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12 BEST Places to See Glow Worms in New Zealand

12 BEST Places to See Glow Worms in New Zealand

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Hiding in a dark, damp cave is one of the top things to see in New Zealand… I’m talking about glow worms!

While you might not be overly excited at first to see these tiny glowing creatures, once you’ve seen them you’ll understand the hype! These critters light up caves and make you feel like you’re looking at the night sky.

It’s one of those adventure activities you’ll be talking about long after you’re back home.

So, where do you find glow worms in New Zealand? Well, the natural limestone caves they live in are incredible places to visit on the South Island and North Island. The caves are home to literally thousands of bioluminescent glow worms!

Whether you choose to book a guided tour or go on your own, seeing these incredible creatures hiding out in such a wondrous landscape is a must-do.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll be drawn to visiting glow worm caves because they seem so mysterious and truly one of those incredible hidden gems this planet has to offer!

I’ve been lucky enough to see these lit little creatures in a few places in New Zealand, and if you don’t know where they are, you can easily miss them! To help you discover the top places in New Zealand to see glow worms, keep reading and decide which one you want to visit first! 

Don’t have time to read the full article? Here are my favorite ways to see glow worms in New Zealand!

  1. Raft through the most popular glow worm cave, Waitomo Caves!
  2. The Waipu Caves are the best free glow worm caves on the North Island.
  3. See glow worms while kayaking through Lake McLaren. 
  4. Te Anau Glow Worms are the best on the South Island!
  5. Charleston Glow Worm Cave is a beautiful and free cave to explore.

What are Glow Worms?

Glow worms at the Waitomo Caves in NZ

Together, thousands of glow worms can look like stars in the night sky. They light up the entire space and turn these caves into some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand I’ve seen. 

They glow green/blue and are predominately found in highly humid, dark environments like in the Waitomo Caves.

Even though they’re called worms they are actually a fungus gnat that is in their larval stage, which can last up to a year before changing form. While that sounds a little gross, they are quite beautiful and fascinating creatures!

Their scientific name is Arachnocampa Luminosa, and once they reach maturity, they hatch into a mosquito-looking insect. In New Zealand, they are known as larvae (maggots), but in the Northern Hemisphere, they are considered beetles.

The strand you see hanging is what they use to catch bugs and insects inside the cave, and the light they produce attracts them!

Best Places to See Glow Worms on the North Island  

1. Waitomo Caves  

People ride a boat through the Waitomo Caves in NZ
It’s cold below the ground! Photo credit: Waitomo Caves
  • Where: Waitomo, 1 hour from Hamilton
  • Do you need a tour: Yes
  • Cost: From $75 NZD

The Waitomo Caves are one of the most popular and best glow worm caves in New Zealand, so they had to top our list! This network of caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers is just waiting to be explored. 

The name Waitomo comes from the Maori language words water (wai) and hole (tomo). The Waitomo Caves are made up of limestone rock that was formed about 30 million years ago. Tectonic shifts and volcanic eruptions have caused the limestone to lift out of the sea creating this natural wonder.

The Waitomo Caves are located 2.5 hours south of Auckland and about 1 hour from Hamilton. This area is called King Country and it is on the west side of the central North Island. The drive to the caves is a fantastic day trip from Auckland and gives you that idyllic New Zealand backdrop.

The Waitomo Caves have different costs based on what you’d like from your experience and you MUST go on an organized tour. 

This guided tour to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves takes you and a small group on a 45-minute tour through the Waitomo Caves. For $75 NZD, you will start by walking through the giant caves and quickly visiting the impressive Cathedral Cave. You will then get into your boat and float through the caves, and marvel at the impressive light show of the millions of glow worms. This is the cheapest and quickest tour available.

It departs from Waitomo, so you will need to get yourself there first. This is a perfect stop if you rent a car in Auckland and are embarking on a road trip! You can check the details and reserve this tour here!

However, The Black Water Rafting Waitomo Cave Tour was one of our favorite ways to see the caves. Floating in an inner tube through the cave systems is one of the best ways to explore the caves and costs $179 NZD. This tour is 3 hours long and can be upgraded to a 5-hour Black Abyss tour if preferred. Both of these excursions include wetsuits, boots, helmets, and all the safety equipment you’ll need to keep you safe with a hot shower at the end.

This tour also meets in Waitomo, so keep that in mind as you plan your itinerary. This one is very popular and books up quickly, so be sure to secure your spot in advance.

You can also visit these caves as part of a Hobbiton tour from Auckland if you want to see two iconic places on the same day. Regardless of what experience you choose, the Waitomo Caves is the best glow worm cave in New Zealand! 

