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New Zealand is one of the most spectacular places to travel in the world. The landscapes, people, and the vast amount of things to do in New Zealand make it such a special country to visit.
But there is just one problem. With so many amazing activities in New Zealand, it can be hard to know where to spend your valuable time!
Besides that, how do you find the most interesting and unique things to do in New Zealand? And how do you avoid large crowds and underrated places in order to have the best holiday possible?
Well, after traveling in New Zealand for over a year and exploring all corners of this amazing country while living campervan, I have discovered the most unique and best things to do in New Zealand, such as taking a road trip or spending a night in the backcountry.
So, if you’re wondering what to do in New Zealand, then this list is perfect for you!
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.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Get off the beaten path and check out our top unique things to do in New Zealand:
1. Go kayaking to see wild penguins on the Banks Peninsula
2. Take a helicopter whale-watching tour
3. Go white water rafting over the world’s largest drop
4. Dig a hot pool at Hot Water Beach and watch the sunrise
5. Take a freedom camping trip to explore New Zealand’s outdoor beauty
- Things to do in New Zealand – South Island
- 1. Spend the night in Milford Sound
- 2. Cruise in Doubtful Sound
- 3. Hike to Lake Marian
- 4. Spend a night in the Mueller Hut
- 5. Hike to the Moke Lake Viewpoint
- 6. Visit stunning waterfalls in the Catlins
- 7. Hike to Roy’s Peak for sunrise
- 8. Enjoy the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy
- 9. Try Fergburger in Queenstown
- 10. Visit Stewart Island
- 11. See wild penguins
- 12. Explore Mount Cook National Park
- 13. Go stargazing
- 14. Swim with the dolphins in Kaikoura
- 15. Helicopter Whale Watching
- Unique Things to do on the North Island
- 16. Explore the magical town of Hobbiton
- 17. Check out the Gannets at Muriwai Beach
- 18. Relax in the Rorotura Secret Hot Pools
- 19. Rotorua Maori Experience
- 20. Explore a glow worm cave
- 21. Whitewater raft over a waterfall
- 22. Camp at the Pouakai Hut
- 23. Visit the Te Papa Museum
- 24. Watch the sunset in Auckland from a Dormant Volcano
- 25. Explore the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk
- 26. Take a jade carving lesson
- 27. Dig a hot pool at Hot Water Beach
- Unique Things to do Anywhere in New Zealand
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand
- Don't get Caught without Travel Insurance!
Things to do in New Zealand – South Island
1. Spend the night in Milford Sound
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. Many people flock here to take a cruise in Milford Sound to get up close to this gorgeous fiord. 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 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. You can even spend the night in Milford during the winter, for a truly magical experience.
However, if you have the budget and want a truly special overnight experience in Milford Sound then you should book an overnight Milford Sound Cruise. An overnight Milford Sound cruise isn’t cheap, but it offers a lot of luxury with a hot tub on board, three-course meals, as well as cabins with private bathrooms.
Another option is to stay in Te Anau, the nearest town to Milford Sound, and then visit Milford for the day. There are lots of hotels to choose from in Te Anau and it’s a quaint cute town that’s fun to explore. However, many people depart from Queenstown to visit Milford Sound, and you can book a 2-day guided tour from Queenstown that includes your night in Te Anau as well as a day cruise in Milford. Queenstown is a great launch point for traveling the South Island, so this is a convenient way to see Milford. you can check out the details and book this tour in advance here!
Regardless of what you choose to do spending the night in Milford Sound is one of the best things to do on the South Island of New Zealand.
2. Cruise in Doubtful Sound
Milford Sound is actually only one of fourteen fiords (they are not actually “sounds” as the name suggests) in Fiordland National Park. However many of the other fiords are so remote that getting to them is far too hard for the average traveler, but there is one that in recent times, has become more accessible and that’s Doubtful Sound.
Doubtful Sound is just as (if not more depending on who you ask) beautiful than Milford Sound and it’s far more off the beaten path. As such, visiting Doubtful Sound is a truly unique experience in New Zealand and one of my favorite stops on an extended 2-week South Island itinerary.
Tours to Doubtful Sound run from Queenstown and Te Anau. There are a lot of great tours from Queenstown, such as this full-day tour with transport and a catamaran boat cruise in the fiord. Be aware that this cruise lasts at least 12 hours, as it’s a bit far, but if you’re in a time crunch this is a great way to visit the Doubtful Sound from Queenstown.
However, I would recommend doing a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise if your schedule permits. Although more expensive, it’s one of my favorite activities in New Zealand- when else will you get to spend the night in a fiord!? This cruise takes off from Manapouri, so if you rent a campervan or a car (I like to use DiscoverCars) you can easily drive yourself. Once you’re here, all else is taken care of for an overnight cruise in the Doubtful Sound, including meals, the cruise, accommodation, and a naturalist guide.
If you have the time and money you can even upgrade to the 3-day Doubtful Sound Cruise and Glow Worm Tour which includes one overnight on the cruise and a night in Te Anau for $1,730 NZD. This is sure to be a magical experience as it includes some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand: impressive fiords, quaint and charming towns, and incredible outdoor life!
