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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!
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.
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. 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.
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 or, 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.
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.
Tours to Doubtful Sound run from Queenstown and Te Anau. From Queenstown, you’ll need a full day to join a tour, and with transport, most of the tours last 12 hours. For this reason, I highly recommend doing a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. Although more expensive, it’s one of my favorite activities in New Zealand.
Another good option is to drive yourself to Manapouri and get a tour from there. This specific tour from Manapouri (only 20 mins from Te Anau) is a little shorter at around 8 hours but still visits both Doubtful Sound and Lake Manapouri. It’s also very affordable!
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.
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 Glacier Helicopter Tour and see Mt Cook from the sky. This 35-minute tour is pricey but is guaranteed to take your breath away!
Also if you like hiking but want to see a variety of different places this private tour from Christchurch will guide you to Lake Tekapo and Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest glacier) and stops for lunch at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook before ending the day by viewing a famous church.
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!
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.
With that said, don’t just let the waterfalls entice you as in this region you can also see seals, dolphins, whales, and penguins!
There is a full-day tour out of Dunedin to the Catlins that visits the McLean Falls, a lighthouse, tracks down New Zealand wildlife, and stops at some charming coastal villages on the Otago Peninsula. For just over $100 NZD it’s a pretty great deal.
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.
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 44km (27mi) 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.
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.”
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 and tribes would travel all over New Zealand in search of it.
Throughout New Zealand’s South Island, you can join Jade carving lessons and carve your own souvenir to take home. Te Koha Gallery and Bonz ‘N Stonz Carving Studio are some of the most highly rated on TripAdvisor. 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!
Where: Some great places to go jade carving on the South Island include Hokitika, Franz Josef, and Punakaiki.
10. Explore the Wanaka Lavender Farm
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.
The entrance to the Wanaka Lavender 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.
Just a 10-minute drive from the lavender farm is New Zealand’s most famous tree called That Wanaka Tree so make sure to swing by and take some stunning pictures of it!
11. 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.
12. 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.
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 of Bluff. Accommodations on the island are limited so be sure to book it early during the busy summer months!
13. Relax at the Franz Joseph Hot Pools (Glacier 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 was none of that and was 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 a great thing to do on your own or on a tour! But after the hike, you’ll want to relax your muscles and these hot pools are the perfect place to do so!
14. See wild penguins
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. This affordable 2-hour tour starts right from the Milford Sound Visitor Centre and gives you a great chance of spotting penguins along with other wildlife. As for the Yellow-Eyed Penguins, a great place to see them is Curio Bay in the Catlins region.
15. 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 from a range of different tours to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the best views. I like to recommend the Mt Cook and Hooker Valley guided hike which makes 9 different stops, skiing down the Tasman Glacier, a 13,000 ft skydive over Mt Cook, or an iconic helicopter tour of the National Park.
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!
16. 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.
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 clear as day! It’s definitely a nice free thing to do in Queenstown.
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!
Unfortunately for me, I never did the swim with the dolphins as it wasn’t running at the time, however, I did do a nature cruise and saw them jumping from the water in front of our boat. Although not as amazing as actually swimming with them, it was still a cool experience to have in New Zealand.
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.
Unique Things to do on the North Island
18. Explore the magical town of Hobbiton on an Early Access Private Tour
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. This is why going on an early-access private tour would be the best option!
On this tour, you and a 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 drink 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. To view a huge range of different Hobbiton experiences check out all these tours here.
You can read more about what I thought about the traditional Hobbiton experience here.
19. 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 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!
Where: Muriwai Beach is located about an hour’s drive west of Auckland south of the famous Piha Beach. If you don’t have a car you can book tours to Muriwai Beach from Auckland.
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
The Rotorua Maori Experience is easily one of the best cultural tours you can do in New Zealand and overall a great tour.
21. 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 you can see glow worms however the two best places I went to see them was on a tour to the Waitomo Caves and the FREE 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 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!
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.
For me, 5 days was a little much so we only did the last 3 days and loved it. To say the least, it was a crazy backpacking adventure as a couple and one that definitely tested our relationship!
23. Camp at the Pouakai Hut
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 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.
24. 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!
25. 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.
If you happen to be in Auckland without a car you can book a half-day tour that will provide transportation from the city’s center to Mt Eden and it also includes stops at other attractions in Auckland including the museum.
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.
Important info: Visiting the craters is completely free and with a car involves very little hiking.
Related Read: Check out the best free and cheap things to do in Auckland!
26. Explore the Craters on 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
Important info: The walk takes around 45-minutes and is fairly easy with a built boardwalk most of the way. It costs $8 NZD for adults or $4 for a child for admission.
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, three’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!
Tip: Hot Water Beach is located on the Coromandel Peninsula. It is a gorgeous region with lots of other attractions around including the beautiful Cathedral Cove. You can walk, take a kayak tour, speed boat tour, or even a glass-bottom boat to get to the 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.
Some of the best places I have freedom camped were in Northland, up at the Queenstown ski fields, and around Mt Taranaki!
Related Read: My experience trying out New Zealand’s first ever one-person campervan
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.
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!
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
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!
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!
Related Read: All of the best beaches in New Zealand’s North Island
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 and the best places to do it are in the stunning national parks scattered around the country. 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!
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!
Related Read: If you plan on doing your own NZ road trip we have organized over 10 different New Zealand road trip itineraries to help you plan
If you need a campervan then check out our discount codes below exclusively for our readers!
Related Read: Everything you need to know before renting a campervan in New Zealand
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 have laid them out on an easy-to-use page separating each major area of New Zealand to make planning your trip easy!
Thanks again for reading! Have a safe trip to New Zealand!
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: