New Zealand is a country packed with so much adventure and so many things to do that you’ll never be able to “do it all” in just one visit. But if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to pack in as much as you can!
From must-try New Zealand foods, to heart-thumping adventures, to wildlife encounters, there is something for everyone in this country. We’ve put together a list of the best things to do in New Zealand on your first visit so you can start creating a bucket list for your very own Kiwi adventure.
Real Talk: For this article, we didn’t just research “top things to do in New Zealand” and write a little blurb on each, as you often find online. Instead, this article is completely from our personal experience, and it’s chock-full of our own stories, honest advice, prices and photos, so you know what to expect along the way.
We’re even letting you in on some of the “top attractions” that just didn’t live up to the hype. We hope this resource is helpful to you as you plan your trip to New Zealand.
1. Spend a night in a Mountain Hut
There is a vast network of mountain huts all around New Zealand that make it possible to do multi-day treks. Spending the night in one of the 1,000+ huts across the country is worthy of a spot on any adventure seeker’s bucket list.
The huts vary from super remote and basic to easily accessible and comfortable. Do your research because they also vary in price and popularity. Some book out weeks in advance, while others are hardly ever full.
Fun Fact: If you are planning to spend the night at a hut, you are not “hiking”. Instead, Kiwis call this “tramping”, which could be compared to what North Americans call “backpacking”.
We’ve created a list of a few mountain huts to consider for your first trip to New Zealand. They all only require one day to reach, so they can be a good addition to your trip even if you have limited time in New Zealand.
Brewster Hut: We spent a night in this 12-bunk hut in Mount Aspiring National Park and were awestruck by some of the best views we saw in the entire country. This hut is the least-visited on this list, and requires a grueling 3-hour climb, but it’s all worth it for getting to a place few visitors see. (More Brewster Hut Info) We describe our trek and our time spend at Brewster Hut in our West Coast article.
Mueller Hut: This iconic red hut is set on a ridge in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and has 28 bunks. Bookings are required and the DOC estimates this hike to take 4 hours one-way on exposed ridges. Be sure to check with the local DOC for up to date weather conditions before attempting the trek yourself, as ice axes and crampons may required. (More Mueller Hut info)
Pinnacles Hut: Touted as the “most luxurious hut in New Zealand”, this is a perfect choice for less experienced hikers. The hike to the hut takes 2.5 - 3 hours and is moderate in difficulty. The Pinnacles viewpoint lies just 45 minutes past the hut and is known for spectacular sunset and sunrise views. We spent one night at this hut and loved every minute. The Pinnacles Hut has 80 bunks and a kitchen full of cookware and gas stoves, which is not common for mountain huts. (More Pinnacles Hut info)
2. Swim with Dolphins
If you grew up obsessed with “Flipper” and all things dolphin-related (like I did!), this experience will be a dream come true.
Just off the coast of the small South Island town of Kaikoura is home to the Dusky Dolphin. This species is known for being small (maximum of 2 meters long) and very playful. They are quite the acrobats, and can often be seen doing flips out of the water!
And guess what? You can have the opportunity to SWIM WITH THEM! If you are as excited about this as I was, read about our Kaikoura dolphin swim experience.
Responsible Travel Note: We are very selective with any animal encounters we take part in while traveling. And since “swimming with dolphins” typically involves jumping into a pool at SeaWorld, we were particularly wary. But after a ton of research on this topic, we booked a spot on this tour. We were very impressed, and can recommend this as an ethical way to see dolphins up close.
3. Eat a Fergburger
Prior to our trip to New Zealand, we talked to a few people who had just returned from similar trips, and each of them led with this: “OH MY GOD, YOU NEED TO EAT AT FERGBURGER!”
For something so hyped, we were actually pleasantly surprised. We ate there on two occasions (one might have been a hangover cure…), and both times the burgers were absolutely fantastic. Everything you could want in a burger: Perfectly cooked meat. Lots of creative toppings. Flavorful sauces. Huge portions.
We have no complaints. Even the line, which looked like it might take forever, went by surprisingly quickly, and we had our burgers in hand a cool 20 minutes after stepping in the queue. But if you are truly allergic to waiting in a line, you can call in your order and pick it up. I hope they don’t hate us for giving out their phone number, but here it is: +64 3-441 1232
Our Recommendations: We loved the Mr. Bigstuff, and seriously wanted to try the Sweet Bambi (but it was sold out both times we went). For more drool-worthy burger descriptions, check out their whole menu.
Vegetarian friends: There are 2 non-meat options you can try; a tempura tofu burger with spicy satay, coconut & coriander sauce (Holier Than Thou) and a falafel burger with lemon yogurt and avocado (Ferg-lafel).
No matter what time of day your burger craving strikes, Fergburger will be able to satisfy, as they are open from 8 a.m. (breakky burgers, anyone?!) to 5 a.m. for all those youths walking home from the bars.
