Top 10 things to do in New Zealand
New Zealand is an amazing country, full of natural sights to see and adventures to experience. It’s larger than you might think (similar in size to the UK and Italy), so don’t plan to do too much in one day!
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1. Whale spot and swim with the dolphins
This is possible in several New Zealand locations, but the water’s warmer in the Bay of Islands. Explore New Zealand’s history at Waitangi, Russell and Paihia while you’re on land.
2. Try bungy jumping with AJ Hackett
Throw yourself off the southern hemisphere’s highest jump (or one of half a dozen other locations) with the world’s first commercial bungy operator.
3. Do a Great Walk
With nothing poisonous and no large mammals, New Zealand is one of the safest and most rewarding place to hike. Forests drop down the sea; mountains turn to glaciers to fjords. The Great Walks are nine multi-day hikes that are especially spectacular, but there are plenty of shorter hikes to choose from.
The forests can be dense and people do occasionally get lost, so let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to be back, and take a good map with you and more food than you need.
Check out our Milford Track podcast!
4. Road trip!
Hire a car or camper, like the Kiwi-made Spaceship, and take to the roads with ultimate freedom to explore the dramatic countryside.
Roadtripping is a popular Kiwi pastime, and you’ll be well-rewarded by the spectacular views that seem to be around every bend in the road. Be aware that freedom camping is only allowed in very limited, designated areas — stay at DOC campsites, hostels, or holiday parks instead.
5. Cruise Milford Sound
One of the world’s most dramatic and easily accessible Sounds, the hundreds of waterfalls pouring into Milford Sound from the lush native forest is unforgettable.
6. Visit Rotorua
Rotorua was always a favourite holiday destination for us as children, despite the unique aroma. Sure, it smells like sulphur due to all the geothermic activity, but this makes for great spa treatments. You can also get a dose of Maori culture or get into the adventure activities that are popular in this North Island town — the luge is always a highlight!
7. Go wine tasting around the country
From the small-town farmers’ market in Matakana to the powerhouse wine regions of Marlborough and Otago, wine is as an important part of Kiwi culture as travel itself.
Prices for tastings vary; some charge a fixed fee per taste, others have packages that allow you to sample a range of flavours. Sometimes the fee is refunded (or just not charged) if you make a purchase.
You’ll also find that many wineries don’t charge for tasting. In this case, it’s considered good form to buy something. One bottle among two or three people is acceptable, but feel free to buy more if you like what you taste!
8. Enjoy New Zealand cuisine
Although our signature dishes are unashamedly stolen from other countries, the freshness of our produce makes NZ food something special. For dinner, we recommend a lamb roast with freshly picked veges washed down with Pinot Noir or a healthy dose of beer. Yum.
If you don’t manage a roast, have a savoury pie for lunch from a local bakery. Roast lamb pies are available in some locations; if not, go for a tried-and-true steak and cheese. Don’t forget the tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce also goes well with fish and chips, best eaten on the beach with a beer or a can of L&P, our national soft drink.
For dessert, choose a pavlova (a very fluffy meringue) or dig into some kiwifruit. Note that we don’t call the fruit “kiwi” in New Zealand — that term’s reserved for our national bird, and to describe people from New Zealand. (You could also use “New Zealander”, but “Kiwi” is much more common.)
9. Go to an All Blacks match
The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the world’s best-recognised sporting brands and, some would say, the best rugby team on the planet. Seeing them play live is an excellent experience that you won’t forget in a hurry. Make sure you get there early so you don’t miss the haka before the game.
10. Visit a lesser-known area
The South Island towns of Queenstown and Wanaka are well-known and over-visited. Head there for sure, but also consider other options! We love the Bay of Islands for great beaches and fishing, and easy access to Maori and Colonial history.
Or, head to the east coast of the North Island and spend some time in Napier — the Art Deco architecture is worth a visit in itself, but there’s also a world-class bordeaux-grape wine region to enjoy.
Another option is Oamaru (on the east coast of the South Island), which at one point in the late 1800s was larger in size, and growing faster, than San Francisco and had more gas lighting than London. While it no longer has the tallest building in the southern hemisphere (a towering five stories!), it does have charming white sandstone buildings and Victorian steampunk art, as well as a colony of penguins that run up the beach on their way to bed every day.
There’s plenty to do in New Zealand, and you’ll probably end your stay wishing you had more time! What are your top picks for things to do in New Zealand? What do you most want to see or do there? Leave a comment below.
Note: this post was originally published as an article in 2016 and was updated and recorded as a podcast in 2018.
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New Zealand is known to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The dramatic scenery, beautiful landscapes, and epic adventures offered in NZ are one of a kind! Christchurch is still up and running from what I’ve been told, but has suffered immensely since the last earthquake. I plan to visit New Zealand within the next two months!
Have a great time Jesse — let us know if you need any advice about travel in NZ!