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New Zealand is the perfect mix of awe-inspiring landscapes, thrilling adventures, beautiful cities, world-renowned wine regions, stunning beaches, scenic drives, and gourmet cuisine. 

So far, we have visited New Zealand twice, and there is a good chance we could be returning again in 2024. Our first visit to New Zealand was a one-month road trip, part of a trip around the world. After touring 35 countries in 13 months, New Zealand was the favorite of our family, and we eagerly awaited a return visit.

That came in 2023, when Tim and I took a 5-week road trip through the North and South Islands, revisiting our favorite places and exploring some new spots.

Our list of things to do in New Zealand is the culmination of both of our travel experiences. 50 things may sound like a lot, and it is, but there are many more places we could have added to this list.

To help you narrow down which places to visit in New Zealand, we have a bunch of Top 10 Lists at the end of this article (you can skip ahead if you like) plus links to more information to help you plan the perfect trip to New Zealand.

We have a lot to cover so let’s get started.

Table of Contents


An Overview of Aotearoa New Zealand

New Zealand is comprised of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, as well as 700 smaller islands. It sits just across the Tasman Sea from Australia.

New Zealand was one of the last major land masses in the world to be discovered by humans. Polynesians began to settle here by the beginning of the 14th century. These Polynesians developed a Māori culture which continues to thrive today.

New Zealand also goes by the name Aotearoa, the Māori name for this country. Aotearoa means ‘land of the long white cloud.’

Our list of things to do in New Zealand includes the North Island, the South Island, as well as Stewart Island. On a visit to New Zealand, you can visit both the North and South Islands, connecting them by the Interislander ferry.

The South Island is generally considered to be the more beautiful of the two islands, with more to do. This is the location of the Southern Alps, Queenstown, the Milford Sound, Wanaka, the Southern Scenic Route, wine regions, Abel Tasman National Park, and a few spectacular trekking routes.

The North Island is home to Auckland (New Zealand’s largest city), Wellington (the capital of New Zealand), geothermal areas, the Bay of Islands, active volcanoes, black and white sand beaches, and important historical sites. The North Island is much more populated than the South Island, with roughly three-quarters of New Zealanders living on the North Island.

Best Things to Do in New Zealand

In no particular order, here are the best things to do in New Zealand. At the end of this list, you can see all of them on a map.

1. Spend Some Time in Queenstown (Tāhuna)

Location: South Island

Let’s get started with one of our favorite places in New Zealand, Queenstown.

Known as the Adventure Capital of the World, Queenstown is one of the best places to experience New Zealand’s long list of thrilling activities, such as paragliding, bungy jumping, jet boat riding, skydiving, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. You can also relax in a natural hot pool, go shopping, and try out one of many of Queenstown’s fabulous restaurants and bars.

Queenstown New Zealand | Best things to do in New Zealand

Plan on spending at least two to three days here, which gives you enough time to sample the best the Queenstown has to offer.

2. Get a Glimpse of Aoraki / Mount Cook

Location: South Island

Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It is located in the Southern Alps on the South Island.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park | Best things to do in New Zealand

Aoraki / Mount Cook from the Hooker Valley Track

There are numerous ways to see Mount Cook. Most people see it from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, where hiking trails lead to alpine lakes and gorgeous views of the mountain. The Hooker Valley Track is an easy hike that leads to stunning views of Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Mount Cook can also be seen on flightseeing tours from Queenstown, Franz Josef (Glacier Country), and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

3. Day Trip to Waiheke Island

Location: North Island

One of the best things to do on the North Island of New Zealand is to day trip to Waiheke Island.

This small island sits in the Huaraki Gulf and makes the perfect day trip from Auckland.

Waiheke Island is covered with wineries, so one of the best things to do here is to do wine tastings or have lunch or dinner with a wine pairing. You can also go to the beach, go ziplining or hiking, tour olive oil and gin distilleries, and go for a scenic drive.

Waiheke Island

Man O War Vineyards Lunch

4. See Glowworms

Location: North & South Islands

One of the must-have experiences in New Zealand is to see some glowworms.

Glowworms are found throughout the caves in New Zealand. These small creatures are bioluminescent, so they light up the cave ceilings with their tiny bodies, making these cave ceilings look like they are filled with stars.


