New Zealand is famous the world over for its incredible scenery, ranging from sweeping mountains to vast underground cave systems, gigantic glaciers to boiling hot springs, golden-sand beaches to rugged coastline. It’s also packed with cool cities, hidden spots, wonderful wildlife, and more. In fact, there are so many things to do in New Zealand we struggled to cut it down to an essential list of 101.
Split into two islands, North and South, these are the top New Zealand things to do we think any traveller there shouldn’t miss. If you want, you can click to jump straight to South Island.
1. Visit Mount Doom in Tongariro National Park
The oldest national park in New Zealand is home to three active volcanoes (including the actual Mount Doom), the insanely picturesque Tongariro Alpine Crossing (one of the best one-day hikes in the world), hot springs, boiling mud pools, Maori religious sites, and much more. This is planet Earth at its most astounding.
2. Go kayaking underground in Waitomo
Head to the west coast and you’ll find Waitomo, a pretty town set against pleasant green hills. It’s only when you head underground that you discover its true wonders: networks of mystical caverns lit by glow-worms, the perfect setting for kayaking, tubing, and canyoning.
3. Heat things up in Rotorua
Don’t be put off by the smell – the geothermal waters can pong a little bit of egg, but more than make up for it with hot springs, geysers, mud pools, and a beautiful lakeside location.
4. Go sailing around the Bay of Islands
Almost as far north as you can go you’ll find the Bay of Islands, around 140 of them to be more exact, offering plenty of coastline to explore by boat, as well as villages to stop in on. Moor up at the charming town of Russell for an excellent sea food lunch.
5. Marvel at Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve
Accessible only by boat or on foot, the rock arch of Cathedral Cove is an incredible sight, as well as striking Te Hoho Rock rising from the waves. You might recognise it from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
6. Have a picnic at Whangarei Falls
At 24 feet high and flowing all year round, Whangarei Falls deserves it reputation as one of the most photogenic waterfalls in New Zealand. It’s really easy to reach too, making it a great spot for gentle walks in the bush or simply sit down for a nice picnic outside the splash zone.
7. Wander the ancient Waipoua Kauri Forest
Head to Hokianga on the west coast and delve into the Waipoua forest to see the towering kauri trees, some of which are up to 3,000 years old. Most iconic is Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in the world at 167 feet high and 13 metres around its base.
8. Eat second breakfast in Hobbiton
Saddle up your pack horse (or car) and ride to Matamata, where you’ll find actual Hobbiton (or the full-scale set that was used for The Lord of the Rings movies). It’s a big tourist spot now, but nevertheless one of the top things to do in New Zealand for any fans of the fantasy trilogy.
9. Admire the coast from Castlepoint lighthouse
The coastline all along Wairarapa is tirelessly spectacular, but Castlepoint and its striking 100-year-old lighthouse is the best place to truly appreciate the ocean vistas. There’s also safe swimming to be had in the sheltered lagoon here.
10. Lounge on the beach in at the Bay of Plenty
You might not associate New Zealand with blazing hot beaches, but the Bay of Plenty has the sand, surf, and sun to rival anywhere in the world. Relax on the beach, eat fresh kiwi fruit, and see the country’s only active marine volcano.
11. Learn about Maori culture in Rotorua
Rotorua is great spot to discover Maori culture by exploring Mitai Maori village and the native bush. 34% of the population here is Maori, and cultural performances run throughout the year.
12. Escape to the Coromandel Peninsula
Although close to Auckland, the white sands and stony bays of Coromandel are often quiet, offering the perfect place to escape and unwind amid beautiful scenery.
13. Reach the summit of the Pinnacles
A long and tiring but utterly rewarding hike, the Pinnacles Walk follows steps built for miners and loggers in the 1900s and offers some of the most incredible scenic views on North Island. If you want to reach the top, you’ll need to book ahead and stay overnight.
14. Get acquainted with the Whanganui River
The Whanganui River, found in the national park of the same name, is the first river to be legally recognised as a person, a Maori ancestor. You’re still allowed to explore its 290km left, by kayak, canoe, or bike.
