There aren’t many places in the world where you can be hiking through lush rainforest in the morning, sunbathing on glorious golden sands at lunch, and seeing glacier-strewn mountains by evening! Travel to New Zealand, though, and you’ll enjoy all of these unique experiences and many, many more.
In fact, there are so many things to do in New Zealand that planning a trip here can be tricky! When there are so many choices, but you only have a week or two to explore, how do you choose where to go and what to miss?! Well, today, I’m going to walk you through 18 incredible sights, activities, and attractions that’ll guarantee a good time if you include them on your New Zealand itinerary.
Things to Do in New Zealand: North & South Islands
That’s right, as anyone lucky enough to visit this remarkable country knows, the Land of the Long White Cloud is blessed with a mindboggling array of attractions that are as varied as they are unmissable.
New Zealand is a country of beautiful scenery and stunning sites. Here are 18 things you absolutely must do when you visit New Zealand for a once in the lifetime trip that mixes the best sites with the must-do experiences to really get the land and its people! Let’s dive in!
1. Jump off Auckland’s Highest Building
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand and a perfect place to start this list. It’s about as picturesque as major cities get, with parks, viewpoints, and beaches galore! But, of course, there’s a bustling marina here too, where it’s well worth taking a stroll, grabbing a drink, and having a bite to eat in the evening.
However, for people looking for more “adrenaline-fuelled” things to do in New Zealand, you’ll want to check out the “Sky Tower.” Standing 328m above the ground, it’s the tallest structure in Auckland and arguably its most iconic landmark.
Oh, and you can jump right off the top! Known as the SkyJump, it’s a cross between a bungee and a base jump that’ll see you hurtling toward the ground at over 50mph. It’s not for the fainthearted, but you’ll struggle to find better views over the city!
2. Walk up Auckland’s Highest Volcanic Cove
At first glance, Auckland resembles any other metropolis. It’s busy, bustling, and full of first-rate shopping and eating opportunities! Step back for a second, though, and you realize it’s jam-packed with quintessentially Kiwi quirks.
Case and point? The volcanoes.
They are built on an ancient volcanic field, Auckland’s home to 50 of them! They’re all dormant, and most are more like grassy mounds than Mount Doom nowadays. But still, it’s not every day you get to walk up a volcano in the middle of a city! The views from the top tend to be amazing too, which is the cherry on top of what’s already one of the unique things to do in New Zealand.
3. Visit the Islands off Auckland’s Coast
Volcanoes aren’t the only natural attractions on offer around Auckland. Look eastward to the Hauraki Gulf, and you’ll find a multitude of idyllic islands too. If you’re willing to hop on a boat, these quaint and scenic places offer a fantastic outlet for anyone who wants to escape the hubbub of city life.
Among many others, there’s the iconic Rangitoto Island (formed by a volcanic eruption around 600 years ago), a haven for wildlife, Waiheke Island, a favorite among wine-lovers, and the isolated Great Barrier Island that feels raw and untouched. Whichever one you visit, you won’t be disappointed!
4. Boogie Board Down Sand Dunes at 90-Mile Beach
The clue’s in the name with the 90-mile beach. Although it’s actually more like 55 miles long, this magical expanse of sand in the north of New Zealand seems to go on forever! It’s a wild and beautiful place that’s ideal if you want to get away from the world for a while. Yet that’s not all…
Travel far enough down the beach, and you’ll come across the enormous Te Paki sand dunes. If you feel the need for some excitement, you can hire boogie boards from the vendor here and race down the dunes until your heart’s content!
5. See Oceans Collide at Cape Reinga
Just up from 90-Mile Beach is Cape Reinga. It is a site of great spiritual importance for the Māori people; this is the northernmost point of New Zealand and another part of the country that’ll take your breath away with its beauty.
Perched on top of a cliff, a short walk takes you from the car park to a lighthouse that boasts panoramic views over the area. Amazingly, this is the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. Lookout from the viewpoint, and you’ll see these two mighty bodies of water collide, causing crazy lines, waves, whirls, and swirls in the blue-green water below.
6. Hit the Water in the Bay of Islands
No list of things to do in New Zealand is complete without mentioning the Bay of Islands! This popular place is a subtropical micro-region (read: fantastic weather) that’s located 3-hours north of Auckland.
There are 144 islands to explore by sea or air here, alongside a fun-loving and lively atmosphere and endless walking and waterborne pursuits. Whale and dolphin watching tours are available as well. So get ready to explore the area by boat and see the marine life that calls the Bay of Islands home!
7. Explore Cathedral Cove
Fancy diving headlong into crystal clear waters and sunbathing on secluded bays with golden sands? Well, head to The Coromandel Peninsula! This stunning part of New Zealand has no shortage of both.
Don’t forget to visit Cathedral Cove while you’re there. Arguably the most famous place on The Coromandel, this vast natural archway defies belief in terms of scale and grandeur. But, of course, it’s only accessible by foot or boat as well, which adds to the allure!
8. Dig Your Own Spa at Hot Water Beach
Down the coast from Cathedral Cove is another top attraction on The Coromandel Peninsula: Hot Water Beach. This is no ordinary stretch of sand, though. Dig in the right spot, and naturally heated fresh water bubbles up from beneath, providing you with your very own spa pool to soak in!
However, I recommend going early in the day. This popular place fills up fast, and the stretch of beach with thermal activity isn’t big enough for everybody! Leave it too late, and you risk missing your chance to enjoy this unique New Zealand experience.
