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The ultimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do

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New Zealand is by far our favourite country and we spent 2 wonderful years here living and working in Auckland, plus several months travelling around both islands. Whether you are backpacking on a budget, splurging on a luxury honeymoon, an adventure lover or just looking for a laidback holiday, New Zealand has it all. We’ve visited many sights across the country and have compiled our huge ultimate New Zealand bucket list guide:

All photography is our own unless otherwise stated.

New Zealand bucket list

Table of Contents

1. Visit Hobbiton

Likely the main reason for the initial surge in New Zealand tourism in recent years (not just Fergburger eh), this is a must visit for any fan of the Lord of the Rings movies.

The Hobbiton scenes in this trilogy were filmed in the remote town of Matamata after Peter Jackson struck a deal with a local farmer after seeing this seemingly perfect spot on a helicopter recce. You can explore the set on a guided tour and pose for a selfie in the original Hobbit hole (did you know even the tree leaves are made from plastic?). You can even enjoy a pint of specially brewed Oatbarton Brew at the ‘Dragon Inn’ afterwards.

BOOK IT – Check out this Hobbiton Movie Set Guided Tour >

2. Enjoy an Onsen Spa in Queenstown

Soak up those quintessential Queenstown views in your very own private onsen hot tub overlooking the Shotover River (with the Shotover Jet zooming by). Ice-cold beers and chilled chardonnays are available for purchase, plus you can indulge in an assortment of spa pampering sessions and massages – just make sure you book well in advance during peak season

BOOK IT – Click here for more details and to book your private onsen experience >

Onsen Spa in Queenstown. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Onsen Hot Pools, Queenstown

3. Enjoy New Zealand wine

Wine tasting should be on every New Zealand bucket list and Kiwi wine is some of the best in the world, from the sublime sauvignon blancs through to the prime pinot noirs.

Top picks for us would include the Marlborough wine trail, Waiheke Island wineries, Gibbston Valley in Otago and driving around Peter’s Yealand’s estate in Blenheim. Plus any country where good wine is officially cheaper to buy in restaurants than sparkling mineral water is alright by us.

BOOK IT – Check out these New Zealand wine tasting tours >

Peter Yealands Estate in the south island. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Peter Yealands Estate in the south island

4. Visit Milford Sound

Heaven truly is a place on Earth and we think New Zealand’s most famous Fjord is simply stunning and a MUST DO whilst visiting the South Island. Once called “the eighth wonder of the world”, Milford Sound is thousands of years in the making and is one of the most popular day trips from Queenstown.

The journey to the sounds takes you through lush scenery and the cruise ships sail through the fjords taking you up close to the waterfalls (take a waterproof jacket so you can enjoy a ‘glacial facial’). Read more in our day trip to Milford Sound blog post >

BOOK IT – Check out these Milford Sound tours >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Milford Sound boat cruise

5. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Climb Mount Doom! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand’s most popular one day hike meaning it can be quite busy, but don’t let this deter you as the views are stunning and the incline will suit most traveller’s walking ability.

The trail is just under 20km and usually takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete, passing through amazing landscapes with shimmering emerald lakes and smoldering craters. We’d recommend visiting Tongariro as a stopover if you are planning on travelling from Auckland to Wellington (or vice versa) – check out our north island road trip itinerary >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
The Emerald and Blue Lakes in Tongariro 

6. Walk on a Glacier

Ice, ice baby! The south island’s west coast is famous for its glaciers, which are sadly receding, but can be admired from afar.

If you have the time and money, you can actually heli-hike and walk on either Franz Josef or Fox glacier on a private tour, so jump aboard a helicopter, don your crampons and hike like never before – this is New Zealand nature at its finest. Read our full guide to exploring Franz Josef village and the glacier >

BOOK IT – Check out these Franz Josef Glacier tours >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

7. Explore Geothermal Rotorua

Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity, from the bubbling sulphuric pools you can see strewn across the landscape, through to the Maori heritage sites where food is cooked by steam (‘hangi’).

