14 Top Best Things to do in New Zealand (For First Time Travelers) - About New Zealand
 

14 Best Things to Do in New Zealand

Posted on: December 14th, 2018 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments

Mount Cook things to do in new zealand

When people think New Zealand they think stunning mountains, rolling green landscapes and sky diving from every inch of the skies.

But there’s so many more unique things to see and do in New Zealand, and we think it’s important you know about all the different wonders this destination has to offer.

New Zealand is divided into two islands, almost as different as night and day. Head to the North Island for beaches, wine and Maori culture. Venture to the South Island for dramatic scenery, mountains and extreme adventures.

To help inspire you, we’ve rounded up a list of the best things to do in New Zealand, divided up into the North Island and South Island.

Map of the Best Things to do in New Zealand

New Zealand is a rather small nation, with roughly the same surface area as Colorado. But looking at New Zealand on a map can be deceiving because it stretches out north to south. We’ve made it easy with this map of all the best things to see in New Zealand to help you plan your trip.

North Island

1. Visit Hobbiton

Hobbiton

Location: Matamata

Where to stay: Auckland or Rotorua

You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings fan to feel the magic of Hobbiton. The green rolling hills, the bursts of colorful gardens and picturesque hobbit holes will transport you straight into the Shire of the films.

Tours of the Hobbiton movie set are led by passionate guides offering insightful tidbits and knowledge even diehard Tolkien fans might not know. Stay at the head of the group for the best opportunities to capture that winning shot in front of a hobbit hole with no bystanders in the frame!

For an unforgettable experience, book an evening tour with an included banquet. Seeing the Shire by twilight is only beatable by the indulgent feast you’ll share with other enraptured fans.

Contact an About New Zealand specialist for the best arrangements on including Hobbiton on your New Zealand trip.

2. Explore the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves credit Shaun Jeffers

Photo: Shaun Jeffers

Location: Waitomo

Where to stay: Auckland or Rotorua

There’s something about twinkling lights that our eyes simply can’t resist.

That’s what makes the Waitomo Caves so enchanting. Adorned with thousands of tiny glowworms, the pitch-black caverns are illuminated by their unearthly blue glow. It seriously looks like something out of a fairy tale.

The most popular way to see the glowworm caves is on guided tours through the caverns, ending with a boat tour on the subterranean lake drifting through the illuminated caverns.

But one of our favorite ways to explore the caves is on a thrilling black water rafting adventure. Thrill seekers glide through the cave system and underground waterfalls, ultimately floating serenely through the Glowworm Grotto.

3. Indulge in Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island Auckland credit Miles Holden

Photo: Miles Holden

Location: Auckland

Where to stay: Auckland

New Zealand is dappled with wine regions all across the country, but nothing beats what’s known as New Zealand’s “Island of Wine.”

Waiheke Island, less than an hour ferry ride from Auckland, is an indulgent retreat for food and wine lovers. Complete with gorgeous bays, scenic walks and countless vineyards, this sublime island feels like something out of a Mediterranean legend.

Go on an endless wine-hopping adventure and delight your taste buds with the gourmet dishes of the island’s renowned restaurants. Everything from delectable oysters, Greek meze platters, woodfired pizzas and even gelato is on offer, paired with glasses of Waiheke’s finest wines.

If you’re looking for things to do in Auckland, Waiheke Island needs to be at the top of your list.

4. Check Out Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

Location: Coromandel Peninsula

Where to stay: Pauanui or Auckland

The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the North Island’s idyllic stretches of green pastures, misty rainforests and golden beaches. It’s crown jewel is Cathedral Cove, a turquoise bay ringed by soft sands and gigantic arched caverns.

The secluded cove is perfect for a relaxing beach day, complete with several scenic walks and excellent snorkeling at the Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve. An array of sea sponges, delicate corals and colorful fish can be seen in the waters of the reserve.

The remoteness of the beach and its stunning natural beauty create an almost tangible sense of serenity. We recommend visiting early in the morning not only to beat the crowds, but to witness the sunrise cast a breathtaking glow upon the beach. Cathedral Cove by dawn is truly like a slice of paradise that time forgot.

5. Learn About Maori Culture

Te Puia Rotorua credit Fraser Clements

Photo: Fraser Clements

Location: Throughout the North Island

Where to stay: Rotorua

New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture is rich in history, unique traditions and inspiring stories.

