Top 10 destinations in New Zealand

By Lachlan Probyn,

If you’re hoping to discover some of New Zealand’s hidden gems, rest assured we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve pooled together more than 175 million user ratings to identify the most loved destinations in New Zealand.

From the historic architecture blessing Kerikeri to the scenic vineyards adorning Cromwell, these places are just a stone’s throw away from your very own backyard, and well worth the visit.

1. Kerikeri

If you fancy brushing up against some of New Zealand’s most historical sites, a trip to Kerikeri should be pencilled into your itinerary. This quaint subtropical town topped the list for New Zealand’s best destinations in the trivago Awards, and it’s easy to see why. If you want to pay homage to New Zealand’s rich history, stroll into the famous Stone Store, and pick up some classically branded Kiwiana products. Built by Wesleyen Missionary, John Hobbs, between 1832 and 1836, the Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest operating store.

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Quite literally a hop, skip, and a jump from the Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest house, Kemp House. Once serving as a Mission House and dating back to 1821, Kemp House is the ideal haunt in which to explore New Zealand’s yesteryear. Standing side by side, enduring history together like a King and Queen, these two buildings are architectural royalty in New Zealand.

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Kemp Mission House | Photo by russellstreet (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For all those foodies out there, you’ll be pleased to know Kerikeri boasts a robust culinary industry. If you’re looking for a touch of refinement for your next meal, you can’t surpass award winning Marsden Estate. Named after Samuel Marsden who introduced the first grapevine to New Zealand, and made 100 plantings in Kerikeri in 1819, Marsden Estate is the ideal place to unwind and appreciate some quality food, and of course a couple of drops – or glasses, of wine!

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Rainbow Falls, Kerkeri | Photo by russellstreet (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you’re still feeling the carbs from the night before, burn off any discomfort with a hefty bushwalking hike to the spectacular Rainbow Falls. The hike takes roughly 1.5 hours, but the stunning end result of the cascading falls will be well worth the sweat.

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2. Martinborough

Are you ready to quaff luxury wines in breathtaking surrounds? What about strolling through olive groves and frolicking through fragrant lavender fields? All of this and more is possible at one of New Zealand’s crowning jewels, Martinborough.

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Just 65 kilometres from Wellington, Martinborough is a sommelier’s paradise, offering roughly 20 vineyards to tantalise the palette. While New Zealand may be well known for its good drop of Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough has long been revered for its smooth Pinot Noir. If you’d rather ditch the vehicle, why not hire a bike from Wairarapa Cycle Hire and Tours and explore the wineries on two wheels?

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Pinot Noir | Photo by Stefano Lubiana (CC BY 2.0)

Not a fan of wine? While such a thing is near taboo in a town like Martinborough, locals will forgive you if you’d rather sample some freshly poured ale at the Martinborough Brewery. Founded by two friends, Hayden Frew and Stephen Fox, this boutique brewery serves creative takes on the humble ale including the Foxy Red or the Hop Elixir. With names like that, you’re just beckoned to try!

 

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In the Vines | Photo by Ruairidh an Dorcha (CC BY 2.0)

As much as we all love a good Sunday session with our beverage of choice, let’s face it, alcohol can dehydrate the skin. Fret not! Martygirl Skinfood has gone from one of Martinborough’s best kept secrets to the town’s go-to destination . The products are homemade by Adi McMaster who blends herbs, flowers, olive oil, and manuka honey to create a refreshing line of products. Better yet, you can take one of the workshops and make three personalised products to take home with you!

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3. Hanmer Springs

You don’t need to venture all the way to the Austrian Alps to spend an afternoon bathing in a warm spring, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

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For a refreshing dip, head to Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. Bathe in the naturally heated, mineral rich waters, or otherwise go all out and indulge in one of the dreamy spa treatments. Just 90 minutes out of Christchurch, decadence has never been so easy! If you’re a little guilty about your sweet tooth, Hanmer Springs will only make things worse – but in the right sense. The South Island can get a little chilly, but that doesn’t mean we need to say goodbye to the afternoon ice-cream ritual. Si Gelato specialises in homemade gelato and sorbet with flavours that are quite simply molto buono!

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If you’re still hungry for more, your sweet craving will be remedied at the Decadent Fudge Co, which doubles as a clothes store. Owned by Mick and Sue O’Callaghan, the couple relocated from Nelson in 2013 to create a fudge and clothing shop in one – could there ever be a better a pairing?

