Top 15 Things to Do in New Zealand
For seasoned travel veterans and intrepid first-time globetrotters, picking
the right destination can be a daunting task. So many marvelous and exciting
places exist in the world that it is hard to narrow down your options.
Unfortunately, certain great travel destinations, like New Zealand, are often
buried deep on this list under other, more publicized locations. Failing to take
note of this wondrous island nation is a major mistake that doesn't have to
happen during your next travel planning session.
Separated into two main islands, known as the North Island and the South
Island, as well as several smaller outcroppings, New Zealand is a diverse and
historically rich country. As noted in "A Concise History of New Zealand," by
Philippa Mein Smith, Polynesian sailors settled the landmass between 1250 and
1300 CE. This late arrival by settlers makes the island nation one of the last
landmasses in the world to come into contact with humans. During the age of
European expansion, Dutch and British settlers fought to claim control of the
island, leading to a history of conflict and strife.
However, from these altercations, a vibrant and flourishing culture arose
with roots in both European and Polynesian traditions. Coupling this history
with the breathtaking natural wonders of the area makes New Zealand a prime
location for potential tourists and visitors.
15) The Beaches of
It is hard to find someone who doesn't enjoy a day at the beach. In New Zealand,
the beaches take this love affair to a whole new level. Outside of the Auckland
metropolitan area are the Piha, Karekare, Muriwai, and Bethell beaches. This
series of waterside fronts offer a wide array of visually stunning formations.
The proximity of ocean to the Waitakere mountain range creates an intriguing
juxtaposition of mountains and frothing waters. The mists that roll down from
the ranges coat the black volcanic sand and large rock formations, offering a
visual setting that few beaches around the world can match.
Mission Bay, Auckland, New Zealand
Aside from the beauty of nature, these beaches also offer some of the more
typical attributes of enjoying the ocean. Swimming and sunbathing are some of
the activities you can take part in as a casual visitor. If you are looking for
excitement, parasailing, surfing on substantial waves, and other water sports,
this string of beaches offer a plethora of activities.
14) The Great Walks
The South Island of New Zealand has some of the most intriguing walking paths
and trails in the world. Known as the "Great Walks of New Zealand," six of the
eight members of the grouping are found on this island. Routeburn Track, Kepler
Track, Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and the Catlins Coast all offer you the chance
to see the country in its natural state. Rare flora and fauna cover these paths,
giving you direct access to species that are not found in any other part of the
Fiordland National Forest, South Island, New Zealand
The Catlins Coast takes you deep into the natural past of the island with a
petrified wood forest. Walking among these relics from the past helps put modern
culture and technology in perspective when compared to the lasting power of
nature. Additionally, other fun sporting activities can also be worked into your
vacation. Hiking, animal watching, and rock climbing are all part of the outdoor
experience in New Zealand.
13) Viewing the Kiwi
Speaking of nature, nothing says New Zealand like the kiwi. As the national
symbol of the island nation, catching a glimpse of this endangered bird is one
of the best things to do when taking a vacation in New Zealand. Aside from its
status as a flightless bird, the kiwi also has some other intriguing
characteristics. According to the San Diego Zoo, this member of the Ratite
family lays the largest egg in relation to its average body size. Adding in that
it is one of the smallest members of this genus subsection creates a unique
outlook for those viewing a nest in its natural habitat.
Looking into the history of the bird is also a fun venture for visitors to
New Zealand. The name of the bird derives from local Maori culture and language.
The meaning of the name is meant to serve as a representation of the bird's
vocal calls and sounds. Additionally, the term "Kiwi" has also found a
colloquial use as a method of identifying New Zealand natives.
12) Waitomo Caves
If viewing mountain ranges and surfing on massive waves doesn't sound appealing,
consider taking a more subterranean approach to your visit to New Zealand. The
Waitomo Caves, originally revered and explored by the Maori people, now offer
visitors a look into the workings of life below the surface. Glowing worms and
massive stalactite and stalagmite outcroppings provide the main attraction by
dazzling viewers with an eerie spectacle as they traverse the caverns and
enclosed pathways. For those looking for additional adventure, the waterways
found within the caves offer a tubing experience unlike any other.
