From wineries to adventure sports to some of the best hikes in the world.
This list only touches on the extensive activities and natural beauty New Zealand has to offer. But if you need the absolute top 25 things to experience while here, we’ve got you. Note that it’s best to plan these events in advance, because during the summer and winter peak months, tours and accommodations tend to book up quite quickly.
Top Picks for You
Take a Helicopter Over Rakiura National Park
WHERE: Stewart Island, South Island
Flying in a helicopter is a unique and thrilling way to see a place like Rakiura National Park, which takes up the majority of the small island. A Rakiura Helicopters ride will show you all Stewart Island’s geographical attractions, and bring you to sights you wouldn’t normally get to see. Of course, this isn’t for the faint-hearted or for those who have motion sickness; helicopters can dip at steep angles in the sky and can give you a wild ride.
Kayak in the Bay of Islands
WHERE: Otehei, Bay of Islands, North Island
Kayaking can be an adventure sport or for leisure, but taking a kayak out to where you’ve never been is always a new adventure. If you’re visiting the Bay of Islands on the North Island, kayaking is a great jumping-off point to explore the region; many places in the area offer kayak and paddleboard rentals. You can kayak around the islands, explore some of the breathtaking views, and jump into the clear water to go swimming. You’ll most likely see underwater creatures that you’ve never seen before, too. If you opt for a tour, you’ll be guided to extraordinary places and explore caves and rock gardens.
Sky-Dive Over Abel Tasman National Park
WHERE: Abel Tasman National Park, North Island
If you’re a sky-diving junkie or even just someone who wants to try it for the first time in New Zealand, Abel Tasman is a great place to experience it. The national park has incredible views from above, and because it’s at the top of the South Island, you’ve got the North Island to see as well as the dramatic landscape of the Southern Alps. If you’re a first-timer, don’t fret; experts strap themselves to your back so you have a guide telling you what to do while you’re falling. One of the highlights is the video you get to see of your free-falling experience, from the surrounding sky and horizon to your priceless reaction as you take it all in.
WHERE: Auckland, North Island and Queenstown, South Island
One of the country’s most trusted bungy-jumping companies, AJ Hackett has several bungy-jumping (as it’s known in New Zealand) zones in Auckland and three in Queenstown. After all, you are in the world home of bungy-jumping, so if you’re going to try it, it might as well be in New Zealand. With drops down to 440 feet, you’re really in the heart of adventure in this place. Make sure you read the guidelines of each jump, as every fall has certain age and height restrictions and requirements.
Free Fall in the Shotover Canyon Swing
WHERE: Queenstown, South Island
Geared specifically toward the extreme thrill-seeker, the Shotover Canyon Swing is home to the world’s highest cliff jump. The wonderful staff help cater your jump exactly the way you want it, making this a scary but quite wonderful experience for those who want to try it. Even if you’re a first-timer and aren’t sure about jumping off a cliff, the people here can help you relax your nerves and guide you through it, so you can get the best adrenaline kick of your life.
Descend Underwater in the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory
WHERE: Milford Sound, South Island
If you’ve taken the trip all the way out to Milford Sound, you should definitely take advantage of the Underwater Observatory, which is the country’s only floating underwater observatory. If you’re not into deep-water diving, this is the perfect place for you to see unique marine wildlife. The observatory creates a living environment suitable enough for the creatures to thrive as naturally as possible.
Take a Dip in the Hot Springs
WHERE: Taupo or Rotorua, North Island
There’s nothing quite like winding down and relaxing in a hot bath … outside. Volcanic springs, which proliferate on the North Island, are nature’s hot tub, and if you’ve never sat in one before, you’re in for a real treat. Some of the springs are off-the-beaten-path, but are well known to locals who can give you directions. Visiting at night can be the most remarkable experience, especially if it’s a little cooler out. Grab some friends, kick back, and gaze at the Southern sky as you bask in the warm New Zealand springs.
Explore Milford Sound
WHERE: Fiordland National Park, South Island
The best way to visit Milford Sound is a guided tour through Fiordland National Park, which eventually leads right up to the gorgeous sound. The drive down takes about five hours, and the bus guide shares history and information about each area you visit. Milford Sound has an annual rainfall of about 360 days a year, so pack a raincoat. The area also provides a boat tour and scenic flights, and if you’re visiting in the summer, they have kayak rentals. There is tons of aquatic wildlife to see, and there are even opportunities to go diving. Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful natural places in the world, so try and make a solid effort to fit it into your itinerary.
