Arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand has long been a favorite destination for adventurers and Middle-earth seekers. Apart from its unique cultural influences, diverse landscapes and rather small population (just shy of 4.5 million), the country offers the chance to explore a mix of cosmopolitan cities and off-the-beaten-path locales in just one visit. Along with the craggy mountain peaks, dense forests, rushing waterfalls, quiet beaches and serene glacial sounds it’s known for, your daily adventures in both the North and South Island will be met with some of the nicest, and quirkiest, locals you’ve ever met, along with a thriving food, wine and beer culture.
With every day beckoning a brand-new heart-pumping adventure or leisurely exploration, each moment will bring a new life-changing experience. Plus, with each location no more than just a few hours’ drive or a short plane ride, you can get to your adventure quicker. To get you started, here are 12 must-see, must-do and must-taste experiences when visiting New Zealand.
1. Get Your Adventure On in Queenstown
Queenstown is the place to go to dabble in some of New Zealand’s most famous heart-pumping adventures. No trip is complete without a visit to the Nevis Bungy, which sends you soaring more than 400 yards above Queenstown. Another can’t miss bungee jump is the iconic Kawarau Bridge Bungy. Founded in 1988, this thrilling adventure sends you flying over the picturesque Kawarau River and alongside the Crown Range Road.
PRO TIP: If you’d prefer to stay closer to the ground, opt for an exciting ride on the Shotover Jet, which takes you speeding over the white tides of the famous Shotover River along the lush and gradient walls of the canyon.
2. Go Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
Dubbed New Zealand’s “Wine Island,” Waiheke boasts more than 20 vineyards and wineries along the 35-square foot islet. Just a quick 35-minute ferry ride from the bustling city of Auckland, a trip to Waiheke is the perfect holiday escape. To sip as many varietals as you can, opt for a wine tour, which will take you to multiple vineyards around the island, including favorites like Peacock Sky, Mudbrick and Cable Bay.
PRO TIP: Because of the temperate climate and coastal location, the island grows a wide selection of grape varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Semillon.
3. Visit the Glowworms in the Waitomo Caves
You haven't seen anything like the Waitomo Caves, however, there's a chance you've at least seen a photo of its mossy backdrop. Often called the "glowworm caves," inside, thousands of dazzling luminescent creatures sparkle through the dark waters as you raft or hike through. Lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to see them, from black water rafting, rappelling off the craggy mountain cliff or leisurely kayaking below them as they twinkle against the dark cave walls.
PRO TIP: Along with the glowworms, the area boasts other fascinating caves, like the Raukuri Cave and Aranui Cave – a dry cave that is known as Waitomo’s best kept secret.
4. Go Hiking along Milford Track and Doubtful Sounds
Arguably one of New Zealand's most prized natural attractions, the Milford Sound on the South Island is home to the Milford Track, which is known as the “finest walk in the world.” Along the way, this 33.5-mile hike features jaw-dropping views, from lush rainforests and gushing river gorges to snowy, carved glacial peaks. Three times the length and 10 times the area of the Milford, Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park offers unparalleled views of waterfalls propelling off mossy green cliffs and jagged fjords sloping around glacial bays. And due to its relatively isolated location and lack of noise – it's often called "the Sound of Silence."
PRO TIP: The Milford Track hike only allows a maximum of 90 people at a time to preserve its natural splendor.
5.Explore Geothermal Phenomena in Rotorua
You can’t miss the sulphur-rich aromas that permeate from Rotorua, New Zealand’s most dynamic thermal area. Home to spluttering geysers, puttering mud pots, spurting hot springs and exploding pools, the sounds, sights and smells are truly out of this world. The crown jewel of the area is the Wai-o-tapu (sacred waters) area, which features a collection of brightly colored springs, waterfalls and mud pools such as the Central Pools of Wai-o-tapu, Lake Ngakoro Waterfall and the Artist’s Palette (aptly named for its multi-colored waters).
PRO TIP: Discovered by the ancient Māori, the historic people of New Zealand, Rotorua is a sacred spot for many locals.
6. Search for Furry-Footed Friends in Hobbiton
It may sound like a place made specifically for The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit franchise, but Hobbiton is actually a real place located on the North Island. The area’s real name is Matamata, and is home to the HobbitonTM Movie Set, which is the location where much of Director Peter Jackson’s famous movies took place. Just a two-hour drive from Auckland, many hobbit fans visit this serene and stunning town in the heart of the Waikato region. Along with the ornately decorated holes, the landscape is just as jaw-dropping with rolling hills, meticulous gardens and breathtaking pond and lake views.