Cave Stream, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
As part of the added attraction, one of New Zealand's brightest celebrity
stars, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, hosted a musical event in the caverns, as noted on
the cave's official site. The reaction was exceedingly positive, with the singer
expounding upon the purity of sound and acoustics found within the natural
structure. When planning a visit to Waitomo, consider booking ahead. Guided
tours, as well as private excursions, are offered to those looking to dare the
depths of these ancient caves.
11) Relive History
with the Maori People
The North Island of New Zealand offers plenty of opportunities to learn about
the culture that arose after Polynesian settlers first landed on the exotic land
formations. As you retrace the Maori footsteps, you will find plenty of things
to do to immerse yourself in their rich traditions. Performances and traditional
gatherings offer an excellent window into the history and culture of these
people. A public feast, complete with smoked meats and vegetables, as well as
tribal dancing and displays, is a popular venue for tourists and visitors.
Generally, an oven is dug into the ground, offering a new take on slow cooking
and smoky flavors.
Maori Wood Carving
Of course, the Maori culture also has more recent developments that may
intrigue you. A resurgence of pride and awareness has led the Maori people to
take political action to preserve and expand their rights. For those who are
intrigued by political action and involvement, get to know the issues and
potentially view a protest or debate. Doing so can give you a deeper
understanding of the issues surrounding these people, as well as offer you a
bird's-eye view of potentially historical changes in New Zealand law and
culture. Naturally, be wary of heated situations and respect the opinions of
those who have a stake in the matter, as this is a very important development
for those involved.
10) A Convergence of
Glaciers and Rainforests
Few people have ever experienced walking along a glacier. Delving into the
depths of a rainforest is equally as impressive. However, New Zealand offers a
place that provides you with access to both – side by side. On the western coast
of the South Island, a rugged convergence is taking place that involves the Fox
and Franz Josef glaciers, as well as the coastal rain forest. As noted on New
Zealand's official website, these glaciers reach almost to sea level, making
them oddities among their counterparts. As the glaciers moved down from the
2,600 meter heights of the Southern Alps, they have bisected portions of the
local rainforest. This odd combination provides stunning picture opportunities
and a chance to traverse unusual paths and trails.
Franz Josef Glacier
Over the past several thousand years, the glaciers have advanced and
retreated across the landscape. This movement created pitted valleys and deep
gouges into the terrain. For intrepid travelers campaigning through the forest,
arriving at the feet of a glacier is the ultimate experience. Depending on your
skill level and your comfort with navigating this terrain, hiring a tour guide
or similar expert may be a smart decision.
9) A Train Ride
Unlike Any Other
Although more efficient methods of travel are available, sometimes a train ride
can be a nice and relaxing alternative to flying or other means of traversing
long distances. In New Zealand, this type of travel takes center stage. As the
TranzAlpine train route moves through Christchurch, Greymouth, and Arthur's Pass
on the South Island's western shores, passengers are offered a view unlike any
other. Misty mountain ranges, volcanic shores, and even a close view of the
Franz Josef glacier are part of the trip. For those who want to catch a glimpse
of these natural wonders while still enjoying the comfort and amenities of
modern life, few other services can compare.
As noted on the railway's official site, the train leaves Christchurch or
Greymouth, depending on its current location, and travels over 223 kilometers.
The trip from one destination to another takes around four and a half hours and
makes a stop in Arthur's Pass. A cafe, bar, and other food options are provided
to passengers, as well as an open-air viewing platform. Group accommodations and
seating requests are also offered by the railway company. If necessary, those
departing from Chirstchurch can take advantage of the free shuttle bus that
picks passengers up from local hotels and other public areas.
8) The Aoraki
Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Sometimes, a vacation benefits from taking a slower pace. For those looking to
get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, sitting under the stars is a
great way to escape your daily problems. Of course, few stargazing spots can
compare with the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. As noted by the country's
official website, this reserve is one of the few gold-rated dark sky reserves in
the world. This means that light-pollution and other issues that affect the
viewing and study of the night skies are kept to a minimum. For serious
enthusiasts and the common tourist alike, viewing the wonders of stars and other
space phenomena is enhanced greatly by this adherence to purity and
Mt John Observatory
At the heart of this 4,300 square kilometer reserve is the Mt. John
Observatory. The clarity of the region, aided by the Southern Alps in the west
and the Two Thumb Range in the east, helped designate this area as the prime
spot for a new observatory in 1963. Astronomers from around the world have
studied at this facility, adding a layer of prestige to the reserve. For
stargazing tours and guidance, tourists should contact the Hillary Alpine Center
and Planetarium. Located within the Aoraki reserve, this facility is the
southernmost planetarium in the world and incorporates a 126 seat theater to
help visitors learn more about the fascinating night sky.
