Posted on: December 14th, 2018 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments
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.
1. Visit Hobbiton
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
Photo: Shaun Jeffers
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
Photo: Miles Holden
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.
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
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
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
Photo: Te Papa Museum
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.
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
Photo: Sara Orme
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.
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
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
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
Photo: AJ Hackett Bungy
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.
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.
Posted on: February 9th, 2017 by About Australia Staff No Comments
New Zealand has more than 9,000 miles of coastline, making it a premier destination for beach-goers. Whether you prefer active adventures like surfing and kayaking, or tranquil days soaking up the sun with a backdrop of the world’s most beautiful scenery, New Zealand’s diverse beach culture is worth a top spot on your vacation to-do list.
We’ve compiled 11 of the most amazing New Zealand beaches to check out on your next vacation to Kiwi Country.
Alright, so you’re on your way to Rangitoto Island. You’ve got your flip-flops, your sand buckets. You’re all set.
But wait… where’s the sand? Where are the umbrellas? The lifeguard stands??
New Zealand isn’t your average country and this isn’t your average day at the beach. You didn’t fly halfway around the world to see the same old thing you could see back home!
What you will find is a 600 year old (just a baby in geological terms!) volcanic island with its rugged, black volcanic rock. Rangitoto Island and Scenic reserve is part nature hike and part sea kayaking adventure.
Take a sea kayaking tour, ending up with a hike to the top of the island that provides vast 360-degree views of the water and land around you. Along the way, you can explore the native flora and volcanic rock.
Start things off with a unique visit to this island reserve and we assure you won’t even miss the sand!
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula
Despite Cathedral Cove being tucked away from the main roads, it still proves to be one of the most popular – and picturesque – New Zealand beaches.
The 2,100 acre marine reserve, accessible only by foot or by sea, still manages to attract more than 150,000 visitors per year.
A one mile hike in over gorgeous terrain takes you deep in to the heart of some of New Zealand’s most beautiful topography, rock formations, and coastline.
Sure to be worth the trek, Cathedral Cove’s crystal clear waters provide some of the best snorkeling in the area, while white sand beaches provide the perfect spot to simply sit and relax surrounded by some of the most pristine, undeveloped natural land in New Zealand.
Hot Water Beach
A staple among all New Zealand beaches, Hot Water Beach is notable for its heated mineral water that naturally springs up through the sand.
The interesting thing about the beach and the hot natural spring below the sand, is that you can dig your own personal hot spring beneath the sand.
Forgot to pack your shovel? Local cafes and stands have taken to renting shovels out for curious tourists.
Be sure to arrive two hours before or after low tide, as the stretch of sand that is hiding the hot water will be exposed enough to dig.
Both Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove are ideal to visit in one New Zealand visit. Check out a potential itinerary for taking in both beaches here.
A small coastal city on the northeast portion of the South Island, Kaikoura is a must see just a short drive from Christchurch.
While the coast has plenty of great recreation options such as kayaking, white water rafting, and mountain biking, the real highlights in Kaikoura are the numerous wildlife experiences available.
Whale watching trips leave throughout the day and the coastal area is home to many of New Zealand’s native animals, such as dolphins and fur seals.
Piha Beach, Auckland
Best known for its striking black sand, Piha Beach – on the west coast of Auckland – is a must see for your New Zealand trip.
The shining feature of this rugged coastline is Lion Rock, a large rock formation eroded from a volcanic neck some 16 million years old.
In fact, the black sand of the beach is caused by its high iron content, a by-product of its volcanic beginnings.
Although this beach is also known as the birthplace of surfing in New Zealand, its calm looking waters hide deceptive rip currents invisible to the untrained eye. For this reason, surfing and swimming at Piha Beach are recommended for confident swimmers, while lifeguards are on duty.
Piha Beach is also part of the overall Piha Canyon area, where more adventurous visitors can participate in canyon adventuring.
