Is New Zealand Overrated? 7 Tourist traps you should not avoid
We’ve all been there, checking Google or your Lonely Planet for the coolest spots, only to find out that they are overpriced, overcrowded and overrated when you get there. Yup, the oh so familiar tourist traps that most travellers try to avoid like the plague. But what if we told you that some tourist traps in New Zealand are actually well worth a visit?
We’ve put together a list of of places in New Zealand that we thought would be overrated but lived up to the hype. These are the tourist traps that we’ve encountered in New Zealand that we think you shouldn’t avoid. In fact, we highly recommend checking them out!
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The biggest tourist trap and most expensive place in New Zealand is undisputably Queenstown, but there is a reason why so many people get stuck in Queenstown; it is A LOT of fun! When Zi first came to Queenstown, she didn’t leave until two years later. Queenstown has the reputation of the adrenaline capital of New Zealand, and with basically every extreme activity you can possibly imagine, like bungee jumping, sky diving, jet boating, snowboarding & skiing, paragliding and mountain biking available, it more than lives up to that reputation. Combine that with countless hiking possibilities, the most scenic drive to Glenorchy, a buzzing town center and its location next to a beautiful lake in the most stunning mountain valley, makes it a place you really do not want to leave.
When you arrive at Cape Reinga and you didn’t get here ridiculously early, you’ll probably see groups of people swarming around the Cape Reinga lighthouse. While it is a cool sight to see the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean clash, we think the cliffs in the surrounding area are much more spectacular. Walk towards the lighthouse and you’ll see the road split when you’re about halfway there. Take a left at this intersection and 5 minutes in you’ll probably be all by yourself while the cliffside views are just getting better and better. Most people don’t drive north from Auckland, but we can assure you that Cape Reinga is a worthwhile addition to your New Zealand North Island itinerary. We recommend combining a visit to Cape Reinga with an overnight stay at the nearby Spirits Bay that lies in a beautiful valley and has a pure white sandy beach.
The Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove
During the Christmas holidays, it seems like every living soul on the North Island rushes to the Coromandel Peninsula for their holiday getaway, and we can see why. The drive around the peninsula alone already provides enough scenery to talk about for a week, but the most picturesque spot has to be Cathedral Cove. An hour-long walk takes you over cliff tops and then descends to this secluded sandy cove making you feel like Leonardi Di Caprio in a scene out of The Beach. A massive and incredibly photogenic archway provides access to the other side of the beach. Cathedral Cove is always busy, but its beauty completely outweighs the crowds. Want to find out about all the other spots in the Coromandel too? Read our full Coromandel guide!
Rotorua is best known for its geothermal geysers and hot pools, and the smell of rotten eggs caused by the sulfur gasses coming from the ground. There are several attractions showcasing these volcanic marvels, some of them, like the Kuirau Park in town, are free. Others, like the main tourist attraction; Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, you have to pay for. We liked them both, but Wai-O-Tapu is definitely more impressive and more diverese. This 18 square kilometer park is packed with geothermal phenomenon - from mud pools to craters and the iconic champagne pools. At 10:15 in the morning the Lady Knox Geyser erupts, and there’s steam and bubbling sounds wherever you go. The scenery really is something out of this world! For an even better experience we reccommend visiting Rotorua on a cloudy or cold day - the steam rolling over the boiling hot water will be more visible and the smell of sulfur will be milder. Read our Rotorua guide for more suggestions on what to do in Rotorua.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is arguably the most rewarding, but without a doubt the busiest day hike in New Zealand. The 19.4 km long track is designed for about 800 people a day, but on busy days up to 3000 people walk in a line from one end to the other. Don’t let this discourage you though, the hike offers some of the most diverse and scenic views you will find in a day hike, making it worth every single step. On top of that there are quite a few shooting locations of the Lord of the Rings movies (like Mount Doom in the picture above) alongside the track, making fans like Tom jump around like a kid in a candy store.
Hooker Valley Track / Mount Cook
Mount Cook has to be New Zealand’s most iconic landmark, making it a stop on almost any tourist’s itinerary and rightfully so. It is almost impossible not to be in awe when you’re driving towards Mount Cook alongside the massive and unbelievably blue Lake Pukaki. The Mount Cook campground is the starting point for multiple hikes of varying lenght. The most popular one, and the one that we like best is the Hooker Valley Track. It takes you over swingbridges through the winding valley showing incredible views almost every step of the way, ending at the glacial Hooker Lake right under Mount Cook. Even if you’re not into hiking, the Hooker Valley Track is a must to include in your New Zealand South Island itinerary.
Milford Sound is a mission to get to and its swarming with sandflies but still it attracts a million visitors a year. That’s because it is a jaw dropping sight you’ll never forget. Many people say that it is the most beautiful thing they have ever seen and it is often dubbed the 8th wonder of the world. The drive up to Milford Sound through the Fiordlands is an incredibly scenic drive that will probably take you all day because you’ll want to stop to take in the views around every corner. Other than taking a cruise (or a scenic flight if you want to splurge) over Milford Sound there isn’t much to do there, and its a massive undertaking to get to, but we’ll promise that you won’t regret a single minute of it.
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Sometimes tourist traps aren’t worth it, and we are absolutely for avoiding the crowds and finding your own adventure, but often a tourist hotspot is famous for a very good reason and when it does actually live up to the hype, you should not miss out on it! The above are the hotspots that we think are worth a visit. How about you?
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