What to do in New Zealand
When you visit the Land of the Long White Cloud, there are so many stunning places to see and incredible things to do, it would be almost impossible to see it all, but we can certainly help you prioritise the best stop off points for you.
Being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with so many opportunities for adventure, a New Zealand holiday won’t disappoint.
Below we share 20 of our favourite things to do in New Zealand, but this really is just scraping the surface.
1. Walk the Abel Tasman Coastal Track for amazing mountain and coastal scenery
The Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand. (A tough gig in a country as full of beauty as this one is!) And if you’re looking to get active on a hike during your New Zealand holiday, a walk along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is a great option!
Following the coastline north of Nelson, the 55km track takes approximately four days to hike in total, depending on your speed and how much time you spend on the beach of course! It can be easily broken down into sections that can be completed on a day hike too though, so don’t stress if you don’t have enough time to tackle it all!
The scenery—while largely coastal—is diverse with lush rainforest, rolling hills and impressive mountains in every direction. There are beaches to walk along as well as many opportunities for photos from various vantage points along the way. It’s ideal for those who want to get up close with nature without having to worry about rough conditions or being too far away from civilization.
2. Visit Franz Josef and Fox Glacier
Seeing (and walking on!) a glacier is a must on your New Zealand holiday. Glaciers are huge, beautiful ice formations that are formed when snow accumulates so thickly on top of itself that it forms a massive hunk of ice. These glaciers are important for regulating global weather patterns and keeping our planet cool, but they’re also just incredibly beautiful and humbling to see in person.
Franz Josef Glacier
Known as “The Valley Of 1000 Waterfalls” because it’s surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls (though strangely none are actually called “Waterfall Number 10”), Franz Josef is found on New Zealand’s West Coast. You used to be able to hike up the glacier, but it’s retreated so much now that you’ll have to opt for a ‘heli-hike’ if you want to experience walking on the ice itself – such an incredible experience, we highly recommend it!
A one-hour drive from Franz Josef will take you straight over Tasman Bay until you reach Fox Glacier, which is known as “The Grandfather” because its size. There are several great hiking trails nearby too, to soak up the beauty and the nature.
3. Explore Milford Sound
New Zealand’s Fiordland is exceptionally beautiful everywhere you look. Whether you visit Milford Sound or the lesser-visited Doubtful Sound, a cruise through the long fiords that had been carved out by glaciers is a boat trip you won’t forget in a hurry. If you’re looking for what to do in New Zealand, Milford Sound is an absolute must-see. The sound, which is actually a long fjord carved out by glaciers, is renowned for its spectacular beauty and wildlife.
Once in Milford Sound itself, there’s plenty to see and do: kayaking tours and boat trips are popular options, but there are also stunning hiking trails that lead into beautiful mountains overlooking icy lakes—perfect for photographers looking for opportunities to take incredible shots of nature at its best!
4. Go skiing in Queenstown (and if you’re brave enough, try bungee jumping).
Whether you’re a keen skier or not, Queenstown is a must on any New Zealand holiday itinerary. As beautiful as it is action-packed, the town is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, with the Remarkables mountain range watching over it. There are some fantastic bars and restaurants to enjoy, and don’t miss the arts and crafts market that takes place every Sunday!
Queenstown is often called the adventure capital of New Zealand. It’s the premier destination in New Zealand for ski and snowboard enthusiasts. It’s also home to the world’s first commercial Bungy jump site, so if you’re feeling brave, you can bungee jump after skiing or snowboarding down the Remarkables. Queenstown will be an action-packed stop on your New Zealand holiday for sure.
5. Take a hike along the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, standing at an impressive 3,754 meters high. Taking the hike to the base of the mountain is a great option if you’re looking for active things to do in New Zealand. The walk itself is truly stunning from start to finish. Plus, it’s mostly flat along well-maintain boardwalks, so it’s easily accomplished by most fitness levels! Would you just look at those views?!
6. Spend a morning at Hobbiton – a must-do if you’re a Lord of The Rings fan!
If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, you simply can’t miss this. The Shire film set is beautifully preserved and spending a few hours walking around is sure to transport you into movie-land. You’ll see Bag End (Bilbo Baggins’ house and garden), complete with little details such as teeny tiny hobbit clothes drying on the line. You’ll visit Frodo’s hobbit hole, amble around the whole shire learning all about how the movies were made and then finish up sipping a drink at The Green Dragon Inn!
