Here are some of the best things to do in New Zealand, one of the world’s most beautiful travel destinations.
I recently spent two months there, road tripping around both the North and South Islands. I fell in love with the country more and more every day. For such a small place, it has an incredible amount of eco-diversity and I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence and beauty of it.
Here’s my pick of the best of New Zealand:
New Zealand is famous for its adrenaline culture, from skydives to bungee jumps to white water rafting. Queenstown is the capital of adventure and a great place to get your adrenaline fill. It’s the place where bungy jumping was born! If action and adrenaline is what you’re after, then why not book a 12 day New Zealand Action Adventure Tour.
This certainly isn’t as heart-stopping as a bungee jump, but the Queenstown Luge is one of the most fun things to do in Queenstown. It also affords amazing views across the lake and mountains.
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most dramatic sights. It’s also one of the wettest with 182 days of rain per year! The best way to see the sound is on the water. You can do kayaking trips or take a cruise. Cruise Milford is great for knowledgeable guides and good prices.
Here’s how to tour Milford Sound.
Otago Central Rail Trail
Whether you join if for a couple of hours, or the full 150km track, the Otago Central Rail Trail is a beautiful way to see some of the central South Island by bike. You follow the old railway line from the days of the gold rush and pass through little historic villages along the way.
Hiking in Wanaka
Wanaka often gets overshadowed by Queenstown, but it’s a gorgeous place in its own right and the perfect place for hiking. Get the classic Instagram shot at the top of Arthur’s Peak or climb up to the glacier. Be sure to check with DOC / iSite to see which routes are safe on any particular day.
Driving the Mountain Passes
New Zealand is the ultimate road trip destination and some of the most gorgeous roads are the mountain passes, including Haast Pass and Arthur’s Pass on the South Island. Take your time and watch out for the brown signs that will tell you about viewpoints and sights along the way.
Sunset on the West Coast
The rugged west coast is the perfect place to catch a sunset. Some of the best ones we saw were at Hokitika and just up the coast from New Plymouth.
New Zealand spoils you with natural diversity and the Punakiki Pancake Rocks are a perfect example. These unique formations are made even more spectacular by the powerful blowholes that thunder through the rocks at high tide. It’s nature at its most awesome.
Helicopter Ride on Fox Glacier
Landing on a glacier and taking a walk in the snow before heading back down to the sunshine is a memory you’ll never forget. Seeing the glacier from the air is an awesome way to get an understanding of the sheer scale of the thing.
Lake Matheson Reflections
You need to cross your fingers for a still day on your visit to Lake Matheson. If luck’s on your side, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Mount Cook perfectly reflected in the lake. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in New Zealand. Even when the water isn’t still, the lake is definitely worth visiting.
Swim with Dolphins in Akaroa
Akaroa is the only place in the world where you can swim with the friendly little Hector’s Dolphins. It’s a truly once in a lifetime experience. There are various cruises on offer throughout the day.
After the 2011 earthquake destroyed much of Christchurch, the city set about re-building itself. An impressive transitional cathedral has been built, including 86 cardboard tubes, which has earned it the nickname “the cardboard cathedral”.
Wine Tour in Marlborough
New Zealand is famous for its sauvignon blanc and there’s no better way to sample it than taking a bike trip around the Marlborough region. The Explore Marlborough company is a great option as it includes a transfer from Picton to Marlborough, which allows you to enjoy as much wine as you like!
Kayaking in Abel Tasman
The Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand’s natural jewels and the perfect place to hike or explore by kayak. Kaiteriteri Kayaks offer a great tour that combines half a day of hiking with half a day kayaking.
Nelson is the kind of place you can imagine living. It’s in the perfect location next to the sea, small enough to have a great community, but big enough to have lots going on. While there, also head to some of the smaller places in the area, like the pretty Cable Bay.
Wellington Arts and Culture
Wellington is sometimes called the world’s coolest small capital and it packs in a lot of art and culture. Visit the Te Papa cultural museum or try to catch a gig or two while in town. It’s also home to the Weta Workshop where you can take a tour of the world-renowned special effects company, most famous for Lord of the Rings.
