There are so many things to do in New Zealand and we have nearly tried them all! We have visited New Zealand four times and have personally tried out these adventures that we recommend in our New Zealand travel guide. With the world opening up, it is exciting to think of traveling to the southern hemisphere again, so we thought it was a good time to celebrate the land of Middle Earth.
Did you know New Zealand is known as the adventure capital of the world? This was the reason we were drawn to it in the first place. Each time we visit, we discover something new. But New Zealand isn’t just for adventure lovers, it has cultural experiences, world-class vineyards, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We actually did all of these activities in New Zealand and can give you first-hand information on what to see and do in the country.
Top Things to do in New Zealand
It can be overwhelming deciding on what things to do in New Zealand but we’ve rounded up the more unique and exciting things beyond the usual bungy jumps and skydivers. Although they make the list too! You can’t go to New Zealand without doing some extreme adventures!
We’ve broken up this New Zealand Guide into two sections. You can skip directly to the top things to do on each island or follow the guide to see all the best things to do around the country.
Enjoy our favorite things to do based on what we experienced in the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
Top Things to do on New Zealand’s South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is where we spent the majority of our time on our first visit and we feel it is the best place to start when planning your trip to New Zealand. The South Island of New Zealand is the larger of the two islands but has a lower population making for amazing backcountry adventures and unspoiled scenery. This is where you’ll find the most adventurous activities.
1. Bungy Jump in Queenstown
New Zealand may be the adventure capital of the world, but Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. This is the perfect place to make a base if you are an adrenaline junkie. From bunjy (in New Zealand it’s spelled Bunjy, not Bungee) jumping to skydiving, Queenstown has everything you could ever want.
The original Kawarau Bridge jump is the best for that authentic bungy jumping feel in New Zealand. The Ledge Bunjy offers the best view of Queenstown, and the terrifying Nevis Bungy located 134 meters over the middle of a gorge is the third highest bungee in the world! All are located in and around Queenstown! We have a complete list of the best bungy jumping sites in New Zealand.
2. Cruise Milford Sound
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions and for good reason. In 2008 Milford Sound was named the World’s Top Travel Destination, and Rudyard Kipling called it the 8th Wonder of the World.
Milford Sound: This is probably one of the most famous excursions in New Zealand and Get Your Guide offers day tours cruise through Milford Sound. A cruise through Milford Sound is a must when visiting the country. Its breathtaking fiords showcase some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.
This highly rated tour takes you on a catamaran for a cruise of Milford Sound including a picnic lunch. You’ll sail through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea. Sights include Stirling Falls, glaciers, and the massive sea cliffs of the fjords. Plus, you may spy some wildlife while you are out there too!
3. Swim with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins is one of the most magical moments you will ever have in your life. In Kaikoura, you swim with a large pod of dolphins but the water is chilly, so a wetsuit is required in Kaikoura. Dolphin watching is a must on a visit to New Zealand and you can book this Get Your Guide dolphin and whale watching eco-tour.
4. Sky Dive Abel Tasman
One of the top most popular things to do is to go skydiving. There are many places all around the country from the North Island and South Island. There are many places to jump in New Zealand, but Abel Tasman is special as you can see both the North Island and South Island when you jump.
Abel Tasman is probably the most iconic place in New Zealand to go skydiving in the country since it has the highest jump in New Zealand. With skydive Abel Tasman you have the option to jump from 16,500 feet. Which naturally we had to do!
Book your skydiving adventure in advance at Abel Tasman National Park. You can choose from a 13,000 or 16,500-foot (4,000 or 5,000-meter) tandem skydive that offers 40 or 60-second freefall in tandem with your instructor.
5. World Famous Gorge Swing
If bunjy jumping is too much for you, try a gorge swing instead. You can do a tandem swing or go on your own. You get to do this in pairs of two if you like! It’s not a direct fall, but instead a swing across the gorge on a 300-meter arc. This is the highest swing on the planet and not for the faint of heart.
