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A Wonderful Trip
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1. Hike your way through the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

A hiker woman taking in the view at Mount Cook National Park.
Take the Mueller Hut Route on your Mount Cook National Park hike to encounter some of the most breathtaking alpine scenery.

New Zealand is a true hiker's paradise, boasting a diverse range of landscapes from the snow-capped peaks of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and the Kepler Track, encircling the southern end of Lake Te Anau, to the lush forests and pristine coastlines of the Heaphy Track, the longest of New Zealand's Great Walks. Whether you're an experienced trekker or a casual nature enthusiast, there's a trail for everyone!

Alternative trails:

  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing: A world-famous day hike that takes you through volcanic terrain, including emerald lakes and active craters. Fun fact: these otherworldly landscapes served as the backdrop for some scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Abel Tasman Coastal Track: Golden beaches, turquoise waters, and lush coastal forests will be your best companions during this thrilling multi-day hike. The itinerary can be customized to suit various fitness levels, and even paired with guided kayak excursions.

Best time: Late spring to early autumn (November to April), when the weather is more stable. Be aware that conditions can change rapidly, and some paths may be inaccessible in winter, especially in the mountain regions.

Insider tip: Although most trails in New Zealand are gravel or well-trodden, you may also encounter signs such as orange poles or arrows to guide you. Trails marked in different colors, such as blue or pink, are usually for Department of Conservation (DOC) workers to locate pest traps.

2. Discover the vibrant urban life in Dunedin

The historic Dunedin railway station building on a bright day.
Admire the architectural intricacies of the historic Dunedin railway station, made up of Kokanga basalt on a base of Port Chalmers basalt, with Oamaru stone dressings.

Although New Zealand is mainly famous for its natural wonders, the major cities in the country are still worth a visit. Each has a truly unique character that awaits to be discovered: from the picturesque Invercargill, one of the southernmost cities in the world to the charming Napier, the tranquil Hamilton located on the banks of the Waikato River, and the multifaceted Dunedin, which captivates with its historic charm and vibrant student life.

Alternative destinations:

  • Auckland: One of New Zealand's best places to visit, being the largest and most cosmopolitan city, Auckland is a captivating blend of urban sophistication and natural beauty. Nestled around the waters of the Waitematā Harbour, the city boasts a skyline punctuated by the iconic Sky Tower, offering panoramic views of the city and beyond, as well as a bustling waterfront area lined with chic cafes, restaurants, and bars, also known as the Viaduct Harbour. Among the top things to do on your Auckland trip is a day tour to Waiheke Island, a haven of vineyards, art galleries, and stunning beaches.
  • Wellington: The capital exudes a unique and captivating creative energy. Discover traces of it at Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum, with fascinating exhibits, interactive displays, and a celebration of Kiwi inventiveness, and in the thriving Cuba Street art scene.
  • Christchurch: Following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the “Garden City” of Christchurch, located on the South Island, has undergone a remarkable transformation, blending modern architecture with a marked spirit of renewal. If you only have to pick three things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand, opt for a hike up the Bridle Path in the Port Hills, a stroll along the picturesque Avon River, and a visit to the lush oasis of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Best time: Each season has its advantages: Summer (December to February) is full of festivals, concerts, and outdoor events; autumn (March to May) has milder temperatures and vibrant colors; and spring (September to November) is less crowded than the peak summer season.

Insider tip: Take a ferry to Devonport, a charming seaside suburb just a short ride from downtown Auckland. Once there, stroll through the quaint village, grab a coffee at a local cafe, and hike up Mount Victoria or North Head for panoramic views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf.

3. Discover the Hobbit Trilogy Filming Locations in Hobbiton

An area in Hakatere Conservation Park famous for being one of the the shoot
When touring the Hakatere Conservation Park, be sure to sightsee the location that served as a prime shooting location for the Lord of the Rings movie.

Discover the real-world locations that served as the backdrop for the iconic scenes in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies in New Zealand with a Hobbit Scenes Tour, a must for J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fans. Perhaps the most famous location is Hobbiton, a meticulously crafted recreation of the charming village where hobbits dwell, featured prominently in all the films.. Iconic are the whimsical Hobbit holes dotting the landscape, including the famous Bag End, belonging to Bilbo and later Frodo Baggins.