Tip: If you’re a big fan of burgers, try rival Devil Burger (also in Queenstown) and Red Star in Wanaka, which we’ve heard both serve amazing burgers as well. We like burgers, but in moderation. So the two Fergburgers we had meant we’re good on meat patties for a few months…
4. Bungy Jump
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” We’ve all heard this famous quote from Elenor Roosevelt. This wise First Lady is basically telling you to go bungy jumping… or something like that...?
New Zealand is the perfect place to make your first jump for a few reasons:
New Zealand is the place this crazy adrenaline sport was invented. (First bungy ever was near Queenstown on the Kawarau Bridge, and the first person was a man named AJ Hackett (he now has a very successful company in his namesake.)
There are tons of different bungee jumps all around the country, suited for everyone’s taste. Whether you dive headfirst into the scenic river gorge off Kawarau Bridge like we did (the original!) or do the highest jump in the country at Nevis, there are lots of different jumps to choose from.
The bungy jump operators in New Zealand are top notch quality. Remember, these companies do this all day, every day. They are very good at what they do, and your safety is of the utmost importance.
Although the experience in itself is super short and pretty damn expensive (around $205 New Zealand Dollars, NZD), it’s empowering to know you faced a fear, and you might just get some epic photos to prove it!
Good to know: They will take photos of you on your jump, but they cost extra ($45 NZD for photos only and $80 NZD for photos and video). They also allow you to carry a GoPro if you’d like. Ben did this and was able to take much better footage than what the photographers captured (but make sure it is attached well on your wrist!).
If bungy jumping is on your New Zealand Bucket List, make sure you book the experience at least a few days in advance if you’re traveling during peak season. This is an ultra-popular activity, and the best spots book up fully. Book your jump here.
Real Talk: So how scary is it, really? That all depends on you, but our advice is to get out onto the ledge, take a breath and jump as soon as the staff member counts you down. The longer you stand out there, the scarier it gets. Make up your mind to jump without hesitation. You’ll thank us.
5. Learn about Māori Culture
Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and they are known around the world for their stunning tattoo designs and a dance called the Haka, in which warriors stuck out their tongues to intimidate enemies.
Today it is known around the world because the All Blacks Rugby team do a Haka before each game. If you’re unfamiliar with this war dance, check out this video of a Maori dance group performing the Haka.
While “see a Haka” might already be on your list, I’d push you to expand that to also learning about Maori culture more in depth.
Fun Fact: The ancestors of the Maori people came from French Polynesia and settled in New Zealand just 700 years ago, making this country one of the last places settled by humans.
Today, Maori people make up roughly 15% of New Zealand’s population, and the majority of them live in the area around Rotorua, making this town a popular place to have a Maori cultural experience.
Bonus: While in Rotorua, try a Hangi meal (available at most Maori cultural sites). Hangi is a way of cooking which involves digging a pit and putting heated rocks inside. This can be used to cook just about anything, but the Hangi meals you’ll find are generally a mix of vegetables (potatoes and carrots) as well as meat.
In Rotorua, there are many different ways to learn about Maori culture. We did two different Maori cultural experiences to be able to compare them. While they were both interesting in their own way, we don’t think it would be necessary to do both as they overlap quite a bit. Choose the experience that sounds best for your budget and travel style.
Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village
QUICK GIST: Less formal, affordable, takes less time, opportunity to see geothermal sites, see where people are still living today
Take a tour through a village where a small population of Maori people live today. You’ll learn about their history as well as their lives today and you can ask questions to your Maori guide. Your tour concludes with a cultural performance, which includes a Haka.
You also have the opportunity to order a hangi pie (similar to a meat pie) and corn cooked in a geyser from their onsite cafe (not necessary to order in advance). After your tour is finished, you can walk on their trails over geothermal pools.
Cost: Adults $45 NZD, Children $20 NZD. Book your tour here.
Tamaki Maori Village
QUICK GIST: More refined and comprehensive, feels like more of a “performance”, Hangi buffet dinner included, more immersive and beautifully put together, more expensive
This is a pretty full on experience which starts with a bus journey outside of Rotorua. This is much more of a performance than what you’ll experience at the Living Village.
You will circulate through different stations where Maori people dressed in traditional clothing explain different aspects of their culture and history — from their tattoos to societal roles to their creation story. You will then watch a cultural show (quite similar to that of the Living Village) and finish the experience with a massive Hangi buffet.
Cost: Adults $130 NZD, Children 5-9 years $35 NZD, Children 10-15 years $75 NZD. Book your Tamaki Dinner and Dance here.
Important to know: The word “Māori” itself can be difficult to pronounce. We’re right there with ya! This video tutorial will help you pronounce it correctly.
