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33 Unique Things to do in New Zealand

Stoping at Lake Pukaki is a top things to do in Mount Cook

New Zealand is one of the most spectacular places to travel in the world. The landscapes, people, and the vast amount of truly unique things to do make it such a special country to visit.

But there is just one problem. With so many amazing things to do it can be hard to know where to spend your time.

And besides that, how do you find the most interesting and unique things to do in New Zealand? How do you avoid large crowds and overly touristic places in order to have the most authentic (and best) holiday possible?

After traveling in New Zealand for over a year and exploring all corners of this amazing country from the comfort of my van, I have discovered the absolute BEST and unique things to do in New Zealand!

Now I’m not JUST talking about specific activities or things to see in New Zealand, but rather how and when to experience them to make them unique and special in their own way.

From avoiding the large crowds at the most popular places to finding those that aren’t on the map, this is my list of the best places to visit and unique things to do in New Zealand.

Unique Things to do on the South Island

1. Spend the Night in Milford Sound

milford sound boat cruise day trip
Milford Sound is so beautiful at sunset…if you have the time consider staying the night!

Milford Sound is one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand, so it’s only natural that it attracts thousands of visitors each day. However, if you want a truly special experience in Milford Sound, then you need to spend the night!

After around 4 pm Milford Sound becomes dead silent and this somewhat crazy tourist destination resembles a deserted island. Spending a night in Milford Sound is still to this day one of the best things I have done in New Zealand.

There is only one place to stay in Milford Sound and that is at the Milford Lodge. Here you can find powered sites for campervans, dorm beds, private rooms, and small apartments.

However, if you have the budget and want a truly special overnight experience in Milford Sound then you MUST book an overnight Milford Sound Cruise. The views of Milford Sound from out on the water are incredible and at sunset and sunrise when your boat is the only one out there, the peace will be unmeasured.

An overnight Milford Sound cruise isn’t cheap but it offers luxury with a hot tub on board, three-course meals, as well as cabins with private bathrooms.

milford sound overnight cruise

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Find out more information including prices and availability

Related Read:   South Island Destinations: Things to do on the South Island of New Zealand

2. Visit Doubtful Sound

Milford Sound is actually only one of fourteen fiords (they are not actually “Sounds” as the name suggests) in Fiordland National Park. Many of the other Fiords are so remote that getting to them is far too hard for the average traveler, however, there is one that in recent times, has become more accessible and that’s Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound is just as (if not more) beautiful than Milford Sound and it’s far more off the beaten path and as such a truly unique experience in New Zealand.

Tours to Doubtful Sound run from Queenstown and there are full day or overnight tours available.

3. Hike Through the Forest to Lake Marian

Visiting Lake Marian is one of the best things to do in New Zealand's South Island
The view of Lake Marian is incredible!

The hike to Lake Marian is another one of Fiordland National Parks hidden gems. This 3-hour return hike leads you through the native forest areas of the park before the trees suddenly disappear and in front of you sits the most stunning glacier lake you have seen.

The best part about this hike is that although it’s well known, many visitors simply don’t plan to do the hike and as such don’t allow the time. This means this stunning trail remains off the beaten path and one of the best things to do in New Zealand.

4. Spend a Night in the Mueller Hut

the mueller hut is one of the best things to do in New Zealand's Mount Cook National Park
The Mueller Hut on a winters night!

The Mueller Hut is an alpine hut located in Mt Cook National Park. Spending the night at the hut was one of the best things I did in New Zealand as it was such an adventure!

The hike to the hut starts from the White Horse Hill campsite in the national park and it takes around 5 hours to reach the Mueller Hut. Once at the hut, you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and swap stories with other hikers.

In the summer months, the Mueller Hut must be booked in advance. If you’re hiking in winter though you must buy your hut ticket on the day at the DOC office in Mount Cook Village. Hut tickets to spend the night are $36 per person.

You can read more about hiking to the Mueller Hut including info about booking and hiking in winter.

5. Hike to the Moke Lake Viewpoint

view of moke lake from above
Enjoying the sunset over Moke Lake!

Moke Lake is a very popular place to visit only 15 minutes from Queenstown. I visited Moke Lake a lot during the time I lived in Queenstown mainly because it’s such a beautiful place to explore and is one of the best places to go stargazing in the area.

However, I always wanted to get better views of the lake so I began exploring, and what I found was a hidden trail known only to very few locals.

That trail led to the most beautiful viewpoint high above the lake. The only problem is that it’s very hard to find! But if you want to add it to your New Zealand bucket list then just read my “Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint” blog for info on how to find it!

Related Read:   Moke Lake, New Zealand: Stargazing and Reflections

6. Visit Stunning Waterfalls in the Catlins

The catlins is a great stop on a new zealand road trip
The most beautiful and peaceful waterfall in the Catlins! We had this gem all to ourselves!

The Catlins region is located in the most southern part of New Zealand’s South Island. This region is filled with stunning places to visit and a huge variety of wildlife to see. However, one thing I really loved about the Catlins was the waterfalls.

Dotted throughout the region are stunning waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. This, along with that vibrant New Zealand greenery, made exploring waterfalls in the Catlins such an awesome experience.

With that said, don’t just let the waterfalls entice you as in this region you can also see seals, dolphins, whales, and penguins!

7. Hike Roy’s Peak for Sunrise

hiking roys peak is the best hike in New Zealand
The Stunning Roy’s Peak at sunrise!

I wanted to visit Roy’s Peak long before I ever arrived in New Zealand. The stunning photos I saw on social media made it a must-see place in New Zealand. However, I had heard that the large crowds of people Roy’s Peak attracts makes the experience somewhat less desirable, so I decided to hike Roy’s Peak at sunrise instead.

It took two hours of hiking in the dark to reach the summit, but once I did it all became so worth it! As the sun rose I shared the viewpoint with only four other hikers. We not only got to see the sunrise in the most stunning of locations, but we got to enjoy it in peace.

8. Enjoy the Scenic Drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy

the windy road to glenorchy
The beautiful drive to Glenorchy!

Throughout New Zealand, you can find stunning stretches of road just waiting to be explored. One of those is the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy.

The 44km journey winds its way between the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu. The scenic views along the way are some of the best in New Zealand and with so many places to stop along the way, it’s a short journey that requires a lot of time.

9. Take a Jade Carving Lesson

New Zealand Jade is some of the most sought after jade in the world. Known for its high quality and range of stunning colors, Jade (or Pounamu as it’s called in Maori) holds a huge cultural significance in New Zealand. To the Maori people, Jade was used for both weapons and jewelry.

Throughout New Zealand’s South Island, you can join Jade carving lessons and carve your own souvenir to take home. This is a very unique thing to do in New Zealand.

10. Explore the Wanaka Lavender Farm

The Wanaka Lavender farm
The lavender farm is beautiful in spring and summer!

The Wanaka Lavender Farm is located just outside the town of Wanaka in the Lakes District of New Zealand. The farm itself is beautiful and aside from the stunning rows of lavender fields, you can also visit a range of farm animals including sheep, horses, and pigs.

Entrance to the farm is $10 in summer and $5 in winter.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to visit in summer if you want to see the lavender in full bloom, however, even in winter you can still try some delicious lavender honey and many other lavender products like hand creams and moisturizers.

11. Try Fergburger in Queenstown

Ferg burger is a best things to do in Queenstown and New Zealand
Dan and I eating at Fergburger for the first time! Since then we have been back maybe 15 times!

Fergburger is known as New Zealand’s best burger joint and I agree! This small burger shop located on Shotover Street in Queenstown sells thousands of burgers a day to hungry tourists wanting to see if Fergburger really lives up to its name.

In my opinion its the best burger in New Zealand and worthy of a spot on the best things to do in New Zealand list!

Related Read:   The Best Burger in Queenstown : Fergburger Vs. Devil Burger

12. Visit Stewart Island

Stewart Island is the small island right at the bottom of the South Island. The island is one of the best places in New Zealand to see the infamous Kiwi bird. If seeing a kiwi bird in the wild is part of your New Zealand bucket list then visiting Stewart Island is the best way to make that dream a reality.

To get to the island you must take a ferry from the mainland. The one ferry to Stewert Island starts from $85 NZD, takes around one hour, and leaves from the town Bluff. Accommodation on the island is limited so get in early during the busy summer months!

For more information check out this awesome Stewert Island guide by This Nz Life.

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13. Relax at the Franz Joseph Hot Pools

Franz Josef hot pools is the best hot pools in New Zealand
Enjoying the peaceful and relaxing Franz Joseph Hot Pools

A good hot pool is hard to come by in New Zealand as many are overcrowded and some are dirty. The Franz Joseph Hot Pools were none of that and a really beautiful place to visit.

The setting and quality of the hot pools made it a really relaxing place to visit and in fact, I went back the next time I was road tripping through the west coast! The Franz Joseph Hot pools are by far one of the best hot pools in New Zealand.

Many people visit Franz Josef town simply to do the Franz Josef Glacier Walk, which is great! But after the hike, you’ll want to relax your muscles and these hot pools are the perfect place to do so!

14. Go Penguin Spotting

yellow eyed penguin
A Yellow-Eyed Penguin we saw when we went kayaking in Milford Sound!

New Zealand’s South Island is home to three species of Penguins, they are the Little Penguin, Fordland Penguin, and the Yellow-Eyed Penguin. On the South Island, there are many places to spot these penguins and in fact, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen all three species!

The Little Penguin is the most common and they are not that rare at all, however, the Fiordland Penguin and Yellow Eyed Penguin are some of the rarest in the world.

If you want to see the Fiordland Penguin then a trip to Milford Sound is the best way. As for the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, a great place to see them is Curio Bay in the Catlins region.

15. Explore Mount Cook National Park

Mueller hut trail views
Showing the full scale of Mount Cook National Park on the way to the Mueller Hut on the Sealy Tarns Track

Mount Cook National Park is my favorite place in New Zealand hands down! This stunning region of New Zealand is home to many stunning hiking trails and viewpoints and is also home to NZ’s highest peak, Aoraki/ Mount Cook.

Some of the best things to do in Mount Cook are the Hooker Valley Trail, Tasman Lake Viewpoint, the Mueller Hut, and the Sealy Tarns Trail.

Exploring the park is best done by staying at one of the 5 accommodation options in Mount Cook Village. They are White Horse Hill Campground, YHA Hostel, Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki Court Motel, or Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge. Stay overnight in one of these places and enjoy everything the National Park has to offer.

No trip to New Zealand’s South Island would be complete without a visit to Mount Cook National Park!

16. Go Star Gazing

Stargazing in New Zealand is one of the best things to do!
The Milky Way on the road to Glenorchy!

Stargazing can be done from anywhere in New Zealand but I personally found the South Island far better than the North Island! Some of the best places for stargazing on the South Island are Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo (this region is an actual dark sky reserve), and outside of Queenstown as this area is very remote and there’s little light pollution or air pollution.

My favorite place to watch the stars was actually on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy. Out there you can see the Milky Way as I’ve never seen it before!

17. Swim with the Dolphins in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a famous town for viewing and interacting with marine life. However, the most famous attraction here is the chance to swim with Dusky Dolphins – the world’s smallest dolphin species.

On the tour you will suit up and jump into the freezing waters on the east coast. Once in the water, it’s up to the dolphins to come to you. The Dusky Dolphins are extremely curious and friendly and if you do see them they’re likely to come over and see what you’re up to. This is a truly unique experience in New Zealand!

Kaikoura is located on New Zealand’s South Island just north of Christchurch. The company that runs the dolphin tours in the area governed by strict rules and regulations in order to protect the dolphins.

Click here for more information (including prices) for swimming with the dolphins in Kaikoura!

Unique Things to do on the North Island

18. Explore the Magical Town of Hobbiton on an Early Access Private Tour

Exploring the Hobbiton Movie Set
Exploring Hobbiton!

The Hobbiton movie set is one of New Zealand’s most talked about and visited attractions. For many fans of both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, a visit to Hobbiton is somewhat of a pilgrimage and for many, it’s the reason they came to New Zealand to begin with.

And for that reason, it can busy at Hobbiton – like REALLY busy. For me, the huge crowds of tourists all taking photos really hindered my experience. Which is why going on an early access private tour ould be the best option!

On this tour, you and your small group get a private guide and the first access to the movie set. This ensures you will be able to ask any questions you want, explore how you want, and take as many photos as you want! This particular tour also includes a cooked breakfast at the Green Dragon Inn!

The movie set itself is a real work of art and the detail that went into the construction is fascinating.

You can read more about what I thought about the traditional Hobbiton experience in my “Is Hobbiton worth it” blog post!

19. Check out the Gannets at Muriwai Beach

Visiting the gannet colony near Auckland on a new Zealand road trip
The stunning landscapes and wildlife at Muriewi Beach around 45 minutes from Auckland.

Muriwai Beach is located on New Zealand’s west coast around an hour drive from Auckland. Not only is the beach an awesome place to cool off on a summers day, but between the months of October to March, you can visit the famous Gannet Colony that call the cliffs at the beach home.

The birds come to this cliff every year to give birth and depending on when you visit you can see the little babies in their mother’s nests.

This is really a special thing to witness and in my opinion, highly underrated. The best time to see the birds is at sunset as the sun sets right over the water! If you need any more convincing just check out the photo below!

20. Rotorua Maori experience

The Maori people were the first people to migrate to New Zealand and their culture and traditions are very fascinating. On a Rotorua Maori Experience in Rotorua, you can step back in time and explore and learn about the different customs of the Maori People and even try some traditionally cooked food in a Hangi!

The Maori experiences run in the late afternoon and most include a ride to the village, interactive learning experiences, as well a traditionally cooked buffet dinner.

Rotorua maori Experience

Traditional Maori Experience

Find out more information including prices, availability, and times.

21. Explore a glow worm cave

Visiting a glow worm cave is one fo the most unique things to do in New Zealand
The Waipu Caves!

Glow worms are almost completely unique to New Zealand aside from a few places in Australia. These small worms hang from the ceilings of caves and light them up like stars in the night. There are many different places in New Zealand you can see glow worms however the two best places I went to where the Waitomo Caves and the Waipu Caves.

The Waitomo Caves are a very popular stop among tourists and in this cave, you can only enter with a tour guide. Tours start at about $50 for around an hour in the cave. They also include a short boat ride through an area of the cave with the most glow worms. I really enjoyed seeing the glow worms but found this a little over touristic and crowded!

The Waipu Caves is a free glow worm cave and it’s one of the best. It’s located 3 hours north of Auckland in the southern area of Northland. At this cave, you can simply enter at your own leisure and enjoy the stunning show these little guys put on. One great thing about this cave is you can sometimes have it to yourself and enjoy the peace and quiet!

22. Go Kayaking on the Whanganui Journey

The Whanganui Journey is one of New Zealand’s “10 Great Walks” but oddly enough, you can’t walk this journey. Instead, you must kayak down the Whanganui River stopping at your campsites along the way. The classic journey is 5 days however you can shorten that to 4, 3, 2 or even 1 day if you want.

The Whanganui Journey starts in the town of Ohakune near Tongariro National Park. In the busy periods of December and January, it is best to book your Whanganui campsites or huts in advance.

23. Camp at the Pouakai Hut

Photo of Mt Taranaki on our travel blog
The famous reflection is very close to the hut and camping area!

The Pouakai Hut is another DOC run hut in the hills that surround Mt Taranaki. The views of Mount Taranaki from this spot are stunning and it’s also where the famous Mt Taranaki reflection is!

Although the hut is a great place to stay, I highly recommend grabbing a tent and camping instead. Just near the hut is a flat area that sits directly across from Mt Taranaki giving you the best seat in the house! I actually first stayed in the hut but returned again on a later date to camp instead!

This is honestly the most underrated experience on this list! Camping near the Pouakai Hut was one of my favorite things to do in New Zealand!

24. Visit the Te Papa Museum

The Te Papa Museum is New Zealand’s National Museum and it’s world class! The entire Museum features exhibitions from around the world as well as New Zealand. It’s one of the best ways to learn about the Maori culture and the history of New Zealand.

The Te Papa Museum is located in the capital city of Wellington and is completely free to visitors.

25. Watch the Sunset in Auckland from a Dormant Volcano

mt eden crater is a must do in New Zealand
Mt Eden Crater

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and for many, the place they start their New Zealand road trip or adventure. There are actually tons of things to do in Auckland but one of the most memorable for me was climbing one of the many dormant volcano craters around the city and watching the sunset.

Mt Eden is the best crater for getting views of the city and in general, it’s a cool place to explore. From Mt Eden, you get stunning views of the entire city and a front row seat to watch an epic sunset.

26. Explore the Craters on the Moon Geothermal Walk

There are tons of geothermals to check out near Taupo and Rotorua. Many are over commercialized places that attract hoards of tourists, but not the Craters of the Moon!

The Craters on the Moon Geothermal Walk is simply a nature walk just outside of the town of Taupo through a landscape full of craters and bubbling geothermals. It is interesting and beautiful all at the same time (do beware it smells – quite literally like sulfur!)

The walk takes around 45-minutes and is fairly easy with a built boardwalk most of the way. It costs $8 NZD of adults or $4 for a child for admission.

Unique Things to do Anywhere in New Zealand

27. Go Freedom Camping

some of the truths about living in a van long term
Sunsets by the water!

Freedom camping is a New Zealand concept for allowing anyone in a self-contained vehicle to camp for free in a public space. In recent times the rules around freedom camping have become much stricter, however, you can still find lots of stunning locations to call home for the night. Going freedom camping is a really unique thing to do in New Zealand.

Some of the best places I have freedom camped were in the Northland Region, up at the Queenstown ski fields, and around Mt Taranaki!

Related Read:   Mad Campers Company & Campervan Review (and their New One-Person Campervan!)

28. Join a Craft Beer Tour

New Zealand’s craft beer scene isn’t massive, but it’s definitely up and coming. Throughout the north and south island, you can find a number of brewery’s or companies offering brewery tours.

Some of the best places to explore New Zealand’s craft breweries are Queenstown, Dunedin, Nelson, and Hamilton. However, don’t limit yourself to them as there are hundreds around the country you will likely find on your travels!

29. Visit a Winery or Join a Wine Tour

Wine tours are one of the best things to do in new Zealand
Who doesn’t love a wine tour!

New Zealand wine is becoming very famous, and in my opinion, it’s amazing! In New Zealand, you can pretty much find every type of wine but each region does have their specialty like the Gibbston Valley – they are famous for producing award-winning Pinot Noir!

There are a few wine regions around New Zealand some of the best are the Gibbston Valley near Queenstown, Hawkes Bay in the North Island, or the many vineyards near Blenheim and Nelson.

All regions have cellar doors you can visit or you can join an organized wine tour. I personally did a wine tour in Queenstown and loved it! We had an amazing lunch, tried lots of wines and didn’t have to worry about finding a driver or paying for a taxi!

30. Stay in a New Zealand “Hut”

looking at the view from inside of the mueller hut
The view from inside the Mueller Hut is awesome!

When it comes to hiking, New Zealand has an interesting concept of building small huts in and around the mountains for hikers to sleep in. New Zealand’s huts are literally everywhere and spending the night in one is a really unique thing to do in NZ that’s fun and exciting for people fo all ages.

Some of the best huts to spend the night is the Pinnacles Hut in the Coromandel, The Luxmore hut on the Kepler Track, Pouaki Hut near Mt Taranaki, Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park, Brewster Hut on the west coast, and the Liverpool Hut near Wanaka. However, there are over 950 huts around the country you can find here.

31. Take a Surf Lesson

Many people are surprised to find out that New Zealand actually has really good surf! The surf scene in New Zealand is huge and there are plenty of spots to give it a go and learn. One of the most popular is Raglan, a small surf town located a few hours from Auckland.

In Raglan there are a few surf schools right on the beach and huge stretches of beach with beginner waves to practice on. If surfing’s always been on your bucket list then New Zealand’s the perfect place to give it a go!

Related Read:   15 BEST Beaches in New Zealand (on the North Island)

32. Take a Scenic Flight Around one of New Zealand’s National Parks

view from a helicopter in mount cook national park
Flying high above Mount Cook!

One of the best things to do in New Zealand is going on a scenic flight and the best places to do it are in the stunning national parks. From the air, you get a completely new perspective and can really take in just how vast and diverse New Zealand is.

Some of the best national parks to take a scenic flight are Fiordland National Park – I highly recommend flying into Milford Sound, Mount Cook (I did a flight here and absolutely loved it) as well as around Queenstown or Wanaka!

33. Go on a Road Trip!

new zealand road offer some of the best views!
New Zealand roads offer some of the best views!

The ultimate way to travel in New Zealand is to go on a road trip. In New Zealand, some of the best attractions are simply stops along the side of the road. Taking in the scenery from the comfort of your own car window as well as having the freedom to go wherever you want is the best!

If you plan on doing your own NZ road trip, be sure to check out our blog with over 10 different New Zealand road trip itineraries – it is a super helpful tool for helping you plan your route!

mad campers campervan in nz

Campervan Special!

Mad Campers is an awesome campervan rental company in NZ (that we personally used) offering high-quality campers for reasonable prices. We liked them so much that we’ve arranged a bonus for our readers! Enter in DTRAVEL5 when you request a quote to get 5% off your rental!

Related Read:   Campervan Rental in NZ - Choosing a van, planning tips & need to know info

The truth is, no matter how you choose to spend your time in New Zealand you will have a great time. It is just an incredible country! But, if you are able to tick off some of these more unique experiences in NZ then I’m sure you will not be disappointed!

If you’re planning a holiday in New Zealand and have some questions, be sure to comment below and we will get back to you!


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