PRO TIP: You can take daily tours of the HobbitonTM Movie Set, which include visits to the 44 hobbit holes.
7. Heli-Hike a Glacier
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to 19 rugged mountain peaks that reach a jaw-dropping height, sometimes rising above 10,000 feet. Although you can choose to take a relaxing helicopter ride over the peaks to see the beautiful landscape from above, the best way to experience the pristine peaks is with a heli-hike along the 18-mile-long Tasman Glacier.
PRO TIP: For those who crave nothing but adventure, embark on an epic six-day, 26-mile venture through the glaciers and fjords of the stunning Copland Pass.
8. Explore Auckland’s Top Attractions
Situated on the beautiful East Coast of the North Island, Auckland is flanked by two sparkling harbors and is punctuated with volcanic cones and fertile farmland. Although its skyline boasts that of a big city, with gleaming skyscrapers and bustling traffic, the vibe is still very laid back – thanks to its seaside location, nearby beaches and abundant parks. The best way to see the city is to invest in a city pass, which will grant you access to the main attractions – like the Fullers Ferry to Rangitoto Island, the Sky Tower (with 360-degree city views), the art gallery and the famous zoo.
PRO TIP: Looking for extreme adventure? Climb the city’s 200-foot-tall Auckland Harbour Bridge and revel in the picturesque views of the Waitemata Harbour and panoramic views of the city.
9. Cruise Alongside Giant Whales in Kaikoura
Backed by the magnificent Kaikoura mountain range sits the picture-perfect town of Kaikoura. Nestled at the base of a peninsula and surrounded by sea, the town offers an incredible array of maritime activities thanks to the abundance of marine life that call this area home. Opt for a cruise if you want a more up close view of the whales. You’ll sail through the cobalt blue waters and will be met with incredible views of the pointed mountain range. Most incredibly, whales (from sperm whales to humpbacks to orcas), dolphins and renowned birdlife will splash and squawk alongside the boat, offering you once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities. Can you say perfect Instagram selfies?!
PRO TIP: To see the entire panoramic views of the town and bay and to watch whales jump from above, visit the water tower on Scarbourgh Street.
10. Play Dress Up in Napier
Nestled on the rocky shores of Hawke's Bay along New Zealand's North Island, this laid-back town comes to life during the renowned Tremains Art Deco Festival, which takes place every February. Rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1931, the town has kept its Art Deco vibe, with buildings such as the Daily Telegraph Building reflecting the iconic zigzag patterns of the 30s. Despite an influx of visitors decked out in dazzling Gatsby-esque costumes, the town’s surrounding wine region and bustling food scene bring ample visitors to this seaside city throughout the rest of the year.
PRO TIP: This Art Deco festival celebrates Napier’s unique history, fashion, music, art, cars, plans and trains with events such as the Māori Opening Ceremony, Gatsby Picnic, Prohibition Party, Vintage Car Parade and walking tours of the Art Deco Quarter.
11. Check Out Lakes and Lava Flows on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
There’s a reason the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is voted as New Zealand’s greatest day walk – with over 10,000 eager hikers tackling this adventure every year. A venture through this stunning landscape will take you past volcanic craters, tall mountains and staggering rock formations, moonscape basins, vast valley views and emerald hued lakes. Starting at the Mangatepopo Valley near Whakapapa, this trek climbs alongside a street and edges of old lava flows. On a clear day, the views are monumental – offering sights all the way to Mount Taranaki.
PRO TIP: The most famous sights along the hike are the three Emerald Lakes, which boast a brilliant green color.
12. Experience the serenity of Waihau Bay
Filled with beautiful beaches, scenic coves and a rich Māori culture, the crescent-shaped Waihau Bay on New Zealand's North Island is the place many New Zealanders go to unplug and unwind. Home to just one general store, a sandy beachside campsite and a small collection of bed-and-breakfasts, this bay is truly untouched by development. Explore the incredible Māori heritage with a cultural walk, surf the waves of the Bay of Plenty, relax on the soft sand or spend an afternoon fishing on the calmer side of the bay.
PRO TIP: Drive along the peaceful Pacific Coast Highway to take in the sights of the water and the surrounding lush mountains.
With so many opportunities to revel in an invigorating new experience every single day, you can easily customize a trip to New Zealand to fit your personality with great experiences like wine tasting on Waiheke Island one day to bungee jumping off Queenstown’s famed bridges the next. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your ultimate adventure to “Middle-earth” … like now!