6. Visit Milford Sound
Touted as New Zealand’s “Most Popular Tourist Destination” and even called the “8th Wonder of the World”, visiting Milford Sound is a must on your first visit to New Zealand.
Located in Fjordland National Park, the 15 kilometer stretch that makes up Milford Sound boasts sheer rock faces, mountain peaks and two permanent waterfalls: Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls.
Milford Sound is known to get heavy rainfalls, creating temporary waterfalls from the sides of just about every rock face in the fjord. So don’t worry if rain is predicted for the day of your cruise: It’s said that rainy days are the best time to experience Milford Sound. (Though we thought our clear, sunny day was pretty spectacular too!)
There are 2 main ways to experience Milford Sound:
Boat Cruise: The cheapest and most popular option, taking a boat cruise is a wonderful introduction to Milford Sound. Cruises start at just NZ $49, and they run in rain or shine. This is the option we chose and we were happy with it. If we had more time, we would have also loved to do a kayaking excursion. Book your cruise.
Kayak: If you want a more intimate experience, kayaking in Milford Sound might be a great option for you. There are all sorts of tour options, suited to a variety of experience levels. One thing to consider though, is you won’t go as far into the fjord as you would on a cruise. If you have the time and budget, you could certainly do both. Book your tour.
Splurge City! If you’re celebrating something special like your honeymoon (or just won the lottery and have money to spare!), you might be interested in one of these luxury Milford Sound experiences:
Overnight Luxury Boat Trip: If budget isn’t a concern, an overnight boat cruise in the Milford Sound would be dreamy! Book the overnight tour.
Scenic Flight: Take in the views above Milford Sound for a totally different perspective. Book your flight today!
Alternative: Doubtful Sound is a less-visited option, however, it is only accessible by boat, so it requires a bit more time to get there.
7. Live the #Vanlife
If the #vanlife hashtag has your interest piqued, New Zealand is the perfect place to rev your engine. With campgrounds that range from free and basic to damn near luxurious (with a price tag to match!), this country is well-suited to campervan pros and newbies alike.
There is something indescribable about living in a home on wheels, if even for a couple weeks. It shows you how simple life can be if you let it, and gives you the freedom to wake up next to mountains one day and the ocean the next.
Thinking about making your trip to New Zealand a campervan adventure? Well, you’re in luck because weve created a massive guide with everything you need to know about planning a campervan trip in New Zealand.
If you’re ready for your Van Life experience, Motorhome Republic is a great place to start to compare prices of campervans for your travel dates.
8. Log as many hikes as possible
New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise. There are thousands of trails around the country in varying levels of difficulty and lengths.
From the famed Te Araroa Trail, which runs the length of both the North and South Islands clocking in at 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and taking roughly 4 months to complete, to a plethora of day hikes suitable to even inexperienced hikers, you’ll have no shortage of hikes to fill your trip.
It can be easy to get overly ambitious and come up with a huge list of tracks; but unless you plan to do nothing but hike on your first trip to New Zealand, you’ll have to pick and choose.
Best Day Hikes in New Zealand
In the effort of helping your narrow down an overwhelming list of epic trails, we’re sharing our favorite hikes in New Zealand for your first trip. In some cases, we’re giving you a choice between 2 because they are similar in location or views.
Tongariro Crossing | 5 - 8 hours | Difficulty: Moderate - This hike takes the better part of one day and gets incredibly crowded, but it is popular for good reason. The views on this trek are nothing short of epic. Important to know: You will need to book a shuttle ticket (roughly $35 NZD per person) in advance, as the start and end points are different.
Pinnacles Hike: Located in the Coromandel Peninsula, this can be done as either a day hike or an overnight excursion. The best views are at sunset and sunrise, so we’d definitely recommend spending the night at the Pinnacles Hut. | 2.5 - 3 hours to the hut, then 45 minutes to the Pinnacles; allot at least 6 hours if you do this as a day trip | Not that difficult of a trek until the climb to the Pinnacles, which involves some ropes and metal bars.
Key Summit or Marian Lake: These hikes are located within a few kilometers of each other, but are quite different.
Key Summit is the more popular of the two and has 360-degree views of surrounding peaks on a clear day. | Key Summit: 2.5 - 3 hours return, easy hike.
Marian Lake starts with a hike past beautiful waterfalls (it takes only 15 minutes to get here, so even if you don’t do the whole hike, you can at least get to this point). The hike culminates at an alpine lake in a hanging valley. | Marian Lake: 3 hours return, steep hike.
Isthmus Peak or Roys Peak: Both hikes have epic lake views and take roughly the same amount of time. The most notable difference is that Roys Peak is ultra popular and often has lines formed to get a photograph at the Insta-famous viewpoint, whereas Isthmus Peak is far less crowded (but maybe not for long!).
