New Zealand is hands down one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Stunning nature, crazy adventures and more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at will leave you completely speechless. Having finally recovered my speech, I’d love to share with you my top 30 things to do in New Zealand from top to bottom. All tested and approved by me, of course!
As the planet heats up environmentally and politically, it’s good to know that New Zealand exists. This uncrowded, green, peaceful and accepting country is the ultimate escape.
1. Stray off the beaten path
As a solo female traveler, I usually don’t have as many options when planing my trips. Camper vans are a no-go because I don’t want to be be driving all day long, hitch-hiking (even though pretty safe in NZ) is still a risk and joining a travel group is to unflexible.
Stray Travel was the solution to all of my problems. Stray is a hop-on-hop-off bus company that offers different routes depending on your budget and time. Even though the routes are fixed, you can travel at your own pace and change itineraries whenever you feel like it. Met some
boy awesome people you want to spend some more time with or fell in love with a boy place? Just hop off the bus and stay a little longer!
And as a bonus, they stay true to their motto “Stray off the beaten path” and will take you to places no one else gets to see!
2. See where the Pacific and the Tasman Sea meet at Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand and the spot where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. According to the Maori, this is the place where the female sea meets the male sea to create life.
It is also a very sacred place because all the dead souls travel to Cape Reinga to leap off the mainland in order to climb down to the underground to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki.
3. Go Sandboarding
Who needs snow to have fun when you have such beautiful sand dunes? So, grab your board and race down the Giant Te Paki sand dunes.
You’ll also realize soon, why someone invented a thing called ‘lifts’. Climbing up those hills is
way too freaking quite exhausting.
4. Drive along Ninety Mile Beach
First of all, nope, it’s not 90 miles long… Not even close… It’s barely 90 kilometers (so about 55 miles) but how would that sound? And Australia has a Ninety Mile Beach, so New Zealand wanted one as well. You know how
kids countries are; they always want what they don’t have.
Despite this rather underwhelming fact, it’s still a ton of fun to speed along the shore line in your bus or car and splash around like a pro when you drive through the incoming tide.
5. Cruise around the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand is famous for its stunning beauty and history (and you thought it was because of its 144 islands…).
Visit Russell, the first European settlement and former capital of New Zealand, which was also called ‘The Hell Hole of the Pacific’. Hop on over to Waitangi, one of the most important places in NZ history. In Waitangi, the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ was signed by the British and various Maori tribes, which led to Britain’s sovereignty over New Zealand. The date of the signing, the 6th of February, remains a national holiday, ‘Waitangi day’.
Last but not least, take a cruise to one of the many islands or go on the ‘Hole in the Rock’ tour where you, well… Sail through a hole in the rock. With a bit of luck you get to see lots of dolphins (some operators even offer swimming with dolphins) or maybe even a whale!
6. Learn some NZ slang
Even if you are an English native speaker, you’ll have a lot to learn when you arrive in New Zealand. They are… Let’s call it ‘different’. Their slang is a unique mix of Maori influences, surfer dudeness, British randomness and Canadian ‘ey’s.
So don’t be offended when you hear someone next to you yell ‘Sweet as!’. While I’m sure you’re backside is very attractive, that’s just the Kiwi way to say ‘cool’. Basically, you can add ‘as’ to every adjective and have a completely sound statement. Hard as, cold as, cheap as… You get it, mate? Trust me, I’m not spinning yarns, ey! Kia Ora!
7. Hug a Kauri tree
‘Cause sometimes all you need is a hug from a big ol’ tree.
Kauri trees are indigenous to New Zealand. The oldest tree is called Te Matua Ngahere, ‘Father of the Forest’. No one really knows how old the tree is but apparently it’s somewhere between 1200 and 4000 years old (not kidding…). This would make it the oldest tree in New Zealand or even the oldest rain forest tree in the world!
Unfortunately you can’t hug the ‘Father of the Forest’, but there are plenty of trees in dire need of some TLC on the Manginangina Forest Walk.
8. Hike up Mt. Eden and reflect on how far away you are from home
Mount Eden is a dormant volcano in the middle of Auckland. On the top, you won’t just have a stunning view over New Zealand’s capital and feel proud to have climbed (your first?) a volcano but you’ll also get to see how far you’ve actually traveled.
One thing is for certain, you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore…
9. Enjoy a stunning view on top of Rangitoto Island
For another stunning view over the capital, take the ferry to Rangitoto Island and climb your second volcano. Sweet as!
