Top things to do in New Zealand
It should come as no surprise that there’s no shortage of things to do in this amazing country of ours. New Zealand’s diverse landscape and natural beauty means that outdoor activities like walking & hiking and mountain biking are hugely popular.
But as we’ve discovered, New Zealand has many surprises for visitors and locals alike, and over the years we’ve tried things that we previously never considered – like ziplining through a forest and sledging down white water rapids.
In this comprehensive A to Z guide of things to do in New Zealand, we’ll give you a taste of the kinds of activities you can experience here, both active & outdoorsy as well as laid-back & relaxing. So if you’re looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand itinerary, we have no doubt that this guide will get you inspired.
The clue is in our name, Out There Kiwi – we’re passionate about the outdoors so this guide is going to be a little skewed towards active outdoor adventures. Now you may or may not consider yourself to be particularly active or adventurous, but either way, New Zealand is geared towards providing safe, thrilling adventures for all so let’s get into it with…
Base Jumping (sort of)
Now you’re probably already thinking “No way!” but hold up a second. We’re not talking about jumping off a structure with a parachute and mere seconds between life and death. What we’re referring to here is Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower SkyJump.
The SkyJump offers thrill-seekers (and those looking to face their fear of heights) the opportunity to leap off the tower’s observation deck from a dizzying height of 192 meters (630 feet), all while securely attached to a wire cable.
This controlled base jump provides an unforgettable free-fall sensation that lasts approximately 11 seconds, reaching speeds of up to 85 kilometres per hour (53 mph) before coming to a gentle landing in SkyCity Plaza below. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to base jumping without actually base jumping.
Still not convinced? That’s ok. For those who prefer a slightly tamer adventure, the SkyWalk is a fantastic alternative. This heart-stopping activity lets you walk along a narrow, open-air platform that encircles the tower’s exterior. You’ll be securely harnessed to a safety rail, allowing you to take in 360-degree views of Auckland from 192 meters above the ground, hands-free if you’re brave enough.
In addition to the SkyJump and SkyWalk, Auckland Sky Tower also offers a VR experience called the SkySlide. This virtual reality attraction simulates the sensation of sliding down a transparent tube that winds its way around the exterior of the tower. It’s an immersive way to enjoy the breathtaking views without physically venturing outside the building but it’s still guaranteed to get the heart racing.
To experience these activities, head to the Sky Tower in Auckland’s central business district. During peak tourist season (December to February), advance bookings are recommended to secure a spot for your chosen adventure. Visit Auckland SkyJump for more details.
Dive head first into one of New Zealand’s most iconic adrenaline-pumping activities – bungee jumping! Pioneered by the legendary AJ Hackett, this thrilling adventure has become synonymous with the country’s daring spirit.
Inspired by experimental jumps by the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club in the 1970s, Hackett’s innovative ideas and safety measures have made bungee jumping (or bungy jumping as it’s spelt here in NZ) a must-do for adrenaline junkies and adventurers visiting New Zealand. Here’s where you can experience bungee jumping:
Auckland Bungy Jump
Guaranteed to help you beat jet lag as you step off the plane, The Auckland Harbour Bridge Bungy lets you leap from a specially designed pod suspended beneath the iconic bridge. Plummet 40 meters (131 feet) towards the waters of Waitematā Harbour, and if you’re up for it, opt for the ocean-touch experience for a refreshing splash as you touch the surface.
Taupō Bungy Jump & Swing
Home to New Zealand’s only cliff-top bungee, AJ Hackett Bungy Taupō lets you jump off a cantilever platform 47 metres (154 feet) above the crystal clear waters of the Waikato River. You can either jump solo or tandem and you can get dunked or stay dry – the choice is yours.
Taupō is also home to the North Island’s only swing, a 44m swing that will take you through the air at speeds of up to 70kph.
Queenstown Bungy Jump, Catapult & Swings
While AJ Hackett’s early experimental jump sites were in Auckland, Queenstown is undoubtedly the home of bungee jumping as it’s where he opened his first commercial bungee site in 1988. Today, there are three bungee sites in Queenstown:
- Nevis Bungy – at 134 meters (440 feet), this is New Zealand’s highest bungee jump. Nevis also has a catapult and a swing option
- Kawarau Bridge Bungy – where it all started, with a respectable 43 meter (141 foot) drop
- Ledge Bungy – throw yourself off a 47 meter (154 feet) platform high above Queenstown
While kayaking, and in recent years paddleboarding (we’ll cover both of these later) are common throughout New Zealand, traditional canoeing is a little less popular. But if there’s one experience that’s synonymous with canoeing, it’s got to be the Whanganui Journey.
Despite being a water-based adventure, this unforgettable experience is one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks, and takes you on a 145 kilometre (54 mile) canoe expedition through the pristine wilderness of the Whanganui National Park, from the town of Taumarunui to the small settlement of Pipiriki. The journey is normally done over the course of 5 days, and there are a number of campsites along the way.
