New Zealand’s Best Natural Wonders

It could be said that New Zealand is a natural wonder in itself. Forged with fiery volcanoes, cooled by epic icy glaciers, its shores have been pummelled by the Tasman Sea and gently lapped by the South Pacific. Nature’s extreme forces have woken ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ from its ocean bed and brought this shining, multi-faceted jewel to life. Aotearoa’s myriad islands of ancient forests, mighty rivers, emerald-green ranges, thermal fields, and clear mountain lakes, entice the traveller and nature lovers with a list of stellar destinations. From pristine wilderness to flawless marine environments, the best of New Zealand’s magnificent natural highlights will stir an endless sense of awe.

Milford Sound, Fiordland

Everything is larger than life in Fiordland, New Zealand’s most scenic and timeless region. In a landscape sculpted during the last Ice Age, the steep glacier-carved valleys of the Southern Alps set the stage for the staggering beauty of Milford Sound. Snow-capped mountains rise above its waters as colossal waterfalls crash into its chilly depths, while rugged forests greening dizzying cliffs complete the picture. All this drama was perfectly described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and would be considered, in most books, as the South Island’s unrivalled top natural attraction. 

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Majestic and unforgettable, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are a mind-blowing set of twins to encounter. The Franz Josef Glacier is a magical vision of tunnels, caves and crevasses stretching across a vast distance. As both ascend from temperate rainforest at the valley floor into the Southern Alps, icy formations in this phenomenal World Heritage Area shift from pure white to a breathtaking blue. The Fox Glacier is closer to the foothills of Aoraki/Mount Cook and no less impressive at first sight. Head towards nearby Lake Matheson for the best viewing of this 12-kilometre glacial ribbon. A special bonus: the stunning mountain lake happens to be one of the most widely photographed in New Zealand. Capture your own spectacular portrait of the country’s highest peak in its dark, inky reflection.

Whakaari / White Island

Tucked away in the idyllic Eastern Bay of Plenty, New Zealand’s most active volcano lies 48-kilometres off-shore from the sleepy oasis of Whakatane. A hidden gem if there ever was one, the bulk of Whakaari’s mass is submerged deep beneath warm, crystal waters, while its crater pops up 321-metres above the sea in the form of a circular island. The Bay’s sun-drenched shoreline receives regular smoke signals in the form of billowing wisps emitted from the volcano’s stack. While White Island cannot be visited by boat, scenic flights over the island are available.

Rotorua hot springs
Rotorua

For volcanic elements dialled down from ferocious to magical, be spellbound by Rotorua’s hydrothermal wonderland of erupting, simmering, bubbling, hissing and steaming waters, courtesy of thousands of years of overheated activity. The attractions may be a bit on the whiffy side, but the sulphurous smells come with the territory. The vivid and diverse natural features at Wai-O-Tapu must be seen to be believed, including the eye-popping, rainbow-hued Champagne Pool; a geyser that shoots 20-metres into the air; and the largest mud pool in the land. Pohutu at Te Puia is New Zealand’s most hyper-active geyser – blowing off steam around twenty times a day. Don’t miss the luminous green and blue arena of Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the youngest geothermal valley in the world. 

Tane Mahuta, Waipoua Forest

On the west coast of Northland lives an enchanted native forest – one of the largest still existing, with rare birds nestled in towering branches. Such is the stuff of fairy tales. Which brings us to the last natural wonder on this short list. Deserving of the reverential title of ‘The Lord of the Forest’, Tane Mahuta comes with some impressive measurements. Boasting an estimated age range of between 1,500 to over 2,000 years old, this ancient giant kauri tree stands at 51-metres tall with a waistline of 4.4-metres and is remarkably still growing. The Waipoua Forest is also home to ‘The Father of the Forest’ – Te Mahuta Ngahere – another living kauri that is thought to be an astounding 3,000 years old. Superlative in every way, this pair of New Zealand’s largest and oldest trees are made more wondrous through a heritage steeped with Māori legends and songs – connecting nature’s glory with the significance of spiritual roots. 

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