One of the best places to immerse yourself in Maori culture is at Te Puia in Rotorua. This center is where the Maori heritage is passed on through the arts institute, where Maori students hone their skills in traditional Maori woodwork and crafts.

Here you can also experience an authentic Maori hangi feast, where food is traditionally prepared by the heat of the earth.

Visit a recreated indigenous village at Tamaki Maori Village for a glimpse of how the Maori lived before European settler-days. Witness the powerful haka war dance, the graceful poi performance and other incredible Maori rituals.

6. Explore the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Champagne Pool Rotorua

Location: Rotorua

Where to stay: Rotorua

The North Island is famous for its turquoise bays and black sand beaches, but its most surreal landscapes are found in the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

Some of New Zealand’s most spectacular volcanic features are found here. Bubbling mud pools, unusually colored lakes and spouting geysers highlight the trails laid out through the steaming valley.

Catch the spectacular colors of Champagne Pool, a hot spring of emerald water ringed by bright orange mineral deposits. See the neon green sulfur lake, Devil’s Bath, and catch the Lady Knox geyser in action.

7. Visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Te Papa credit Te Papa Museum

Photo: Te Papa Museum

Location: Wellington

Where to stay: Wellington

New Zealand’s most enrapturing museum resides in its capital, Wellington. Te Papa Tongarewa, located on Wellington’s waterfront, is a dedication to New Zealand’s art, history and culture.

This huge museum contains six levels, each with a central theme displayed through an array of exhibits. Discover the stories of New Zealanders during World War I in Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibit, located on the second level. Explore the cultures of Maori and other Pacific peoples through artifacts, architecture and artworks located on the fourth level. 

In short, you could spend days in this museum. Though you may like to wander on your own, we highly recommend a guided tour for the expert insight and information your guide will share. There’s no better way to explore a museum than with someone who knows it like the back of their hand.

Check out our guide on the best things to do in Wellington.

South Island

8. Hiking on the Glaciers

Franz Josef Glacier credit Jackman Chiu

Photo: Jackman Chiu

Location: Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, West Coast

Where to stay: Fox or Franz Josef Villages, or Queenstown

You’ve probably never thought about climbing a glacier. It’s hardly a thought that enters the mind.

But once it does, don’t you kind of want to do it?

Thrill-seekers who aren’t afraid of a little ice can hike on New Zealand’s glaciers.

New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, both located along the west coast of the South Island. What makes these glaciers so breathtaking is the sprawl of tropical rainforest hugging their base. One minute you’re in lush rainforest, the next you’ve stepped back in time into the ice age!

Both glaciers provide an array of adventures for all levels of fitness, from guided walks to climbs complete with ice picks and crampons. For a truly spectacular experience, opt for a heli-hike, beginning with a scenic helicopter ride to the top of the glacier and hiking your way down.

9. Dolphin and Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Kaikoura Canterbury credit Sara Orme

Photo: Sara Orme

Location: Kaikoura

Where to stay: Kaikoura or Christchurch

Kaikoura is New Zealand’s unofficial capital of marine wildlife. In fact, Kaikoura is considered as one of the world’s best whale watching destinations.

Visit between June through August to catch a whale watching cruise with up close encounters with migrating humpback whales.

These gentle giants aren’t the only thing you’ll see in Kaikoura’s waters. Dolphin swims are very popular, with local dusky dolphins frolicking in the waters beside you. Seal swims are also available, offering a truly unique opportunity to interact with New Zealand Fur Seals.

Check out our highlights of the best things to do in Kaikoura.

10. Cruise the Fiords

Milford Sound

Location: Fiordland National Park

Where to stay: Te Anau or Queenstown

New Zealand’s famous scenery includes dramatic, green-clad peaks jutting out of dark, tranquil waters. No place better captures this landscape than Fiordland in the South Island.

Home to the stunning fiords Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, the natural features found in Fiordland encapsulate untouched wilderness at its most pristine.

Cruises are the most popular way to see the sounds, departing from Queenstown and Te Anau. As you glide on the glassy waters, a pod of dolphins swimming before your vessel and crystal clear waterfalls cascading down the forested cliffs around you, you’ll know you’ll never see a place like this anywhere else on Earth.

