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Lonely Planet is commonly known as the last word in travel information, their guides serving as travel bibles for various countries and destinations around the world. In August 2015, they released a book which will excite all globetrotters: Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist. Years in the making, this travel tome ranks the top 500 “mega-sights and hidden gems” around the world and forms a kind of definitive bucket list for anyone with a major case of wanderlust.
Pick up a car rental from Queenstown or Christchurch
New Zealand is many things, but it’s no bastion of efficient public transport; a car hire in nz is without a doubt the best way to get around. The country’s well maintained and signposted roads mean a road trip is quite easily done - just be sure to remember to drive on the left!
Before you consider hitting the road and checking out what New Zealand has to offer, a way of getting to our 9 Ultimate Travelist locations needs to be considered. A car hire Christchurch or car hire Queenstown is recommended as these two cities are centres of transport and tourism in New Zealand’s South Island, and have a wider range of airlines, flights and car hire companies than what you might find in the smaller centres. Pre-book your NZ car hire and it’s easy to fly in, pick up some wheels and get on the road, leaving more time to spend seeing the wonderful sights. Choose from a wide selection of rental cars in Christchurch or Queenstown and make the most of what New Zealand and its incredible attractions have to offer.
New Zealand amongst the best places to travel in the world
It’s no surprise that stunning New Zealand has a place on the list, but in fact it took out a total of nine entries - a great effort for our relatively small South Pacific nation. Fiordland was the highest-rated New Zealand tourist attraction at number 17 on the Ultimate Travelist, and it was joined in the top 20% of sites around the world by Abel Tasman Park at number 35, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers at number 81 and Lake Wanaka at number 94.
Remote Stewart Island also had a spot at number 125, and the Bay of Islands in the far north came in at number 130. On the cultural front, Whakarewarewa Maori Village was number 276 and our national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, 285. Waitomo Caves took out number 280.
Visit New Zealand: how to see the best of the best
The nine Travelist destinations are spread the length the country, from Stewart Island in the south to the Bay of Islands in the north. A month or two would give you plenty of time to see them all, but many travellers find themselves with a restricted schedule - especially if they’re trying to cram in as many of Lonely Planet’s best places to visit around the world as possible!
Here are some suggestions for those who want to see the highlights of New Zealand in a week or two. Seeing as the five highest-rated of the nine destinations are in the South Island, we’ve started there - and if you have the time, it’s easy to fly or ferry to the North Island and begin on those ones too!
Hit the road
Whether you fly to Queenstown or drive the six hours there from Christchurch, the scenic lakeside town is a great place to base yourself for a day or two.
Should you decide to start with the best of the bunch, Fiordland National Park is 4 or 5 hours drive from Queenstown. Many choose to drive to Milford Sound and take a cruise to get up close and personal with the stunning fjord, or leave the car in Te Anau and opt for a scenic flight. Keen hikers can lace up their boots for a few days and try one of New Zealand’s Great Walks in the national park - the Milford Track, Kepler Track or Routeburn Track.
It’s less than half a day’s drive from Queenstown or Milford down to Invercargill where you can get on a ferry to visit another of the world’s top 500 sights: Stewart Island. Known in Maori as Rakiura, “Land of the Glowing Skies,” this isle is 85% National Park and 100% wild beauty.
Lake Wanaka, number 94 on the Ultimate Travelist, is just over an hour from Queenstown and the journey will take you over the gorgeous Cardrona Valley Road. This is another advantage of a car rental for your New Zealand adventures - you are guaranteed to want to pull over many times to take a photo or just enjoy the view. Once you’ve seen the lake and maybe even had a swim or stayed the night in the charming Wanaka township, the scenic driving continues over the Southern Alps via Haast Pass, to the wild, desolate beaches and lush greenery of the West Coast.
The western edge of the South Island is where you’ll find Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, the duo at spot number 81 on the list. They are the most accessible frozen rivers in the world, and it’s easy to join up with a guided tour in the small townships near each glacier. The Glacier Hot Pools at Franz Josef are a great way to unwind after a hard day of walking and climbing.
The Abel Tasman National Park, high on the list at number 35, is close to the northernmost point of the South Island, so allow a day to get there - or two if you are taking it slowly. The native bush and golden beaches of the park are certainly a sight to behold, and it’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Kayak tours and hiking are amongst the best ways to see the area, should you wish to go beyond a quick visit to the beach at Marahau. The Abel Tasman Track is another of the Great Walks, a 3-5 day coastal hike which will take you to some unforgettable places. Don't forget a camera!
Whether you head back to Queenstown or Christchurch to drop off your car rental or car hire new zealand (or whatever you may call it) or continue on to the North Island, you’ll definitely see some things to write home about during a South Island road trip - and ticking off five of Lonely Planet’s best places to travel to in as little as a week is not bad at all! There is no doubt about it, New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to not only visit but also live and retire!