There is also the option to do just a portion of the full journey over 3 days or you could even opt for a 1 day experience that will give you a taste of what the full journey is all about.
While the Whanganui Journey is a self-guided canoe trip, there are several operators in the region that offer guided experiences, canoe rentals, and transport services. They can help you plan your adventure and provide valuable information about the river and its history.
For a fully inclusive guided experience, visit Adrift Tongariro.
Canyoning combines elements of hiking, climbing, abseiling, and swimming, allowing you to navigate through beautiful gorges, waterfalls, and natural rock formations that you wouldn’t normally be able to access.
Now this may sound a little daunting, but with guided experiences available for both beginners and experienced canyoners, New Zealand’s diverse terrain provides an array of unforgettable adventures. Here are a few places to consider:
AWOL Canyoning Adventures in Piha
Just an hour’s drive from Auckland, Piha is a popular destination for canyoning enthusiasts. The rugged Waitakere Ranges provide an excellent backdrop for an adrenaline-fueled adventure, with experienced operators like AWOL Canyoning Adventures offering guided trips through the Kitekite Falls area. Prepare for an exhilarating day of abseiling down waterfalls, leaping into rock pools, and navigating through the lush native forest.
Canyonz in the Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula, known for its stunning beaches and beautiful rainforests, is also home to some fantastic canyoning experiences. Join a guided adventure with Canyonz who will lead you through the Sleeping God Canyon.
This full-day trip is a challenging yet rewarding journey, involving abseiling, jumps, and natural waterslides amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Coromandel’s volcanic rock formations and cascading waterfalls.
This seaside town is synonymous with surfing, but the team at Raglan Rock have access to a hidden canyon tucked away in the rolling hills just south of Raglan and they can take you there day or night. That’s right, you can abseil a waterfall by the light of a head torch, but turn off your torch and you’ll see what actually calls the place home.
Abel Tasman Canyons
For an unforgettable canyoning adventure on the South Island, head to the Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman Canyons offers guided trips that cater to all skill levels. Explore the sculpted granite canyons, crystal-clear pools, and native forests of the Torrent River or, for a more challenging experience, you can take on Waterfall Creek.
Caving (glowworm spotting)
We are by no means cavers or spelunkers (the official term). But over the years, we’ve enjoyed a few caving adventures, most notably Waipu Cave north of Auckland and our most adventurous trip, Cave Stream on the South Island.
Now caving may not be high on your to-do list, but as it turns out, venturing into the underground world of New Zealand’s caves is where you’ll encounter one of the country’s must-see attractions – glow worms.
These bioluminescent creatures are worth the effort to see and there are guided tours available at a number of locations throughout New Zealand. Here are a few options to consider:
Perhaps the most famous glowworm destination, the Waitomo Caves offer a range of guided tours to suit all ages and interests. Embark on a magical boat ride through the glowworm grotto with Waitomo Glowworm Caves, or combine caving with adventure by joining a black water rafting trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
You can also explore the limestone formations of Ruakuri Cave, which boasts a wheelchair-accessible spiral entrance.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves
On the South Island, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves provide an awe-inspiring experience. Accessible only by boat, the guided tours from Real Journeys take you across the serene waters of Lake Te Anau before entering the underground network of limestone caves. Marvel at the rushing waterfalls, whirlpools, and, of course, the dazzling glowworms that illuminate the cave’s dark recesses.
Riverside Adventures Waikato
Still not convinced about going underground? For a unique glowworm adventure, head to Lake Karapiro, where Riverside Adventures Waikato offers guided kayak tours. Paddle through the calm waters of the lake at dusk and into a hidden canyon, where the glowworms create a dazzling display on the canyon walls.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
New Zealand offers a diverse range of cycling and mountain biking experiences, catering to both adrenaline junkies and leisurely riders alike. With its spectacular landscapes and well-maintained trails, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful country. Here are a few options to consider:
New Zealand’s Great Rides: For an unforgettable cycling adventure, explore one of the 23 Great Rides that make up Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails. These trails span both the North and South Island, taking you through stunning scenery, unique cultural experiences, and historic landmarks. Some popular Great Rides include the Timber Trail in the central North Island and the Otago Central Rail Trail and Queen Charlotte Track on the South Island.
Auckland: For mountain biking enthusiasts, Auckland boasts a variety of parks and trails. Woodhill Mountain Bike Park, located just 40 minutes from the city centre, offers an extensive network of purpose-built tracks to suit all skill levels. Alternatively, head to Riverhead Forest or Whitford Forest for some challenging off-road adventures.