Another good option is to drive yourself to Manapouri and get a tour from there. This specific tour from Manapouri (only 20 minutes from Te Anau/2 hours from Queenstown) is a little shorter at around 8 hours but still visits both Doubtful Sound and Lake Manapouri. It’s also very affordable, so it makes for a great cheap activity out of Queenstown!
3. Hike to Lake Marian
The hike to Lake Marian is another one of Fiordland National Park’s hidden gems and one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand.
This 3-hour return trail leads you through the native forest areas of Fiordland before the trees suddenly disappear and in front of you sits the most stunning glacier lake you’ve 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 is one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
To get to the Lake Marian Track parking lot is located on Holyford Road (38 kilometers/24 miles) from Milford Sound). To get there head down the road to Milford Sound between Te Anau and Milford until you reach Holyford Road. Here, turn right and the parking lot is on your left. Holyford Road and the Lake Marian Track are well signposted so you should have no trouble finding it.
4. Spend a night in the Mueller Hut
Few mountain huts in New Zealand are as famous as the Mueller Hut in Mt Cook National Park. Spending the night at the Mueller Hut was one of the best things I did in New Zealand as it was such an
The hike to the hut starts from the White Horse Hill Campsite in Mount Cook 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. This makes for one of the best photo locations in Mount Cook!
If you can’t get a booking at the Mueller Hut then you can also hike up to the hut and back in a day. For this day hike, I would allow at least 7 hours in summer and 9 hours in winter.
While talking about Mt Cook National Park I cannot leave out mentioning a couple of other amazing options. If you decide against hiking Mueller Hut you can book a scenic flight and see Mt Cook from the sky. This tour gives you the opportunity to fly in a ski plane and a helicopter, and land on one of the mountains with the highest views. This 45-minute tour is pricey but is guaranteed to take your breath away- if you’ve never taken a scenic flight before, this is the best place to do it!
Also if you like hiking but want to see a variety of different places this private tour from Christchurch is a fantastic way to enjoy Mount Cook’s hiking scene. You’ll visit Lake Tekapo and Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest glacier) and stop for lunch at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook before ending the day by viewing a famous church. We love that this is a private tour, so you can move at your own pace and ask the guide all sorts of questions along the way- book this tour in advance here!
Important info: In the summer months, the Mueller Hut must be booked in advance. If you’re hiking in winter 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. At the Mueller Hut, there are pit toilets, gas burners for cooking, and running water for drinking.
5. Hike to the Moke Lake Viewpoint
Moke Lake is one of my favorite places to visit in New Zealand. In fact, I spent many nights here star gazing and enjoying the reflections of the lake when I lived in Queenstown. The great thing is that Moke Lake is located only 15 minutes from Queenstown so it’s a must-visit!
During my many adventures here 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 Moke Lake.
Bailey and I spent a few sunsets here enjoying a beer and the peace and quiet. 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!
One of my other favorite things to do at Moke Lake is kayaking! While we didn’t have kayaks ourselves, we booked a kayak tour, which provided kayaks, paddles, life jackets, dry bags, and transportation from Queenstown. There are few things better on a warm summer day than paddling around on a gorgeous lake! This 3.5 kayak experience can be booked in advance for $169 NZD per person.
Related Read: If you’re looking for even more scenic New Zealand locations, be sure to visit the Blue Pools in the Makarora River! Right next to Mt. Aspiring National Park on the South Island, it’s the perfect addition to a road trip.
6. Visit stunning waterfalls in the Catlins
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. There are 5 main waterfalls that I would say are not to be missed. The cheeky “Niagara Falls” can hardly be considered a waterfall, so I’d recommend skipping that one!
With that said, don’t just let the waterfalls entice you as in this region you can also see seals, dolphins, whales, and penguins!
Important info: The Catlins is best visited on a road trip through New Zealand. Along the way, there are plenty of freedom camping spots as well as caravan parks. One of my favorites was Curio Bay! Here, you can see the rarest penguin in the world, the Yellow Crested Penguin.
7. Hike to Roy’s Peak for sunrise
Roy’s Peak was high on my New Zealand bucket list long before I ever arrived in NZ. 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 make 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.
The Roys Peak Hike is 16 kilometers (10.6 miles) and rated as medium to hard difficulty, so you’ll want to have a decent level of fitness to complete this hike. Even if you don’t make it at sunrise, I’d still recommend putting Roys Peak on your hiking list, it’s one of my favorites!
Important info: Roy’s Peak is located just outside of the tourist town of Wanaka. At the trailhead, there is a small parking lot that fills up very quickly in summer. Be sure to arrive early if hiking for sunrise isn’t your cup of tea.
8. Enjoy the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy
Throughout New Zealand, you can find stunning stretches of the road just waiting to be explored. One of the most beautiful is the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy.
The 44-kilometer (27-mile) 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. You can add Moke Lake to this day’s activities, or stop by Mt Crichton for a hike along the way!