Milford Sound is the more popular fiord, but we like to recommend a cruise on Doubtful Sound. Bigger and arguably more majestic, the fewer crowds make this fiord a true gem.

11. See Mount Cook from Lake Pukaki

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park credit Rob Suisted

Photo: Rob Suisted

Location: Mount Cook National Park

Where to stay: Queenstown or Christchurch

The milky turquoise color of Lake Pukaki, framed by purple lupin flowers and the Southern Alps in the distance create a scene straight out of a story book.

Rivaling the beauty of the Swiss Alps, this snowy mountain range is home to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. The glaciers atop the mountain peaks feed into the remarkable Lake Pukaki, giving it its unique turquoise color.

Scenic helicopter rides and guided tours from Queenstown to Mount Cook Village are the best way to add Mount Cook into your New Zealand itinerary. More adventurous travelers can hike on tracks beginning near the village or climb the peaks for the ultimate challenge.

12. Go on a Bike Tour

Women biking through Nelson vineyards credit Dean McKenzie

Photo: Dean McKenzie

Location: Throughout the North and South Islands

Where to stay: Nelson

If the idea of mounting a bike while on vacation sounds dreadful, you definitely need to get on a bike in New Zealand.

This is just one of those places that makes you want to stay outside as much as possible.

The best part about cycling in New Zealand is that there are dozens of trails, ranging from super easy to hardcore mountain biking, in some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the world.

One of our favorite bike trails is in Nelson, known as the Tasman Great Taste Trail. This leisurely trail loops through charming countryside and coastline, with stops at art galleries, boutiques, craft breweries and wineries.

Bike tours are also popular ways to explore New Zealand’s cities. There’s nothing like getting some fresh air in your lungs and color on your cheeks with an invigorating bike ride.

13. Bungy Jump in Queenstown

The Ledge Bungy, Queenstown credit AJ Hackett Bungy

Photo: AJ Hackett Bungy

Location: Queenstown

Where to stay: Queenstown

Queenstown is the destination for those extreme bucket list adventures. Skydiving, bungy jumping, canyon swinging – basically anything related to jumping through the air, with an optional cord attached to you.

If bungy jumping is on your list, there’s no better place to do it than Queenstown. As the birthplace of bungy jumping, you can jump from the Kawarau Bridge, the world’s first commercial bungy site. The breathtaking scenery around this historic bridge is enough to inspire your jump, with the turquoise waters of the Kawarau River rushing below the bridge.

For the more brave at heart, take the jump on the Nevis Bungy, the highest bungy site in all New Zealand. We guarantee the adrenaline rush will have you shouting and laughing with glee. And the bragging rights will be unbeatable.

Check out our guide for more things to do in Queenstown.

14. Ride the TranzAlpine

TranzAlpine credit Great JourneysofNZ

Photo: Great Journeys of NZ

Location: Greymouth through Christchurch

Where to stay: Christchurch

The romance of train travel from days long past is still alive and well in New Zealand. With rails running through mountains, viaducts and along the coasts, these scenic train journeys are among the finest in the world.

For stunning views of the Southern Alps, the TranzAlpine train is a must. This 5-hour train journey includes destination stops along its path from Greymouth to Christchurch, offering time to explore hidden gems of the South Island.

Ride in the observation car, wide open to the elements, to truly immerse yourself in the scenery around you.

Curious about more things to do in New Zealand?

As one of our favorite travel destinations, we love planning trips to New Zealand for our clients.

Connect with our Destination Specialists for a one-on-one consultation about things to do in New Zealand for your trip. We’ve been where you want to go, and we’d love to tell you all about it.

Plan a Custom New Zealand Trip

Phone us Toll Free on 1-888-359-2877 (CT USA, M-F 8.30am – 5pm)


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What a great way to spend our 40th Anniversary! Thank you!!

It was a fantastic vacation to both New Zealand & Australia (Melbourne area). Bekah arranged a self drive tour in NZ with all the tours/hotels to fit into our schedule. Amazing views of the(...)

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We LOVED our New Zealand trip!!!!! It was the most gorgeous place we've ever been...the mountain scenery is amazing....the Rotorua geothermal area was amazing.... the entire country is AMAZING!

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It would actually please us greatly if our visit to Hobbiton might be the catalyst for others to visit the Shire. We’ve been Tolkien fans forever and lifting a pint in the Prancing Pony was one(...)