Alternative destinations:

  • Tongariro National Park: These volcanic landscapes served as the backdrop for Mordor, the legendary land of Mount Doom featured in J. R. R. Tolkien’s universe.
  • Twizel: The expansive farmlands near this South Island town were transformed into the Pelennor Fields, the site of the epic battle of the Pelennor Fields featured in the Return of the King.
  • Wellington (Weta Workshop and Weta Cave): While not a natural landscape, Wellington is home to Weta Workshop, the special effects company behind the films. Visitors can explore the Weta Cave to see props, costumes, and behind-the-scenes insights into the movie-making process.

Best time: Although there is no wrong time to get caught up in the magical atmosphere of Hobbiton, our advice is to plan your visit during the winter months (June to September) to avoid the crowds that assault this place during the peak season.

Insider tip: Consider bringing a good camera with low-light capabilities to catch the magical atmosphere of the Evening Banquet Tour with the dimly lit Hobbit holes.

4. Admire lupine flowering in Mackenzie Country

Woman enjoying being amidst lupine flowers in Lake Pukaki.
Head to Lake Pukaki between November and February to dwell in its surroundings full of lupine flowers.

Imagine endless expanses of pastel blues, purples, and pinks, contrasting with the blue of the sky: we are in lupine flowering season! Originally scattered on farms in Mackenzie Country as a fertilizer for grazing animals, today, the spectacle offered by these unique flowers has become one of the top things to do in New Zealand's South Island.

Alternative destinations:

  • Lake Tekapo: The shores of Lake Tekapo burst into a kaleidoscope of lupins during the flowering season. The stunning contrast between the vibrant blooms, the lake's turquoise waters, and the Southern Alps's glacial gray is worth visiting this remote part of the South Island.
  • Lake Pukaki: The vibrant colors of the lupines around Pukaki, another pristine lake within walking distance of Tekapo, stand out against the snow-capped peaks of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain.

Best time: Lupins typically bloom from late spring to early summer, reaching their peak around November and December.

Insider tip: Drive along the Godley Peaks Road, connecting the Mount John Observatory to Lake Alexandrina, to find one of the best places to take photos of lupins in the Lake Tekapo area. Pro tip: the backdrop of water and mountains is the perfect addition to your bucolic pictures!

5. Drive along scenic routes in North Island

An aerial view of the coastal town of Kaikoura and the Pacific coast.
Drive through the Pacific Coast as you pass by the beautiful town of Kaikoura on your road trip in New Zealand.

Feel the sea breeze in your hair as you drive the most scenic roads in the country in your convertible car: whether it's the Taranaki Surf Highway, the East Cape Coastal Drive, or the coastal stretches of the North Island, this will be an experience that will live in your memory forever! Consider hitting the road early in the morning to take in some of the best sunrises the country has to offer.

Alternative scenic routes:

  • Pacific Coast Highway: The highway travels along the East Coast of the North Island, starting in vibrant and lively Auckland and arriving in picturesque and relaxed Napier, in a succession of golden beaches, charming seaside towns, and lush vineyards.
  • Great Ocean Road: Connecting the coastal towns of Westport to Greymouth, this 250-km road reveals the rugged beauty of the West Coast, with its bizarre pancake-shaped rocks, coastal cliffs, and pristine beaches, whose waters are home to fascinating blowholes colonies. Don’t forget to stop at popular viewpoints like Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne, Cape Otway Lighthouse, and the Secret Apostles Lookout, located just before Gibson Steps.

Best time: Year-round, but late spring to early autumn is ideal for comfortable temperatures. Winter brings dramatic storm-watching opportunities.

Insider tip: As you travel along the Pacific Coast Highway, take a delightful detour to Tutukaka Coast, where you will find The Schnappa Rock, a quirky restaurant offering breathtaking ocean views, fresh seafood, and a relaxed atmosphere.