Taking you rappelling through narrow canyon crevices, through waterfalls, swimming through canyon waterways and jumping in to natural pools, a canyon adventure is the most heart pounding way to experience the entirety of the Piha Beach and Canyon Area.
In Eastland, you can truly be the earliest riser in the entire world. Due to its geographical location, Eastland holds the unique distinction of being the first land in the world that the sun touches every morning.
Whether from the soft sand beach or standing atop Mount Hikurangi, the sunrise in Eastland is a breathtaking event not to be missed. After the sunrise, the beach area is pure New Zealand splendor with its quintessential white sand beaches and clear waters.
Don’t forget to take some time out to walk along the pier at Tolaga Bay, the longest pier in the country at nearly half a mile in length.
Located on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, Buffalo Beach is another of New Zealand’s beaches famous for its white-sand coast and surrounding local beach culture.
While named for a ship that crashed off the coast in 1840, Buffalo Beach has calm waters suitable for all swimming during all tides of the day.
While you are in the area, check out the surrounding Lost Spring Thermal resort close to Buffalo Beach.
Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
Located in Dunedin, in the southeast region of the South Island, the tunnel for which Tunnel Beach was named was hand carved nearly 150 years ago to provide an entrance to a small, secluded beach at the bottom of a rock cliff.
Tunnel Beach is popular for its stunning views, interesting geology, and crystal clear waters. It’s one of the most popular of New Zealand’s beaches, attracting both locals and tourists all throughout the year.
Even in the colder months, the views and rock formations make Tunnel Beach a must visit no matter when you travel. The walk to and from tunnel beach features a fairly steep grade, so wear your walking shoes and come prepared for an experience well worth the short hike in and out.
Located on a private stretch of coastal bay, Scrubby Bay is perfect for those seeking a private beach retreat that features everything New Zealand nature has to offer.
Surrounded by high cliffs, vistas, and beautiful rock formations, Scrubby Bay features a semi-open air farmhouse nestled in a valley overlooking the water.
A lush, green meadow takes place of sand on this coastline just east of Christchurch, making Scrubby Bay a unique inclusion on our list, but its feeling of seclusion and relaxation is unprecedented.
Spend your day in nearby Christchurch before taking the 1.5 hour drive on a highway that takes you through the beautiful rolling vistas of New Zealand, straight to your own private bay.
Very much a locals hang out spot, Sumner Beach is sure to provide an intimate look at local beach culture in New Zealand, besides being a spectacular natural site to behold.
Surrounded by a quintessentially coastal, beachy town, Sumner Beach provides both your standard feet in the sand beach experience, along with easy walks and strolls along the promenade, giving you picturesque views of coastal New Zealand.
Along the promenade, take some time to stop in to local cafes and restaurants, many of which provide open air café-style outdoor seating, allowing you to drink in the local scenery with your latte.
Dangerous rip currents, rough breaching waves, and not a speck of sand in site, Birdlings Flat is not your average day at the beach.
Due to dangerous conditions in the actual water, it is not advised to swim in the ocean here, but what Birdlings Flat lacks in water sport, is made up for with wildlife spotting, gemstone hunting, and walking along the unique flat, pebbly surface of the coast.
Birdlings Flat is worth a visit for those not looking to take a dip, but simply enjoy the natural beauty of a beach that trades tons of sand for millions of tiny flat rocks, hiding agates and other semi-precious stones.
Also keep an eye out for the local wildlife like dolphins, whales, and seals that are known to call this coast home. Birdlings Flat is by far one of the most unique New Zealand beaches and a can’t miss on your next trip!
The diversity of beaches and relative ease of getting to them make New Zealand’s coast a must visit for anyone planning a trip to the country. Because New Zealand is such a great country to rent a car and get around yourself, you can easily jump from some of the larger cities to several beaches in no time, at your own pace.
If you’re not convinced yet, give us a call Toll Free 888-359-2877 (Mon-Fri 8:30am – 5:00pm Central US)! Our Destination Specialists are experts in planning the best vacations in New Zealand. Tell them what you like and let them give you 33 more reasons to visit New Zealand!
