Just like most backpackers, New Zealand had been on my bucket list for a while. After months of checking Skyscanner continuously, my shaky finger finally placed that 600 euro mouse click and I booked a ticket. I hopped on a plane 5 weeks later. After arriving in New Zealand it literally took me a few weeks to recover from my jetlag and to get used to the ridiculous time difference with the homeland (12 hours). Now almost 5 months later, I can cross New Zealand off my bucket list and feel confident to recommend you some places you definitely need to include on your New Zealand itinerary.
An hour west from Auckland you’ll find a gorgeous little town called Piha. I might be a little bit biased due to the fact that Piha was my first stop after Auckland, but there’s something about this place I didn’t find anywhere else yet. Piha stole my heart the second I arrived. Especially if you’re from the city Piha’s dramatic hills and beaches will impress you. The black, volcanic beaches, cliffs and rainforests make Piha the ideal location for a getaway from the big city.
What I loved most about Piha was the quietness and serenity of the place. If you’re tired of the hustle and bustle of Auckland, Piha will get you back to zen in a matter of hours.
Tip: Don’t cancel your hike when the weather is bad. Piha is beautiful when the sun is out but during a storm Piha makes for spectacular scenic photo opportunities.
#2. Cathedral Cove
This one might be a cliche, but it’s definitely a cliche for a reason. I was super excited to visit Cathedral Cove after dribbling over all the images I’d seen on Google, and it did not disappoint. Cathedral Cove is a famous tourist spot in a town called Hahei on the Coromandel. Cathedral Cove is named after the arch in the massive rock on the beach, and during low tide it’s possible to walk through the arch to the other side of the beach. It’s one of the most scenic spots of New Zealand in my opinion. It’s definitely worth the hour long hike that takes you there and spoils you with some stunning views along the way.
Tip: Because it’s so popular it’s recommended to visit Cathedral Cove early in the morning to avoid the mass and to actually be able to take some nice pictures without people in them.
#3. Waiheke Island
I went to visit Waiheke Island for three days and ended up staying for 5 weeks. Waiheke Island is an island 40 minutes away from Auckland by ferry, but it feels like you’re visiting a different country. Filled with vineyards, wineries, secluded beaches, amazing hikes and even zip lining activities, Waiheke is definitely worth a visit. Check out Oneroa, the centre of Waiheke where you can enjoy a beer while looking straight at The Coromandel. This view is especially beautiful during a sunset. For some reason the weather is always better on Waiheke than it is in Auckland.
Tip: Drive up to Cable Bay during sunset time for a picturesque view of mountains, sheep and the Auckland tower.
Wanaka is a little town on the South Island, close to Queenstown. I felt like Wanaka was Queenstown’s little sister; less crowded but a little bit more breathtaking. In Wanaka I had one of those “Oh my god, I’m actually in New Zealand” moments. I am from The Netherlands, so whenever I see a hill that’s slightly larger than the average dune, I get excited. You can imagine the eye candy I was in for when I arrived in Wanaka (read: gorgeous mountains). The best thing about Wanaka is the hiking trail to Roy’s Peak, a tough hike with no shade along the trail, hiking mostly uphill. The views along the way and especially at the top are amazing and make up for all the blood, sweat and tears you shed to get there. Back in Wanaka you can relax by the water, rent a kayak and paddle about.
Tip: Seriously, go hike up to Roy’ s Peak. The internet might put you off because everyone says it’s a bloody tough hike, but it’s so worth it. Put your Nike’s on and just do it, you WILL regret it if you don’t.
Abel Tasman might be on the beaten track, but that doesn’t make it any less special. Kaiteriteri is a town in the Tasman Region and is a great place for some water fun. Renting a kayak from the beach of Kaiteriteri for a few hours is a nice way to explore and gives you the freedom to stop along all the gorgeous secluded bays. Hop out of your kayak (which sounds easier than it actually is) at Towers Bay and check out the spooky caves and Split Apple Rock, a cool geological rock formation, which you might have guessed by its name, looks like an apple cut in half.
Tip: A lot of companies try to sell guided kayak tours, which are far more expensive than actually renting a kayak yourself. I personally loved being able to plan the day ourselves and to get out and back in the water whenever we wanted.