Here are Some of the Best Things to Do in New Zealand!
Whether you are travelling to New Zealand for the first time or you are a veteran of exploring the island nation, there is no shortage of things to do in New Zealand. The problem becomes finding the right things do to you and your trip!
You might be looking for things to do on the North Island. Some of you might be looking for things to do on the South Island. Some of you might be searching for things do to in cities like the capital city, Wellington, the largest city of Auckland, or even things to do in Rotorua! We’ve been wanting to visit New Zealand for a while now but with our adventure (and our base) in Europe, we’re planning the adventure down there for later in 2019!
So, to combat this lack of New Zealand knowledge, we’ve asked a good buddy of Eric’s to help us out. Peter is a fellow Canadian who moved down to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa a few years ago. He loved it so much he hasn’t come home yet! Since Pete has sailed, driven, and travelled most of the country, he was happy to share his knowledge of the best sights, national parks, hikes, and surf spots in New Zealand. So, take it away, Pete!
New Zealand is one of those spots that seems like it’s always on peoples’ “still have on the places to go” list. This is largely because it can often feel like a distant destination that at the “edge of the world”. But with a mountain range that is as inspiring as the Canadian Rockies, summer water temperatures that make the Bay of Islands feel like the Caribbean, hikes that rank top 10 in the world on several travel sites, and most importantly friendly, welcoming people – once you get here, it’s pretty hard to leave.
Renting a Car in New Zealand
A popular way to get around New Zealand is by renting a car. A word of caution though – New Zealand is geologically very young. This means that everything is a winding road, a sharp turn, and a steep fall to the bottom. It’s also important to remember that we drive on the left. Drive carefully when you’re here! You can search and compare car rentals prices here.
Where to Stay in New Zealand
If you are looking for places to stay in New Zealand, you should have a think about what activities you want to do as well as where you will be flying in and out of. This will influence the cities and towns you end up staying in.
It’s probably a good time to mention – if you didn’t already know – that New Zealand is divided into two islands: the North and South Island. Generally, the North Island is known for more people but beautiful beaches and warmer climate. The South Island is known for the Southern Alps with the best skiing and lots of national parks/scenic hiking trails. The whole country is a decent wine region so you’ll have to decide what interests you!
Things to Do in New Zealand
I moved here 3 years ago as a sailing coach. In my spare time, I try to take advantage of all the little things this misleadingly massive country has to offer. Whether you’re looking for awesome skiing, breathtaking hikes, beautiful beaches and surf, or just want to run through the forest trying to find flightless birds, there’s something for you. That said, here are my favourite spots to do various activities in New Zealand:
Go Hiking Basically Everywhere
New Zealand has some of the best outdoor tramping (hiking in New Zealand terms) that you could hope for and the Department of Conservation (DoC) does a great job of labelling and clearing the major hikes to make them available to a larger audience. My favourite is the Kepler Track at Fiordland – which is a 3 or 4-day trek on pretty straightforward track if you’re comfortable with about 15-20km/day of walking.
I have also done the majority of the great walks now in New Zealand. All of them are beautiful, but I will always remember the Kepler the most. Funny story: If you’re particularly crazy (like me), you do the track backwards and spend the first night at Iris Burn hut. I did the track at the end of April and got up very early (4 am) to start into Day 2, which brings you along the major mountain ridges. The upside was that I walked the first section of the ridge on a new moon – the stars were by far the best I have ever seen! The beautiful Milky Way all the way across the sky was stunning.
I then got to do see the sunrise walking along the ridge, with is also breathtaking. The funny part of the story, in hindsight, was when I got too close to a Kea (a type of Alpine Parrot) nest and they started to try and attack me. The good news was I had my tent poles nearby and swatted them away, but it would have made for a really funny picture.
Another place that is on my list is to hike Taranaki Mountain, which is central/west on the North Island. The trail is not marked as well, but it’s a lovely mountain, and usually has snow at the top in the middle of summer.
Another hike to check out is the Queen Charlotte Track in Picton. It’s a beautiful hike along a long ridgeline which took 3 full days. I got to see a pod of dolphins follow our ferry to get there, and then took a much smaller ferry back, where we got them chasing and jumping in our wake for about 10 minutes. Catlins Forest Park is also a very cool spot to hike through and see. Tongariro Crossing is very scenic but can get crowded during high season. This is because this is where you can hike to see “Mount Doom” from the Lord of the Rings trilogy – which is actually Mount Ngauruhoe in real life.