New Zealand is made up of gorgeous rolling hills, natural hot springs, awe-inspiring mountains and a lot of lovely coastline. In fact, no matter where you are in the country, you’re never more than 79 miles from the ocean! The scenery and lush landscape are breathtaking and often the reason people travel to the country. But in New Zealand, there is just as much life brimming under the sea!
Kaikoura, which is a Maori word for “meal of crayfish”, is home to some of the most diverse marine life on the island. In fact, it is considered to be one of the world’s best whale watching locations in the southern Hemisphere. Large male Sperm Whales feed just off the coast and the unique geographic make up allows Kaikoura to host these majestic residents.
There is aten thousand footdrop off in to the ocean just off the shore that has a pocket of cool ocean water where the whales reside. The large fish that live off the coast provide a great diet year round.
Thinking about visiting Kaikoura? The US summer months (June, July & August) are when the whales come much closer to shore.
This is also migration season for the Humpback Whales from Antarctica. They pass the coast of Kaikoura as they move towards warmer waters so there’s a high possibility of seeing the majestic creature during this time.
You may also spot a number of other whales including:
Southern Right Whales
What else is there to do in Kaikoura?
Not only is Kaikoura home to some of the most gorgeous and majestic whales, there’s a thriving marine life of a smaller size in the waters. Perhaps the most adorable are the New Zealand Fur Seals that make their home in Kaikoura.
Make Friends with the Seals
New Zealand Fur Seals are known for their sleepy nature, in fact, many who visit New Zealand might run into a seal or two snoozing off the coast line! They can often be quite the road block too, as seen in the below picture! It’s important to give seals the space and respect they deserve. They maybe cute, but can be dangerous to humans and dogs if they feel threatened.
Photo Credit: Jacanruss from Instagram
Though fur seals are usually pretty docile, they can scoot pretty quickly if they feel threatened or want to protect their pups. Luckily, if you’re hoping to get a good snapshot of these cuties, there’s a spot where you can see hundreds of seal pups tucked away just north of Kaikoura.
A Kiwi who lives in Kaikoura told us that every year these seal pups find their way from the ocean up to this waterfall and it becomes nature’s day care center for the pups. Even our Destination Specialists ensure us it’s something you won’t want to miss.
If you can handle the cuteness, check out this video below!
Want to swim with the seals? Why not ask your specialist about this Seal Swim Tour?
Meet the friendly dolphins
Dusky Dolphins have also been known to be found in the Kaikoura waters. They almost always try to steal the show when visitors are on whale watching tours.
There are estimated to be several hundred dusky dolphins in the waters of Kaikoura. They are fun, energetic animals that like to put on a good show. They can be seen splashing and jumping when visitors in boats & kayaks venture by.
Pods containing several hundred dolphins are said to call Kaikoura home. You’re able to swim with the dolphins, kayak alongside them or if you want to just sit back — you’re sure to see dolphins on a boat tour!
Check out a few of our favorite shots from travelers who explored the vibrant marine life of Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea!
Plus lots of other activities including..
Maori Cultural Events
Museums & Theatres
White Water Rafting
Just to name a few…
Want to visit Kaikoura and see this gorgeous wildlife? Give us a call Toll Free 888-359-2877 (Mon-Fri 8:30am – 5:00pm Central US)!
Let us help you find the perfect time to take part in Kaikoura Whale Watching or maybe a swim with the dolphins. Our Destination Specialist would love to help plan your dream vacation.
(...) exciting vacation we’ve ever done. Our agent, Ana, took care of everything and was a pleasure to work with. NZ is an amazing destination. Definitely recommend the Glowworm/Rotorua tour out of Auckland and the Doubtful Sound tour that runs out of Queenstown. Ana also took care of our arrangements for the second half of our trip in Australia. Definitely recommend visiting both if you have the time.