As Rangitoto’s last eruption dates back only about 500 years, there all still large stretches of lava rock that haven’t been reclaimed by nature yet. As a result, the island amazes with its stark contrast between harsh, black lava rocks and lush, green vegetation.
10. Feel Spellbound at the Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves should be on every travelers bucket list! They are famous for the vast amounts of glow worms that live in them.
There are different ways to see the caves: from abseiling and black water rafting to quiet walks and boat tours. Something for everyone!
If you want to ditch the crowds, I’d suggest you see the caves with Spellbound. You’ll get to enjoy the caves in small groups of up to twelve people and we were even offered some tea and a cookie. How could anything top that?
11. Smell what the middle of the earth smells like in Rotorua
Rotorua stinks… Literally… It is the city of sulfur. Rotorua is built on an area with massive geothermal activity which means that there are hot pools everywhere (there are even hot pools in some of the youth hostels!).
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is a surreal place that lets you discover every trick geothermal activity has up its sleeve: geysers, bubbling mood pools, steaming pools that stink of rotten eggs and a pool that’s so neon green, it would put the 80’s to shame.
12. Eat your weight in pizza and pies
In order to cross all top 30 things to do in New Zealand off your list, you need money. And New Zealand isn’t cheap. So why not safe some cash on food?
Most pizza chains (Domino’s, Pizza Hut etc.) offer 5 dollar pizzas (that’s New Zealand dollars!) and pies are basically the cheapest and most delicious thing you could eat anyway. Is it healthy? Probably not. But there’s plenty of time to detox when you’re back home…
13. Conquer a 7 m waterfall by boat
White water rafting is fun. And white water rafting down a 7 meter waterfall (that’s about 23 feet!) is a blast!
Just outside of Rotorua you can raft down the Grade 5 Okere River which features the highest commercially rafted waterfall! But don’t worry, you’ll get to practice on two smaller ones beforehand…
14. Go to Hobbiton and feel the magic of Middle Earth
It’s Hobbiton… Need I say more?
It’s easiest if you take a shuttle in Rotorua which will take you to Hobbiton and back. You’re in no state to drive back, anyway, after you’ve had a couple of ales at the Green Dragon!
15. See the first sunset of the world
Alright, technically, it’s not the first sunrise of the world as the date line does a weird curve to include some Micronesian Islands that lie to the east of New Zealand.
If you go according to the antimeridian though (which is 180° East and 180° West), the East Cape is about as close as it gets at 178° East.
And why even argue if you can enjoy a sunrise as beautiful as this?
16. Walk New Zealand’s longest pier
With a length of 660 metres (0.4 miles), walking up and down the Tolaga Bay Wharf is a nice way to stretch your legs. If you’re brave enough, you can even jump into the ice-cold water at the end of the pier.
17. Witness a haka
The haka is a traditional Maori dance. But it’s so much more than a dance. It’s the epitome of pride, strength, courage and unity.
Before every game the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, perform such a powerful haka that it will leave you in awe and the opponents in little trembling pieces.
And if you’re up for the full-body goosebumps experience, watch this haka performed at a wedding (keep your tissues ready because the feels will hit you hard!).
18. Join Frodo and hike up to Mount Doom
The Tongariro Crossing is one of the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand and can’t be missed on the top 30 things to do in New Zealand.
It’s not just a beautiful, albeit really strenuous hike (19 km/ 12 miles), it’s probably also New Zealand’s most famous route because it goes past famous Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings. The Kiwis call this mountain Mt Ngauruhoe but we’ll all remember it as the place where the ring was finally destroyed! You can actually hike all the way to the top of the mountain, but make sure you are fit enough and have proper hiking gear!
On a sunny day, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views and brilliantly colorful lakes. If you’re as lucky as I was, though, you’ll get the true Hobbit experience with fog, snow and freezing temperatures. Oh, how I wish I had a Samweis Gamgee to drag me up the steep slopes…
19. Learn more about NZ history at Te Papa museum
Te Papa is the amazing national museum in Wellington. Admission is free and you can easily spend an entire day discovering its five levels.
Learn everything you wanted to know about New Zealand culture, history and geography. There are lots of interactive exhibits that are fun for young and old. Don’t miss the earthquake simulator to experience what a real earthquake feels like. Unless you’ve already felt one of the 30,000 (!!!) quakes a year…
20. Kayak with seals along the coast of Abel Tasman national park
Abel Tasman (aka sandfly territory!) is a national park at the northern tip of the South Island. It’s a hiker’s and kayaker’s paradise! It features another of the 9 Great Walks, which is in this case a multi-day hike along the coast.
