There’s no denying that New Zealand’s most impressive sights won’t be found in its urban areas - the destinations that have visitors coming from every corner of the globe are definitely the country’s many regions of epic natural scenery, most of which are best seen by rental car. Whether you start your journey by picking up a car in Auckland, Queenstown or Christchurch, here’s five national parks that you definitely can’t miss.
Encompassing no less than three volcanoes (one of them recently active), Tongariro National Park is home to some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes - but you will have to get out of your rental car to see them. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, an eight hour all day hike that takes in emerald green lakes, steam vents and jaw-dropping views, is popular with experienced and amateur hikers alike, and there’s even a bus that will take you back to your car when you finally finish, with shaky legs but plenty of stunning photos for your road trip holiday album.
One national park that you will want to make sure you visit in summer, the Abel Tasman region is a veritable paradise of stunning coastline and lush forest, with endless aqua blue inlets and crystal clear coves to explore by kayak, catamaran or just on foot. Book a boat tour to see the best of the park in a day trip, or spend a night camping in the national park itself - though the beaches at the resort town of Kaiteriteri just outside the park might convince you to swap your swag for a comfy hotel bed.
Home to the spectacular Milford Sound, a stunning fjord once described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Fjordland National Park is an area of splendorous waterfalls, lakes and rainforest clad peaks, as well as being a haven for an array of unique animals. Take a cruise through the fjord itself for the best vantage points, but don’t miss the chance to walk some of the national park’s impressive hikes as well.
Mt Aspiring National Park is where you’ll find unbelievable sights like the vividly blue pools of Haast Pass, the Rob Roy Glacier flanked by tumbling waterfalls and the challenging Mt Brewster Track. Just a short drive from Queenstown it’s also one of the most accessible - you’ll see plenty on a day trip from the city if you’re short on time for your trip.
Undoubtedly one of the south island's most famous peaks, Mt Cook is a snow-capped postcard-worthy mountain that also happens to be the focal point of the view you’ll discover on one of our favourite New Zealand scenic drives - so you’ve got double the reason to make a beeline for the region on your NZ tour. Whether you settle for the vista you’ll see through your windscreen or venture out on one of the many hikes that snake through the park is up to you.