Queenstown: Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, it should come as no surprise that Queenstown is also a mountain biking paradise. With a range of trails to suit all abilities, the Queenstown Bike Park is a fantastic destination for riders. The park has over 30 world-class downhill MTB trails with more than 30 kms of riding and 450 metres of vertical descent. Another option to consider is the 7 Mile Scenic Reserve Bike Park which offers a number of tracks graded 3-5.
Hawke’s Bay: If you’re looking for a leisurely cycling experience, head to Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island. The region’s extensive network of off-road cycle paths takes you through idyllic vineyards and charming rural landscapes. Rent a bike and explore at your own pace, or join a guided tour with the team from Tākaro Trails to learn more about the area.
Nelson: The sunny city of Nelson is another excellent destination for relaxed cycling adventures. The Great Taste Trail is a popular, leisurely ride that showcases the region’s stunning coastline, picturesque vineyards, and artisanal food producers. For a more challenging rides, head to the nearby mountain biking trails in the Richmond Hills or the Codgers Mountain Bike Park.
Diving & Snorkeling
New Zealand’s diverse marine environments offer fantastic opportunities for scuba diving & snorkeling enthusiasts. From subtropical waters in the north to the mystical fjords of the south, you’ll find a variety of unique underwater experiences to suit all skill levels. Here are 4 top diving & snorkeling spots to consider.
Poor Knights: Located 23 km (14 miles) off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve is renowned for its exceptional diving and snorkeling. Water from the relatively warm subtropics brings an abundance of marine life to the area, creating a vibrant underwater ecosystem. Rated by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world, The Poor Knights Islands are a must-visit destination for underwater enthusiasts. Visit Dive! Tutukaka to find out more.
Bay of Islands: Still on the east coast but north of the Poor Knights, The Bay of Islands offers a diverse range of diving experiences. From exploring the historic Rainbow Warrior wreck to swimming alongside abundant marine life, you’ll find plenty of exciting underwater adventures. Operating out of the small seaside town of Paihia, Paihia Dive is a popular operator in the region, offering guided tours and equipment rentals for divers and snorkelers of all skill levels.
Goat Island: Just an hour’s drive north of Auckland, Te Hāwere-a-Maki / Goat Island Marine Reserve is a fantastic destination for snorkeling and diving. The waters of the reserve are home to an incredible variety of marine life, including schools of inquisitive snapper and the occasional stingray. The typically calm, clear waters in the channel between the island and the shore make Goat Island an excellent spot for beginners and families.
Milford Sound: On the South Island, Milford Sound offers a unique diving experience within the spectacular Fiordland National Park. The freshwater layer from the surrounding mountains creates an unusual underwater environment, where deep-sea species can be found closer to the surface. Descend into the mysterious depths with experienced operators like Descend Scuba Diving to encounter rare black coral, nudibranch and over 150 different fish species.
New Zealand’s extensive coastline and pristine waters make it a prime destination for fishing enthusiasts. Fishing charters and deep sea fishing experiences cater to anglers of all skill levels, providing opportunities to catch a wide variety of fish species.
For an adrenaline-pumping adventure, head out into the open ocean for a deep sea fishing expedition. Targeting larger game fish like marlin and tuna, these trips are perfect for experienced anglers looking for a challenge. Expert skippers and knowledgeable crew ensure a memorable and successful trip, whether you’re a seasoned angler or a first-time fisherman.
Charters can be found throughout the country, from the Bay of Islands in the north to the Fiordland coast in the south. Some popular charter operators include Earl Grey Fishing in the Bay of Islands and Hooked Up Charters in Auckland.
For a truly unique fishing experience, head to the remote waters of Fiordland National Park. The dramatic landscape provides a stunning backdrop as you cast your line for blue cod, trumpeter, and other deep sea species with the team from Fiordland Expeditions.
Jet boating is an exhilarating way to explore New Zealand’s waterways and harbours. Hold on tight as you race through narrow canyons, execute thrilling 360-degree spins, or just take in the surroundings if you can keep your eyes open that is. Here are some popular spots for jet boating.
Auckland: For a unique perspective of the City of Sails, hop on a jet boat tour in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Operators like Auckland Adventure Jet provide an adrenaline-fueled experience, combining incredible views of the city skyline with high-speed manoeuvres and spray-soaked turns. It’s a thrilling way to explore New Zealand’s largest city.
Taupō: Located in the heart of the North Island, Lake Taupō is a popular holiday destination. While there are no jet boat operators on the lake itself, Hukafalls Jet can take you on an exciting journey up the Waikato River (the river starts in Lake Taupō), speeding towards the base of thundering Huka Falls for an up-close view of this powerful natural wonder.
Further downstream, Rapids Jet will take you on a 35 minute white-water thrill ride on the Ngawawapurua Rapids.
Queenstown: As you might expect from the adventure capital of New Zealand, the Shotover Jet claims to be “the world’s most exciting jet boat ride”. Their skilled jet boat drivers (and they have to be skilled) navigate the twists and turns of the narrow Shotover River canyon with incredible precision, providing a heart-stopping and unforgettable adventure.