Go Skiing and Snowboarding in Queenstown
WHERE: Queenstown, South Island
Although known mostly for its multitude of adventure sports, Queenstown is also a winter sport lover’s paradise. The surrounding mountain ranges provide the most breathtaking scenery and have excellent slopes for all levels of experience. It’s a great place to ski for beginners and for those who have a sense of adventure and want to catch some serious air. There are four main ski/snowboard areas, all of which are only a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. But don’t forget that because New Zealand is below the equator, its winter months are from June through September.
Cycle in the Coromandel
WHERE: Coromandel, North Island
Perfect for the cycling adventurer, the Hauraki Rail Trail in the Coromandel is suitable for all skill levels. Along the way are opportunities to stop and view the scenery, enjoy the vast amount of nature, eat ice cream, and visit some wineries. The trail is also home to the Karangahake Gorge, one of the 14 wonders of New Zealand, and holds interesting gold mining history.
Hike the Franz Josef Glacier
WHERE: Franz Josef, South Island
If you’ve never hiked a glacier before, this would be an incredible place to start. Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier can be a group event, catered to each skill level, and you can go on a guided tour that will facilitate a safe excursion. Tours include flights over the glacier followed by a hike, an ice-climbing experience, or a glacier valley walk.
Take a Lord of the Rings Tour
Thanks to the hometown pride of director Peter Jackson, the country is riddled with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit filming locations. It’s pretty easy to go on a self-guided tour of the top spots, but sometimes taking a bus tour throughout the landscape may jog a memory or two from when you saw the movies. Some of the film’s major filming sites still stand and are open for visits on guided tours, including the popular Hobbiton, which still holds the film set of The Shire. If seeing a certain location is important to you, try and cater your itinerary to the specific place. From Mt. Doom (aka Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park) to Nelson artisans who crafted the One Ring, you can visit multiple spots on the North and South Island that are featured in the films, and they are just as magical as the films depict.
Attend an All Blacks Rugby Game
Rugby union is the national sport of New Zealand, and the players of the country’s All Blacks Rugby team have devoted their whole lives to perfecting the sport. Luckily they’ve made their homeland quite proud because the team has won the last two Rugby Union World Cups. If you can, try to attend a match or watch a game at a local bar or restaurant; watching the team perform their passion is like watching a work of art come to life. There’s no one national stadium so while tickets are still hard to get (and expensive), you have the chance to catch a game at multiple stadiums throughout the country.
See a Movie at the Embassy Theater in Wellington
WHERE: Wellington, North Island
The famed Embassy Theater sits at the end of Courtney Place in Wellington, a street that is loaded with bars and restaurants. This was where they rolled out the red carpet whenever the Lord of the Rings films premiered. The Embassy Theater displays films all year-round, hosts multiple events, and is also a beautiful building that’s lovely just to visit. The interior aesthetic looks like an old-fashioned theater, so while you’re sitting in it the outside world fades away. Each seat in the theater has a plaque on it with a member of the Lord of the Rings production team and cast, so you can even sit in your favorite actor’s chair.
Check out the Observation Deck in the Auckland Sky Tower
WHERE: Auckland, North Island
A must-do if you are visiting Auckland, the Sky Tower hosts an array of activities including the SkyJump and SkyWalk for the thrill-seekers. For the less adventurous, the Observation Deck is only 610 feet off the ground and provides a 360-degree view in every direction. It’s kid-friendly, and a great way to start your vacation if you’ve just landed in Auckland.
Spot a Kiwi Bird on Stewart Island
WHERE: Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Stewart Island is one of the primary spots for kiwi sightings in the entire country. These nocturnal flightless birds are fiercely protected by the country as a whole. The island has a small population and the locals know their way around, so they can help you find a good guide to take you on a night tour. The weather on Stewart Island is mostly rainy, so make sure you’ve got a solid pair of shoes to walk through the mud.