Roys Peak: 5-6 hours return, easy track, closed Oct 1 to Nov 10 for lambing season
Isthmus Peak: 5-6 hours return, medium track, closed Nov 20 to Dec 20 for fawning
Hooker Valley Track | 3 hours return | Difficulty: Easy - This is more of a walk than a hike, but it still makes the list because it is an absolute must do when in the South Island. This 3-hour return walk is suitable to all levels and offers some of the best views you’ll see of Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Want more hikes?
See #1 for good options for multi-day hikes on which you’ll spend the night in mountain huts, and check out this list with even more hikes in New Zealand.
9. Eat a Golden Kiwi
These delicious golden fruits are sweeter and juicier than their green counterparts, and you should absolutely try one (or 10!) while traveling in Kiwi country.
Tip: Golden kiwis have a much thinner (and less hairy skin) than the green fruits, so go ahead and bite in, like how you’d eat an apple. The skin packs in a healthy dose of fiber and Vitamin C, so don’t even think about wasting this nutrient-rich layer!
10. Take a Jet Boat Ride
Invented in the 1950’s by a Kiwi farmer, the jetboat is propelled by shooting water out the back. Being that it doesn’t have propellors like a traditional water vessel, jetboats are able to navigate shallow rivers that would otherwise be impassable.
Taking a jet boat ride is a classic New Zealand adventure, and you’ll find rides being offered all around the country. They’re known to go fast and whip around turns, making for an adventurous boat ride.
We didn’t go on a proper jet boat tour, but rode on one during a visit to a bird sanctuary. We were actually surprised by how fun it was!
The Jet Boat Tours that look most exciting to us are:
Huka Falls near Lake Taupo; the jet boat will bring you up close to this beautiful and powerful turquoise body of water in an exhilarating ride! Book the tour.
“The Squeeze”, which starts in Rotorua and brings to through the Tutukau Gorge. You’ll disembark and explore a thermal waterfall and warm soaking pools. Book The Squeeze Tour.
Shotover Jetboat is one of the more popular things to do in Queenstown. You’ll skim over the Shotover River, while coming close to the gorge walls while doing 360’s in the canyon. Book your tour now.
11. Wine Tasting at a Vineyard
New Zealand is known for producing some fabulous whites and reds, and if you consider yourself a wino, you’ll definitely want to make space on your itinerary for a stop at one (or 5!) vineyards to sample the local flavors.
New Zealand’s diverse climate means each region specializes in different varieties. If you’re like us and aren’t picky, just choose the place that’s most convenient for you to add on your New Zealand road trip.
But if you’re are a real wine snob (no judgement here!), the descriptions below will help you choose a region based on the type of vino they’re known for.
Marlborough: The most famous wine-producing region in New Zealand, Marlborough is known for its spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and its Pinot Noir.
Recommendation: We visited the Saint Clair Family Estate Vineyard and had a great experience.
Central Otago: This region encompasses both Queenstown and Wanaka, and is known best for its Pinot Noirs.
Waiheke Island: Just a 40-minute ferry journey from Auckland, this picturesque island is speckled with vineyards. The hot, dry climate is ideal for Syrahs and Pinot Gris.
Recommendation: Obsidian has really nice wines.
Hawke’s Bay: This is New Zealand’s second-largest wine-producing region and is known for reds: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as Chardonnays.
Recommendation: Mission Estate Winery was established in 1851, making it the oldest existing winery in New Zealand.
12. Go Whale Watching
Kaikoura is a small town on the South Islands east coast, and offers visitors the chance to see sperm whales in their natural habitat all year round. And it’s hard to beat the picturesque combination of seeing a whale slapping its tail against a backdrop of snowy peaks.
Whale Watch Kaikoura boasts a 95% success rate, and will refund 80% of your tour price if your boat doesn’t see a whale. So you don’t have much to lose! Check out their excellent TripAdvisor reviews.
Personal experience: We were stoked about the opportunity to see whales, but on the day we had our reservation, none of the whale watching tours went out because the “seas were too choppy”. Sadly, we didn’t have any wiggle room in our dates, as we had ferry tickets for the following morning. So we had to forgo this experience. (Obviously, we didn’t have to pay anything.)
A friend we were traveling with was able to go the next day, and she saw whales! So learn from us and make sure you have a “buffer day” to maximize your chances of seeing whales.
13. Epic Drives
With rugged mountain peaks, glacial lakes, mossy rainforests and blissfully deserted beaches, New Zealand has no shortage of jaw-dropping scenery.
One of the best parts of traveling in New Zealand is simply the stunning drives you’ll take (especially in the South Island). Be prepared to stop frequently for photo ops and little roadside attractions, like waterfalls, rivers and short walks.
Queenstown to Glenorchy | 50 minutes one way (you will have to return as well) | Highlights: Stop off at Bob’s Cove to explore, and Bennett’s Bluff for a scenic viewpoint.