Photo courtesy of Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.

One of the best places to see glowworms is at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which is on the North Island. Tours are offered daily and take less than an hour. If you are visiting New Zealand with kids, this visit can easily be paired with Hobbiton, making this duo of activities one of the best experiences for families.

You can also see glowworms at the Te Anau Glowworm Caves (South Island) and in damp forests throughout New Zealand.

5. Walk or Bike in a Redwood Forest

Location: North Island

Whakarewarewa Forest is a forest of 100+ year old coastal redwoods. This forest sits next to Rotorua on the North Island.

Whakarewarewa Forest | Best things to do in New Zealand

At the Whakarewarewa Forest, you can go mountain biking or take a stroll through the forest. One of the best experiences here is the Redwoods Treewalk, which is a series of 28 suspension bridges hover 20 meters above the forest floor. These bridges form a 700-meter loop and along this walk you get an incredible view of the redwood trees.

6. Cruise the Milford Sound/ Piopiotahi

Location: South Island

The Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction.

This fiord is located on the South Island, in Fiordland National Park. It’s famous for being one of the most beautiful places in the world and Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Milford Sound | Best things to do in New Zealand

Taking a cruise on the Milford Sound is not to be missed on a visit to New Zealand. This can be done as a day trip from Te Anau or Queenstown. Cruises lasts between 1 and 3 hours.

7. Visit Doubtful Sound/Patea

Location: South Island

Doubtful Sound is a nearby neighbor of the Milford Sound. At 40 km long, it is the second largest fiord in New Zealand (the Milford Sound is just 17.5 kilometers long). Doubtful Sound is also the deepest of all of the fiords in New Zealand.

Doubtful Sound is more remote and less touristy than the Milford Sound, so it is a good option for those who prefer to get off the beaten path and want to see one of New Zealand’s more remote places. A visit to Doubtful Sound takes one full day from Te Anau.

Doubtful Sound Hall Arm

8. Visit the Bay of Islands

Location: North Island

Consisting of 144 islands, the Bay of Islands is known for its beautiful blue water, dramatic shorelines, and picturesque coves.

Bay of Islands New Zealand | Best things to do in New Zealand

Popular places to visit in the Bay of Islands include Hole in the Rock, Urupukapuka Island (the largest island in the Bay of Islands), Otehei Bay (one of the bays at Urupukapuka Island), Russell, and Motuarohia Island (the original landing site of Captain Cook). You can visit the Bay of Islands on a cruise or helicopter tour.

9. Abel Tasman National Park

Location: South Island

Abel Tasman is a small national park that is located along the north coast of the South Island. Popular things to do here are kayaking, day hiking, and doing on of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Kayaking in the crystal-clear waters is one of the most popular things to do here. We hiked through the coastal rainforest to several bays and beaches and had an awesome experience.

Abel Tasman

10. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Location: North Island

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is often labeled as the best day hike in New Zealand.

This 19.4 km (12 miles) point-to-point hike crosses a portion of Tongariro National Park. You will hike past Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the LOTR trilogy), walk through an almost lunar landscape, and watch as semi-dormant volcanoes smoke not too far off in the distance.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

11. Visit Cathedral Cove

Location: North Island

Cathedral Cove is one of the most picturesque places to visit on the North Island.

Cathedral Cove


This iconic beach is located on the Coromandel Peninsula. You can get to it by boat and by hiking. Taking a boat tour of the cove and the surrounding islands and coastal scenery is a great way to explore this part of New Zealand.

12. Hike to Cathedral Caves

Location: South Island

Not to be confused with Cathedral Cove, this picturesque spot is located on the South Island.

Sitting on the south coast of the South Island are two coastal caves that sit side-by-side. They are only accessible at low tide and they are a popular photography location in New Zealand.

Tim in Cathedral Cave | Best things to do in New Zealand

Cathedral Caves

To get to the caves, it is a 20-minute walk through a forest to get to the beach, followed by a 10-minute walk on the beach. Visit the caves and return to the parking lot on the same trail. A visit here lasts 1 to 2 hours.

13. Watch a Māori Cultural Performance

Location: North Island

For an authentic Māori experience, watch a cultural performance and take part in the hāngī, a traditional Māori meal.

