Lets start by stating for the record, that there are so many things to do in New Zealand, 10 won’t cover it! These are just my highlights, 10 of the ‘must do‘ activities or places to see. Seen something I need to add? Please let me know in the comments section below, I’d love to experience them on my next visit to New Zealand.

1. Milford Sound

If you ever wanted a feeling of insignificance, the Milford Sound will do it for you. Located in the South West of the South Island, the sheer size and magnitude of this place is insane. It’s difficult to comprehend how these cliff faces are formed over thousands of years, and its something extremely hard to portray in a photo. The only way to do the Milford Sound justice, is to see it for yourself. It’s breathtaking.

2. Cape Reinga

At the north-western most tip of the North Island lies Cape Reinga, the most spiritual significant place in Maori tradition and mythology. The cape where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean is known as the place Maori spirits descend into the underworld. Everywhere you turn at Cape Reinga you are surrounded by beauty, whether it’s stunning beaches or the Cape Reinga lighthouse.

Also check out: 90-mile beach, a public highway on route to Cape Reinga, where you can also go sand-boarding on the sand dunes, and Rarawa Beach, a gorgeous cove perfect for surfing.

3. White Water Rafting, Rotorua

Rotorua, nicknamed the ‘Sulphur City‘ due to the hydrogen sulphide emitted from the Geysers and bubbling hot springs all around the region. Which generally means it stinks here, like rotten eggs! There’s a ton of things to do here, so its essential you add Rotorua to your itinerary. For me, White Water Rafting was THE thing to do. Rotorua is the home to the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, at 7 metres – ie it’s the biggest with out being qualified. Exactly the adrenaline-fuelled activity NZ is known for. And for our group, the instructor chose me to take the front seat, so I had a front-row view on one of the scariest drops in the world. Brilliant!

Also check out: the Waiotapu Thermal Park, Huka Falls (nearby) and Kuirau Park.

4. Bungy Jumping, Queenstown

Continuing the adrenaline theme, New Zealand is the bungy (or bungee) capital of the world, and home of first ever bungy jump. There are plenty of options, and having never done one before I thought lets go big and chose the 134 metre Nevis, New Zealand’s highest bungy from a cable car. This isn’t your only option though, there’s ‘The Ledge’ overlooking Queenstown where you can bungy at night, or the Kawarau Bridge, where bungy jumping began. Take a look at AJ Hackett Bungy for more details.

Also check out: There’s hundreds of activities to keep you entertained in Queenstown, I’ll probably write a whole blog about it soon. But make sure you try the numerous mountain biking trails, walking up the cable car route for views over Lake Wakatipu, and hiking the Ben Lomond trek. I’d also love to come here for the snow season!

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5. Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is probably my favourite spot in New Zealand. My bus tour didn’t automatically stop here, but I felt I wanted to and what a great decision it was. Its just a place of serene beauty, there’s not a lot to do but you don’t need a lot. I went out jogging one morning with a packed lunch and probably had the most enjoyable day I’d had in New Zealand, finding random routes, pathways and incredible views to occupy myself.

6. Abel Tasman National Park

At the North of the South Island, between the Golden Bay and Tasman Bay is the Abel Tasman National Park. There’s a host of wildlife to see and a few options when it comes to exploring, we chose a cruise around the coast line before being dropped off to walk the infamous Abel Tasman Coast Track. There’s a few different walks to choose from but most take in the golden beaches, lush native forest and picturesque inlets. You’ll want to stop for a photo every 5 minutes and you can also kayak around this beautiful National Park.

7. Franz Josef Glacier

Much of New Zealand’s incredible landscape is due to effect of the phenomenal glaciers over time, so a visit to either Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier is a fundamental part of any trip to NZ. You can do either glacier, or why not both? There are some great tours on offer, unfortunately I ran out of money fast here so didn’t get to experience these. Next time… You can choose from a stunning helicopter tour, guided ice walk, or when I go back I’ll have a go at ice climbing, not for the feint hearted! Read about Ice-climbing the Franz Josef Glacier from Miss BArlow.

Also check out: Lake Matheson, a mirror lake with stunning views of Mount Cook, although it was a little cloudy on our visit.

8. Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 kilometre trek in the middle of the North Island, its known as the best one-day hike in New Zealand and its not hard to see why when you take a look at some of the stunning scenery. Passing through the Tongariro National Park you also pass Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro itself, and it can take approximately 6 to 8 hours depending on your fitness levels. And make sure you have some as you’ll be climbing to an altitude of nearly 2000 metres. I wrote a full blog on this incredible hike, so please take a look.

Read more: A Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

9. Whale Watching, Kaikoura

Kaikoura photos: The Planet D

You have such a good chance of seeing whales from Kaikoura that most trips refund your trip if you don’t see whales! You have the highest chance of seeing Giant Sperm Wales, but also often catch Blue Whales, Pilot Whales, Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales, and even Orcas, the world’s largest dolphin (yes, did you know it is actually a dolphin? Me neither). Not to mention other wildlife such as Fur Sea Lions, Dusky dolphins and Albatross. So make sure to visit the sleepy seaside town of Kairkoura to see some real New Zealand wildlife.

10. Skydiving, Lake Taupo

As a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, it doesn’t come much bigger than skydiving. I chose Lake Taupo purely due to the incredible views of snowcapped mountains and the gorgeous Lake Taupo itself, you can apparently see the East and West coast of New Zealand’s north island from 15,000 feet too. Not that I can verify that as my concentration was not on the coastline at this point! I’d certainly suggest 15,000 feet over 12,000 as you get more freefall time, and I kid you not when I say this was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life, its just over too quickly. Unfortunately I’d exhausted my travel budget by this time so didn’t pay extra for a DVD or photos, hence why you only see me on the ground!

