From the buzzing cities of Auckland and Wellington on the North Island, to the plethora of outdoor activities and hiking trails in the South – there is so much to see and do in New Zealand that will keep you coming back for more. Here’s our must-do list for your first trip.
Go on a Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most iconic and frequented fjords, located on its South Island. It is home to rainforests, the Stirling and Bowen waterfalls and Mitre Peak. Nature-spotters will love watching out for native wildlife including seals, dolphins and penguins. A cruise is the most popular way to discover Milford Sound, and trips often include a visit to the Milford Sound Underwater observatory, where visitors can observe rare black coral and other marine life. Cruises typically tour the length of the fjord, right out to the Tasman sea, spotting at notable places along the way and receiving information about the area, wildlife, geology and history from a knowledgeable guide.
Have an adventure in Queenstown
Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown has plenty to excite travellers who want to step out of their comfort zone. Thrill seekers can jump off of Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, or enjoy jet-boating on the Shotover and Dart rivers. Adrenaline junkies can also enjoy jet boating, skydiving, white water rafting and other indoor thrills such as indoor sky diving, go-karting and simulation experiences. Skiers will enjoy the slopes of The Remarkables and Coroney Park in winter, while golfers are also catered for with many scenic golf courses on offer. If you’d prefer a more slow-paced adventure, why not take a winery tour, a boat cruise or indulge in a luxury spa treatment?
Rotorua is a renowned town on New Zealand’s North Island that’s well known for its Maori culture and geothermal activity. Here, you’ll find hot springs and bubbling mud pools in Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley. Many visitors enjoy eco-tours that combine hiking, white water rafting and ziplining, while discovering the Maori ways of life and regional conservational programmes in the area. Learn the history of a Maori village and native skills – from basket weaving to wood carving, and experience cultural performances. If you’d rather sit back and relax, the geothermal activity of the Rotorua Lakes mean that many hot springs are on offer that are totally free to use as spa pools.
Go whale watching in Kaikoura
Whale watching is an absolute must if you visit the tranquil coastal town of Kaikoura on New Zealand’s South Island. Boat trips, helicopter and plane rides allow visitors to get up close and personal with these majestic animals, with different tour operators offering a wealth of options. Tour guides will also provide an insight into the geology of Kaikoura, and give visitors opportunities to spot other wildlife including fur seals, birds and dolphins. This is a real must for any nature lover.
See Mount Cook
Arguably the most famous mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook has a height of 3,724 metres and is part of the Southern Alps which run down the length of the South Island. You don’t have to be extremely fit to go hiking here, as there are trails for walkers of all abilities. Unless you like camping, we recommend booking accommodation in advance, as Mount Cook Village can get very crowded at certain times of year, especially in the summer. The campsites in the area operate on a first come, first served basis, so be prepared. If you’ve got a head for heights, why not take a scenic helicopter flight around the Mount Cook area? This is a great option for those who want to see the mountains from above. Pricing varies depending on the number of landings you take and the duration of your trip.
Explore New Zealand by camper van
Getting on the road is the best way to explore New Zealand. You can get off the beaten track, away from tourist crowds, meet the locals and soak up some breathtaking scenery. If you are hiring a camper van, make sure that it is well-equipped for your trip, is large enough and does everything you need it to do. If you do get a van that isn’t 4-wheel drive, get snow chains, especially in winter, as you could be stranded without them.
If you’ve only got a short amount of time in New Zealand, drive the Auckland and Bay of Islands loop, where you can enjoy the beauty of the northern coast. Those who make the trip in summer can spend some time on the beach in Omapere. Keep an eye out for dolphins! Another longer route option is to drive from Auckland to Wellington. Stop off to explore the Hobbiton film set from Lord of the Rings, before heading down to the geothermal springs of Rotorua for some relaxing time in the hot mud pools. Wine lovers can stop off at Martinborough vineyards, before finishing in lively Wellington where there’s plenty of entertainment, shopping, nightlife and good food to enjoy.