We’ve set ourselves an impossible task trying to pick out the top 10 natural sights in all of Australia and New Zealand. These two countries offer an overwhelming variety of astounding islands, vast deserts, smoking volcanos and other breathtaking natural phenomena. We think we’ve managed to narrow it down to the 10 absolutely unmissable sights that will more than justify the long plane trip over. But while you’ve gone all that way, have a look around… chances are you’ll discover something else breathtaking around the corner.
1. Great Barrier Reef
The scale of the Great Barrier Reef is staggering: nearly 3,000 coral reefs reaching over 1,400 miles along Australia’s north-east coast, and teeming with marine life. There’s humpback dolphins, stingrays, starfish and everything between. Your options for visiting are almost as varied. From ‘live aboard’ boats offering daily dives in otherwise hard-to-reach spots, to pontoons allowing novices to carefully snorkel above the coral. Consider taking a plane over the reef for spectacular aerial views.
2. Tongariro National Park
Tongariro is the oldest National Park in New Zealand, recognised for its dramatic volcanic landscape as well as its importance to Maori culture. Without a doubt the most popular activity is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, consistently rated one of the world’s top one-day treks. You’ll pass between the peaks of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy) spotting snowy passes, smoking craters and steaming moonscapes. The highlight though is the vivid Emerald Lakes you’ll pass at the summit.
3. Milford Sound
Since we’re talking unmissable sights, Rudyard Kipling’s “eighth wonder of the world” is pretty much guaranteed a spot. This stunning fiord’s smooth waters are encased by towering cliffs, mountain peaks and waterfalls. All of which can be viewed on a leisurely boat cruise – or by kayak for the more adventurous. And if Milford Sounds isn’t enough, it’s just one taste of New Zealand’s serene fiord landscape.
4. Pinnacle Desert
Three hours north of Perth on Australia’s west coast, craggy limestone rocks rise out of the desert. These natural sculptures make for an eerie and surreal landscape. You might spot a wild emu wandering amid the towering rocks, some of which are over three and a half metres tall. This is part of the Nambung National Park, where you also have wide views of the Indian Ocean, beautiful beaches and rolling sand dunes.
5. The 12 Apostles
Despite being known as the 12 Apostles, there are in fact only eight of these dramatic limestone stacks, which appear to rise out of the water on Australia’s southern Victoria coastline. (There used to be nine, but one collapsed in 2005). They are just one of the highlights of one of Australia’s most iconic driving routes, the Great Ocean Road, which runs between Torquay and Warrnambool.
6. 90 Mile Beach
Another counting error seems to have occurred at New Zealand’s 90 Mile Beach. It is closer to 55 miles long (88 kilometres), but let’s not split hairs; that’s still a long beach. In addition to being a popular tourist destination, it is officially a public highway (though it’s only suitable for 4×4 vehicles) and has been used as an aeroplane runway. Along with seemingly never-ending sands visitors can expect some breathtaking sunsets, and adrenaline-inducing bodyboarding in the sand dunes.
Surely one of the most instantly recognisable rock formations on the planet, Uluru, located in the remote Australian Outback, is a magical sight to behold. The sandstone monolith seems to jut out of the earth, and is said to glow red at dawn and dusk. It is possible to climb it, though because of Uluru’s importance to the Aboriginal people, it is requested that you don’t. Instead many tours focus on viewings at various times of day, walks into the Outback or flights overhead, which offer the best views of all.
8. Franz Joseph & Fox Glaciers
These two impressive glaciers are part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site on New Zealand’s South Island. From their formation in the Southern Alps, the slow moving rivers of ice carve out mountain valleys before plummeting into temperate rainforest a few hundred metres above sea level. The result is two of the most accessible glaciers anywhere in the world.
9. Kakadu National Park
We’re cheating a little with this one, because with an area half the size of Switzerland, Kakadu contains more than one incredible natural sight. The biodiverse reserve is home to vast wetlands full of birds, winding rivers where you can spot crocodiles and several towering waterfalls. There are even plunge pools where you can take a dip – so long as you’ve thoroughly checked the area for crocodiles first!
10. Lake Taupo
Not only is Lake Taupo the largest lake in New Zealand, it also sits on an area of lively geothermal activity resulting in a number of hot springs along the lake shore. If you head to the town of Taupo you’ll find a number of spas and pools using these geothermally heated waters. But it’s also possible to find free and natural hot pools at Otumuheke Stream. It’s a great way to relax after a day of adventure on the lake.