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The most cinematic landscapes of New Zealand

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From the serene to the dramatic, New Zealand‘s landscape offers a cinematic experience unlike anywhere else on Earth. Steaming-hot active volcanoes and frigid glaciers, rolling green hills and rugged cliff edges, dark caves illuminated by the glow of a thousand tiny creatures… the options to choose from are resolutely diverse, seemingly endless, and often infused with history and Polynesian myths.

Feel inspired by these top picks and best sights across New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Our local experts will be more than happy to add them to your once-in-a-lifetime itinerary, designed to suit your needs and take the pressure off planning your trip – all you’d need to do is pack your camera and prepare for a wild ride.

Tongariro National Park

Breathtaking in beauty and scale, New Zealand’s oldest national park is sprawled out across 80,000 hectares on the North Island. A playground for fans of nature and active pursuits, its landscape is steeped in Māori spirituality, home to diverse ecosystems and dotted with stunning features, from waterfalls and old lava flows to crater lakes and glaciers. Its historic trails are perfect for multi-day hiking and mountain biking excursions, as well as for skiing and snowboarding in the colder months (between early June and late October). At the park’s heart you’ll find the Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu volcanoes – all three are active and regularly spew clouds of smoke, for even greater effect (though do be mindful as you explore the area, that eruptions can occur without warning).

Tongariro National Park's Emerald Lakes in New Zealand

Moeraki Boulders

Nestled along the sands of Koekohe Beach, near Moeraki village and the town of Hampden, the Moeraki Boulders are something of a curious phenomenon – and geologist or not, you’ll soon find yourself mesmerised by their size (up to three metres wide and two metres high) and unique, almost alien appearance. Referred to in traditional Māori tales as washed-up wreck remains from their ancestors’ journey to the South Island, these spherical boulders were found to be 65 million-year-old masses formed by ancient sea sediments and smoothed by erosion over time. Pay a visit to these unusual formations at night-time, for a chance to stargaze and savour an even more otherworldly experience.

Moeraki Boulders and stargazing in New Zealand

Te Mata Peak

No outdoor enthusiast’s trip to New Zealand should be done without including Te Mata – a peak south of Hastings in the North Island’s Hawke’s Bay region. Reach new heights on a day out across the Sleeping Giant, that’s guaranteed to blow you away as you journey through ancient redwood forests, take in the beautifully-preserved wilderness, and learn about the peak’s cultural significance. The hike culminates in reaching the summit and being greeted by 360-degree panoramas of the region and Heretaunga Plains – an unforgettable sight, even to the more seasoned alpine explorer (an early-morning climb may reward you with memorable mist-cloaked scenes, so plan ahead and have your camera at the ready).

New Zealand's Te Mata Peak at sunset

Matamata

Home to the Hobbiton™ movie set, where fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy can follow in the oversized footsteps of their favourite characters, the Waikato District’s Matamata is a paradise on Earth. A serene atmosphere fills its rolling countryside hills, farmlands and plains, and whether or not you’re there to live out your Middle-earth fantasies, you’ll understand exactly why this attractive land was chosen to grace the big screen. Grab a bicycle to journey along the changing landscapes of the Hauraki Rail Trail, which can be explored for anywhere between two hours and several days, and even encompasses historic railway lines and insight into the local gold mining heritage.

Rural landscape near Matamata in New Zealand, Shire and Lord of the Rings scenery

Waitomo Caves

An easy bucket list-topper for any visit to New Zealand, the Waitomo Caves have earned their place amidst the country’s best natural attractions, and for good reason. They’re home to the famous Glowworm Caves, lit by the captivating blue bioluminescence of thousands of small beetles, and which you can tour by gliding through the grotto by boat. Marvel at this fascinating natural phenomenon up close, soaking up its beauty in complete silence and stillness. If you’re guided by a sense of adventure, Black Water Rafting, abseiling, and zip-lining within the caves are all available to try during your visit.