Mitai Maori Village | Best things to do in New Zealand

The hāngī is traditionally cooked Māori food. Chicken, meat and kumara are cooked in an earth oven and then served in a buffet.

There are several places on the North Island to watch a Māori Cultural Performance. We did this at the Mitai Māori Village in Rotorua. This 3-hour experience includes a welcoming ceremony, watching as warriors paddle a canoe on the Wai-o-Whiro stream, a buffet hangi dinner, and a cultural performance.

In Rotorua, you can also attend a Māori cultural experience at Te Puia. A similar experience is also offered at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

14. Go on a Jet Boat Ride

Location: North & South Islands

Going on a jet boat ride is one of New Zealand’s most thrilling experiences. It’s fun for the whole family and offered in multiple locations throughout the country.

Shotover River New Zealand

Shotover Jet in Queenstown

This experience typically lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You will board a speedboat and zip through a canyon, coming within inches of the canyon walls and doing 360° turns.

Jet boat rides are offered in Queenstown, Glenorchy, Taupo, and on the Wairaurahiri River in Southland.

15. Go Wine Tasting

Location: North & South Islands

Wine regions are found throughout New Zealand. With its long, cool growing season, New Zealand produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines in the world.

Marlborough New Zealand

Framingham Wines Charcuterie Board

The Marlborough Wine Region, which is on the South Island, is the largest wine region in New Zealand. This region contains about two-thirds of the vineyards in New Zealand, with Hawke’s Bay taking second place.

On the South Island, visit the wineries in Marlborough, Central Otago, and the Gibbston area. On the North Island, wineries can be found in Martinborough, Hawkes Bay, Waiheke Island, and the Bay of Islands.

16. Spend a Day or Two in Auckland

Location: North Island

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand. With its beautiful setting on the Hauraki Gulf, its parks and walking trails, vibrant food and wine scene, and endless day trip options, the list of things to do in Auckland is relatively long.

Viaduct Harbour Auckland

While in Auckland, enjoy the view from the Sky Tower, go whale watching, visit the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland War Memorial Museum, have dinner in Viaduct Harbour, and enjoy the view from Mount Eden. Our favorite experience here was day tripping to Waiheke Island.

Learn more about Auckland in our article How to Plan the Perfect Auckland Itinerary.

17. Visit Akaroa & Banks Peninsula

Location: South Island

Banks Peninsula is a small, volcanic peninsula that sits on the east coast of the South Island. This peninsula is lush and green and its harbors and coves form sanctuaries for animals such as the Hector Dolphin (the smallest dolphin species in the world) and the Pōhatu penguins.

Akaroa is a small town that sits on Akaroa Harbour, the largest body of water on Banks Peninsula. This small town is home to some fantastic restaurants, a museum and memorial, a movie cinema, grocery stores, restaurants, and houses.

This area is the perfect place to spend a day or two, particularly for those who like scenic drives, wildlife experiences, and the charm of a small, coastal town.

Learn how to plan your visit in our Guide to Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula.

Akaroa Banks Peninsula

18. Eat Green-Lipped Mussels

Location: North & South Islands

Green-lipped mussels can be found on the menus throughout New Zealand. They are usually cooked in white wine and served with a chunk of sourdough bread. You can order them as an appetizer or as a main dish.

Green Lipped Mussels

19. Go Bungy Jumping

Location: North & South Islands

One of the best things to do in New Zealand is bungy jumping.

Bungy jumping got its start in Queenstown, at the Kawarau Bridge in 1988. There are now bungy jumping locations throughout New Zealand (and the rest of the world).

Having made this leap ourselves, it is a scary, thrilling, exhilarating experience and one you will be talking about for years after your trip to New Zealand.

Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump

On the South Island, there are bungy jumping locations in Queenstown (The Ledge, Kawarau Bridge, and Ben Nevis) and Hamner Springs. On the North Island, you can go bungy jumping in Auckland and Taupo.

20. Do a Great Walk

Location: North & South Islands

A Great Walk is a multi-day hiking route through New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes. There are 10 Great Walks and these are found on both the North and South Islands.