6. Go Paragliding Over Queenstown
One of the more popular things to do in Queenstown is to go paragliding from the mountain above the city. Catch the Skyline Gondola (just a 5-minute walk from central Queenstown) to the top of the mountain for the most extraordinary paragliding experience you’ll ever have.
Then soar 2000 feet above Queenstown for the most extraordinary view! We had a good 15-minute flight and could keep catching the waves to go back up to our starting point rather than dropping quickly to the ground. You’ll get to do some amazing maneuvers too! Paragliding over Queenstown was one of the highlights of my first trip to the country.
7. Shotover Jet Boat Queenstown
The Queenstown Jetboat experience is probably the most popular jet boat ride in New Zealand going through the canyons of the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers. We seemed to do a lot of jet boating in New Zealand. The Kiwis really love their thrills on the water!
You can book this highly rated tour that takes you on a high-speed adrenaline rush through Lake Wakatipu and the Shotover and Kawarau rivers with 360° spins as you enjoy yet another thrill ride in New Zealand.
Where to Eat in Queenstown
When you are in Queenstown, you must try a Fergburger. Fergburger is a Queenstown institution and no visit would be complete without giving it a try. Don’t worry, there are vegetarian selections available too!
8. Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater Rafting in New Zealand was the best rafting experience we’ve ever had and we’ve done a lot! These enormous class five rapids located just two hours from Christchurch were a thrill of a lifetime. Book this whitewater rafting adventure
These waves were massive and at times. a bit terrifying. I fell out of the raft once, but our quick-thinking guide pulled me back in. After facing the giant whitewater, you can take it easy and jump from a 3 – 5 meter high ledge into some smaller rapids for some body surfing. Check out more white Water Rafting Adventure with Rangitata Rafting.
9. Trek the Fox Glacier
The Fox Glacier is probably one of the easiest and quickest glacier walks on a glacier you’ll ever be able to do. If you want to experience what it is like to hike on a glacier, this is a good choice! We were suited up with thick woolly socks and boots suitable for crampons. They gave us a rain jacket and waterproof pants all we had to do was show up. Located at a low elevation, it’s suitable for anyone that’s relatively fit.
10. Take a Scenic Flight over a Glacier
After seeing Fox Glacier, book a helicopter ride to see Franz Josef Glacier from above. Franz Joseph Glacier is close to Fox Glacier, so you can see both in a day! What is great about This highly rated tour is that after a thrilling flight, you’ll land on Franz Josef Glacier and then take a guided hike to ice formations, ice walls, ice tunnels, and ice caves. You’ll also witness a calving glacier for a thrill of a lifetime.
We feel that helicopter rides are one of the best ways to take in the beautiful scenery and the South Island of New Zealand has some of the best scenery in the world. So if there is one place to book a scenic flight in New Zealand, it is here. However there are plenty of beautiful places around the country to take a scenic flight, so don’t limit yourself to the glaciers.
11. Trek to Aoraki Mount Cook
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hillary trained here for his summit of Mount Everest! Located in Mount Cook National Park, it is easily accessible by road offering stunning views of peaks and glaciers. There are plenty of tracks to hike and it has outstanding rock climbing experiences.
This Queenstown to Mount Cook Tour is a small group adventure that takes you to New Zealand’s tallest mountain – Aoraki / Mt Cook. You’ll travel through Kawarau Gorge and stop at the town of Omarama before climbing through Lindis Pass. Several scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed at one of the stops, Lake Pukaki where you’ll be able to view its unmatchable beauty before ending at the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre where you’ll have free time to explore as you wish.
There are several hiking trails around the country so if you are an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll have endless opportunities. Another famous track on the South Island is the Routeburn Track. See what it is like on our Best Treks in the world.
12. Visit Lake Wanaka
The famous Wanaka Tree of Lake Wanaka has alas been cut down by hackers so it’s not quite the same for Instagram opportunities here. But never fear, there is so much more to do in Wanaka than look at a tree. It is the perfect place for outdoor lovers. Surrounded by Mountains there is no shortage of hikes and outdoor adventures. Wanaka is also one of the best places in New Zealand to go skiing! Read all the things to do in Wanaka written by local travel writer Matt Burns.
