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.
Kaikoura is a small town roughly half way between Blenheim to the north and Christchurch to the south as you follow the number one highway down the east coast of the South Island. It is a well known spot for various eco encounters including swimming with the dolphins or the seals, or going whale watching. The Sperm whale watching industry here is perhaps the most developed in the world.
The name Kaikoura literally translates to meal of crayfish, and the town is justifiably famous for the delicious crayfish that can be had at local restaurants.
If you are a budget traveller and don’t want to reach deep down into your pockets to swim with or see the dolphins, there are amble opportunities for free wildlife encounters. A colony of Southern Fur seals often comes to rest on the rocky shores at the eastern end of town. The two hour long “Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway” will take you right past the colony. There are no guardrails between you and the seals so you can approach as close as you like – but its not recommended. You should always keep at least a few meters between yourself and a seal, as they can move surprisingly nimbly on dry land despite their appearances.
7) Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers lie about 20 km away from each other on the South Island’s west coast. These glaciers are some of the most accessibly in the world, and both guided and unguided walks are possible here. If you want to get a little more “up close and personal” with the glaciers, you will need to book a guided tour. Tours range in duration, price, and level of fitness required, from a half day hike to a full day of ice climbing. It is also possible to see the glaciers from a “heli-tour” where you are taken by helicopter to areas not possible to reach on foot.
These tours can be extremely busy, and places are limited, so it is recommended to book ahead of time. For tour booking on the Franz Josef glacier, check out Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Or alternatively, if Fox Glacier seems more like your kind of ice adventure, check out the options at Fox Glacier Guides.
8 ) Routeburn great walk
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It is a 32 km alpine track which straddles the Mount Aspiring and Fjordland national parks. It can be walked in three days either independently or as part of a guided tour, and it can be walked in either direction.
Many native New Zealand birds can be spotted along the track including the alpine parrot Kea. Also, the endagered blue duck (whio) and yellowhead (mohua) can be spotted if you are lucky.
Along the Routeburn track you will pass incredible mountain scenery, roaring waterfalls, and beautiful pristine lakes. Although it is an alpine hike, the climbs are not incredibly steep and this track can be completed by anyone with a moderate fitness level.
9) Otago peninsula
The Otago peninsula projects from the eastern part of the city of Dunedin. The suburbs of Dunedin encroach onto the western end of the peninsula, and seven townships and communities lie along the harbourside shore. The majority of the land is sparsely populated and occupied by steep open pasture. The peninsula is home to many species of wildlife, notably seabirds, pinnipeds, and penguins.
Ecotourism is the main reason to visit the peninsula with several companies operating tours in this area from Dunedin. Unfortunately, a good public transportation option is lacking so you will either need your own transport or to join a tour.
Tourism focuses on two main bird species in the region. Albatrosses and penguins. Both little blue and yellow eyes penguins can be spotted here, as well as fur seals and sea lions.
10) Stewart Island
Stewart Island/Rakiura is the third-largest island of New Zealand. It lies 30 kilometres south of the South Island, across Foveaux Strait. Its permanent population is slightly over 400 people, most of whom live in the settlement of Oban. Stewart Island is home to another of New Zealand’s great walks, the three day long Rakiura track. However, if you are the ultimate hiker, you may want to consider the 10 day Stewart Island Coastal Loop.
There are many species of birds on Stewart Island/Rakiura that have been able to thrive because of the absence of the cats, rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels and other predators that man has brought to the main islands. There are even more birds including huge colonies of Sooty Shearwater and other seabirds on The Snares and the other smaller islands offshore. The birds of Stewart Island include weka, kaka, albatross, the flightless Stewart Island kiwi, silvereyes, fantails, and kerera. The endangered Yellow-eyed penguin also has a significant number of breeding sites here.
In fact, Stewart Island is the place in New Zealand where you are most likely to spot a kiwi. The Stewart Island kiwi is the least nocturnal of all the species of Kiwi, and many hikers have reported to see them running about in broad daylight. There are even accounts of kiwi (a bird with notoriously bad eyesight) tripping over the boots of hikers.
Stewart Island can be reached by ferry which departs from Bluff several times daily.