Dart River: For an even more scenic jet boating experience, head to the South Island’s Dart River, located within the Mount Aspiring National Park. The Dart River Adventures Wilderness Jet experience combines the excitement of jet boating with the awe-inspiring beauty of the glacier-fed river and surrounding native forest. Keep an eye out for locations used in the Lord of the Rings films as you speed through this pristine wilderness.
From serene lakes to sheltered bays and deserted stretches of rugged coastline, after hiking, kayaking is in our opinion one of the best ways to experience New Zealand. The country is geared up for this popular activity with guided tours and kayak hire readily available at a number of popular locations on both the North and South Islands. Here are a few spots for you to consider.
Taupō: As New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupō offers a range of kayaking experiences from a leisurely 2 hour guided paddle along the Waikato River to full day guided adventures that will take you past towering cliffs and secluded waterfalls. For a unique experience, join a guided tour or hire a kayak from Taupō Kayaking Adventures and visit the stunning Māori rock carvings at Mine Bay.
Coromandel: Our personal favourite summertime destination, the Coromandel Peninsula offers a wealth of kayaking opportunities, from tranquil estuaries to rugged coastal cliffs. One of the area’s most popular kayaking destinations is picturesque Cathedral Cove, with its pristine waters and iconic rock archway. Join a guided tour with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours or rent a kayak to explore this stunning area at your own pace.
Bay of Islands: The subtropical Bay of Islands is a fantastic destination for sea kayaking, with its calm waters and abundant marine life. Dolphins are a regular siting and if you’re lucky, you might get to see the world’s smallest penguin, the Korora or Blue Penguin. Operating out of Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands Kayaking offers guided tours and rentals for an unforgettable experience.
South Island: New Zealand’s South Island also boasts incredible kayaking locations. Paddle through the emerald waters of the Abel Tasman National Park, exploring golden beaches, native forests, and wildlife-rich waters. Join a guided tour with operators like Abel Tasman Kayaks, or venture further south to kayak the serene waters of Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound, taking in the dramatic fiord landscapes and cascading waterfalls.
When we bought our first inflatable paddleboards back in 2014, they were a bit of a novelty for most here in New Zealand. Fast forward a few years and the sport’s growing popularity means you’ll find plenty of opportunities for paddleboarding in beautiful locations across the country.
Lake Paddleboarding: New Zealand’s numerous lakes offer an ideal setting for stand-up paddleboarding. Lake Taupō, in the heart of the North Island, is a popular SUP destination, with operators like Lakefun Taupō offering rentals by the hour. On the South Island, Lake Wanaka and Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu provide stunning alpine backdrops for your paddleboarding adventures.
Coastal Paddleboarding: New Zealand’s extensive coastline offers countless opportunities for SUP enthusiasts. We’ve already mentioned the Coromandel as a great place for kayaking and the same is true for paddleboarding. We’ve had some of our best adventures while paddleboarding in and around Hahei Beach on the east coast of the peninsula. Alternatively, head to Raglan on the west coast of the North Island for a unique paddleboarding experience.
Guided Tours and Lessons: If you’re new to paddleboarding or looking for a guided experience, there are number of operators offering tours and lessons throughout New Zealand. Companies like Raglan Kayak and Paddleboard on the North Island and Franz Josef Wilderness Tours on the South Island provide expert instruction and guided tours, ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable SUP adventure.
Skiing & Snowboarding
From the volcanoes of the North Island to the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s diverse mountainous terrain offers a variety of skiing and snowboarding options. Keen to carve up some powder? Here’s were you need to go.
North Island: It’s not often that you get the chance to ski on an active volcano so for a unique experience, head to Mount Ruapehu. The highest mountain on the North Island, Ruapehu is home to two popular public ski fields, Whakapapa and Turoa. With a wide selection of runs, both resorts cater to all skill levels with Whakapapa better suited to first-timers. Enjoy the striking volcanic landscape and panoramic views as you shred the slopes.
South Island: The South Island’s Southern Alps are the heart of New Zealand’s ski scene, with several world-class ski resorts to choose from. Queenstown is home to two renowned resorts, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. Further north, the picturesque Lake Wanaka region boasts two more fantastic ski resorts, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone, known for their family-friendly facilities and varied terrain.
Heli-Skiing: For the ultimate powder experience, consider heli-skiing in New Zealand’s remote backcountry. Access untouched powder and incredible terrain by helicopter, then carve your way down pristine slopes under the guidance of expert guides. Operators like Harris Mountains Heli-Ski and Southern Lakes Heli-Ski offer unforgettable heli-skiing adventures in the South Island’s Southern Alps.
Ready to take the plunge and feel the rush of freefalling from thousands of feet in the air. Here are three top spots for sky diving in New Zealand.
