New Zealand is one of the most popular places to visit in the world, especially for backpackers. There are so many awesome things to do in New Zealand, that even though I’ve been twice now, I can’t wait to get on a plane and explore some more.
Maybe it’s the breathtaking scenery, the friendly local people, the entralling history and culture, the epic road trips, the amazing food and wine, or the backpacker lifestyle that has you dreaming of a trip to New Zealand, or maybe it’s a combination of them all?
If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, what the best things to do in New Zealand are, where the best places to visit in New Zealand are and are perhaps beginning to put together your New Zealand bucket list… you have come to the right place. From skydiving in Taupo to bungy jumping in Queenstown, this guide will take your through the best things to do on New Zealand’s North Island and the best things to do on New Zealand’s South Island.
I have solo travelled in New Zealand and backpacked through New Zealand and so I’m going off my experience to help you decide what to do in New Zealand, where to go in New Zealand and how best to spend your time in New Zealand.
Are you ready to dive into a bucket list of New Zealand inspiration?
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand to tick off things to do on your New Zealand bucket list, check out these blog posts…
21 best things to do in New Zealand...
1. Take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
It’s famous for a reason and arguably the best thing to do in New Zealand. This day hike takes 7-9 hours and at just under 20km, is quite the challenge! But the views of Mt. Ngaharuru, the emerald lakes, the blue lake, the red crater and the soda springs make it worth it and keep you going as you trek through the peaks.
- Check out my Tongariro Alpine Crossing guide here.
- See my Tongariro Alpine Crossing photo diary here.
- If you’re new to hiking and want to start training for the crossing, check out my hiking guide or my hiking top tips.
2. Visit Nelson Lakes National Park.
Nelson Lakes National Park covers 102,000 hectare and is home to the New Zealand Southern Alps, full of alpine landscapes, rugged peaks, forests and glacial lakes.
Whether you want a lakeside picnic, an easy walking trail or a challenging mountain trek, you can do it all here.
In Maori mythology, the great chief Rakaihaitu dug holes with his ko (digging stick) to create the two lakes which are at the heart of the national park: Lake Rotoroa (large waters) and Lake Rotoiti (small waters). Both have are glacial landforms with stunning mountain views and are surrounded by honeydew beech forests, which are home to a variety of wildlife.
3. Sky dive over Lake Taupo and then hang out in the free hot springs.
The best adrenalin surge of them all, and one of the best things to do in New Zealand! I know this had been on New Zealand bucket list You can jump from 12,000ft or 15,000ft with incredible views over the big blue lake.
After you’ve felt your heart drop as you fall from the sky, head back to Taupo centre and hang out in the free natural hot springs in Spa Park Taupo.
4. Visit Milford Sound.
This is perhaps the most popular thing to do in New Zealand and one of New Zealand’s best natural phenomena. Located in Fiordland National Park lies the only fjord in New Zealand accessible by road. The gushing waterfalls and dark waters captivate even the most well-travelled visitors, and the area remains unspoiled due to it’s protection from the dense forest.
Most tours to Milford Sound include a cruise (like I did), but other activities such as kayaking or scuba diving are available in the area.
5. Try stand up paddleboarding on the Kawatiri Lagoon in Westport.
Whether you want to head out on the water yourself or take a guided tour, SUP on the Kawatiri Lagoon is perfect for all abilities. Explore the wetlands and the lagoon and learn about the flora and fauna as you work with the tidal current to pull yourself through the water and try to keep your balance! See my experience here.
If you don’t fancy SUP, Westport is also a great place for other watersports, such as surfing, cave rafting, white water rafting, sea and river fishing, and land activities such as hiking and mountain biking.
6. Take on New Zealand's highest bungy jump in Queenstown.
The Nevis Bungy is 134m and is one of the best and most popular things to do in New Zealand if you love an adrenaline rush. Let your stomach drop as you free fall for 8.5 seconds, taking in the views (if you can keep your eyes open!).
7. Admire the resilience and creativity in Christchurch.
Christchurch was devastated by an awful earthquake in 2011, but the resilience and creativity of the local people has brought the city back to life. From doing a food tour of the stalls at the Riverside Market to exploring the independent art galleries and jewellers, from learning about the earthquake at the Quake City museum to enjoying the green spaces, botanical gardens and rose gardens, there are lots of fun things to do in Christchurch.
8. Take a helicopter ride over the Franz Josef Glacier.
The Franz Josef Glacier is a 12km long moving river of ice, and taking a helicopter ride to see it from above is one of the best things to do in New Zealand; the experience really took my breath away. After the ride we got to explore the ice and snow for a while, before heading back to the Glacier Pools to warm up. The pictures really don’t do the experience justice and I strongly recommend adding this experience to your New Zealand bucket list!
9. Go hiking in Abel Tasmin National Park in Kaiteriteri.
The Kaiteriteri beach is not only a beautiful place to go swimming and enjoy the water, but it’s also a gateway to the beautiful Abel Tasmin National Park. Trek through the bush, eucalypt trees, manuka trees and more for wonderful views across the entire bay. You can also hike to Kaka Pah view point, part of a historical reserve with lots of cultural significance for the tāngata whenua, the “people of the land”.
