The 100 Most Epic Things To Do In New Zealand – Happy Adventures in Kiwiland

Kia Ora, my friend!
Welcome to your all-encompassing introduction to
the land of the long white cloud

So you wanna get a slice of paradise? Try New Zealand!

It’s no small country – but a barely 176 years old large village. Home to roughly 4,5 million people and 30 million sheep. The country that combines the most amazing places on earth onto just 268.000 m² – from tropical beaches to deserted moon-like areas traversed by craters, thick jungles and thundering waterfalls, rich colorful corals and exciting ski slopes, stunning fiords and wild coasts, narrow glowworm-covered flowstone caves and boiling geothermal pools in every color imaginable.

Here’s the story about my little big happy adventures and recommendations for the 100 best things to do in New Zealand.

– now, I know there are heaps (typical NZ expression btw) of those all the same sounding lists and we all get kinda tired of random, soulless compilations of so-called must-see’s. But to be honest, this country and its people plainly. captured. my. heart. And it would be a shame to waste that admiration and experience without sharing it, right?

*glimpsing between my fingers hoping for approving nods*

Prologue

When I applied for my year abroad in New Zealand, I was 17 and full of the most fantastic dreams about my life after graduation due half a year later. I was freshly in love, I had an amazing bunch of friends and family around me, and I just started to become interested in photography – completely unaware of the absolutely tremendous amount of wanderlust resulting from the trip, the urge to discover more and more wonderful places on this planet, the passionate way of becoming a travel blogger. All compared to the shy stay-at-home-girl I was.

Summer on the countryside in northwestern Germany was approaching. I had already found a great host family to work as an au pair for in Auckland. The final exams went incredibly well and my little group of friends and I did movie nights and pub crawls and cycling tours and entire weekends of playing Settlers in Catan.

Life was good – and, despite all the goodbyes ahead, became even better.

Barely 18, with a new glaring red suitcase that contained way too much stuff my few precious possessions for the next year, and an afraid yet curious heart, I left.

Ahead of me lay 12 adventurous months exploring Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. We were two curious souls having bought a small campervan, our “old lady”, driving 10.000 km here and there and everywhere.

The country is divided into two islands that vary a lot from each other. Many people I came across prefer the South Island, however I found both so extremely diverse that they’ll get equal attention in putting together what I found the most amazing things to do in New Zealand.

Top Things to do in New Zealand:
The Globalized North Island

The North Island is the more civilized one. With a population of about 3 million it is home to about 3/4 of all New Zealanders, with most of them in Auckland. Also Wellington is situated here, the political and cultural center with a vibrant art scene, excellent restaurants and famous festivals. The landscape is very diverse, but overall dominated by gently rolling green hills. In-between, there are thick rain forests around Coromandel and north of Auckland, rugged volcano mountains and a real desert in the center of the island, just south of the impressive geothermal zone around Taupo and Rotorua, where it’s steaming out of every whole in the ground, always accompanied by a strong smell of sulfur. Follow this route, starting in the very north, slowly winding its way all the way down to Wellington.

1. Cape Reinga

This is the northernmost end of the North Island and one of the spiritually most significant places for the Maori. It is told that after death, the spirit is on its last journey, up the coast, to the ancient Pohutukawa tree marking the land’s last tip softly emerging into the water. They then descend down the roots into the underworld (reinga) and make their way to eventually return to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki.

2. Te Paki Sand Dunes

Sheesh, I thought I was standing in the desert! And we were walking, walking, walking … And just when we thought we reached the top, another endless stretch of sand emerged in front of us. The sand was so hot you could not touch it. The air was flickering. If not for the trees that could still be seen in the other direction towards where our car was parked, we would have gotten lost easily…

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3. Drive Along Ninety Mile Beach

Yep, you read right. 90 freaking miles. This beach is officially a highway, but is really only suitable for 4WD and only safe to drive when tide is suitable. Well. We did anyway 😀 And we were lucky.
The long coast also boasts one of the best left hand surf breaks in the world,  and with the white sand, beautiful blue water, and the surf stretching as far as you can literally see, it’s an absolutely stunning sight.

4. Fishing in Pukenui

We were on our way down and looking for a place to spend the night. The boys were up for fishing but – guess what – we didn’t have any equipment. So we made our own and spent a fantastic day fishing & swimming and night making music and stargazing in this tiny, tiny village. Free overnight parking / camping included. You won’t find this place in any tour guide, but for us it was the perfect happy day on the road.

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5. Waipoua Forest

Although it is the longer route, I’d recommend to not drive back the same way you came up but check out Waipoua Forest – one of the largest Kauri forests and home to the biggest Kauri in NZ of 4,4m in diameter. It’s remote, peaceful, impressive. Beware of mosquitos though, I counted 21 just on my right foot… Ah and well, make sure you check your routes a little before, as we didn’t notice we’d have to take a ferry and almost had no cash left and had to wait 2 hours for the next one 😉 You don’t come across ATMs very often up there.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_waipoua

6. Cruise Bay Of Islands

Welcome to the tropical destination of your dreams! Meet the locals, friendly curious dolphins, relax at the sight of aquamarine water softly  breaking at the shorelines of the numerous islands, walk along secluded beaches, go on an overnight cruise featuring incredibly beautiful sunsets, when suddenly, as if on cue, a group of dolphins appears to swim and jump next to the boat…

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7. Waitangi Treaty Grounds

This is probably New Zealand’s most important historic site – as you’ll walk over the grounds where once the cornerstone for the nation was laid. If you buy a ticket, you get admission to the Treaty Grounds, a guided tour and cultural performance as well as entry to the Museum of Waitangi.