Queenstown and Wanaka | 1 hour 10 minutes on a road that is incredibly winding and steep at times. The views over the Central Otago region are spectacular. | Highlights: Make a stop in the historic mining settlement, Arrowtown to get an ice cream cone and walk the Main Street.
West Coast Drive | from Haast Pass to Westport, it is about a 6 hour journey, but you should plan to make this over multiple days, as there are many things to do along the way.
Te Anau to Milford Sound | 2.5 hours without making any stops | There are tons of places to stop off along the way, but some of the highlights are:
Mirror Lakes: super short stop at a lake that is incredibly glossy and reflective.
Key Summit: 3-hour return hike that grants epic views of the area.
Lake Marian: 3-hour return hike to the lake, or a 20-minute return to a beautiful waterfall.
The Chasm: 20-minute stop at a powerful waterfall.
Tip: Be sure to fill up your gas tank in Te Anau, as there are no petrol stations past this town.
Where to camp: Plan to camp at Cascade Creek, which is the closest campground to Milford Sound. That way you can get to Milford Sound first thing in the morning.
Lake Pukakai to Mount Cook Village | 40 minutes one way | This is one of the most epic stretches of road in all of New Zealand, and offers spectacular views of the brilliantly turquoise Lake Pukaki flanked by the snowcapped peak of Mount Cook. | Highlight: Peter’s Lookout is a great place to stop for photos.
Ready to start your New Zealand road trip? Check out Motorhome Republic to compare prices of campervans.
14. Soak in Hot Springs
There’s not many things better than resting sore muscles in a pool of hot water after a day of hiking. Or walking around town. Or heck, just driving in a campervan (pressing the gas pedal takes a toll on that calf muscle!). I guess it’s no secret that we’ll take just about any excuse to seek out hot springs on our travels.
There are a handful of hot springs around the country, ranging from super accessible to pretty remote. And there are the 100% naturally-occurring (and free!) hot springs as well as those that are man-made (and charge an admission fee).
Here are a few hot springs to put on your New Zealand bucket list for your first visit:
Naturally Hot Waterfall: Kerosene Creek
These naturally hot waterfalls make a great stop during your time in Rotorua. They are set in a shaded forest down a gravel road. Though these used to be pretty unknown, they are getting more and more popular. (There was a group of school children on a field trip when we were there.) If you like natural hot springs though, we still think they are worth a stop!
However, beware that the water here is quite smelly, and will tarnish jewelry. (Don’t worry — it can be easily cleaned with toothpaste or baking soda.) Also, pay attention to the signs in the parking lot and make sure your valuables are out of sight. Sadly, we met a couple here who had their car broken into.
Free Riverside Hangout: Lake Taupo Hot Springs
This natural hot spring is small, but well worth a soak. Situated on the banks of the Waikato River, the Spa Park Hot Pools are beautiful and there are clean toilets and changing room facilities. Plus, the water is not nearly as smelly as that in Kerosene Creek.
We saw many people with adult beverages to enjoy while soaking, though we aren’t sure if this is “technically legal”, there were a few signs saying it was banned.
Landscaped Hot Pools: Franz Josef Glacial Hot Pools
For a more “refined” hot pool experience, the Franz Josef Hot Pools make for a peaceful place to soak. While this is not a natural hot spring, they are nicely designed, and are lovely after a day of exploring glaciers.
Tip: If you want a more intimate experience, you can rent a private pool, which is essentially a hot tub, for a 45-minute time slot.
Cost: Adult $28 NZD, Child $24 NZD, Private Hot Pool for 2 - $99 NZD
Insta-Famous Pampering: Onsen Hot Pools
If it’s an Instagram-worthy view you’re after, the Onsen Hot Pools just outside of Queenstown will be just what you’re looking for.
Cost: for 2 Adults during day $101 NZD and at night $125 for 60 minutes
15. Eat a Meat Pie
When visiting New Zealand, it won’t take long for you to see signs for meat pies… everywhere. Bakeries, cafes, General Stores, and even gas stations sell these savory pastries.
Meat pies come in all sorts of flavor combinations, from traditional beef with a couple veggies and gravy to more inventive flavors like Thai chicken curry and lamb with mint jelly. Try one, try ‘em all. There are even non-meat options for our vegetarian friends.
16. Queenstown Luge
If the thought of driving a real-life Mario Kart appeals to you in the slightest, you’ll love the Queenstown Luge. It was even more fun than it looks!
Channel your inner Princess Peach or Luigi and whip around curves as you race your travel companions (loser buys beers!). But don’t forget to take in the stunning views over Queenstown as you drive the course, but watch out for banana peels!
Good to know: On your first ride, you must drive on the “beginner loop” which is less steep, though we were still able to go decently fast! We wish we would have sprung for at least one more ride on the “advanced loop”.