Rotorua is pretty unique and we would recommend you spend at least a couple of days here learning about Maori culture, exploring the colourful geothermal parks like Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley, or unwinding in a mud spa bath at Hell’s Gate.

Check out our guide to Rotorua >

BOOK IT – Check out these Rotorua geothermal experiences >

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Park. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Park

8. Kayak or hike Abel Tasman National Park

A nirvana like natural park located at the north end of the south island, this seemingly tropical paradise is awash with turquoise blue seas, white sandy beaches and coastal tracks with stunning views.

Partially accessible by car, many of the prettiest beaches are quite secluded as they are accessible only by water taxi, canoe or kayak (kayaking with baby seals in Abel Tasman is a fun way to spend an afternoon). The famous The Abel Tasman Coast Track is 60 kilometres long and you can walk a portion of the trail for a day or the entire length over 3-5 days.

BOOK IT – Abel Tasman kayaking experience and scenic boat cruise >

Anchorage Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

9. Go jet boating

The closest you’ll ever get to being James Bond (probably), New Zealand is the pioneer of jet boating and the rides are exhilarating.

Although popular all over the world, what sets this apart in New Zealand is the fact you can speed through canyons on only a few centimetres of water and do 360-degree spins. Two of the most popular places to enjoy jet boating are Queenstown (K Jet and the Shotover Jet are the most popular operators) and at Huka Falls – where you edge closer and closer to the base of the falls.

BOOK IT – Check out these New Zealand jet boat experiences >

Shotover Jet in Queenstown, New Zealand
Shotover Jet in Queenstown

10. Visit Mount Cook National Park

We’ll say it quietly in a hushed whisper, but we *think* this might be our favourite place in the whole of New Zealand and should definitely be on your bucket list.

Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the walking tracks in the surrounding national park are perfection, plus given its remote location it doesn’t get too busy (at one stage, we had a glacier lake all to ourselves!). The downside is that affordable accommodation is quite scarce in the summer months so do plan your trip in advance. Read more in our Mount Cook guide blog post >

Swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook

11. Visit Cathedral Cove

Find ‘peace’ at this Cathedral with a difference in the North Island’s Coromandel region. You may have a sense of deja vu when you first visit and this is because this captivating cove has featured in many movies, including a starring role in the Tales of Narnia movies.

Accessible only via a hillside walk or the sea (canoeing tours are available), make sure you time your trip to coincide with low tide so you can walk through the cave like structure through to the stunning sandy beach on the other side.

BOOK IT: Cathedral Cove 2 Hour Boat Cruise and From Auckland: Coromandel Peninsula Full-Day Tour >

Credit: 100% Pure New Zealand

12. See whales, dolphins and seals in Kaikoura

This cute and compact coastal town is known for its whale-watching tours and sealife. Although still in recovery mode from a recent devastating earthquake, this is well worth a visit and if you head out on the ocean, you’ll likely see hundreds of dolphins ‘dancing’ in the waves and the occasional whale.

The ocean walks and viewpoints here are outstanding and it is also the only place we’ve come up close and personal with massive seals lazing on the boardwalks. No trip to Kaikoura is complete without savouring freshly cooked crayfish at the legendary Kaikoura BBQ Seafood Kiosk (just watch out for those pesky seagulls). Read more in our Kaikoura guide blog post >

BOOK IT – Check out these Kaikoura nature experiences >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do

13. Take a ride on the Queenstown Skyline Gondola

This is one of the more ‘sedate’ adventures in Queenstown – enjoy a cable car ride up to the top of Bob’s Peak to enjoy unobscured panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and the valleys.

You can also witness the brave souls doing the Ledge bungy (you easily spot them from the screams), have lunch or dinner at the Stratosphere buffet restaurant or have a few runs of the luge (like a sledge on wheels) – a great activity if you are visiting New Zealand with kids.