Have you been to New Zealand? What was your highlight? I’d love to know your suggestions in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

33 thoughts on “10 things you must do in New Zealand

  1. Miriam of Adventurous Miriam says:

    Love this list! There are so many activities (like sandboarding) I didn’t know NZ had. Thanks for this!

  2. Gui Varro of Traveltics says:

    That is great Scott! I was thinking about going to New Zealand during my next vacation (probably Oct-Dec). Any tips on what time of the year to go? Also, what bus company did you hire to travel the country? And how many days did you spent there?
    Thanks man! Your pics are AWESOME!

    • Scott Tisson says:

      Hey Gui Varro. Thanks for your comment!! I don’t think there is a bad time to go, look out for ski season in places like Wanaka or Queenstown. I think Oct-Dec is spring/summer but I also read that a lot of Kiwi’s take their holidays in Dec, so accommodation might get harder to book later in Dec
      I went on Magic bus, a good balance in age groups, but not all partying youngsters like Kiwi explorer (which might be your cup of tea!) 😀
      Thanks dude, I’m glad you like the pics, feel free to ask any more questions and have a great time in NZ 🙂 🙂

      • Shona says:

        Hey, you got some awesome pics and looks like you had a great time here! In reply to Gui Varro, our summer is December to March, with February and March being your best bet for settled weather and less crowds – January can get pretty busy with everyone on summer holidays. But if you want to see beautiful snow capped mountains in the south you’ll want to come in winter – July or August. Hope that helps and you enjoy your trip.

  3. Cyra | Gastronomic Nomad says:

    I was in Rotorua at the end of 2014 and saw the white water rafters there. I didn’t actually get a chance to go – but after watching it, I seriously want to! It looked fun. 🙂

  4. Jennifer says:

    Fantastic photos! Looking forward to getting to to New Zealand myself in the not too distant future. Thanks for adding to the inspiration!

  5. Stuart says:

    These are the commercial things to do, after spending 47 years exploring NZ it’s those special places that no one seems to know about that make it even more spectacular. Ssssssshhhhhh , don’t tell anyone.
    Ok,example 1, try Tarawera falls walk, a river that disappears down volcanic holes only to emerge through cliffs , accompanied by crystal clear swimming holes for the brave……actually quite safe. Unreal!

    • Scott Tisson says:

      Hi Stuart, your’e right these are all pretty commercial, but they are still must do’s in my opinion. I could have made this list 100 long, but it took me long enough to write with 10 😀
      The Tarawera Falls sound awesome, I’d love to hear about more special places, after 47 years you must have a few? Or maybe I’ll send you an email so you don’t tell everyone your secrets 🙂

  6. Petra @ The Global Couple says:

    This is a great list Scott! Glad you got to experience all these things in our wonderful country. There’s heaps more to explore for your next trip, we recommend Kahurangi National Park on the West Coast of the South Island, the Bay of Islands in Northland, and the wine region of Hawke’s Bay (if you’re into wine).

  7. Kiwi Born, no better place to be. says:

    Glad you enjoyed the great NZ, yes it has some great adventures to be found but most of those are for the Travelers.They are working on the Mountain bike track from top to bottom of both Islands, if or when finished it will take you to the best sites in NZ.That being said like every country the locals know the best places which cost next to nothing, suppose you pay for what you want though. Our native bush is a wonderland and full of some great sites weather tramping, camping or day walks. To many sites to list after 12 years Hitching the North and South Islands. Glad you enjoyed our tiny but awsum Country.

    • Scott Tisson says:

      Thanks Kiwi Born! Wow, after 12 years you must have seen some incredible hidden places. And the bike track sounds brilliant, I’d love to do that if it ends up getting finished 🙂

  8. Judy says:

    Yes there is a lot to do, and a list of 10 things can’t possibly even scratch the surface. A few others are – visit/fish in the Bay of Islands; ski Mt Hutt/Tongariro National Park; do everything in Queenstown; tour Waiheke Island wineries & swim its beaches.

  9. Antoine says:

    Its been a dream of mine to visit this splendid part of the world for some time now. I’ve been saving up and I’m nearly there. The places you suggested are all splendid, but if I may add that if you google ” Lord of the rings shooting locations” you will get THE BEST of NZ. Peter Jackson and his crew spent months flying over the two islands with their Heli to choose their locations, and of course , HOBBITON is a must !!

    • Scott Tisson says:

      Hey Antoine, well NZ summer is December to March, but it depends what you want to see, Shona above says its best to come in Winter to see the snow capped mountains. I found it pretty stable all year round unless you were in the mountains, I’d just take lots of warm clothes during Aug/Sept if you’re doing any hiking, and don’t expect to do much swimming in the sea 😀

  10. Martin says:

    Scott, Try Hot Water Beach, Mercury Bay, Coromandel, North Island. Also World’s steepest street, Dunedin, South Island.

  11. Serendipity Tess says:

    YES! Thanks for this. We are currently in New Zealand and were wondering how to narrow it down – there is simply too much to see. This will help 🙂 The photos are beautiful!

  12. Heidi Wierdsma says:

    Overnight Cruise in doubtful Sound, was extraordinary. Helicoptertrip and landing om the glacier. Hobbitton. Lake Tekapo is so very beautiful and I loved the Church of the good shepherd. And I could og on for hours

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