On the North Island, hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit, the Lake Waikaremoana Track, or the Whanganui Journey.

On the South Island, hike the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, the Heaphy Track, the Milford Track, the Paparoa Track, the Kepler Track, or the Routeburn Track. On Stewart Island is the Rakiura Track.

Routeburn Track | Best things to do in New Zealand

Routeburn Track


Routeburn Track Mossy Trail

Routeburn Track

We’ve done the Routeburn Track, which some say is the most beautiful of the Great Walks in New Zealand. This 32 km (20 mile) point-to-point starts near the Milford Sound and ends near Glenorchy, taking trampers through lush rainforests and through Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks. It is typically done in 3 days but can be done as a day hike, if you are very fit and fast.

21. Explore the Geothermal Areas

Location: North Island

The North Island contains one of the most active geothermal areas in the world. In the area around Taupo and Rotorua, you can explore landscapes filled with bubbling mud pots, steaming hot pools, and geysers.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley

On the list of places to visit are Te Puia, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Orakei Korako Geothermal Park, the Craters of the Moon, and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

Learn more in our guides to Rotorua and Taupo.

22. Drive the Southern Scenic Route

Location: South Island

The Southern Scenic Route is a 600+ kilometer driving route that connects Dunedin, Invercargill, Te Anau, and Queenstown, New Zealand. It is one of New Zealand’s best multi-day road trips.

On this drive, you will visit quaint coastal towns, deserted beaches, waterfalls, fiords, and a long list of viewpoints that will take your breath away. Cruise the Milford Sound, go hiking, venture into a coastal cave at low tide, and keep a lookout for little blue penguins and yellow eyed penguins.

It takes about 4 days to drive the Southern Scenic Route, with Dunedin and Queenstown being the endpoints.

Nugget Point Lighthouse | Best things to do in New Zealand

Nugget Point Lighthouse


McCrackens Rest

McCracken’s Rest

23. See a Kiwi

Location: North & South Islands

The kiwi is a flightless, nocturnal bird that is native to New Zealand. There are several different species of this bird and most of them are threatened. Deforestation and the introduction of predators have contributed to the huge decline in the number of kiwis in New Zealand.


Kiwi | shutterstock.com

It’s very rare that you will see a kiwi in the wild, both because their numbers are low and because they are only active at night. But there are a number of animal sanctuaries where you can see a kiwi.

NORTH ISLAND: On the North Island, you can see a kiwi at the National Kiwi Hatchery (Rotorua).

SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island, you can see a kiwi at the West Coast Wildlife Centre (Franz Josef), Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (Christchurch), and the Queenstown Kiwi Park (Queenstown).

24. Swim with Dolphins in Kaikoura

Location: South Island

Three species of dolphins are found in the water near Kaikoura, including dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, and common dolphins. Orca can make an appearance from September to April, but they are less predictable than the dolphins.

From October to May, eco tour companies in Kaikoura offer experiences where you can see and swim with dolphins.

Dolphin Encounter runs tours all year. You can either simply view the dolphins or, for about double the price, swim with dolphins.

25. Visit Christchurch

Location: South Island

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island. In 2010 and 2011, two earthquakes rattled Christchurch, causing widespread damage and killing 185 people.

Since these earthquakes, the city has made an astonishing recovery. On a visit here, learn more about the earthquakes and the city’s recovery at Quake City. You can also go Punting on the Avon, tour a few notable museums, visit the International Antarctic Centre, and dine at its long list of restaurants.

Christchurch New Zealand | Best things to do in New Zealand

Plan on spending one day in Christchurch. With more time, you can use Christchurch as a home base, day tripping to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula, Arthur’s Pass, and Lake Tekapo.

26. Take a Scenic Flight

Location: North & South Islands

One of the best ways to experience the spectacular scenery throughout New Zealand is to take a flightseeing tour. From the sky, you can gaze out across the glacier-capped mountains at Fiordland National Park, soar over the Bay of Islands, fly around Aoraki/Mount Cook, or fly between Queenstown and the Milford Sound.

We took this flightseeing tour from Franz Josef, which included a glacier landing and awe-inspiring views of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.

Franz Josef Snow Landing

Franz Josef in April

27. Cross the Cook Strait

Location: North & South Islands

The Cook Strait is the channel of water that separates the North and South Islands.