Related Read: Only 30 minutes from these caves is one of the best New Zealand waterfalls – the amazing Marokopa Waterfall!

2. Waipu Caves  

Glow worms in the Waipu Caves in New Zealand
Like a starry night sky!
  • Where: Waipu, a 30-minute drive from Whangarei 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: FREE!

At Waipu Caves you can see epic glow worms and the best part, it’s completely free! No need to pay a fee or book a tour, just head out on the adventure yourself. 

You’ll find the caves a short 30-minute drive from Whangarei or around 3 hours from Auckland on the way to Paihia, near the small town of Waipu (just south of the Bay of Islands). They are a hidden gem and easily one of the best glow worm caves in New Zealand.

After you come off State Highway 1, drive down to the end of Shoemaker Road, and turn onto Waipu Caves Road. Follow the gravel road until you see the parking lot on the right.  

There are a couple of caverns to explore. The main cave is 175 meters (575 feet) long. Simply enter when you are ready! First, put on good footwear, as it will be wet and slippery. I wore my reef diving boots, which were perfect. Have at least one torch/flashlight, because you definitely don’t want to be stuck in the dark. Wearing shorts can help, as some water may reach up to your knees. Oh, and don’t go in if it has been raining heavily.

Entering the cave, veer left and follow the stream. Climb over rocks and crouch down to get through some areas. 

One of the best displays of glow worms is just before the part of the cave that dips down and allows only about 1 meter (3.2 feet) in height. Turn any lights you brought with you off and admire the enchanting scene of glow worms! 

The incredible limestone caves contain not only thousands of shimmering glow worms but also otherworldly-looking mineral formations, known as stalagmites and stalactites. They kind of look like pieces of frozen, dripping ice that appear from the ceiling or the floor. Waipu Caves have the longest stalagmites in New Zealand, which are 2.5 meters (8 feet) high and seen in the main cave. 

Related Read: Planning a NZ road trip? Check out the best campervan rentals and motorhome rentals in Auckland!

3. Ruakuri Cave 

A glow worm inside the Ruakuri Cave, New Zealand
They look so cool close up too!
  • Where: Waitomo, a 1-hour drive from Hamilton 
  • Do you need a tour: Yes 
  • Cost: $107 NZD

Ruakuri Cave is the longest underground cave in New Zealand. It is only about 15 minutes away from the well-known Waitomo Caves but offers a much different experience.

There has been a lot of work done here to make the caves safe, accessible, and lit up for visitors. For families or anyone with mobility issues, the caves are fully wheelchair and stroller accessible.

You’ll find Ruakuri Cave about a 1-hour drive out of Hamilton or 2.5 hours from Auckland. You’ll need a guided tour to access the caves as they are on private land.

The 75-minute Guided Ruakuri Cave Tour gets you inside this solar-powered cave where you’ll instantly be amazed by the gorgeous spiral staircase at the entrance which descends into the ancient cave. Hear the sounds of water dripping as you wander through, admiring fossilized seashells and flowing limestone formations. Explore Holdens Cavern, The Drum Passage, The Pretties, and Ghost Passage.  

Along the way, your informative guide will have lots of interesting facts and stories to share with you. Get up close to the bright displays of glow worms as they hang from the cave ceiling and follow the well-designed path until it loops back to the start. The tour is $107 NZD per adult and departs 7 times per day almost every day of the year.

Book in advance so you don’t miss out!  

4. Waiomio/Kawiti Caves

Glow worms inside the Kawiti Caves Glowworm Caves
Like a night sky!
  • Where: Waiomio, 5-minute drive from Kawakawa 
  • Do you need a tour: Yes 
  • Cost: $195 NZD

Waiomio Caves, also known as Kawiti Caves, can be explored via a guided tour. The 200-meter (650-foot) limestone cave system is unique in its karst appearance, its three main glow worm locations, and the stalactites that hang from the ceiling creating a supernatural-like atmosphere.  

Only a 20-minute drive from Paihia, Kawiti Caves are easily accessible to those in the Northland region. They are located just off State Highway 1 in Waiomio – there are clear signs to follow along Waiomio Road.

This 3-hour guided tour takes you to more epic sights in the area, but of course, the Kawiti Caves are the highlight (quite literally with the glow worms!). What’s more special about this tour is that it’s led by a native Maori, who are guardians of the cave and the glow worms. They offer a unique insight to the science behind the glow worms, as well as the cultural significance for the Maori people.

After your 30 minutes of cave exploration, you’ll see a truly eccentric work of art known as the Hundertwasser Toilets for a quick stop and look at this art-filled place. You’ll also stop at a lookout of Waitangi Bay and then go on a 45-minute bush walk on the Opua Forest Lookout Track.

