Despite its compact size, New Zealand is blessed with diverse and beautiful scenery. Big-budget Hollywood films like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Avatar were filmed in some of its many unique and interesting regions.
This small nation boasts many amazing landmarks, both natural and man-made. These are the 7 most popular landmarks in New Zealand.
1. Huka Falls
'Huka' is the Maori word for 'foam', and this stunning waterfall in the center of New Zealand's North Island is definitely foamy. Around 7,000 ft3/s of water from the Waikato River fall first 26 feet and then 20 feet.
The Waikato River is New Zealand's longest river and it drains Lake Taupo, which is New Zealand's largest lake. Lake Taupo is near Huka Falls, and they are frequently visited together. In the area around Huka Falls and Lake Taupo, people love to kayak, swim, mountain bike, and birdwatch.
2. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
A little south of Lake Taupo is Tongariro National Park, which is New Zealand's oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There you'll find the most popular day hike in New Zealand - Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
This 12-mile hike through the park passes water-filled volcanic craters, petrified lava flows, hot springs, and sublime Alpine views. You might also recognize the area as Mordor from The Lord of the Rings. This fascinating hiking trail crosses the volcanic terrain of Mount Tongariro, a multi-cratered, active volcano.
Make sure you check out our
Ultimate Guide to Hiking in New Zealand
3. Tane Mahuta
At the northernmost tip of North Island, you can find the Waipoua Kauri Forest Sanctuary. This is the home of two of the largest kauri trees in existence, including Tane Mahuta. Tane Mahuta is Maori for 'King of the Forest'. It is the largest kauri tree in New Zealand.
Tane Mahuta is 43 feet wide and 167 feet tall and is believed to be 2,300 years old. You can reach this magnificent tree on a short hike through the forest. The Waipoua Forest is also a popular location for camping.
Aoraki is a beautiful, snow-capped mountain found in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the Southern Alps on the South Island. Also known as Mount Cook, Aoraki is New Zealand's tallest peak at 12,000 feet. In the late '40s, Sir Edmund Hilary ascended Aoraki in preparation for his attempt on Mount Everest. Aoraki is exactly half the height of Everest.
Visitors flock to Aoraki to enjoy the crisp mountain air and uninterrupted views of the stars above. Many also come to fish or kayak in the glacial lakes at the base of the mountain. There are several hiking trails around the mountain as well as guided ski tours. Most visitors stay in Mount Cook village or camp at White Horse Hill.
5. Moeraki Boulders
Along Koekohe Beach on the South Island, you'll find this surreal collection of large, spherical boulders. The grey concretions were originally embedded in the mudstone bedrock. Wave erosion over millennia has released these spheres of harder rock, exposing them along the beach in clusters or as isolated boulders.
Maori mythology asserts that the spheres are ancient eel baskets washed ashore from the wreck of a giant canoe. Visitors love to climb over the boulders and have their photographs taken with them.
6. The Beehive
In New Zealand's capital city of Wellington on the southern tip of the North Island, you will find this modern parliament building erected between 1969 and 1979. Its distinctive layered structure resembles a traditional, woven beehive.
Inside the Beehive are the offices of the Prime Minister and members of cabinet. Over the years since it was completed, the Beehive has come to symbolize the leadership of New Zealand in much the same way as the White House does in the US.
Next door is Parliament House, which is the main building of New Zealand's Parliament. It was built between 1914 and 1922 using entirely New-Zealand-sourced materials as a showcase for the nation.
All the parliament buildings in Wellington are open to the public from 10 am to 4 pm. Except for public holidays, there are free, 1-hour guided tours every hour on the hour.
7. The Sky Tower
You can find the Sky Tower in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand on the northern tip of the North Island. It was built between 1994 and 1997. At 1,076 feet high, it's the tallest building in the country.
Visitors can ride a glass elevator to 3 viewing platforms. Strangely, jumping off the 629-feet high-pergola is permitted. The tower is also used as a transmitter for radio, TV, and telecommunications.
There's so much more!
These are the top 7 landmarks in New Zealand, but there are many more. I had to leave out the Craters of the Moon geothermal walk, One Tree Hill volcanic peak, the fjords of New Zealand's western coastline, and many others. All are well worth a visit.
One thing's for sure. If you visit New Zealand, you won't be short of interesting places to see and exciting things to do.
Author: John works at Outdoor Pursuits.