BOOK IT – Queenstown Skyline Gondola and Luge Ride >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
View from the top of Skyline Gondola

14. Relax in the Bay of Islands

The beautiful Bay of Islands are a popular excursion from Auckland, and are located a 3 hour drive north of the city. Although it can get a little crowded at times, there is no denying the  beauty of the sublime coastal setting here, particularly in the outlying islands like Russell, home to New Zealand’s oldest church plus the historic Duke of Marlborough pub (one of the most scenic and enjoyable Kiwi beers we ever had).

Be sure to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds too, the protected and sacred site of the signing of the first accord in 1840 between the Maori people and the British Crown.

BOOK IT: Bay of Islands: 5-Hour Day Cruise and Island Getaway Tour >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Bay of Islands, copyright: Paroa Bay Winery

YOU MIGHT LIKE – Guide to the best places to visit in New Zealand’s south island

15. Take the ferry to Waiheke Island

A little oasis of calm just a short ferry-ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island was our regular weekend escape when we lived and worked in New Zealand. From boutique wineries (over 20) to beautiful secluded sandy beaches, we always found something to enjoy (not just the wine!). Bohemian but also slightly bonkers, read more in our ultimate guide to Waiheke Island >

BOOK IT – Waiheke Island ferry/bus ticket and wine tasting tour >

Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island
Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island

15. Head up the Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower was opened in 1997 and was at the time the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. Loved and loathed by the locals in equal measure, it can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city and is a great spot to see the city from up high and enjoy panoramic views of nearby Rangitoto Island and the Hauraki Gulf.

At the top of the tower there is a 360 degree cafe and a revolving restaurant, and for thrill seekers, you can either do a sky jump off the tower (like a bungee but without the bounce) or a skywalk on the outside of the tower (we were brave enough to do this once – great fun!)

BOOK IT – Sky Tower viewing deck and dinner at the revolving restaurant – Orbit 360°

Auckland Sky Tower dominating the skyline

16. Visit Mount Maunganui

Known by locals more simply as the ‘Mount’, this is a favourite of Kiwis during the summer holidays and is a bit of a party town (especially on New Year’s Eve).

That said, this is a fun town to explore and enjoy the cafe culture, bush parks and beaches (the surf is good). The highlight is climbing Mount Maunganui itself, with amazing scenic coastal views and forest trails. The best way to spend your time here is enjoy the beach and hike the mount by day, then ‘reward’ yourself at night in one of the many bars on the strip.

View of Mount Maunganui town from the Mount

17. Go star gazing in Tekapo

Surely one of the most beautiful towns in New Zealand, Tekapo is primarily known for its tranquil lakeside setting and famous church – the Church of the Good Shepherd (probably – the most visited church in the whole of New Zealand!). However, by night, Tekapo comes alive with stars, as it is one of only two UNESCO Dark Sky Reserves in the southern hemisphere, meaning there is very little light pollution so the night sky is oh so clear.

Combine stargazing with a night-time hot pool dip at Tekapo Springs – one of the most unique New Zealand experiences we ever encountered. Read about it (and our full guide to visiting Tekapo) >

BOOK IT: Lake Tekapo: Mount John Observatory Stargazing Tour >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Star gazing in Lake Tekapo’s hot pools. Credit: Tekapo Springs

18. Dig your own pool at Hot Water Beach

Although it can get overcrowded (especially in peak season and New Zealand school holidays), Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel is a pretty unique experience.

You can dig a hole on the beach and take a bath in the natural, geothermally heated water, whilst just a few metres away from the cooling sea. Make sure you visit during low tide and bring your own spade (or grab one along with a snack from the nearby cafe).

BOOK IT: From Auckland: Coromandel, Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach Tour

Hot Water Beach, copyright:

19. Take in the view from the top of Mount Eden

Mount Eden is Auckland’s highest volcanic cone, offering stunning views of the city skyline and Hauraki Gulf. The centre-piece is a huge volcanic crater, caused by the last eruption (don’t worry, it was over 15,000 years ago).

