situated in the Southland region.