It’s no secret that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. Filled with endless mountain views, adrenaline-filled activities, and a unique environment, you’ll remember your trip to New Zealand for years to come!
While there are so many things you can do and see in New Zealand, I’ve narrowed down this list to things you absolutely can’t miss. Read on, my friends!
In no particular order, here are your can’t miss experiences that should be on your New Zealand bucket list…
1. See Mt Cook (known as Aoraki in Maori)
Aoraki (Maori name for Mt Cook) is New Zealand’s highest peak. Aoraki is infamous for being difficult to see, as views of Aoraki are normally obscured by cloud and bad weather.
You should definitely count yourself lucky if you get to see Aoraki on a clear day!
Tips for seeing Aoraki:
- You can see Mt Cook if you visit Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
- The Hooker Valley Track is great if you’re short on time. Alternatively, if you are prepared for hiking and have a full day, go for the Mueller Hut Walk!
2. Go extreme in Queenstown
New Zealand is home to adrenaline-filled activities, like Bungy jumping, zip-lining, paragliding… The list is endless.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of
New Zealand the world so if you want to do any of these activities, this is the best place to do it!
Psst: after some ideas? The Nevis Bungy Jump in Queenstown is New Zealand’s highest Bungy. It’s operated by AJ Hackett, the company that invented the first commercial Bungy jump!
3. Cruise or Kayak Milford Sound
Rudyard Kipling famously declared that Milford Sound should be the “8th wonder of the world” because it was so spectacularly beautiful when he visited.
This fjord, located on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island is best visited if you actually get into the fjord. That is – go on a cruise or a kayak here!
Tips for visiting Milford Sound:
- The best way to experience Milford Sound is via cruise and kayak (less popular)
- Make sure you book your cruise/kayaking tour in advance as they can book out.
- It rains most of the time here, so be prepared to get wet!
4. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Psst: Scenes from Lord of the Rings were also filmed here (fans will recognize Mount Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom, where Frodo traveled to destroy the ring)
Tips for Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
- This a 19.4 km one-way hike, which takes approximately 6 – 8 hrs to complete (depending on your fitness levels).
- You’ll need to organize transfers as the car parks here have a max 4 hr parking limit, and the hike takes 6 – 8 hrs one-way
- Make sure you check the Department of Conservation website for information before you go, bring appropriate clothing + footwear + plenty of water (many people have become injured and even died undertaking the alpine crossing)
5. Climb the Franz Josef Glacier
The Franz Josef Glacier is located on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island and it is an incredible sight to see.
You can view Franz Josef Glacier from a distance, but honestly, the best way to visit is to go on a guided tour to get up close + personal with the glacier (includes a trip in a helicopter as this is the only way to get onto the Glacier!)
6. Go for a hot soak in the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown
The Onsen Hot Pools overlook the Shotover River canyon, making this an incredible place to soak and take in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful views.
7. Photograph #thatwanakatree in Wanaka
This tree, located on the shores of Lake Wanaka is so famous it has it’s own hashtag on Instagram. The surroundings change during the seasons, making it a particularly beautiful spot.
It might seem weird to include an Insta-famous tree on your bucket list, but this tree is weirdly photogenic so it’s worth a visit just to see what all the hype is about!
8. Watch the sunrise or sunset from Roy’s Peak
Roy’s peak is home to one of New Zealand’s most beautiful views and I would argue that you haven’t really visited New Zealand if you haven’t seen these views.
Many travelers visit Roy’s Peak to snap a shot (pictured above) at one of New Zealand’s most instagrammable places, making this hike one of the most popular day hikes on New Zealand’s South Island.
Tips for hiking to Roy’s Peak:
- The hike to Roy’s Peak can take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours so come prepared with comfortable footwear, snacks, and water (there is no tree cover so you will be exposed to the sun!)
- The views here are especially beautiful during the golden hour – we hiked up for sunrise, which involved hiking in the dark but it was worth it for the beautiful views and smaller crowds!
9. Visit your Hobbit friends at Hobbiton
It’s no secret that New Zealand is famous for being the filming location of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Hobbiton, home to the Hobbits was built especially for the movies and still stands today.
The only way to visit is to take a tour, but it is definitely worth the cost, to visit this picturesque place that actually exists in New Zealand. You can even glimpse inside the hobbit holes!
Psst: make sure you book ahead, as tours can book out quickly, especially during peak tourist season!
10. Learn about the science behind geothermal activity in Rotorua
Rotorua is famously known as the town that “smells like rotten eggs”. Despite its name to fame, Rotorua is more than how it smells!
This town is home to high geothermal activity and Maori culture. When visiting you can visit geothermal parks filled with steaming air vents and brightly colored hot pools (don’t touch ’em!).
11. See the glow worms at Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo Caves are home to an extensive cave system and brightly colored glow worms (which of course you can see in the dark!)
You need to book your tour in advance to visit the Waitomo Caves, but it’s well worth the effort to see this natural wonder.
12. Dig your own hot pool at the Hot Water Sand Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula
The Coromandel Peninsula is known for its beautiful coastline and pristine beaches, but it is most famous for a Hot Water Sand Beach. Yep, you read that correctly – a HOT water sand beach.
Because of geothermal activity, you can dig holes to create your own hot pool on the beach!
Tips for visiting the Hot Water Sand Beach:
- Visit 2 hrs either side of low tide (otherwise, your hot pool will be devoid of water)
- Parking is in short supply here, so if you can’t get a free spot, you will need to pay
- Spades are available for rent or purchase from the nearby cafe or from your accommodation
13. Go on a Great Walk
New Zealand is home to endless hiking trails and walks, which would take multiple lifetimes to see them all. If you’re visiting for a couple of weeks, you can choose one of the 10 Great Walks.
These walks are maintained by the Department of Conservation and are considered New Zealand’s most popular and bucket list-worthy walks in New Zealand.
Psst: I wrote about my experience hiking the Tongariro Northern Crossing, which is a Great Walk located on New Zealand’s North Island.
Tips for going on a Great Walk:
- These walks are super popular and you need to book ahead
- These walks can take anywhere between 3 and 6 days to complete, and you can stay at huts along the trails (pictured above), or alternatively, you can camp.
- Check out the Department of Conservation website for more information
14. See a Kiwi in the wild
These flightless birds are native to New Zealand and notoriously difficult to find in the wild. Some people have magnificent luck, and others (like me) aren’t so lucky.
One of the kiwi species is listed as near-threatened, with the remaining four species as vulnerable. Knowing this, you should definitely hope to see a kiwi in the wild while you’re in New Zealand! There are many Kiwi spotting tours you can take (or you can try your luck yourself).
Psst: I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a very fast-moving kiwi in the middle of the night on Stewart Island, and it’s one experience I won’t forget.
New Zealand is home to endless once-in-a-lifetime activities. It can feel overwhelming sometimes to decide what to do when visiting! Whether you’re a fan of hiking, adventure sports, or road trips there’s something for you here.
For more tips on planning your trip to New Zealand, check out my New Zealand blog posts.
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