Auckland: When it comes to sky diving, it’s all about freefall time and for that you need height. Skydive Auckland currently offers New Zealand’s highest tandem skydive at 20,000ft giving you up to 85 seconds of freefall with panoramic views of both the east coast and the west coast of the North Island at the same time.
Taupō: Once again Taupō delivers with the option of an 18,500ft jump. With the team at Taupō Tandem Skydiving you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of New Zealand’s largest lake as well as the volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park to the south of Lake Taupō.
Queenstown: By now you probably already guessed it – Queenstown is an iconic skydiving destination. With the stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps, Lake Wakatipu, and the picturesque Remarkables mountain range, freefalling over Queenstown is an experience like no other and the team at NZONE Skydive will make sure you have an experience of a lifetime.
New Zealand’s diverse coastline and consistent swells make it a fantastic destination for surfing. From the world-renowned breaks of Raglan to Auckland’s east coast and west coast beaches, there’s no shortage of waves to catch in this surfer’s paradise.
Auckland West Coast: Just a short drive from Auckland, the west coast beaches of Piha and Muriwai are popular surf spots. While the west coast’s typically large swells and powerful breaks cater to more experienced surfers, surf schools like Muriwai Surf School and Piha Surf School do offer lessons and board rentals for those looking to hone their skills.
Auckland East Coast: Located on the east coast north of Auckland, Te Arai is a pristine, white-sand beach that offers fantastic surfing conditions. With typically smaller swells than the west coast and variety of breaks, it’s a great spot for surfers of all abilities. Aotearoa Surf provides lessons and board rentals, ensuring you have everything you need for a fun day on the waves.
Raglan: Known for its world-class left-hand point break, Raglan is a must-visit destination for any serious surfer. Located on the west coast of the North Island, the small surf town is home to several epic surf spots, including Manu Bay, Whale Bay, and Indicators.
With waves suitable for beginners and advanced surfers alike, Raglan is a true surf mecca. Raglan Surf School offers lessons, coaching, and equipment rentals to help you make the most of your time in the water.
Surf Highway 45: Winding along the Taranaki coastline, Surf Highway 45 boasts a number of surf spots just waiting to be discovered. From the iconic right-hand break at Stent Road to the more family friendly waves at Fitzroy Beach, this stretch of highway is a dream for surfers seeking a variety of breaks and stunning coastal scenery.
Walking & Hiking
We can tell you from firsthand experience that New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise, offering a diverse range of walking and hiking experiences amidst epic landscapes. From the country’s incredible national parks to the renowned Great Walks and shorter day hikes, there’s something for everyone, regardless of fitness level or experience.
New Zealand is home to 13 national parks, each showcasing unique and breathtaking natural beauty. From the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park to the pristine wilderness of Fiordland National Park, these protected areas offer unforgettable hiking opportunities. As you explore the parks, you’ll encounter lush forests, rugged coastlines, and snow-capped mountains, with well-maintained trails winding through the picturesque terrain.
Great Walks: For the ultimate hiking experience, tackle one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks. These multi-day hikes (or tramps as they’re referred to in New Zealand) are considered the best of the best, showcasing the country’s diverse landscapes and offering a truly immersive outdoor experience.
Popular Great Walks include the Abel Tasman Coast Track, the Routeburn Track, and the Milford Track. Plan well in advance, as bookings are required for accommodation along these trails.
Day Hikes & Short Walks: If you’re short on time or prefer a more leisurely pace, New Zealand offers plenty of short walks and day hikes to suit all abilities. From coastal tracks like the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway to alpine adventures like the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, there’s something for everyone.
Plan My Walk: To help you plan your hiking adventures and navigate New Zealand’s vast network of trails, we highly recommend that you check out check out the Plan My Walk website and mobile app. This useful resource provides information on trail difficulty, distance, and estimated duration, along with detailed maps and user reviews. You can also create personalised itineraries and save your favourite routes for future reference.
White Water Rafting
Where there are mountains and lakes there are rivers, and where there are rivers, adventure awaits in the form of white water rapids. If you want to get your heart racing as you navigate wild water, here’s where you need to go.
Rotorua: Famous for its geothermal attractions, Rotorua also boasts some of the best white water rafting and sledging in the North Island. The Kaituna River is a popular spot, offering an exhilarating combination of fast-flowing rapids and stunning scenery, including a plunge over the 7-meter Grade 5 Tutea Falls – the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall.
The team at Kaitiaki Adventures also offer sledging. Not sure what sledging is all about? Well neither did we until we did it… by mistake. Check out White water sledging in Rotorua to read about our experience.