13. Look for Greenstone in Hokitika
Dave hasn’t taken his Green Stone (Kiwi for Jade) off since our first trip to New Zealand in 2011. When you are on the west coast of the country, be sure to get yourself a Greenstone gem. The town of Hokitika is famous for the green stone that washes up on the beaches. If you find a good piece, you can bring them to a studio and someone will make a necklace for you.
Greenstone in the shops is expensive, but if you walk around the markets, you will find some affordable pieces. Dave wears a Toki around his neck. The Maori used Toki’s as a tool, but today they are worn around the neck and represents strength. It’s important not to buy yourself a Toki, they should be given to you. Naturally, I gave one to Dave.
14. Marvel at Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is part of the Dark Sky Preserve and is an excellent place for camping. Spend the night and take in the stars. Its most photographed view is the one above of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Besides being a historic site, it also offers a beautiful view of Lake Tekapo.
15. Go Sailing in Abel Tasman
One cannot appreciate the beauty of a coastline until you see it from afar. Take a sailing trip for the best views of the rugged coast. A sailing trip is a fun and relaxing way to spend the day. We sailed along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park exploring secluded beaches and witnessing unique rock formations. But most importantly, we had the opportunity to captain the boat!
It’s no secret that we love Abel Tasman. We went skydiving, sea kayaking, and sailing and we flew a stunt plane there. If you want a good view take a cruise and hiking day trip in Abel Tasman National Park. This scenic cruise lets you see all the highlights of Abel Tasman National park including Kaiteriteri Beach and other golden sand beaches, world-famous Split Apple Rock, New Zealand fur seals, Bark Bay, and Tonga Quarry, and local wildlife.
16. Go Whale Watching Kaikoura
What makes whale watching so special in New Zealand is the sheer number of species you will see. All kinds of different whales migrate through these waters and the chances of spying several are very good! This whale watching tour can be booked in advance (with easy cancellation). Take a catamaran cruise off the Kaikoura Coast where you’ll have up-close encounters with not only whales but fur seals, pods of dolphins, and perhaps a glimpse of the endangered albatross.
When whale watching in Kaikoura, the chances of spotting whales are so that if you don’t see any, they will refund 80% of your money. We not only saw humpback whales, we saw killer whales too! Plus, Whale Watch Kaikoura is the only place where visitors can encounter the chance to see Giant Sperm Whales all year long!
17. Take a Jet Boat Tour
There are many places to experience jet boating in New Zealand with the most famous being in the Queenstown area. We took a few in the country through backwaters, rivers, and out to sea, but one of our favorite jet boating experiences was The Luxmore Jetboat Experience. It offered some thrills and spills through Fiordland National Park. And we saw some more LOTR movie sets to boot!
18. Walk along the Pancake Rocks
Located on the west coast of the South Island, the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki are one of the most awesome places to visit in New Zealand. Take a walkway out to view the 1000-year-old eroded limestone formations. If you time it right, you’ll catch the sea spewing up through the rocks blowholes. Part of the Paparoa National Park, the Pancake Rocks are accessed by the easy Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk right in the centre of Punakaiki.
A great idea to really take in the scope of New Zealand is to enjoy a Scenic Helicopter Tour – Fly over the peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park where you’ll see stunning mountains and ice falls before landing in the Forbes Mountains.
19. Spy on Split Apple Rock
One of New Zealand’s lesser-known attractions is Split Apple Rock. It is a 120 million-year-old granite rock that has been split in half. Legend has it the rock was split between two warring Gods. Science tells us that during the ice age, water that had seeped into the rock expanded splitting the massive formation in half. I’m going with the Gods!
20. Moeraki Boulders
The Moeraki Boulders are a natural phenomenon that lay along a stretch of the Koekohe Beach on the Otago Coast of New Zealand. I didn’t even know they existed, but seriously, they are one of the best things to do in New Zealand. The Moeraki Boulders are located between Moeraki and Hampden on the South Island.