At the end of the journey, you’ll arrive in the small town of Glenorchy. Here you can wander around the jetty and enjoy even more breathtaking views. After visiting you’ll be able to see why they call it “the gateway to paradise”. While you can drive and stop on your own, I really enjoyed taking a tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy, it let me stop at places I might have missed without it!
My top choice is this half-day tour because you get to learn about the Maori culture that’s so important to this area, and the guide does a fantastic job of stopping at scenic viewpoints and giving commentary along the way. But the best part of this tour is visiting the Glenorchy Animal Experience, where you can interact with the cutest farm animals, just like an authentic Kiwi! This tour can be reserved in advance here for $194 NZD.
And we can’t mention Glenorchy without talking about Lord of the Rings, as there are three significant film locations right in this area! There are plenty of fantastic LOTR tours, but I took this half-day tour and had a great time (and I’m not even a huge fan of the movies). We visited Twelve Mile Delta, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Isengard Lookout to learn about the film history, and even had the option to wear the costumes or play with a sword. You can book this tour for $189 NZD here!
9. Try Fergburger in Queenstown
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. We actually did an in-depth taste test between Fergburger and Devil Burger just to make sure!
In my opinion, it’s the best burger in New Zealand and worthy of a spot on the best things to do in New Zealand list!
My favorite: On the menu, there are around 20 burgers including vegetarian options. Despite this, the “Classic Ferg” is my go-to burger and a must-try in New Zealand.
10. Visit Stewart Island
Stewart Island is a 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!
Getting to Stewart Island isn’t the simplest task, you must take a ferry from the mainland. The one ferry to Stewart Island is $110 NZD each way, takes around one hour, and leaves from the town of Bluff. You can stay the night on the island, but accommodations are limited so be sure to book it early during the busy summer months! Honestly, it’s a bit of a hassle, especially if you drive almost 3 hours from Queenstown to get here!
Alternatively, you can take this roundtrip flight from Queenstown to Stewart Island, which sounds a bit over the top, but it actually makes your experience so much easier! You will fly on a small fixed-wing plane and land on Stewart Island, then have 5 hours to explore on your own before flying back to Queenstown. This will give you plenty of time to explore the diverse wildlife, Maori culture, and beautiful island landscape.
I’d recommend this tour to those who are on a tighter timeline and want to experience Stewart Island in a simple day trip. It is $769 NZD per person and you can reserve this epic flight to Stewart Island in advance here.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
11. See wild penguins
New Zealand’s South Island is home to three species of penguins, they are the Little Penguin, Fiordland 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.
The wonderful thing about New Zealand’s South Island is that you can see penguins all over!
We took a kayak tour and cruise in Milford Sound, which was not only spectacular but also gave us the chance to see Fiordland Penguins! And because we were in small quiet kayaks, rather than a large cruise ship, we could sit and watch them for quite a while– it was amazing. This tour is $295 NZD and was the absolute best Milford Sound cruise I’ve taken, I highly recommend booking this tour if you want to see the rare Fiordland Penguin!
You can also head to New Zealand’s east coast and explore the Banks Peninsula out of Christchurch. We love this full-day tour because you get to explore Akaroa, make stops at local hidden gems, and then visit the largest Little Penguin colony in New Zealand! This is a conservation area, but they are still wild penguins, so it’s a totally unique experience. This full-day tour will certainly be memorable, besides just seeing all of the cute Little Penguins!
Prices start at $318 NZD per person but get cheaper the more people you have. You can reserve this wild penguin experience out of Christchurch in advance here!
Finally, head south to check out the Otago Peninsula and Dunedin! This 1.5-hour evening tour visits a penguin reserve where you can see the penguins in their natural environment. The guides also give information on the history of the area and all about penguins, from their nesting patterns, mating behavior, and a day in the life of a penguin. If you’re staying near Dunedin, this is an excellent way to experience wild penguins. You can book this tour in advance for $55 NZD!
Regardless of whether you’re visiting the north, south, east, or west of the South Island, you should be able to see penguins at some point!
12. Explore Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is my favorite place to visit in New Zealand, hands down! This stunning region of New Zealand is home to heaps of breathtaking hiking trails and viewpoints and is also home to NZ’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook.
You can book a range of different tours to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the best views. Hiking is easily one of the most popular activities in Mount Cook National Park, and taking this Mount Cook and Hooker Valley guided hike is a great pick if it’s your first time visiting. It provides transportation from Queenstown, takes you to iconic stops along the way, and then leads the Hooker Valley hike– basically, it takes care of all of the details so you can enjoy the views! This hiking tour is a full 12-hour experience and is $255 NZD per person, I recommend booking it in advance.
If you’re looking for a bit more thrill, we’ve got you covered! You can ski down the Tasman Glacier on some epic backcountry routes and transfer via plane or helicopter- as if this experience couldn’t be any crazier! This is perfect for thrill seekers and well worth the $1,400 NZD price tag.
