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New Zealand is hard and expensive to get to for a good reason. Across the country, you will be teased with jaw-dropping views, friendly locals and a relaxed attitude that can only be found uniquely in New Zealand. It will leave you wanting more. I have asked a bundle of the top travel influencers to name the best things to do in New Zealand. From stunning nature hikes to the best towns there is on the North and South Islands, you will find everything you will ever want to do there and more
Here are 30 of the best things to do in New Zealand
1. Visit Milford Sound
Recommended by The Travelling Tom
Visiting Milford Sound was one of the best things I did while I was travelling and one of the best things to do in New Zealand. To describe Milford Sound as beautiful would be an understatement. It’s breathtaking. I visited in the pouring rain, with fog obscuring most of the sound, however, it was still an amazing sight!
The best way to see Milford Sound is to take a boat tour. You spend an hour on the boat, as the guide informs of the history of the sound, and its geographical features. You get up close and personal, and get to see the true scale of the sound, as it towers over you!
If I could recommend one place to visit in New Zealand, it would be Milford Sound! It’s simply beautiful!
2. Hiking to Twilight Beach at Cape Maria van Diemen in Northland
Suggested by HH Lifestyle Travel
If you are visiting Cape Reinga in New Zealand’s far north, I suggest a day trip hike out to Cape Maria van Diemen. Part of the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway, there are several trails to choose from – from easy 1-hour hikes, to longer 16km advanced tracks. You can reach Te Werahi beach (pictured) in around 30 minutes, but I recommend walking all the way to Twilight Beach which is an 8km round trip. Twilight Beach is on the southern side of Cape Maria van Diemen, and is the next bay up from Ninety Mile Beach. Famous for its peach-coloured sand dunes and wild tussock grass, this remote hike is truly a way to see unspoilt New Zealand.
3. Try Kava
Recommended by Last Kodiak
One of the great things about being in New Zealand is that there is a melting pot of Pacific cultures all in the same place. Auckland is some ways is like a smaller New York City. What this means for is a lot of kava time!
If you do not know what it is, kava is a cultural drink that is popular among Fijians, Samoans and Tongans. When they move to New Zealand; they bring the culture of kava kava with them. It is not uncommon to see them having a night of drinking any day of the week.
If you are in Auckland, just ask anyone where you can find some. If no one seems to know (unlikely), just head over to South Auckland and there will be for sure someone that knows somewhere to get it.
4. Hiking to Roy’s Peak
Recommended by Laura’s Travel Blog
It’s without shame that I make this confession: my desire to hike up to Roy’s Peak was driven by Instagram. If you follow countless travel accounts like me, you’ll have almost certainly seen the unbelievable views from the top too.
The only problem with hiking to a peak? It’s uphill. But I don’t mean a gentle, undulating incline with periods of flat respite. I mean three hours of solid, uphill, calf-splitting climbing. The ache in my (admittedly unfit) body became so great that I almost turned back around, despite being incredibly close to the top.
But, summoning the strength to carry on, the pain was forgotten as the famous view came into sight. It feels like you’re standing on top of the world, surrounded by panoramic views of deep blue lakes, snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills in between. This hike is an experience that you absolutely don’t want to miss and one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
5. Ride Icelandic ponies in Christchurch
Recommended by Traveling Honey Bird
Being a book nerd I can admit that I’ve read the Hobbit, watched all of LOTR and enjoyed it. As well as having read more books then I’d care to admit that involve mystical beings riding teeny tiny horses. Because seemingly it’s only large, goofy humans that ride regular sized horses. So when we found ourselves with a few hours free it was a no brainer to get out of town and ride Icelandic ponies.
The Christchurch Iceland Horse Trek stable is a short 25mins drive from Christchurch CBD. Stable owner, and pony lover, Inga moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi husband in 2000 and brought along a select few Icelandic Ponies. We opted for a short 1-hour lagoon trek and had a wonderful if albeit too short, time in the saddle. Chatting along with the staff. Watching the dog go swimming in muddy puddles. Why did we choose Icelandic ponies? Well you get to enjoy the special gait called “tölt”, which is unique to Icelandic horses. It is a four-beat gait about as fast as trot, but much more comfortable to ride.
And in all honesty, it was well worth the laughs with two average side adults riding two ponies.
6. New Plymouth
Recommended by Happiness Travels Here
A visit to New Plymouth on the west coast of the North Island is one of the best things to do in New Zealand. Named one of the world’s top regions to visit by Lonely Planet, the city sits at the base of Mount Taranaki, a near perfect cone shaped mountain.
