If you’ve ever heard the adage about visiting Oceania “Spend half the time you think you need in Australia and double in New Zealand”, you’re probably speaking to an outdoor enthusiast. Obviously, you could spend a lifetime exploring these islands, but however long you stay, you owe it to yourself to try at least some of these incredible outdoor activities.
1. Sky Tower
In August 2022 it will be 25 years since the Sky Tower in Auckland opened. Confirm your tickets online or in person to climb 51 flights at this Space Needle-style structure and take a walk along the outdoor pathway. After all, your instructor will let you know, “It’s the same width as the sidewalk below.” Believe me when I tell you it’s no less terrifying. You can bungie jump if you prefer another dive. But if you trust the equipment and follow the instructions, you’ll have amazing 360-degree views of the islands and the countryside around Auckland.
2. America’s Cup yacht races
Make your way to Waitemata Harbor and climb aboard one of the two yachts that raced in the America’s Cup. Along the harbor you race – each crew plays a role – around the island and against each other. A chance to draw the lines, steer or sit back and enjoy the company makes this a trip to remember.
If you’re driving from Auckland, the first two experiences are between Auckland and Rotorua, so keep that in mind in your navigation. Otherwise, go back for a tour.
3. Waitomo Glow Worms
Glowworms illuminate caves in Australia and New Zealand, with abundance here in Rotorua and in the Bay of Islands. Here you can hear inner tubes and the history through this eerily lit path. If you miss them here, visit the cave in the Bay of Islands which offers a walk-through experience.
Built after the second series of films, the Alexander Farms location is now a living theme park, complete with tiny Hobbit houses and a working farm. Co-ownership of the farmer and The Lord of the Rings Director Peter Jackson, you can only enter the property with a confirmed tour.
5. Maori Dinner and Cultural Experience
This unmissable opportunity takes busloads of travelers to experience life in a Maori village. You will have the chance to see how the Maori people lived and hear stories about their culture and beliefs. You’ll also come to appreciate the warlike greetings exchanged between the man – yes, it is always a man – in your group and the Maori chief. I was saddened to learn that the Maori people are now considered “extinct” as there is no documented 100 percent Maori woman alive, but the culture remains strong.
They show you how food was cooked in deep pits and then share the feast with you. Their dances and stories, music and legends were among the most meaningful of our journey.
6. Visit Black Swans
Walk through the sulfur-smelling center and visit the lakeside playground to watch a shore of black swans on land become a wedge as they soar into the sky. They are remarkably used to people. If they are a little skittish, spend some time on the swings and they will calm down.
7. Mount Victoria
The hills above the harbor were used in Under the spell of the Ring. Look from Mount Victoria, a particularly narrow and twisty drive from the city, and see how Peter Jackson used his homeland in so many ways for his series of JRR Tolkien films. The green space created here by the colonial New Zealand Company in 1841 is used by locals, tourists and film directors alike. Please allow 90 minutes to walk the 2.9 mile loop.
8. Botanical Gardens
Whether you go up on foot, by bus, car or by cable car, the Wellington Botanic Gardens offers beautiful green space in this busy city. The cable car ride is surprisingly affordable. The spectacular views from in and around the gardens provide insight into the ongoing conservation work. In fact, the Carter Observatory offers programs at Space Place to explore New Zealand’s contributions to astronomy.
Take the Cook Strait Ferry from Wellington to Picton or vice versa but make sure you book in the correct direction. For privacy and comfort, book a stateroom to rest, relax and recharge during the crossing.
Everything in this corner of the country seems to create healthy, happy people. The recognized capital of the artists’ colony, visit golden beaches and farmers’ markets, bike or kayak these sunny shores and learn that a weekend is not enough.
9. Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
For great walks and views, take the time to visit these two glaciers in the center of the South Island. Franz Josef, by far the most popular, has multiple trails to hike in and out to the glacier. Fox Glacier offers more of a ‘drive-thru’ experience where you can drive to the designated spot, hop out for your photo opportunity and continue on your way. Cell phone reception is spotty here, so book your accommodation well in advance.
Queenstown is used as a starting point for many outdoor adventures and for many water and winter sports a short distance from downtown.
10. Milford Sound
An early morning bus tour takes you to Milford Sound Marina, where you’ll board a boat that will take you along this incredible waterway. You’ll be amazed at how much it reminds you of the Puget Sound in the United States, but with taller and faster-flowing waterfalls. Look for seals basking in the sun or relatives who end up in the splashing waterfall.
If you have the budget-breaking $1,500 to spend, consider a helicopter ride home. It’s faster than the bus and you can land on a glacier. Do yourself the favor of arranging it in advance for a cheaper alternative.
11. The Remarkable Things
Peter Jackson used this mountain range so many times in Under the spell of the Ring that the locals called them the ‘Expandables’. His use of perspective made them bigger or smaller as the film required. They are a great place for walks or ski trips, depending on the season. They are also the place where you can take a tour and search for gold. You may find a few flakes or a small piece of gold.
12. Avon River Punting
Plan to stay in an AirBnB as there are still not that many hotel rooms available for tourism in this Garden City. When we were there it was not possible to explore the cathedral due to earthquake damage. We took a package tour that included the trolley style tram, the gondola and punts on the River Avon – where you glide past the green space in the center of the city in a slow and peaceful experience away from the daily hustle and bustle.
The majestic view of the Southern Alps from the Christchurch Gondola Ride is worth your time at least once. From Mount Cavendish, you can see the Canterbury Plains, as well as the city and harbor from the top at 1,460 feet.
14. The White Chairs
This white-seated memorial to the 185 people who died in the 2011 earthquake is arguably the country’s most bleak memorial. It takes some searching, but walk around the exhibition for a few minutes, one for each person, from high chair to wheelchair. It’s heartbreaking.
Although the Cadbury Factory has moved to Melbourne, there is still more to see in Dunedin.
15. The Beaches
Dunedin’s windswept beaches are recognized as some of the most beautiful in the country, and that’s saying something.
16. Steepest Street in the World
Not sure why it’s here, but I can tell you Baldwin Street is a tough climb. Guinness Book of World Records officially confirmed the title in 2020. At 1150 feet in length and a slope of up to 34.8 percent, this dead end ends at Signal Hill. Stop frequently as you walk up the hill to prevent shortness of breath and to stretch your calves. You’ll be amazed at the angle the curb looks like compared to the houses.
The location we thought we called home, we had to stop to see the house I rented in 2010.
17. Best Surf Beach
The coastal walk showed us why this is considered one of the best surfing beaches in the country.
18. White Island
An offshore volcano, this self-sustaining island still experiences volcanic eruptions today.
Bay Of Islands
Stay at the California Kiwis AirBnB for 5 days or more and get trips on a yacht. But take the day trips up north.
19. 90 miles of beach
Like Washington State, this “90-mile beach” is considered part of New Zealand’s highway system. What makes it remarkable is that it is only 62 miles long. You may be surprised by an albatross, a drug bust or remarkable views.
20. Sandboarding through sand dunes
Our driver pulled out boogie boards and invited us to climb the 12-story sand dunes for a quick ride down. It is a training to get up the dune. Lie on your stomach, quickly down the dune and descend in about a minute.
21. Cape Reinga . Lighthouse
A beautiful lighthouse on what seems to be the end of the world, you will meet people from all over the world climbing these trails.
22. Yacht Races
If you’re lucky enough to live like a local, take advantage of the Wednesday sailing races. Whether you are an experienced sailor or along as a ballast, you and your host may be surprised to find a win!
Before your next trip, be sure to read about New Zealand: