New Zealand is one of those places where it feels like you’ve somehow been transported into a fantasy land and left your old life behind. There’s something about its vibrant landscapes and scenery that makes it seem not quite real. Because of this, many movies have used New Zealand as a filming location. Many of these films, such as The Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia series, feature sweeping shots of the lush New Zealand scenery. Beyond this, the country has incredibly close ties to its dynamic Māori culture that you can experience yourself. Across New Zealand, you can hear Māori slang, enjoy Māori performances, and find Māori designs built into everything from the architecture to the tattoos on people’s skin. Regardless of what draws you to New Zealand, you’ll be able to find something that interests you. You can spend a few hours strolling along a beach, go sailing in the incredible bays, or even take in the local coffee culture.

01A Well-Ordered Countryside

Matamata, New Zealand,evening scene with twilight sky image

Certain films have a way of catching their audience and leaving them wishing to live in the world beyond the screen. There is no greater example of this than The Lord of the Rings and the lush, verdant Shire. Thankfully, you don’t have to live in a fantasy land to experience the quaint hobbit village. When filming ended, the film’s workers left behind many of the sets and props for Hobbiton, and New Zealand has transformed them into a real-life Shire for visitors and locals alike.

02An Enchanting Wine Oasis

Waiheke Island vineyard and winery. The netting protects the vines from birds who eat and destroy the grapes. The vineyard overlooks a turquoise blue bay. iShootPhotosLLC / Getty Images

Because New Zealand is home to so many different landscapes, it has more to offer its visitors. Waiheke Island is a beautiful haven, full of white sandy beaches, majestic cliff tops, and world-famous vineyards. Take a ferry to Waiheke and spend the day trekking through its gorgeous forests and towering cliffs. When you’re ready to end your day, head over to one of the vineyards and enjoy a relaxing night of food and drink.

03Glowing Rock

Glowworms at cave ceiling forming a starry sky of bioluminescence MarcelStrelow / Getty Images

One of the best reasons to travel is to experience things that you couldn’t see anywhere else. New Zealand is a country that scratches that itch with its unique locations. As you descend into Waitomo caves, you’ll pass some of the most impressive stalactites and stalagmites you’ve ever seen. But the true and literal highlight comes near the end of the cave tour, where the walls around you will slowly illuminate with hues of blues and purples thanks to the cave's many glowworms.

04One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill / Cornwall Park

New Zealand is a country that is full of scenic vistas and sights, but some are beautiful above all others. One Tree Hill, or Maungakiekie, is a 600-foot volcanic cone and an important memorial for both the Māori people and local New Zealanders. Though it has been at the center of many controversies over the years, it now stands tall as a reminder of the struggles of the Māori. At its peak, you can take in the breathtaking view of Auckland’s sprawling forests and both of its shining harbors.

05Wai-O-Tapu

Unique steaming spring champagne pool in Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area, Rotorua, New Zealand Fyletto / Getty Images

If you possess an adventurer’s spirit, New Zealand is the country for you. Hiking and trekking is essentially a national pastime, and there are many trails for you to explore. If you tire of the lush greenery, you should try journeying to the thermal paradise of Wai-O-Tapu. This volcanic wonderland is full of orange and lemon-colored geysers and pools, but its most interesting sight comes after a short hike to the waterfall of Lake Ngakoro.

06Land of the Fairies

Large colony of Cormorants on a pier in Oamaru, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Beyond the hobbits and glowing worms, New Zealand is also home to fairies. No, these aren’t the typical fantasy fairies, but they’re adorable nonetheless. These fairies are slate-blue penguins that have many names, including fairy penguins or fairy blue penguins, though the Māori call them kororā. The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony does its best to protect the world’s smallest penguins while providing a place for visitors to safely learn about and enjoy them.

07The Mine Bay Carvings

Maori rock carvings located by the water at Lake Taupo in New Zeland. The carvings feature A big face, Maori style figurines and several animals such as crocdiles and birds. The carvings are accessable only by boat or a kayak. Avi_Cohen_Nehemia / Getty Images

One of the best reasons to visit New Zealand is to learn about the incredible cultures and traditions of the Māori people. If you want to experience the beauty of New Zealand while also learning about Māori customs and traditions, consider a tour of the Mine Bay Carvings. These 30-foot carvings on the side of a low cliff, accessible only by navigating the calm, blue waters of Lake Taupo. These carvings represent the face of master carver Matahi Brightwell’s ancestor, Ngatoroirangi, and guardians of the local Māori tribes.

08Dolphins and Sailing

A group of dolphins is jumping out of the water in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, early in the morning. Some hills in the distance. jacquesvandinteren / Getty Images

Unlike many travel destinations, New Zealand is not a country where you have to drop thousands of dollars to get the best experience. Many of the most iconic locations are accessible to everyone, and that makes it all the more memorable. For a true taste of adventure, go sailing in the Bay of Islands take time to enjoy yourself. You can even choose to take a dip into the water and swim with the local dolphins that call the area home.

09The 800-foot Drop

Aerial view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu with Bungee Jumping, and the Remarkables mountain range behind, New Zealand g01xm / Getty Images

New Zealand is proud to call itself the home of the commercial bungee jump, thanks to the efforts of A. J. Hackett. Years ago, Hackett jumped off the Greenhithe Bridge in Auckland with nothing but a custom rubber band and a harness. Today, New Zealand is home to some of the best bungee jumping spots in the world. If you want a real thrill, take a bungee leap off of the SkyJump as you fall 855 feet toward the ground below.

10Maori Culture Tamaki

"Maori house in Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand" cmfotoworks / Getty Images

For those who desire a true taste of Māori culture, visit the Tamaki Māori village outside of Rotorua. As you enter the beautiful area, you’ll find that Māori locals offer to share their culture with visitors. You’ll receive a traditional welcome as they help you immerse yourself in their customs and cuisine. Hopefully, you'll learn about a land directly from those who know it best.

11Pancake Rocks

"Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki, West Coast, New Zealand" Shaycobs / Getty Images

Though most of New Zealand looks like a scene straight out of a fantasy novel, Punakaiki’s Dolomite Point is more of a sci-fi set piece. Thanks to a bizarre layering-weathering process, many of the cliffs and rocks in the area look like piles of thick pancakes. At high tide, the sea roars into the caverns and crashes against the sandstone. The alien landscape becomes oddly beautiful as the mist and rainbows dance against the stacks of Pancake Rocks.

12Milford Sound

Milford Sound Fiordland New Zealand Rural Nature Concept Rawpixel / Getty Images

If you were to make a list of the most fascinating and breathtaking places on the planet, you’d find it difficult not to place Milford Sound at the very top. It's not just a tourist destination, but a chance to experience the majesty of the Earth itself. As you travel through the lush green mountains and hills, you eventually reach the serene waters of Milford Sound. Once there, take a scenic cruise and enjoy sights that you never thought you’d see as picturesque waterfalls crash into the water below.