8. The prettiest toilet in the world

… is, yep, located in NZ as well. In Kawakawa. Shapes and colors make it easily recognizable as Hundertwasser’s work. Why should any usual every day activity lack colour?

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9. Taste the Original Manuka Honey

You’ll find plenty places to buy excellent Manuka honey, in various tastes, possibly being one of NZ’s most famous exports. It is derived from the nectar of the manuka tree to be found all over the country and has been proven to have a natural healing ability. I didn’t like honey before, and this place north of Auckland changed my mind – check it out!

10. Relax at Martins Bay

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_martins_bayThis is another place you probably won’t find in any guide. However, just an hour’s drive north of Auckland, this is a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. A calm little bay, a lot of family baches (a NZ expression for little holiday houses), coming together for fishing, hiking, and bonfires at the beach. I welcomed 2012 there (the new year’s races are heaps of fun!), I went there when I needed some alone time, I visited the nearby small island with its beautiful mansion and peacocks.

11. Mangawhai Heads

Thanks to the rugged cliffs, soft grass hills, uniquely shaped stone formations and the good swell, this is a great base for surfing, hiking, camping, mountainbiking, anything that lets an outdoorer’s heart beat faster.

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12. Hike to the Fairy Falls

This is a cute little magical hike just north of Auckland, with a pretty good track that takes you to a waterfall – not big, but you’ll be totally surrounded by plants of all colours, the blue sky above you, and absolute silence apart from the water’s soft rushing…

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13. Piha & Muriwai Beach

Just around Auckland, they are amazing get aways from the city for a little wild coast. Surfing, bird-watching, experiencing some jungle feeling, black sand, hiking up Lion rock, watching spectacular sunsets… it’s all there. Was pretty weird when I went bodysurfing and sunbathing here on Christmas Day, when Christmas till then always meant 0°C, scarfs and icy roads 😀

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14. Walk through Remuera, Auckland

Auckland in general is a very diverse city, but I particularly enjoyed the cute neighborhood of Remuera, with all its little shops and cute cafés and nice views and colorful houses…

15. An Afternoon at Auckland’s North Shore

Another pretty area of the city is a little further north including Takapuna and Devonport. Fun parks, long beaches, historic sights, great views – it is always good for a couple of hours out of downtown. Btw, on the right that’s me being surprised by the tide at Takapuna beach. That had been new shoes. Notice the past tense.

16. Join one of New Zealand’s many festivals

There’s the lantern festival in Auckland, or a busker’s festival, or – as I was really really lucky – the fantrail to the rugby stadium when New Zealand was for the first time hosting the rugby world cup (and winning, of course). They really understand how to make you give those aaaws and ooohs without even having to fake them.

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17. Waiwera Thermal Resort

One of many natural hot pools in this country, Waiwera is amazing to combine the thrill of steep water slides and the relaxation in comfy pools of different temperatures.

18. Rangitoto Island

You’ll easily recognize the long stretch of Rangitoto every time you pass Auckland’s city beach Mission Bay. A visit allows you spectacular views over the city and exciting walks through the rich forest.

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19. Waiheke Island

Excellent for surfing or wine tasting! There’s fun, chilled people to be found everywhere, come sit down and relax. Check out this weekend guide for a stay on Waiheke.

20. Great Barrier Island

Compared to Waiheke, not many travelers go her since it is a couple of hours by ferry, but in my opinion absolutely worth it. Infrastructure is not really well established which makes it so interesting. Meaning, even electricity and running water are not always guaranteed. The first two nights, we stayed at a pottery, helping out in exchange for a room and food, and learning about the island. We went snorkeling around spectacular coral reefs. We hiked up the island’s highest mountain overlooking everything. When asking around for a free campground further north, a lady invited us to stay with her. We were given food and the most gigantic bed I had ever seen in her “summer house”, just for us. She had her own little yacht down at the water and peacocks wandering in the garden… gosh that was an experience 😀

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21. Go Snorkeling & Diving

New Zealand offers various spots that let a diver’s and even “just” snorkeler’s heart beat faster! Here’s what I found a convenient guide to good spots all over the country.

22. Coromandel

Deserted beaches, green forests and laid-back vibes is what you get when visiting this peninsula. The highway will lead you right along the waterfront. There are free camping spots here and there. Although one night when we were too tired, we stopped somewhere we weren’t supposed to – and got fined. Heavily. Oops.

23. Hot Water Beach

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_hot_water_beachHere you can sit at the beach, the cold waves reaching the hole you dug every now and then, while the hot water spring from beneath will always keep you warm and comfy. Try to do this off season cause it’ll be waaaay less crowded than in this picture – and the spring won’t be less hot. Oh, and bring a shovel or something. We had to finish our lunch quickly to use the box…

24. Cathedral Cove

One of the most famous sights of the country probably, Cathedral Cove is still a nice little hike, making for some impressive moments standing beneath that solid mountain.

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25. Drive to Paeroa and drink L&P

No words needed.

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26. Mt Maunganui

Can you imagine a greater place for your birthday lunch? *still grinning childishly at the memory*

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27. High Wire Course

How about a little different adventure, getting up high the trees? This has been an excellent adrenaline rush at my 19th birthday…

28. Natural Hot Pools

Check out the various geothermal pools all over the country! Some are even for free. Grab your swim suit and follow the smell …

29. Tirau

Now look at these corrugated iron buildings and tell me that isn’t just ADORABLE!

