Since first visiting New Zealand in 2003, I have dreamt of returning. The stunning natural beauty, dramatic landscapes and culture made me fall in love with the country.
When I met the two in We Travel in Threes, one of the first things he said to me on our first date was that New Zealand was his ultimate bucket list destination. We’ve been trying for over ten years to get there but it’s just never happened for one reason or another. With this year being my fortieth year we decided that it would be the perfect year to visit New Zealand as a family of three.
Thanks to the Black Friday sales in November 2017 we managed to book flights with Air New Zealand so cheaply (well cheap for a 24 hour flight) and basically our dream became a reality. We are going to New Zealand in May 2018 for three full weeks. As I write this we have just four weeks to go.
We are generally a fly by the seat of your pants family when it comes to holiday planning (except when we went to Disneyland Paris and that was planned with military precision) but as we have only three weeks and an entire country to squeeze in we are thinking ahead a bit. I thought I’d share with you our absolutely can not miss New Zealand Bucket List, the 10 sights, cities and attractions we just can’t miss. They may not be everyones top choices but there are certainly ours.
New Zealand Bucket List – Our Top 10
New Zealand is synonymous with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and we are all huge fans of JRR Tolkiens stories of Middle Earth. The Hobbiton Movie Set is set amongst the rolling green hills of Waikato in the North Island. We can’t wait to explore the famous Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn and generally soak up the Middle Earth atmosphere! Book your visit here.
Did we do it? – Yes, literally the best day ever!
2. Mount Cook (Mt Aoraki)
Mount Cook or Mount Aoraki as it traditionally known is New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the views are unparalleled. Standing at over 12,000 ft this mountain is famous for offering some of the best hiking experiences in New Zealand. Whilst we don’t plan to hike too much, we certainly can’t miss seeing the granduer of this spectacular natural beauty.
Did we do it? No, the weather was not on our side and we had to abandon our Mt Cook plans.
3. Milford Sound
Arguably one of New Zealands most famous tourist attractions. Once called “the eighth wonder of the world” Milford Sound is undeniably New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attraction. Located in the Southwest of the South Island. This awe inspiring fiord is famous for towering peaks, waterfalls and mirror clear water. We simply can’t visit New Zealand and not take a cruise out into the sound. Book your cruise here.
Did we do it? No, again snow made it impossible. This is by far our biggest regret.
The largest city in the South Island is vibrant and unique city. Currently in period of regeneration due to the devastating earthquake in 2011, the city has found creative ways to rebuilt with quirky new restaurants, bars and retail spaces, amazing street art and initiatives such as the Margaret Mahy Playground (the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere). On the flip side there is a real traditional English Heritage feel to the city. We are looking forward to exploring the Botanic Gardens, International Artic Centre and taking a ride on the famous Christchurch Gondola.
Did we do it? Yes, we spent two days exploring this beautiful city.
5. Weta Workshop Tour
As I mentioned before we are all huge Lord of the Rings fans. Weta Workshop is one of the worlds leading design and effects companies based in Wellington. Responsible for the breathtaking sets, models, costumes, imagery and effects throughout Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. They have now opened their doors to visitors and run various tours of the studios and workshops. We can wait to enter the “Weta Cave” and marvel at the amazing craftsmanship and technology. Book your tour here.
Did we do it? Yes, possibly the second best day ever!
6. Tunnel Beach Walkway
Tunnel Beach is located just South of Dunedin in the South Island. Carved by the salt wind and Southern Ocean the magnificent cliffs, arches and headlands a truly stunning natural wonder. The walkway is a 2km stretch that takes in the scenery as well and the impressive hand carved tunnel that descends 150 metres down to the beach. What an adventure!
Did we do it? Yes, it was so worth the leg burn on the way back up!
This geothermal wonderland is a magnet for tourists! Part of the volcanic zone that extends from White Island in the Bay of Plenty to Mount Ruapehu in the centre of the North Island. In Rotorua you will discover volcanic phenomena at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, famous for the Champagne Pools and Lady Knox Geyser. Other thermal attractions include Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Hells Gate. Experience Maori culture at a traditional village such as Te Puia, Mitai and Tamaki. I visited Tamaki Village in 2003 and it was a real treat. Traditional singing and dancing as well as a Hangi feast. I think we may do another village this time round. I’m really excited about introducing L to Maori culture.
Did we do it? Yes, we spent 3 days discovering New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland.
8. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro National Park is New Zealands oldest National Park and holds dual World Heritage status. Spanning some 19.4km the crossing takes it the awe inspiring and dramatic geothermal landscapes included an active crater and emerald coloured lakes. Peter Jackson was so inspired by this landscape that it was used for filming Mordor scenes and Mt Ngauruhoe was used as the ominous Mount Doom. We are very realistic about how much of the crossing we will achieve with a 7 year old. The crossing is classed as advanced and with a guide time of 8 hours I think we may only walk a few kilometres.
Did we do it? No, again the weather! It was absolutely pouring on the day we had scheduled to do the hike. We were advised against it.
9. Cathedral Cove
This iconic rock archway on the North Islands stunning Coromandel Peninsula is only accessible by foot or boat. The easy 2.5km walk into the cove takes in the beautiful and dramatic views of the coast line. Fun fact, Cathedral Cave was used in the filming of the Chronicles of Narnia.
Did we do it? No, unfortunately we didn’t make it up as far as the Coromandels.
10. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
This North Island wonder has been attracting visitors for 120 years. Many thousands of glowworms light up the caves making for a spectacular light show. You can take a boat ride into the Glowworm Grotto to experience this phenomenon first hand. I’m a little afraid of the dark so I avoided the caves last time I visited but we I really can’t let it pass me by again. Book it here.
An extra one….
Did we do it? No, we actually managed to see glowworms for free in Rotorua! We did a night trek at Lake Tikitapo and were treated to an incredible display!
Both Graham and I are lovers of the Art Deco era. The architecture and style of this period is something we have always appreciated. The city of Napier is set amid the world renowned wine making region of Hawkes Bay on the North Island. Devastated by an earthquake in 1931, the city was rebuilt using several architectural styles but prominently in the Art Deco style. Making Napier one of the purest Art Deco cities on the world. We are hoping our itinerary allows for a visit to this unique city!
Did we do it? No, we decided against it in the end. We chose a different route and ended in Lake Taupo instead.
I’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to the things we what to see and do in New Zealand but these are definitely our must sees!Let’s hope we can achieve them all.
Edit – as you can see from the updates we only achieved about half of our bucket list! I think it proves that you can have a plan but it always good to be flexible.
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Disclaimer – images via Pixabay unless otherwise stated.