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Magma-carved, glacier-sculpted and spread across two marvellous isles, New Zealand’s landscapes are the stuff of fantasies. It’s no wonder Peter Jackson chose to use this magical country as the staging ground for Middle Earth. Across the North and South Islands, here are eight things that you just have to see:

Cruise the Sounds

A landscape of towering peaks and deep waters, punctuated by emerald rainforests and pebbly shores, the South Island’s UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park is nature at its grandest. People talk about locations being ‘breathtaking’, but this enchanting spot gives real meaning to this often overused phrase.  

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Milford Sound

How to do it: Take in the untouched beauty of Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds by cruising and kayaking the waters or hiking the famous trails. You’ll get up-close to Milford Sound – the most iconic of the trio – on our South Island Wonders Journey.

Walk across Franz Josef Glacier

Caves and sheets of blue ice are the big draw on the Franz Josef Glacier, as it shifts steeply down from the Southern Alps towards the seas. Under the watchful eye of an experienced guide, you can take a helicopter direct to the glacier, where you’ll stop and begin your crampon-clad stroll across this 7,000-year-old frozen land. It may be cold, but you’ll hardly feel it: the thrill of the adventure and fresh natural beauty of the jagged iridescent landscape will keep you warm.

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Franz Josef Glacier

How to do it: Scale the face of Franz Josef and relax in its glacier hot pools, bordered by emerald trees, on our Glacier & Sound of Silence holiday in New Zealand’s South Island.

Marvel at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Pictures capturing bioluminescence are impressive, but they really don’t do it justice. To experience Mother Nature’s light display at its brightest, visit the North Island’s Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where thousands of these vibrant insects cover the ceiling of the cavern. As you float through on a boat ride, you’ll feel like you’re being enveloped by a blue-hued canopy of stars. Who needs space travel when you can do this?

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Waitomo Caves

How to do it: Cruise through the Waitomo Glowworm Grotto on our Best of the North Island Journey.

Hike in Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman is renowned for having some of the best walking trails in the whole of the South Island. In fact, its signature Abel Tasman Coastal Track is world-renowned for postcard-perfect landscapes, fascinating forests and a plethora of wildlife – from penguins to dolphin pods.

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Abel Tasman National Park

How to do it: To walk the whole length of the track takes between three and five days. However, the route is easily accessible for boats, so you can take a water taxi to the portion you want to see and just spend a day trekking. On our South Island Wildlife & Wine Journey, you’ll spend two nights in this national park, cruising the coastline before walking the section from Totaranui to the Meadowbank Homestead – Awaroa.

Explore Middle Earth

New Zealand is just as incredible in reality as it is on the screen. Lord of the Rings fanatics can experience the real-life movie sets for themselves in Rotorua, home to the hobbit holes and pint-sized inns that make up Hobbiton. Wellington’s Turoa – the filming location for The Desolation of Smaug – promises a behind the scenes glimpse too; here you can see the franchise’s props, costumes and models at the Weta Workshop.

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Hobbiton

How to do it: Our aptly-named Middle Earth Explorer Journey takes you to Wellington, Waiheke and Rotorua, and of course includes a Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm tour.

Go stargazing in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

A rugged, wild mix of turquoise lakes, lofty peaks and tramping tracks aplenty, Aoraki/Mount Cook is so much more than your average national park. Sure, you can hike here, soak up incredible kiwi landscapes and embrace the spirit of adventure, but visit after dark to see this South Island gem really come to life. Designated an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, the Aoraki region is the perfect spot for some southern hemisphere stargazing and, if you’re lucky, spotting the aurora australis (the southern lights).

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Stargazing Mount Cook

How to do it: Head for the Mount John observatory, near Tekapo, and make use of six telescopes, known to observe around 50 million stars on a clear night. Alternatively try the Pukaki Observatory at the Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat. Spend two nights in the park on our Landscapes of New Zealand Journey.

Seek adventure in Queenstown

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. In fact, it does pretty well in the world list too; after all, it’s renowned for many thrill-seeking activities, from bungee jumping to skydiving to white water rafting.

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Luge track, Queenstown

How to do it: Enjoy the thrills of jetboating, luging and a range of other adventure activities on our Active New Zealand Journey.

Discover the bubbling pools of Rotorua

The spluttering volcanic land of Rotorua is famous for its hot springs, mud pools and geysers. You can bathe in mud, watch as steaming water spurts several metres into the air at unpredictable intervals, and attempt to uncover the geothermal mysteries of this other-worldly region. While you’re here, check out the local Maori culture too – Rotorua is the country’s cultural heartland.

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Champagne Pools, Rotorua

How to do it: See authentic Maori dances and discover Rotorua’s majestic geothermal valleys on our Best of Both Islands Journey.

For more ideas on what to do in New Zealand, see our New Zealand holidays.