In recent years, the roads up to the top have been closed to traffic so it is a short hike (usually amongst the sheep) but well worth it and totally free to visit – we often spotted couples having picnics with wine (but remember to bring all your garbage back with you).

BOOK IT: Auckland City Express Tour: 3-Hour Kiwi Experience >

20. Ride on the Interislander ferry

The north and south islands in New Zealand are around 22 kilometres apart and as you’d expect, there is no bridge between the two so the only way to traverse (other than flying) is to take a ferry. We’ve included this in our New Zealand bucket list as the views are stunning, especially as you arrive / depart through the sounds near Picton Harbour – ferry nice!

BOOK IT – Interislander ferry journey >

Interislander ferry sailing through the Cook Strait. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Interislander ferry sailing through the Cook Strait

21. Bungy jump!

A disclaimer – we haven’t done a bungy jump ourselves (jet boating and white water rafting yes, but not a jump). That said, if you are an adrenaline junkie, there is NO better place to do a bungy and a must do on your New Zealand bucket list.

Most of the famous bungy sites are located in and around Queenstown and are operated by A J Hackett. Two of the most scenic jumps are the Ledge on the top of Skyline Gondola, and the Kawarau Bridge bungy jump (this is popular as you are released into a boat at the bottom, and aren’t pulled back up). This Kawarau Bridge jump is also good if you just want to watch, as you can observe for free from the public viewing platform.

BOOK IT – Check out these bungy jumping experiences >

The Ledge on the top of Skyline Gondola

22. Visit Weta Workshop in Wellington

Weta Workshop is Peter Jackson’s special effects studio starring creature features from the Lord of the Rings trilogies and other lesser known Kiwi film fare.

Your adventure starts with the biiiiiggg Bert the Troll outside, before you are taken on an hour long tour around the workshops, featuring heaps of movie props. At the end, peruse the gift-shop for limited edition merchandise or watch the short film about special effects in the cinema. 

BOOK IT – Weta Workshop tour with Klook.

Weta Workshop in Wellington

23. Take a brewery tour in the south island

Kiwi beer is king – fact! The craft beer scene here is huge so luckily, several breweries in the south island offer taproom and brewery experiences. We are devotees of Stoke’s Dark Beer from Nelson, so it was great to finally visit their brewery for a private tour recently.

Greymouth is also home to the Monteith’s Brewery tour, where you can pour your own pint and match your favourite beer type to their extensive Kiwi food menu. We’d further recommend visiting the ever-expanding Emerson Brewery in Dunedin (especially on a match day) – read our full New Zealand brewery guide here >

BOOK IT: Greymouth Monteith’s Brewery 1-Hour Brewery Tour >

Monteith's brewery tour New Zealand
Monteith’s brewery tour

24. Walk up Baldwin Street

Steep as! Recently reclaiming its ‘world’s steepest street’ title from a contender in Wales, Baldwin Street in Dunedin is a curious tourist experience – essentially, it is just a street that people live on but it is fun to climb all the way to the top and pose for ‘slanted’ photos.

Due to the severity of the incline (for you fact fans – the gradient is 1 in 2.86), unless you have complete faith in your car’s handbrake, you’re best to park at the bottom and walk up.

There is also bench to rest on at the top with some historical information. The street is best to visit very early or later in the day due to the tour buses that usually visit, also remember to be considerate of the residents who live there. Read our Baldwin Street blog post >

Baldwin Street Dunedin

25. Visit Arrowtown

An idyllic town in the Otago valley that offers you a few brief moments of calm, away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. Like stepping back in time, this former gold mining town is a ‘nugget’ of joy, and many scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed amongst the Arrowtown riverbeds.

Arrive on an empty stomach and treat yourself to a Kiwi as pie from the legendary Arrowtown Bakery and Cafe, situated at the start of the high street. For a full rundown of Arrowtown activities, read our dedicated Arrowtown blog post >

Arrowtown. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Arrowtown main street

26. Eat the famous Fergburger

In our backpacking days, one of the most frequent debates in hostels all over New Zealand was ‘is Fergburger the best burger in New Zealand’?