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30. Black Water Rafting

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_black_water_raftingAn adventure of a different kind – in total darkness. We put on wetsuits, got a tube each and off we went into the narrow paths beneath earth, floating on the water, seeing just what our headlights enabled us to see. We had to jump down little waterfalls, duck beneath low ceilings, swim a little stretch when it was not possible to sit in the tube – all in complete darkness! Nothing for claustrophobics for sure, but quite an experience!

31. Glowworm Caves

Floating through a cave that is dead quiet and pitch black, above you what looks like a broad starry sky, full of glittering glowworms… Check it out!

32. Spot a Kiwi

You’ll most likely never see a wild kiwi – although chances are good you can hear them when hiking in nature reserves. The Otorohanga Kiwi House near Waitomo, however, is a charity-running park conserving the NZ native wildlife. Worth a visit!

33. Participate the Tough Guy & Gal Challenge

Ever wanted to do a mud run? This one offers a 6 km and a 12 km option and was just a childish silly muddy dirty happy slimy lot of fuuun!

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34. Smell ya in Rotorua

A distinct odor of Sulfur all over the town, steam coming from various holes in the ground. Most famous for its geothermal park and lakes of different colors, strolling through the streets with its colorful houses, and having breakfast at the lake, Rotorua is, sigh, another must.

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35. Swing high in the Sky

The Skyswing is possibly just another tourist attraction, but at the view overlooking whole Rotorua and the lake such a thrilling experience.. and then you DROP.

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36. First Sunrise at East Cape

When you check out the most eastern tip of our European maps, it will be the East Cape in New Zealand. A sign in the little village Te Araroa in Eastland indicates a distance of 19.290 km till Frankfurt. The easternmost town, the easternmost lighthouse, “First to see the light!” – the world’s first sunrise, each day, as it is closest to the date line.

37. Gisborne

Now here we’ve got the easternmost city. Usually only 35.000 inhabitants, Gisborne had its big moment when people from all over the world came end of 1999 to be the first welcoming the new millennium. It is surrounded by vineyards and located at the coast, almost half its population is Maori. Thus, the perfect destination if you’re in for good food, Maori culture and surf beaches.

38. Visit Hobbitonthings_to_do_in_new_zealand_hobbiton

Yes, my precious, it’s a real place. Instead of going all the way to a fancy Hollywood studio, Peter Jackson knew this farm was the best possible location to set Hobbiton while filming The Lord of The Rings. Today, it is a permanent attraction including the little Hobbit holes, gardens and even the movie’s pub.

39. Taupo & Huka Falls

A huge lake, the mountains at the horizon, and a wide thundering waterfall as well as a cute buzzing town make the area around Taupo a picturesque stop when traveling through the country.

40. Tongariro Crossing

One of the most famous hikes of the country, the Crossing indeed makes for many spectacular, and surprisingly diverse views. It’s a one day trip of around 19 km, that you can do even if you’re not too experienced. It’ll reward you with geothermal lakes of most diverse colours, almost infinite views over the surrounding countryside, desert-like stretches of plain volcano land…

41. Mt Ngauruhoe

Few of you won’t have seen The Lord of The Rings – and even if you’re not a big fan, standing at the bottom of “Mt Doom” gives you the chills! I picked up a little volcano stone from there, and we enjoyed taking silly totally serious pictures hiding from evil creatures…

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42. Eat Tim Tams with hot chocolate

After all this adventuring and outdooring (can you say that? should be a word), we well deserve a little break and comfort. How about the traditional snack of Tim Tams, small rectangular chocolate cakes. You diagonally bite of two ends and then suck hot chocolate through it. YUUUUUM.

43. Drive the Forgotten World Highway

Yep. Forgotten world. And the mixture of secluded views and literally forgotten streets make well worth this distinct name.

44. Te Urewera National Park

An untouched, huge nature park in the central east of the island, where you still come across wild horses, thick jungle and the most dusty roads.

45. Napier

Definitely pay a visit to this vibrant city, full of 1920’s style and charme. Have a stroll along the beautiful coastal walkway or check out the rich, colorful city gardens.

46. Bridge to Nowhere

So, yeah. In the middle of the jungle you’ll find this pretty intact bridge, that you can best access by boat. Quite random, isn’t it? Back in 1935 it was built to bring riverboat service to the settlers of the valley. But the weak economy as well as the still remaining difficulty of access resulted in many families abandoning their farms. Eventually, the roadlines disappeared, old fences and occasional brick chimneys slowly became one with the exotic trees, and just the bridge reminds of the former settlement in the Mangapurua valley.

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47. Cycle the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

This is a 10 km long route along numerous beaches and city sights, from Hickford Park in Bell Block all the way to Port Taranaki. With plenty of opportunities for a picnic along the way, it passes farmland, bridges, lagoons, beaches, playgrounds and parks…

48. Pukekura Park

New Plymouth’s heart is a park. One so big, you’d believe to be in a secluded nature reserve, not in the center of a lively city. It offers water features and rich gardens, display houses, and is famous for the fernery and the tea house. With its lakes and rivers and winding trails as well as entertainment facilities, it is a favorable destination for runners and families and rock concerts alike. The story is that in late 19th century, four trees were planted there signifying the unity of the following: A Puriri tree for NZ, a Norfolk Pine for the South Pacific Islands, an oak for England and a pine tree for the United States of America.