The long coast line surrounding the city of New Plymouth is a mixture of fine black sand beaches, rocky surf breaks and a coastal walkway.
The coastal walkway passes through the city, here you’ll find galleries, good coffee, delicious seasonal food and a host of arts and music events throughout the year, most centred around the lush grounds of Pukekura Park. And of course everywhere the photogenic mountain in the distance.
In winter a small ski field opens on the slopes of the snow capped Mount Taranaki making it one of the only places in the world where you can ski and surf in the same day.
7. Cape Farewell
Recommended by Big World Small Pockets
The walk to the South Island’s most northerly point is definitely one of the best things I did in New Zealand.
With stunning coastal scenery and a great hilltop track that is clearly marked, this a short, but very rewarding hike you can easily complete in an afternoon.
Do make sure you leave enough time to take in (and over-photograph!) the gorgeous panoramic views on the way however, as the sense that you’re walking to the end of the earth takes over you.
Rather than dropping into the stratosphere however, you’ll actually end at my favourite beach in New Zealand – Wharariki Beach – where seal pups are cared for in nursery pools and where the stunning rock formations are among New Zealand’s most dramatic destinations.
8. Visit Art Deco Napier
Recommended by Travelnuity
If you’re an architecture buff or just love seeing unusual cities, add Napier to your New Zealand itinerary. This small city on the east coast of the North Island was almost flattened due to an earthquake and the ensuing fires in 1931. But the disaster had an unexpected consequence: the city was almost entirely rebuilt in the then trendy art deco style. Even today if you wander around the city, most of the commercial buildings are in the style, albeit holding modern shops and offices. One of the highlights is the grand National Tobacco Company building, on the edge of town. Both guided and self-guided tour options are available, and there’s even an annual art deco weekend in February.
9. Wildlife Spotting on a Road Trip on the Otago Peninsula
Suggested by Sidewalk Safari
The Otago Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island is an easy day trip from Dunedin and is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Drive the narrow winding roads with the sea on one side and rolling farmlands awash in sheep on the other. Take an hour tour in an 8 wheel all-terrain vehicle with Nature’s Wonders and watch New Zealand fur seals basking in the sun from a comfortable hide. You may even catch a glimpse of a rare yellow-eyed penguin waddling onto the beach. The tip of the Otago Peninsula is home to a colony of nesting albatross. If you love wildlife and birds like I do, Otago Peninsula should definitely not be missed.
10. Experiencing Mount Cook
Suggested by Walk My World
In a country packed full of amazing hiking opportunities Mount Cook still manages to stand out from the rest. It can be four seasons in a day, but the scenery is breathtaking in all of them. If you’re looking for a spectacular but relatively easy hike then you should opt for the Hooker Valley track, we think it’s one of the best day walks in the world. You’ll wander past glacier rivers, over swing bridges and end with a wow at an iceberg-strewn lake.
If you’re after something a little more challenging then climb the 2200 steps up to Sealy Tarns. The view is sensational, and if that still isn’t enough, you can head up another few kilometres to Mueller Hut. The higher you get the more expansive the view, and it’s worth each and every steep step. For a real treat, book a night in the hut and go star gazing. Bliss!
11. Visit Cape Reinga
Suggested by Travel Tom Tom
Needless to say that the most northern point of New Zealand is a well-known tourist destination in this amazing country. You can drive up to the parking lot and walk up to the beautiful Cape Reinga lighthouse, which marks the end of the Aupouri Peninsula. This is also where two oceans come together. The landscapes are spectacular and the coastline is a heaven for hiking lovers. Try the coastal walks that depart at the lighthouse and don’t forget to visit 90 Miles Beach. Cape Reinga is a sacred place for the Maori’s and therefore camping and eating and drinking is not allowed. If you want to see this place from the sky try the scenic flights over the area.
12. Visit Hobbiton
Suggested by 2 Week Trips
Just slightly over 2 hours from Auckland, you’ll reach the realm of Middle Earth. The 12-acre film set of The Shire is set into the countryside of Waikato, and is still open for Tolkien fans to visit. A two hour-long guided tour will take you around the movie set, and leaves plenty of time for posing behind waist-high doors and cute manicured gardens. Along the way, your guide will point out interesting nuggets of information about the filming of the movie, and famous locations seen in the movie.