Judging by the queues that snake down the main street in Queenstown, it certainly is a contender and eating a Fergburger with a side of onion rings is a tourist rite of passage whilst visiting.

The restaurant has now expanded with a new Ferg Bakery next door and we often dream about their cream-cheese muffins (not a sentence you write every day). Read our Fergburger review blog post >

Fergburger Queenstown New Zealand

27. Enjoy the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy

If you’re visiting Queenstown or the Central Otago area and have access to your own transport, the scenic drive to Glenorchy will be one of the best rides of your life.

The drive is about 45 minutes but we guarantee you’ll be stopping every few miles to take photos as the views are jaw droppingly pretty. Once there, pose with the famous ‘Glenorchy’ red hut, jump on a jet boat or listen to local cafe owners’ tales of when the Lord of the Rings cast and crew hung out here (apparently, Viggo Mortensen is a very keen flyfisher).

BOOK IT: Glenorchy & Paradise Scenic Half-Day Tour from Queenstown >

scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy

28. Visit Lake Wanaka

This laid back lakeside town has heaps of awesome activities and lush waterside trails to explore (and is often adorned with luscious lupins in the summer months).

If you are campervanning, this is one of the best spots to stay in the entire country as the parking spots are numerous and right next to the shoreline.

You’ll also encounter ‘That (Famous) Wanaka Tree’ here (official title) although it is less impressive in real life than the photos and it was unfortunately attacked recently, resulting in the loss of a branch. Sunsets here across the lake are epic on clear nights – Wanaka is truly wonderful.

BOOK IT: Lake Wanaka Happy Hour Cruise >

That Wanaka Tree. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
That Wanaka Tree

FURTHER READING: New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors >

29. Hike up a dormant volcano

Just a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Rangitoto is the largest of Auckland’s 48 volcanic cones and can be seen from most of the urban beaches. With an abundance of wildlife, it is the perfect place to hike and the scramble to the top is totally worth it with incredible views of the Hauraki Gulf. Make sure you take your own food and drink with you as there are no services on the island. The walk to the top takes 1 hour and you can visit the island independently by booking ferry tickets at the ferry terminal or in advance online.

BOOK IT: Sunset / Night Kayak to Rangitoto Island with BBQ Dinner >

Rangitoto Island

30. See the glow worms at Waitomo Caves

30 million years in the making, you can explore an almost pitch-black subterranean underground world with the help from a little natural light created by glowworms. There are several ways to explore these historic limescale caves and view the thousands of glow worms creating a starry sky, from gentle boat rides to exhilarating tubing and underground rafting and zip lining.

BOOK IT – Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour or Black Water Rafting adventure >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Waitomo Caves boat ride, copyright: Corin Walker Bain

30. Take a trip on Wellington’s cable car

Actually a funicular railway, this is a novel way to get from the main shopping area in Wellington’s Lambton Quay to the hillside suburb of Kelburn, which looks over the city and Oriental Bay. We especially liked the tunnel sections where you are treated to a disco light show of sorts (you have to see it to believe it).

Opened in 1902 this is a real slice of Kiwiana heritage transport (and if that is your thing, definitely check-out MOTAT in Auckland too).

BOOK IT: Wellington: Return Cable Car Ticket >

Wellington's cable car. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do

31. Explore the Waitakere Ranges

Waterfalls and rugged black sand beaches await you in West Auckland’s natural beauty – the Waitakere Ranges. A short drive from downtown Auckland, this outdoor haven has over 250km of walking tracks in 16,000 hectares of natural rainforest and bush.

Standouts include the Karekare Falls, the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach (also excellent for walking) and Lion Rock at Piha Beach, possibly the most stunning beach in the whole of Auckland (especially at sunset). It is also popular with surfers and has featured in many international movies including The Piano.