Glow worms illuminating the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand

Milford Sound

One of New Zealand’s most iconic scenes is that of the Milford Sound fiord, whose features are compelling in every way – not just visually, but also from scientific and folkloric perspectives. Legend has it that when mythological hero Maui died trying to win immortality for his people, a native bird flew across the water’s surface in mourning – a story which gives this fiord a grounding and ethereal quality. Geographically, it’s composed of deep sea waters topped by 10m of fresh surface water, to which it owes its reflective appearance; it’s surrounded by the Fiordland’s beautifully diverse landscape of beech forests, grassland and fellfields, and is perfect for venturing out on foot or by boat.

Milford Sound at sunrise in New Zealand

Mount Aspiring National Park

Home to one of the country’s most prominent peaks to which it owes its name, this South Island park is every outdoor-lover’s dream come true. Pack your best walking boots for a day amidst remote wilderness, river valleys, alpine lakes and glaciers; we’d recommend turning a short visit into a multi-day trip, to soak up the very best that this untouched expanse has to offer. A climb up Mount Aspiring itself should only be attempted by confident climbers, while the list of adrenaline-pumping activities to enjoy beyond this is long and equally enthralling – from jet-boating and river rafting, all the way to skydiving and heli-skiing.

Man on a rocky cliff edge in New Zealand's Mount Aspiring National Park

Wharariki Beach

Make for the northernmost reaches of the South Island, and you’ll perhaps encounter the sandy shores of Wharariki Beach. It’s a feast for the eyes thanks to its grassy sand dunes, the cliffs that flank it on either side, and the views out to sea of the Archway Islands – a group of rocky formations that complete the dramatic picture. A family-friendly space and easily toured on foot, it’s ideal for a leisurely coastal walk or hike – just bear in mind that the landscape can be swept by strong winds, and some steep trails may pose a challenge to less experienced walkers.

Dramatic view of Wharariki Beach in New Zealand

Wai-O-Tapu

A self-proclaimed “thermal wonderland” (and with very good reason), Wai-O-Tapu is another of New Zealand’s surreal natural draws, which all manner of travellers could easily visit – whether you’re dropping by for a short 30 minutes or spending hours deep-diving (though not literally) into the unique landscape. Make your way along easy to moderate tracks, all the while marvelling at the park’s volcanic features: these date back thousands of years and offer a vivid display of colour and activity, across sizeable craters, cold springs, steaming caves and more. Feel the heat emanating from the earth, and don’t miss a stop at the Champagne Pool to witness its orange and turquoise hues in real life.

Wai-O-Tapu hot sulphur springs aerial in New Zealand

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier

Whether you’re visiting just one or combining both on an epic day out (they’re about 23km away from each other, or a half-hour drive), Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers hold some of the most renowned landscapes on the South Island. With routes and experiences catering for hikers of different abilities, you can soak up the dazzlingly icy scenes in whichever way tickles your fancy. Franz Josef is steeper and features more pronounced formations, offering up a better chance of seeing blue ice, and for both you could push the boat out and plan an exhilarating heli hike.

Jagged landscape of Fox Glacier at sunset in New Zealand

Lake Wānaka

Another South Island treasure and a testament to the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, this lake is embedded within the heart of the Southern Alps, and sits at the gateway to the Mount Aspiring National Park. Make a deep connection with nature and absorb the tranquillity of its ancient waters and surrounding valley, formed by glacial erosion more than 10,000 years ago. Choose to admire it from dry land or try your hand at a clutch of overwater activities, which include kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing, waterskiing and more. On its southern edge, the town of Wānaka offers a buzzing and laid-back ambience, and makes a great base for summertime travels and skiing holidays alike.

Serene lone tree on Lake Wanaka in New Zealand

Make it happen

Have these epic landscapes inspired you to take a cinematic New Zealand journey of your own? Get in touch with one of our on-the-ground experts to start planning your next big trip.

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