Hiking in Tongariro
The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes. It’s not easy and requires a reasonable level of fitness, but the views are simply stunning. It’s where some of Lord of the Rings was filmed, including Mount Doom.
Lake Taupo is the North Island’s answer to Queenstown and a great place to try some adventure activities, from bungee jumping to skydiving. Also, be sure to visit the mighty Huka Falls.
New Zealand has some gorgeous hot springs, including the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua, where you can relax in pools overlooking Lake Rotorua. It’s the ideal place to relax.
Another great way to indulge in New Zealand is by taking advantage of its wealth of mineral-rich mud. The QE Health Spa in Rotorua has an awesome medicinal mud bath treatment that you can even enjoy as a couple.
Wai-O-Tapu is Rotorua’s thermal wonderland where you can see some incredible natural wonders. There are colourful lakes, bubbling mud pools, and the Lady Knox geyser that explodes every morning.
Rotorua is the best place to learn about Maori life. There are two cultural centres, Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Village. The latter is a living Maori village where the local people show you around, and you can even try some sweetcorn cooked in a thermal pool.
Lord of the Rings fans mustn’t miss doing a tour of Hobbiton, and even if you’re not a fan of Tolkein, you’ll still enjoy this. The film set has been left intact since The Hobbit was filmed and it’s fascinating to see how much detail went into the Hobbiton set. You feel like you’ve been transported to a magical land.
One of the highlights of the Coromandel Peninsula is the stunning Cathedral Cove rock formation. It’s a 30-minute walk to get there along the coast. Once there you can swim and simply relax in the natural beauty.
Hot Water Beach
Up in the Coromandel Peninsula, there’s a beach with a hot spring running beneath it. You can dig a hole and create your own hot pool! Shovels are available for hire, but be carful as some of the areas are scalding hot!
Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a Sherlock Holmes? While in Auckland, try Escapade NZ, a fun escape room where you have an hour to solve a mystery puzzle before your time runs out. It’s great fun for groups!
Glowworms in Waitomo
Waitomo is the best area in New Zealand to go on a caving adventure and see glowworms deep inside the earth. Glowing Adventures is a great option as it’s run by a family who have a cave in their own backyard. This means you can skip the crowds that head to the main Waitomo Caves.
Waipoua Forest on the North Island is home to the world’s biggest and oldest kauri trees, including the incredible Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. Go and be awed by the magnificence of nature.
The Cream Trip
While in the Bay of Islands, a boat trip is a must. One of the best options is The Cream Trip by Fullers Great Sights, which follows the old delivery route that boats took to transport post and other goods, such as cream. This trip is great as it combines all the highlights, including sailing through the hole in the rock, stopping at an island, and having the opportunity to swim with dolphins. They also have a cool boom net, which you can hold onto while the boat pulls you along!
Sailing with R Tucker Thompson
Another brilliant option in the Bay of Islands is a full-day of sailing on the R Tucker Thompson tall ship, where you can climb the rigging and enjoy a day of cream teas, champagne and swinging off a rope right into the sea. During the off-season, the boat is part of a youth development programme that teaches teamwork and leadership skills. All the profits from tourism go towards funding the programme.
Surfing in Raglan
Raglan is New Zealand’s premier surf spot and the ideal place to learn. There are tons of surf schools, varying from one day courses to several month intensives. It’s also a cool laid-back town to spend some time soaking up the beachlife.
Take a Road Trip
Undoubtedly one of the best ways to see New Zealand is by taking a road trip around the country. The scenery is spectacular, the roads are quiet and every few miles, you see something that makes you say “Wow!”. Spaceships Rentals has some cool camper vans that are known as “the Swiss Army knife of camper vans” as they pack so much into a small space. They’re more like a car than a van, and the prices are really affordable. For something bigger, Britz has some excellent options, including the classic HiTop, or the slightly cheaper ActionPod, which is like a converted van rather than a purpose-made camper. If you don’t fancy getting a camper van then Omega Rentals tends to have the cheapest car rental options.