You can also stick to the skies by taking a 13,000 ft skydive over Mt Cook or a helicopter tour of the National Park. If you’ve never taken either of these high-flying adventures, this will probably be the most beautiful place you can do so!
Exploring the park is best done by staying at one of the 4 accommodation options in Mount Cook Village. They are White Horse Hill Campground, Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki Court Motel, or Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge. Staying overnight in one of these hotels and enjoying everything the National Park has to offer is a must in New Zealand!
No trip to New Zealand’s South Island would be complete without a visit to Mount Cook National Park – some of the best hikes and views in New Zealand are there!
13. Go stargazing
Stargazing on the South Island of New Zealand is amazing! The lack of people and light in some areas means with your own eyes you can see the stars like never before! It’s one incredible thing to do in New Zealand for sure.
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 or air pollution.
There is a fantastic observatory in Lake Tekapo that provides the most unique stargazing experience! This 1.5-hour tour takes you out into the night sky to observe the stars through a powerful 9-25 inch telescope. It’s led by an astronomer so you can learn about constellations, as well as ancient Greek and Maori astronomy legends. But perhaps the best part is that they provide blankets and mattresses so you have a comfy stargazing experience, and hot chocolate to keep you warm- try not to fall asleep in this cozy setup!
This truly is one of the most unique things to do in New Zealand. You can reserve this stargazing tour for $110 NZD per person.
You can also save a few bucks and go find an epic stargazing spot on your own! My favorite place to watch the stars is actually on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy. Out there you can see the Milky Way as clear as day! It’s definitely a nice free thing to do in Queenstown.
Related Read: While this isn’t a unique activity, walking on the Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most popular things to do in NZ for a reason. It is incredibly beautiful and magnificently old, so when else will you get an experience like this!?
14. Swim with the dolphins in Kaikoura
One of the things I love most about New Zealand is all of the wildlife! Kaikoura is a famous town for viewing and interacting with marine life, including Dusky dolphins. The Dusky dolphins are the world’s smallest dolphins (so cute!) and are extremely curious and friendly. If you do see them they’re likely to come over and see what you’re up to.
You can take a tour out of Christchurch to swim with Dusky dolphins, as Kaikoura is only 2 hours north! On this full-day dolphin cruise, you’ll don a wetsuit and snorkel and get to swim with the dolphins for a few hours, plus take in the marine life views as you snorkel! I love that you get to settle into this experience and spend multiple hours on the boat, so it never feels rushed. Swimming with dolphins can be booked for $395 NZD.
Unfortunately for me, I never did the swim with the dolphins as it wasn’t running at the time. However, I did take a nature cruise and saw them jumping from the water in front of our boat! This was also a fun tour because we could see sperm whales, humpbacks, and orcas, as well as the Dusky dolphin, and our guide was great at commentating about the surrounding landscape, which is nothing short of gorgeous over here. If you’re not super keen on jumping into the vast ocean, I highly recommend booking this nature cruise for $385 per person (including lunch).
A nice middle-ground option is this nature kayaking tour in Kaikoura! You can still get right next to the Dusky dolphins without having to get wet, plus kayaking is super fun! You might even kayak over a giant whale, and will likely see seals too. This 3.5-hour kayak experience is $140 NZD and includes transportation from Christchurch and all of your kayak equipment.
Where: Kaikoura is located on New Zealand’s South Island just north of Christchurch. The company that runs the dolphin tours in the area is governed by strict rules and regulations in order to protect the dolphins.
15. Helicopter Whale Watching
Whale watching is already a pretty epic experience, but pair it with a helicopter flight and you’re looking at potentially the most memorable way to experience New Zealand!
We mentioned Kaikoura and its cute Dusky dolphin population above, but this area is home to tons of marine life! People flock here for whale watching, which is the tour I actually did. It’s common to see sperm, blue, and humpback whales in the waters. Sperm whales migrate from feeding grounds in Antarctica to this area and also live here year-round, so you’ll often see them right off the coast.
If you’ve ever been whale watching, you’ll understand how magical it is to see these huge creatures! And while seeing them from the boat is exciting, seeing them from a helicopter lets you see just how big these mammals are. This 30-minute tour departs from a helipad on the beach, so you can start scanning the water for whales, seals, and dolphins. You’ll also get incredible views the entire time, as a scenic helicopter flight never disappoints!
This is definitely a unique way to experience New Zealand, I really can’t recommend it enough! You can reserve your spot on this helicopter whale-watching experience for $330 NZD per person.
Unique Things to do on the North Island
16. Explore the magical town of 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 it’s the reason they came to New Zealand to begin with.
And for that reason, it can get busy at Hobbiton – like REALLY busy. For me, the huge crowds of tourists all taking photos really hindered my experience. Depending on your level of interest in Hobbiton, there are a few tours that can strike a balance between budget and exclusivity.
This first tour meets at Hobbiton and gives you a 2.5-hour tour of the movie set, an interior Hobbit Hole experience, and into the Green Dragon Inn. You also get a beverage at the Green Dragon Inn, like a real hobbit would! This tour is 30 minutes longer and includes a few more stops than buying a ticket at Hobbiton, but is still the most budget-friendly option at $120 NZD. It is part of a large group (nearly 40 people) so just be prepared to wait to take photos/see some of the sights!