You can also rent a kayak and paddle along the coast, either by yourself or in guided groups. With a bit of luck, you’ll get to see some playful seals that love to swim around your kayaks. Just be careful not to hit them over the head with your paddle…
There are also loads of option to combine the two, i.e. walk one way and kayak back or vice versa. Or if you
are lazy too tired just don’t feel like it, you can walk/kayak one way and get the watertaxi home.
21. Fly in a helicopter and walk around on Franz Josef Glacier
Have you ever walked around on a glacier? Have you ever flown in a helicopter? Have you ever stood on a glacier and seen the ocean at the same time? Well, welcome to Franz Josef where you can kill three birds with one stone!
Franz Josef Glacier is one of New Zealand’s main attractions but you can only get there by helicopter. The experience isn’t particularly cheap but it’s worth every penny! The tour companies provide you with everything you need from thick coats, to heavy boots and crampons, so you don’t have to worry about a thing… except the weather…
NZ weather is unpredictable and tours can be canceled even at the last moment before you climb into the helicopter (better be safe than sorry!). But don’t worry, you can always rebook or get a refund!
22. See Mt Cook up close, New Zealand’s tallest mountain
Mount Cook is an absolute beauty that you shouldn’t miss on your tour through New Zealand.
There are a number of short hikes around Mt.Cook ranging from just a few minutes to about 4 hours. The most famous and most scenic one is the Hooker Valley Track.
23. Fly a plane in Wanaka
Yes, that’s me flying a plane. I’m actually flying a plane! Sure, there’s a real pilot sitting next to me but I’m definitely holding the reins here…
If you think this should also be on your top 30 things to do in New Zealand, make sure to stop in Wanaka! You can take your first taster lesson with UFly which lasts between 20 and 50 minutes. If you choose the regular flight lesson, you can take your own personal photographer with you for free.
For the thrill seekers, they also offer aerobatics flight lessons where you do all sorts of crazy loops and stunts!
24. Feel like a kid again at Puzzle World
Puzzle World in Wanaka is so much fun. For every kid and everyone that’s still a big kid inside, this is paradise!
There are numerous whacky and mind-boggling exhibits to entertain you for a couple of hours but the best thing comes last: The best maze in the world!
The maze has four sections each featuring a different colored tower. Your job is to reach all four towers via a incredibly confusing bridge system. This maze will take you at least an hour and it will probably bring you to your breaking point but the satisfaction of reaching the goal is sweeter than honey!
Of course, there are always emergency exits that take you straight to the exit but you know… Don’t be a quitter…
25. Eat the allegedly best burger in the world at Ferg Burger
Is it the best burger in the world? Well, the opinions are divided. But there’s no doubt that it’s a damn good burger!
And you haven’t seen Queenstown without having tasted a Fergburger.
Just make sure you either call in and order a burger beforehand or expect to wait in line for at least half an hour…
26. Lose your dignity in Queenstown
Queenstown is the adventure and party capital of New Zealand. And somehow, the combination of adrenaline filled days and booze filled evenings leads to some unforgettable nights.
Even though your new favourite flower might be the forget-me-right-now, take comfort in an old German saying that translates to ‘Once your worldly reputation is in tatters, the opinion of others hardly matters’.
And if anyone knows something about having fun, it’s the Germans, am I right?
27. Be lost for words at Milford Sound
After traveling through New Zealand for a while, you’ll find yourself desperately struggling to find words that do justice to the beauty in front of you. Every time you step outside, you think: Well, it can’t get any prettier than that…
…and then you get to Milford Sound!
Milford Sound is a fjord in the south of the South Island and it’s simply breath-taking. But don’t take my word for it. Go on a cruise and see for yourself!
28. See the cutest waterfall ever
During my time in New Zealand, I’ve seen so many waterfalls I lost count. You could easily make it your goal to see at least one waterfall a day because you know what they say… A waterfall a day…
But the cutest waterfall by far is the one at the end of the Ohau Stream Walk in Kaikoura. Or have you ever heard of anything cuter than a waterfall that is home to a kindergarten of adorable seal pups? I thought so…
29. Create your own lucky charm
Bone necklaces are ever-present in every souvenir shop. But why buy something if you can make it yourself?
If you travel with Stray, you’ll get the chance to design and carve your very own bone necklace.
Every design has a different meaning, so you can have a lucky charm that represents your wishes and needs. Mine has become my official travel necklace!
30. Fall in love with New Zealand
Because it’s as certain as death and taxes…
Have you ever been to New Zealand?
What’s on your top 30 list of things to do in New Zealand?
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