Scientists claim that the Moeraki boulders were formed millions of years ago due to muddy sediments slowly forming the boulders through erosion, wave action, and landslide. They are a fascinating sight to see.
We book day tours with Get Your Guide Around the World. They offer last-minute bookings and easy cancellations.
21. Walk up the World’s Steepest Street
New Zealand has the steepest street on earth. Baldwin Street is located in Dunedin and is a short 350 meter (1,150 ft) walk, but it rises a whopping 30 meters (98feet) in that short time. It’s a quick short bucket list item to add to your itinerary.
22. Enjoy New Zealand Wine Country
From Queenstown head out on an epic drive to Central Otago located an hour and forty-five minutes from the city. This region is known for its world-class pinot noir wines but there are plenty of other things to do here as well.
Top things to do here besides wine tasting are cycling along the old rail trail, a heritage cruise down the Clutha River, or the Ferrari experience at the Highlands Motorsport Park.
23. Explore Christchurch
Christchurch has come a long way since the 2011 Earthquake. The city has a new funky vibe and things are coming together. We were there just after the earthquake and could tell that it was a beautiful city, even within the rubble.
Local writer Martina Grossi shares how far it has come and shares all of the amazing things to do in Christchurch.
24. Fly Your Own Stunt Plane
The most original and exciting adventure you will ever do in your life is to fly your own stunt plane at Ufly Extreme. (sadly, you can no longer fly your own stunt plane here but you can do it in Wanaka! My experience was too cool not to leave in).
Imagine taking full control of the plane you flip upside down and all around in mid-air as pilot Vincent talks you through the flight from the cockpit behind.
It’s definitely not for the faint of heart but is definitely the most unique thing we did in New Zealand or anywhere for that matter.
Update: UFly Extreme is no longer in business, but we do see that there is still a place to fly a stunt plane . We however didn’t fly with the new establishment, so we can’t say how good it is.
Top Things to do on the North Island
You could spend your entire time in New Zealand on just one island. But that would be only half the fun! There are so many things to do in New Zealand on the North Island too! So plan for another couple of weeks, or book a full flying Kiwi experience of both the South and North Island tour.
In total, we’ve spent nearly three months trekking around New Zealand. These are the best things we did on the North Island. Our last two visits were spent exploring a lot of the North Island. And here are the top things to do!
25. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Crossing is considered one of the best day hikes in the entire world. It’s an absolutely beautiful trek taking you through huge valleys, up mountain slopes, and to incredible volcanic lakes.
Peter Jackson chose this location to be the dreaded Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. We can understand why it is an incredible view that is movie worthy indeed.
The day hike takes you to sulfur lakes that seem out of this world. Just like Middle Earth!
You can read all about our experiences on this hike at The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: New Zealand’s Best 1 Day Hike
26. Watch Wai-O-Tapu Bubble
Wai-O-Tapu is a Thermal Wonderland. It is certainly the best display of sulfur geothermal hot pools we have ever witnessed. A stop here is well worth your time on any New Zealand itinerary. Walk along the safe and defined tracks through these incredible geothermal pools and volcanic and acidic lakes.
Witness bubbling mud, steaming ground, and volcanic craters at this natural attraction that has bee called One of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World.
27. Skydive Lake Taupo
Another great place to go skydiving in New Zealand is Lake Taupo. We actually enjoyed the Taupo skydive company more than Able Tasman. We got to choose our soundtrack for our video which I thought was really cool and they picked us up in a limousine, how cool is that?
There were plenty of other things to do in Taupo though. Instead of an adrenaline rush, we had an amazing time basking in the geothermal hot pools. Visit Skydive Taupo for more information.
28. Visit Hobbiton
New Zealand has always been an amazing destination but the world really took notice when the Lord of the Rings filmed here. If you are a movie buff, a visit to Hobbiton is a must.
The entire Hobbit Village was built on farmland and transformed into a movie set and it is now open to the public. See where Frodo and Sam lived up and experience a piece of Hollywood History.