BOOK IT – Karekare Waterfalls and Piha Beach Day Tour from Auckland >

Rainforest walk in the Waitakeres Ranges

32. Visit Huka Falls

The mighty Waikato River is New Zealand’s longest river and powers the wondrous Huka waterfalls (Huka is the Maori word for ‘foam’). A turbulent turquoise powerhouse is created by a surge of water entering a narrow ravine of hard volcanic rock, before being forced out at great pressure, falling 11 metres below creating a whirlpool like no other. Our description doesn’t really do it justice and it is something you need to see with your own eyes.

The walking tracks around Huka Falls are free to visit and if you want to get really up-close to the power of the falls, consider jumping on the Huka Falls jet boat.

BOOK IT – Huka Falls jet boat ride >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do

33. Go Skydiving

Another one to tick off your bucket list, get high and see New Zealand from the sky. Although not for every backpacker budget, if you are going to do it, New Zealand is the place (and it is also marginally cheaper to do it here than in Australia).

The most popular skydiving spots include Wanaka, the Bay of Islands, Queenstown and Taupo – make sure you save some extra dollars for the aerial photography and video packages so you can prove to your friends and family back at home that you’ve done it!

BOOK IT – Lake Wanaka Skydive >

34. Visit Akaroa

A little bit of France (or should be say petit peu) in New Zealand, this charming remote town (and the only French settlement in the country) on the Banks Peninsula is as much about the drive there as the destination itself. Windy roads give way to incredible views of the bay.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a rare Hector’s dolphin – conversely, if you are unlucky, you may coincide your visit with a cruise ship, whose passengers disembark and engulf this pretty port. The harbour area is very majestic, particularly the jetty with its street light and hut at the end (you’ll probably recognise it from Instagram).

BOOK IT – Akaroa nature cruise or swimming with dolphins experience >

35. Climb Roy’s Peak

Possibly the most popular day hike in the south island (if Instagram is anything to go by), this is a 6 hour, 16km roundtrip from the shores of Wanaka Lake through the tunnock grasslands with sweeping vistas of the surrounding mountains including Mount Aspiring. Just be prepared to queue to get the classic shot of being alone on the actual peak, as it has become so popular that it often involves an hour or so of waiting just to get a picture.

36. Explore Christchurch

There are two sides to Christchurch – we visited before and after the earthquakes and whilst it is now very much a different city, there are still signs of recovery. The city is very much open for business, needing tourism support more than ever. Whilst Cathedral Square is still in ruins, visit nearby ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ (an engineering marvel) or take a walk along the banks of the River Avon (or go punting).

Strolling around the city feels a little like being back in England, and the Botanical Gardens are well worth your time. Post earthquake lots of pop-up installations and sculptures started appearing around the city, as well as shipping container malls and box park type bars.

BOOK IT: Christchurch: Vintage Tram, Punt and Gondola Ride Combo >

Christchurch tram. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Christchurch tram

37. Relax in Hanmer Springs

This sublime spa resort town is located a 90 minute drive from Christchurch and is set amongst the mountains – almost reminiscent of the Canadian alpine towns like Banff and Jasper.

Best known for its thermal hot pools (and skiing in the winter months), this tranquil town is a LOT quieter than Queenstown, with plenty of activities in the day (the Conical Hill hike is a highlight) and some nice bars and restaurants to recover in at night. Read more in our Hanmer Springs guide blog post >

BOOK IT: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools Entry Ticket >

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools. The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Hanmer Springs Hot Pools

38. Experience Māori Culture

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand who settled here more than 1000 years ago and the town of Rotorua in the north island is a great place to learn all about Māori Culture. There are few cultural experiences available where you partake in a traditional welcome ceremony, try a hangi dinner (food cooked using natural springs and steam in the ground) and watch cultural song and dance performances.

BOOK IT – Māori cultural experience in Rotorua >

The ultimate New Zealand bucket list - top 50 things to do
Te Puia in Rotorua

39. Go surfing in Raglan

Surf’s up! Possibly one of the lesser known Kiwi towns on this list, Raglan is renowned for its surfing beaches and great cafes. Compact and artsy, beat a retreat to Raglan for some downtime and to explore the black sand beaches and various bush walks (including one that takes you to the top of Bridal Veil Falls.)

