New Zealand is a spectacular country to visit. The variety of landscapes, biodiversity, and geological features provide unique and exciting experiences that New Zealand is known for. Situated in the South Pacific across two islands, New Zealand is bigger than you might think, and the landscapes between the two islands couldn’t be more different.
From the lush green North Island, rich in culture, to the adventure-filled Southern Alps of the South Island, you’ll be spoiled for choice with a variety of things to see and do across the country.
From the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, here are the 20 BEST things to do in New Zealand to help you plan a trip to remember.
20 BEST Things to Do in New Zealand
Starting at the tippy top of New Zealand is Cape Reinga. Here you will find an ancient Pohutukawa tree and a beautiful lighthouse. Beyond the lighthouse, you can witness where the two oceans collide, the Tasman Sea from the left and the South Pacific Ocean from the right.
Cape Reinga is a spiritually significant place for Māori where after death, spirits travel to the Pohutukawa tree on their journey home to their ancestors.
Head Up the Sky Tower in Auckland
A visit to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the top of the Sky Tower. You will be whisked 186 meters above the ground via a high-speed elevator. At the top, you are treated to stunning 360-degree views of Auckland and beyond.
There is an observation deck for you to experience the views from every direction and incredible dining options. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even jump off the Sky Tower!
Explore Vineyards on Waiheke Island
Waiheke is a small island located in the Hauraki Gulf with a population of over 10,000 residents. Although only a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland it feels like a world away. With secluded beaches, rolling green vineyards and seaside towns it is a wonderful place to spend the day.
Referred to as the ‘Island of Wine’ Waiheke Island is home to a group of award-winning wineries, each offering idyllic views, good food, and of course, great wine! A winery tour is a great way to experience a few wineries in one afternoon. You can sample a selection of the finest wine while being transported around the island in a comfortable vehicle. No waiting for buses, no walking up hills…no worries.
Dig a Hot Pool at Hot Water Beach
How would you like to dig your own natural spa pool on the beach? Hot Water Beach is located on the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island. It’s world-famous and a local favorite.
Hot Water Beach is a unique experience due to the natural heating mineral water that sits deep within the earth and bubbles up to the surface. During low tide, there are several spots along the sand that feel hot underground. If you start digging in these spots, you can create your very own bubbling hot pool right on the beach.
Don’t worry; the bubbles are from releasing carbon dioxide, not because the water is boiling. It is deliciously warm and relaxing, though!
Visit Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton Gardens is about a two-hour drive from Auckland in the Waikato region and offers a unique take on the traditional botanic garden experience. The Hamilton Gardens focuses on different types of garden designs and their cultural meaning from the past 4,000 years.
There are over twenty different gardens, including an English Flower Garden, a Japanese Garden of Contemplation, an Italian Renaissance Garden, and so much more. It's a wonderful place to spend the day exploring many different gardens.
Entry to the gardens is free, and the kids have a playground on site.
Take a Tour of Hobbiton
Lord the Rings fans won’t want to miss a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. This guided tour will take you behind the scenes of this significant location used for the LOTR and The Hobbit film trilogies.
You’ll be guided through the lush green pastures of The Shire, past famous Hobbit Holes, and ending with a pit stop at the Green Dragon Inn. The attention to detail is incredible and sure to be appreciated by fans and non-fans alike.
There are a few different tour options to choose from, including a banquet tour where you are treated to a Hobbit-style feast at The Green Dragon Inn after your tour.
Experience a Thermal Bath in Rotorua
Rotorua is a city on the North Island known for its geothermal activity, including geysers and hot, bubbling mud pools. The geothermal nutrient-rich mud and sulfur mineral waters are thought to have healing and rejuvenation powers going back hundreds of years.
Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa is the perfect place to experience this natural phenomenon. You can walk around the reserve, past bubbling pools of mud and steaming cliffs, before relaxing in one of the mineral hot tubs. You can lather yourself up in mud while soaking in the sulfur waters to experience the therapeutic properties for yourself.
Ride the Wellington Cable Car
Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, and the Wellington Cable Car is one of the city's most cherished attractions. A ride in the cable car will take you up a steep hillside with beautiful views of Wellington along the way.
Once at the top, there are plenty of things to do. You can stroll through the botanic gardens and visit the Space Place Observatory or Cable Car Museum. There are also several walking tracks if you prefer a wander back down to the city.
Go Whale Watching in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a small town near the top of the South Island that is popular with visitors and locals for the opportunity to see dolphins and whales. Kaikoura is home to the majestic sperm whale, which you can see along the coast all year round. Humpback whales and Orcas can also be seen there at certain times of the year due to their migratory patterns.
Kaikoura is also home to the playful dusky dolphin and New Zealand fur seal. Whale Watch Kaikoura has a 95% success rate of seeing dolphins and whales on their tours. Some tours even offer the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. A truly memorable experience.
