Mt John, Tekapo
This tussocky hillock, 330m above Lake Tekapo, can be reached by car or on foot via the enjoyable Summit Track. A strong contender for New Zealand’s best lookout, the 360-degree panorama takes in surreal blue lakes and surrounding ranges (probably snow-capped), as well as the golden plains of the legendary Mackenzie country. And this is a lookout that never sleeps, with Mt John Observatory offering a chance to explore skies so clear they have been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Cape Reinga, Northland
Commonly considered New Zealand’s northernmost point, Cape Reigna (Te Rerenga Wairua) is in fact surpassed by Surville Cliffs to the east. It is, however, infinitely more memorable, fringed with golden sands and topped with a lighthouse overlooking the swirling meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Māori consider the cape the place where their souls depart for the afterlife, starting with a slide down the roots of the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree that clings to a rocky promontory.
North Egmont, Mount Taranaki
Taranaki/Mt Egmont National Park's visitor centre sits at an impressive 946 metres above sea level. Yet it’s just half an hour’s drive from New Plymouth, following a winding road through dense rainforest covering the volcano’s lower slopes, before emerging beyond the bushline. As well as housing fascinating displays, the centre enjoys unobstructed views up, down and around the mountain and out to the coast. A number of short walks offer the chance to study this strange volcanic landscape up close.
Sky Tower, Auckland
Resembling a giant hypodermic needle, the Sky Tower is Auckland’s dominant landmark and an awesome place from which to view the City of Sails and beyond. Take the lift to the observation deck with vertigo-inducing glass floor panels. At 220m above street level, the Sky Deck offers the ultimate outlook, although you can take your visit to another level by bungy jumping off the tower or skirting its edge on a SkyWalk (not for the faint hearted).
Mt Victoria, Wellington
From downtown it’s a ten-minute drive up to the ‘Mt Vic’ lookout, but it’s more adventurous to sweat it out on foot, following your nose along forested paths. Up the final flight of steps is the classic Wellington view – a 196m-high vantage over the city and hilly suburbs, and far away across the harbour to the Hutt Valley and surrounding ranges. (If you can see the tops of the Tararuas you picked a grand day indeed.) Just along the road is the northern summit lookout, made from marble recycled from a demolished London bridge.
Knights Point, southern West Coast
Lovers of lookouts will relish the West Coast road, eye-candy from one end to the other. Knights Point is particularly notable, not only as a roadside rest area perched high above the ocean, with mind-boggling views of the big, blue yonder. It also has a special place in history. The road from the glaciers to Haast only opened in 1965, a feat marked here by a memorial and celebrated in the name – Knights Point was named after a surveyor’s dog.
The Snout, Picton
Just one reason to linger in Picton, Victoria Domain is a wonderful bush reserve on a low ridge overlooking the harbour. The walking track along the spine sports several impressive lookouts, making it a great way to survey the labyrinthine Marlborough Sounds. From the tip of the Snout you can see for miles down the wide, main channel of Queen Charlotte Sound, with boats zipping to and fro.
Bob’s Peak, Queenstown
Keen on the hour-long, 450-metre slog up Bob’s Peak? No? Ride the Skyline Gondola instead, admiring the widening horizon as it rises. The peak’s viewing centre commands jaw-dropping views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, and houses the obligatory eateries and souvenir shops. Maximise your time at the top by walking the half-hour loop track, or better still, ride the luge. This downhill go-kart track is such a riot of fun you’d be forgiven for forgetting the views.
Te Mata Peak, Havelock North
Te Mata Peak is the jagged 399m summit of a knobbly park that rises dramatically from the agricultural Heretaunga Plains. The peak road is steep, and winds tightly through a landscape reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, with sheep trails, rickety fences and rock escarpments. The popular lookout commands views across the plains, Hawke’s Bay and Mahia Peninsula, and as far away as Mt Ruapehu on a good day. Alter the perspective by taking an amble along the Peak Trail.
Nugget Point, The Catlins
There’s a strong sense of anticipation on the short track to Nugget Point in The Catlins, which sidles around the ridge with the ocean far below. At its extremity, the lighthouse lookout is a revelation, affording a birds’ eye views of rocky islets, dotted with seals and sea lions and awash with swirling kelp. The eagle-eyed should look out for the sea birds that breed here – shags, sooty shearwaters, blue penguins, and the yellow-eyed penguins that may also be seen from the viewing hide at nearby Roaring Bay.