15. Go back in time to the East Cape
If you’re looking for somewhere quiet, where communities are small and friendly and based on love for the land, look no further than the East Cape. Take to horseback and enjoy the gentle pace of life here.
16. Taste a tipple in Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay has all the New Zealand tourism calling cards – mountains, beaches, forests, and more – but it’s the wine that will make you stay. Whether you visit a sprawling vineyard or just sit back and sample what they produce, you won’t be leaving in a hurry.
17. Island-hop around the Hauraki Gulf
Between Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula you’ll find 50+ islands, some a few minutes from the city and others requiring significantly more effort to reach. Many are conservation islands for plant and animal life, and can’t be reached at all.
18. Meet one of the world’s most violent supervolcanoes
The Taupo Volcano lays claim to two of the world’s most violent volcanic eruptions in recent times (geologically speaking), though it’s been quiet for a little while now. Take advantage by exploring Lake Taupo and the incredible scenery that surrounds it.
19. Walk the Paths of the Dead
Yes, it’s a Lord of the Rings reference again. The Putangirua Pinnacles, hauntingly haggard badlands rock formations, featured in the third film as the route to meet the army of the dead. Truly spooky, this is an experience whether you know the movies or not.
20. Stay out of trouble on Hot Water Beach
The name says it all – dig into the sand of this beach in Mercury Bay and be treated to gloriously hot water welling up from underground hot springs. Make a big enough hole and you’ve got yourself a geothermal bath.
21. Fall for Huka Falls
This series of waterfalls on the Waikato River offers both brilliantly blue and dramatically crashing waters, narrowing to a canyon just 15 metres across. A tourist bridge here is a great spot to appreciate it all.
22. Hire a campervan
If you’re planning to see all of the above (and below), you might look into hiring a campervan. Taking your accommodation with you gives you total flexibility about where and when you see all of New Zealand’s attractions.
23. Go canyoning in Auckland
Outside of the city you’ll find some incredible landscapes, including rivers, canyons, and waterfalls. What better way to explore them than abseiling down them? It’s only a little bit scary, we promise.
24. Try kite landboarding on Foxton Beach
Can’t swim but want to try windsurfing? Landboarding is perfect for you! Strap your feet to a board, cling tight to a kite, and go skimming along the beach (hopefully not on your face).
25. Go skydiving over Lake Taupo
The unofficial skydiving capital of New Zealand, Lake Taupo is undoubtedly an incredible location for hurling yourself out of a plane. You’ll get a view across to Tongariro National Park, as well as the bush, mountains, volcanic plains, and more that surround the area.
26. Try Zorbing in Rotorua
Zorbing is utterly ridiculous and insanely fun. Seal yourself into a large inflatable ball and go rolling around the countryside! It gets the adrenaline pumping, but is also completely safe.
27. Climb (and jump off) Auckland Harbour Bridge
A guided tour up Auckland Harbour Bridge is a great way to get spectacular 360-degree views of the city. And if you’re feeling really bold, you can bungy jump to make your way back down.
28. Try the Skyswing in Rotorua
Strap in to the swing as it hoists you 50 metres above Rotorua, and then press the button to send yourself careening 150kph through the sky. There are no other extreme attractions in New Zealand like this.
29. Ride the rapids of the Tongariro River
One of New Zealand’s most famous rivers is an excellent white water rafting spot. It offers an exhilarating challenge, as well as views of gorges, volcanic cliffs, ancient beech forests, and local wildlife.
30. Meet the wildlife in Zealandia wildlife sanctuary
Found at the edge of suburban Wellington, Zealandia is a handy spot for seeing some native New Zealand wildlife, including a huge range of birds and reptiles. The sanctuary is surrounded by a special fence designed to keep pest animals out.
31. See all of Wellington from Mt Victoria Lookout
Wellington is one of the top places to visit in New Zealand, but it’s a small capital city, which means climbing the 650-foot Mt Victoria gives you a viewpoint to see all of it in one incredible, sweeping vista.