We also have a tour that provides transportation from Auckland and is a small group of only 16 people. I think this full-day tour does a great job of keeping it smaller and less overwhelming, while still being within a traveler’s budget. You’ll tour Hobbiton with your small group for 2 hours, enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Inn, and have transportation taken care of, so you can simply enjoy the day’s activities! This tour is $275 NZD per person and can be booked in advance here!
Finally, for our die-hard Lord of the Rings fans, this private first-access tour will be your best bet! You will get a 3-hour private tour of the movie set and get to ask as many questions as you’d like, move at your own pace, and geek out about LOTR and The Hobbit! This tour provides transportation, private guides, private drivers, lunch, and a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. While it’s a bit pricey at $1,300 NZD per person, if you’re a serious fan, it will be well worth it!
You can read more about what I thought about the traditional Hobbiton experience here.
17. Check out the Gannets at Muriwai Beach
Muriwai Beach is located on New Zealand’s west coast around an hour’s drive from Auckland. Not only is the beach an awesome place to cool off on a summer day, but between the months of October to March, you can visit the famous Gannet bird colony that calls 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, a highly underrated activity in New Zealand. The best time to see the birds is at sunset as the sun goes down over the water. If you need any more convincing then just check out the photo above!
If you enjoy wildlife, you’ll really appreciate this Muriwai Beach tour from Auckland. The highlight is seeing the Gannets at Muriwai Beach, but that’s only part of it! You will also get to explore the black sand beach, a misty rainforest, and see dolphins, seals, and even more wildlife along the way. Plus, you’ll be led by a local guide who is a fountain of information on the wildlife and their behaviors, so you really learn a lot.
I appreciate that this is a private tour so you can move at your own pace and ask questions as you go. You can reserve this Muriwai Beach tour for $315 NZD per person, but prices get lower the bigger the group, so grab your bird-loving friends and book this tour here!
18. Relax in the Rorotura Secret Hot Pools
There are a ton of amazing hot pools in New Zealand. They can vary quite a bit, some being overcrowded and dirty, and others are clean but way too busy (like the Franz Josef Hot Pools). However, my favorite hot pools are the Rotorua Secret Hot Pools! And because they are actually a bit of a secret still, it’s a nice relaxing environment and a true North Island hidden gem.
The Rotorua Secret Hot Pools are outdoors in the Whakarewarewa Forest so you feel like you’re in a secluded paradise! The tubs are made of handcrafted cedar, just adding to the tranquil forest vibe, and there is tub-side bar service– as if it could get even more luxurious! This hot pool experience is a great value for money at $39 NZD per person. The tubs can fit up to 6 people, so it can be a fun activity with a group of friends, or you can just book it for 2 people for a romantic honeymoon destination.
We love visiting Rotorua, and these hot pools are on our itinerary as often as possible! Rotorua can be visited on a day trip from Auckland, but there’s a lot to do around here so I’d recommend staying a few days if you can!
19. Rotorua Maori Experience
The Maori were the first people to migrate to New Zealand and their culture and traditions are very fascinating. We can see the Maroi’s long-lasting impact on Kiwi culture even today, so diving into history is a truly unique way to experience New Zealand!
The best way to learn about the Maori people is a Rotorua Maori Experience! Located in Rotorua (about 2.5 hours south of Auckland), 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!
Mitai Maori Village Cultural Experience is easily one of the best cultural tours you can do in New Zealand and we had a blast here! This 3-hour tour takes you to a Maori village where you will take a bush walk and learn about the native plant and animal life, a weapon performance (which is slightly terrifying and equally impressive), and haka and poi dances. Oh, and I can’t forget about the Hangi feast!
This makes for an enlightening and entertaining evening, where you can become accustomed to New Zealand’s history and get a better understanding of this diverse culture. You can book this experience for $155 NZD per person.
20. Explore a glow worm cave
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 where you can see glow worms, however, the two best places I saw them were on a tour of the Waitomo Caves and the free Waipu Caves.
The Waitomo Caves are about 2 hours from Auckland and in this cave, you can only enter with a tour guide. This 45-minute tour includes a boat ride through the part of the cave that has the most glow worms- it was like a starry sky in a cave! The guide told us how these little worms actually glow and why Waitomo Caves have the best conditions for them to thrive.
I really enjoyed seeing the glow worms but to be honest, found this a little over-touristic and crowded! Nonetheless seeing the worms was fascinating, so you will enjoy this experience. You can reserve a tour of the Waitomo Caves for $75 NZD.
The Waipu Caves is a free glow worm cave and it’s one of the best in New Zealand. 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!
21. Whitewater raft over a waterfall
Whitewater rafting is thrilling anywhere you do it, but it is even more epic in New Zealand! In fact, the Kaituna River on New Zealand’s North Island has the biggest commercially rated drop in the entire world, which basically ensures the biggest stomach drop of your life! But it’s worth it, especially if you’re an adrenaline junkie like we are!