Visit Middle Earth and the actual shire movie set on the Hobbiton Movie set tour. Make sure to have a pint of ale in front of the fire to really feel what it is like to be a Hobbit in Hobbiton. Check out tours of Hobbiton with Get Your Guide.
29. Sail the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a beautiful subtropical area of New Zealand that consists of 144 islands. There are so many experiences to be had here you need to give yourself a few days. The warm waters here make for the best scuba diving and snorkeling in New Zealand. We swam with bottlenose dolphins here and it was a spectacular experience. There is also whale watching, sailing tours, and like many places on the North Island, a chance to visit some hot pools.
- Check out Tall Ship Sailing excursion from Auckland through Get Your Guide where you can help the crew hoist the sails.
- 3 Day Bay of Islands Tour – Explore the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga on this 3-day trip from Aukland.
30. See the Glowworm Caves Sparkle
We actually saw glow worms on both the South Island in Te Anau and North Island in Waitomo. The Waitomo Caves are the more popular excursion and easier to get to. Glow worms are small insects that emit bioluminescent and they were definitely one of the coolest wildlife experiences we’ve ever had.
Glowworm Caves are found all around New Zealand and you must experience seeing the glow worms in real life. Glowworms never leave the cave and they spend their lives feeding on insects that make their way into the deep caverns.
One glowworm alone hangs hundreds of threads to catch their prey using their lights to attract the bugs where they are trapped in their gooey string to wait for a slow death. It is gruesome for the insect, but it is spectacular to see.
31. Go Zorbing in Rotorua
If you are looking for unique experiences in New Zealand, look no further than zorbing. New Zealand is known for its zany adventures and one of the most popular things to do in Rotorua is zorbing.
Zorbing is completely unique to New Zealand and you must when you are there. Get in a ball and roll down a hill like a hamster. Word of warning, don’t eat too much before you experience rolling every which way down the hill. You may toss your cookies! The place to do it is Rotorua or Waitomo.
32. Rotorua Hot Pools
When visiting Rotorua, you’ll notice a distinct smell of sulfur. The North Island is a volcanic island, so there are many thermal hot pools and hot springs to explore. But no place is as popular as Rotorua. After a day of adventures, you can warm up in the warm volcanic sulfur waters and hot springs. The healing waters located on the edge of Lake Rotorua have been attracting visitors for hundreds of years.
33. Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua
No visit to New Zealand would be complete without immersing in a Maori Cultural experience. The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to experience Maori culture. Maori are the original settlers of New Zealand coming to the island more than 1000 years ago from the Cook Islands.
The Polynesians settled here in the 13th century and an excellent way to learn about their history is to visit the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua. Here you will be welcomed by the Powhiri, a formal welcoming ceremony followed by a performance of warrior dances and songs.
Maori Luxury Tour – Learn about the Maori culture as you explore the wild west coast with a local Maori guide.
34. Sail On America’s Cup Winning Yacht
New Zealand’s yachting team is one of the best in the world. When in Auckland make sure to experience what it is like to sail an authentic America’s Cup yacht. This yacht is a previous winner of America’s Cup and this experience is definitely one of the top things to do in Auckland if you are looking for adventure.
Get as involved as you like, or just take in the view of the city from the sea. Either way, it is an experience you’ll never forget.
- Visiting Auckland, book the Hop on Hop off Bus to explore Auckland easily with a hop hop off bus tour of the city.
35. Jump from the Sky Tower
Want a little adrenaline in the city of Auckland? Choose from the Skywalk or Sky Jump at Auckland’s Sky Tower. What I love about this is that if you are not ready for a bungy jump, this offers a controlled descent reaching a speed of 85km per hour.
Where to Stay in Auckland
36. Waiheke Island
New Zealand has become well known for its wine-producing and when visiting Auckland, you must visit the Island of Wine, Waiheke Island New Zealand. Waiheke Island is just a 40-minute ferry ride from mainland New Zealand and here you can enjoy a wine tour and wine tasting at Waiheke Island Wine.
