Top 10 things to do in New Zealand
Now that you are on your way to New Zealand here are some things you can do to make your trip more spectacular than the simple fact of being in New Zealand makes it! On this list you’ll find something to suit all tastes and varying levels of financial and physical ability, we hope. We start with some great day-trip options from Auckland in case you’re short on time and move on to other must do activities if you’ve planned for time in the South Island in your itinerary. So, get reading and start planning!
- Hop on the ferry from Auckland for a day trip to Waiheke Island for a wine tasting tour! Just over half an hour from Auckland, the island, only 92km sq. in area, is home to a remarkable thirty-two vineyards. Whether you book one of the many tours or decide to go rogue, some winery hopping coupled with an idyllic lunch and spectacular views is always a good time! If you’d rather not though, you can always go exploring the moderately challenging two to three hour walking trails, take a three hour spectacular zip-lining tour or just spend the day at one of the golden beaches.
- Less than 200kms from Auckland you can experience a magical boat ride under thousands of twinkling glow worms at the Glowworm grotto, part of the Waitomo Caves that are a geological marvel in themselves. The more adventurous and physically agile might consider the Black-Water Rafting Tour that replaces the sedate yet spectacular boat ride with one leaping, climbing, jumping off of waterfalls, and rushing along rapids and underground rivers as the glow worms continue to sparkle overhead! Book a return day trip from Auckland to the Waitomo Caves and you’re done – convenient as that.
Bonus tip: The LOTR fans among you might want to do a return day trip to Hobbiton instead and have a coze with the inhabitants of Shire.
- A little under 4 hours from Auckland by bus, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands is a must do. The most important historical site of the country, it is also known as the birthplace of New Zealand. You gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand history and Maori culture as a full access day pass allows you to spend the day exploring the grounds (including a guided tour) followed by an evening concert and a traditional hangi dinner. The evening concert and dinner is a separate event so you can choose to do either if you’re short on time. If you decide to do only the day tour four hours is a good length of time to set aside. However, if you want to extend your visit beyond a day for a leisurely experience instead, there’s good news - the day pass is valid for two days! You don’t want to miss this.
- Now that you’re in the Bay of Islands you’d be remiss not to take the chance to get up close and personal with the frolicking wild dolphins that abound in this region - not to mention the whales, fur seals and penguins! A micro-region encompassing 144 islands, pristine beaches, and secluded harbours, bays and inlets that beg exploration, you can hire a boat, get on a cruise or rent a kayak to venture around this sub-tropical paradise abundant in native flora and fauna.
- Another town approximately three hours drive from Auckland that makes for a must do day trip is Rotorua. Though most people would first think of the famous geo-thermal parks as the leading attraction in Rotorua, our top recommendation is a picnic along the picturesque Hamurana Springs. The deepest natural freshwater spring in New Zealand with crystal-clear water in stunning shades of turquoise and teal make for a photographer’s paradise. The stream has a Redwood grove planted alongside that adds to the mystical beauty of the place. We suggest you bring food, set yourself up under a tree in a nice spot overlooking the water, and have yourself a picnic. Maybe even take a nap? You must, however, definitely take a stroll around the self-guided walking trail that circles around the springs. The 2.5 km round trip walk takes about an hour and is an easy walk with little strenuous activity involved. It is also wheel-chair accessible for the most part. The ticket is only NZD 18 per adult and NZD 30 for two adults and up to three kids. You can thank us later!
- Given that the rightfully famous geo-thermal parks of Rotorua are a stones’ throw from the Hamurana Springs, there really is no reason not to go and every reason you should! There’s an incomparable other-worldly beauty to the place with its hot water geysers, volcanic lakes and bubbling mud pools. We recommend a visit to the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve where you can finish off your time exploring with a mud bath and a sulphur spa experience that’s both healing and relaxing! The spa facility is also wheelchair accessible.
- If you plan to visit the South Island and you’re an adventure enthusiast, a trip to Queenstown for taking a dive head-first into the raging waters of the Nevis River while being suspended in the valley at a height of 134 metres must surely be on your bucket list. After all, the Nevis Bungy is the highest in New Zealand and well worth the hype! It does have age, height and weight restrictions though - 127kg being the weight limit. If you exceed that you might consider the Kawarau Bridge Bungy instead, its weight limit being 235kg. Unlike Nevis, even though it’s not the highest, it is the world’s first bridge bungy. Plus, you can opt to get dunked into the river before you are pulled into the boat that delivers you back to shore after the jump – and it allows for tandem jumping. Thrilling indeed!
- While in the South Island you must consider taking a trip on the Taeri Gorge Railways, one of the most scenic rail trips in the world! Operated by Dunedin railways, you can choose among multiple return trip options from Dunedin railway station which is a tourist attraction in itself as well as being the most photographed building in New Zealand. The train takes a winding route through the breath-taking gorge; through tunnels and over bridges with stops along the way at viewing platforms that afford marvellous photo opportunities and gorgeous sweeping views of the terrain. If you get peckish there’s even a snack bar on board! Best is that if you’re already in Queenstown this is a great travel option from there to Dunedin!
- A trip to Dunedin would be well worth it to the wildlife enthusiasts among you. Here you can view the majestic Northern Royal Albatross, and the teensy Blue Penguins - the world’s smallest penguin, in their natural environment at the Royal Albatross Centre. The centre is located in the Taiaroa Head area which is the only mainland colony of albatross in the Southern Hemisphere. Every evening at dusk hundreds of penguins come back ashore to their nests on Pilot’s Beach and can be spotted from viewing platforms custom built for the purpose. The beach is also home to fur seals and sea lions. Since Taiaroa Head is located at the tip of the Otago peninsula the windswept headland offers some great views. The scenery on the hour-long drive along the Otago harbour from Dunedin is nothing to sneeze at either. Keep an eye out for black swans bobbing in the waters as you drive!
- Finally, in Lake Tekapo you’ll find the clearest, darkest, most spectacular night sky in the whole of Southern Hemisphere for an awe-inspiring stargazing experience! It’s not hyperbole when I say that. Lake Tekapo is home to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only 11 designated worldwide, one of 3 with a gold-star status (reserves where a complete collection of certain sky phenomena can be seen) and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. When you book a tour with the Dark Sky Project, their outdoor tours allow you to choose between stargazing from atop a mountain or from within a giant purpose-built crater! Either way, you’re driven to these locations given the terrain and the fact that there are no lights allowed enroute! Whether or not you’re interested in astronomy getting up close and personal with the stars as you peer through a powerful optical telescope in a world renowned observatory and enjoy a hot chocolate as you’re buffeted by chill winds while being ensconced in the darkest of nights under a night sky lit up with millions of twinkling stars is not an experience to be passed up on. Did we mention the astrophotographers who’d accompany you so you can have those perfect night sky shots? Book in advance, but not before checking out their FAQ page to ensure they meet your accessibility requirements.
This concludes our list of the top ten activities to do in New Zealand and you can bet on it being divisive! Truth be told, with so many amazing places to visit and unique things to do in New Zealand, no top ten list can do justice to all that there is to experience here. Whatever floats your boat – be it adventure, nature, culture or fine dining, we hope that our suggestions inspire you to explore the best that New Zealand has to offer.
Happy planning and see you come June!