49. Surf Highway

As you might guess, this route along the coast south of New Plymouth is famous for its numerous excellent surfing spots. Make sure weather is good though, we were almost stuck there since they were about to close the highways due to very bad conditions. Anyway we were able to enjoy some good waves before, and the route offers some free camping possibilities.

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50. Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington

One of the coolest (national) museums I’ve ever been to! Interactive, exciting, full of myths and legends and culture and history, it tells you all you ever wanted to know about New Zealand.

Now, the journey from Wellington to Picton is about 3,5 hours – let’s fill it with some background knowledge.

 

Alright, a little adventure break:
a quick guide to New Zealand’s history

The legend is that around 925, the Polynesian explorer Kupe reached New Zealand coming from his home Hawaiiki. Probably used to rather warm climate, he named the islands Aotearoa – Land of the long white cloud.

The Polynesian Maori built their first settlements, developing their rich society over hundreds of years. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to reach New Zealand in 1642, however, the British colonized it later. The treaty of Waitangi between the British crown and the Maori was signed in 1840 and marked the foundation of New Zealand.

Today, Maori still make for about 15 % of the population, and their culture and traditions are still deeply rooted in the country’s identity. E.g., the national anthem is always sung in both English and Maori, they have their own assigned seats in the Parliament, and the All Blacks Rugby Team always performs the traditional Haka before every game, to frighten their enemies.

Top Things to do in New Zealand:
The Wild South Island

The bigger of the two islands is simultaneously the more secluded, isolated and wilder one. Its landscape is dominated by the mountains of the Southern Alps that run parallel to the west coast. The cities barely overcome the status of provincial towns, only one million people are spread over the island, while the area around Fiordland is almost uninhabited. Traveling the South Island means to go for quiet, unspoiled nature and animal life, and a rougher climate. Here, we’re continuing the list of the greatest things to do in New Zealand – but beware: nasty sandflies are unwelcome but common company here! We travel from north to south again…

51. Picton

Welcome to the South Island! This cute town greets travelers on their way to this part of their NZ adventure. The Picton Sound invites curious minds to stay a while and explore the scenic area.

52. Drive your Campervan over the whole ravishing Island

In my opinion the best way to experience the beauty and remoteness of the island, to see famous stunning sights but also follow intuitive thoughts down more secluded roads…

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53. Go Wine Tasting Anywhere!

New Zealand is origin to some of the best and most rewarded wines in the world. There even is a Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, with background knowledge and suggested itineraries to the three major wine producing regions of the country. One is right here, in the Marlborough sounds.

54. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer and is known to be the first European reaching New Zealand. Today, one of NZ’s finest coastal national parks is named after him, offering golden beaches, granite cliffs, and its famous coast track. Gorgeous!

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55. Kayaking & Watching Seals

The Abel Tasman Park makes a perfect choice for some more water action! Our hilarious guide and only three people including us (it was off season but best weather) paddled along the shore, through clearest water, even went for a short swim and played with the curious seals nearby 🙂

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56. Nelson

This city in the north-west is supposed to be the sunniest region of the country. The Queen’s Gardens, several high class museums as well as the scenic sights & activities around make it well worth a stay.

57. Stand in the Center of NZ

They actually marked the spot that is the exact middle of New Zealand, just nearby Nelson. Funny feeling, check it out!

58. Dive into Maori culture

The indigenous people of NZ originate from the eastern islands of Polynesia, who are supposed to have left their homes in a traditional waka canoe. Their culture features art and legends, the traditional tattoos telling the stories of their ancestors, performances and, of course, the language of the same name. An estimated 125.000 people still speak Maori today. Diving into this fascinating and vibrant culture is definitely an experience!

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59. Havelock

A sleepy pretty nest at the coast in the Marborough region. We stayed a while and went kayaking, jetskiing, hiking, fishing, on a cruise, and almost never came across other tourists. Perfect laid-back destination to enjoy and breathe for a while.

60. Enjoy the freshest Seafood

New Zealand is an excellent place to try seafood of all sort of kinds and shapes and tastes. May it be the famous Mt Cook Salmon, Snapper, Bluff Oysters, Scallops from Coromandel, crayfish in Kaikoura, the west coast’s Whitebait, the green-lipped mussels of Marlborough or the popular Pāua (abalone) fritters. YUM!

61. Stay in a place for a while longer

Rushing from one place to another was not our thing. So we stayed two whole weeks in Havelock, working in a hostel: the Blue Moon Lodge. And had the most splendid time! Three other travelers and us were staying in one room, taking care of the hostel in exchange for accommodation & food, and also spent our free time with the owners, Shane & Ash. Slow down, and get to know a place. No need to rush from one tourist hotspot to the next.

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62. Take the Post Ship through Pelorus Sound

… and experience the real Marlborough Sounds! This is supposed to be one of the last genuine mail boats left in the world and a relaxing opportunity to cruise through the stunning landscape. Actual mail is delivered throughout the daytrip, the crew and the few people across the Sound all know each other and chat a little during the three deliveries per week. They look after each other, and when someone is not picking up their mail, skipper Jim goes checking up on them. Actually most of the houses and farms are only accessible by boat. This definitely  is a unique opportunity to discover secluded bays and coves most tourist never lay eyes upon.

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63. Eat Pavlova

The meringue-based dessert topped with fruits is supposed to originate from NZ, named after a Russian ballerina. Either way, it’s another yummy must-eat!

