To be perfectly honest, New Zealand has so many things to do, activities and experiences that whittling down the top 10 is a fool’s errand. There are hundreds of activities, scores of which are unique to this stunningly beautiful country.
But, if we had to make a bucket-list of things to absolutely not miss, these would make the list all the times. We would be coming out with more and more Top 10s just for New Zealand (like, obviously!), such as Top 10 Free Activities & Experiences in New Zealand, Top 10 Road Trips, Paid Excursions, Couples’ Getaways and so on… But, as we said, this is the Top 10 Things to Do in New Zealand, period.
We’re just getting it off the expectations list, because as beautiful as they are – there are better items on the way. That being said, Peter Jackson’s epic trilogies of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ would have lost much of its magic if it were not for the jaw-dropping natural beauty of New Zealand. LOTR fans have to sign up for walking and hiking tours covering places such as Hobbiton (that’s the Shire, a permanent film set now), the iconic Mount Doom which is well-known by it’s Kiwi name of Mount Ngauruhoe, the Hutt River which became the Anduin, Harcourt Park/ Gardens of Isengard, our personal favourite -the Kaitoke Regional Park, which fans would recognise as beautiful Rivendell and so on… There’s around 150 locations, each more stunning than the rest.
New Zealand also has one of the lowest light pollution levels in the world, which means ‘lying under a blanket of stars’ isn’t a poetical licence, it’s just a drive away. There are several ‘dark sky’ spots ideal for stargazing, but we recommend the ‘star’ – a night tour of the Mount John Observatory. If you need more such spots, you can always check out the Dark Sky Project tours.
Being in hot water should never this fun. At the very appropriately named Hot Water Beach, the subterranean soil is heated to high degree by volcanic action. As the water is heated up, it rises to the surface via the porous sands. All travellers need to do rent a shovel and dig a hole deep enough to sit in – pretty soon, the hot water will fill the homemade ‘pool’ and you’ve a great little instant hot tub! Get a spatula if you want to get all artistic and draw back-rests and all to look at the ocean views while taking a soak.
Oft described as one of the best walking tours ever, the day-long hike stretches across 20 kilometres and treats travellers to a smouldering volcano, brilliantly-coloured pools and supremely beautiful sceneries. Starting from Mangatepopo Valley, hikers will follow the old lava flows along to the head of the valley until they reach South Crater, pass by the sulphurous Red Crater and the North Crater and end the walk past the lush forests before Ketatahi end.
Most destinations have specific seasons for whale watching, which is when they enter South Pacific’s warm waters to mate and calve, but Kaikoura is a 365-day whale watching haunt. Of course, there’s so much to do besides, but this one activity is special all in itself. Enough said.
First country to wonder, “Well… we can jump, but what about coming back up alive this time?” Although the Pentecost tribe of Vanuatu might ask for credit as the first people to do bungie-jumping, New Zealand is the first ever to commercialise this extreme sport.
The Poor Knights islands compress into a few areas whole experiences of sub-surface delights for scuba-diving enthusiasts. From fields of gorgonian fans to shoals of sub-tropical fishes bustling about divers, there’s something for every scuba-diver level of competency. Novice enthusiasts will be amazed at the marine species flitting about the Nursery Cove and South Harbour, while experienced divers will find great adventure around the kelp forests, the ‘giant staircase’ and numerous spots all around the islands!
For a relaxed experience, take a boat cruise on the glassy waters of the Te Anau lake and the Sound. Carved by glaciers, the Milford Sound contains stark natural beauty in its deep-cut gorges, plunging waterfalls and crystal-clear waters. For a more hands-on, action-packed approach, sign up for a hike – the 150-year-old Milford Track winds around mountain peaks, lakes, over forests and leaves visitors breathless in wonder. Said to be New Zealand’s most famous walks, we haven’t found one to disagree.
If Iceland has its Northern Lights, New Zealand has … well, Southern Lights. This light phenomenon, named Aurora Australis, is best watched from Dunedin and its quiet spots. Shutterbugs, have your fill.
Arguably New Zealand’s most quietly breathtaking experience, the tour is a boat ride through the subterranean caves which are populated by hundreds of thousands of glow worms. It’s an experience worthy of remembering, it’s so other-worldly and eerie. A couple of hours from Auckland, Waitomo is also popular for its adrenaline-pumping Black Water Rafting tours, Marokopa Falls and guided horse-treks. Just look at the picture – don’t you just want to be there, like… right now?
Take your time while visiting Waitomo. We chose this as our personal favourite because it encapsulates everything that New Zealand stands for – pristine, breathtaking snapshots of Nature that anyone can come and marvel at. And come again and again.
Since this doesn’t even cover 10% of what this country has to offer, keep an eye on this section for fresh blogs on what to see, do, eat and experience in New Zealand. We were very serious when we said up top that this beautiful country is a chock-a-block with surprises, things to do and activities. Next up, Queenstown and the top 10 things to do there, then the top free activities in NZ and then…
Check out our destination page on New Zealand – it gives a quick overview of the nation, along with its main cities, history, things to do (which we’ve covered here… a bit), places to stay and so on.
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