Taupō: One of the major rivers feeding Lake Taupō, the Tongariro, is home to the Tongariro River Rafting crew who can take you on a heart-pounding roller coaster ride through 60 grade 3 rapids. That’s more rapids in one stretch of river than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Queenstown: You can probably see now why so many visitors flock to Queenstown. The Shotover and Kawarau Rivers offer thrilling rafting experiences against the backdrop of the Southern Alps. With a mix of challenging rapids and calmer stretches, you can find the perfect rafting adventure to suit your taste for excitement. Challenge Rafting and Realnz are popular operators in the area.
Ziplining is another activity that we tried for the first time after moving to New Zealand back in 2013. Having done it on both Waiheke Island and in Rotorua, we reckon everyone should experience the thrill of soaring through treetops at least once in their life.
Waiheke Island: Just a short ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island is home to EcoZip Adventures. EcoZip offers an unforgettable experience as you glide through the air on a series of ziplines, high above the native bush and vineyards. With dual ziplines, you can even race a friend or family member as you take in the panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf and the surrounding islands. The adventure also includes a guided nature walk, where you’ll learn about the island’s unique flora and fauna, as well as the local history and conservation efforts.
Rotorua: Rotorua Canopy Tours offers an immersive adventure, where you’ll traverse a network of ziplines, swing bridges, and treetop platforms high above the ancient native forest. As you glide through the canopy, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding landscape and learn about New Zealand’s unique ecology from your knowledgeable guides.
For an extra thrill, check out their Ultimate Canopy Tour, which includes a 400-meter-long tandem zipline and a 50-meter-high cliff walk. You can read about our experience here, Hanging out with Rotorua Canopy Tours.
So if you’ve read this far (assuming you didn’t skip straight to this section 😉 you should have a pretty good idea of all the adventurous things there are to do in New Zealand. But now it’s time to dial it down a notch with a few laid-back activities. After all, after a hot and sweaty day of adventuring, what could be better than a spot of…
Beer & Wine Tasting
With a thriving craft beer scene and numerous internationally acclaimed wineries, there’s no shortage of opportunities to taste and discover the incredible flavours that New Zealand has to offer.
New Zealand’s craft beer scene has exploded in recent years, with innovative breweries crafting a diverse range of brews. From hoppy IPAs to velvety stouts, there’s a beer for every palate.
Wellington: Referred to by some as the craft beer capital of New Zealand, Wellington is home to a multitude of breweries and craft beer bars. Join a guided tour with Craft Beer Tours NZ to explore the city’s vibrant beer scene.
Hobbiton: Here’s one for you Lord of the Rings fans. Brewed by Good George Brewing, there are a number of genuine ‘Middle-earth’ beers on offer at the Green Dragon Inn, part of the Hobbiton movie set. Enjoy a tour of this amazing location followed by a refreshing ale.
New Zealand’s diverse terroir and innovative winemakers have earned it a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest wines. The country is particularly famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, but you’ll also find a wide range of varietals to explore.
Some of the most popular wine regions include:
Marlborough: Located at the top of the South Island, Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest and most famous wine region, known for its world-class Sauvignon Blanc. With over 150 wineries and numerous cellar doors, you can embark on self-guided or guided tours, like those offered by Marlborough Wine Tours and Sounds Connection.
Hawke’s Bay: As the country’s oldest wine region, Hawke’s Bay on the North Island offers a rich history and an array of exceptional wines. Visit renowned wineries like Craggy Range and Elephant Hill or join guided tours with operators like Grape Escape.
Central Otago: Nestled among the picturesque landscapes of the South Island, Central Otago is renowned for its Pinot Noir. Discover the unique flavours of this region with a tour from Appellation Wine Tours or Queenstown Wine Trail.
Waiheke Island: 35 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland, Waiheke promotes itself as New Zealand’s ‘Island of Wine’. Despite having only around 216 hectares of vines, there are over 20 growers on the island so wine connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice. Check out Waiheke Wine Tours for more details.
New Zealand’s fascinating history provides a unique mix of European and indigenous Māori culture. No trip to New Zealand would be complete with immersing yourself in the country’s rich heritage, traditions, and arts. Here are just a few cultural experiences to consider during your visit:
Rotorua: As the heartland of Māori culture, Rotorua is a must-visit destination for those seeking an authentic cultural experience. Visit Te Puia, where you can explore the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, witness the iconic Pohutu Geyser, and enjoy live performances of the haka and other traditional dances.
For a more immersive experience, consider attending a cultural evening at TE PĀ TŪ or Mitai Māori Village, where you can participate in a traditional hangi feast, watch captivating performances, and learn about Māori customs and legends.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Located in the Bay of Islands, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a significant historical site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Visit the Waitangi Museum, explore the beautiful grounds, and witness live cultural performances, including waka (canoe) paddling and traditional wood carving.
Māori Art Galleries: New Zealand is home to a vibrant contemporary Māori art scene. Discover unique art pieces at galleries like Kura Gallery in Auckland and Wellington, or Pataka Art + Museum in Porirua. These galleries showcase a diverse range of traditional and contemporary works, including carvings, weaving, painting, and jewellery.
