Where is the most beautiful place in the world? Middle Earth...I mean, New Zealand. Here's why: in just one day, you can view landscapes from all around the world, such as tropical beaches, arid volcanoes, rain forests, and snow-capped mountains. It's like seven countries in one! Before you buy your plane ticket outta here, you'll want to know the best touring spots.
My number one was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 12-mile trek through volcanic territory. It's voted one of the best one-day hikes in the world, and winds through a craggy mountainside riddled with mineral-rich craters, emerald lakes, and desert patches. As one of the filming locations for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, the route will take you over black rock and lava floes to the base of sulfurous Mount Doom (real life Mt Ngauruhoe, an active volcano).
Whether you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings or not, go to the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata. Miniature doors, windows, flower gardens, and cobblestone walkways nestle into the hilly countryside exactly as they appear in LOTR. Get your photo taken at Bag-End, dance under the Party Tree, and take a stroll to the Green Dragon Inn for a pint of specially-brewed ale or cider.
Whale-watching, fishing, sea kayaking, and dolphin swimming are activities plentiful in Kaikoura, a small fishing town on the East coast of the South Island. You MUST do the dolphin swim. Wake up at the crack of dawn, don a wetsuit and snorkeling gear, and plunge into the ocean to play with wild Dusky Dolphins in their natural habitat! Marine Land doesn't compare.
Next, leave your camera at the campsite and visit the Oamaru Penguin Colony at dusk to see the rare Blue Penguins come ashore after a day of hunting. At just over 12 inches tall, they're the smallest penguins in the world, and also the cutest. Watch clusters of them waddle their way across the beach in the twilight, tripping over slippery rocks and bumping into each other like drunken marionettes.
Make your way to magnificent Milford Sound for a boat cruise through Norwegian-style fiords in the heart of Fiordland National Park. You may recognize the spot as Fangorn Forest and the Argonath from LOTR. Enjoy revitalizing ocean breezes, towering cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. Snap a few photos of seals lounging on the rocks, distant snowy peaks, and dolphins leaping from the choppy water.
As wonderful as it all sounds, New Zealand is meant to be experienced, not just seen through the lens of a camera. You need to go.