If you are a travel lover, then New Zealand is definitely a place you cannot miss. Being an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand has all the things you would expect from a perfect destination: breathtaking scenery, unique experiences, delicious food, friendly people… However, since the cost of air tickets here is not cheap and the high standard of living here is not for budget travelers, you need to have a plan for your trip to not only do the most interesting things here but also finish them in budget with a reasonable time.
Below is the list of the best things to do in New Zealand. You can consider it and base it on it to make your own to-do list when coming here.
Heading for the sea, Maori Bay, New Zealand
Actually there are so many cool places to see, so many things to discover, so much tasty food to try in New Zealand. And because New Zealand is made up of two main islands: the North and the South islands (as I mentioned in the post about the best time to visit New Zealand) with differences in climate, natural landscape… so I will divide this post into 2 main parts: the North land and the South land.
The Best Things To Do In New Zealand - 2020 Guide
Best things to do in the North Island
- Taking a tour to Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Glowworms are insects that glow through bioluminescence. The species is widespread in caves and on sheltered banks in the native bush where humidity is high and can be found in both the North and South Island. But the Waitomo Caves are more popular and easier to get to, compared to others.
With thousands of magical glowworms glowing above your head, you will be overwhelmed by the beauty that they bring. It feels like sailing on a river under the starry sky and you will have unforgettable sightseeing.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
To see those glowworms, you can choose nighttime kayaking, hiking, or boating trips. A tour costs from $55, and opens all year round.
Note: Any noise or light will make the worms “turn off” so you will not be allowed to take photographs once entering the glowworm caves and have to keep complete silence. You may feel uncomfortable for this but believe me; this experience is worth its unique sparkling display.
- Learning Maori culture in Rotorua
The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They are featured by their tattoo designs and a traditional dance called the Haka. To learn their culture, there are some tourist venues across the country for you to choose, and the most tourist attraction is the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua.
Coming here, you can immerse yourself in the ancient atmosphere with cultural performances, storytelling, traditional costumes, and foods. Especially, you will be served a traditional hangi feast, cooked beneath the ground on hot stones, unlike anywhere else in the world and it is really delicious. The time for a tour here from start at 6 pm to finish is about 3.5 hours.
Note: A small note for you when joining a tour here is they only start to serve dinner at 8:45 pm. So you should bring some small snacks in case you feel hungry.
- Hiking in Tongariro National Park
New Zealand is a paradise for those who love hiking for its beautiful landscape and fresh air. Around this country, there are loads of choices for hikers in varying levels of difficulty and lengths. So hiking is one of the must activities for you here and the Tongariro Crossing is my most recommendation.
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered as the best one-day trek in New Zealand and is one of the top ten single-day treks in the world. It is located in Tongariro National Park, in the central North Island. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is well-known for its natural scenery, unique terrains with the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Ruapehu. The views on this trek will satisfy all your desires about having majestic photographs of nature.
Note: Be prepared for the weather change due to the difference in altitude of more than 1000 meters between car parks and the peaks. And check with your organizer to know exactly what to take and what to wear.
Maybe you don’t know that Auckland – the largest city in New Zealand is not only the "city of sails" but also a “city of lava” with nearly 50 volcanoes around it. And the best way to explore the city and its landscape is by taking a day hike or a kayak tour to those volcanoes. Below are some typical destinations for tourists:
- Rangitoto Island: it is Auckland’s youngest volcano. The island is a popular hiking destination as well as a favorite spot for kayakers. There are a lot of walks on the island, tunnels, and caves to explore and take a view of the Hauraki Gulf.
Rangitoto Island from the top of Mount Victoria, Auckland, New Zealand
One Tree Hill: it is one of Auckland’s largest volcanoes. It also is a cultural and historical significance of the city so you cannot ignore it when visiting the city. There is a monument at the top of the volcano, and a grave for Sir John Logan Campbell, who was described as "the father of Auckland". The picturesque domain combines with the neighboring Cornwall Park creates a unique beauty for this area.
Best things to do in the South Island
- Dolphin tours
Talking about dolphins, you will immediately think of watching them from boats or in water parks with dolphin instructors. But here you can swim with dolphins in the open ocean and have lots of close up views of dolphins swimming around you. It is truly a wonderful and memorable experience. Besides dolphins, you have the opportunity to see other wildlife animals like shearwaters, penguins or admire a beautiful sunrise on the sea if you take the first tour of the day which usually starts at 5:30 am.
There are 2 suggested tours for you:
- Dolphin Encounters in Kaikoura: Kaikoura is home to the Dusky Dolphin. This species is small (maximum of 2 meters long) and very playful. Large groups of several hundred to over 1000 dusky dolphins are present in Kaikoura all year round so this tour is open in every season. This tour takes about 3.5 hours to finish.
Dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- E-Ko dolphin swimming tour in Picton, Marlborough Sounds: here you will meet Hector’s Dolphins that are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and they are found only in the coastal waters along western shores of New Zealand. This tour starts at 9 am and lasts in 4 hours.
