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The 15 Most Breathtaking Photos of New Zealand

Warning: You may have an overwhelming desire to move to New Zealand after reading this.

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The perfect escape

You might have read about New Zealand in the news lately. It’s one of the top countries people praise for controlling the novel coronavirus, thanks to a speedy response to the threat and a strict lockdown. The country has had just over 1,500 cases and fewer than 25 deaths from COVID-19, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health. That’s likely one reason Americans reportedly want to move to this small island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. But even before the pandemic, this country of 4.9 million people was known as one of the world’s most beautiful countries. For proof (and to satisfy your wanderlust after months of travel restrictions), we rounded up the most stunning images from around New Zealand, offering you a virtual tour of its beauty. From glaciers and fjords to sunsets and mountaintops, here’s your mental escape to the land of the Kiwi.

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Arthur’s Pass

If you take the Tranz Alpine Rail—a passenger train that travels from the east to west coast of New Zealand’s South Island—across Arthur’s Pass, you’ll get diverse views of the country’s landscape, says Liz Einbinder of Backroads, an adventure travel company that hosts multiple trips to the area. Arthur’s Pass is actually the highest pass in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and its surrounding park offers a great place for hiking, complete with mountain vistas and waterfall views. For more travel inspiration, check out these amazing destinations you haven’t heard of…yet.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Dropping more than 180 feet is the stunning Bridal Veil Falls, also known as the Waireinga Falls, with bright green trees and bushes surrounding the waters. It’s easy to snap photos from the top, as a walkway follows the Pakoka River and leads to two viewing platforms. You can also walk down to the bottom of the falls, where the water has carved out a pool in the sandstone rock. No matter how you look at it—from the top, bottom, or right on your screen—it’s certainly a sight worth seeing. If this sounds like heaven on Earth, check out 20 of the most beautiful natural pools in the world.

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Fox Glacier

From sunny beaches to icy glaciers, New Zealand really has it all. On the South Island’s west coast, you’ll find Fox Glacier, a popular and accessible spot for hikers and mountaineers. The area allows for “heli hikes,” aka helicopter rides to the top, followed by a trip back down on foot. Near the glacier area, there’s also Lake Matheson, a gorgeous lake with snow-capped mountain views that reflect in the water. Just a short walk from the nearby town, you’ll also find glowworm caves, a stunning natural phenomenon you can see only in New Zealand and one U.S. state.

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Hot Water Beach

On the North Island of New Zealand, this beautiful blue-watered beach features great surfing and natural hot springs, which visitors dig in the sand to access. According to New Zealand Tourism, the best time to dig yourself a warm spa-like pool in the sand is around low tide—specifically, from the two hours before low tide to the two hours after it. Many visitors dig themselves a personal pool (hence, why you’ll often see shovels in images of the area), but you can also get help from the local cafés. Closer to home, here’s where you can find 15 of the best natural springs in America.

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Huka Falls

New Zealand’s blue waters always stun, but in waterfall form, they’re somehow even more incredible. Huka Falls forms from the Waikato River, the country’s longest, and drops about 36 feet to the pool below. At the top of Huka, which gushes more than 220,000 liters of water per second, you’ll find a viewing platform—perfect for getting up close and personal to the falls. Visitors can also take a boat ride or river cruise near the falls, as well as hike the Spa Park to Huka Falls trail to see more of the river. Don’t miss these gorgeous river photos from around the world.

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Lake Pukaki

Talk about brightly colored water that makes you do a double-take! Lake Pukaki features a vibrant blue hue thanks to super fine rock particles that fill the waters from surrounding glaciers—when the sun hits the surface, you get that gorgeous color. If you can take your eyes off the water, in the distance you’ll also see New Zealand’s tallest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook. To get a wider view of the area, visitors can hike along the shores or bike along the lake’s perimeter. Glaciers are disappearing, which is why you should visit the world’s most breathtaking glaciers while you still can.