This 2.5-hour rafting tour departs from Rotorua and heads to the Bay of Plenty region. You’ll put in at the Kaituna River, which expands for 50 kilometers (31 miles) and has some gnarly Grade 5 rapids. Tutea Falls is the main highlight though, as you drop 7 meters (23 feet)! Luckily, you’re equipped with safety equipment and an amazing local guide who has done this drop many times before, so rest assured you’re safe!
Later on your float, you will have the chance to do some cliff jumping, as if you haven’t had enough thrill already! This experience includes all of your safety equipment and your guide, and hotel pick-up can be added for $15 NZD per person. Book this tour in advance for $115 NZD here!
If taking the world’s biggest drop via raft isn’t your thing, there are some other great whitewater rafting locations on the North Island, such as Mohaka River Rafting in Hawke’s Bay and Te Awa Kairangi/Hutt River in Wellington.
Related Read: Black sand beaches are a natural phenomenon that is found only in a few places in the world. Bethells Beach is a must-visit as it is one of those few beaches that are made up of volcanic black ashy sand, and it’s incredibly beautiful!
22. Camp at the Pouakai Hut
The Pouakai Hut is another DOC-run hut in the hills that surround Mt Taranaki. The views of Mt 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 or your rental campervan 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 in New Zealand! Camping near the Pouakai Hut was one of my favorite things to do in New Zealand.
Important info: The Pouaki Hut is a serviced New Zealand hut and requires no bookings. Simply buy a serviced hut pass in New Plymouth (at the DOC office) and hike to the hut. Be aware it does get busy, so get there early to ensure you get a bed.
23. Visit the Te Papa Museum
The Te Papa Museum in New Zealand’s National Museum and it’s world-class! The entire Museum features exhibitions from around the world as well as in 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. This is really one of the best free things to do in Wellington! I enjoy coming here whenever I pass through Wellington because the exhibits change pretty frequently, so it’s a new experience every time. This museum has everything from interactive exhibits to historical artifacts, and even natural history artifacts and modern art! If you enjoy museums, don’t miss the Te Papa Museum.
While it is free to enter, if you want to dive into the details of the exhibits and the museum, you can take an hour-long guided tour. The expert guide will give context and a deeper look at some of the artifacts and Maori history, so you can discover more than just walking around on your own! This tour is $22 NZD per person and can be reserved in advance here.
24. Watch the sunset in Auckland from a Dormant Volcano
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 located right in the city, so it’s nice and easy to access, and pretty fascinating to see how the city built up around it. The volcano erupted about 15,000 years ago, so you can imagine all of the history that has occurred in this area since! But today, we like to get stunning views of the entire city and a front-row seat to watch an epic sunset from Mt Eden. The hike up Mt Eden is about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and should only take about 30 minutes, it’s pretty easy!
You can definitely visit Mt Eden on your own, and it’s a great free activity in Auckland. But if it’s your first time in the city, I recommend taking this half-day sightseeing tour which includes a stop at Mt Eden. This gives you the highlights of Auckland, such as Achilles Point, Auckland Museum, the Harbour, and Mt Eden, of course! You’ll spend about 4 hours with your local guide exploring the town and learning about its history and culture along the way.
You can reserve this sightseeing tour for $70 NZD to enjoy Mt Eden and other iconic Auckland sights!
25. Explore the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk
There are tons of
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
The trail extends for about 2.7 kilometers (1.6 miles) and should take about 45 minutes to complete. It is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm daily and is $10 NZD for adults and $5 NZD for admission. You can buy tickets at the entrance gate upon arrival. It is a lovely way to spend an afternoon walking and enjoying the natural beauty of the area!
26. 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 and tribes would travel all over New Zealand in search of it.
Throughout New Zealand’s North Island, you can join Jade carving lessons and carve your own souvenir to take home. This 30-minute jade carving lesson in Rotorua is an excellent choice! Mountain Jade has been working with local artists for almost 40 years, so it has played a huge role in the local jade arts community and kept the Maori traditions alive. We loved getting to learn from the local artists, it made it a meaningful experience on top of being uniquely fun!
This is one of the best cultural activities to do in New Zealand and the best part is you get a souvenir to take home with you! This tour is only $35 NZD and includes the jade, which is a fantastic price for jade plus the experience. You can reserve this tour in advance here!
You can also check out jade carving on the South Island in Hokitika, Franz Josef, and Punakaiki. Te Koha Gallery and Bonz ‘N Stonz Carving Studio are some of the most highly rated on TripAdvisor and a great way to dive into the South Island’s historic Maori Roots!
27. Dig a hot pool at Hot Water Beach
Okay, so this may not be “unique” as it is one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand. But, it is an activity that is unique to New Zealand! I mean, there’s nowhere else in this world where you can dig up some sand and create a little hot tub – it’s amazing!
All you need to do is show up at Hot Water Beach during low tide with a shovel. Then, you need to dig a small hole in the sand where will hot water seeps up making a little hot pool!