Find an Actual Kiwi Bird in the Wild
Kiwis actually have many different species and they all, unfortunately, share one thing in common – they’re being wiped out by pests and humans in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation sets up sanctuaries all over the country for different types of the bird and you can find them in the wild usually around dusk.
I’ve seen them in front of my headlights a few times (thankfully never killed one), but the spot I was able to see them in the wild the most consistently was at the Aroha island Ecological Center. They also have a campground on site, so you can pack in for the night and wander into the woods at dusk with a red light to try and find them. If you want to see kiwis, the place to do it is Aroha Island Ecological Center, in Kerikeri.
Catch a Wave Surfing
My personal recommendation is Manu Bay in Raglan – outside of Auckland. Why? If you’re into surfing anything from waist high to head high and want peeling left waves, then this spot is awesome. I don’t need to surf anything bigger than this to have fun and with the way the breeze usually comes in, it is always a pretty clean break.
For the bigger wave fanatics, Indicators (farther out along the point) is one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world, and for those that want to watch, it’s just a 2-minute drive down the coast.
Hit the Slopes for a Ski or Snowboard Session
Although I’ve been here 3 seasons, I usually do little travelling through the winter and have never got a ski in on the South Island. From friends that have lived and skied here all their lives, everyone says the South Island will give you better skiing, but you will get more days in on the North Island.
The major ski field on the North Island is Ruapehu, which includes Turoa and Whakapapa (pronounced Fuck-a-pa-pa). Good skiing, but it can get crowded because of Aucklanders going down for the weekend to ski.
On the South Island, you’ll have a lot more options, most of which centre around Queenstown. If you’re looking to be a ski bum for the season, I’d highly suggest going to the South Island over the North Island.
Unleash Your Inner Thrill Seeker
If you’re looking to go skydiving, bungee jumping, zorbing, luging, or flying squirrels, all of these can be done on the North Island in Rotorua. A favourite of mine was doing the luge track with a group of mates and doing all 3 different tracks. If you’re looking for something more adrenaline-related, the skydiving and bungee jumping options are also there. If you want to stay close to the action, then check for accommodation deals in Rotorua.
The other hub for skydiving, bungee jumping, and zorbing is Queenstown on the South Island. You might consider Staying in Queenstown and plan your adventure with a stunning and scenic Gondola Ride or a Classic High-Speed Luge Ride!
Try Every Type of Pie & Ferg’s Burger.
Everyone here eats different types of meat pies and they’re everywhere. From your local dairy (corner store) to your grocer, eating a pie is just pretty typical for a lunch food or a snack.
If you’re a burger person, Ferg’s Burger is a burger spot that is well known and very good in Queenstown on the South Island. They don’t franchise, they don’t take reservations, and they do a wicked burger. If you’re in the area, it’s worth going.
Take the Christchurch Earthquake Tour
Christchurch was hit pretty hard by an earthquake that devastated the city in 2011. The result is a downtown with some pretty unique solutions to rebuilding the city. I found the craft beer/bike scene there to be pretty cool. It reminds me of where I grew up, in Ottawa, Ontario. If you want to take a tour of the city, hop on the Vintage Tram to Explore Christchurch.
Relax in a Hot Spring Pool You Dig Yourself
New Zealand has active hot spots. I mean, very active. I’ve been through a number of earthquakes since moving here, and hot springs are everywhere. So my favourite hot spring spot comes in at a tie between Taupo & Hot Water Beach, Coromandel.
Taupo has tons of hot spring pools that you can pay a few bucks to get into. However, my favourite spot (and yes, it’s free!) is Spa Park, just in the Taupo city limits. The water comes out of the ground at about 45-50 degrees and mixes with a nearby river. Grab your togs (bathing suit), a towel, and head down closer to the spring (if you want it to be hot), or closer to the river (if you want it to be cooler). Learn more about Great Lake Taupo hot springs here.
One of the most unique hot spring experiences you can have is going to the Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. You have to time the tide right (at high, but the outgoing tide is best – check any tide spot nearby), but you can actually dig in the sand, expose your own hot spring, and mix it with sea water to make a hot pool for yourself! I love doing this when the ocean water is cold and the surf is good. Grab half an hour of surf, jump in your own natural hot spring to warm up, then go out and catch a few waves again.