You’ll end the tour at the local tavern the Green Dragon Inn, where you can enjoy a refreshing ale and munch on some pies for breakfast, and then second breakfast – just like a Hobbit!
13. Become Beached As Bro
Suggested by Tiki Touring Kiwi
On a nice summer day, you’ll get a taste of kiwi culture at beaches around the country. The reference behind ‘Beached As’, comes from an animated cartoon series, so if you decide to get beached as there are some things you should know. Even on a cloudy summer day, the Kiwi sun takes no prisoners thanks to the UV rays getting through to you more as there’s a hole in the ozone layer. Always apply sunscreen in the summer (there’s no harm in the winter either). Noone wants to be that lobster. If you see some locals digging in the shallows, they could well be digging for pipis. A small seashell that might be used for fishing bait, or on the dinner plate later that night. And don’t forget to join in on a game on beach cricket!
14. See Wellington From Mount Victoria Lookout
Suggested by The Invisible Tourist
One of the best ways to appreciate Wellington’s unique beauty is to see her from a birds’ eye view. Surrounded by emerald mountains, clear blue harbour and jagged city skyline, you can really begin to admire everything New Zealand’s capital has to offer at Mount Victoria Lookout.
Knowing the spectacular panoramic views from almost 200m above the city could not be beaten, I simply had to visit in person. My travel buddy and I decided to visit on a Saturday – only to find out that the buses en route to the summit don’t run on the weekends (take note, you’ve been warned). Instead, we made the half-hour trek up the muddy, rocky and incredibly steep track carved into the bushy mountainside. Being greeted with this incredible view at the summit was definitely worth it!
15. Wai-O-Tapu Sulpher Springs
Suggested by The Opposite Travellers
Set in beautiful Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu Sulpher Springs is a colourful and unique experience and is a must when visiting New Zealand. Shaped from thousands of years of volcanic activity these geothermal springs feature incredible mud pools, geysers, and vibrant pools of sulphur.
While visiting you will marvel at some absolutely incredible natural wonders. The Wai-O-Tapu Sulpher Springs is home to the extravagant 900-year-old hot spring named the Champagne Pool. The colours and bubbling CO2 are a spectacular sight. You will also witness the daily eruptions of the Lady Knox Geyser and watch impressive jet streams of water sky rocket 20m into the air.
16. Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula
Suggested by Luxury Backpacking
Cathedral Cove is a popular beach with stunning scenery on the Coromandel Peninsula, about a three-hour drive south-east from Auckland.
Getting there isn’t super easy however. You have the choice between a taxi boat from nearby Hahei Beach (NZ$30 per person round-trip), or you can park in Hahei and go on a 45-minute walk along and down the cliffs until you reach the beach. Be aware that free parking is very limited and thus at peak times you’ll have to park in one of the local overflow parking lots for NZ$10 to 15.
Once on the beach, you’ll be rewarded with two beautiful bays (Cathedral Cove and Mare’s Leg Cove), as well as the infamous rock arch linking the two, which gave Cathedral Cove its name. In addition, each bay features a beautifully shaped rock in the water (Te Hoho Rock in Cathedral Cove and Sphinx Rock in Mare’s Leg Cove). For the best photos visit at sunrise and low tide.
17. Visit White Island
Suggested by Non Stop Destination
White Island, which is known to Māori as Whakaari, is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, and one of the most accessible ones in the world. It’s a sight to behold as you approach the island by boat, with plumes of gas appearing from its crater. The landscape is otherworldly once you set foot on the island. We walked around the grey rocky grounds painted with bright yellow sulphur. We were constantly reminded of the dangers with every step we took, as sulphurous steam billowed around us, forcing us to use our gas masks to avoid shortness of breath and coughing fits. You can visit the island either by boat or helicopter, and take a 1.5 hour walk around the crater, where you learn more about its geology and the attempts to mine sulphur at the volcano.
18. Helicopter up to Fox Glacier
Suggested by Where is Tara?
Franz Josef is normally the name that comes to mind when people think of glaciers in New Zealand. But, my geologist boyfriend assured me that Fox glacier is more interesting, at least from his perspective. So we by-passed Franz Josef and headed straight for Fox. We decided to go all out and take a helicopter trip up to the glacier to take in its full expanse. Word of warning, they weigh you before you get on the helicopter, horrendous but it’s worth it for the incredible views. We flew up to the top of the glacier, getting an aerial view of the spectacular landscape.