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Lake Tekapo

Beautiful by day and even more jaw-dropping at night, Lake Tekapo’s water also shines a bright blue thanks to the rock-flour of the nearby glaciers. During daytime hours, walk around the Mackenzie Basin Area and check out the quaint Church of the Good Shepard, constructed in 1935 from stones found within a five-mile radius of the site. Stay for nightfall and you’ll be in a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve area—the ideal spot for stargazing. Between April and September, you can even catch the southern lights from this area. In case you were wondering, these are the 12 best places to see the northern lights.

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Lake Wanaka

Located in the Southern Alps, the blue waters and green mountains of Lake Wanaka offer an amazing view for hikers, bikers, and kayakers alike, says Einbinder. (And those viewing from their computer screens, too!) Beautiful every season of the year, the waters are close to Mount Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage area, and offer plenty of outdoor adventures. In the town of Wanaka, visitors can also check out restaurants, breweries, and wineries. It should definitely earn a spot on your travel bucket list.

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Hobbiton in Matamata

Are you a fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series? Then this charming photo might look familiar. Near the town of Matamata, two hours south of Auckland, lies the Hobbiton movie set, created by Sir Peter Jackson. If you visit, you can take a guided tour of the set—and even enjoy a feast as you pretend you’re part of the story. Here are another 65 movie and TV filming locations you can visit.

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Milford Sound

There’s nothing quite as amazingly beautiful as the Milford Sound, located in Fiordland National Park. That’s why it’s often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, according to New Zealand Tourism. Many people kayak the waters or hike the surrounding area, spotting mountain peaks and cliffs, waterfalls (including Sutherland Falls, one of the tallest in the world), glassy waters, and wildlife like dolphins and seals along the way. Boats also cruise through the waters, offering a full tour of an unforgettable setting. You’ll also love these 30 photos of America’s national parks in full bloom.

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New Brighton Beach Pier

Named one of the must-visit spots to see the sunrise by New Zealand Tourism, New Brighton Beach Pier is definitely a place worth getting up early to visit. It’s also a popular spot to celebrate the New Year. Located in the town of Christchurch, about six hours from Queenstown, the city houses beautiful botanic gardens and views of the Avon River, which cuts through the city.

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routeburn track hikersCourtesy Wilderness Travel

Routeburn Track

Located in Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, Routeburn Track is one of the greatest hiking trails in the world, according to Lisa Laferte, area specialist with Wilderness Travel. Typically taking three days to cross—with options to stay in huts or camp out as you go—the trail provides breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests, and lots of rare birds. Discover more of the most crystal-clear lakes in the world.

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Consider this a must-do hike if you’re into jewel-toned lakes and volcanic and mountain views. The nearly 12-mile trek on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing typically starts in Mangatepopo Valley, passing through South Crater and Red Crater. A super popular spot to stop for photos is Emerald Lakes, where the water looks emerald in color—a hue that comes from the minerals of the surrounding thermal environment. The trail ends at Ketetahi Road, where you’ll see green forests. You can also take the hike in reverse or enjoy the sights virtually. If you love to hike, check out the best hiking trails in every U.S. state.

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Taranaki Falls

Situated in Tongariro National Park (the country’s oldest national park) on New Zealand’s North Island, Taranaki Falls cascades over ancient lava flow, dating back 15,000 years. A nearly four-mile hiking loop will give you access to amazing views of the waterfall, which plunges about 65 feet. Nearby, the area also reveals gorgeous glimpses of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe.

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Wharariki Beach

And now for an image that brings instant calm. In addition to a hefty dose of relaxation, Wharariki Beach offers options for horseback riding and exploring caverns and sand dunes on foot. Located on the northernmost point of the South Island, the accessible walking track spans 2.5 miles and provides a kid-friendly route. You can also hike along the Farewell Spit and Puponga Hill Top Track. Next, check out more of the most peaceful places on Earth.

Mallory Creveling
Mallory Creveling, a New York City-based writer, has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for more than a decade. In addition to Reader's Digest, her work has appeared in publications such as Health, Men's Journal, Self, Runner's World, and Shape, where she previously held a staff role. She also worked as an editor at Daily Burn and Family Circle magazine. Mallory, a certified personal trainer, also works with private fitness clients in Manhattan and at a strength studio in Brooklyn. Originally from Allentown, PA, she graduated from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Follow her @MalCrev on Instagram and Twitter.