6. Conquer the best ski slopes in Oceania

A helicopter landing in Mt Cook is one the best things to do in New Zea
One of the best things to do in New Zealand when going on your ski trip is to take a helicopter ride over the mountains before you head to the ski resort.
A family heading to their helicopter after their snowboarding adventure.
As an alternate sport to skiing, try snowboarding which is just as fun to do on your New Zealand adventure trip.

 New Zealand is an incredibly diverse country, so much so that one moment, you are relaxing on a Caribbean beach washed by the Pacific Ocean, and the next, you are running down a slope with a pair of snowshoes on your feet. Funnily enough, the country boasts some of the best ski resorts in Oceania, a continent that is generally associated with scorching hot weather and tropical animals. Take advantage of these contrasts, and don’t miss the opportunity to experience what many regard as one of the best things to do in New Zealand.

Best ski resorts:

  • Queenstown: The adventure capital of New Zealand boasts two premier ski resorts: Coronet Peak, which offers a variety of terrain for all skill levels, and The Remarkables, known for its stunning views, again catering to both beginners and advanced skiers.
  • Treble Cone: Overlooking Lake Wanaka, it is the largest ski area on the South Island. With numerous challenging slopes and off-piste opportunities, it attracts both adrenaline junkies and winter sports enthusiasts during the cold season as well as mountain lovers during the summer.

Best time: The ski season typically runs from June to September, with the best snow conditions in July and August. For a balance of good snow and fewer crowds, consider visiting in the early or late season.

Insider tip: Don't miss the thrill of night skiing at Coronet Peak: the illuminated slopes offer a completely different experience, and the après-ski takes on a lively and captivating atmosphere.

7. Sample delicious red wines along the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

Wine barrel in New Zealand's grassy countryside.
Drink red wine straight from the oak wine barrels as you visit the quaint countryside of New Zealand including places like Marlborough.

Running from Hawke's Bay on the North Island to Marlborough on the South Island, the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail allows you to explore an often overlooked facet of NZ, which is nonetheless deeply intertwined with its cultural and social heritage. Getting to know local wines, talking to small producers, soaking in the rural atmosphere of the vineyards, or, even better, taking part in the grape harvest are incredible opportunities to experience the authentic essence of the country on a whole new level.

Best vineyards:

  • Marlborough: At the tip of the South Island is the sauvignon blanc capital of the world, with award-winning cellars like Cloudy Bay. Its vineyards, surrounded on one side by mountains and on the other by the Pacific Ocean, produce crisp and vibrant wines.
  • Central Otago: Nestled in the heart of the South Island, Central Otago is famous for its pinot noir. The region's unique terroir, surrounded by mountains and lakes, results in bold, elegant wines. Mt Difficulty Wines Cellar Door, Felton Road Wines, Misha's Vineyard Tasting Room, and Te Kano Estate are some of the most-rated vineyards in the region.
  • Hawke's Bay: Travel to the other side of the country to sample some of the best dessert wines of your life. Known for its art deco architecture, the region's wineries, such as Craggy Range, offer award-winning beverages in cozy and charming settings.

Best time: Harvest season typically runs from February to April and offers a unique opportunity to witness the winemaking process. However, if you want to participate in a wine-tasting tour, any time is good!

Insider tip: Explore the boutique wineries in Martinborough, often producing limited batches of exceptional wines, and engage with the winemakers; ask questions, and you might get the chance to taste exclusive releases not available elsewhere.

8. Relax on a secluded beach in the Karikari peninsula

Surfers surfing in the Piha beach during the month of March.
Head to the black sand beach of Piha in March to catch some of the best surfing waves.

New Zealand boasts many beautiful beaches surrounded by lush, unspoiled vegetation, each offering a unique charm, from the golden sands and rugged shorelines of Maitai Bay to the pristine waters and natural hot springs of Wharariki Beach. With a little exploration and a spirit of adventure, you can find secluded bays and beaches that offer some well-deserved tranquility and intimacy away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Recommended beaches:

  • Piha Beach: On the rugged coast west of Auckland is Piha Beach, with its black iron sand and powerful waves making it a haven for surfers and nature lovers. The iconic Lion Rock stands as a sentinel, providing panoramic views of the Tasman Sea.
  • Ninety Mile Beach: Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is only 55 miles long, but it's an unspoiled stretch of sand on the west coast of Northland. Ideal for long walks, beachcombing, and even four-wheel driving.
  • Cathedral Cove: Located in the Coromandel Peninsula, the cove, surmounted by a naturally formed archway reminiscent of a cathedral, is only accessible by foot or boat. Not far are the Wharariki hot springs, a cost-free wellness experience at your fingertips!

