With water sports aplenty and lots of land-based outdoor pursuits, New Zealand has plenty to keep visitors occupied. The nation is well supplied with urban delights too: theatres, stadiums, shopping precincts, casinos and race tracks are all on the menu, plus a range of monuments and museums that pay tribute to the heritage of both the earliest Maori inhabitants, and that of later arrivals.
What New Zealand also has, is a breath-taking array of scenery; so diverse in its range that it doubled with ease for every conceivable environment of Middle Earth throughout the Lord of the Rings films. So, in between all your other activities when you visit, budget some time just to gaze in awe and breathe deeply. Here are the five natural wonders you should be sure not to miss:
Tane Mahuta, Forest Ancient
Journey into the Waipoua Forest on the north-west coast of North Island, and be sure to tread carefully, because careless stomping could damage the delicate roots of this ancient behemoth. An enormous kauri tree between 1,250 and 2,500 years old, Tane Mahuta, or “the Lord of the Forest”, is also the focus of some ancient Maori folklore.
Trek To Mount Doom
It’s the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for non-LOTR fans, but this one-day hike through the Tongariro National Park at the centre of North Island is spectacular either way. The eight-hour trek takes in the stark volcanic plateau, the gorgeous turquoise craters of Emerald Lakes, and the brooding presence of Mt Ngauruhoe, aka Mt Doom in the LOTR films.
Brightly Hued Champagne Pools
From Mt Tongariro, head north-east past Lake Taupo, and close to Rotorua you’ll come across the multicoloured Champagne Pools at Wai-O-Tapu. Effervescent hot springs, bubbling mud pools and the Lady Knox Geyser, which blows off steam reliably every day, make for a brilliant geothermal show. While you wait for the next warm eruption, you can even play at the online Keno sites in Canada on your smartphone.
Glowworm Glory In Waitomo
Around 100km west of Rotorua as the crow flies in Waitomo, you’ll find one of New Zealand’s most magical natural attractions. Take a boat trip on the subterranean waters of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and marvel at the light show provided by the phosphorescent worms and the glowing silken threads they produce.
The nearby Ruakuri Cave, with wheelchair and pushchair access, is brilliantly equipped to teach visitors all about these ancient limestone caverns. Aranui Cave, also close by, is a repository of Maori mythology.
Watery Jewel Of Milford Sound
The previous four highlights are all within easy reach of one another on North Island, and there are plenty more gorgeous mountains, lakes and beaches worth visiting on both islands. But when you visit South Island, the one nature reserve you mustn’t miss is Fiordland National Park on the south-west tip.
And the part of Fiordland to be sure to visit is Milford Sound: magnificent mountains rearing up out of icy fjords, the peaks clothed in cool rain forests and split by plunging waterfalls, all of it wreathed in mists and rainbows. The breath-taking sights in this paradise extend to the wildlife: if you’re there at the right time, expect to see dolphins, seals, penguins and many other marine species.