Aerial view over the Te Mahia Bay in the Picton area of New Zealand
Note: The truth is that the ocean water is pretty cold for you to swim in. In the summer months, it can get as warm as 18°C (65°F) — which is still cold! And in the winter, the water can get as cold as 8°C (46°F). Although the tour operator will give you some gear to keep your body warm, you still feel cold and can have some numbness and pain at your hands and face. So this tour is not recommended for one who has weak health and especially has seasickness
- Hiking in Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef is a beautiful small mountain town, famous for its glacier valley which is about 5km from town. The glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions of the West Coast with around 250,000 visitors a year. Taking a helicopter tour into the Glacier will become your unforgettable memory with stunning photos that hardly have anywhere else.
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
And if you have good health, don’t hesitate to take a heli-hike tour which combines a helicopter ride and a two-hour hike through the most spectacular glacier surfaces. It’s no wonder to be a highlight of your visit to South Island (New Zealand). The cost of this tour is about $485 for adults; it’s expensive but it completely worth your time and money.
Note: To operate the heli-hike tour, the weather needs to be clear and consistent. If not, the tour will be canceled. And because the weather is so changeable that your tour can be canceled just before the trip departure. So be prepared for it. And I recommend you to spend at least two days in the Franz Josef region to allow the best chance of getting onto this tour.
- Bungy Jumping in Queenstown
You probably didn't know that bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand by AJ Hackett and he launched his own company in Queenstown in 1988 to create the world's first commercial public bungy. So this is the ideal place – the world home of bungy for you to try your first bungy jump.
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Did you know that Kawarau George Suspension Bridge is the birthplace of bungy tourism? The first bungy commercial venture opened here on this day back in 1988. Since then, there are hundreds of places all over the world where you can enjoy this adventure. #OnThisDay Photo by Katika Bele #newzealand #KawarauGorgeSuspensionBridge #bungee #bungeejumping #bungy #bungyjump #bungyjumpingnewzealand #jump #jumping #fly #fun #bridge #adrenaline #photooftheday #outdoorphotography #outdoorlife #nature #outdooradventures #adventuretravel #outdoors #adventure #travel #dreamdaredoitoften
There are some choices for you: the original Kawarau Bridge bungy, the freestyle Ledge Bungy, or the Nevis Bungy with one of the world's highest bungee jumping platform. This is of course a scary experience but a must-do! And you will feel the exhilaration and excitement when doing this.
Note: If a bungy jumping is too much for you, in Queenstown still have some more friendly activities but no less interesting as Kawarau Zipride, canyoning and climbing trips… You can do everything you want in Queenstown because it is an adventurer’s paradise. So the advice here is that you should mark Queenstown as a mandatory destination in your schedule.
- Milford Track – the Great Walk
Being one of the ten Great Walks in New Zealand, the Milford Track is the most famous track that is often referred to as “the finest walk in the world”. The original track is a one-way 53-kilometer journey which lasts for 4 days, begins at the head of Lake Te Anau. But now the track is a 3-day Southern Milford-Mackinnon Experience, which begins from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf and turns back because the northern end of the Milford Track remains closed to the public for being damaged from flooding in February 2020.
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
This Great Walk is full of breathtaking views all along the way. And it will fulfill all your desires of the wild nature with pure green forests, pretty lakes, and rivers, spectacular mountain peaks… Although it isn’t an easy hike, it is actually not too hard either, so it’s fit for most fitness levels. So be brave to book the Milford Track and it will become the “trip of your life”.
Note: The Milford Track should only be taken between October and April (spring and summertime in New Zealand). Outside this time, the track should only be recommended for really experienced hikers. In addition, this track has become so popular that its tickets are sold out really quickly. The advice here is you need to keep an eye on when the Department of Conservation in New Zealand will put tickets on sale and to be logged in this website prior to the time of release to catch the tickets as fast as you can.
- Local food
The South Island is not only famous for its rugged landscape of mountains and fjords, but also for its world-class food and wine.
It would be a miss if not mention wine when visiting New Zealand. The first place to mention is the Marlborough district, located in the northeast of the South Island. It’s the country’s largest wine region and is known for its spectacular Sauvignon Blanc. Other places are Central Otago for its Pinot Noir, Canterbury for its Pinot Gris, and Riesling….
Snapped at Taste of Auckland, these were slathered with butter and grilled to order. Delish!
And an interesting highlight on the world-class food list is a burger - Fergburger. It is a hamburger restaurant located in Queenstown and specializes in hamburgers which are called the best burgers in the world. Thanks to the power of social networks and word-of-mouth recommendations, Fergburger has become the compulsory stop in Queenstown.
The final highlight for our culinary journey is Canterbury lamb dishes with a naturally delicious flavor. It is absolutely worth stopping in Christchurch to enjoy some Canterbury lamb dishes because you will soon realize that nowhere is better than there.
Hobbiton, New Zealand
There are so many things to do in New Zealand and it will take you at least 4 weeks to visit both the North and the South Islands. If you don’t have enough time, just choose to come to one of them and reserve the remaining for the next time. Don’t try to cover great distances between them in a short time and then you will regret spending more time driving than enjoying the sights.
Besides the above things, New Zealand also has other specialties as great beaches that you can choose for your holiday trip. Get more information in our post: Best beaches in New Zealand.