You can make a day of it, but we recommend staying overnight to explore the beaches, go for a hike, hire a bicycle or do some sea kayaking. New Zealand is known for its adventures, so naturally, there is an opportunity to add a little adrenaline to your trip with a zip line over the vineyards.
37. Hike to Wellington Lookout
In the center of Wellington, there’s a hill known as Mount Victoria. This is one of the most popular things to do in Wellington for a lovely afternoon out and a great view of the city. There, they filmed the first scene from The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo and the Hobbits hide from their first Wraith. It’s a great way to get. out of the city.
38. Lord of the Rings Tour Wellington
When heading over from the South Island, we hopped on a ferry to Wellington and had the chance to spend a few days there. Wellington was the location for the main studios when filming Lord of the Rings.
We had the chance to see the miniatures and one of the coolest things was to see the sets showing the perspective of how they made the Hobbits look small compared to the wizards. It was all done by perspective manipulation. Wizards were in a tiny part of the room hunched over while the Hobbits stood in a place with high ceilings. If you can’t make it to New Zealand, check out the Hobbit Houses of Charlevoix in Michigan!
39. Hike Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui is a beautiful place to visit. The Main Beach has been crowned the ‘Best Beach in New Zealand” and hiking the mountain, Mauao is a gorgeous hike that takes about 45 minutes.
It’s one of the country’s most popular walks making it one of the top things to do in New Zealand. We enjoyed hiking to the top of the mountain for a lovely view of the coast.
40. Thunder of Huka Falls
The Huka Falls offers a spectacular display of the power of water with 220k liters of water rushing down an 11-meter waterfall per second! It’s worth stopping to have a look!
41. Relax at Hot Water Beach
Located on the Coromandel Peninsula, Hot Water Beach is a true Kiwi experience. When the beach is at low tide, the hot springs that run below rises through the sand creating a cozy place to burrow into.
42. Go Sandboarding in Openoni
Sandboarding in Openoni which is just south of the Bay of Islands is a good little stop in the middle of a sunny afternoon. The cost is okay at 20 NZD (about $15 USD) per person for the boat ride and the board rental making it one of the cheapest excursions we did in the country.
43. Hawke’s Bay
When visiting the North Island of New Zealand, you can visit wineries at Hawkes Bay. For foodies and wine lovers, this is the place to be. Make sure to visit the town of Napier for its art deco architecture. After the Earthquake of 1931, Napier reconstructed its downtown to the design of the day creating the best example of Art Deco design in the world.
44. Look for Kiwis at Stewart Island
If you want to see the kiwi bird in person, take a trip to Stewart Island. Contrary to popular belief, the kiwi is not extinct. The flightless bird is alive and well and Stewart Island is one of the top places in New Zealand to see them.
The Tokoeka brown kiwi birds outnumber humans on the island. Which isn’t too hard since the population is only about 400 people. Stewart Island is located off the far southern tip of New Zealand and is a nature lover’s paradise. There is 280 km of hiking trails, and trekkers come to tackle the three-day Rakiura Track. The main settlement of Halfmoon Bay offers accommodation.
45. Hire a Campervan
New Zealand was made for a road trip. The best way to experience it is to have the freedom of the open road. Campgrounds are well stocked and getting around is super easy. Plus there are plenty of scenic lookouts just waiting for you to pull over.
There are so many things to see and do in New Zealand, you could spend a month exploring the two islands and still not see it all. We know! We’ve spent nearly two months there.
Getting Around New Zealand
New Zealand is compact and easy to get around the country by renting your own campervan, flying between towns or joining a full hop on hop off multi-day bus tour. We saw a lot of people driving in Wicked and JUCY Campervans. See what it’s like to Explore New Zealand by Campervan
Air New Zealand offers local flights to 25 cities getting you quickly to your destination.
So there you have it, you are armed with these amazing ideas of the greatest things to do in New Zealand to easily create your own custom itinerary.
Plan your Next Trip to New Zealand With These Resources
Disclaimer: There are affiliates in the post. If you choose to visit any of the recommended tours we earn an income at no extra cost to you.