64. Go Dolphin Swimming in Kaikoura

I’m very sceptical regarding animal tourism in no matter what country, and thus I was pleasantly surprised of and eagerly recommend swimming with dolphins with dolphin encounter. It was definitely worth the money (and sea-sickness) to snorkel with these curious playful creatures in their natural environment. Despite them being wild and not trained at all (the skippers look out for groups of dolphins each time), we were almost able to touch them and could actually communicate with them! It was AWESOME!

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65. Christchurch

The largest city of the South Island is at the same time supposed to be the most “british” one of NZ. A lot of its beauty was destroyed in the heavy earthquake back in 2011, and we still experienced its aftermath. But the city coped well and still inspires with its museums and gardens, the touching earthquake memorial, the colorful containers replacing destroyed buildings, and its picturesque peninsula.

66. Akaroa

This historic French and British settlement is an excellent base for exploring the gorgeous peninsula, going on cruises and tours and exploring the actual ancient volcano it is nestled in.

67. Watch a game of the All Blacks

Rugby is regarded NZ’s national sport, performed by this must-see worldclass team. Famous for their incomparable Haka, watching them will even turn the laziest clumsy fellow into an enthusiastic fan!

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68. A Daytrip on the TranzAlpine Train

No matter if you’re always in for good views, are a train fanatic or weather in Christchurch or Greymouth is just miserable – this train journey is supposed to be one of the most scenic of the world. The return journey takes a day and won’t let you stop grabbing your camera in awe-stricken gasping – no exaggerating here!

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69. Lake Pukaki

This lake is framed by the breathtaking landscapes of the highest mountains of the country and the biggest turquoise gem around the southern alps. You won’t believe this color if you haven’t seen it.

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70. Road Trip through Mt Cook National Park

We didn’t feel like driving straight south from Christchurch and instead took the detour driving towards the heartland. Passing stunning glaciersprung lakes, snow-covered mountains and wide golden meadows beneath an enless blue sky made us stop regularly, unable to really get the beauty of what surrounded us.

71. Mt Cook

Also called Aoraki, it is the highest mountain in NZ with 3.724 meters (rockslides and erosions made it decrease in the past) and helped Sir Hillary preparing for the conquest of Mount Everest. Its foot makes a good base for exploring the landscape, and you don’t have to be a mountaineer as there are plenty of walks for every level of experience. If your wallet still won’t commit suicide, I recommend to do some flightseeing around the area!

72. Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Edmund Hillary was the first mountaineer to reach the peak of Mount Everest in 1953. As a tribute to Hillary, the centre displays the Mt Cook region and its people and features a stunning 3D planetarium.

73. Watch the darkest skies in the world

Almost 4.300 m² of the South Island have been declared International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest of its type worldwide. Especially at Mt Cook, far from any city lights, enjoying professional telescopes accompanied by passionate experienced guides is a unique way to watch the night sky.

74. Punakaiki pancake Rocks

Fun to see and hear these blowholes and how sights are named as creatively as pancakes – getting hungry here…

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75. Go Skiing in the Southern Alps

The South Island has a total of 308 slopes in 40 areas up to 2.133 m high. How could you resist a winter’s holiday here?

76. Drive along the Coast Road

Another scenic drive, this time along the wild west coast from Greymouth to Westport. We can’t get enough of those picturesque views, can we? Beware of sand flies though, they’ll get through any mosquito net! And kept us awake the whole night trying to kill them while I swear they almost killed us.

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77. Watch penguins

You can actually observe the smallest penguins in the world in NZ. These charming birds are best to be found in the Marlborough Sounds, Dunedin, Akaroa and Oamaru.

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78. Moeraki Boulders

It was pure random chance we found these. When driving South, we saw one of those many brown signs indicating some sort of sight. Since we didn’t intend to make it all the way to Dunedin that day, we took the turn – and were surprised by these mysterious stones scattered across the beach. They make up to 3 meters in diameter and are at least 56 million years old!

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79. Chocolate Factory in Dunedin

A child’s dream come true. Sigh.

80. Otago Farmers Market

Right next to the Dunedin Railway station, you’ll find this cute market every Saturday morning featuring regional products. How about some nice cheese, healthy veggies, various spices or fresh fish, all from the area, for a change? We definitely grew tired of all the same backpacker’s food and enjoyed a little treat.

81. Go surfing!

I started surfing in New Zealand and bought my first board in Mt Maunganui (Nr. 26) for my 19th birthday. It’s amazing for no matter what your skills are, and you’ll find excellent spots for every condition all over the country. The feeling when, for the first time, I noticed the wave taking me along and I was able to actually stand up… still gives me the chills.

82. Find a place with your name

Haha, actually it didn’t seem to hard, to find a road and a whole mountain that share my name 🙂

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_place_name

83. Have a flat white

Both NZ and Australia contest to have invented the original flat white. Either way it makes for a brilliant little coffee break! Basically, it’s an espresso with a nice blend of froth and milk; less froth than a cappuccino, and stronger than a latte.

84. St Clair “Shark” Beach

There actually still is a shark warning bell, from when sharks were prevalent decades ago. Like in the movie Jaws, when citizens were too afraid to go into the water due to a rogue shark responsible for multiple deaths in the 1960s. No matter how curious we were to learn about local history, this definitely gave us the chills.

85. Steepest road of the world

Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the world’s steepest residential street – and heaps of fun!