To get to the top of this hill that over looks Queenstown from the northwest, you can either make the 45-minute Tiki Trail hike, or you can take the Skyline gondola, which costs $39 NZD ($55 with 2 luge rides).
Cost: $14 NZD for one track, $24 for 2. The more you ride the cheaper it gets. Book your ride here.
17. Go Chasing Waterfalls
Throughout New Zealand, there are 249 named waterfalls (and more than that after a hard rain!).
There are so many waterfalls throughout the country, that you’ll no doubt come across ones you weren’t even planning on visiting.
So ignore TLC’s advice and get out there and chase some waterfalls!
18. Sunrise at Cathedral Cove
This iconic cave frequently graces Instagram, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen pictures of this spot. Even though Cathedral Cove has earned Insta Fame, you can still enjoy it without the crowds (if you get there early!).
Okay, you don’t really need to be there at sunrise, but do be sure to get your butt into gear as soon as you can!
An easy 45-minute walk brings you to a small beach. There, you’ll find a cave that opens up into another hidden beach that’s dotted beautifully with a picture-perfect sea stack.
Personal Experience: For us, this was a magical place. But part of that was due to the time of day we got there. We started on the walk at 7 a.m. and passed by professional photographers who had actually been in the cove for sunrise (giant tripods and all!). But when we got there: Crickets. That’s right, we had this enchanting cave entirely to ourselves for a good 20 minutes.
It was a good thing we got an early start, because on our walk back (around 9 a.m.), we passed by at least 20 different groups, including a school trip of 40+ middle schoolers. Yikes!
In order to get there early, we’d suggest spending the night at Hahei Holiday Resort, which is a lovely campground and is the starting point for the walk.
Tip: Pack some snacks and a towel, as the nearby beaches are lovely spots to spend a couple hours if you have the time.
19. Eat Fish and Chips
We thought nobody did fish and chips like the UK, but that was before we visited New Zealand!
You’ll see this dish on the menu all throughout the country, as well as dedicated fish and chip shops. They typically serve a variety of fish at all price points (making it a pretty affordable meal), and have the option to add on chips.
Tip: The best fish and chips we had in New Zealand was from Erik’s Fish and Chips in Queenstown. Also, a “Kiwi thing to do” is order your chips with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. Not a healthy upcharge, but a delicious one for sure!
Like the idea of catching your own fish to eat? Near Abel Tasman National Park, there is the Anatoki Salmon Fishing & Cafe that has a small pond stocked with fish. You can rent a fishing pole (free of charge), but you must pay for the fish you catch (you cannot catch and release).
The onsite restaurant will cook it up for you with your choice of delicious seasonings, like Lemon & Pepper and Ginger & Coriander. We (erm… Ben) caught a salmon that weighed 1.2 kilos and it cost $31.20 NZD. We split it between 3 of us, and with a side of garlic bread, it was a perfect lunch.
20. Have a Beach Day
While New Zealand may not be the first place that comes to mind when you picture a “beach vacation”, we can assure you there are plenty sandy stretches to soak up some Vitamin D.
Even if you’re not a Sun Worshipper, taking a stroll along the ocean or enjoying a picnic lunch with a view should definitely be on your list of things to do in New Zealand.
Here are some of our favorite beaches for your first visit to New Zealand:
New Chums Beach: Being that this beach requires a 30-minute walk to get to, it sees less crowds than most other beaches on the North Island. Tip: Be sure to hike the extra 10 (steep) minutes up to the viewpoint!
Piha Beach: Just 45 minutes west of Auckland, this rugged black sand beach is known for surf and laidback vibes.
Abel Tasman: This National Park is full of beautiful beaches to choose from.
Waiheke Island: With white sandy beaches and azure waters, you’ll forget you’re just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland. Onetangi Beach is the largest (and most popular) on the island, but Palm Beach was our favorite.
Does the thought of rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball filled with warm water sound like a grand ol’ time?! We sure thought so!
Zorbing is just that, and it comes as no surprise that, just like bungee jumping and jet boating, it too was invented in New Zealand.
While you can find Zorbing around the country (and the world!), the original site is located in Rotorua and is operated by a company called ZORB (a fitting name indeed!). They have 3 tracks to choose from: the Fast Track (straight down), the Zig Zag, and the Drop, which they claim is the “world’s steepest drop and world’s fastest ride”.
You can choose to do just one ride or a package of three, and we’d definitely recommend the latter. Rolling down the hill once is fun but will leave you wanting more — trust us. Check out their TripAdvisor reviews.
Tip: Zorbing is actually the perfect rainy day activity!
22. Spot Rare Birds
There are many bird species — like the Kiwi, for example — that you can only find in New Zealand. And while you’re visiting, you should make it a goal to spot at least one of New Zealand’s endemic birds.