You do need to dig in a specific spot, so be sure to read our blog about Hot Water Beach so you can find the exact location to make your own little hot spa!
While you’re visiting Hot Water Beach, head 10 minutes down the road to Cathedral Cove. This beautiful cove is best seen at sunrise when the tide is low and you can see the sun peaking up in the east. You can either walk to the cove or my favorite option, a kayak tour.
Taking a kayak tour lets you get right up close to its stunning rock formations and marine life, and enjoy the stunning views from the water! This experience cannot be missed if you’re visiting Cathedral Cove from Hot Water Beach, you can check out the details and book this experience for $165 NZD.
There are also boat tours, like this speed boat tour for a quick way to check out the cove. You’ll only need 45 minutes because this boat can go up to 130 km per hour (80 miles per hour)! Or explore this glass bottom boat so you can see the marine life the entire time, and even snorkel around Cathedral Cove!
Unique Things to do Anywhere in New Zealand
28. Go freedom camping
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 special thing to do in New Zealand.
Renting a campervan or motorhome and exploring New Zealand is a great way to get off the beaten path, especially if you love the outdoors like we do! Freedom camping gives you the flexibility to explore and find a place where you won’t see another soul and can enjoy New Zealand’s impressive sights. Some of my favorite places have been found through freedom camping! You can easily find freedom camping spots by using the Campermate or Rankers apps.
The best places I have freedom camped were in Northland, up at the Queenstown ski fields, and around Mt Taranaki! But there’s even more to explore, so I encourage you to get outside and find a hidden gem while freedom camping.
Related Read: I got to try out New Zealand’s first-ever one-person campervan and loved it! If you’re a solo traveler, this is a fantastic option for freedom camping!
29. 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 breweries or companies offering brewery tours, and you know we are always on the hunt for a good brewery!
Some of the best places to explore New Zealand’s craft breweries are Queenstown, Dunedin, Nelson, and Hamilton. Don’t limit yourself to just these locations though as there are hundreds around the country you will likely find on your travels! If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, taking a brewery tour is the best way to experience the local beer scene.
Some of New Zealand’s best up-and-coming breweries are based in Queenstown, so we loved taking this half-day brewery tour! We visited three breweries, including Altitude Brewing, Cargo Gantley’s Pub, and Searchlight Brewing, and tried over 13 different brews. It also included transportation, lunch, brewery tours, and a guide who knew so much about beer it blew me away. This tour is $185 NZD and was worth every penny, you can book this beer tour here.
Wellington is known as the craft beer capital of New Zealand, so if you’re a true beer aficionado, this is the place to visit! This half-day brewery tour takes you to some of my favorite Wellington breweries, such as Kereru Brewing Company, Brewtown Upper Hutt, Baylands Brewery & Taproom, and Garage Project Cellar Door. This tour includes all of your tastings and the guide, and if you’re lucky you might catch a brewmaster and can geek out about beer together. You can book this beer-tasting tour for $153 NZD per person.
30. Visit a winery or join a wine tour
New Zealand wine is becoming very famous, and in my opinion, it’s amazing! In New
The best wine regions in New Zealand are the Gibbston Valley near Queenstown, Hawkes Bay in the North Island, and the many vineyards near Blenheim and Nelson. All regions have cellar doors you can visit or you can join an organized wine tour. We’ve taken wine tours all over New Zealand (and will continue to do so) because it’s a good way to try a variety of wines and learn about each individual winery, and you don’t have to worry about driving. That’s the real selling point for me!
If you’re visiting the South Island, a wine tour in Gibbston Valley is an essential addition to your Queenstown itinerary. Throughout this 5-hour tour, your small group of 12 will be driven to 4 different wineries, tasting the region’s iconic Pinot Noir and other amazing vintages! This area is incredibly scenic so you’ll have great views the whole day. This tour includes a gourmet lunch to pair with your wine, all tasting fees, a driver, and hotel pickup/drop off, all for $239 NZD per person! Book this wine tour in advance here.
After checking out Queenstown you can drive to Christchurch to explore the Waipara wine region, which is a unique wine scene full of relaxed boutique wineries. This 5.5-hour wine trail tour stops by Waipara Hills, Pegasus Bay Winery, Torlesse Wines, and Waipara Springs Winery to try the area’s notable Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and other vintages. These wineries are known for their hand-crafted techniques and focus on sustainable viticulture, so the wines are truly one of a kind! This tour includes transportation from Christchurch, tastings of over 15 wines, and lunch for $160 NZD.
On the North Island, you’ll find the country’s second-largest wine region in Hawke’s Bay! This 5-hour tour will take you to the top wineries in the area to try Syrah, Red Blends, and Chardonnay, all of Hawke’s Bay specialties. This tour is also unique because it will end by driving up Te Mata Peak, which gives 360 views of the sprawling wine valley below- it’s incredibly beautiful! You can book this tour in advance for $155 NZD and it includes transportation and all your wine tasting fees.