Make sure you have your camera/phone at the ready. The best part is that you land on the glacier (make sure you have a warm coat with you) and have about 20 minutes to have a snowball fight and snap a few pictures! How often do you get to walk on a glacier? And the views on way down are even more incredible than on the way up. You can see the bright blue lines of the glacier tracing their way through the white snow. It’s really an amazing site to behold. I cannot recommend it enough. Definitely, one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
19. Search for Glowworms – Tubing in the Waitomo Caves
Suggested by Our World to Wander
Have you ever heard of glowworms? They are some amazing small creatures, similar to maggots actually, that glow in the dark. Yup, you’ve got that right, they bioluminescent worms. And New Zealand is the perfect place to spot them. Although you can find them in various locations in New Zealand (we also spotted them in the Fox Glacier area), the best place is in the North Island, in the Waitomo Caves.
We opted for a tubing tour in one of the Waitomo Caves, the Ruakuri Cave. And I can tell you that it was one of our highlights in New Zealand. You are literally tubing in a cave and get to watch a majestic show put on by the glowworms. They light up and it feels like star gazing, with tons of them on the ceilings and the caves’ walls. A must try experience!”
20. Swimming with wild dolphins in Akaroa
Suggested by Le Long Weekend
New Zealand-native Hector’s dolphins are an endangered species, with only around 7,000 remaining in the wild. Home to around 900 dolphins, the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch has the largest population of Hector’s dolphins in the world. And it’s the only place you can swim with them.
Join a cruise from Akaroa to get up close to these small but incredibly playful dolphins. And with any luck, they won’t be the only animals you see on your way out of the harbour. We were lucky enough to spot both seals and penguins as well.
Swimming with Hector’s dolphins is such a rewarding experience. They’re naturally inquisitive and love to come close to humans – quickly dashing around and under you as you bob around in your thick wetsuit. It’s one of those bucket list adventures that you’re likely to cherish forever!
21. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
Suggested by The Sweet Wanderlust
One does not simply walk into Mordor”… unless you decide to hike the Tongariro Crossing! Take in the Lord of the Rings sights— Mount Doom and Mordor— but don’t let them intimidate you. It’s a 12.1 mile hike through active volcanic terrain with steep climbs (they don’t call it the Devil’s Staircase for nothing!) and slippery descents, but this is one of the most beautiful hikes in the world.
New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site offers stunning views from the Red Crater, the walk’s highest point at 1886 meters. Continue on to the Emerald Lakes…. a color I’ve never seen in nature before! It’s a long and challenging day, but 100% worth it!
22. Christchurch Street Art
Suggested by Boy Eats World
Seven years after a series of earthquakes left the historic city of Christchurch devastated, it is rising from the ashes. With a new-found sense of optimism, and creativity and ingenuity that can only leave visitors smiling.
With new buildings popping up with great frequency and the remains of damaged buildings being repurposed into an ever-evolving gallery of street art. There is even a fun and fabulous Dance–O–Mat, a coin-operated installation that doubles as a public dance floor, should the need to dance strike. And while the art scene was born from tragedy it has become a vibrant addition to the rejuvenated and resourceful city.
In fact, with more than 100 eye-popping artworks created by local and international urban artists located in and around Christchurch, the city now ranks alongside New York, London and Melbourne as one of the world’s great street art capitals.
23. Explore Ngawi
Ngawi is located just an hours drive from Martinborough. It boasts a rugged coastline and landscapes that will blow your mind. Not only that, but Ngawi is home to the North Islands largest colony of seals, plus (randomly) it has the most bulldozers per capita than anywhere else. It is also only 5 kilometres to the Southernmost point of the North Island – Cape Palliser (where this photo was taken). It’s a sleepy beach village and perfect if you want to see rural New Zealand. Exploring Ngawu is one of my favourite things to do in New Zealand.
24. Visit the Sky Tower in Auckland
Suggested by The Rare Welsh Bit
No trip to Auckland is complete without a visit to New Zealand’s tallest building, the Sky Tower.
The 360-degree views from the top of the 220-metre tall tower are amazing. You can even enjoy a meal in a revolving restaurant, and if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can take a stroll around the Sky Tower’s 1.2 metre-wide pergola, or even bungee jump from the tower!
