The home of the kiwi is a land of pure drama from start to finish. Ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, across craggy mountains and lush rainforests, rolling tussock hills and remote beaches, NZ is a kaleidoscope of stunning natural wonders that you certainly won’t forget in a hurry. And there are some pretty dangerous places in New Zealand in the mix, too…
Cue this guide. It runs through seven of the most goosebump-inducing spots on this eye-watering set of islands Down Under. From hot water springs and bubbling mud pools to smoke-bleching volcanoes and gnarly surf breaks, it scouts from the coastal reaches of North Island all the way to the remote fjords of South Island in search of places where you’ll need to tread carefully and have your wits about you.
You’ll see that some, despite the fact that they should come with a hefty health warning, remain uber-popular visitor hotspots. Others are isolated, hard-to-reach locations that are out of bounds for all except the most intrepid travelers going. But the whole bunch are worthy of a spot on this list of the most dangerous places in New Zealand.
Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach is one of the jewels of the Coromandel Peninsula. Skirting the western haunch of North Island with its golden powder and backing of rugged hills dressed in old kauri forests, the strand is known for the geothermal activity that goes on below the surface. Come within two hours of low tide and you can join the crowds who dig their own makeshift spa pools straight out of the sand. A couple of shovels down and viola: You’ve got yourself a private Jacuzzi bubbling right by the Pacific Ocean.
But the reason that Hot Water Beach has a spot among the most dangerous places in New Zealand isn’t actually anything to do with its naturally heated shore waters. It’s to do with the strong coastal currents that brush up against this part of the island. They can create dangerous rips that have unexpectedly pulled people out into the Pacific. Couple that with the potentially large swells that help make Hot Water Beach one of the best surf spots in New Zealand and you’ve got a particularly risky section of the coast.
Hot water beach does have its own lifeguard crew, so there should be someone on the lookout. The lifeguards are also there to watch out for any sea life that might decide you put in an appearance, the most common being sharks. The rules and guidelines, as well as signage, are in place to help keep you as safe as possible. Be warned: Incidents here in the past have resulted in lost lives.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Home to the awe-inspiring Southern Alps, this place is a popular spot for true adventurers on South Island. Offering a range of leisurely walks and grand, multi-day hikes, the region is a true trekking mecca. But for unseasoned and ill-prepared tourists, the untrodden valleys and highland terrain can also be one of the most dangerous places in New Zealand.
A lot of that is down to the weather. With the soaring peaks of jagged Mount Hopeless and the 2,000-meter-plus Ella Range dominating one side, the whole place is a storm magnet. It has some of the most changeable climactic conditions in the region. Tramping days can start with blazing sun on your face and end with sub-zero snowstorms, so always check with the local Department of Conservation (DOC) for accurate weather and track conditions. You can also purchase track maps to follow so you know where you are going.
There are also some particularly challenging treks to up the danger level at Nelson Lakes even more. They include the approach to the Angelus Hut via Roberts Ridge. There have been over 45 mountain rescues on that one in the last decade alone, along with two recorded fatalities. That puts it firmly among the most dangerous highland spots in NZ as a whole.
Rotorua bubbling mud pools & hot springs
The geothermal wonders of New Zealand attract thousands of visitors every year. The region of Rotorua in the heart of the North Island is one of the most famous spots of the lot if you’re on the hunt for geysers and hot springs. The action there is spread between a number of sites, most notably the ominously named Hell’s Gate and the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
Both of those have prismatic pools and steaming riverways aplenty, but they’re not the place to go for an open-air spa experience. Nope, you’ll have to resist the temptation to dive in, because the water in many of the pools is so hot that some say that it would be enough to peel human skin from the body. Other pools are thought to contain potentially harmful bacterium, like the brain-eating amoeba naegleria fowleri, which can lead to meningitis.
And it’s not just the water that you need to look out for. Rotorua’s geothermal parks also come speckled with geysers and fumaroles that can erupt without warning at any time. Thankfully, there are well-marked paths that should keep you away from where they go off. Just be sure to follow designated routes and never jump the fences or ignore the signs!
Most visitors to Auckland enjoy a true NZ welcome. With a big kia ora and its trademark urban energy, this sprawling town – the biggest in the country, no less – promises oodles of buzzy bars, shopping areas, landmarks, museums – the list goes on. However, this isn’t the remote Southern Alps. There are higher crime rates and other dangers that come with city living that you’ll need to watch out for…
First off, the CBD and the areas of Queen Street can get pretty raucous on weekends. There are regular incidents with inebriated travelers and locals getting into scuffles in those built-up parts, usually in the later hours. Then you have the outer suburbs; places like Southmall and Manurewa. Those are known for their increased levels of anti-social behavior and petty crime. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be heading in their direction as they’re quite far off the tourist trail.
Whakaari or White Island is one of the most active volcanos in the whole of New Zealand. It rises from the Bay of Plenty some 36 miles off the coast and the town of Whakatane. It’s certainly one that will take the breath away, as it juts from the pearly Pacific Ocean with huge splinters of rock rising overhead and a central caldera that’s often plumed in sulfuric mist and ash.
White Island was catapulted into the headlines back in 2019 when it erupted unexpectedly. The incident killed 22 people and left 25 others injured, some seriously, with burns covering up to 95% of their body. The disaster remains one of the most deadly in the history of the country and shook the adventure tourism sector in the Bay of Plenty region to the foundations.
All on-island tours have stopped running in the aftermath of the eruption. You can still visit by boat and helicopter to take in the majesty of the isle from a distance, though. However, probably the safest way to see White Island is from the lookout points on the mainland of North Island.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is unquestionably one of the most awesome hikes in all of New Zealand. Some say it’s even one of the best single-day alpine treks on the planet! Located on the North Island, the 19km path links up two sides of the Tongariro National Park, going through barren high-altitude terrain that’s heavily exposed with visions of snow-capped volcanoes lurking in the distance.
Of course, all that brings some risks. This path clocks up the highest number of searches and rescues of any trek in New Zealand. A lot of that is down to its popularity, but you also have to consider the extreme climate, terrain, and distance. The full trek usually takes around seven hours from start to finish. That requires a good level of fitness and means there’s a high chance you’ll have to deal with different weather conditions.
As global mountains go, the highest summit in New Zealand is a relative baby. At just 3,724 meters, it’s less than half as high as its compadres in the Himalaya. However, previous veterans of the climb to the top are more or less agreed that it’s one of the most dangerous alpine challenges out there. Some say it’s even on a par with Everest, a claim that holds weight when you factor in that Edmund Hillary once trained in this amphitheater of rock and ice and stone in the middle of South Island.
The stats do the talking: A whopping 80 fatalities since climbing began, multiple mountain rescue missions every season, regular deaths among climbers. Yep, there’s simply no denying that Aoraki Mount Cook is one darn formidable peak. The risks are many. From deep crevasses to rock falls, the main routes up are all laced with dangers. What’s more, the mountain is considered a major avalanche risk area – we recently climbed the peak next door to Mount Cook and could hear thunderous snow falls almost every 10 minutes!
Climbing Aoraki Mount Cook is not something to be taken lightly as this is 100% one of the most dangerous places in New Zealand. It’s an adventure best left to expert alpinists with a deep and long experience of working in high-alpine terrain. However, more casual tourists can do any number of shorter treks in the region to appreciate the majesty of the peak, including very easy-going strolls through the Hooker Valley.