We once spent a few days escaping the rat race of Auckland, by staying in the historic Raglan Harbour View Hotel and doing various walks and swims – the hotel has a balcony with great views of downtown and is also supposedly haunted (although the only spirit we encountered there was Jack Daniels).

BOOK IT: Raglan Surfing Beginner Lesson >

Surfing in Raglan, copyright: Paul Abbitt

40. Visit the Moeraki Boulders

Located on the North Otago coastline, the mysterious Moeraki Boulders are dotted along the beach, each weighing several tonnes and some as tall as 2 metres high.

There are lots of theories about how they came to be here (some practical, some magical) but these amazing spherical stones draw tourists from all over the world. The scientific explanation is that they are calcium concretions formed 60 million years ago (!).

Maori legend states that the stones are gourds that came from the legendary voyaging canoe Araiteuru, that washed ashore when the vessel was wrecked when it hit rocks hundreds of years ago. Visit early to avoid crowds – even when we visited at sunrise, we were jostling for position with tour bus visitors.

Read our Moeraki Boulders blog post >

Moeraki Boulders

41. Road trip up the west coast of the south island

Once voted one of the world’s top 10 coastal drives by Lonely Planet (the Great Coast Road stretch), the west coast region of New Zealand offers an epic adventure.

From the natural wonders of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes to the icy glaciers in Franz Josef and Franz Fox, to the towns of Hokitika and Greymouth (make sure the Monteith’s Brewery is a pitstop in the latter). This is a rewarding road trip that showcases the rugged beauty of the West Coast.

BOOK IT: From Greymouth: Punakaiki Blowholes & Pancake Rocks Tour >

41. Take the TranzAlpine scenic train across the south island

One of the world’s great rail journeys, this ticket to ride travels between the west coast and east coast of the south island, taking in the mountains and stopping at Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass (even more incredible during the winter months) and Greymouth.

Taking 5 hours and covering over 200km of stunning south island scenery, you can sit back and enjoy the vistas from the comfort of your train carriage or take a walk to one of the carriages (‘viewing van’) that have outdoor areas – wrap up warm!

BOOK IT – read more about the routes, timetables, pricing and how to book >

TranzAlpine train, credit: Great Journeys of New Zealand

42. Visit Matakana

A regular road trip of ours on the weekends when we lived in Auckland, Matakana is a small town famous for its fine foodie fare, especially its weekend farmers markets. From oysters to fresh game pies, there are loads of gourmet gems to choose from and the market is located in an idyllic riverside setting.

If your visit doesn’t coincide with the weekend farmer’s market, there are still some outstanding bars and restaurants to enjoy, combined with appealing arts and crafts shops. Matakana is furthermore famous for its wineries and we once had a big birthday blowout at the Ascension Wine Estate – wine tasting at the source always tastes much better.

Matakana Village Farmers Market Auckland New Zealand
Matakana Village Farmers Market

43. Relax at Polynesian Spa

A visit to a hot pool should be on every New Zealand bucket list and there is plenty of geothermal goodness at Polynesian Spa in Rotorua.

Overlooking Lake Rotorua, there are several large landscaped pools to choose from, each with a slightly different temperature. If you’ve been hulking around a heavy backpack or solid suitcase for several weeks, this is an ideal retreat with other additional spa services available including hot mud massages.

BOOK IT – Polynesian Spa entrance ticket >

44. Drive up to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach

The northerly most accessible point of New Zealand is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide, you can physically see where the different waters meet by the varying wave formations.

This is quite a trek to reach and you will need to make sure your car hire insurance cover allows for travel on non-gravel roads. Recognisable by the lighthouse and AA signs that show the directions to various cities all over the world (including London – yay- only 18,029km away!), it feels an accomplishment in itself just getting here.