32. Ride the Wellington Cable Car
The iconic Wellington Cable Car runs from Lambton Quay up to Kelburn, where you’ll find a viewpoint, a museum, and an observatory (though the ride itself is the real attraction).
33. Sample Wellington’s craft beer scene
There are pubs pretty much everywhere in Wellington, and most of them are eager participants in New Zealand’s thriving craft beer scene. You can even visit the breweries themselves – check out Garage Project, ParrotDog, and Tuatara Third Eye.
34. Rollerblade along Wellington’s waterfront
The Waterfront path is a great way to enjoy relaxing views of both the ocean and the city. Plus there’s street art and cool bars to visit. Do it on rollerblades to make sure you have time for everything.
35. Spend an afternoon at Te Papa museum
Te Papa museum is one of the best New Zealand tourist attractions, with a collection of almost 800k artworks, objects, and specimens, from dinosaur teeth all the way through to contemporary art. This is the perfect place to get to grips with New Zealand’s culture and history.
36. Hit a gay bar in Wellington
There aren’t many gay bars in Wellington, but is largely because the whole nightclub scene is generally LGBTQ friendly. Head to Cuba Street and you’ll find Ivy Bar, with drag, cabaret, and comedy performances, and the more laid-back S&M’s Cocktail and Lounge Bar.
37. Immerse yourself in Wellington’s coffee culture
Wellington residents take their coffee very seriously. Which means there are plenty of places to get your fix. We recommend Customs Brew Bar, Flight Coffee Hangar, and Memphis Belle.
38. Take the Weta Workshop Tour
It’s bad form these days to mention Lord of the Rings so frequently in a New Zealand article, but any movie fan shouldn’t miss visiting Weta Workshop. Alongside all the Middle Earth artefacts are props from other movies and a series of behind the scenes features.
39. Eat an ice cream at Scorching Bay
Head onto the Miramar peninsula and sit on the beach with an ice cream (or a full blown barbeque) while you watch the ship traffic coming and going from Wellington Harbour. Bliss.
40. Go vintage on Cuba Street
Possibly the coolest place to be in Wellington, Cuba Street is a strip of vintage shops, market stalls, indie retailers, coffee shops, bars, and more. You should also check out the famous bucket fountain – some love it, some hate it!
41. Climb the Sky Tower for astounding Auckland views
Yes, it’s one of the most touristy things to do in New Zealand, but what better way to familiarise yourself with Auckland then seeing it from over 1,000ft? In fact, it’s the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. You can even base jump by wire from the observation deck…
42. Visit Auckland Museum
You’ll see this massive neoclassical building whenever you get a glimpse of Auckland’s skyline, so it would be rude not to head inside. Its displays of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts are particularly unmissable.
43. Laugh it up at a comedy night
The best comedians in New Zealand are frequently found performing in Auckland, particularly at The Classic Comedy and Bar on Queen Street, where you can see both local and international performers.
44. Go snorkelling around Goat Island
The country’s first marine reserve has been so successful that the sea here is positively teaming with aquatic life. This makes it the perfect spot for snorkelling and scuba diving. Glass bottomed boats are also available if you’d prefer to stay dry.
45. Check out an urban volcano
Just outside the city you’ll find Mt Eden, Auckland’s highest volcano cone. Gentle walking paths take you to the top and offer great views over the city skyline. Just don’t enter the crater – it’s considered sacred by the Maori.
46. See some live music
Auckland is a great spot for checking out some live music, with venues across the city. Neck of the Woods always has an eclectic lineup, while the jazz, blues, and soul music of Orleans will make you forget you’re in NZ.
47. Get wild at Auckland Zoo
Auckland Zoo is the best way to get up close and personal with some of New Zealand’s most amazing native wildlife, as well as animals from Australia, all over the Pacific, and beyond. Who doesn’t want to see a kiwi bird in the flesh?
48. Embark on an Auckland bar crawl
A bar crawl is the perfect way to sample Auckland’s nightlife and meet new people along the way. The most established is Frenzi Bar Crawl, which offers a free drink at each bar it visits as well as opportunities to win big prizes.
