Narrowing down a New Zealand itinerary can be tricky because of the sheer variety of its landscapes – rolling hills, dramatic beaches, alpine peaks, reflective lakes, rainforested fiords – but these five spots should be at the top of every traveller’s list.
The sheer sandstone cliffs framing Tunnel Beach are like the walls of a cathedral, complete with arches carved by wave action. Equally spectacular is the walk to reach it. The start of the 1km Tunnel Beach Track is a 10-minute drive from the city of Dunedin, and crosses farmland with sweeping views of the coast. To get down to the beach, you’ll have to descend 72 steps through a tunnel that was excavated by hand in the 1870s, when local politician John Cargill sought a secluded place for his family to bathe. While the waters aren’t ideal for swimming, their crashing waves make for a dramatic sight.
A thousand stars are suspended in the darkness above, yet you’re deep underground, floating on a subterranean river illuminated by a soft, blue-green glow. Arriving at Waitomo, a tiny town a three-hour drive south of Auckland, it’s hard to imagine that beneath the rolling green farmland lies a vast network of limestone caves – a maze so extensive it has never been fully explored. It’s home to New Zealand glowworms, dangling their bioluminescent lures from fine silken threads like beads on a string. Viewing options range from the easy to the adventurous, from walks and cruises to zipline tours and blackwater rafting – the latter involves floating along the Waitomo River in a rubber tube.
There are many reasons why the rural locality of Paradise is so named, and its beech forest is one of them. This forest was chosen to be the home of the elves in the Lord of the Rings films, and it’s easy to see why – here, tiny leaves illuminated by long beams of sunlight float gently to the ground, painting an ethereal scene. Located around 70km north of Queenstown, it’s set along one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country. We’d recommend stopping for lunch at Glenorchy on the way, as Paradise itself is little more than a road sign and a few bed-and-breakfasts on the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park. To experience the beech forest, walk the first section of the multi-day Routeburn Track or take one of Pure Glenorchy’s tours, which span sites of natural beauty as well as cinematic fame.
Deep fiords score the coastline of one corner of the South Island. At the most scenic of these, Milford Sound, mountains seem to rise directly out of the inky water. This is one of the wettest places in the world, and indeed, it’s best to hope for rain during your visit – that’s when mists cast their lace over the water, the rainforest shimmers and the waterfalls cascading from the sides of the fiord come alive. Milford Sound is also home to penguins, dolphins, fur seals and other marine life, which can be spotted on day or overnight cruises. There is limited accommodation in Milford Sound, so most visitors are day-trippers; you can get here via a four-hour drive from Queenstown, or a two-hour drive from Te Anau.
There is no day hike in the country more spectacular than the Tongariro Crossing, which traverses a volcanic plateau between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe. Every stretch of the 19km track reveals a different sight: an emerald crater lake, steaming vents, volcanic moonscapes, ancient lava flows and views over Lake Taupo. Book transport to the track in advance, which can be arranged from the nearby towns of Taupo, Turangi or National Park. The walk takes seven to eight hours and is suitable for people of average fitness. Be prepared for all weather conditions, no matter the forecast. Remember to pack food and water – there are no shops where the track ends.
Discover the beauty of Tunnel Beach and Beech Forest in the new Singapore Airlines brand video below: