New Zealand is full of so many amazing adventures, it can be hard to decide which ones are definitely worth taking – especially if its your first time visiting. From trekking the world’s most surreal landscapes to throwing yourself off the nearest [bungy] bridge, deciding on the best things to do in New Zealand can be a little overwhelming.
If you’re like most travelers, you have limited time in New Zealand, and want to make the most of it. And, if you’re like me, then you enjoy an adventure (or two) off the beaten path. So I’ve gone ahead and put together a list of unique experiences that are sure to satisfy any adventurous spirit.
This list is based on my own NZ road trip adventure. I’m always on the lookout for the most unique and authentic experiences to share with you – and this blog is no different. You surely won’t find Hobbiton on this list, but you will find several bucket list items and hidden local gems. They’re things that I found most worthwhile during our trip – and hopefully you will too!
So without further ado, here’s a list of 9 of the most epic experiences you definitely need to have in New Zealand: .
Road trip New Zealand in a Britz Campervan
A Britz campervan road trip is, undoubtedly, one of the most epic experiences you can have in New Zealand.
Living the #vanlife in New Zealand is at the top of a whole lot of bucket lists. And why wouldn’t it be?! From winding mountain roads to ocean-front campsites, it’s almost as if someone designed this place with the sole purpose of road tripping in a campervan.
Plus, campervans save you a lot of time. New Zealand is just packed with natural wonders, rich culture, and incredible scenery. In fact, you’d need years to even make a dent in the list you’re guaranteed to make of everything you want to see/do.
But if you’re like most travelers in New Zealand, you have limited time, and you want to make the most of it. This is where renting a campervan becomes the best decision you’ll make in New Zealand. Hiring a van with Britz New Zealand allows you to experience the most in the time you have – completely unrestricted by rigid schedules and hotel check-in times.
For us, having our home on wheels gave us the ultimate freedom to explore on our own terms. In 3 weeks, we traveled 4500km around the surface of New Zealand; yet still had time to (briefly) explore the depths of what makes this country so incredible.
I’m personally always torn between traveling wider or traveling deeper. Do you see a little bit of everything? Or deeply explore just a handful of places? It’s always the hardest decision I have to make when I travel. But luckily, this time we didn’t have to choose. Thanks to Britz Campers, we were allowed to do both!
And besides… who wouldn’t want to fall asleep under the milky way and wake up to the sound of the ocean waves crashing outside their back door? Not to mention, you get to travel with your bedroom AND your kitchen – and that’s a win for anyone, amirite?
Chances are, you didn’t come to New Zealand to cuddle up in your hotel room with a good book. You came for the jaw-dropping scenery (among other outdoorsy things), amirite?! Well, what if I told you that you could do both…
Just when you thought New Zealand couldn’t get any cooler, I tell you that you can stay in a house…made of glass…on top of a mountain. Yep, I’m serious.
PurePods are a totally ingenious concept, brought to life smack dab in the middle of the most dramatic landscapes New Zealand has to offer. Made entirely of glass, Purepods are self-sustaining, solar-powered eco-cabins, offering complete tranquility and immersion in places you need to see to believe. Each PurePod has its own unique off-the-grid location, with stunning views and a compelling story.
We had the incredible opportunity to experience life in one of these glass cabins on our recent visit to New Zealand. Perched high on a mountaintop overlooking the mountains of Kaikoura, we enjoyed the chance to unplug and unwind in luxury.
We spent the evening discussing life over local cheese and red wine, and watching the sunset from the front deck. When night fell, we spent hours gazing at the milky way through the glass ceiling from comfort of our cloud bed. And when morning came, we slid out from under the covers, pulled the glass doors wide open, and watched the sun illuminate the snow-capped mountains in the not-so-distance.
Life in a PurePod is truly one of the most epic experiences you can have in New Zealand. You’ll be far away from people, wifi, and cell phone service – but I promise you’ll find an even better connection.
Visit their website to browse the six different PurePod locations. Decide which location speaks to you. And if you can’t decide, might I suggest adding “pod-hopping” to your New Zealand itinerary?
Honestly, you’d be crazy to visit Milford Sound without booking a cruise.
Milford Sound is one of the most spectacular natural attractions in New Zealand, and a cruise is – hands down – the best (and most comfortable) way to see it.
A cruise allows you to really appreciate the vast scale of the fiords, while getting up close and personal with waterfallsand resident New Zealand fur seals. ..
Book your cruise with Cruise Milfordfor a small, eco-friendly, informative, and personal tour of Milford Sound. We originally chose Cruise Milford for the “boutique cruise” experience and it ended up being the highlight of our trip to Milford. Kristen from Barefoot Theory felt the same!