10. Go wine-tasting in Marlborough.
Marlborough is a premium wine region in New Zealand and home to over 20 vineyards which export wine to all over the world. Wine-tasting here should definitely be on your New Zealand bucket list!
11. Say hello to the sea life in Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is world-famous for being home to whales, dolphins, seals and more sea life, and one of the best things to do in New Zealand is to see it up close. Rather than booking onto a bigger, more commercial tour, try one of the trips with a local fisherman like we did. There’s no guarantee of seeing the sea animals, but it’s significantly cheaper and you’ll get to know more about the local culture from the people who know it best.
12. Take an ice dip at Lake Wanaca.
Anyone who’s been following me recently knows that I’ve become a big fan of following Ice Man Hof’s approach to cold water swimming, and I’ve been enjoying many a cold water dip while I’ve been living in Cornwall. Lake Wanaca is a great place for a cold dip: the lake averages between 9-20 degrees during the year, whereas your average commercial pool is around 27 degrees!
13. Enjoy a tranquil weekend on the Takou River.
Imagine… you walk through the forest towards the river, to find your lodge in complete silence and serenrity, bar the odd splash from a fish in the water or the song of a bird in a nearby tree. As the sun goes down you watch the sky turn from blue to pink to black, where you fall asleep to one of the starriest skies you’ve ever seen in your life. When you wake in the morning you hear the sweetest birdsong and smile in awe at the sunrise hues in the sky.
My stay at Magic Cottages on the Takou River was one of the dreamiest, most restorative and calming weekends I’ve ever been away on.
See my experience at the Magic Cottages on the Takou River here.
14. Have your mugshot taken at the Jailhouse Hostel in Christchurch.
Located just a 20-minute walk out of Christchurch city centre, Jailhouse Hostel in Addington it is a refurbished jail where the cells have been converted into dorms.
Check out my trip to Christchurch, including my stay at the Jailhouse Hostel, here.
15. Enjoy a city break in Auckland.
Auckland is a starting point for many trips to New Zealand, but don’t leave straight away! From walking along the harbour to sunset at Baston’s Point, jumping off the Sky Tower and flying over the Huaraki Gulf, there’s plenty to see and do in Auckland that should be on your New Zealand bucket list.
16. Learn about Māori culture.
Māori culture is an integral part of everyday life in New Zealand, including cultures, customs and the language.
Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. For a long time, the Māori were expected to adapt to the Pākehā culture (British), but since the 1980s a big shift and focus on biculturalism has happened.
Te Reo Māori is an official language in New Zealand so you can expect to hear it spoken and Māori customs, such as Manaakitanga (welcoming guests and providing great hospitality) and Kaitiakitanga (respect for the natural word) are important.
Experience Māori culture by visiting a marae, watching a carving or weaving demonstration or learning myths and legends from Māori guides.
17. See the glow worms in the Waitomo Caves.
Enjoy a boat ride through the glow worm grotto, marvelling at the thousands of magical glowworms and learning over 130 years of cultural and natural history. The glow worm is unique to this country, making this a very unique thing to do in New Zealand and a must-do on your New Zealand bucket list.
18. Soak up the sun at Cathedral Cove.
Cathedral Cove is a famous volcanic rock formation on the Coromandel Peninsula, and visiting is considered one of the best things to do in New Zealand. It’s a couple of kilometres from the town Hahei or about a 2.5 hour drive from Auckland. It takes about an hour to walk down to the cove from the car park, where you can marvel at the cave and the volcanic rock, and take a dip in the ocean. You can also kayak round to the cove from Hahei.
19. Northland road trip.
Exploring an area with the freedom of a road trip is my favourite way to see new places. There’s something about the open road and being able to choose when and where you stop that allows you to have complete freedom over what you want to do. My road trip in New Zealand’s Northland was no exception. Highlights for me, and experiences you should put on your New Zealand bucket list, included:
- exploring Paihia
- cruising around the Bay of Islands
- Magic Cottages on the Takou River
- visiting Cape Reinga
- Karekare peninsula
- sand dunes in Ahipara
- Kai Iwi lakes
- Goat island
- Footprints’ Waipoua Spiritual Tour
It’s honestly one of the best road trips I’ve ever been on and I would love to go back again and see more of this beautiful part of New Zealand.
20. Catch the ferry to Waiheke and vineyard hop.
Most of the locals say this is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand. An island filled with incredible canoeing, views and vineyards. Definitely one to put on your New Zealand bucket list!
Check out more mini adventures you can go on from Auckland in this blog post.
21. Stay for longer with a working holiday visa.
Sometimes you fall in love with a place and you just can’t get enough when you’re only there for a short time: cue the New Zealand working holiday visa! Check out my guide to getting a New Zealand working holiday visa here.
What are your favourite things to do in New Zealand?
What’s on your New Zealand bucket list? Anything you’d add?
Love as always and happy adventuring,
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