Be a Tourist At the Hobbiton Village
Located in Matamata, the Hobbiton Village draws visitors in from all over the world year after year. I mean, this is the actual movie set so this is understandable. “The Lord of the Rings” was one of the most successful books/movie trilogies of all time!
Yes, it sets you back a few dollars, but it’s just so cool. The village of Hobbiton is preserved as a tourist spot. You can walk through and have a beer at the little inn. They also do events and dinners there which book out quickly. You even get to see Bilbo’s house! Check here to book the top-rated guided tour experience of Hobbiton.
See Glow Worms Up Close
The glow worms are a type of cave worm that gives off a light that helps illuminate caves on the North Island. You can do this in Waitomo – and it’s actually breathtaking.
I’ve been here twice – once was a glow worm tour you do on foot and another time was with two friends. That time, we did the blackwater rafting adventure through the caves. If you hate the cold, the walk is for you. But if you have the extra time, and are comfortable in a smaller space and a wetsuit, the blackwater rafting is super cool.
Explore the Desert with Sandboarding
Want to slide down the shimmery sand at high speeds? Then Cape Reinga for you! It’s a very cool, different experience as you head to the northern tip of New Zealand. The small hikes and sand dunes in the area are also amazing. If you want to explore the Cape Reinga area, you might consider booking a tour that includes sandboarding.
Learn About New Zealand’s Indigenous Maori
New Zealand has an Indigenous Population called the Maori. Having arrived in New Zealand around the 1300s, Maori today can be found on both islands. They comprise around 15% of the total population. You might have heard of the New Zealand rugby team called the “All Blacks” performing a war dance before international matches. They are performing the Haka – a Maori war dance traditionally used to scare their opponents!
Like other Indigenous People living in Western Countries, the Maori face a number of social and economic challenges. So, if you are interested in learning about and helping to preserve their culture, you can Learn More about the Maori by Taking a Village Tour.
Sail on the Milford Sound Ferry
One of the most talked about wonders in New Zealand is Milford Sound. It’s a fiord on the South Island known for its sheer cliffs and beautiful peaks. It’s also known for the fact that you can see penguins and dolphins as part of the local ecosystem. That said, many other sounds of the southwestern area of the South Island is just beautiful. You can explore Milford on a cruise – it’s the most popular way to do it for a reason.
>> Milford Sound Nature Cruise, Underwater Observatory & Lunch – Do the Cruise + the Observatory!
>> Milford Sound Premium Day Tour and Cruise – A Great Day Trip if You’re Based in Queenstown!
Kayak with Marine Wildlife
Hitting the water with the wildlife of New Zealand can be a memorable experience you’ll take with you forever. This can happen at Abel Tasman National Park. Consider kayaking the 20km stretch instead of hiking it. When I did it, I saw cute baby seals and lots of marine wildlife. One of the few spots I found that you can have a campfire outdoors at a DoC site. To fully experience Abel Tasman, consider an Abel Tasman Cruise and Walking Tour Combo to immerse yourself in nature.
Day Trips in New Zealand/Auckland
Since I am based in Auckland, I have done quite a few day trips. These side destinations are a great way to add to your experience. Often, this is where renting a car comes in handy but many of the islands are reachable by the Auckland Transport Ferry Services.
For those looking for a day trip away from Auckland, Piha is a great coastal area. You’ll find beaches, Lion Rock, and other scenic cliffs around Piha that are stunning. Piha has a great surf – but only for those that are very experienced.
Known for its white sandy beaches and amazing vineyards, Waiheke Island is only about a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland. You’ll find really good swimming, kayaking, and other water sports here, too. Take a Waiheke Food and Wine Tour or Go Ziplining high above the Forest – there’s something to do for any day tripper.
Auckland’s most recently active volcano is a cool way to see Auckland from a different perspective. Rangitoto Island is a young island that has some cool lava caves and beaches. It’s also a quick day trip from downtown Auckland.
And there you have it – a resident’s perspective on the best things to do in New Zealand! A huge shout out to Peter for sharing his knowledge – we couldn’t have done it without you! Now we have LOTS to go on for planning a trip of our own. If you end up in New Zealand let us know – we’d love to hear about your experience!
As always, Happy New Zealand Waddlin’,