Things to Do in New Zealand
Top Things to Do in New Zealand (North Island)
Bridge Climb and Bungy, Auckland
It's one of the few bridges in the world you can climb all the way up before jumping off again. The climb and bungy run as two separate tours, so the less thrill-inclined can still take the 90-minute journey up the bridge and back. Choose between looking at the view and your own feet.
Hot Springs, Ngawha / Rotorua
Nothing beats lying in the warmth of a thermally heated spa, especially in the chilly New Zealand winter. Whether you're in the warmer Northland region near Ngawha or over the sulphur-scented thermal activity of Rotorua, the hot springs are a great place to relax, to recoup, and to socialise.
Maori cultural experiences, Paihia/Cape Reinga
This is the closest you'll ever get to a real live haka. With the food laid on and authentic Maori entertainment provided, the Maori cultural experiences are a world away from traditional British fare. If you've got time, the day trip to Cape Reinga is a must-do, as it's an area very sacred to the Maoris.
Dolphin Spotting, Mercury Bay
Rather than going out on a packed tourist ship of other dolphin-hunters, you can hire a kayak to commune peacefully with the dolphins in the natural habitat of a marine reserve. The reserve is also well-suited for swimmers, divers and hikers - it's an area of outstanding natural beauty and is well worth a visit!
Sandboarding, Cape Reinga
Surfing on water is so last summer. All the cool kids are skimming down 85m dunes on glorified planks of wood - it's dryer, it's faster and it's easier to pick up, so you've got no excuse to try it out! It's quite a lot like snowboarding, apparently - except there's substantially less risk of frostbite but more chance of chafing.
Even though there are zorb sites in the US, the UK and Australia, this is the original spot where it all started. For those of you who still don't know, zorbing is the act of climbing into a giant inflatable ball and rolling down a hill. Choose between a dry and a soaking wet ride. Either way, you come out with a new perception of reality.
For cheap and cheerful fun, there isn't much that beats climbing into a tiny plastic soapbox on wheels before racing your friends along a choice of three steep downhill tracks. What's more, there's even a chairlift to get you back to the top of the track, so there's none of that boring walking stuff to slow you down.
It's a farmyard theme park! Seriously! Have your photo taken in front of Titan, the giant fibreglass sheep, or attend a sheep beauty pageant - it's up to you! There are some exciting attractions for the adrenalin junkies, mind you: the Bungy and Freefall Xtreme are all good diversions.
Black-water Rafting, Waitomo
Instead of walking or crawling through the World class glow-worm caves at Waitomo, why not hop in an inner tube and leap into an underground river instead? Begin by floating serenely along limestone tunnels, glow-worms pulsing softly overhead, before plunging down rapids and underground waterfalls.
The Waitomo caves were featured in two David Attenborough series: life in the Undergrowth and the spectacular Planet Earth. Nothing compares to walking under a glow-worm studded cavern ceiling - it's like being stood a metre away from the night sky. Choose between caving and guided walking tours.
Rangitukia is the first place on the planet to see the sun each day. Stay in an isolated farmhouse before horse-trekking across beaches, through hills and up mountains. While in Taupo you can explore the 'Craters of the Moon': an amazing area of geothermal activity full of bubbling craters, mud pools and steam vents.
The skydiving over Lake Taupo offers the most incredible views of the Tongariro National Park (arguably one of the most dramatic and beautiful areas of the North Island) and NZ's widest lake. Choose between 12,000 and 15,000ft for the ultimate adrenalin rush!
Hiking, Tongariro National Park
Some believe the Tongariro Crossing is the best one-day hike in New Zealand, and some argue it's the best in the World. Either way, the 17km trip past mountains, volcanoes and alpine lakes is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences you can have in NZ.
Art Deco Architecture, Napier
Napier vies with Miami for the title of World's Most Art Deco City, and with good reason. With many of Napier's buildings constructed in the '30s, the town has a unique style and form - it's definitely one to visit if you're an architecture buff or urban photographer, there's a great beach and bustling town centre.
It's been one of the NZ surf centres since the 1960s, and there are various spots nearby that offer surfers of all abilities a challenge. Waikanae is a great beach for learners, while Wainui beach is a great location for all surfers. Makorori Point, 8km from Gisborne, is a perfect surf hangout!
Lodge on the beach, Te Kaha
You won't find a more hospitable place to stop at, thanks to the kindness of the O'brien family and friends. Take the dogs for a walk on the beach, go fishing and enjoy a fantastic home-cooked dinner (usually with fresh seafood caught that day). Spend the evening relaxing in the hot tub with a beer watching the sun set.
White-water rafting, River Valley
White-water rafting is great fun wherever you are, but rafting on the Grade 4/5 Rangitikei River is something special. The River Valley company are the only group on the river, so it'll never be overcrowded, and they own the River Valley lodge a little downstream. It's easily the most fun you can have on the river!