7) Whale Watching
Along the Coast
Few things in life offer a more majestic view than a whale cresting the surf and
splashing back into the water. This display of grace and power helps make whale
watching stand out as one of the best things to do in New Zealand. The coastal
town of Kaikoura serves as the platform for some of the most exciting whale
watching tours and expeditions. Originally, this area was the center of New
Zealand's whaling industry. Today, the city stands as not only the meeting point
of the coast and the Southern Alps, but one of the foremost whale watching
outposts on the South Island.
The primary type of whale to view in this area is the Sperm Whale. Although
some of these specimens are easily viewed from the beaches, the real excitement
begins on board a touring vessel. Naturally, passage on these ships should be
booked well in advance, but once you are on board, you are in for an up close
and personal view of some of the marine world's greatest offerings. Be prepared
to get a little wet, and choppy seas are always an issue. Regardless of the
setting, don't forget to bring your camera to capture a few lasting shots of
some of nature's most wondrous creatures.
6) Explore the
Volcanic Mountains of the North Island
Deep in the heart of the North Island lies one of the best "tramps" found in New
Zealand. Crossing over Mt. Tongariro and around Mt. Ngauruhoe is the Tongariro
Alpine Crossing. This hiking destination offers a variety of events and natural
wonders for those looking to get in touch with nature. As with any mountain
hike, steep climbs and rocky outcroppings are part of the scenery. However, this
is quickly overshadowed by the impressive volcanic earthworks and landscape.
Some of the craters even contain brilliantly vivid lakes that add a unique touch
to the strong red tones found in the range.
Emerald Lakes at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
As noted by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, this range is truly
one of a kind and thus deserves special status and protection. To maintain the
range and trail for future generations, rangers and other conversationalists
have made efforts to keep the park as pristine as possible. This means tailoring
guided trails around the geothermal vents, as well as any other flora or fauna
that may be disturbed by the incursions of human tourists and adventurers. Do
keep in mind that portions of the range are still active, so planning your trip
around safety considerations and precautions is always advised.
5) Get Your Blood
Flowing in Queenstown
If you are going to bill yourself as the "Adventure Capital of the World," you
better have the attractions necessary to back up such a claim. In Queenstown,
New Zealand, the city delivers on this proclamation. For adrenaline junkies and
casual visitors alike, the city offers a wide variety of fast-paced and intense
adventures and events. To start, paragliding, bungee jumping, skydiving and
whitewater rafting are all offered by the city. However, these average adventure
sports may be too tame for your liking.
To combat this problem, the Queenstown kicks it up a notch. One of the most
impressive things to do in this area is take a ride on the jet boat in Skippers
Canyon. Gliding over the water, which falls to just a few inches in-depth at
times, is a powerful jet boat. This boat navigates the narrow passageways of the
canyon, leaving little room to spare between the rocky walls of the gorge.
The ride lasts for approximately 30 minutes,
so buckle down and be ready for a harrowing adventure.
If all of this sounds too daring for your mild tastes, Queenstown does offer
a few selections for those that prefer a more relaxed vacation. The city offers
local tours of the award-winning vineyards and distilleries, as well as many
fine dining opportunities. You can even tour a vintage steamship and take
photographs of this historic vehicle.
4) Check out Rare
Animals on the Otago Peninsula
New Zealand offers glaciers, volcanoes, sprawling rainforests, and seemingly
endless beaches. Is it any wonder that this island nation has access to a
considerable penguin population? On the Otago Peninsula, Yellow-Eyed Penguins
build colonies and nests during the mating season. As noted on the Otago
Peninsula's conservational website, these animals are few and are listed on the
local endangered species registry.
