Get ready to explore a place where the landscapes encompass almost every kind of terrain imaginable, from pristine alpine regions to great swimming beaches. This natural diversity means you can stroll along a sandy beach in the morning, stop at a sun-drenched winery for lunch and then be hiking along an alpine trail by the afternoon.
New Zealand’s landscapes have been shaped by powerful geothermal forces. Lake Taupo, Australasia’s largest lake, owes its existence to a massive and ancient volcanic eruption. These days, the region stretching from Lake Taupo north to Rotorua is popular with visitors wanting to catch a glimpse of the earth’s geothermal forces at play. A thin surface crust in this part of the North Island results in a remarkable array of geothermal features, from bubbling mud pools to powerful steam vents, hot waterfalls and geysers, as well as thermal pools and spa complexes.
As it is an island nation, nowhere in New Zealand is very far from the sea, and that means the coastline features high on the list of what makes the landscape unique. The coastline ranges from golden-sand beaches to rugged coastlines and crashing surf. In summer, the beaches of Northland, The Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Nelson are great for swimming, while the regions’ offshore islands are idyllic getaways. Visitors who enjoy boating will find paradise in the Bay of Islands, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, and in the Marlborough Sounds.
There is more to the North Island’s Waitomo region than meets the eye. Underneath rolling hills is a labyrinth of underground rivers, sinkholes, caves, rock formations, and caver’s paradise studded with glow-worms. Thirty million years ago this landscape was beneath the sea, but geological activity lifted it clear, and rainwater formed fissures in the rock that turned into streams and underground rivers which visitors can now explore in abseiling, caving and black-water rafting expeditions. In the South Island too, you’ll find cave systems from the Marble Mountains in Nelson right down to Fiordland.
Lorded over by New Zealand’s highest peak – Aoraki Mount Cook – the Southern Alps form the South Island’s mountainous backbone, rising over 3,000 metres to divide the east and west of the island. In the North Island, too, iconic mountains dominate. Mount Taranaki, on the west coast, is an almost perfect cone. In the central North Island, State Highway One becomes the ‘Desert Road’ as it passes a triad of volcanoes. Two of them, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, stood in as ‘Mount Doom’ in The Lord of the Rings; the former is home to the North Island’s most popular ski resort. Most of New Zealand’s ski areas, however, are in the South Island.
Westland, along the South Island’s West Coast, is home to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, two of the most accessible glaciers in the world. The blue-white rivers of ice defy the rules of nature, snaking through rainforest just 300 metres above sea level. Visitors can walk to the glaciers or join a guided hike to see them up close. There are other glaciers at Mount Cook National Park. A flight-seeing expedition is a great way to see them.