49. Take the ferry to Waiheke Island
A short ferry ride from Auckland brings you to Waiheke Island, with its own dry, warm microclimate, beautiful sandy beaches, and picturesque rocky bays. It’s also a great place to sample some of New Zealand’s finest wines.
50. Watch a rugby match at Eden Park
New Zealand is home of the All Blacks, and if you’re lucky you might catch them playing at New Zealand’s largest rugby stadium, where the 2011 World Cup was hosted. Frequent national games are also worth your time and dollar.
51. Take a boat tour of Milford Sound
This iconic fiord in the southwest of the island is famous for its impossibly scenic views and placid water. A boat tour is the best way to see towering Mitre Peak, the waterfalls that roar down is sides, and seals, penguins, and dolphins that call it home. Unmissable if you’re visiting New Zealand.
52. Walk the Coast Track in Abel Tasman National Park
It’s easy to see why this is New Zealand’s most popular Great Walk – the entire length takes 3-5 days to finish, but you can also cut it into chunks of lovely beaches, heartstopping rock formations, dense forest, and more.
53. Climb the Franz Josef Glacier
Equip your ice axes and crampons and get out onto the frozen alien landscape of the glacier! Guided tours will keep you safe for one of the most exciting things to do in New Zealand. If you’re feeling flush, you can book a helicopter flight over the glacier to really appreciate its incredible size.
54. Go kiwi spotting on Stewart Island
This island to the south of South Island might be the best place in the country to get a glimpse of the iconic kiwi bird in the wild. Even if you miss out, the island is an amazing place to experience the wide variety of New Zealand birdlife.
55. Meet the marine life at Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a scenic peninsula town set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, but it’s the ocean that deserves your attention: the currents here make it easy to spot dolphins, whales, fur seals, penguins, and more.
56. See the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki
New Zealand’s west coast is gloriously rugged, and Punakaiki sums that up nicely. The strangely layered rocks here are certainly a curiosity, but it’s the ferocious blowholes that will make you appreciate the power of nature here.
57. Drive Highway 80 into Mount Cook National Park
Just when you think New Zealand views can’t get any more spectacular, you see Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Driving towards them on a clear day is simply breathtaking, and if you want to stretch your legs there are several short walks to enjoy.
58. Hit the rails on the TranzAlpine
Bridging the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth and passing through Arthur’s Pass National Park, the TranzAlpine is one of the best train journeys in the world. Keep your eyes on the windows to see Canterbury Plains, alpine gorges, river valleys, and more New Zealand points of interest.
59. Enjoy sunset with surfing penguins
Visit Oamaru on the east coast toward the end of the day and you can visit the Blue Penguin Colony to watch the birds surfing home to their nests. Come in November and December to see the colony at its largest.
60. Wander around Australasia’s only castle
Larnach Castle in Dunedin is the only castle in the whole continent of Australasia. Built in 1871, it boasts a 3,000 square foot ballroom, large Victorian-style gardens to walk around, and views across the Otago Peninsula.
61. Go cycling around the Marlborough Sounds
With 1,500km of coastline, you’re probably not going to see all of the insanely pretty Marlborough Sounds, but cycling along the Queen Charlotte Track will give you plenty of views along the way.
62. Take a wineries tour in Central Otago
After all those mountains and valleys, you might be craving some flat landscape. The vineyards and wineries of Central Otago have that in abundance, with the added advantage of some of the finest food and wine in the world.
63. Get a photo with Split Apple Rock
Go kayaking around the sheltered bays of Abel Tasman National Park and you might encounter a gigantic, almost perfectly-round boulder split cleanly in half down the middle. It might look like a movie prop, but it’s totally natural!
64. Visit Hokitika Gorge on the west coast
If you see a photo of Hokitika before you visit, you’ll think the colour of the water is Photoshopped. Then you see it in person and realise it really is that turquoise.