Let the local crew fill you in on the geology and history of Milford Sound, as you glide along the inky black water. Keep your hands warm by cradling a complimentary cup of coffee before you find your front row seat at the bow of the boat. And then brave the cold and reach your hand overboard to fill your cup from the waterfalls that seemingly fall from the clouds shrouding the frosty alpine peaks.
And the best part? You won’t be shoulder to shoulder, fighting for a view from the deck. Cruise Milford has much smaller boats than the other tour operators and they’re far less crowded, so everyone gets a front row seat to one of the most epic experiences in all of New Zealand. Plus, they’re committed to sustainable tourism – and that’s always a win in my book.
How much is an epic New Zealand experience worth to you? If its worth about $800, then you’ll want to book a helicopter flight ASAP!
Admittedly, a heli tour was a bit too pricey for us during our time in New Zealand. But if you can afford to splurge on one, then you’ll quickly discover why its one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
Booking a helicopter flight is a great way to experience New Zealand’s incredible landscapes from a different perspective. Plus, you’re able to land in some really cool spots – like at the top of a glacier, on a remote sandy beach, or in the crater of an active marine volcano.
If this sounds like something you want to add to your bucket list, follow these links to some of the best helicopter flights in New Zealand (and one’s that I’ll definitely be booking on my next visit):
Spend a day exploring the geothermal capital of New Zealand
Rotorua is the geothermal capital of New Zealand. Located in the middle of the North Island, Rotorua is famous for its volcanic craters, bubbling hot springs, and that rotten egg smell so characteristic of anywhere full of sulphur.
Exploring this volcanic hotspot is a must-do in New Zealand!
How much time you’ll need? Well, it depends. You an easily spend a few days here. But, if you’re short on time, you can explore all of the volcanic highlights in one day.
The best one-day itinerary for exploring the volcanic highlights around Rotorua:
Wake up early to stop by Wai-o-Tapu, a famous volcanic field filled with vividly colored bubbling pools and steaming craters. Try to get here soon after they open because this place tends to get busy. Entry fee: $25 per person. .
Next, spend the afternoon walking through Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Waimangu Volcanic Valley is much lesser known than Wai-o-Tapu. And much more wild. I recommend allowing yourself a minimum of 2-3 hours to walk all the way to the end of the park. But allow even more time if you want to take a boat tour on the lake or explore any additional hiking trails in the area. You can find visitor information, planning tips, and a trail map on their website. .
End your day with a soak in Kerosene Creek for an incredible end to your geothermal adventure around Rotorua. What’s even better? It’s free! And there are no closing hours if you park outside of the gate, so you can soak into the night if you wish (although it gets really dark, so bring a flashlight!).
Explore the backcountry: Go for a Great Walk and sleep in a mountain hut
Why settle for a good walk when you can go for a GREAT walk?
There are thousands of hiking trails in New Zealand. But there are only 10 Great Walks. And they’re named so for a reason…
Passing over beaches, alongside rivers, and through deep valleys carved through rugged mountain ranges, New Zealand’s Great Walks are among the most spectacular in the world. Think of them as the cream of the [New Zealand hiking] crop.
I’ve laid out some of the hiking logistics below.
You’ll also want to consider a night in one of New Zealand’s mountain huts. There’s a network of almost 1000 mountain huts in New Zealand. Some of them facilitate remote multi-day treks, while others provide an easily-accessible and unique place to stay. The huts vary from “just the essentials” to “all the amenities”. But they all have one thing in common: EPIC views.
The Great Walks typically take several days (and a fair bit of planning) to complete, although there are shorter options available.
Most of the walks are rated as intermediate and are subject to seasonal restrictions. For example, the “Great Walk Season” generally runs from May – late October, during which weather is the best and the trails are the busiest. During this time, huts/campsites must be reserved well in advance.
Visit the NZ DOC website for more information on New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks and how to book huts/campsites. .
Explore a glow worm cave
New Zealand is world famous for its glowworms. Well, mostly for its impressive concentration of glowworms that turn dark cave ceilings into starry night skies.
Picture this: You make your way through an underground cave filled with eerie stalactites. You turn off your headlight. At first, you’re enveloped in a heavy blanket of darkness. But then, all of a sudden, the stars appear. Except they’re not stars. They’re thousands of glowing maggots dangling strings of slime from the cave ceiling. They’ve just finished regurgitating mucus onto the silk strings that hang from their mouths in the hope of catching passing mayflies.
But you quickly forget the icky details behind this natural phenomenon, even quicker than you forget that you’re even in a cave at all. Because as your eyes adjust, you’re convinced that you’re standing beneath the starriest, most insanely spectacular night sky you’ve ever seen.