Two ferries run back and forth across this body of water, the Interislander Ferry and Bluebridge Ferry. You can travel on these ferries as a passenger and if you happen to be road tripping through New Zealand, you can transport a car on the ferry as well.

It takes about three and a half hours to travel between Wellington and Picton. Along the way, you are treated to coastal views, particularly as you cruise through the Queen Charlotte Sound on the South Island. These ferries are enormous, with indoor and outdoor seating, restaurants, lounge areas, and even a movie theater.

New Zealand Guide

28. Eat & Drink Your Way through Wellington

Location: North Island

Wellington is home to a huge number of coffee shops, gourmet restaurants, and cocktail bars, making it an excellent place to visit in New Zealand for foodies.

This city is also famous for being the craft beer capital of New Zealand and touring the Craft Capital Beer Trail is one of the best things to do here.

Wellington New Zealand | Best things to do in New Zealand

Wellington is located on the southern coast of the North Island. If you travel across the Cook Strait, this city is the location of the ferry port. It’s worth spending a day or two in town, not only to sample the food but to also visit the Te Papa Museum, tour Weta Cave, and ride the funicular for views of the city.

29. Visit Lake Tekapo

Location: South Island

Lake Tekapo is famous for its milky, aquamarine color. It gets this color from the glacial silt that filters down from the Southern Alps. Lake Tekapo is also a popular spot to see lupins blooming from mid-November through December.

This is a very popular destination on a road trip through New Zealand and most likely you’ll pass Lake Tekapo driving to or from Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

30. Go Stargazing

Location: South Island

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest reserve in the Southern Hemisphere. This reserve is made up of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin. It includes Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, and Godley Valley.

Big Sky Stargazing offers a stargazing tour near Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park that includes your transportation (you are driven to their Star Base, away from the light pollution of Mount Cook Village) and hot chocolate. The tour is weather dependent and if it is cancelled, you get a full refund. Learn more here.

The Dark Sky Project is a stargazing experience that is offered at the Mount John Observatory (next to Lake Tekapo) where you can view the Milky Way and distant galaxies from the observatory dome. Learn more here.

31. Go Black Water Rafting

Location: North Island

Black Water Rafting is one of the most adventurous things to do in New Zealand.

Black Water rafting is tubing down underground rivers in the semi-darkness. This experience also includes hiking, jumping off of waterfalls, army crawling through tunnels and openings, and in some cases, abseiling.

This is offered in Ruakari Cave (near the Waitomo Glowworm Caves), so you also get to see glowworms on this underground adventure. Learn more in our Guide to Blackwater Rafting.

Blackwater Rafting New Zealand


Photo courtesy of Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.

32. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Location: North Island

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of the most important historical sites in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is located near Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

This is where the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) was first signed. This treaty is Aotearoa New Zealand’s founding document and it is a written agreement between the Māori chiefs and the British Crown to share power in New Zealand.

Te Whare Runanga

At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, learn more about the Treaty of Waitangi at the Museum of Waitangi and the Museum of the Price of Citzenship, see Te Whare Rūnanga (a beautifully carved meeting house), visit the Treaty House, see the Ngātokimatawhaorua (the world’s largest ceremonial waka (canoe)).

33. Drive the Twin Coast Discovery Highway

Location: North Island

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway is an 800 km/500-mile driving loop in Northland (the northernmost region of New Zealand).

Signal Station Track | Best things to do in New Zealand

The view from the Signal Station Track

On this drive, you will visit several other places that show up on this list, including Ninety Mile Beach and Waipoua Forest. You can add on places like the Bay of Islands and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

One of the highlights is visiting Cape Reinga, which is located on the northern tip of the North Island.

It takes several days to drive the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Learn more in our Guide to Northland.

34. Visit Glacier Country

Location: South Island

Glacier Country is an area on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It runs from Ōkārito and Whataroa in the north to Fox Glacier in the south. This is a land of lush rainforests, glacier capped mountains, and rugged coastlines.

This is one of the most beautiful areas of New Zealand.

Lake Matheson Photo

Lake Matheson


Mount Tasman Mount Cook Helicopter | Best things to do in New Zealand

The view on a helicopter tour.