65. Road trip through The Catlins
Bypassed these days by a highway, this south east area of the island is perfect for roadtrippers, offering winding roads that visit sandy bays, dramatic coastline, and rural meadows. Some of the tracks can be tricky, but it’s well worth it for the beauty spots on offer.
66. Search for gold in the Buller Region
Okay, most of the gold was found in the 19th century, but the riverside trails through prehistoric forest make for lovely walks, and the towns of Reefton and Westport offer a fascinating glimpse of the area’s mining history.
67. Lounge on Golden Bay
Located close to Abel Tasman National Park, the golden sands of Golden Bay make it the perfect place to relax and get your energy back before your next New Zealand adventure.
68. Clamber around Castle Hill
Named after the large limestone boulders that litter the ground here like the wreckage of an ancient castle, this is an incredible site to wander around and try your hand at a bit of climbing.
69. Go camping in Arthur’s Pass National Park
There are loads of places to camp on the South Island, but the stunning views of the Southern Alps make Arthur’s Pass particularly special. Greyneys Shelter campsite is free for you to pitch up, saving the cost of accommodation.
70. Photograph Lake Wanaka’s single tree
Okay, so the whole lake is surrounded by trees, but in the water you’ll spot an outlier emerging from the placid water, mountains rising behind. It’s guaranteed to score big numbers on Instagram.
71. Stay late for stargazing at Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand for stargazing, as the skies are almost completely free of light pollution. Visit Mt John Observatory during the day, and then hope for a clear sky once night falls.
72. Feel dwarfed by Oparara Arch
The Oparara Basin in Kahurangi National Park is a bit of a geological wonder, home to loads of rock arches, including the longest limestone arch in Australasia. At over 200 metres in length, it’s bound to make you feel a bit insignificant.
73. Use the toilet on Mount Herbert
Banks Peninsula, close to Christchurch, is a volcanic landmass home to the French-influenced town of Akaroa. However, it’s what you’ll find at the top of nearby Mount Herbert that we think is the main attraction: a toilet with the most incredible views.
74. Marvel at the Moeraki Boulders
Looking like unexploded ordinance dropped in a forgotten war, these spherical stones between Dunedin and Oamaru emerge on the beach at low tide. Millions of years in the making, you shouldn’t miss them.
75. Peer out across Nugget Point
The lighthouse at Nugget Point is the best place for views of the rocks jutting from the deep blue water here, and the seal colony that calls them home.
76. See the waterfalls at Earnslaw Burn
A series of glacial waterfalls here cascade off a sheer shelf of cliff, offering a stunning sight as they crash to the rocks far below. It’s so beautiful it was used as a filming location for The Hobbit.
77. Inspect the Clay Cliffs
The Waitaki Valley is well-known for its numerous rock formations and fossils, but probably the most striking are the Clay Cliffs, looming spears of rock like massive stalacmites.
78. Leave your bra in Cardrona Valley
No one really knows why, but the fence that lines Cardrona Valley is festooned with bras, and has been since the ’90s. You can add yours, if the mood takes you.
79. Au pair in New Zealand
If your travel budget is a bit tight, supplement it by working as an au pair in New Zealand. You’ll stay with a host family, saving you on accommodation and the cost of meals, get paid, and still have time to explore the sights. Perfect!
80. Skydive over a glacier
The endless scenery in New Zealand makes skydiving pretty much anywhere an amazing experience, but doing it over Fox Glacier is truly like nothing else in the world, and will really bring home the scale of the area.
81. New Zealand by horseback
You might have noticed there’s quite a lot of lovely scenery and things to do in New Zealand. Seeing it all by horseback is faster, more exciting, and makes you feel like Aragorn. One of the best places to try horse trekking is the Peel Forest, where you’ll be rewarded by the lovely mountainous landscape.
82. Hit the winter slopes
Obviously this is a seasonal activity, but South Island has over 20 ski resorts to try out when the snowfall is fresh. There are even some with snowmaking machines if you miss the season! Skiing in New Zealand is always great.