86. Lost Gypsy Gallery

Another of those random discoveries, a roadside house bus in Papatowai, a curious, wonderful, random collection of fascinating, weird things… with buttons and levers and ropes and… just giving the visitor the childish joy of discovering the secrets behind absolutely useless wonderful little automata 🙂

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_lost_gypsy_gallery

87. Niagara Falls

The deafening noise of NZ’s largest thundering waterfalls – is non-existent. What started as a joke, today became an ironic fun-to-see of probably the smallest waterfall in the world…

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_niagara_falls

88. Franz Josef Glacier

I said, this country just offers anything, didn’t I? I got stunned over and over again, seriously. Having crossed off exotic beaches, wild coasts, deserts, volcanos and jungles, now check out this exciting glacier walk – before they won’t be accessible anymore due to its rapid melting.

91_franzjosefdsc08380

89. Puzzleworld in Wanaka

Now this was … puzzling! Some of the riddles were almost impossible to solve, all the paintings were making you standing in front of them thinking “wait, what, something’s wrong here…..”, in one room I actually got sick cause my brain couldn’t handle the mismatch of lines in the room and gravity…

90. Skydiving in Queenstown

Bungee jumping was born in this city, and for us it meant, we’ll get our next adrenaline kick just here! We dug deep in our shockingly empty pockets and afforded the jump, the photos & video as well as t-shirts for this experience of a lifetime.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_skydiving

91. White Water Rafting

Another thrill to experience is rafting down wild rivers! If possible, you also get the chance to jump down a waterfall during a rest stop, and get a free hot pool voucher for warming up afterwards. Can it get any better?

92. Grab a Craft Beer

How about cooling off to a fine cold beer? The growing craft beer market offers a large variety of ale and lager beers brewed in NZ. I particularly enjoyed Liberty Brewing’s Sauvignon Bomb.

93. Arrowtown

A cute little historic place just out of Queenstown. Featuring the most amazing icecream I ever had! And a little calmer roads than the adventurous city.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_arrowtown

94. Try your Luck Gold Panning

You can actually rent a typical bowl in Arrowtown and head to the river to try your luck finding some gold – as many, many did before you. There was actually quite a gold rush starting the second half of 19th century. We didn’t find anything, however, but it still satisfied our adventurous souls.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_gold

95. Southern Scenic Route

Enjoy a coastal journey from Dunedin to Queenstown, and refresh mind and soul with its incomparable landscapes. Learn about heritage architecture, watch the unique wildlife, and let the 150 million years old sandstone hills elate you!

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_southern_scenic

96. Cruising Milford Sound

One of the quite touristy things to do down South, but the fjords are an absolute must see. You feel so incredibly tiny passing the gigantic cliffs around you, covered with green trees and thundering waterfalls. Another gorgeous sunset promised!

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_milford_sound

97. Reflect at the Mirror Lakes

Can you see the difference? 😉 Here’s some information to tracks around the mirror lakes in Milford.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_mirror_lake

98. Fiordland

Home to the stunning fiords Milford and Doubtful Sound, it is the largest of the country’s 14 national parks and never fails to enthral travellers. Try one of the great walks and see the tallest waterfall in New Zealand!

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_fiordland

99. The southernmost town

The legend tells that Maui, a legendary god-like Polynesian voyager, pulled up Stewart Island from the ocean floor to be the anchor stone for his canoe, the South Island. He then was able to haul out the giant fish which became the North Island. The anchor chain is reminding of the physical and spiritual connections between Bluff and Stewart Island.

things_to_do_in_new_zealand_bluff

100. Find the way to paradise

Have you found your personal paradise yet? Make sure it’s one way as well 😉

100_paradise

 

A last note …

Alright alright, I see I have used the words epic, great, amazing, awesome, gorgeous, spectactular, scenic, beautiful and picturesque in quite an inflationary way but – looking at the photos, can you disagree? Well, I certainly don’t… and after 4 more years of backpacking the world and having quadrupled my country count, I still find New Zealand one of the most breathtaking places of the world. Period.

A general recommendation to you fellow budget travellers, for many of the activities and trips are rather expensive, check out grabone. This is no paid commercial but an honest advice – I saved a great deal of money grabbing cheap as vouchers for various kind of unique experiences.

And a big thank you to the beautiful souls having contributed to the experiences I made on this trip four to five years ago. Especially to Anne & Leonard, Caitlin, Kilian & Bryan, Jan-Peer, Rike & Mareile, Reuben, and Erika. Even if we’re partly not in touch anymore, I still gratefully remember our adventures every now and then. Wouldn’t have been nearly the same without you 🙂 Thank you people.

Wanna know how the journey continued? Then you might wanna change plans and get lost in paradise’s VIP section – Tonga!

 

Cheers bro, sweet as!

Now – have I forgotten anything? Or did you cut short cause it was all rubbish? If money was no object, what would your perfect NZ adventure be?

 

Drop me a line and tell me about your dreams of New Zealand

 

nz

 

The 100 Most Epic Things To Do In New Zealand – Happy Adventures in Kiwiland
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63 thoughts on “The 100 Most Epic Things To Do In New Zealand – Happy Adventures in Kiwiland

  • June 12, 2017 at 3:52 am
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    OMG Christina!! This article makes me want to pack my bags and go to New Zealand right now! Also, you look so young in all these photos! After driving through the Americas I may have to drive through New Zealand. Thanks for putting this on my radar. Ugh the wanderlust never ends.

