I’m not gonna lie to y’all, New Zealand never ranked high on my travel bucket list before this trip.
Now that I’ve explored the entire country over the past month, I can’t BELIEVE I waited so long to come here!
New Zealand was the perfect place to start this crazy adventure of mine, and I’m so grateful I got to see and do so much thanks to Kiwi Experience who took me around this beautiful country, introduced me to great people and other solo travelers like me, and truly pushed me out of my comfort zone.
There were so many awesome places Kiwi Experience took me to, it was hard to narrow this list down to my faves! They seriously hit ALL the best locations along with spots I would have totally missed had I not gone with them.
However, these were the stops that had the biggest effect on me. Be sure to add them to your New Zealand must-see list!
5. Franz Josef
You can hike an actual glacier in New Zealand. There are guided walking tours as well as helicopter tours that will take you literally on the Franz Josef Glacier! Or, if you’re on a budget, you can do what I did and just do the free walk to the base of the glacier and admire it from afar.
After ending your adventure on the Franz Josef Glacier, I suggest going for a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools which are pools fed by the waters from the glacier itself (they have three warm pools or you can get a private pool).
Other than the glacier, there are plenty of other hikes, walks, caves, and waterfalls to explore! The town itself can barely be called a town since it’s only has one main street, but I enjoyed it. You’re surrounded by so much nature, it’s amazing!
4. Lake Taupo
This is where I did my first skydive! Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand (based on surface area); I was told it’s the size of Singapore! Another quaint little town, you are a only short walk away from the lake where I spent multiple afternoons simply just hanging out with friends, skipping stones and watching the sunset.
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand! But be warned, it is TIRING and is a full-day thing; it’s about 8 or 9 hours to complete, and multiple people I know got hurt during this hike. Have you got the guts? (I didn’t, LOL)
This is the only big city on this list. I feel like Wellington gets overlooked a lot in “places to see in New Zealand” guides on the Internet, but I loved it! I wish I had spent more time here.
Walking around, I was reminded a lot of Denver in Colorado (if Denver had a harbor): lots of fun bars, cool cafes, business-like during the day but a chill-ish party vibe at night, lots of free things to do (including museums!), and art EVERYWHERE.
A quick ride on the famous Wellington Cable Car gave us a gorgeous view of the city at the top, and a stroll down the waterfront was great for people watching and catching the sunset. Be sure to check out their botanical gardens in the middle of the city as well!
Driving into Wanaka, I instantly knew I would love it. Wanaka is a tiny town right by a giant lake where you’ll find the most photographed tree in the world. I felt at peace in Wanaka. Like a morning coffee, afternoon walk around the lake, and watching the sun set over the distant mountains in the evening while on a patio was all that people did here everyday… not a bad life.
A girl I befriended on my bus loved Wanaka so much she literally found a way to live there for a month through house-sitting for a stranger on the internet, LOL. I was low key super jealous she got to stay (Hey, Enya!! Miss you)!
During their summer months, Lake Wanaka is perfect for sailing, fishing, and kayaking, and the nearby mountains provide the perfect background setting for hiking, bike rides, and even skydiving.
Wanaka is also where I did my current favorite hike I’ve ever done: Roy’s Peak. I woke up at 2am (wait wut) to go on a 5 hour hike (WAIT WUT) in pitch darkness to catch the sunrise in 20 degree freezing weather (WaIt WuT?!?!!) while wearing a bunch of borrowed clothing from strangers (turned new friends) because I didn’t have any warm clothing of my own—it was the BEST DAY EVER. 🙌🏼
The views I witnessed in Wanaka (shown above) are what I know I’ll remember the most about my trip to New Zealand.
After I discovered Wanaka, I thought this was surely it—THIS is my favorite place in New Zealand. I even declared so on my Instagram.
And then I got to Queenstown.
I’ve heard Queenstown get called “Wanaka’s older brother” and now I see why. Queenstown is similar to Wanaka in that there is a nice lake with a gorgeous mountain view, no skyscrapers obstructing the scenery, the town is easily walkable, and there are many nearby hikes and walks to do for free.
The difference? Queenstown simply just has MORE. More to do, more to see, more shopping, more to eat & drink. In Queenstown I went on a gondola ride up a mountain, luge sledding, hiking, bungy jumping, and made multiple visits to the lake where my friends and I would watch live music, browse the outdoor market on the weekend, and drink (legally) on the shore.
You are given endless options in Queenstown. My favorite part was definitely the nightlife though. Queenstown is the best place in New Zealand for bar hopping, dancing, and finding a cheap drink. We stumbled upon a bar that sold pints & wells for only $4 NZD (that’s $2.75 USD, people!!). Shout out to the bar 1876 who def took most of my money while I was in QT.
The entire month leading up to this town, all I would hear about is how great Queenstown is… I would nod and smile, but in my head I was thinking, “We’ll see about that.” Why was this place getting so much hype?? I was expecting it to be a cool place, sure, but I was skeptical. Then I got there, and after exploring a bit, I finally understood.
Also, I discovered Fergburger in Queenstown. I’d love to tell you all about the exciting food I had in QT, but the truth is, Fergburger was so good that I ate here literally everyday. Their menu was so vast that I wanted to try everything! They also had a bakery right next door, and I had a lox bagel there that is honestly the best bagel I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously, the hype is real, y’all!! I will say that while walking around, I did notice a wide variety of places to eat including Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc. But still… if you don’t go to Fergburger, you’re missing out!
Wow I really just wrote an entire chunk of this post about a burger place.
Spend as much time as you can in here; you won’t be disappointed.
When I go back to New Zealand someday, you can bet I’ll be flying directly into this magical place.
Use the code KIWIRACHEL10 to get an extra 10% off any of the Kiwi Experience passes (even those that are already on sale) for your next trip to New Zealand!
This post was sponsored by Kiwi Experience; all opinions, as always, are my own!