It’s more than just glow worms on this tour! You can reserve your spot for $195 NZD per person.

Overall, Kawiti Caves is truly a hidden gem in the small town of Waiomio and a unique spot to see glow worms in New Zealand.

5. Lake McLaren 

Waimarino Kayak Tours in  Lake McLaren 
Photo credit: Waimarino Kayak Tours
  • Where: 15-minute drive from Tauranga 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: Free if you have your own kayak, $50 NZD for a kayak rental, $170 NZD for a guided tour

Lake McLaren is home to the magnificent Mangapapa Canyon. During dusk, shining glow worms can be seen, surrounded by lush forest over steep cliffs that encompass you as you enter the intriguing canyon on a kayak or walk along the waterfall track at McLaren Falls Park.  

Lake McLaren, accessed via McLaren Falls Park, is approximately a 15-minute drive from Tauranga. Follow Cambridge Road onto State Highway 29 and turn off at McLaren Falls Road. You will reach a good-sized car park with toilets, a cafe, and an information center.  

You can experience this kayak adventure easily by booking a 3.5-hour tour out of Tauranga. They provide kayaks and transportation, which makes exploring Lake McLaren and the glow worm caves a breeze! You’ll be led by an expert guide so you learn a ton about this area, which makes it way more meaningful. I always have so much fun on kayak tours, they are laid back and relaxed, and this one is even more special because of all the glow worms!

You can book this tour in advance for $170 NZD per person and it includes your kayaking gear, transportation, and snacks!

To check out the glow worms by yourself on foot, walk the 20-minute Waterfall Track. However, to get right into the canyon to see an even more spectacular display of glow worms, you will need a kayak to access the top of Lake McLaren. If heading from Rotorua, hire a kayak from River Rats for $50 NZD for 4 hours. Wear a headlamp, warm clothes, and a life jacket if going out in a kayak at night on your own

Whether you go on your own or in a group, it’s magical as you head down the stream and the trees form a cave-like structure above you. Then get ready to be amazed as glow worms light up the canyon. This is a great way to spot a bunch of glow worms outside of a cave setting! 

Related Read: McLaren Falls Park is one of the best road trip stops on the drive from Hamilton to Tauranga!

6. Spellbound Cave 

Spellbound Cave Glow worm boat tour
Photo credit: Spellbound
  • Where: Te Kuiti, about a 1-hour drive from Hamilton 
  • Do you need a tour: Yes 
  • Cost: $60 NZD

Spellbound Cave is Waitomo’s brightest glow worm cave! Floating down through the cave on a boat, it’s like there’s an entire solar system of stars above you as the glow worms light up the cave. It’s easy to see why you’ll be spellbound!

This is a perfect cave to explore for all ages and if you are not keen on kayaking or walking the whole time. To drive here, it’s around 1 hour from Hamilton and just over 2 hours from Auckland. You’ll be looking for a farm with a cottage off of Boddies Road.

You can’t visit the cave on your own, though. Spellbound is a family-owned business with over 35 years of experience in operating cave tours. I felt very safe and in good hands throughout the Glow Worm Cave Essential Tour, which took 1 hour and 25 minutes. It is $64 NZD per adult and only accommodates a maximum of 12 people per tour. 

Pop on your walking shoes, grab your camera, and join the tour heading into Spellbound Cave, which is part of the Mangawhitikau Cave. Entering the cave, grab a helmet with a torch and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.  

Walk through a limestone passageway with a ceiling covered in glow worms and hear the sounds of rushing water. Reach the boat and float gently along the water in the cave before reaching an area where you can admire the countless threads of glow worms shining bright blue, hanging down from above!  

The boat ride is definitely the highlight of the tour. Sit back, relax and take in the moment and the beautiful scenery.

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7. Abbey Caves 

Abbey Caves Glow Worms
  • Where: Whangarei, about a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: Free

Abbey Caves Reserve is home to three glow worm caves – Organ, Middle, and Ivy. Head along the Abbey Caves Walkway surrounded by farmland and native forest and immerse yourself in the dark glow worm caves. 

The Abbey Caves are totally free to visit! Make sure you wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet and then get ready to explore.

Driving from Whangarei City will take about 10 minutes or if you’re staying in Auckland, it’s around a 2-hour drive. Follow Abbey Caves Road until you reach the Abbey Caves Reserve on your right.  

There is roadside parking along Abbey Caves Road and there are toilets to use at the entrance to the reserve. The loop walk that connects the caves together consists of grassland, native forest, limestone outcrops, and sinkholes. It takes around 45 minutes to explore the whole area.  