Ride the TranzAlpine Train to Arthurs Pass
The TranzAlpine Train travels from the east to west coasts through the Southern Alps. A day excursion from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass National Park will take you on a scenic journey across the Canterbury plains, through gorges and river valleys, until you reach the picturesque alpine village of Arthurs Pass.
You’ll have several hours to explore the visitors center and enjoy a forest walk in the national park before returning to Christchurch. It is a great way to experience one of the most scenic and remote areas of New Zealand.
Walk on a Glacier in Franz Josef
Have you ever walked on a glacier? If you are feeling adventurous, you can experience the ultimate heli-hike or ice-climbing adventure on the Franz Josef Glacier. Tours start from the Franz Josef Glacier Village near the West Coast of the South Island. It’s a small but lively village located only a few kilometers from the glacier.
If a guided tour of the glacier is not within the budget, the Franz Josef Glacier walk is a great alternative to see the glacier without paying for a tour. You will not be able to walk on the glacier from here, but it’s an easy 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) return hike that takes you right to its edge.
Take a Scenic Flight Over the Southern Alps
For the ultimate experience and best views of the South Island, a scenic flight high over the Southern Alps will get you up close and personal with New Zealand’s highest peaks.
There are several operators around the South Island to choose from. Air Safaris in Lake Tekapo is a good option. After your flight, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the beautiful lakeside town of Lake Tekapo before heading to Mount Cook for the next stop on our list of things to do in New Zealand.
Walk the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook
The Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park is in a remote area of the South Island. It is one of New Zealand’s most popular day walks, and for a good reason. It is a 5-kilometer (3-mile) well-formed track that is suitable for most fitness levels.
The walk will take you over swing bridges with stunning views of glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains before finishing with amazing views over the iceberg-spectacled Hooker Lake.
Take a Scenic Road Trip
The drive between Mount Cook and Queenstown is one of the most scenic road trips in New Zealand and a must-do experience when visiting the South Island. Although only a 3.5-hour drive, there is so much to see and do along the way that it can easily be turned into a whole day's journey.
From historic hotels to the otherworldly Lindis Pass, you will be awed by the ever-changing scenery and lookout points along the way.
Soak in the Hot Pools at Omarama
Omarama is a small town located between Mount Cook and Queenstown, and it is here you will find the unique hot tub experience at Hot Tubs Omarama.
Their rustic outdoor tubs are filled with mineral water from the surrounding mountains and stunning views of Mackenzie country. It’s a truly relaxing experience surrounded by nature.
Explore Historic Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town on the South Island, rich in history, character, and charm. The quiet location, quaint architecture, and beautiful scenery make this a must-visit destination in New Zealand.
The main street is Buckingham Street. Boutique shops, offices, and restaurants occupy the historic buildings left from the gold rush era that, makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. There are many things to do in this lovely little town. You can even try your luck at gold panning in the Arrow River.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. Located in a stunning alpine location on the South Island, it is a top destination for visitors worldwide. There is something for everyone here, whether for relaxation, immersing yourself in nature, or an action-packed itinerary full of adventures.
Queenstown is also home to the first bungy jump, so if you’re ready to take the plunge, this is the place to do it!
See Lord of the Rings Filming Sites in Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a lovely remote town about a 45-minute drive from Queenstown along an incredibly scenic road. The remote location and stunning scenery of snow-capped mountains framing rolling green hills are the famous backdrops to some seriously popular Hollywood films.
Several LOTR scenes were filmed around Glenorchy, including Isengard and Forest of Fangorn Lothlorien, Misty Mountains, Ithilien Camp, and Amon Hen. Other films include X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Water Horse, and Vertical Limits.
If you prefer, you can take a LOTR tour which will organize everything. You can even dress up in costumes and play with replica swords.
Cruise Milford Sound
Touted as the ‘8th Wonder of the World’, a visit to Milford Sound should be on everyone’s list of things to do in New Zealand. Located in Fiordland National Park, the drive to Milford Sound is draw-dropping. Once you arrive, you’ll be surrounded by rugged mountain peaks, lush green landscapes, and waterfalls plummeting down sheer rock faces.
The best way to see Milford Sound is to take a boat tour. There are several tour options, the most basic one starting from as little as NZ $49. If you're feeling adventurous, kayaking might be a good alternative option for you, or you can incorporate a kayak excursion with some of the cruises.
Visit Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
When researching things to do in New Zealand, you may come across excursions to glowworm caves. Glowworms are a particular species of bioluminescent insect found in certain parts of New Zealand and Australia.
They are mainly found in dark and damp areas such as caves and forests. The 12,000-year-old Te Anau caves, located at the bottom of the South Island, are one of the best places in New Zealand to see glowworms.
You’ll be guided through the cave system by a small boat and taken into a hidden cavern where hundreds of glowworms glitter like stars all around you. It is a truly unique and magical experience.
As you can see, New Zealand really does have a unique and diverse landscape; from bubbling pools of mud to glaciers to insects that light up, there’s no shortage of epic things to do in New Zealand. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be a trip to remember!
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