9. Gawp at the Geysers and Bubbling Mud Pools in Rotorua
Rotorua stinks…literally. This otherworldly place in North Island is renowned for its intense geothermal activity that pumps sulfur into the air!
Don’t let this put you off, though. Trust me, Rotorua’s worth visiting for the same reason it’s so smelly! The geothermal activity doesn’t just sting your nostrils- it’s plain for all to see. So get ready to watch gurgling geysers erupt spectacularly, for bubbling thermal mud pools that look like witch’s cauldrons and fumaroles (i.e., vents) that release clouds of steam from the ground.
10. Unleash Your Inner Movie Geek at Hobbiton
New Zealand is linked inextricably with Lord of the Rings for many people. After all, this was where Peter Jackson so wisely chose to film the movie trilogy! If you’re an avid LOTR fan, then you’ll love exploring this country and seeing with your own eyes where the most celebrated Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed.
Why not make Hobbiton your first port of call? A movie set turned into a tourist attraction, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand. So set foot in the Shire itself and enjoy a walking tour of the place Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin called home!
11. Visit the Glowworm Caves at Waitomo
If you thought New Zealand was special above ground, wait until you see under it! Head to the tiny town of Waitomo to see what I mean. Home to the inimitable caves that share the town’s name, you can take a tour deep underground to witness a true marvel of the natural world:
It is a vast cave network (complete with its own subterranean river system), lit with a luminescent green light, not from man-made torches but glow worms. It’s a spectacular, unforgettable sight. Don’t miss it!
12. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
New Zealand’s a hiker’s paradise. There are hiking opportunities at every turn, from serious multi-day treks to easy 1-hour loop walks! Heck, there are even nine actual “Great Walks” that take you through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.
Of the countless day hikes you can do, though, the Tongariro Crossing’s arguably the best of the best. Stretching 12 miles (19.4km) through the Tongariro National Park, you’ll feel transported to another planet! The scenery’s magnificent, otherworldly, and gets you up close and personal with Mount Doom (i.e., Mount Ngauruhoe) from Lord of the Rings!
13. Witness Outlandish Natural Beauty in Abel Tasman National Park
Tucked away on the northern tip of South Island, the Abel Tasman National Park has a special vibe, amazing Kiwi fauna and flora, and a huge array of things to see and do! So if you love hiking, swimming, climbing, water sports, or basking in the sun on golden-sand beaches, then make sure you pay it a visit.
Other things to do in this area include visiting the bohemian town of Takaka, walking around Farewell Spit (the northern tip of South Island), and seeing some of the clearest fresh water in the world at Te Waikoropupu Springs.
14. Take a Helicopter Ride over Glacier Country
Unforgettable things to do in New Zealand don’t get much better than flying in a helicopter over (and onto!) the glaciers that perch in the mountaintops on the west coast of South Island. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, expect to be dazzled and delighted in equal measure.
Visit the lively town of Franz Josef if you wish to do it. These helicopter rides aren’t cheap, and they’re heavily weather-dependent too, but you’ll struggle to find a more exhilarating way to spend an afternoon!
15. Channel Your Inner Adrenaline Junky in Queenstown
Ready to let your hair down and have a good time? Queenstown’s the place to be. The nightlife here’s top-notch, there are bars and restaurants in abundance, and magnificent mountains and glacial lakes surround it.
Yet that’s not all: Queenstown’s also the country’s adventure capital! This is the place to be if you want to get the adrenaline flowing from bungee jumps and canyon swings to jet boating and sky diving.
Want a taste of Queenstown without all the craziness? Visit Wanaka instead. An hour away, it’s another stunning South Island town that offers many of the same attractions- just with a quieter, laid-back vibe. Of course, there’s also the “Wanaka Tree” to see (and take the obligatory Instagram photo with) while you’re there!
16. Explore the Fantastic Fiordland
Head to Fiordland National Park in the southwest corner of South Island if you wish to bear witness to the true scale of New Zealand’s natural beauty. It’s truly sublime. Raw and untouched, it’s like stepping into the Lost World.
A natural amphitheater, waterfalls cascade down giant cliffs that descend steeply into the deep waters below. Seals frolic on rock platforms. And native Kiwi bush stretches far and wide around you. Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are the two main travel destinations here (with Doubtful South only accessible by boat). Whether you visit one or both of them, you won’t be disappointed.
17. Marvel at Mount Cook
Last but not least on this list of things to do in New Zealand is visiting Mount Cook. As the highest mountain in New Zealand, it’s yet another compelling sight to behold. Not only is it striking to see this snow-capped mountain range rise proudly from the land, but it’s also surrounded by striking emerald lakes that shimmer brilliantly in the sun. Again, words don’t do justice to the scenery here!
As you can imagine, there are many outdoorsy things to do near Mount Cook. You can hike (the Hooker Valley Track is one walk I particularly recommend), stargaze (you can pay to join actual stargazing tours), mountain bike, and even take a scenic flight over the area. Whatever you end up doing, be sure to pay this place a visit.
Don’t Miss These Things to Do in New Zealand
The sheer number of amazing things to do in New Zealand can sometimes feel like a double-edged sword! On the one hand, you can guarantee that your NZ trip will be full of magical sights and unforgettable activities. But, on the other, with limited time at your disposal, you know you’ll have to miss out on the majority of them…
Ultimately, the process of deciding which things to do in New Zealand (and which things to skip) can be a genuine challenge. If you’re familiar with that struggle, then I hope the ideas in this post will make life a little easier! Whether you include one or all of them on your New Zealand itinerary, you’re sure to have a special time.
Danny Newman is currently writing and traveling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What’s Danny Doing.