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High and Mighty | Photo by Bernard Spragg

As much as we all love to eat and relax in thermal springs, Hanmer Springs also makes for the perfect outdoor playground. Explore your adventurous side with some forest hiking, mountain biking, or even a spot of skiing during the ski season. Still looking to boost your adrenaline? Go jet boating down the Waiau River at 80 kilometres per hour with Hanmer Springs Jet, and experience New Zealand’s beauty from the fast lane.

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4. Havelock North

Situated at the base of the spectacular 399-metre Te Mata Peak, Havelock North is a sight to behold from the outset. Arguably the heart of the Hawke’s Bay region, Havelock North boasts scenic landscapes and a mix of quality restaurants and wineries certain to keep you entertained for days. If you’re hoping to bid “I do” to your respective other, this is THE ideal destination thanks to its stellar line-up of wedding venues that are simply made for romance.

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Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay | Photo by itravelNZ (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re not in the mood for swooning, and you’d rather just get out of the city for a weekend of culinary indulgence, treat yourself to a meal at St George’s Restaurant. Owned and hosted by award-winning Chef, Francky Godhino, St George’s pairs elegant provincial architecture with a relaxed familial vibe. The menu is diverse, incorporating organic and sustainable meats, alongside seasonal fruits and vegetables which are hand-grown and picked by Francky himself.

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Havelock North Te Mata Vineyard | Photo by Phillip Capper (CC BY 2.0)

Over the years, Havelock North has built its industry around fruit and wine production thanks to the neighbouring orchards and vineyards. If you’re in the mood for a drop or two of wine, head on one of the Hawkes Bay Wine Trails, and explore some of 90 different wineries which are renowned for crisp chardonnays and earthy reds.

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5. Russell

The first site of European settlement in New Zealand, Russell is just made for all those die hard history buffs. As you walk through this hidden gem, marvel at the street names which are all still intact from 1843. As well as its street names, Russell is also home to some of New Zealand’s oldest buildings certain to take you back in time.

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When in Russell, a trip to The Gables goes without saying. Listed under the Historic Places Trust, The Gables has gone from a bordello, to bakery, and even a hiding place for sailors who had jumped ship. Today, The Gables is New Zealand’s oldest operating restaurant and offers spectacular water views alongside seafood, whole fish, and beef and lamb. If you can’t secure a table at The Gables, fear not as neighbouring restaurant The Duke of Marlborough guarantees some tasty fare thanks to its award-winning chef who concentrates on a menu of seasonal Northland produce.

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Russell The Gables Restaurant | Photo by itravelNZ (CC BY 2.0)

Feeling a tad guilty after all the carbs? Why not kick start your morning with a scenic nature walk through the Bay of Islands region and simply breathe in the serenity? Walks last up to two hours, and sightings of the North Island Weka are almost certain to feature. Russell is one of New Zealand’s last areas to house these little guys, so keep an eye out and pack the polaroid!

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6. Whakatane

Situated at the mouth of the scenic Whakatane River, with the dramatic backdrop of White Island, Whakatane is the kind of place that’s just made for Instagram. The city is a regular contender for the title of sunshine capital of New Zealand (it held the title in 2014 and was runner up in 2015), making it the perfect place for those hoping to lap up some golden sunshine for a relaxed weekend getaway.

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White Island | Photo by whakatane.com

Rich in Maori history, Whakatane is home to Mataatua Wharenui, a Maori meeting house which is now affectionately referred to as ‘the house that came home’. Built in 1875, Mataatua Wharenui is New Zealand’s most-travelled and repatriated house, stopping in Sydney, Melbourne, and even the U.K. In 2011, the meeting house came home to Whakatane and was rebuilt on its original site. Today, 1.5-hour tours are available, which delve into the rich Maori history.

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White Island tours | Photo by whakatane.com

If you fancy a bit of a sea change – in the literal sense – take one of the chartered boats from Whakatane and head to New Zealand’s only active volcano island, White Island. Join one of the White Island Tours, and experience a 1 – 1.5-hour discovery of the island’s active geothermal steam vents and mud pools.

You don’t have to go to Italy or France to enjoy wood-fired pizza and freshly baked pastries. Chez Louis has it covered with its delectable mix of meat, vegetarian, and fish pizzas alongside an assortment of freshly made croissants and pain au chocolat. Delicieux!

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7. Arrowtown

Are you ready for a golden kind of experience in New Zealand? If so, a visit to the quaint former gold rush town of Arrowtown should feature in your itinerary. Nestled by the sparkling Arrow River, and just a 25-minute drive from Queenstown, Arrowtown is the quieter stepsister that perfectly blends history, nature, and serenity. Whether you want a weekend of culinary indulgence or you’d prefer to get outside on one of the area’s acclaimed nature walks, this place caters to all tastes.