31. Take a surf lesson
Many people are surprised to find out that New Zealand 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! This 2-hour surf school is a fantastic way to give it a go, as you’ll be instructed by an expert surfer, but the best way to figure it out is simply to get in the water and try! I had a blast during my surf lesson, and while it was exhausting I felt like I got a good handle on it after the first lesson.
This tour includes your surfboard and a wetsuit. It can be booked for $55 NZD per person, which is actually a very good price for this experience!
Te Arai is another popular surfing destination, located about 1 hour north of Auckland. New Zealand’s west coast is the best place for surfing in the country, so taking a surf lesson here is ideal! This 2-hour tour will teach you the basics from paddling, positioning, and timing, to all of the necessary safety elements, such as reading the ocean. It includes your expert guide who is typically high energy and excited about surfing, and also your surfboard and wetsuit in the $82 NZD price tag.
If learning to surf is high on your bucket list, then book this tour in advance, here!
Related Read: While the South Island is known for its impressive mountain peaks, the North Island is known for its relaxing beaches! Check out the best beaches in New Zealand’s North Island and be sure to add a few to your itinerary.
32. Take a scenic flight ar
ound one of New Zealand’s national parks
One of the best things to do in New Zealand is to go on a scenic flight! This country is full of stunning national parks, huge glaciers and mountain peaks, and long stretches of coastline. From the air, you get a completely new perspective and can really take in just how vast and diverse New Zealand is. I’ve taken scenic flights all over the world, and I can honestly say that New Zealand is the most beautiful place to do this!
While there are many gorgeous parts of New Zealand that can be explored via scenic flight, I can’t recommend flying into Milford Sound highly enough! This Big Five Glacier Scenic Flight gives incredible views of the vast Milford Sound, Mt. Aspiring, and the five major glaciers in the area. It is an hour-long flight (which is quite long for a typical scenic flight) and departs from Queenstown. This is a breathtaking area to explore from an aerial perspective and is truly worth every penny.
You can book this 1-hour Milford Sound Scenic flight for $481 NZD per person.
Mount Cook is another “must-see” place for a scenic flight as the Southern Alps are simply gorgeous! There are a ton of helicopter flights around Mount Cook, but the best bang for your buck is this 30-minute Fox Glacier and Mount Cook scenic flight. You will get to fly around Mount Cook (NZ’s tallest mountain) and even land on Fox Glacier to walk around- which is seriously cool! I like that this 30-minute flight gives you a few extra minutes to explore, as 5 minutes can make a real difference when you’re in a helicopter.
You can book this scenic helicopter flight of Mount Cook and Fox Glacier for $434 NZD per person.
Last but certainly not least is a unique scenic flight and hiking experience in Mount Aspiring National Park. You’ll take a 25-minute scenic flight out of Makarora and get sweeping views of the National Park below (this area is seriously beautiful!). You’ll then land and hike along the Siberia River, stop for lunch, and then take a jet boat back to Makarora. So you’ll be traveling by plane, boat, and foot as you explore Mount Aspiring National Park- what a unique experience!
This 5-hour scenic flight, hike, and jet boat experience can be booked in advance for $520 NZD per person.
Scenic flights aren’t cheap but once in the air, you’ll quickly forget about what you paid for the tour and just be blown away by the breathtaking views.
33. Go on a road trip!
The ultimate way to travel in New Zealand is to go on a road trip. In New Zealand, some of the best attractions are just quick stops on 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!
You can either rent a car, campervan, or motorhome to take a road trip through New Zealand. I recommend doing some research to find your best fit, we have a whole guide on renting a camper van in New Zealand to help you out. If you need a campervan then check out our discount codes below exclusively for our readers!
Or you can simply rent a car, grab a roadmap (or Google Maps), and hit the road to see what you can find. We have road trip itineraries for both the North and South Islands so you can find some hidden gems and must-see attractions along the way!
Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand
The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)
You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.
You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!
Personally, we have rented a campervan from a company called Mad Campers before and had a great experience. Mad Campers is for budget travelers and they offer 1 and 2 berth campervans that are very comfortable and perfect for a road trip in New Zealand! You can read our full Mad Campers review for more info!
We also have a discount code for our readers. Use DTRAVEL5 at checkout to get 5% off your campervan rental with Mad Campers!
The only downside to Mad Campers is that they have limited inventory, so they might already be sold out for your travel dates. In that case, your next best option is JUCY. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suite your budget and travel style. You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.
Kiwi Motorhomes is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer luxury motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates. Check out our full review on them as well as more info specific on renting a motorhome in NZ in our guide!
Kiwi Motorhomes has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DEST5 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
The truth is, no matter how you choose to spend your time in New Zealand you will have a great time. There are literally so many amazing things to do in New Zealand that you can’t go wrong – it’s just an incredible country! But, if you are able to tick off some of these more unique experiences in New Zealand then I’m sure you won’t 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! If you liked this blog then be sure to check out all of our New Zealand blogs. We covered almost all of New Zealand in this post so here are some Australia guides if you end up making your way there too: