New Zealand is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and instagramers. These are the most instagrammable places in New Zealand. With an incredible mix of mountains, coastline, lakes, and rivers, New Zealand has stunning beauty. There are hundreds of amazing photo opportunities unlike anywhere else in the world. We narrowed it down to our fifteen favorite spots.
Most Instagrammable Places in New Zealand
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
Coromandel is a peninsula 2.5 hours south of Auckland. Coromandel is one of the best spots in the north island. This hilly peninsula has scenic beaches and coves to explore. Cathedral Cove is the highlight of Coromandel, but it is worth exploring for a couple of days. Other sights include Hot Water Beach, New Chumms Beach and the Karangahake Gorge. Make sure to go to Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove at low tide.
Pouakai Tarns, Mount Taranaki
Pouakai Tarns is a 5-hour return hike. Windy conditions often do not allow for a reflection, but when they do, this is a special place. The hike to the summit of Mount Taranaki is rewarding and has stunning views. Our favorite spot to photograph the stunning volcano is from Pouakai Tarns, a 5-hour hike.
Three Sisters and the Elephant, Tongaporutu
The Elephant was partly destroyed in the 2011 earthquake and no longer has its trunk. The Three Sisters nearby are also incredible to photograph. With many photo ops to explore, get out here early before sunset to find your favorite spot. There are also some really cool caves to get some unique photos. This beach is only accessible at low tide and very slippery on the way out. Also, check out the White Cliffs Walkway nearby (low tide only).
Taranaki Falls, Tongariro
The Tongariro Crossing is the most popular hike in New Zealand. The crossing itself is the highlight of Tongariro, but it does miss one special gem. Before or after the hike, we recommend going to Taranaki Falls, a 45-minute walk from Whakapaka Village.
Ohh where to start. I guess with this statement. This was our favorite beach in New Zealand, and one of the most picturesque we have seen ANYWHERE in the world. How about that? The photo ops are endless. From the sand dunes on the way to the beach, to the seal pups who swim near the rocks in the shallow pools during the low tide, it would be enough to make this list. But it keeps going. Come during low tide and walk down to the end of the beach. Mid-way, there is a cave on the back wall. Head into the cave for a shot so famous it became the background for Windows. If you keep going to the end of the beach, the rocks look completely different, with arches that you cannot see from earlier viewpoints. Also for a fun tip, at the end of the beach are mussels all along the rocks that are exposed at low tide. Bring a bag and grab a handful and make yourself a fresh mussel pasta for dinner. Yumm!
Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud
When in New Zealand it is required to get a picture of a pier. With so many to choose from, Lake Rotoiti was our favorite. Within Nelson Lakes National Park, it is one hour and 15 minutes from Nelson. The main draw to the park is the multi-day hike to Blue Lake, but a stop to view these scenic lakes and the pier is worth it alone.
Hokitika Gorge, West Coast
The Hokitika River beautifully carves through a forest with the most extraordinary emerald-green water. This is one of those Instagram famous places we had to go. It is 30 minutes inland from the town of Hokitika on the West Coast Highway on the south island. For those that are brave enough, jump from the swing bridge! The water is not cold, I swear…
Lake Matheson, West Coast
Lake Matheson is located near the Fox Glacier and is known to have excellent reflections of the mountains. It is best to come for sunrise when the water is usually still. Another great spot to check out is further down the road at Gillespie’s Beach.
Aoraki / Mount Cook
Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and the center of this park. We love this park for the amazing views and the number of glaciers that can be seen. It is a MUCH better option than Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier if you are not planning on hiking on the glaciers themselves. There are so many hikes in the area. The best is up to Mueller Hut, a 5-hour hike (return) that has panoramic views of the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook. Also check out the Hooker Valley Track, an easy grade 3-hour walk. Mount Cook is known as the best place in New Zealand for astrophotography.
Roy’s Peak, Wanaka
Roy’s Peak is one of New Zealand’s most famous Instagram spots. It is located just outside of Wanaka. Do not be surprised for the long line up of people waiting to take that incredible shot. The hike is roughly 4-5 hours return. Don’t miss the Wanaka Tree in Wanaka, especially for sunset.
Gateway to Paradise Drive, Queenstown
The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, also known as the “Gateway to Paradise,” is one of the best drives in the world. The views along Lake Wakatipu are stunning, with an excellent stop at the Bennetts Bluff Lookout. Finish in the cute town of Glenorchy. Not too far away and views in the distance are the Routeburn Valley, home to the Routeburn Walk, one of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks.
Lake Marian is an alpine lake beneath Mount Christina. It is off the Milford Sound Road roughly 40 minutes from the Milford Sound. This 2-3 hour hike (return) treks through lush rainforest and leads up to this stunning lake. Mount Christina and surrounding peaks towering above making this an unforgettable place and ideal for Instagram.
No list in New Zealand could be complete without Milford Sound. Not only is the sound itself picturesque, the drive in from Te Anau is one of the best drives in the country. Walk around the shoreline for some of the best Instagram worthy views of Mitre Peak. A great option to explore the sound is going on a 2-3 boat cruise. You get up close to several waterfalls and can often see dolphins.
Nugget Point, The Caitlins
The short walk out to the lighthouse leads to an incredible display of huge rock formations. This very unique lookout is one of our favorite coastal views in all of New Zealand. Also check out nearby waterfalls, McLean Falls and Pūrākaunui Falls.
Mount Aspiring National Park
This incredible national park has some of the most picturesque mountains in New Zealand. There are many hikes and viewpoints to choose from. For advanced hikers and photographers, this is the ultimate playground in New Zealand. So strap on those gaiters and get moving.
Why Should You Visit New Zealand
It’s not just the photo ops that make New Zealand great. The road trips are epic, the camping is endless, and the hiking is out of this world. We left off several of our favorite places in New Zealand because they are only accessible by foot. This list is composed of places that are all pretty easy to reach. A few may need a hike, such as Roy’s Peak or Lake Marian, but they are half-day hikes at the longest. Hiking in New Zealand brings you into the best landscape the country has to offer. We hiked over 800 kilometers (500 miles) throughout the north and south island. Most of the hiking, and definitely the best ones, are in the south island. Here are some suggested hikes based on difficulty, which include our favorite places in New Zealand:
Abel Tasman Coastal Track – I will leave this hike on here because it is EASY and it is very popular. Depending on who you are, you may love this hike, or you may hate this hike. We hated it. It was too much of a tourist highway with not enough coastal views. With that said, we are experienced hikers and prefer solitude. If you are a beginner hiker, this is a good one to start with. We think it is better to see Abel Tasman by renting a kayak and exploring the stunning coastline.
Milford Sound Track – This is the BEST easy hike you can do in New Zealand, but it’s also the hardest to score permits and by far the most expensive. The Milford Sound Track books out 6 months in advance, so planning ahead pretty far is the only way to do this hike in-season. We hiked out of season, 2 days after the season ended. It was free and absolutely amazing. The views are spectacular and this hike is famous for all the right reasons.
Tongariro Crossing or the 3-day Tongariro Northern Circuit – The crossing is the most popular day hike in New Zealand. Only 5 hours from Auckland, this full day hike is an alpine crossing with epic views. The famous Mount Ngauruhoe is a side trip, made famous as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.
Routeburn Track – This may be the most scenic of all the great walks. It is the shortest at 32 kms. If you are an experienced hiker, it is possible to do this in one-day, but it is a LONG day. We recommend staying one night at Lake McKenzie Hut for experienced hikers, or stay 2-3 nights if you don’t intend to hike that fast.
Kepler Track – This hike does not get as much love as Routeburn or Milford, but on a clear day, this hike has the best views of them all. With that said, clear days are not common. Often you hear stories of people hiking the ridge section for hours in the clouds with no views at all. It still would be a great hike, but not of the epic proportions on a clear day. For pictures on a clear day, check out the link for some photos from our hike!
Green Lake – The hike in to Green Lake is easy, but be ready for mud and wet feet. To make this hike more interesting (and moving it to moderate), don’t hike the same way out. Instead, take the unmarked route up to Mount Burns. This ridge above Green Lake has ridiculous views. The hike is pretty awesome, but completely unmarked. It is pretty obvious where to go (up the mountain!), but it would be a good idea to be prepared with a topo map for this one.
Mount Taranaki Summit Hike – This is one of the hardest hikes in New Zealand. The ascent is crazy steep. There are times on this hike that it is 2 steps forward 1 step back. Slipping downhill will happen. On top of that, weather can turn real fast and become deadly on this track. Seriously, people have died and get rescued all the time. But it’s still one of the best hikes. Plan on it taking 7 – 9 hours.
