The islands of New Zealand have developed a reputation for natural beauty that is hard to rival in terms of diversity and abundance, which is saying a lot when you consider the relatively pedestrian size of the nation (for comparison's sake: California is 1.5 times larger). The population of about four million, similar to Los Angeles, is also largely relegated to a few parts of the North Island, meaning that the country really does have an exceptional amount of open space. All of this would mean nothing if this open space were a collection of garbage dumps or snore-worthy grasslands; fortunately, there is a head-spinning range of wonders on both the two main islands (North and South) and their assemblage of satellite islands. Think massive fjords, fuming volcanoes, expansive glaciers, pristine beaches, and so much more. There's a reason why bungee jumps, skydives, jet-boat rides, luges, white-water rafting, and a bevy of other adventure opportunities are so frequently found in New Zealand.
If you ever need inspiration to visit New Zealand, you just need to watch one of the Lord of the Rings movies. As the CGI becomes more and more outdated over time, the untouched vistas that so convincingly speak of another world remain just as epic and evocative. Which is also why we suggest not settling for just "doing" New Zealand once. A few weeks here will be enough to do the bungee jumps and jet-boat rides that will serve as great water cooler conversation starters, but they won't give you the time to truly explore the varied wonders of a Milford Sound or a Tongariro National Park. You can't be blamed if it's your first trip; just make sure to come back, for New Zealand is for true adventurers.
There are a number of incredible national parks in this small nation that deserve bucket list status. Despite being the more populated of the two islands, the North Island has plenty to offer. The aforementioned Tongariro is a series of landscapes punctuated by a handful of active volcanic craters, while Mount Taranaki in Egmont National Park is a singular, intimidating cone that provides the best views anywhere on the North Island. Urewera National Park personifies off-the-beaten-path with its bush walks and sparkling lakes, while Whanganui National Park is a deeply forested tramper's playground. If you're one for bubbling, gaseous swamps and steaming geysers, then the geothermal zone around Rotorua is a must. There are also a handful of rivers in this region that are the best for whitewater thrill-seekers (up to a class V) on any of the islands.
Taupo and Whakatane are also hotbeds of adventure activity, the west coast near Auckland is popular for its black sand beaches, and the far end of the Northlands peninsula is notable for Ninety Mile Beach and the sweeping sand dunes at their north end. Did we mention the fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling had at subtropical locations like the Poor Knights Islands or other clear water locations like White Island off of Whakatane and the Great Barrier Island? How about the glow-worm constellations that blanket the Waitomo Caves? Are you starting to understand why you need to really delve into New Zealand? And this is just the North Island.
The South Island is a lesson in biodiversity. At it's very southern point are the tiny Stewart and Ulva Islands, both of which are noteworthy for their endemic birds and temperate rainforest. At its northern end, Abel Tasman National Park is warm year round and provides a paradise of coastal proportions that include granite cliffs, alluring waters, and all the activities one can think of doing in such an environment. Nelson Lakes National Park is all mountains and water, where you may make your tracks by alpine tramping and water treading.
The central portion of the South Island, though, is where its most grandiose natural monuments, the Southern Alps, are. At Westland Tai Poutini National Park, visitors may view or ski glaciers or even enter ice caves without having to trek miles into the wilderness. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is where the 12,000+ foot Mount Cook stands head-and-shoulders above New Zealand's formidable array of mountains. Wait, there's more. Despite being largely inaccessible except by helicopter, the Fiordland National Park is the most visited park in the whole country. This is mostly due to the scenic beauty of Milford Sound, which is easily viewed from tourist boats, but more completely enjoyed by kayak or or via hiking tracks. And again, this is just the tip of the glacier. There are also a ton of ski fields on the South Island, short hikes, and the limitless possibilities of the "adventure capital of the world," Queenstown.
For further information, explore our individual activities or communicate with knowledgeable members of the Embark community. And remember to take New Zealand slowly; there is so much to see and do that you'll not be able to do it all anyway, so be sure to take your time and create an itinerary you'll enjoy.