Interesting Fact: Did you know that New Zealand does not have any native mammals? (Well, with the exception of 2 species of bats.) Because there were virtually no predators, birds thrived here for much of history. Settlers brought mammals with them, however, so today many bird species are threatened.
You’ll have a good chance at spotting one of these birds while in New Zealand (or maybe even all four!):
New Zealand Pigeon: Also called a wood pigeon or kereru (Maori name), this greenish-purple bird is known to eat rotting berries. Eating this fermented fruit leads them to become drunk (yes, seriously!), and they are famous for falling off branches and clumsily flying into trees. The Kereru was named New Zealand’s Bird of the Year in 2018 (again, I’m not joking!).
Kea: The world’s only alpine parrot, these greenish birds are really cute and can be easily spotted on New Zealand's South Island.
Tui: These birds are can be identified by their iridescent feathers and a white tuft under their neck. But more often than not, you’ll hear a tui before you see it. They are known for their singing, as well as their ability to mimic sounds — from other birdcalls to car alarms. Tuis are also known as being aggressive and quite annoying, so it’s fitting that there is a longstanding brewery named after this bird.
Weka: This flightless bird is about the size of a chicken, and it will no doubt remind you of one.
If you’d like to see the iconic Kiwi while in New Zealand, you’ll have to visit a hatching facility, like the West Coast Wildlife Center, because these nocturnal birds are extremely rare and hard to spot.
23. Visit Waiheke Island
Just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, spending a couple days on Waiheke Island is a perfect addition to your New Zealand itinerary.
This island is full of hilly viewpoints, hidden coves, white sand beaches, top-notch restaurants, small towns and many, many vineyards.
Here are some of our top things to do in Waiheke Island:
Beach day at Onetangi or Palm Beach
Wine tasting at Obsidian Vineyard
Pack a picnic dinner and enjoy sunset from one of the many random picnic tables with a view around the island
Try local oysters
Sit on the hill at Casita Miro with sangria and a tapas platter
Good to know: It is worth noting that prices on Waiheke Island tend to be higher than on the mainland.
Tip: Take the Fullers Ferry, which is 40 minutes, instead of the SeaLink 80-minute ferry. (We made that mistake!)
There’s something magical about looking up at the night sky and seeing twinkling lights. But sadly, light pollution makes it hard many places around the world to stargaze. Luckily, New Zealand isn’t one of those places. Apart from the major cities, you should be able to see stars on clear nights all around the country.
And if you’re really serious about astronomy, there are some areas known as “Dark Sky Reserves”, which basically means they have restrictions on light pollution and make for some exceptional stargazing.
The best stargazing in New Zealand can be found near the Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. So pack some snacks and a blanket (and a tripod if you want to photograph the stars) and prepare to be enchanted. Oh, and wine helps too.
25. Sea Kayaking
There is something incredibly peaceful about getting out on the water — just you and a paddle. On a kayak, you have the opportunity to see this country from a perspective few get to see.
There are no shortage of places to go sea kayaking in New Zealand, but here are some of the best places to test out your sea legs:
Whenuakura (Donut Island): We rented a double kayak for $60 NZD from Pedal and Paddle. They drove us to the beach and picked us up when we were finished.
You can kayak to the 2 small islands off the coast, one of which is a sacred Maori site and is shaped like a donut, allowing you to kayak “inside” the island for a breathtaking experience. (It is a bit difficult to paddle as the tide comes in and out, so we’d only recommend this if you have a bit of kayaking experience or are in the mood for an adventure!) The other island has a private little beach that is perfect for relaxing on.
Abel Tasman: For an epic day tour, kayak out into the Tasman Bay for a few hours and then shore up, have lunch and hike back on the famous Abel Tasman Track.
Milford Sound: Explore the magic of Milford from the water. These tours go out in groups and explore unique parts of the sound and you might get to see some wildlife up close.
26. Explore the West Coast
This region is sometimes left off of New Zealand itineraries, which is a shame as it is one of the most adventure-packed and diverse areas in the country.
With glaciers, rainforests, caves, beaches and epic drives, there are plenty of things to do in New Zealand’s West Coast. We loved it so much we spend 3 full days in the region.
27. See Geothermal Wonders
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, which plays a huge role in Maori culture. While visiting this region, you’ll definitely notice a smell… similar to that of rotten eggs. Mmmm…
Once you get over the sulfur stink, you’ll have the opportunity to visit a handful of different geothermal attractions, ranging from spas with mud baths to regularly erupting geysers to hot waterfalls. You’ll have no shortage of sulfur-powered fun in Rotorua!
28. Dig your own Hot Tub
Digging your own “hot tub” on Hot Water Beach is a token must-do on your first trip to New Zealand. This beach on the Coromandel Peninsula is known for the hot spring beneath the sand.