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Old Buildings Autumn | Photo by Arrowtown Promotion and Business Association

Arrowtown’s pulse is Buckingham Street, which is lined with heritage buildings and tiny miners’ cottages that evoke feelings of the town’s affluent yesteryear. For your one-stop shop for coffee, brunch, or supplies, Provisions of Arrowtown is your best bet. This artisan bakery and store offers a homemade selection of tasty chutney, jams, and preserves. Our tip is to go for the award-winning cherry chutney, which is just plain yum!

Arrowtown historic miners cottage | Arrowtown Promotion and Business Association

If you’re planning to woo your respective other and you want to up the ante for your next meal out, The Millhouse Restaurant simply beckons you. Located in Millbrook Resort, this upscale restaurant is the gleeful recipient of four consecutive New Zealand Beef and Lamb Awards. Executive Chef, Andi Bozhiqi, and his team offer a seasonal menu using ingredients from local farmers and artisans.

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8. Cromwell

For those looking for a serving of rolling hills and prolific vineyards, with a side of charming architectural heritage, Cromwell is a recipe for success. Set in the heart of Central Otago, Cromwell struck gold – quite literally – with its natural beauty and location. With a myriad of award-winning wineries pouring up Pinot Noir, as well as a host of walking and cycling tracks, Cromwell is the kind of place you won’t want to leave anytime soon.

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If you’re ready to step back in time, head to the historic Cromwell Precinct. Located on the banks of beautiful Lake Dunstan, the precinct features a charming mix of historic buildings, some of which date back to the 1860s. For all those proud art buffs out there, a visit to the Hullabaloo Art Space is essential. Showcasing solo and group exhibitions of Kiwi artists, this gallery injects a creative touch to the Cromwell Precinct.

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Cromwell – Central Otago | Photo by Bernard Spragg

Whether it’s summer, winter, or spring, Italian food never goes out of season. Fortunately, you can indulge in the likes of hearty lasagna and authentic risotto at Armando’s Kitchen. Open from 9am – 4pm, this is the ideal kind of place in which to spend a long, afternoon lunch. And the best bit? Armando’s is famous for its award-winning, locally produced gelato, so you don’t need to venture elsewhere for dessert.

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 9. Takaka

Takaka Hill is famous for its rolling marble hills, limestone caves, and sinkholes. It also made a cameo appearance in The Lord of the Rings. Just over the hill, you will find the alternative town of Takaka. Situated on the banks of the Takaka River, and just under a two-hour drive from Nelson, this charming town is ideal for all those seeking a piece of the outdoors.

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If your idea of a weekend getaway involves a serene walk beside natural bubbling waters, head to the famous Waikoropupu Springs. Acclaimed for being the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand, and considered spiritually significant by the Maori people, the ‘Pupu Springs’ is a harmonious place. It is also said the springs have the clearest water visibility in the world after Antarctica’s saltwater Weddell Sea.

If you’re the kind of person who likes their food fresh from the water to the plate, partake on a fishing adventure with Anatoki Salmon Fishing. Go fishing on the Anatoki Lake with the pros and catch your very own salmon for lunch. Entry, rods, and bait are free, and you simply pay for the team to clean, fillet, and cook your fish once you return to their café.

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10. Alexandra

Alexandra is situated on the banks of the Clutha River, and is known for being an extreme kind of gal. In winter she sends chills, being referred to by the other kids on In summer, Alexandra really turns the heat up and proudly holds the reputation as New Zealand’s hottest go-to destination. Whether you like it hot or cold, Alexandra will show you a good time.

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Alexandra | Photo by Sue Noble-Adams alexandra.co.nz

Alexandra has a long history of gold mining which dates back to the 1860s. While the mining industry is well and truly gone today, the town still evokes the charm of its golden days, with a peppering of historic buildings, ornate stone bridges, and local art studios. We told you Alexandra would deliver!

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River through Alexandra | Photo by Christine Gourley alexandra.co.nz

Thanks to the unique land of the Central Otago region, the robust wine production industry is acclaimed for serving a premium drop. Alexandra is no exception to the region’s reputation, offering a host of wineries including the world’s southernmost winery. When it comes to wine, we all have our favourite blends, but if you have a penchant for a good red, you’ll be pleased to know Pinot Noir is the specialty of the Central Otago region. For an A-list kind of experience, head to Judge Rock Winery and quaff the award-winning Pinot Noir wine, made by the Jacobson-Chiaroni family.

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Looking for somewhere in New Zealand to crash? Check out the country’s top 20 hotels.

Cover image: Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay | Photo by itravelNZ (CC BY 2.0)