Wellington’s Cultural Scene: New Zealand’s capital city is a hub for arts and culture, with numerous theatres, galleries, and museums to explore. Visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to learn about the country’s history and culture, or catch a live performance at the iconic BATS Theatre.
Dunedin’s Scottish Heritage: Known as the “Edinburgh of the South,” Dunedin is a city steeped in Scottish history and traditions. Explore the beautiful architecture of Larnach Castle, or attend one of the city’s many cultural events, such as the Dunedin Highland Games or the Dunedin Scottish Fling.
Dolphin & Whale Watching
For many, seeing dolphins up close or watching the incredible spectacle of a breaching whale, can be a life changing experience. New Zealand’s pristine coastal waters offer fantastic opportunities for both dolphin and whale watching. Here are a few top locations to consider during your visit:
Bay of Islands: Join a dolphin and whale watching tour with operators like Explore Group or Fullers GreatSights, where you may encounter playful dolphins, majestic orcas, and even the occasional humpback or Bryde’s whale. Some tours also offer the opportunity to swim responsibly with dolphins, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to connect with these incredible creatures.
Auckland: As New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland offers easy access to exceptional dolphin and whale watching experiences in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Companies like Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari take you on guided tours to encounter common dolphins, orca, Bryde’s whales, and more, all against the stunning backdrop of Auckland’s skyline and its surrounding islands.
Kaikoura: Situated on the South Island’s east coast, Kaikoura is a renowned hotspot for marine life, thanks to the nutrient-rich waters created by the underwater Kaikoura Canyon. This unique ecosystem attracts a diverse range of species, including sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and orcas. Join a guided tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura or Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura for a chance to see these amazing animals up close, and even swim with dolphins in their natural habitat.
Guided tours can be the most relaxing and hassle-free way to experience a destination. New Zealand offers a wide range of guided tours to suit every traveller’s preferences and interests. From coach tours and private tours to small group adventures, there are numerous ways to explore the landscapes, rich culture, and unique experiences this beautiful country has to offer.
For those who prefer a more structured and comfortable way to see the sights, coach tours are a popular choice. These tours often include transportation on a comfortable, air-conditioned bus, guided commentary, and pre-arranged itineraries with stops at key attractions.
If you’re looking for a more personalised and intimate experience, private tours offer the flexibility to customise your itinerary and explore at your own pace. With a dedicated guide, you can tailor your journey to focus on your specific interests, such as wine tasting, photography, or unique wildlife encounters. Companies like Black Sheep Touring Co. offer bespoke private tour experiences that cater to a variety of preferences.
Small Group Tours
Small group tours strike a balance between the structure of coach tours and the personalisation of private tours. With a smaller group size, you’ll enjoy a more intimate experience, allowing for better interaction with your guide and fellow travellers. These tours often focus on specific themes or activities, like hiking, cycling, or cultural experiences. Notable operators include Kiwi Experience, and Flying Kiwi Adventure Tours, each offering unique itineraries and experiences for their guests.
New Zealand also boasts a variety of specialty tours that cater to niche interests or experiences. For instance, Lord of the Rings fans can embark on guided tours of filming locations with operators like Red Carpet Tours, while food and wine enthusiasts can join gourmet tours with companies like Aroha.
Scenic cruises are a great way to gain a different perspective of New Zealand, from our stunning coastline and picturesque islands to our majestic fjords. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more relaxing way to discover Aotearoa.
Milford Sound: Discover towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush rainforest on a cruise through this awe-inspiring fjord. Operators like Southern Discoveries, Real Journeys, and Cruise Milford offer a variety of cruise options, including day trips and overnight experiences.
Doubtful Sound: For a more remote and serene fjord experience, consider a cruise through Doubtful Sound. With fewer visitors and a larger area to explore, you’ll have the chance to fully immerse yourself in the pristine wilderness. Join a guided cruise with Real Journeys or Fiordland Discovery, which offer day trips and multi-day adventures, complete with wildlife sightings and optional kayaking excursions.
Abel Tasman National Park: Renowned for its golden beaches, Abel Tasman National Park is a coastal paradise perfect for cruising. Join a scenic cruise with operators like Wilsons Abel Tasman to explore the park’s coastline, access remote beaches, and spot local wildlife.
If you though that New Zealand looks great from ground level, wait until you see it from the air. Scenic flights offer a unique opportunity to get a bird’s-eye perspective of our beautiful country. Here are some popular scenic flight options to consider during your visit:
Milford Sound and Fiordland: Flying over the majestic fjords, towering peaks, and cascading waterfalls of Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park is an unforgettable experience. Operators like Air Milford, Glenorchy Air, and Southern Alps Air offer a variety of scenic flights, including options that combine flights with cruises for a comprehensive exploration of the region.
