New Zealand, stunning bucket list destination: 18 breathtaking photos

Paco Tantoco
New Zealand, stunning bucket list destination: 18 breathtaking photos
Bucket list-worthy experiences in one of the most beautiful countries on earth

As an outdoor junkie and amateur photographer, I find it difficult to imagine a travel destination more perfect than the South Island of New Zealand. It’s as picturesque as it is exciting, with every beautiful location presenting another unique opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. 

NEW ZEALAND. Photo by Paco Tantoco

#1 Rent a camper van and drive the South Island

HAPPY CAMPERS. Sunrise at the RV park in Punaikiki township, a small costal community.

During the first few days of my trip, I decided to rent a camper van so as to see as many of the sights as possible. With so many places on my itinerary, this turned out to be an excellent decision. Not only was it convenient to have my very own hotel room on wheels, but it also gave me the freedom to stop and explore the many different hiking trails scattered throughout the South Island.

PARK & HIKE. One of New Zealand'€™s many roadside hiking areas, the St. James Walkway.

Thankfully, driving the long stretches of road never felt like a chore. Lengthy road trips were more enjoyable than they were arduous because every bend in the road revealed another postcard-worthy view.

THE SCENIC ROUTE. The winding road to Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand.

#2 Trek the non-tropical beaches and rainforests at Punaikiki

I hadn’t expected to find many beaches and rainforests in a country famous for its snowcapped mountains, and so my stop at Punaikiki, a small coastal town, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Though vastly different from the sunny, tropical seashores of the Philippines, New Zealand’s coastlines are beautiful in their own right. I found the beach strolls and rainforest hikes incredibly relaxing, especially since I was able to do both without breaking a sweat. No heat and humidity? No problem. 

LUNAR SUNRISE. Daybreak over the Tasman Sea, as seen from Punaikiki.

JURASSIC WORLD. A freshwater river runs through an ancient rainforest near Punaikiki.

Foodie tip: make time in your schedule for a meal at the Punaikiki Tavern. They make the best garlic bread ever.

#3 Crawl through an ice cave at Franz Josef Glacier

FROZEN. One of the many ice tunnels inside the glacier.

What was it like to walk on a 7000 year-old glacier, weaving around towers of ice, sipping glacial water, and crawling through frozen caves? In a word, cool. Intensely, immensely cool. 

SLIPPERY WHEN WET. Hikers use crampons and hiking sticks to keep from slipping.

After being dropped of by helicopter, which is the only way to get onto the glacier itself, I was given crampons (metal spikes for my shoes) and two hiking sticks to help me keep my footing on the icy terrain. It was surprisingly warm up on the glacier – although that may have been attributable to the four jackets and thermal pants that I was asked to wear. 

ICE PATTERNS. Time and changing weather conditions have sculpted the glacier ice into beautiful, mesmerizing shapes.

#4 Stay at a lakeside town

Part of the quintessential New Zealand experience is spending a couple of nights at one of the country’s lakeside towns. Whether it’s Queenstown – the adventure capital of New Zealand – or a smaller town like Wanaka, you’re sure to find something exciting to do.  

LAKE WANAKA. This sunken tree is one of Lake Wanaka'€™s most famous tourist spots. It'€™s so famous, in fact, that it shows up on Google Maps as 'That Wanaka Tree.'

These towns are so enchanting that many of the local residents I met on my trip had come to New Zealand as visitors, fallen in love with the place, and just… never left. Even after years of living in these relatively small towns, they’re still in love with their outdoorsy lifestyles. Mountain biking, bungee jumping, hiking, kayaking, rafting, camping – you name it. If it has anything to do with nature, you’ll find it at these towns.

QUEENSTOWN. Sunset at Queenstown, which is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Foodie tip: while you’re at Queenstown, make sure to grab a juicy burger at FergBurger and some freshly baked cookies at Cookie Time. Both are famous among the locals, and for good reason. They’re delicious.

#5 Summit the unbelievably beautiful Roy’s Peak 

I’ve been on my fair share of hikes both inside and outside the Philippines, but in terms of having drop-dead gorgeous views, this one easily takes the cake. 

STUNNER. The famous saddle atop Roy'€™s Peak. Make sure to climb on a clear, sunny day so you get an unobstructed view.

A mere 10-minute drive from Lake Wanaka (or a 90-minute drive from Queenstown), Roy’s peak is definitely worth a day trip. At nearly 1,600 meters above sea level, it’s tall enough to grant you a stunning panorama of the surrounding countryside, but not so tall that it will require an overnight stay. I made it to the top and down in one afternoon, and though it was challenging at some points, the view was totally, totally worth it. 

PANORAMIC. The view on the way up Roy'€™s Peak.

#6 Tour Milford Sound by air & sea

Dubbed as one of the world’s 100 most beautiful destinations by National Geographic, Milford Sound definitely lives up to its title. The 19-kilometer fjord – a narrow channel of water bordered by high cliffs – is a natural wonder in and of itself. With towering peaks, pristine blue waters, roaring waterfalls, and even the occasional sea lion, it’s a marvel to behold.

ALL ABOARD. One of the many cruise ships that tours the fjord.


LEAKING LIGHT. Sunlight spilling over the mountains at Milford Sound.


If you’re given the chance, opt to take the scenic flight to and from the fjord. It’s surreal. You’ll fly over several Lord of the Rings filming locations (which your pilot will point out) and an endless sea of snowcapped mountains, stretching out as far as the eye can see. 

ENDLESS. The awe-inspiring view from one of the scenic flights to and from Milford Sound.

#7 Enjoy the views at Mt. Cook National Park

Of all the places I visited during my stay in New Zealand, Mt. Cook National Park was my favorite. Not only did the rolling fields and mountain ranges make for dramatic views all around, but its status as the largest dark sky reserve in the world meant that each night was bursting with stars. If seeing the Milky Way with your naked eyes is on your bucket list, this is the place to be.

DRAMATIC VIEWS. Winding roads, rolling green fields and snowy mountains in Mt. Cook National Park.

STARSTRUCK. The Milky Way over the mountains at Mt. Cook National Park. The local resort offers nightly stargazing tours, which allow you look at distant planets through high-powered telescopes.


Do you feel an itch to visit New Zealand after seeing these breathtaking photos? Click here to have a look at awesome travel deals that can help you when you go on the adventure of your life.

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