The best things to do in Glacier Country include helicopter flightseeing tours of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, visiting Lake Matheson, seeing the rarest Kiwi, heli-hiking, skydiving, and day hiking.

35. Explore New Zealand in a Campervan

Location: North & South Islands

One of the best ways to road trip through New Zealand is in a campervan. This gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace and stay in more remote locations, versus staying in hotels.

At the end of the day, you can park in holiday parks throughout the country, which have bathrooms and powered sites. Or, go freedom camping, which is allowed in some locations around New Zealand.

36. See the Māori Rock Carvings

Location: North Island

Lake Taupo Maori Rock Carving

Take a cruise on Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, to see the Ngātoroirangi Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings. These rock carvings look like they are ancient, but they were carved by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970’s.

To see the carvings, you can take a 1.5-hour cruise on Lake Taupō with Chris Jolly Outdoors, which also included a cruise along the east side of the lake, with views of the hot water beach and the town of Taupō.

37. Take a Tour of Hobbiton

Location: North Island

One of the most popular things to do on the North Island is to take a tour of Hobbiton.

Hobbiton is a fairytale world of colorful, child-sized houses and a restaurant/saloon called the Green Dragon. This was built as a movie set for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, but the houses sparked such an interest that Hobbiton still remains open for tourism.

If you are traveling with kids or if you are a fan of the LoTR and The Hobbit movies, this is not to be missed.

Hobbiton New Zealand | Best things to do in New Zealand

A tour of the property lasts about 2 hours. You will walk the 12 acres, learn the history behind the movie sets, and end with a pint of ale at the Green Dragon.

38. Visit Wanaka

Location: South Island

This is one of the prettiest towns to visit on the South Island. The town of Wanaka sits on Lake Wanaka and is surrounded by mountains, vineyards, and lavender fields.

Wanaka New Zealand



Roys Peak Track New Zealand

Roys Peak Track

There is something here for everyone, whether you want to hike to the tallest peaks, climb a waterfall, go wine tasting, cruise on Lake Wanaka, snap some photos of #ThatWanakaTree, go to the movies, or have dinner at an outdoor café.

You can visit Wanaka on a day trip from Queenstown or spend a few nights here. If you are a hiker, we recommend spending a few nights in Wanaka, so you can hike Roys Peak Track, Diamond Lake, the Isthmus Peak Track, and climb a waterfall on the Wildwire via ferrata.

39. Go Heli-Hiking

Location: South Island

Heli-hiking combines a flightseeing tour with a glacier hike. It’s one of the coolest adventures to have in New Zealand (pun intended).

On a heli-hiking tour, you are flown into the mountains and are led on a multi-hour hiking tour with an experienced guide. Most tours last about 4 hours total, with 2 hours of this time hiking on a glacier. During the hike, you will wear crampons, which are usually provided by the tour company. No prior experience is necessary, just a sense of adventure.

One of the best places to go heli-hiking in New Zealand is Glacier Country. Learn more in our Guide to Glacier Country.

40. Relax in a Hot Tub

Location: North & South Islands

After a day of hiking, bungy jumping, and mountain biking, one of the best ways to relax is by soaking in a natural hot pool.

Our favorite hot pool experience in New Zealand was at Onsen Hot Pools, which is located in Queenstown. In 2021, Onsen was a winner at the World Luxury Spa Awards. They have a day spa facility and cedar-lined hot pools that overlook the Shotover River. The hot pools are filled with water from the nearby mountains and the water is constantly being replaces with fresh water.

Onsen Hot Pools

Onsen Hot Pools

Other hot pools on the South Island include Tekapo Springs Hot Pools, Hot Tubs Ōmarama, the Waiho Hot Pools in Franz Josef, and Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa.

On the North Island, there are natural hot pool located around Taupo and Rotorua. Top places to visit include the Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa, the Spa Thermal Park, and Secret Spa Hot Tubs.

41. See the Southern Lights

Location: South Island

The Southern Lights, aka Aurora Australis, light up the skies over the South Island from late fall through early spring (March through September). The best places to see the Southern Lights is at Stewart Island, Lake Tekapo, in the Catlins, at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, on the Otago Peninsula, and near Invercargill.

