The 7 Wonders of New Zealand

7 Wonders of New Zealand - Milford Sound

New Zealand is the land of natural beauty. It’s a country that draws people from all over the world who want to experience nature at its finest. There are so many outdoor activities and adventures to go on it will make your head spin with wonder at the possibilities as soon as you set down in the country.

I was lucky enough to travel around a good portion of New Zealand while I was living in Wellington for a year, and I came away with some incredible experiences and stories of places I could’ve only ever imagined (or seen in Lord of the Rings).

New Zealand is a special place for me to be sure, so I wanted to share with you guys my favorite magical places around the country that I consider the 7 wonders of New Zealand. It’s a whole other world down under, and I hope you all get to experience it for yourself one day.

Geothermal Rotorua

There is a great variety of landscapes and natural wonders you’ll find in New Zealand, but one of the most mind-blowing ones has to be the gurgling, steaming, and very smelly geothermal pools and attractions all over Rotorua in the North Island.

Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua, New Zealand

You can smell the sulfur from the moment you roll into town, but the rotten egg smell is worth it from the moment you set eyes on Wai-O-Tapu, one of the main attractions for geothermal activity, 20 minutes from town. The colorful park’s name means “sacred waters” when translated from Maori, and it’s a spot that has naturally been shaped through hundreds of years of geothermal history in the area.

There are hot pools, caves, rock formations, bubbly mud pools, and even a geyser that erupts daily. You’ll find an abundance of different types of minerals present in the pools, which gives you every bright color in the rainbow spectrum to look at.

Of course, this isn’t the only geothermal attraction in the area. There are multiple spots around Rotorua and other parts of the North Island where you’ll find natural hot pools and geothermal activity, although this one would have to be the most colorful. Other notables in the Rotorua area would include Tikitere (Hell’s Gate), Whakarewarewa, Waimangu, Orakei Korako (the Hidden Valley), and the free options of Ohinemutu, Sulphur Point & Flats, and Kuirau Park.

One thing is clear if you’re making a visit to New Zealand, you have to stop at least once in your travels to cherish the geothermal side of the country, it is truly a wonder to behold.

Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua, New Zealand

Read my full post about Wai-O-Tapu here

Glaciers

With the bubbling hot pools you’ll find in the North Island, you’ll come across the complete opposite wonder in the austere and frigid glaciers of the South Island.

I sadly was only able to see the Fox & Franz Josef glaciers for a brief moment on a long road trip from Westport to Wanaka on the West Coast, but that was still enough to be wowed by their impressive presence. I’ve also heard from other travelers and friends about the many activities there are do at the glaciers, including helicopter rides, glacier hikes, and more. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how use an ice pick correctly, this is a good place to start.

Fox Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand
Photo via Flickr

These two glaciers are considered some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, almost reaching sea level from their lofty height that tumbles as far down as the rainforest. You don’t even have to get out of your car if you don’t want to, you can see them from a quick turnout off the highway. With that said, there are multiple hiking trails, called the Glacier Valley Walks, that get you a closer look from below, or you can go on one of the popular glacier hiking tours to really get up close and personal.

The glaciers are able to stay icy year round because of their ideal location. They form through the warm and moist air that comes over from Australia, which drops large amounts of snowfall in the higher regions of the Southern Alps. These piles of snow then start sliding downward due to gravity and the snow transforms into hard blue ice. Very little snow actually falls in the nearby towns around the glaciers, but there is plenty in the surrounding mountains. This makes for perfect conditions for a glacier to form and continuously stay icy.

Punakaki

Another popular attraction on the West Coast of the South Island is the Punakaki Rocks, also commonly known as the Pancake Rocks. The earlier you get to this spot the better since there are so many visitors that start coming in during the afternoon, and this spot is the most magical when it’s quiet and serene.

Punakaiki Rock on the West Coast of New Zealand

The odd shapes and layers of these rocks come from 30 million years of history, to be exact, millions of years of alternating layers of sea creatures and sand continuously compressed to the bottom of the ocean floor. Earthquakes are the reason why we see them above sea level today.

The rocks take on their own personality and rugged beauty when you walk around them and see them from different angles. This side of New Zealand tends to have a constant wet gloom that only adds to the character of the funky grey pancakes.