An iconic part of Auckland’s cityscape for 20 years, The Sky Tower was recently used as a backdrop for New Zealand’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
25. Bungee Jump in Queenstown
Suggested by What The Girls Say
I’ve always said I would never go Bungy Jumping…but, being in Queensland, the birthplace of Bungy Jumping?! I had a “when in Rome” moment and could not pass up the opportunity. And man, am I glad I didn’t. It was the most scary and thrilling experience of my life. To make it even more exciting, I opted for the “touch the water” option. My head was dunked head first into the water under the Kawarau Bridge. AJ Hackett offers several options, so you can find one that you enjoy. And as always, “never say never”!
26. Ski in the Dark!
Suggested by Passport Collective
New Zealand’s south island, Queenstown in particular, is well known as one of the best places to enjoy the snow in the southern hemisphere. With a range of mountains to choose from and stunning scenery to enjoy whilst you’re off piste, its no wonder people flock there in droves.
A unique way to enjoy both Queenstown’s beauty and slopes ironically is to enjoy a sleep in and hit up Coronet Peak late afternoon for their night skiing sessions. Starting at around 4pm, you’ll enjoy the gorgeous pink hues of a killer sunset before the lights come on and you’re skiing in ‘the dark’.
The night time vibes include live music, a warm drink in the village and the unique experience of skiing under lights. It’s truly a spectacular experience that can be enjoyed as a standalone or added on to a day pass.
27. Surfing in Ahipara
Suggested by Bren on the Road
Ahipara is a charming little town in New Zealand’s north, not far from the better-known Kaitaia. There are a lot of holiday homes and cute little shops, but what Ahipara is really known for is the surf. Situated along the famous 90 Mile Beach, Ahipara is the perfect spot for beginner-intermediate surfers – friendly swells, not too busy, and lots of waves. You can even head out to the popular Shipwreck Bay, which boasts one of the coolest left-handers in the country. If the surf is flat, you can always do some horse riding, fishing, beach bumming, or take a little road trip through the northern towns. You’ll love it!
28. Huka Falls
Suggested by A Brit and a Southerner
When it comes to natural beauty, New Zealand is certainly not short of amazing attractions worth experiencing. Huka Falls epitomizes this beauty in the heart of the North Island, just a few miles from Lake Taupo. This set of raging waterfalls is located on the Waikato River. Although it may not be the tallest set of falls in the world, it makes up for it with power and beauty.
The word “Huka” is a Maori term for foam. After visiting Huka Falls, you can will quickly understand why it was called “Foam Falls.” With approximately 220,000 liters per second flowing over the edge, Huka Falls is a breathtaking sight. For the adventure junkies, why not hop on the Huka Falls Jet for an “up close and personal” experience of the falls. This ultimate thrill a minute ride takes visitors to the base of the falls to really enjoy the power of Huka Falls.
29. Skipper Canyon Jet Boat in Queenstown
Suggested by Fill My Passport
Okay all you adventure junkies out there! Time to get the adrenaline pumping on this incredible thrill-seeking jet boat ride through the unforgiving Skipper Canyon. First, head to the jetty on one of the top 20 most dangerous roads in the world. Your guide is a trained driver on this rough cliff-edge terrain. They will give you invaluable information on the drops, the statistics, and even the best photo spots while on the road. Once you arrive, head down and collect your life jacket. You will board the jet boat and have the ride of a lifetime.
Get close to the edge of rocks, bounce over whitecaps, and learn of the obsolete bungee jumps and mining equipment left amidst the river rapids. Remember, you will get wet so don’t bring anything aboard that could get ruined. Take a Go Pro for exceptional action photos and video footage. Do hang on with at least one hand to avoid getting thrown overboard! I highly recommend this energy brimming experience that you will be talking about the rest of your life.
30. Explore the boutique wineries in Martinborough
Only an hour and a half drive from Wellington is one of the best wine regions in New Zealand – Martinborough. There are over 20 wineries located here. The best thing to do is come on a sunny day and hire a bike. This way you can bike from winery to winery and taste all that this region has to offer! My personal favourite is Poppys. I would highly recommend booking in there for lunch (they can get super busy in the summer). You must taste one of their platters filled with delicious nibbles that are sourced locally. The rose is always a winner too! This is one of my personal favourite things to do in New Zealand!
Tell me below which 3 things to do in New Zealand are at the top of your list!
Other articles you might enjoy:
- 34 Fascinating Facts About New Zealand
- 7 Travel tips for visiting New Zealand
- 16 of the best things to do in Auckland
- 56 typical New Zealand slang words and how to use them!
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