When the Southern Lights are particularly strong, it’s possible to see them as far north as Auckland.

42. Go Sandboarding

Location: North Island

Sitting on the remote north end of New Zealand is an unexpected landscape. Giant sand dunes rise from the ocean’s edge, creating the perfect spot to go sandboarding.

Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes

Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes

The Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes sit on the North Island of New Zealand, next to Ninety Mile Beach and a short drive from Cape Reinga.

A visit here lasts anywhere from an hour to a half a day, depending on how long you choose to go hiking and sandboarding. This can be added into a visit to Cape Reinga and the drive along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway.

Learn more in our Guide to Northland.

43. See New Zealand’s Largest Tree

Location: North Island

Kauri trees are native to New Zealand. By volume, these can grow to be the largest trees in the country, with their trunks measuring 5 meters in diameter and heights of 40 to 50 meters tall.

Tāne Mahuta, a kauri tree, is the largest tree in New Zealand. To see Tāne Mahuta, visit the Waipou Forest, which is located near the west coast of Northland.

Tane Mahuta

44. Visit Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit Filming Sites

Location: North & South Islands

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed in locations scattered across New Zealand. Here is a list of several of the more popular locations to visit:

  • Tongariro National Park: Filming location for Mordor (Mount Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom); see it on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail
  • Hobbiton
  • Mount Victoria: This park in Wellington was used as a filming location for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Putangirua Pinnacles: The Paths of the Dead in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
  • Weta Workshop: This museum and shop is home to Weta Cave, who created props and special effects for LoTR and The Hobbit
  • Aratiatia Rapids: Located near Taupo, this river gorge is a filming site for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Tongariro Crossing Hike | Best things to do in New Zealand

Mount Ngaurahoe aka Mount Doom

45. Photograph Mount Taranaki

Location: North Island

Mount Taranaki is a dormant stratovolcano that is located on the southwest corner of the North Island.

This volcano sits within Egmont National Park. In the summer, it’s possible to climb to the summit of Mount Taranaki in a day, for those who are fit, fast, and experienced. In the winter, this volcano becomes a skiing destination. All year round, photographers photograph Mount Taranaki from all angles.

Mount Taranaki

 Mount Taranaki | shutterstock.com

46. Visit Stewart Island

Location: South Island

Stewart Island is located off of the southern coast of the South Island. Most of the island is comprised of the Rakiura National Park. It is a haven for a number of endangered native birds, including the yellow-eyed penguin, the kakapo, the Stewart Island kiwi, and a long list of other native birds. Oban is the only town on Stewart Island.

Things to do on Stewart Island include hiking and birdwatching. There are only 28 km of roads but 280 km of hiking trails crisscross over the island.

You can get to Stewart Island from Bluff on the ferry run by RealNZ (passengers only). For more information on things to do and how to plan your time, take a look at the Stewart Island website.

47. Drive Ninety Mile Beach

Location: North Island

For one of the most unique driving experiences in New Zealand, drive Ninety Mile Beach from Ahipara to Scott Point.

Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach

This 88 km beach is used as a “highway.” It is located along the northernmost stretch of the North Island, ending near Cape Reinga.

To drive on the beach, you must have a 4WD vehicle. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, you can get views of this long expanse of sand from the town of Ahipara and the Giant Sand Dunes.

48. Visit the Otago Peninsula

Location: South Island

The Otago Peninsula is a beautiful peninsula that is home to a historic castle, breathtaking coastal landscapes, and some of the best wildlife experiences on the South Island of New Zealand.

Otago Peninsula New Zealand

Sandfly Bay

On the Otago Peninsula, tour Larnach Castle, see yellow eyed penguins and little blue penguins, and hike out to Sandfly Bay.

If you have plans to visit Dunedin or drive the Southern Scenic Route, the Otago Peninsula is not to be missed.

49. Go Skiing

Location: North & South Islands

In the winter months, the Southern Alps on the South Island become winter wonderland.

Near Queenstown, top places to go are The Remarkables Ski Resort and the Coronet Peak Ski Area.