Cascade Saddle – The is our FAVORITE hike in New Zealand. The hike starts from the East Matukituki Valley by the Aspiring Hut. Stay one night in the valley with stunning views. You will need a full day to get over the saddle, one of the tougher climbs in NZ without needing technical gear. If it is wet or icy, do not attempt this. Sections are climbing up cliff faces. Views from the saddle to Mount Aspiring may be the best view of your life. The hike down into the Dart Valley passes right next to the Dart Glacier, one of our coolest experiences in NZ. You can literally touch the glacier. The rest of the hike does not touch the saddle, but it still is very scenic. We prefer going down the Rees Valley instead of the Dart Valley.
Gillespie’s Pass – The was our second favorite hike in New Zealand. It starts near a small town called Makarora. This hike has a river crossing, maybe a few depending on where you decide to go. It can be a serious crossing after rain and impassable, so make sure to take precautions. This circuit heads up the Young Valley to the pass on the second day. The dramatic peaks surrounding Mount Awful (the coolest mountain name ever) make this hike. One of the most scenic valleys and best huts in New Zealand is the Siberia Hut. A side trip to Crucible Lake is a must. Some hikers head up Lucidus Lake, a few days detour. The lakes in this area are some of the best in the country. The end of the hike is required to cross the Makarora River.
Travers – Sabine Circuit to Blue Lake – This hike is not very difficult in terms of the terrain as much as the hike. It is seven days long, so it is a long hike to prepare for. We took a detour up to the beautiful Angeles Hut to start the hike, and descended down into the valley to head up to Blue Lake, the clearest lake in the world.. Lake Constance just above it is even more scenic, can you believe that. The Travers Saddle is a tough climb and has stunning views. There are so many side trip options for this hike, you could stay here for two weeks. It was one of the better hikes in the south island. It can get some heavy traffic in the early and mid-hiking season because the Te Araroa trail goes down the Travers Valley.
Gertrude’s Saddle – This is a day-hike near Lake Marian and the Milford Sound. It is not very long and only took us a few hours to do. This hike can be extremely dangerous because of the rock on this hike. It is completely exposed and warn out, so the rock is very slippery. If it is wet or icy, I would not attempt this hike. The views from the top of the saddle are very impressive, as you can see all the way down to the Milford Sound and Tasman Sea.
How to Get Around in New Zealand
It depends how long you plan to stay in New Zealand. If you are coming for a short period, rent a car or campervan and pick a smaller area of the country to explore. We hear so often people try to cram the north and south island into a 2 week trip or less. Sure, you want to see as much as you can, and yes, the north island is pretty. However, for a short stay, I would stick to the south island, in particular, the Fiordlands, Wanaka area, and Mount Cook and leave it at that. You could spend weeks in each of those places alone if you are into hiking. Here are all the ways to get around to help plan your trip:
Shared rides are very common with backpackers. This could include hitch hiking. The best way to partner up with another traveler is by posting on Backpacker Boards or the New Zealand Backpackers Facebook group.
Between major cities there are some public buses, however, we felt their prices were very high considering the distances. For example, a bus from Wanaka to Queenstown cost $50 NZD for an hour drive.
There are two major companies in New Zealand, Kiwi Experience and Stray Travel. Prices range from $650 NZD for a two-week package to $1200 NZD for a 6 week package. These services gear towards a younger backpacker crowd.
Rent a Vehicle
Renting can get expensive, but is the best choice for those coming for only a few weeks or one month. New Zealand is perfect for self-driving enthusiasts and having your own vehicle allows the freedom to create your own itinerary. If you are looking for a smaller campervan, check out Jucy. Costs range from $700 to $1,500 NZD for one month. They come stocked with beds and cookware. For those looking for a larger motorhome, check out Maui Rentals with prices ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 NZD depending on the camper size.
Buy a Vehicle
If staying more than two months, buying a car or campervan is the most economical option. This is very popular in New Zealand and a great way to save money. Try to find a vehicle with good resale value and consider the timing of buying/selling. It is common to buy in the summer and sell just before winter. Depending on when you sell there is sometimes a potential for a serious loss. We recommend buying a station wagon such as a Nissan Wingroad. Seats fold flat and can sleep two, they are better on petrol, and have a better resale value. There is a lot of information to read in advance before making a purchase. Check out our article the Ultimate Backpackers Guide to Buying a Campervan in New Zealand.
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Did we miss your favorite spot? Comment below and tell us where your favorite places for photography in New Zealand are…