Organ, Middle, and Ivy Cave are all quite similar. Climb over boulders to get down into the caves where your shoes may dip into water that runs along the passageway (you may find the water gets deeper the further you go). There are some narrow parts to squeeze through and some places you will need to duck your head, but that is all part of the adventure! 

Formations of eerie stalactites and an abundance of glow worms can be experienced throughout the caves, although Ivy Cave has the best glow worm exhibit. Make sure you turn your torch/flashlight off when you do reach a bunch of glow worms so you can have a better view! 

To exit the caves, head back the way you came. You can exit the Middle and Ivy Cave at the end, but it is a bit more difficult than going back the way you came due to the water and rocks. Overall, such a cool place to experience three little glow worm caves on your own! 

8. Blue Lake Area

Glow worms on a tour with Real Rotorua
Photo credit: Real Rotorua
  • Where: Rotorua, a 1-hour drive from Taupo 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: Free if you visit on your own, $95 NZD for a tour

Beautiful Blue Lake/Lake Tikitapu is a 15-minute drive from Rotorua. Discover epic glow worms by heading out at sunset on a guided kayak or walking tour, or even visit a glow worm dell on your own. 

If you’re up for a small group guided tour through Whakarewarewa Forest (also known as “The Redwoods” by the locals) to see glow worms, this Nocturnal Adventure Glow Worm Tour is the one to book.  

From $95 NZD per adult, this nighttime adventure provides the opportunity to see hundreds of glow worms and their sticky threads light up the bush. Possibly see morepork, possums and other creatures and trickling waterfalls too. End the tour next to a shimmering lake where you can star gaze! 

I love that this tour makes an evening activity easy, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. Be sure to book this tour in advance, as it does fill up!

For a solo adventure, hidden amongst the forest is a glow worm dell that is easily accessible (and free) to visit. It only takes about 5 minutes to walk to the glow worms from the parking lot at the north end of the lake. Come after sunset and head down the boat ramp, turn right, and walk along the sandy shore towards Whakarewarewa Forest. 

You’ll reach the Blue Lake Circuit sign, head down the stairs, turn left, and walk through the dark forest along an easy, flat trail. There is no signage for the turnoff to the glow worms, but there is a reflector on a tree (it will light up from your flashlight). At this point, you will see a path that leads to the right. Take it and keep an eye out for the glow worms! 

Admire the bright glow worms appearing on the high cliffs that surround you as you walk a bit further into the valley. It’s a great sheltered area to turn off any lights and just take it all in!

At another nearby lake, there’s a private glow worm cave to explore. It can only be accessed by going on the Rotorua Glow Worm Kayaking Tour. This is a sunset tour where you’ll escape on a 3-hour kayak expedition navigating the tunnels and caves filled with magical glow worms!

Even if you’ve never kayaked before or have kids alone, the kayaks are really stable and easy to use. Plus, you’ll have an expert guide along! It’s $165 NZD and this exclusive glow worm cave tour is one not to miss! This is one of my favorite ways to experience glow worms, so book it in advance here.

Related Read: This is also a great stop if you’re planning a road trip from Taupo to Rotorua!

Best Places to See Glow Worms on the South Island  

9. Te Anau Glow Worm Caves 

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves 
The Te Anau caves are epic!
  • Where: Te Anau, a 2-hour drive from Queenstown 
  • Do you need a tour: Yes 
  • Cost: $119 NZD

The popular Te Anau Glow Worm Caves is a limestone cave system estimated to be 12,000 years old and it’s one of the bucket list places to see on the South Island!

Its Maori name translates to “The Swirling Cave,” which refers to all the water that rushes through it.

Located on the western shore of Lake Te Anau, it’s about five minutes from central Te Anau or two hours from Queenstown. The thousands of glow worms that reside here can only be seen via a guided tour. 

 Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour takes you on a surreal adventure to this unique cave system. Starting off with an informative talk from your guide, head off on a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau and enjoy both a short walk and boat ride through the caves witnessing the stunning scene of thousands of glow worms and limestone. 

Listen to the sounds of flowing water as you enter the cave and get ready to be in awe of the display inside. For $119 NZD, this trip is well worth it, especially as you enjoy a luxury cruise back to the shore after the amazing glow worm display. 

Ensure you wear a jacket, warm clothes, and non-slip shoes. This is a great tour for all ages to enjoy!

Related Read: While in the area, make sure to check out the best restaurants and great places to stay in Te Anau on your trip!