83. Brave the highest bungy jump in New Zealand
Head out on a cable car over a 440ft drop (the highest in the country), and find the courage to throw yourself out! The Nevis Bungy in Queenstown gives you 8.5 seconds of freefall before the rope begins to take the strain.
84. Get deep underground in Nelson
Caving is always an exhilarating experience (or terrifying, depending who you ask), and in Nelson you can delve deep into the southern hemisphere’s deepest sinkhole, Harwoods Hole. The only way in is via a 183-metre rope descent.
85. Heli-ski from Cecil Peak
Departing from Queenstown, a heli-skiing trip means you get dropped off by helicopter at the top of Cecil Peak and left to ski your way back down. Awesome, right?
86. Remarkable zip-lining in the Remarkables
Close to Queenstown (the Mecca for adrenaline activities in New Zealand), the Remarkables mountain range is one of the best places in New Zealand to go zip-lining. The sharply rising mountains offer spectacular views, even when you’re racing past them at 80mph.
87. Jet boating in Queenstown
The numerous rivers around Queenstown are an aquatic playground for jet boating. Strap yourself in and prepare to get seriously wet.
88. Learn about the Christchurch earthquakes
The Quake City museum in Christchurch is a good place to start in the city, helping you to learn more about and put the city’s recent seismic history into perspective as you explore it.
89. Visit the Canterbury Earthquakes memorial
Another important reminder of Christchurch’s recent natural disasters is the 185 empty white chairs that form a memorial to those killed by the earthquakes. It’s a visually striking, sombre place to visit.
90. Hit the Christchurch markets
There are markets all over Christchurch, particularly on a Saturday, offering everything from cheap street food to arts and crafts and live music. Great for a backpacker budget and tasting the lively atmosphere of the city.
91. Relax in Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens
Christchurch is known as ‘The Garden City’ and the Botanic Gardens will quickly show you why. As well as the insanely colourful flowerbeds and well-tended trees, you’ll find the grand peacock water fountain. This is an ideal spot to relax.
92. Visit Brockworth Street Art Gallery
Is it street art if it’s inside a gallery? Nevermind, it’s a sight to behold either way. The art has been painted directly onto the walls, making it a gallery not quite like any other.
93. Free live music at the Darkroom
A few days a week, The Darkroom on St Asaph Street in Christchurch hosts free live music events, perfect for a backpacker budget.
94. Take a day trip to Quail Island
A short ferry ride from Christchurch takes you to Quail Island, a pretty little spot that was a former leper colony. Don’t let that put you off: these days it’s known for its beaches and bush walks!
95. Go Steampunk in Oamaru
You might think it’s cool or you might find it painfully hip, but Oamaru is undoubtedly the steampunk capital of the world. From the museum to galleries, shops, and modes of transport, this chilled out town is all about celebrating a version of the future that never came to be.
96. Hang out with The Simpsons in Springfield
Bit of a weird one this, but the town of Springfield certainly makes the most of its connection with The Simpsons. You can see the giant donut statue erected there to celebrate the movie, and hang out with character impersonators.
97. Eat weird meat in Hokitika
A country with this much weird wildlife is bound to have some weird food, and the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival in March every year brings it all into one place: try seagull eggs, duck heads, crocodile meat, and more. Delicious!
98. Trike around Dunedin
A trike is a gigantic three-wheeled motorbike with multiple seats, making it a truly unique way to tour Dunedin, a city that considers itself South Island’s best kept secret.
99. Test your thighs on the world’s steepest street
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Dunedin is home to the steepest residential street in the world. Baldwin Street starts out gently and then gets steeper and steeper as it climbs, rising from 30 metres above sea level to 100m above at the top.
100. Go to ice cream heaven
While you’re in Dunedin, head to the north of the city and join the queue for the Rob Roy Dairy, home to 20 flavours of some of the most delicious ice cream you’re ever likely to taste – in portions that make sure you get plenty for your money.
101. Book a tour
You must be inspired to visit New Zealand by now! Book with our buddies at StudentUniverse to get the best prices on New Zealand flights and tours, designed specifically for students and young travellers.