The six most astounding nature spots in a country celebrated for its natural beauty, according to global travellers.*
National Park, Manawatu
Ngāuruhoe volcano rises out of the clouds in Tongariro National Park
This small town serves as the gateway to New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro. The park’s three volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro – were given to the government in 1887 by the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe for protection. This sacred, ancestral land of jade-green lakes, volcanic craters, boiling mud pools, desolate plains and black rock contrasting with gleaming snow is an outstanding sight. So much so that Peter Jackson deemed it worthy to represent Mordor – with Mount Ngāuruhoe as Mount Doom – for the Lord of the Rings trilogies. Stay at Tongariro Crossing Lodge, a painted wooden house with landscaped grounds and mountain views.
Waitomo Caves, Waikato
Marokopa Falls in Tawarau Forest near the entrance to the Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo Caves form a misty, subterranean world of waterfalls, streams, ferns sprouting between the rocks and fossils. But it’s the thousands of glow worms clinging to the walls and ceiling that steal the show. One of the world’s lesser-known natural wonders, this network of limestone caverns stretches for hundreds of miles beneath the surface but is totally inconspicuous from above. A narrow crack in the earth forms the entrance, partially obscured by woodland canopy with shards of sunlight lighting up the dark, mossy boulders below. Take a guided tour including a boat ride illuminated by the resident bioluminescent bugs. Stay at Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge, a highly rated accommodation just a short walk from the caves.
Punakaiki, West Coast
Admire the 30 million-year-old rock formation known as 'Pancake Rocks' near Punakaiki
100,000 years ago, a 30 million-year-old rock formation emerged from the sea on New Zealand’s South Island. Now known as the ‘Pancake Rocks’ because of the way they pile on top of each other in layered limestone stacks, this is an ancient geological monument that draws visitors from far and wide to the tiny community of Punakaiki. Blowholes between the rocks spout seawater skywards, while crashing waves spread the fresh, salty smell of the Tasman Sea through the air and dolphins play close to shore. The walk along the coast to get here takes you past rainforest and seabird rookeries on the weather-beaten cliffs; try to time it so that you can watch the sunset over the rocks. Te Hui House is just a minutes’ walk from Punakaiki Beach.
Mount Cook Village, Canterbury
Hiking up Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain
Both this remote village and the National Park in which it’s situated take their name from the mighty Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. At 3,724 metres, it can be seen from all over the island and is surrounded with trails for hiking (or tramping, as it’s called in New Zealand). See the Tasman Glacier (the longest glacier in the country), wildflower meadows, rare native flora and fauna, and enjoy sweeping views on hikes ranging between 30 minutes to four hours. Even the view across the valley plains from Mount Cook Village itself is fantastic, with a backdrop of moody skies and the enormous, snow-capped Aoraki. Check into Aoraki Court Motel, where floor-to-ceiling windows open directly onto the stark mountainous landscape.
Lake Tekapo, Canterbury
A swathe of purple lupin wildflowers lines Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo boasts remarkable scenery, hot springs, skiing in winter, and great stargazing (it’s an International Dark Sky Reserve, so expect exceptional visibility of the Southern Cross and the Milky Way). The lake’s ethereal, milky-blue colour comes from sediment left behind by a retreating glacier and looks particularly beautiful against the purple of the lupin wildflowers that line the water. In spring and summer, this floral swathe of purple is at its brightest, in autumn, poplars and willow trees turn the shores golden and in winter, the Southern Alps look spectacular sprinkled with snow. Stay in this pretty stone lodge with impeccable views across the lake.
Te Anau, Southland
Milford Sound, described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth Wonder of the World
On the eastern edge of Lake Te Anau (New Zealand’s second-largest lake), the eponymous town welcomes visitors keen to explore the nearby fjords, Milford Sound/Piopiotahi and Doubtful Sound/Patea. The former is seen as New Zealand’s most precious natural treasure and was described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth Wonder of the World, with its temperate rainforest and glassy waters reflecting the smooth contours of its conical, green peaks. Bordered by overflowing flower beds, Shakespeare House B&B is only 100 metres from the shores of Lake Te Anau.
**The data scientists at Booking.com dug into internal data to find the most highly rated destinations in New Zealand for ‘nature’.