7. The ultimate marinelife experience: Whale Watching in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a haven for marine life lovers. Thanks to the deep canyon found just 500 metres off the coast, plant and animal nutrients are drawn to the surface, attracting some truly magnificent marine wildlife. There is a resident population of giant sperm whales and playful dusky dolphins along with a host of seasonal visitors such as pilot, humpback and southern right whales, and orca. A great experience for all the family, a boat trip off the coast of Kaikoura is almost guaranteed to have you ‘ooo-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ – pack an extra memory card for the camera!
8. Sip on wine in Marlborough
We couldn’t write a list of things to do in New Zealand without mentioning the wine region now could we?! Marlborough is the largest wine region in New Zealand and is world-renowned for its stunning Sauvignon Blancs (as well as Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir!). Soaking up the sunshine amongst the vines, sipping on a fresh glass of wine mere metres from where the grapes are grown is the perfect day out for any wine lover.
9. Sail through the Bay of Islands
If you’re after some fresh sea air to blow the cobwebs away, the Bay of Islands are a great option. The 144 islands found in the Northland region are home to many picturesque destinations for sailing, swimming, and fishing. Grab your swimmers and dive on in.
The town has made a name for itself as an artsy destination with plenty of cafes and galleries. It’s also known as one of New Zealand’s top spots to do some whale watching: humpback whales pass by this area every year between May and September!
10. Hike the Roy’s Peak Walk
The Roys Peak Walk is a beautiful hike that takes you through the spectacular Aspiring National Park. The trail itself is challenging, but the spectacular views of Lake Wanaka, glistening in the sun against a backdrop of the Southern Alps make it a rewarding climb with every step. You can drive up to the start point if you prefer – a better option if you’re travelling with children.
The best time to tackle this walk is either sunrise or sunset—when there are fewer crowds and it’s cooler outside. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy these stunning views in peace without having to worry about getting sunburned or overheated as you make your way to the final viewpoint. Trust us, it’s worth it when you get there!
11. Kayaking at Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove is a beautiful beach and the most popular place to go kayaking in New Zealand. It’s home to one of the country’s most iconic natural landmarks, The Arch: an enormous rock formation that looks like an archway rising above the water. We highly recommend getting out on the water in this stunning spot, giving you the chance to explore the Arch up close and soak up the beauty of this picturesque gem.
12. See Kiwi birds in the wild on Stewart Island
New Zealand is home to a number of native bird species, including the kiwi, the tui, the kea and many more. Stewart Island, off the south coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is the best place to catch a glimpse of them. The Kiwi is naturally very elusive though, so a spotting isn’t always guaranteed. But, we’ll keep our fingers and toes crossed for you!
13. Float under a sea of glowworms in the Waitomo Caves
This otherwordly, magical boat ride takes you through the dark underground passageways of the Waitomo Caves system. You’ll float beneath the thousands of glowworms that light up the cave ceiling – it’s like mother nature’s firework display. Trust us, you’ll never forget it!
Glowworms are bioluminescent creatures that live in caves. They may look (and sound) like worms, but their name is deceptive — they’re actually the larva of a fly. They’re much more beautiful than they sound, we promise.
14. Challenge yourself on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4km (12-hour) hike through New Zealand’s wildest landscapes, from the red-tinged slopes of Mt Ruapehu to the turquoise waters of Lake Taupo. The track is suitable for fit and experienced walkers only, so don’t expect your little ones to come along! It’s quite the undertaking, and you’ll be achy by the end, but the views and experience is worth it. One for the adventure bucket list for sure.
15. Get a photo of ‘that Wanaka tree’ for the album!
You can’t visit Wanaka without getting a photo of the famous tree. The giant kauri has grown into one of the most photographed sights in New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. Take your own snap of this photogenic landmark before heading out to do some more exploring. There are countless stunning walks in the area to enjoy, ignite your adrenaline with white water rafting on the Clutha River, simply soak up the Wanaka charm or catch a movie at the old-world style Cinema Paradiso (you can even grab tickets online!)