It’s truly a moment of pure magic. Which is why exploring a glow worm cave is one of the most epic experiences you’ll have in New Zealand.
Waipu Caves, New Zealand is a rugged adventure far off the beaten path. Be prepared to navigate it on your own and always remember to respect these wild places by leaving no trace. .
Where to see glowworms in New Zealand .
To see the glow worms, most people take a guided boat tour through the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where you’ll find the most spectacular glow worm show in all of New Zealand. These tours run from Auckland and Rotorua and can be booked online.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you can also find an impressive concentration of glow worms at the Glowworm Dell in Hokitika on the South Island (make sure to go at night!) or in Waipu Caves on the North Island (go here during the day!). Both places are free.
The Glowworm Dell is right off the main road in Hokitika, but Waipu Caves is a rugged adventure pretty far off the beaten path. Waipu is completely undeveloped, and you’ll have to navigate it on your own, so be prepared to get wet and dirty! And always remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. .
Did you even go to New Zealand if you didn’t throw yourself off a bridge? (strapped into a harness, obviously)
But your visit is sure to be incomplete without it!
Not only does it give you a serious adrenaline rush, but NZ is actually the birth place of commercial bungy jumping, making it one of the most epic experiences you can have in New Zealand.
AJ Hackett revolutionized the concept of throwing yourself off tall objects, when he popularized commercial bungy jumping in 1986. Before you knew it, bungy jumping became (and still is!) wildly popular in New Zealand. .
Where to book your bungy jump
You can book your jump through AJ Hackett Bungy, located in downtown Queenstown.
There are a few different jumps to choose from, depending on how much of a thrill you’re seeking. If you just want a taste of what its like to jump off a bridge (and live), you might opt for a 40m jump off the Kawarau Bridge. But if you’re someone who likes to go big or go home, just head straight for the 134m Nevis Bungy. This one is for people who want to see their life flash before their eyes (Don’t believe me? Just check out this video). .
Good to know before booking your jump
Leave enough time. For the super high Nevis Bungy, you’ll need about 5 hours. All of the other jumps will take anywhere from 1-2 hours. .
Check out the deals and jump packages on the AJ Hackett homepage. You can save money for things like booking early, repeat jumps, and strapping yourself to someone else. .
If you’re traveling by large campervan, you can’t park it anywhere in downtown Queenstown – unless you want a fine. Trust me. Instead, book a campsite at the Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park. Keep your van parked there and take the 7 minute walk into town. From there, AJ Hackett will shuttle you to the jump zones. . .
Hunt for greenstone in Hokitika
Hunting for greenstone (also known as “jade” and “pounamu”) in Hokitika is a must-do if you find yourself on the west coast of NZ’s Southern Island. Greenstone – native to southern New Zealand – is highly valued in Maori culture for its use in tools, weapons, and jewelry. And Hokitika is the best place to find it.
Please note that you can’t take greenstone/jade/pounamu from anywhere else. You can only hunt for it on the beach. .
Walk any of the beaches in Hokitika and sift through the piles of pebbles you’ll see in the sand. Look closely. You’re bound to come across small stones that are milky grey in color, with a soapy feel. If you have a good eye, you might spot a bunch! That’s the greenstone.
To the untrained eye, greenstone is a bit tricky to distinguish from normal rocks, but there are a few tricks to help you tell the difference. Here’s a handy guide to help you distinguish greenstone from ordinary rocks.
If you’re still having trouble finding greenstone on the beach, just ask a local to teach you how to spot it!
No luck searching? No worries. You can also find greenstone in many shops and galleries in Hokitika.
If you do decide to shop for greenstone instead, I always recommend shopping as local as you can! There are a few different shops in the center of town, but Traditional Jade Co. is my favorite.
Traditional Jade Co. is a bit of a hidden gem! It’s a small shop run by a local family of Ngāi Tahu (South Island Māori) descent. In my opinion, they have the best and most unique selection of jade products that are all hand carved right in the store. And, of course, they’ll happy to tell you all about them.
You’ll find Traditional Jade Co. hidden at the end of Tancred Street. Google Maps can show you where to go. You can visit their website at: http://traditionaljade.co.nz/ .
So there you have it! A healthy dose of epic experiences you MUST have in New Zealand. Were any of these already on your NZ bucket list? Are they now? If you have any questions or need help planning your NZ itinerary, drop a comment below!
*This post was created in partnership with Britz New Zealand, Purepods New Zealand, and Cruise Milford. But, as always, all opinions are completely my own and I would never promote anything I don’t absolutely adore.*