Punakaiki Rocks on the West Coast of New Zealand

Read my full post about my road trip down the West Coast here

Abel Tasman

Potentially my favorite spot in all of New Zealand, well, maybe tied with Milford Sound, Abel Tasman National Park is a semi-tropical and fairly remote paradise at the top of the South Island. It’s possible to experience it as a day trip from Nelson, but I would suggest taking your time here. It’s a special place in New Zealand and one that deserves a few days of exploration and a journey of getting lost in the bush.

Abel Tasman National Park - New Zealand

I tackled a 3-day hike, my first ever multi-day hike, with my best friend who was visiting at the time and it was a wonderful way to experience Kiwi nature first hand and the wild beauty of Abel Tasman. The park covers 87 square miles and it’s New Zealand’s only coastal national park. With a visit, you’ll be rewarded with turquoise blue waters, lush green forests, and golden sandy beaches that are straight out of a postcard.

It was one of the most stunning spots I went to in New Zealand and one of my greatest adventures during my year in the country.

Watch my video from my time in Abel Tasman here

Moeraki Boulders

The only wonder on this list that I haven’t actually been to myself are the lesser known Moeraki Boulders, located between Dunedin and Christchurch. These perfectly rounded rocks are a little more off the beaten path than the other New Zealand wonders on this list and represent a touch of Maori legend as well.

Moeraki Boulders on the South Island of New Zealand
Photo via Flickr

According to the legend, the boulders are the baskets, sweet potatoes, and gourds that washed to shore after the wreck of Arai-te-uru, a large canoe that sunk nearby on its way from Hawaiki. The reef near the beach is meant to be the broken piece of the canoe’s hull.

There is Maori legend attached to most important places in New Zealand, and these perfectly sculpted round rocks are no exception. You would be amiss to pass these by on a South Island road trip, they’re meant to be striking combined with the backdrop of the beautiful beach and jagged coastline.

Lake Tekapo

I had seen pictures of Lake Tekapo countless times before I actually visited the spot myself, and I always assumed those pictures had to be photoshopped and extremely saturated. There is no way that a lake could look that color in real life, right?

Lake Tekapo - South Island, New Zealand

Well, it’s safe to say that Lake Tekapo is the most astonishing lake I’ve come across, and a lot of that has to do with its bright turquoise blue water that mesmerizes you as soon as you lay eyes on it. It helps that the colorful lupin flowers bloom around the lake during mid-November to December to add even more color and beauty to the area, as if it needed any more.

Lake Tekapo is considered the highest alpine lake in New Zealand, which is where it gets its piercing turquoise blue color from, the surrounding glaciers. This scenic spot is only one of a few different lakes in the area that will take your breath away, although Tekapo in particular held the most wonder for me. Another favorite would have to be Lake Hawea.

Lake Tekapo - South Island, New Zealand

Read my full post on Lake Tekapo here.

Milford Sound

And lastly, another one of my all time favorite spots in New Zealand – the magical Milford Sound. According to Maori legend, Milford Sound was formed by the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa. His job was to create the Fiordland coast, so he methodically chipped away at the rock walls of the rough coast with his toki, until he created his ultimate masterpiece – Milford Sound.

Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand

The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, meaning a single piopio, the name of a now extinct native bird. When Maui, the hero of many Maori tales, died trying to attain immortality for mankind, it is said that his piopio flew to what is now Milford Sound in mourning. The Maori people named the place Piopiotahi in honor of their beloved and legendary hero’s untimely death.

The fiord is a place of elegant waterfalls and very wet weather. Its beauty comes from how quiet and peaceful a place it is. Even though it’s a popular tourist attraction in New Zealand, Milford Sound has a way of making you feel deliciously disconnected from the world. It’s a place that makes you appreciate the present moment and the power of nature combined with history.

Doubtful Sound is the lesser known fiord that is meant to be even more peaceful and less touristy, and I’d recommend visiting both if you have the time, but Milford Sound was a certain kind of magical. It was the biggest wonder of New Zealand for me

Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand

Read my full post on Milford Sound here

Have you been to New Zealand? What do you consider a wonder of the country? 

—————————— The 7 Wonders of New Zealand!

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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