By Jade Johnston
New Zealand’s cities have a lot to offer, despite their small size. But any traveller to New Zealand will find that they can’t really avoid visiting the main cities as they need to pass through them for flights and ferries. Most travellers would agree that the main attractions in New Zealand are to be found in its stunning and widely varied countryside. This list compiles my top ten of amazing natural attractions in New Zealand. I have visited most of them, but a few are still on my list.
New Zealand is extremely varied for such a small country, and it contains everything from rain forest to alpine glaciers. So where better to start than the very top: Cape Reinga. The name of the cape comes from the Maori word ‘Reinga’, meaning the ‘Underworld’. Another Maori name is ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, meaning the leaping-off place of spirits. Both refer to the Maori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. The cape is also where the meeting occurs between the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean. You can observe the two great bodies of water crashing into each other, creating a clear demarcation of their boundaries through the unsettled water.
Not far from Cape Reinga is the famous tourist attractions of 90 mile beach (which is actually 55 miles) and the Te Paki sand dunes. 90 mile beach is a popular spot for tourists to drive – but beware – there are stories of cars sinking into the sand and being left to rust – and most car rental agencies will void your insurance if you take the vehicle onto the beach. Another very popular spot in this region are the Te Paki Sand dunes. These dunes transport you to a strange, almost ‘other worldly’ desert atmosphere and seem to stretch onwards forever. They are a very popular spot to go body boarding, and there are places near the parking lot that rent body boards for this purpose.
There is also a three day long tramping route along Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach. The tramp is rated as easy, but some experience on multi-day tramps is recommended. It can be made into a two day hike as there is a road leading out of the DOC camp ground where the second night is spent.
The Coromandel Peninsula is hilly, covered in rainforest, surrounded by white sand beaches and clear blue water, and sparsely populated. All this, and its only a few hours drive away from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. This makes it a popular day trip from Auckland or weekend destination. Major attractions of the island include hot water beach – where hot water springs filter up through the sand when the tide is out. Time your visit right and bring a shovel (or rent one from the cafe) and in no time you can dig your own natural spa pool.
Another attraction is nearby cathedral cove. (pictured above) This cove, as well as the others along the 45 minute hike to reach it, boast some of the best snorkeling locations in New Zealand. Stingray bay is named for just that, so bring your goggles and flippers. Cathedral cove is named for the cave which separates the two white sand beaches. The cave forms a vaulted arc which resembles a Gothic cathedrals entrance. Pack a lunch and remember to bring lots of water, because once you reach this place, you will not want to leave for a while.
Raglan is best known for its surf. Eight kilometres from the Raglan township is a series of surf breaks including Indicators, Whale Bay, Manu Bay, Vortex Bay. Manu Bay was featured in the 1966 movie The Endless Summer. If you’re a surf bum, or if you have ever wondered about trying it – then go to Raglan.
The town of Raglan is very very small, but also very charming. The main street is lined with great cafes and boutiques, so guard your wallet.
Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, located in the central North Island. It has been acknowledged by UNESCO as one of the 25 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites. The active volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro are located in the centre of the park. You may recognize some areas of this national park as “Mordor” and “Mount Doom” in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
The main activities are hiking and climbing in summer, and skiing and snowboarding in winter. The most popular track in Tongariro National Park is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and this track is also considered the most popular day walk in all of New Zealand. Most of the track is also part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a two to four day tour, which is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Side trips to the summits of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe are possible on these tracks. Another route is the three to six day Round the Mountain Track around Mount Ruapehu.
With a length of 290 km, the Whanganui is the country’s third-longest river. The Whanganui River Journey is one of the nine “Great Walks” in New Zealand which is managed by the Department of Conservation. The route is typically done in either five or three days, with both options ending in Pipiriki. Several operators rent kayaks or canoes and other equipment needed for the journey, but it most be noted that most operators will not rent to a solo person – you must be part of a group. DOC campsites and huts are evenly spread out across the river route, and you will need to book a hut pass before you can use these facilities.