This is a guest post by a friend of travelphant who lives in New Zealand and knows the cool places tourists should visit on both North island and South Island. Over to them…

I’m not blowing my own trumpet when I say I know New Zealand very well, I live here after all. I’m one of those lucky people who can travel while he works. So this has allowed me to see the vast majority of this amazing country.

Now if you’re reading this, you’ve probably landed here while trying to find out where to visit while on your vacation. Well read on as you’ll find my personal picks of my own travel experiences to show you some places and things to do which you’d be crazy to miss.

I’ll cover the north island then the south.

North Island 

The north island is home to the capital city of Wellington, the even busier city of Auckland but it’s not all cities here, there are some wonderful getaway spots including the Tongariro National Park with some of the best mountain treks I’ve ever experienced.

Wellington – Te Papa Museum 

I’ll start with a place that is probably mentioned is most NZ travel guides but it still deserves a mention here.

One of the displays inside Te Papa. 
Photo credit: Tjrehmann 

If you’re staying in Wellington then this is one of the places you have to visit. Even if you don’t usually like museums, you still should get something out of this place. It’s an entertaining way to introduce you to our history and shows you both the Maori and European settlers’ histories.

I particularly enjoyed the Maori carvings on my visit there.


The city of Rotorua is another great place to learn about the Maori history and culture. It’s a city built around Lake Rotorua and has become a thriving tourist spot. With the land being very volcanic in nature, you’ll find lots of volcanic hot springs ranging from the affordable bed and breakfast with a single hot spring tub to complete spa complexes where you can go for the full luxury body treatment. I actually preferred the more chilled out small bed and breakfast places but it all depends on what you like.

Lakeside spa in Rotorua. 
Photo credit: Looknbooknz 

You’ll also find lots of Maori shows where you can see traditional Maori dance and songs. Make sure you book one with a real Maori Hangi (a traditional way of cooking food under the earth) as they’re a real treat.

Tongariro National Park 

This is a huge national park which you can either camp or what we did was book a week in some cozy cabins. You need to be fairly active as most of your time here will involve walking but you’ll see some truly spectacular views of mountains and bush lands. You don’t really need a week here but I would recommend at least two days for doing the main treks. And even when it’s nice and sunny, I recommend you bring wind proof clothing and plenty of water as conditions can change rapidly, especially at the higher altitudes.

One of the many views in this national park. 
Photo credit: Jcolman

Speak to the people in the visitor information there (they’re very friendly!) and they will give you lots of useful advice regarding which treks are suitable for your level of fitness and experience.
I know walking for hours may not sound like the most exciting thing to do but when you see the views, you’ll know it was all worth it.

South Island 

The south island is a lot quieter than the north and is home to many more rugged mountainous areas, lots of natural wonders and some amazing fiord lands in the south west.

If you like the sea and sea life then you have to stay at Kaikoura, at least for a couple of days. The small city is right on the east coast, on the northern part of the south island. You can enjoy a wide range of sea activities including scuba diving and whale watching but what really made this place special for me was swimming with the local wild dolphins.

Some beautiful dolphins in Kaikoura. 
Photo credit: Rockies 

Now these are not those trained dolphins you see in various sea parks but truly wild ones and you need to respect this fact when you swim with them; you can’t pet them! It’s not that they’re dangerous, in fact they are one of the friendliest and playful beings on this earth, but you could damage them.

You’ll probably spend your time swimming while they playfully swim around you and it almost seems like they’re playing games with you.

It’s quite easy, you book a swimming experience with one of the tour operators and they’ll take you through what to do and what not to do.
I can’t express enough how a deep and powerful experience this was.

Milford Sounds 

This is another place which you’ll probably find in most New Zealand travel guides but I would be quite insane not to list it here! It’s probably the place you have to visit while in the south island, with its fiord land and mountain views almost out of some fantasy movie, where you’ll see waterfall after waterfall gushing down into the fiords. 
Photos do not do this place justice. 
Photo credit: Edwin11 

Milford Sounds is located in the south west tip of the south island and you can either drive there or get a coach for a day or night cruise experience.

As much as I enjoyed my visit to Milford Sounds, it was packed full of tourists! I found the ideal remedy for this was the Catlins which is located on the south east end of the south island.

It’s a great place to get close to nature and do all kinds of outdoor activities such as horse riding, walks, kayaking and hunting.

Just one of the many natural views of this region. 
Photo credit: Fotini 

It’s also home to some truly outstanding natural points of interest such as Purakaunui Falls (a beautiful waterfall) and Cathedral Cave (coastline caves which you can kayak or walk in low tide).

The author of this guide recommends travelers going to the Catlins stay at RiverRidgeRetreat which is in the heart of the Catlins and you can read more to see their accommodation options.

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