    Reply
    • June 13, 2017 at 2:47 pm
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      Hahaha yeah, back being 18, when the world was so much easier, honestly. But now is more exciting for sure. Can’t wait for the next roadtrip to come, the first big one after what I did here in NZ. With the best company 😉

      Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm
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    Wow this really is an epic list. I did spend 5 weeks in NZ so done a lot of these things but actually there’s a lot I haven’t done. Must go back soon!!

    Reply
    • June 13, 2017 at 2:36 pm
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      I hope you get a chance soon Becky 🙂 (and me too actually). I still have stuff on my (yes, longer than this) list that I want to do!

      Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 1:03 pm
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    Oh my god, this is such a helpful list. I should really plan that New Zealand trip now..

    Reply
    • June 13, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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      Haha you should! After all my subsequent travels, still one that amazes me the most.

      Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 10:58 am
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    Love this! I’m on working holiday in New Zealand now. So far, I’ve been working and saving money in Wellington and haven’t had much chance to travel yet. But I will definitely be using this list as a guide when I do!

    Reply
    • June 13, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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      Yay Christie, I’m happy to hear that! And envy you so much right now haha. Although well, I’m sitting here in 28 degrees, while I’m pretty sure Wellington is rather uncomfortable right now. But still, I left a piece of my heart in NZ and am hoping a lot that I can return later this year 🙂 Let me know if you need any further tips or inspiration!

      Reply
  • June 10, 2017 at 10:24 am
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    Amazing list and epic post! Thanks for the tips! I would love to visit New Zealand one day!

    Reply
    • June 13, 2017 at 2:34 pm
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      I can only highly encourage you to – for being so tiny, it just has so much to offer!

      Reply
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  • November 7, 2016 at 7:02 am
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    So many things to choose from in New Zealand, I would be really confused on what to do and what to leave. Everything seems to be so appealing. The beautiful country has so much to offer, one would be spoiled for choice. I would choose the great outdoors over anything else..

    Reply
    • November 9, 2016 at 9:49 am
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      It’s true… so much to do in such a tiny country, that is incredible haha. Nature is definitely among the most diverse I’ve ever seen!

      Reply
  • November 7, 2016 at 4:04 am
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    Epic! What a list. I just went on to read the whole post. You just opened up NZ to my eyes in a lot of new ways. Can’t wait to get to middle earth. Probably the safest place in earth!

    Reply
    • November 9, 2016 at 9:42 am
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      Well, peeking on the news today it probably is among them, yes…. happy you enjoyed the list!

      Reply
  • November 6, 2016 at 9:00 pm
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    New Zeland is high on my travel list and your post is a comprehensive guide to the country. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and best tips.

    Reply
    • November 9, 2016 at 9:41 am
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      Thanks for the great feedback!

      Reply
  • November 5, 2016 at 9:09 pm
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    What an awesome read Christina! New Zealand has always been very high on my list. I am planning on getting a work visa and going to find something there or in Australia. The landscape looks incredible. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • November 9, 2016 at 9:38 am
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      Well, thanks for reading! You’re gonna have a blast 🙂

      Reply
  • November 4, 2016 at 12:53 pm
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    New Zealand is very high on my travel list, but now even higher! Great post, very informative. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • November 9, 2016 at 9:37 am
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      Great to hear!

      Reply
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  • November 2, 2016 at 5:20 pm
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    Awesome post, lots of great information! New Zealand seems like a must, adding to my bucket list.

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:21 pm
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      Thanks heaps, I’m happy to hear that!

      Reply
  • November 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm
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    Awesome post! Makes me very excited for our upcoming trip in a few weeks. We are also planning on driving a campervan from the north to the south island. We have about 17 days, it’s not a lot but it’ll have to do for now. Do you find that it’s safe to have our stuff in the campervan when we go for day hike and such?

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:40 pm
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      Hi Caitlin, thanks so much for your nice feedback 🙂
      Well, we left our stuff in the van and never had problems, luckily. But we heard of many backpackers whose cars got broken in to. What I’d advise, take care you leave the car in more crowded or even monitored areas. Have your documents, or copies of them, with you (or upload scans in an online cloud). It’s never 100 % safe play but we went well with common sense. Sorry I can’t say anything more specific!

      Reply
  • November 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm
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    So there are random, soulless *TOP # OF PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN XYZ* posts, but then there are posts like yours. Which in my humble opinion is a whole different class! This is such a thorough, thoughtful list of some of the most amazing adventures. I’ve wanted to go to New Zealand, sure, but after reading this post I honestly feel the country pulling me in just a little more. I just wish it weren’t on the other side of the world! Why can’t everywhere I want to visit (everywhere, haha) be closer?

    I went to Hawai’i last summer to road trip around the Big Island, so the Polynesian history you provided was really interesting, and things I had no idea about! This is definitely a fascinating part of the world, you’re lucky to have gotten the chance to go for such a long time.I don’t know that I would have been able to leave if I were in your shoes!

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:19 pm
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      Haha, I knooow. I have been wanting to go back ever since, thinking it’ll work out soon (telling myself “soon” since five years now), but it’s so far and flights so expensive I want the time there to be worth it and not rushed. Sigh. Hawaii is hiigh (yes I find that funny) on my list too, though. Everywhere…. Thanks for your kind words Susan!

      Reply
  • November 2, 2016 at 4:46 pm
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    I have heard so many good things about New Zealand, it is definitely on my bucket list! Looks like you have had amazing time there. I love the picture, and idea of dolphins jumping around. Beautiful!

