Things to Do in New Zealand

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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 go back down, or do a stomach-churning yet thrilling free fall.

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 with other chilled out backpackers.

Hot Springs in New Zealand

Maori cultural experiences, Paihia/Cape Reinga

This is the closest you'll ever get to a real live Maoria ceremonial war dance, known as a '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 spotters, you can hire a kayak to get up close with the dolphins in the natural habitat of a marine reserve. The reserve is also well-suited for swimmers, divers and hikers alike, allowing you to admire the outstanding natural beauty from all angles. 

Sandboarding, Cape Reinga

Skimming down 85m dunes and standing up on glorified planks of wood or lying on foam boady boards is a lot funner than it sounds. It's a bit like snowboarding, except there's substantially less risk of frostbite but more chance of chafing.

Zorbing, Rotorua

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, where they chuck in some water to make a human-washing machine simulator. Either way, you come out with a new perception of reality - one that spins.

Zorbing in New Zealand

Luging, Rotorua

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.

Agrodome, Rotorua

It's a farm yard theme park! Seriously! Have your photo taken in front of Titan, the giant fibreglass sheep, or attend a sheep beauty pageant - that's one to tell the grand kids! If that isn't your pint of beer, then there are some more exciting attractions for the adrenalin junkies, like the Bungy and Freefall Xtreme.

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, and stare up at the surreal looking glow-worms pulsing softly overhead, before plunging down rapids and underground waterfalls.

Black water rafting in New Zealand

Caving, Waitomo

The Waitomo caves were featured in two David Attenborough series: Life in the Undergrowth and the spectacular Planet Earth, so you know they're going to be good. Not much compares to walking under a glow-worm studded cavern ceiling - it's like being stood an alien-like night sky. You can choose to go caving, on guided walking tours, or the aformentioned rafting.

Horse-trekking, Taupo/Rangitukia

Here's an awesome fact: 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, before heading to bed for an early night so you can get up to see that infamous sunrise. 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.

Skydiving, Taupo

If you're going to go skydiving in New Zealand, it might as well be over Lake Taupo. This long-distance fall 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 filled sight-seeing.

Skydiving in New Zealand

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. Definitely worth a few blisters and aching legs. 

Art Deco Architecture, Napier

Napier competes 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 also a great beach and bustling town centre.

Surfing, Gisborne

Gisborne has 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! Stay for a few days and hit up all three.

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 great thing about this place is that The River Valley company are the only group on the river, so it'll never be overcrowded, and they also own the River Valley lodge a little downstream. It's easily the most fun/fear you can have on the river!

white water rafting in new zealand

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 a good length of 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

Whether or not you consider yourself a fan, you can't go to NZ without visiting at least one of the Lord of the Rings 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 where you can check out  the hobbit holes. Read our 35 Hobbitty things to see in Hobbiton article to find out more about this surreal place.

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 here is serious business and is viewed more of an art form rather than an excuse for some upper-class debauchery. You're also right next to the Abel Tasman National Park, so go and indulge in some awesome hiking or kayaking (preferably sober).

Seal-spotting, Westport/Kaikoura

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!). A great location for anyone wanting to practise their nature photography. 

seals in New Zealand

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. What's not to love..

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 our favourite west coast tavern - the Poo Pub!

Glacier Hiking, Franz Josef/Fox

It's no wonder that the NZ glaciers are consistently rated as one of the top activities in NZ. The unusual sight of an icy glacier nestled inbetween forest-covered mountains makes this place feel like a different planet. Franz Josef is the more popular glacier, as it's steeper and has more dramatic icefalls. Where as the community of Fox, however, is much smaller, and the Fox Glacier trek is easier on the knees.

Glacier hiking in New Zealand

Skiing, Wanaka/Queenstown

In mid-winter, the best place to head to is New Zealand's South Island. Skiing season here is great quality, and does not disappoint. 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

Bungee jumping and New Zealand go together like Italy and Gondolas. In fact, the AJ Hackett bungy site near Queenstown was the World's first ever bungy spot. The Kawarau bridge here spans across several river gorges around the town. You get offered the options of a regular jump, dunking your head in the river,  being fully immersed, or standing on the edge and whimpering until someone pushes you.

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 lovely names, haven't they?

Skydiving, Queenstown

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. Although, you might just be too busy screaming your head off to admire the view.

Skydiving over Lake Taupo in New Zealand

Nature treks, Otago

For an acitivy at a steadier hear-rate, the Nature treks in Otago is a great place to spot wildlife. You might evn be lucky enough to see an albatross in flight - these birds are somewhat of a celebirity here as 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) with delicious chocolate, 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 will work become one of you most-used gap year bragging passes. 

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park

Whale-watching, Christchurch/Kaikoura

Both Christchurch and Kaikoura are the best places to see 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. Alongside the sea-giants, you can catch a glimpse of dusky dolphins, Hectors dolphins and fur seals.

Dolphin-watching/swimming, Kaikoura

Swimming with dolphins is pretty high up on the backpacker's most-wanted activities. 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! Although that's not nearly as cool. 

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.