90 Mile Beach (actually 88km in length – whatever happened to the conversion rates?) is famous for its incredible surf and stunning sunsets – it is actually classed as a highway although it is recommended you only use 4 x4s to drive along it (tours are also available).

BOOK IT – Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach full day tour >

Cape Reinga, Credit: Pixabay

45. Take the ferry to Devonport and climb Mount Victoria 

One of our regular outings whilst working in Auckland, Devonport is a quick ferry-hop across the bay. Climb to the top of Mount Victoria (an easy 15 minute hike) for awesome panoramic views of Auckland, Rangitoto Island and the surrounding Hauraki Gulf (go easy on the ‘mushrooms – you’ll see what we mean) before enjoying the cafe culture here, with a cute high street chock full of cafes, bars and restaurants.

View of Devonport and the Auckland skyline from the top of Mount Victoria

45. Drive around the Otago Pennisula in Dunedin

Albatross ahoy! A stunning and scenic coastal drive that takes in cute backwater towns, clifftop colonies and all manner of incredible eco-experiences such as the fur seals at Pilots Beach and Sandfly Bay, and the sea lions on Te Rauone Beach.

Also keep a close eye out for yellow-eyed penguins wandering onto the roads, especially at night. Easy to drive, the only minor downside is that is hard to pack it all into one day, as there are so many areas of natural beauty to explore, many of which often have a small hike involved (e.g. the walk to Sandfly Bay to see the seals takes about half an hour but is so worth it).

Read more about Dunedin in our Dunedin travel guide post >

BOOK IT: From Dunedin: Royal Albatross Centre & Otago Peninsula Tour >

Sandfly Bay

46. Visit the Steampunk HQ in Oamaru

Famed for its perfectly preserved Victorian Precinct (starring in many movies and still free to visit), a trip to Oamaru is like stepping into a time-warp. The largest town in North Otago, Oamaru has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, reinventing itself as the steampunk capital of New Zealand.

We’ve visited the bizarrely beautiful Steampunk HQ several times and love it so much, we wrote this blog about it. If your tastes are a little more traditional, Oamaru has New Zealand’s oldest public gardens and two famous penguin colonies – so something for everyone (ish).

47. Taste L&P – a Kiwi classic

Make sure you quench your thirst with a bottle or can of Lemon & Paeroa (L&P), a refreshing and uniquely fizzy Kiwi drink made from lemon and mineral water – it also goes perfectly with ‘fush and chups’. Check out more food and drinks you must try in our New Zealand food and drink guide >

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

48. Walk to the top of Queenstown Hill

An easily accessible walk from the main town, Queenstown Hill provides amazing vistas of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains and has to be one of top 5 easy hikes in the whole of New Zealand.

The initial woodland walk (check out all the homemade inukshuks on the way, made from pebbles) opens up at the top of the hill, and here you will find an incredible metallic sculpture, called the ‘Basket of Dreams’ which many hikers climb into and pose in. You’ll soon forget the hustle and hubris of the town below once you reach the peak – highly recommended.

49. Hike one of the nine ‘Great Walks’

New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise and there are nine premier tracks across the country that take between 1 and 6 days to complete, requiring various levels of fitness and experience.

The walks are managed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), who keep the tracks well maintained and take bookings for overnight stays at their huts and campsites. Many of the longer walks require a pre paid permit and popular hikes such as the Milford and Routeburn tracks are fully booked months in advance. For more details check the Department of Conservation website >

Kepler Track. Credit Pixabay

50. Tick off the ‘Big Things’

During our time in Aoteroa, we became slightly obsessed with tracking down the various ‘big things’ on our road trips, essentially wonderfully weird roadside statues, from enormous fruit in Cromwell to a big salmon in Raikia. Oh, and did we mention the colossal carrot (!) in Ohakune. Posing with as many of these statues as possible is a fun thing to add to your New Zealand bucket list. Read our guide to all of these amazing big things in New Zealand >

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