Additionally, the peninsula offers more than just an excellent opportunity to
see these intriguing creatures. The highest point of the coastal region, Harbour
Cone, measures in at 315 meters in height. Aside from the breathtaking views of
this area, which CNN listed as one of the "10 most romantic places to propose,"
another rare animal makes its home among the cliffs. The Otago Peninsula Trust,
a conservational group, lists this location as the only location in the world to
see a mainland colony of Royal Albatross. If bird watching is one of your
favorite hobbies, the Otago Peninsula is a must visit location.
3) Discover the Many
Sides of Wellington
Not to be outdone by Queenstown, Wellington lists itself as the "Capital of
Cool" on its website. With the amount of events and activities offered within
the city limits, it is easy to see why the citizens of this region believe the
hype. Wine and food tours, cable car rides, an observatory, botanical gardens,
and numerous other impressive attractions, Wellington has earned the right to
stand as one of the premier tourist locations in New Zealand. However, the
city's ties to the global film industry are what really set it apart from its
As the home of Peter Jackson, it is no surprise that the beauty of New
Zealand was incorporated into the Lord of the Rings series of films. As a
lasting reminder for these critically acclaimed movies, the city offers several
tours and guided trips through the locations used in the films. Some areas even
have set pieces and markers in place to guide your adventure into the
cinematographic process. Just be wary of all of the trolls and orcs lurking
around each corner.
If elves, magic, and the locations that brought them to life aren't really
that appealing, more athletic endeavors are also offered in Wellington. The
city's rugby team, the Wellington Lions, offer a full schedule of highly
competitive games. Additionally, a FIFA World Cup qualifier match, featuring New
Zealand's national team "The All-Whites," is scheduled for November, 2013 in
Wellington. If you are looking for world-class sporting events, Wellington is
2) Enjoy a Natural
Bath in the Hot Pools
If you are looking for a relaxing and enjoyable dip in the thermal pools in
Welcome Flats, prepare to do work. As noted on the official web page for the
springs, the nearest road is over seven hours away. This means that reaching the
springs requires an arduous hike through the Westland National Park. However,
the reward is highly desirable. A relaxing evening in the hot water, which is
found in four large pools, as well as the beautiful local environment create the
end to the perfect hiker's vacation.
New Zealand National Forest
Before booking your trip, make sure you take note of the park's rules,
regulations, and warnings. Weather in this area can change suddenly and
drastically, leading to flooding and other hazards. Additionally, swimming in
the pools during the day is not advisable due to the sand flies found in the
area. Before committing to the trip, consider a guide and bring enough food and
clothes to last you in the event of inclement weather.
1) Explore the Great
Although most people assume that the only things to do that are worthwhile occur
on the North and South Island, this isn't necessarily true. On New Zealand's
fourth largest island, the Great Barrier Island, resides a naturalist's
paradise. Located 90 kilometers north of Auckland, this landmass is home to many
of the vanities associated with modern life. Fine dining, golf, and other
activities can be found in droves. However, it is the isolated parts of the
island that make it a true destination.
With numerous cottages and lodges scattered around the coast, you can get
back in touch with the land that is considered the last frontier in New Zealand
before reaching the great blue abyss that is the Pacific Ocean. These offerings
range from isolated one room huts to more luxurious and modernized outposts.
Depending on your intentions, finding the right lodging is just a few clicks
away on the island's official site. Once you have made your reservations, it is
time to pack away all that you need to live a few days or weeks of coastal life.
Fishing, kayaking, surfing, and all other manner of marine events are right at
your fingertips when staying in a seaside cottage.
New Zealand is often forgotten by global tourists and vacationers. Although
Australia is right next door, and substantially larger, this island nation
offers a considerable amount of attractions for the visitor who is looking for a
different type of adventure. Depending on your hobbies, cities like Queenstown
cater to those looking for an adrenaline rush. Others, like Wellington offer a
deeper glimpse into the workings of the film industry and other modern venues.
If you are looking to take a break outside the city limits, consider all of the
natural wonder found on the North and South Islands. Glaciers moving through
rainforests, volcanic pathways, coastal outposts, and hot springs are just a few
of the many marvels offered by the local landscape. Regardless of your passion,
New Zealand is sure to have something that suits your vacation needs.
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