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:13 pm
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      Thanks heaps there – I had indeed a blast cruising NZ, yes!

      Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:12 pm
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      Haha, NZ is just flooded with great places to see! Yes, I had indeed 🙂

      Reply
  • November 2, 2016 at 1:51 am
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    New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. But who knew you could do so much right? Love the comprehensive list – I will definitely be adding some of these to my must-do’s!

    Abigail of GlobalGirlTravels.com

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:01 pm
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      Guess you’ll have that with any place in the world, sigh. So grateful for all the people gathering the little have to know’s off the beaten path… Thanks for the feedback!

      Reply
  • November 1, 2016 at 8:59 pm
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    Wow! This is such an extensive list. I’m pinning this for my future bucket list trip!

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm
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      Yippieh, thanks!

      Reply
  • November 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm
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    This is indeed an epic list of things to do in New Zealand.I have always wanted to visit and now I have a 100 more reasons. It is such a pity that South Africans now need a visa to get there.

    Reply
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm
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      Oh, really? I hope you’ll be able to go eventually though! But from what I’ve seen from you about South Africa, you live in quite a gorgeous place yourself!

      Reply
  • November 1, 2016 at 10:26 am
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    How long did it take you to write this? It’s incredible. Definitely book marking this because I can’t simply read it at one go. I’ll look at it whenever I go NZ.

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:59 am
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      It was such a flow writing all the memories down, so that went rather quickly – just gathering the pictures and doing the layout etc., oh that was a pain for such a long post. Happy you find it worth bookmarking, thanks 🙂

      Reply
  • November 1, 2016 at 9:54 am
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    New Zealand is definitely on my budget list. Great capture of those dolphins. Would love to see that with my own eye. And what a cool toilet, have not heard of that one before. Great post !

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:57 am
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      Haha thanks, yeah the dolphins seriously were an experience of a lifetime! And actually there a places designed by Hundertwasser in various places in the world, definitely worth checking out.

      Reply
  • October 31, 2016 at 3:19 pm
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    wow to start with! now i really want to go there – what would be the minimum period to go to NZ to really explore it?

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:56 am
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      Well, I lived in NZ for a year, of which 8 months were working as an au pair and doing weekend trips with Auckland being my base. The traveling in a campervan part was 3 months – and I’d suggest this time for thorougly exploring the whole country with having enough time not to stress out and stay in a place for more than just two days, or drive off the beaten path a little…

      Reply
  • October 31, 2016 at 8:57 am
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    Great summary of things to do, I REALLY want to go now!!

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:55 am
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      You should, haha! It’s seriously paradise..

      Reply
  • October 31, 2016 at 8:39 am
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    Great Barrier islands looks beautiful-and i love thermal baths and lantern festivals 🙂 Looks like an amazing trip!

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:54 am
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      Thanks, it was indeed! 🙂

      Reply
  • October 31, 2016 at 8:39 am
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    Hm! I plan to visit Australia next Easter, but seeing this list makes me think it all over again. We write mostly for outdoor and adventure activities and I see lots of ideas in this article on what to do.

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:54 am
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      Haha yes, NZ is perfect for an adventure abroad, seriously! You can basically do skydiving all over the country. And all the other things, in such a comparably tiny country… you definitely wouldn’t regret the choice!

      Reply
  • October 28, 2016 at 8:12 pm
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    Love reading through this list. Brings back so many happy memories of cycling around both Islands in 2014. Hit a few of these spots along the way. My favourite scenic location didn’t make the cut though. Rakaia Gorge near Chch is out of this world.

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:35 am
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      I gotta look into it – guess there’s always a point you just didn’t get a chance to visit or haven’t heard about… thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  • October 28, 2016 at 3:18 pm
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    This is the best! It must have taken so much time, but the list is incredible! Thank you so much for compiling it. You saved me a bunch of time researching for an upcoming trip to NZ 🙂

    Reply
    • November 1, 2016 at 10:34 am
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      This makes me so happy to hear! 🙂 Thanks for the feedback, enjoy your trip – as I’m sure you will!

      Reply
  • October 26, 2016 at 3:32 pm
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    This is such an outstanding list! I wrote a bunch of these down to do for next June & July. I know it’ll be NZ winter, but still so excited! If you have any special tips for wintry wonders, please do tell! <3

    Reply
    • October 26, 2016 at 4:19 pm
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      So cool! I actually arrived in July as well, back in 2011. So – I’ll get in touch with you 🙂

      Reply
  • October 26, 2016 at 2:16 pm
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    I so want to go to New Zealand now thanks to you! It really seems beautiful! I added it on my bucket list for my next year adventure!

    Reply
    • October 26, 2016 at 4:16 pm
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      Yippieh, makes me so happy to have inspired you! Awesome! I’ll look forward to read about it from you 🙂

      Reply
  • October 26, 2016 at 12:14 pm
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    Man I want to go to New Zealand so bad!! Why is it so far away :'(

    Reply
    • October 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm
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      I knoooow! I planned to go back ever since I left but never managed to. Hopefully next year… maybe? But the waiting is definitely worth it!

      Reply
  • October 26, 2016 at 8:26 am
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    What an epic post! Never been to New Zealand but now I want to go! Must pin this post!

    Reply
    • October 26, 2016 at 4:10 pm
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      Uuuuh yay! Makes me so happy!

      Reply

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