New Zealand is one of the most unique destinations on Earth, where scenes of sweeping, verdant landscapes and pristine wilderness abound. In addition to its endless natural attractions, New Zealand is also known for its rich culture, friendly locals, and excellent food and wine.
From its abundant sheep population to its famed hiking trails and wine varietals, discover what New Zealand is known for and start planning your next trip.
Striking inlets lined by soaring cliffs compose the scenic fjords of New Zealand, some of the country’s most breathtaking natural attractions. On the South Island, the gorgeous Fiordland region dazzles visitors with its landscapes crafted by glaciers many thousands of years ago.
Some of the most famous fjords in the southwestern area of the island include Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Also within this UNESCO World Heritage National Park is the lesser-known Dusky Sound.
The scenery isn’t the only awe-inspiring sight in the region. As you navigate the fjords, you’ll have the opportunity to see fur seals, dolphins, and a wide array of New Zealand birds such as the kiwi and Fiordland crested penguin.
One of the products New Zealand is best known for is its delicious wine. The varieties produced from New Zealand’s wine regions are diverse, unique, and incredible, from the Northland’s subtropical climate to Central Otago, known as the southernmost wine region in the world.
Try award-winning wines from the Marlborough region, known for its sauvignon blanc. Head to Hawke’s Bay, where they’ve been producing wine since the mid-1800s, and sip its fantastic red blends. This region, which includes the city of Napier, is host to wine festivals throughout the year.
Located just north of Christchurch, discover the Waipara wine region, whose rich soil, pristine environment, and amazing weather turn out impeccable wines. Visit some of the 75 vineyards in the area, tasting pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. Embark on the food and wine trail for the ultimate culinary and beverage experience in the Canterbury Plains.
New Zealand’s most famous resident is (arguably) the sheep, where it’s said that there are approximately 20 sheep to every human. During your time in the country, keep your eyes peeled for the fluffy livestock that dot the beautiful landscape.
The very first sheep were put on the islands in Queen Charlotte Sound by Captain Cook in the late 1700s. Since then, they’ve become an icon to New Zealand and grown in population. The breeds are mostly English, as well as Spanish, which are both well suited for the weather in New Zealand. Try roasted lamb, the national dish, when visiting.
New Zealand is home to some of the world’s best hiking trails, and exploring on foot is one of the best ways to experience its stunning scenery. With 13 national parks and over 11,000 square miles of incredible landscapes, the opportunities for exploration are endless. The sheer number of trails offers something for every type of hiker and skill level, making it an activity that most can enjoy in New Zealand’s fresh air.
From trekking on volcanoes to feeling the sea breeze, you’ll find thrilling adventures while hiking in New Zealand. On the North Island, walk along the Coast to Coast Walk and encounter cultural heritage landmarks and city views of Auckland. Explore the picturesque Red Rocks Reserve along the coastal walk near the capital city of Wellington.
On the South Island, take in the bays and famous sounds of Marlborough, or test your endurance in the Southern Alps. Hiking is one of the top things that New Zealand is known for and the perfect way to experience the country’s beauty first-hand.
One of the most magical experiences you can have in New Zealand is something the areas near Kaikoura and Auckland are famous for: whale watching. Small eco-cruise boats are an ideal way to watch whales in their natural habitat, take photos, and marvel at their size and grace while learning about the species.
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park in Auckland is a popular spot for a diverse set of marine life, particularly the endangered Bryde’s whale. On the South Island, Kaikoura, located approximately two and half hours from the city of Christchurch, is home to a large number of sperm whales.
They’re attracted by the area’s deep waters, where they hunt for food. These majestic giants can be spotted any season of the year, making this a major draw to the area. It’s also possible to view orcas, humpback whales, and dolphin species, depending on the time of year that you visit.
New Zealand is iconic for its coffee culture. You can find the most cafes per capita in the city of Wellington, and Auckland is host to a festival surrounding the beloved caffeinated drink every year. Espresso is the base for all of the country’s coffee drinks, with the flat white being the most popular choice. It’s said that the invention of the famed flat white was inspired by the cafes in Queenstown.
Most coffees start with a double shot of espresso, so you’re sure to get that extra kick. They’re also known for using natural ingredients without adding extra syrups. Latte art is popular here, so don’t be surprised if your brew comes with a crafty silver fern adorning the foam. No matter where you visit in New Zealand, there’s sure to be a cafe with an array of amazing coffee drinks to try.
In the culinary world, New Zealand is known for its national dish, a dessert consisting of meringue, marshmallow, whipped cream, and fresh fruit such as kiwi. Pavlova is usually made and eaten for major holidays like Christmas and birthdays, when they are often decorated with colorful candy. The contrast of a fluffy meringue filling and crispy crust creates a delicious combination.
It’s said that the dessert was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and modeled after her wavy tutu, prompted by her rise to fame after she visited in the 1920s. Historically, however, there has been some debate on whether the sweet treat was truly invented in New Zealand, or if it originated in Australia.
New Zealand is a bird-watching paradise. Although the kiwi bird is the most well-known species and the country’s mascot, there are many other species that make this a fantastic birding destination.
Head to the coast to spot some of the country’s 80-plus seabirds in their natural habitat, including royal albatrosses, shearwaters, and penguins. If your heart is set on seeing the famed and endangered kiwi bird, the Northland region, which includes the Bay of Islands and Auckland, is your best bet. Or hike through the forest and listen to the natural soundtrack provided by native birds such as the warbling tui and lumbering kereru.
Read: Things to Do in Bay of Islands
The island nation is also known for its penguin population, with three species calling New Zealand home. The Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa Harbour just outside of Christchurch, and Dunedin are host to the little blue penguin, known to be the smallest penguin in the world.
Yellow-eyed penguins can be seen on the Otago Peninsula, just outside the city of Dunedin. If you’re lucky, you might spot the very rare Fiordland crested penguin, known as tawaki, in the Fiordland region of the South Island.
The Maori’s history, language, and customs are interwoven with New Zealand, making it a key part of the island nation’s character. Taking part in authentic cultural experiences while in New Zealand is a great way to fully immerse yourself. Learn about Maori legends, such as the creation of the North Island, while on a locally guided hike. Be regaled by the story of Paikea the Whale Rider, which you can hear on a whale-watching tour out of Kaikoura.
Spend some time exploring Maori art and history in the Auckland and Te Papa museums. Learn about and watch skilled weaving and carving demonstrations in Rotorua. Visit one of the many galleries that showcase collections created by well-known Maori artists throughout the country.
New Zealand is widely known for being the origin of adventure tourism. From skydiving to whitewater rafting, this is a destination for anyone looking for a thrill.
Paddle your way through the rapids of Rotorua on the North Island, just south of the city of Tauranga. If fishing is more your style, Lake Taupo, also on the North Island, is a world-renowned spot for casting a line for fresh trout.
Read: Places to Visit on the North Island
Another adrenaline-inducing activity that will get you up close and personal with rapids and waterfalls is jet boating. An exciting ride down many of the beautiful rivers in New Zealand will have you making memories of a lifetime. Almost any adventure you could crave is within reach in New Zealand.
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