New Zealand is the land of natural beauty. It’s a country that draws people from all over the world who want to experience nature at its finest. There are so many outdoor activities and adventures to go on it will make your head spin with wonder at the possibilities as soon as you set down in the country.
There is a great variety of landscapes and natural wonders you’ll find in New Zealand, but one of the most mind-blowing ones has to be the gurgling, steaming, and very smelly geothermal pools and attractions all over Rotorua in the North Island.
You can smell the sulfur from the moment you roll into town, but the rotten egg smell is worth it from the moment you set eyes on Wai-O-Tapu, one of the main attractions for geothermal activity, 20 minutes from town. The colorful park’s name means “sacred waters” when translated from Maori, and it’s a spot that has naturally been shaped through hundreds of years of geothermal history in the area.
There are hot pools, caves, rock formations, bubbly mud pools, and even a geyser that erupts daily. You’ll find an abundance of different types of minerals present in the pools, which gives you every bright color in the rainbow spectrum to look at.
With the bubbling hot pools you’ll find in the North Island, you’ll come across the complete opposite wonder in the austere and frigid glaciers of the South Island
The glaciers are able to stay icy year round because of their ideal location. They form through the warm and moist air that comes over from Australia, which drops large amounts of snowfall in the higher regions of the Southern Alps. These piles of snow then start sliding downward due to gravity and the snow transforms into hard blue ice. Very little snow actually falls in the nearby towns around the glaciers, but there is plenty in the surrounding mountains. This makes for perfect conditions for a glacier to form and continuously stay icy.
Another popular attraction on the West Coast of the South Island is the Punakaiki Rocks, also commonly known as the Pancake Rocks. The earlier you get to this spot the better since there are so many visitors that start coming in during the afternoon, and this spot is the most magical when it’s quiet and serene.
The odd shapes and layers of these rocks come from 30 million years of history, to be exact, millions of years of alternating layers of sea creatures and sand continuously compressed to the bottom of the ocean floor. Earthquakes are the reason why we see them above sea level today.
The rocks take on their own personality and rugged beauty when you walk around them and see them from different angles. This side of New Zealand tends to have a constant wet gloom that only adds to the character of the funky grey pancakes.
Potentially my favorite spot in all of New Zealand, well, maybe tied with Milford Sound, Abel Tasman National Park is a semi-tropical and fairly remote paradise at the top of the South Island. It’s possible to experience it as a day trip from Nelson, but I would suggest taking your time here. It’s a special place in New Zealand and one that deserves a few days of exploration and a journey of getting lost in the bush.
The only wonder on this list that I haven’t actually been to myself is the lesser-known Moeraki Boulders, located between Dunedin and Christchurch. These perfectly rounded rocks are a little more off the beaten path than the other New Zealand wonders on this list and represent a touch of Maori legend as well.
There is Maori legend attached to the most important places in New Zealand, and these perfectly sculpted round rocks are no exception. You would be amiss to pass these by on a South Island road trip, they’re meant to be striking combined with the backdrop of the beautiful beach and jagged coastline.
I had seen pictures of Lake Tekapo countless times before I actually visited the spot myself, and I always assumed those pictures had to be photoshopped and extremely saturated. There is no way that a lake could look that color in real life, right?
Lake Tekapo is considered the highest alpine lake in New Zealand, which is where it gets its piercing turquoise blue color from, the surrounding glaciers. This scenic spot is only one of a few different lakes in the area that will take your breath away, although Tekapo in particular held the most wonderful for me. Another favorite would have to be Lake Hawea.
And lastly, another one of my all-time favorite spots in New Zealand – the magical Milford Sound. According to Maori legend, Milford Sound was formed by the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa. His job was to create the Fiordland coast, so he methodically chipped away at the rock walls of the rough coast with his Toki, until he created his ultimate masterpiece – Milford Sound.
The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, meaning a single piopio, the name of a now-extinct native bird. When Maui, the hero of many Maori tales, died trying to attain immortality for mankind, it is said that his piopio flew to what is now Milford Sound in mourning. The Maori people named the place Piopiotahi in honor of their beloved and legendary hero’s untimely death.