Wanaka is another town that is surrounded by snow covered mountains in the winter months. There are four ski resorts in and around Wanaka: Cardona Alpine Resort (longest ski season in the area), Snow Farm (best place to go for cross-country skiing), Treble Cone (largest ski area on the South Island), and Soho Basin (backcountry skiing).

On the North Island, popular places to go skiing include Mt. Ruapehu (an active stratovolcano in Tongariro National Park and the tallest mountain on the North Island) and on Mount Taranaki.

50. See the Lupins in Bloom

Location: South Island

From late November through early January, colorful lupins bloom along the shorelines of some of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes. The best places to see the lupins are at Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, but they can also be seen around Lake Wanaka on the drive along Crown Range Road.

Lupins New Zealand

Lupins | shutterstock.com

Best Things to Do in New Zealand: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Best Things to Do in New Zealand: Our Recommendations

Top 10 Things to Do on the North Island

  • Day trip to Waiheke Island
  • Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Go sandboarding at the Te Paki Sand Dunes
  • Go blackwater rafting
  • See the glowworms in Waitomo
  • Visit Hobbiton
  • Explore the geothermal areas near Taupo and Rotorua
  • Visit the Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Cruise the Bay of Islands
  • Drive the Twin Coast Discovery Highway

Top 10 Things to Do on the South Island

  • Visit Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
  • Cruise the Milford Sound
  • Spend some time in Queenstown
  • Visit Wanaka
  • Go on a hike (Roys Peak Track and the Hooker Valley Track are two great options)
  • Visit Glacier Country (Franz Josef and Fox Glacier); if it works with your budget, this is an awesome place to go on a flightseeing tour with a glacier landing
  • Visit Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula
  • Go hiking or kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Go wine tasting
  • Drive the Southern Scenic Route

Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand

  • Hike the Hooker Valley Track
  • Visit Lake Tekapo
  • Go for a scenic drive along Lake Pukaki
  • Stroll through the redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Visit the Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes
  • Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • See the Southern Lights
  • Hike to Roys Peak in Wanaka

Most Adventurous Things to Do in New Zealand

  • Go bungy jumping
  • Hike one of the Great Walks
  • Go on a flightseeing tour with a glacier landing
  • Go blackwater rafting
  • Leap from the Sky Tower in Auckland
  • Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Go mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Go heli-hiking
  • Do the Wildwire via ferrata in Wanaka
  • Go skiing

Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids

  • Visit Hobbiton
  • Swim with dolphins
  • Tour the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Watch a movie and eat warm chocolate chip cookies at Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka
  • Go on a jet boat ride
  • Visit Skyline Queenstown
  • Go sandboarding at the Te Paki Sand Dunes
  • Visit the Whakarewarewa Forest and walk or bike amongst the redwoods
  • Visit a reserve to see penguins and kiwis
  • Explore the geothermal areas near Taupo and Rotorua

Planning Your New Zealand Itinerary

We have quite a few New Zealand road trip itineraries, a great starting place for creating your perfect itinerary.

Our 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary, which starts on the North Island and ends on the South Island, is the most popular. This 3 week trip covers the highlights of both islands.

NORTH ISLAND ITINERARIES: In our New Zealand North Island Itinerary, we list 5 different ways to plan your trip, ranging from 5 days to 2 weeks.

SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARIES: Whether you have one week or three on the South Island of New Zealand, plan your visit with our one week itinerary, 10 day itinerary, and 2 week itinerary. Each itinerary lists multiple ways to plan your road trip, depending on your interests.

We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.

If you have any questions about the best things to do in New Zealand, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand

OUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCES IN NEW ZEALAND: All four of us went bungy jumping in Queenstown which was a blast. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is our favorite hike in New Zealand, followed by Roy’s Peak Track and the Routeburn Track. We also love Waiheke Island (a great day trip from Auckland), Queenstown and visiting Franz Josef (Glacier Country).

SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, spend a day or two in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, visit Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, go on a helicopter flight to see Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers from the sky, visit Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, and learn about the best things to do in Queenstown. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.

NORTH ISLAND: Top experiences on the North Island include spending a day or two in Auckland, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, visiting Cathedral Cove, touring Hobbiton, cruising the Bay of Islands from Paihia, and seeing glowworms and blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. For the full list, read our article about the Best Things to Do on the North Island.


Things to Do in New Zealand


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