Best time: New Zealand's beaches are magical all year round! Just remember that the winter months are colder in the southern parts of the country, so it's best to plan your next coastal adventure accordingly.

Insider tip: Some beaches, especially in the warmer months, offer a magical glowing water show at night called "bioluminescence." If you are in the Auckland area, visit Tindalls Bay, Little Manly, and Arkles Bay.

9. Go bungee jumping on the South Island

Tourist after having jumped off the Kawarau Bridge's bungee jumping spot.
Try the adernaline-pumping bungee jumping sport in the famous Kawarau Bridge.

One of the most exciting and fun things to do in New Zealand is bungee jumping. The country, and especially the South Island, provides some unique facilities that will allow you to go beyond your limits in exceptional landscapes. Only for the bravest hearts!

Best locations:

  • Kawarau Bridge Bungy: Queenstown, often referred to as the adventure capital of the world, is home to the first-ever commercial bungee jumping operation, the iconic Kawarau Bridge Bungy. An exhilarating 43-meter leap over the turquoise waters of the Kawarau River.
  • Skippers Canyon Bungy: Operated by AJ Hackett and perched 102 meters above the Shotover River, this is one of the highest bungee jumping in New Zealand. The jump site is accessible by a thrilling drive through Skippers Canyon. Good to know: the jump involves a 3-second freefall before the cord smoothly swings you out over the canyon.
  • The Sky Tower Experience: Auckland's iconic Sky Tower allows daredevils to propel themselves off a platform set 192 meters above the ground. While not a traditional bungee jump, it offers an exciting and controlled “jumping” experience.

Best time: Bungee jumping is weather-dependent, so check weather conditions before planning your jump.

Insider tip: While daytime jumps offer stunning views, the changing colors of the sky during the golden hour create a magical backdrop for your leap!

10. Indulge in the rich flavors of Māori cuisine

A batch of Maori fried bread on the making.
Try freshly prepared Paraoa Parai (Māori Fried Bread) in the local Sunday markets.

The last, but certainly not among the least important things to do in New Zealand is sampling the rich flavors of Māori cuisine! Deeply rooted in the traditions and cultural practices of the indigenous people of New Zealand, Māori recipes embrace the use of natural, local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, with contaminations from British and, increasingly more, Pacific Rim and Mediterranean cookeries. Staple Māori foods include Paraoa Parai (a sort of bread made from fermented potato starter dough and often enjoyed with butter or served alongside other traditional dishes), boil-up (a soup that typically includes a variety of ingredients like pork or lamb, sweet potato, watercress, and dumplings), and hāngī pie (slow-cooked meat and vegetables encased in a pastry shell).

Best restaurants:

  • Hiakai: Led by acclaimed chef Monique Fiso, Hikari focuses on modern Māori cuisine with a fine dining approach. Located in Wellington, near Massey University.
  • Hangi Master: This restaurant in Rotorua offers a unique dining experience where guests can enjoy a Māori Hangi feast cooked in the traditional earth oven while attending dances and other cultural performances.

Best time: All year round.

Insider tip: New Zealand's Kiwi Burger often includes special local variations, such as a beet topping and fried eggs.

From epic ski slopes to cosmopolitan cities, hidden coastal gems, and fantasy villages, the “land of long white clouds” has something to offer for every explorer. Start planning your customized New Zealand trip today with the help of our expert local guides, and don’t miss out on these 10 things to do in New Zealand for a truly unforgettable experience.

Dive into our travel guides to discover the best time to visit New Zealand, and general New Zealand travel advice. What are you waiting for? Your Kiwi adventure is about to begin!

New Zealand Tours
Published by Supriya Rayamajhi, updated on June 5, 2024
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