Visit the Royal Albatross Colony in the Otago Peninsula
WHERE: Dunedin, South Island
If you’re spending some time in the Otago region and staying in Dunedin, take a trip to the Royal Albatross Colony and catch a glimpse of the world’s most majestic winged creatures. The Royal Albatross’ wingspan is between 9½ and 11 feet long, and the youngest royals look like large cotton balls. The colony provides tours and is a short drive outside of Dunedin city. Other local tour companies stop by the area if you are going on a wildlife tour for the day.
Take the Cable Car and Explore the Botanical Gardens in Wellington
WHERE: Wellington, North Island
If you’re spending some time in Wellington, be sure to take the Kelburn cable car and get a full view/tour of the city. Wellington is a fairly small place with just enough bustle, and the cable car is the best way to get the history of the city and see its highlights. The service eventually brings you to the Wellington Botanical Gardens and allows you a brief escape from the city center with a serene walk among trees, flowers, and nature.
Explore the Waitomo Glowworm Cave
WHERE: Otorohanga, North Island
You’ll not likely get the opportunity to venture into caves and view Arachnocampa Luminosa (glowworms) again in your life. A tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave takes you underground into a world you would never know was there otherwise, and provides a historical and geological description of the existence of the glowworms. The tour takes you on a boat into a sparkly, otherworldly wonderland and is suited for all ages.
Whale-Watch in Kaikoura
WHERE: Kaikoura, South Island
One of the only places in the world that you can see a sperm whale, Kaikoura offers wonderful whale-watching tours; the crew on the boats can find the location of a whale underwater based on its clicking form of communication. The whale-watch is a marine life tour, allowing you to also see fur seals, dolphins, penguins, and albatrosses. Kaikoura is located at the top of the South Island and has the most incredible landscape: a perfect combination of sea and mountain ranges.
Learn About Maori Culture in the Te Papa Museum in Wellington
WHERE: Wellington, North Island
Understanding Māori culture is essential for any visitor to New Zealand, and the Te Papa Museum in Wellington holds most of the country’s history, including from long before it was officially New Zealand. Interactive and informative, the museum has guided tours, activities for children, and featured exhibits year-round. There is a vast amount of Māori culture to absorb, so if you’re planning on spending a few weeks in the country, it’s a great place to start your learning experience about the culture and history.
Go Wine-Tasting in the Wairarapa
WHERE: Wairarapa, North Island
The Wairarapa region in the North Island has some of the best places to taste wine, and most of the vineyards are part of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. The whole region is composed of about eight towns and coastal areas, and if you are staying in the area and willing to explore, you’ll stumble on some interesting rock formations, the Cape Palliser Lighthouse, lakes trails, and cycling tracks. The Wairarapa itself is like a county, and if you’re obsessed with wine, it’s a great place to educate your palate.
Take the Ferry to Devonport
WHERE: Auckland, North Island
A village outside of the bustling city of Auckland, Devonport is only a 12-minute ferry ride away and is a great getaway from your getaway. There are lots of little boutique shops, chocolate shops, restaurants, pubs, and seafood restaurants as well as art exhibits and beaches. The best time to visit is in the summer, as this little region really thrives when people can get outdoors. The ferry runs frequently because people often commute there for work, so you can catch a nice sea breeze to and from your day trip.
Visit the Centre of Contemporary Art in Christchurch
WHERE: Christchurch, South Island
If you’re an art buff, the CoCA has a fantastic history of contemporary art stemming from 1880. The center’s tagline is “spreading love of artistic work through the community,” and its purpose is to connect people with art. The building suffered damage in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, but has since thrived thanks to its presence in the community and its continued mission of reaching out across the world to promote contemporary art.
Hike a Volcano in the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
WHERE: Tongariro National Park, North Island
There aren’t too many places you can say you hiked a volcano, but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has three options for you to do so, and they are all usually inactive and completely safe to hike. One of these volcanoes, Mt. Ngauruhoe, was even featured as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings movies. It’s still best to monitor volcanic activity before you decide to go, but chances are the park will close if there’s any chance of fuming gases or eruptions. The weather in this region can change quite drastically, so pack an umbrella, a bathing suit, and plenty of water. This is one of the country’s best known one-day hikes, so if you’re up for it, it’s quite the opportunity.