Mount Cook and the Southern Alps: Soar above New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, and the surrounding glaciers, alpine lakes, and rugged landscapes of the Southern Alps. Companies like Mt. Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters and The Helicopter Line provide a range of flight options, including flights over Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier on New Zealand’s west coast.
Rotorua and the Central Plateau: Experience the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park, and the stunning Lake Taupō from above. Volcanic Air and Taupō’s Floatplane offer scenic flights that showcase the region’s unique topography, including steaming geysers, colorful mineral pools, and volcanic craters.
Scenic Rail Journeys
If we’re perfectly honest, as a form of public transport, New Zealand’s rail network isn’t great, with many rail routes used for freight only. That said, New Zealand does have three scenic train journeys that you really should consider if what you’re looking for is the ultimate leisurely adventure.
The Northern Explorer
Running between Auckland and Wellington, the Northern Explorer takes passengers through the heart of the North Island, showcasing a variety of landscapes such as rolling farmland, native bush, and volcanic terrain. Highlights of this 11-hour journey include the Raurimu Spiral, a feat of engineering that winds its way through a steep gorge, and the dramatic crossing of the Hapuawhenua Viaduct.
The Coastal Pacific
Connecting Picton and Christchurch, the Coastal Pacific journey takes you along the rugged coastline of the South Island, offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Kaikoura mountain range. This 5.5-hour journey includes highlights such as the picturesque Marlborough Sounds, the iconic whale-watching destination of Kaikoura, and the Canterbury Plains.
Often regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys, the TranzAlpine travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, crossing the spectacular Southern Alps. The 4.5-hour journey showcases a diverse range of landscapes, from the vast Canterbury Plains and dramatic gorges to the breathtaking alpine scenery of Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Who doesn’t like a good soak in a hot tub, or better yet, a natural hot pool, and thanks to New Zealand’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, these shaky isles are a hotbed of geothermal activity. Here are 6 invigorating hot water experiences to consider during your visit:
Hot Water Beach: Located on the Coromandel Peninsula, Hot Water Beach is a popular destination for travellers seeking a unique geothermal experience. At low tide, visitors can dig their own hot pools in the sand, creating personal spas heated by the natural thermal springs beneath the surface. Don’t forget to bring a spade.
Rotorua: Known for its geothermal activity, Rotorua offers numerous hot pools and spa experiences. Visit the Polynesian Spa, where you can soak in mineral-rich pools overlooking Lake Rotorua, or head to the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Spa for a therapeutic mud bath and sulphur spa.
Kerosene Creek, a natural hot spring located in a forest reserve, is another option for those seeking a more rustic experience.
Taupō: The Lake Taupō region is home to a number of hot pools, including the Wairakei Terraces, where you can relax in silica terraced pools surrounded by native bush. Alternatively, visit the AC Baths in Taupō, featuring indoor and outdoor thermal pools, or take a short drive to Tokaanu Thermal Pools, offering a mix of public and private mineral pools.
Hanmer Springs: Nestled in the South Island’s alpine region, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is a popular retreat for both relaxation and adventure. With a variety of pools, hydroslides, and indulgent spa treatments, it’s the perfect destination for a day of pampering and fun.
Maruia Springs: Located in the spectacular Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, this award-winning natural hot spring and day spa offers bathers an authentic thermal mineral water experience. Don’t be put off by the “black algae” in the water. This algae has been shown to have similar health benefits to Spirulina.
Onsen Hot Pools: Located near Queenstown, the Onsen Hot Pools offer a luxurious and serene experience. Overlooking the Shotover River and surrounded by breathtaking mountain views, these private cedar hot tubs provide a truly unforgettable soak.
When the sun goes down, it doesn’t mean that the adventure has to stop. New Zealand’s clear skies, low light pollution, and remote locations make it an ideal destination for stargazing and seeking out the elusive Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. Here are some top stargazing spots and locations to experience our celestial wonders:
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park: Home to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Mount Cook National Park offers pristine night skies for stargazing. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre at The Hermitage Hotel features a digital planetarium and offers guided stargazing tours, allowing you to observe the southern night sky through high-powered telescopes.
Lake Tekapo: Another location within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo is renowned for its exceptional stargazing conditions. Visit the Mount John Observatory and join Earth & Sky’s guided stargazing tours to explore the cosmos from one of the best astronomical sites in New Zealand.
Stewart Island/Rakiura: With minimal light pollution, Stewart Island provides excellent stargazing opportunities. Rakiura, the Māori name for the island, translates to “Glowing Skies,” reflecting the island’s remarkable night skies.
Great Barrier Island: Despite being located less than 100 kilometres from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, Great Barrier is another exceptional stargazing location in New Zealand.
In 2017, it was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, making it one of the few places worldwide to receive this prestigious status.