10. Hokitika Glow Worm Dell 

Hokitika Glow Worm Dell 
Hokitika Glow Worm Dell 
  • Where: Hokitika, a 30-minute drive from Greymouth 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: Free

A well-known, local glow worm spot is the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell which also makes a fun day trip from Christchurch!

It’s a 3-hour drive from Christchurch to Hokitika on the famous Arthur’s Pass, or about 30 minutes from Greymouth. As it’s so close to the town of Hokitika, this is a super convenient location to see glow worms!

It’s right on the side of State Highway 6 at the northern entry of Hokitika town. With this glow worm colony just off the highway, there is some road noise. Keep an eye out for a clear sign and a parking lot. Alternatively, you can just park on the roadside or in town and walk over.

It can get really busy, so the later at night you wait to go, the better! Make sure you bring a flashlight along too.

The Hokitika Glow Worm Dell is suitable for all ages and is stroller-friendly. It’s only about a 5-minute walk along the path, so it’s good for kids to tag along.

The tall cliff walls you’ll come up to contain all the brightly shining glow worms. They are wonderful to gaze at, but there is a wire fence placed around the walls to protect the glow worms. It kind of makes it feel less magical, but overall, this is a great spot to see these fantastic creatures! 

11. Charleston Glow Worm Cave 

Charleston Glow Worm Cave with Underwater Adventures 1
Photo credit: Underwater Adventures
Charleston Glow Worm Cave with Underwater Adventures
Photo credit: Underwater Adventures
  • Where: Charleston, a 20-minute drive from Westport 
  • Do you need a tour: Yes 
  • Cost: Starting from $145 NZD

In the old gold mining town of Charleston, lies the Charleston Glow Worm Cave, also known as Te Anaui Cave.

It’s four hours from Christchurch, but only a 20-minute drive from Westport following State Highway 6 until you reach the tour base. You’ll need to take a guided tour, but it’s so worth it for the spectacular glow worms you’ll see.

UnderWorld Adventures offers two tours into the glow worm cave, one walking (3.5 hours and $145 NZD) and the other rafting (4 hours and $215 NZD), depending on your preference. It’s important that you have a decent level of fitness, as there are 132 steps to climb up to the cave entrance. Wear good shoes and warm clothing and bring a camera. 

This special cave is left in its natural state, so be prepared to walk along an uneven cave surface (with no handrail to hold!). This does make the cave feel extra special though with its natural beauty preserved, even if it makes it a bit more difficult to navigate through. 

On both tours, you’ll be driven to Waitakere River before jumping on a 20-minute train journey to reach Paparoa National Park and take a short walk to the glow worm cave. Whether you are admiring the glow worms on foot or floating on your tube enjoying the scenic view, it is such an awesome experience!

Related Read: From seeing some of the smallest creatures to the biggest, I love whale watching in Kaikoura!

12. Minnehaha Walk 

Minniehaha Walk glow worms
  • Where: Haast Highway, Fox Glacier 
  • Do you need a tour: No 
  • Cost: Free

Along Haast Highway on the West Coast, about 30 minutes from Franz Josef and just outside the village of Fox Glacier, you’ll find the entrance to the Minnehaha Walk, where glow worms can be seen along the trail.

This is a free, easy loop walk to do, that takes about 20 minutes to complete. No tour is required to see these glowing creatures among the gorgeous native rainforest. 

The track to begin the 1.2 km (0.7 mile) Minniehaha Walk starts just past the Bella Vista Motel. Park on the roadside or walk from the town, which only takes about 10 minutes. The gravel path is wide and flat. Head here after dark and bring a flashlight! 

The trail begins following a gentle stream through the forest of fern trees, winding vines, and moss-covered rocks and tree trunks. Be sure to turn off your torch so you can let your eyes adjust to the darkness so you can see them appear.  

The shining blue glow worms are not all clumped in one location like what you may see in a cave. Instead, look around as you walk, and in crevices or logs. The well-maintained track loops around to the start via the Te Weheka Walkway. Be patient and have fun spotting them! 

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey in a glow worm Cave in New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

Seeing glow worms in New Zealand is one of those experiences you can’t miss out on! Hopefully, this guide to finding glow worms in NZ has been helpful as you decide when and where to go. Whether you’re hoping for a tour or a solo adventure, there are plenty of places to spot these fascinating little creatures.

As you plan your epic New Zealand getaway, have a look at some of my other blogs on the North Island and the South Island. I’ve lived and traveled all over this amazing country, and I just know you’re going to fall in love with it as I have!

10 EPIC South Island Road Trips You’ll Love in New Zealand

COMPLETE Guide to the 13 National Parks in New Zealand

15 Things to KNOW before Visiting Hobbiton, New Zealand