Capital Culture and Nightlife, Wellington
New Zealand's capital city (although not the biggest) has a fantastically relaxed feel to it. With great restaurants, fantastic clubs and plenty of stuff to keep you busy with during the day, Wellington is one of the best cities to spend time in. You can plan for a couple of days, but it's quite easy to spend a fortnight!
Lord of the Rings, Wellington/Matamata
If you consider yourself a fan, you can't go to NZ without visiting at least one of the film sets. Fortunately, Wellington is home to plenty of spots, including Rivendell and Minas Tirith, while Matamata, further north, is the location for the filming of Hobbiton - the hobbit holes are still in the hillside if you fancy checking out Bag End!
Top Things to Do in New Zealand (South Island)
Wine tasting, Nelson
Nelson is one of NZ's premier winemaking regions, having won multiple international accolades and awards. Winemaking isn't just business in Nelson - it's art. You're also right next to the Abel Tasman National Park, so go and indulge in some awesome hiking or kayaking.
Seeing seals in the wild is much more dramatic and beautiful than caged in a zoo. Both Westport (west coast) and Kaikoura (east) have fantastic seal-spotting opportunities close to the road (in fact, the Tranz-Coastal train passes Kaikoura, and you'll find seals slumped on rocks next to the railway line!).
Poo Pub, Lake Mahinapua
Well, it's called the Poo Pub. Surely you've got to check out a place with a name like that! Frequently running fancy dress nights and very fond of Kiwi Exp. passengers, the Poo Pub is one of those novelty places that always looks good on a traveller's itinerary. A traditional west coast pub with plenty of food and alcohol.
Kayaking, Lake Mahinapua
Nothing beats kayaking on a New Zealand lake when surrounded by thick rainforest and snowcapped mountains. Once you've finished, you can return to the beach for a barbeque with the rest of your mates, courtesy of the local west coast tavern - the Poo Pub!
Glacier Hiking, Franz Josef/Fox
It's been consistently rated one of the top activities in NZ, as the NZ glaciers are uniquely set amongst rainforest-covered mountains. Franz Josef is the more popular glacier, as it's steeper and has more dramatic icefalls. The community of Fox, however, is much smaller, and the Fox Glacier trek is a gentler trek.
New Zealand's South Island, mid-winter, has skiing at an international level and quality. Whether it's the less popular sites near Lake Wanaka or the busy slopes of the Remarkables overlooking Queenstown, there are ski sites available for all ages and abilities. Just make sure you get insurance!
Bungy Jump, Queenstown
The AJ Hackett bungy site near Queenstown was the World's first ever bungy spot. The Kawarau bridge spans one of the several river gorges around the town, and you've got the options of a regular jump, dunking your head in the river or being fully immersed.
White-water Rafting, Queenstown
The Shotover river is home to some of the most infamous rafting in New Zealand, including the 170m pitch black Oxenbridge tunnel. Other memorable rapids include the Rocks Garden, Sharks Fin, Pinball and Cascade Rapid. They've all got such peaceful names, haven't they?
While skydiving on the North Island offers views of Lake Taupo and the Tongariro Park, skydiving over Queenstown lets you see the alpine resort in all its glory, nestled on the shore of Lake Wakatipu (NZ's deepest) and set by the stunning ski-slopes of the Remarkables mountain range.
Nature treks, Otago
You might be lucky enough to see an albatross in flight - it's the only place on inhabited land that albatross nest, and there's nothing more inspirational than a 3.5m wingspan swooping overhead. Other wildlife includes penguins, fur seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.
Speights and Cadburys, Dunedin
It's a city with both a brewery and a chocolate factory - how could things get any better? Speights brewery (the 'Pride of the South') and the Cadbury factory, responsible for supplying New Zealand (and much of Australia), run daily tours, so if you buy tickets for the two of them you'll get a discount. Yum!
Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park
It's been described by countless guests as the most beautiful part of NZ - and that's saying something! Although it's likely you'll be seeing it in the rain (they get rather a lot of it), the sight of sheer mountains crashing down into the Tasman Sea is a beautiful and haunting sight that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
Both Christchurch and Kaikoura regularly play host to whales, occasionally even managing to attract 20m sperm whales. The coastline is particularly rich in nutrients, and as a result the east coast of South Island is packed with marine life. You can also expect to see dusky dolphins, Hectors dolphins and fur seals.
Swimming with dolphins is rated one of the most-wanted activities on plenty of backpacker itineraries. Kaikoura is the best spot in NZ to take advantage of this opportunity. Bear in mind, however, that dolphins are more interested in boats than swimmers, so you'll probably get a better view if you stay out of the water!
Hot Air Ballooning, Christchurch
The Canterbury plains are a fantastic location for ballooning - they've got both the perfect geography and the ideal climate. You'll have views stretching from the eastern Canterbury coast to the peaks of the Southern Alps in the west, and it's the most peaceful way of seeing New Zealand from the air.