There are a few helpful tips for visiting Hot Water beach:
It’s best to visit within 2 hours of low tide (2 hours before up until 2 hours after). This means there is a 4-hour window that you’ll be able to dig a hole. Be sure to check the tides before you go.
You can rent a shovel for NZ $10 at the small shop at the beach entrance.
There is an outdoor shower near the beach entrance, where you can rinse off. Yes, you will get sandy. And bathrooms/changing rooms too!
It doesn’t look like Instagram. You might see pictures where it looks like you can dig a secluded hole and be by yourself. But the truth is, the hot spring is in a relatively small area. So where you see the crowd of people (yes, there will be a crowd!) is where the hot water is. (Just take a look at the photo below!) We tried to go further down the beach and dig, but to no avail. We were left with small pool of very cold water. So we headed into the crowd to dig yet another hole. Don’t make the same mistake we did.
29. See Glow Worms
Technically not “worms”, these gnat larvae tend to live in caves or humid, sheltered forests, and are known for the alluring blueish glow they give off.
Nerdy Fact: To catch food, the larvae string a series of strings (think spider webs) that dangle downward, kind of like a “fishing line”. The glowworm then perches amongst the hanging strings and deliberately glows (from a chemical reaction, not magic) to attract prey.
There are many ways to see glowworms in New Zealand. You can go on an organized cave tour or you can try your luck at spotting them on your own (for free!).
Waitomo or Te Anau Caves: These are the most popular glowworm caves in the country (Waitomo in the North Island and Te Anau in the South). They are very similar in price and tour options. Both use artificial lighting in places, and are the more “touristy” options for seeing glowworms. Compare tour prices.
Nikau Cafe & Cafe: A great alternative to Waitomo Caves, this is a way to see glowworms in a place off-the-beaten-path in a much less crowded environment. We’ve also heard rave reviews about the onsite cafe.
UnderWorld Tubing Glowworm Tour: We had the most incredible glowworm experience on New Zealand’s West Coast with UnderWorld Adventures, and would highly recommend going cave rafting with them if you want to see glowworms in a natural, less-touristy experience!
Free trails on the West Coast: Along the South Island’s West Coast, you’ll find a handful of trails that boast glowworms at night. The display certainly isn’t as impressive as those you’ll find in the caves listed above, but they are free! There are trails in Fanz Josef and Hokitika for starters.
30. Visit Hobbiton
If you’re a fan of “Lord of the Rings” a visit to Hobbiton is likely already on your list. But even if you’ve seen the movies years ago and may have fallen asleep *umm, this may or may not have happened to me*, it can still be fun to see the adorable Hobbit homes on this movie set.
This 2-hour tour is more or less a guided walk through “The Shire”, with stops for everyone in the tour group to take turns snapping pictures in front of Hobbit homes. #itsforthegram
Real Talk: We were a bit disappointed by Hobbiton. We had a good time overall, but it didn’t exceed our expectations like so many other things in New Zealand. One of the major reasons is we felt extremely rushed.
For example, when we got to the final stop, the Green Dragon Pub, we were happy to find out we’d get a complimentary beer and the chance to look around a bit. But then our guide told us we had just 15 minutes or we’d miss our bus. Major Buzzkill. They have to shuttle through as many as 5,000 guests per day, so I can understand why.
Oh, and just so you know ahead of time and aren’t disappointed… (Spoiler Alert!) Those Hobbit homes are just doors. Like, there is nothing behind them, which kind of ruined some of the magic for me.
Our advice: If you’re traveling around the North Island and have the time (and interest!), by all means go! Check out tour prices here. But if you’re tight on time and are debating whether or not to visit, we don’t think you’d be missing too much if you can’t squeeze it in.
Insider tip: We have heard The Evening Banquet Tour is a fantastic experience (and is much less rushed). However, it is quite a bit more expensive than the normal tour, at NZ $195, so it’s not for everyone.
31. Watch a rugby match
Hey there, Sports Fans! If you’re lucky enough to be traveling to New Zealand during Rugby season (early June - early October), don’t miss the chance to get seats to a match.
The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the most well-known and highly-respected teams in the world, and seeing them play in person would surely be a highlight, even if you don’t know much about rugby. They play matches in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Nelson.
32. See glaciers up close
New Zealand has more than 3,000 glaciers around the country, and if you plan on traveling around the South Island, you’ll have the opportunity to get quite close to several.
Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and Hooker Glacier are three of the most accessible glaciers in New Zealand, and the best part is you can view these natural wonders totally free.
If you want to get up close and personal with the glaciers, you could take a helicopter ride and fly over these massive sheets of ice. It was our first time in a helicopter when we went up over Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and it was nothing short of amazing. We had smiles on our faces the whole time as we cruised top of the glaciers.
We want to hear from you!
What experience sounds most exciting to you? Do you have any other questions about planning you trip to New Zealand? Comment below and we’ll do our best to get you the information you need!