24 August, 2019
Last updated on 29 June, 2022
Posted by Spaceships Crew
New Zealand is divided into two major islands, North Island and South Island. Both beautiful, both unique in their own way, but both offering something completely different for the traveller. As there's so much to do in New Zealand, we have listed the most amazing sights to be seen, the most thrillseeking activities ever, and the NZ must-dos and must-sees in one list. Check it out and start planning your road trip.
Whilst North Island is known for its bustling cosmopolitan cities, its great beach culture and its many volcanoes, the South is full of dramatic mountain scenery, snow-capped ranges and beautiful national parks with giant lakes. Together they form one of the most incredible destinations in the world, with so much to do for people of all ages. Here are our favourite amazing things to do to help you get the full Kiwi experience in NZ!
Things to do on the North Island
The North Island of New Zealand can be seen as the underappreciated part of New Zealand. It has so much to offer, but too many travellers are in a hurry to get to the South Island and just don't have the time to fully enjoy and appreciate the North Island. Therefore we have created this list of amazing things to do and see on New Zealand's North Island. These activities will keep you entertained for a while, so make sure you plan enough time for this part of your New Zealand road trip.
1. See the Sky Tower up close: walk on it, jump off or sit back & relax (Auckland)
One of the most iconic sights in the city of Auckland is the Auckland Sky Tower. Book your tickets online, skip the queue and go to the top to get the most spectacular views of the city below. Sit back and relax at the observation deck to see the sun setting over the city or enjoy a cup of coffee or some New Zealand wine at the Sky Tower cafe.
If you're a thrill-seeker you definitely want to go for the famous SkyWalk (walk on top of the Sky Tower) or the awesome Sky Tower jump. It'll be a great start of your New Zealand road trip. Once you're back on earth, visit one of the many restaurants or cafes in the area. Can't decide what you and your friends would like to eat? Head over to Elliot Stables (an upscale foodcourt) where everyone can pick their favourite cuisine while eating together at the same table. Life in the city doesn't get more relaxing and tasty than that.
2. Visit Auckland Art Gallery (Auckland)
This incredible art gallery features works dating back from the 11th Century right up to the present day. A must-visit for art lovers and culture vultures. If you don't like visiting the Art Gallery by yourself, book a guided art tour by local and respected art critic, TJ (Terry) McNamara or Assoc Prof Linda Tyler. Their tour is organised on a regular basis on Saturday mornings and will take you through several art precincts in Auckland.
3. Meet the local and exotic animals at the zoo (Auckland)
Visiting Auckland Zoo is the perfect start of your arrival in New Zealand. Have a good night's sleep to get rid of the jetlag and visit Auckland Zoo for an easy day out. The Zoo is home to many exotic species like the lion, elephant, cheetah, otter, giraffe, fur seal, red panda but also to New Zealand favourites like the kiwi, blue penguin, Kea and Kererū.
4. Take a Trip to Waiheke Island (Auckland)
Located around 17km from Auckland, Waiheke Island is the second-largest island in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf. It’s an awesome place to stay if you want an island retreat or beach break – it’s a top place for whale watching too!
5. Thrillseeker's guide to the Harbour Bridge (Auckland)
The Auckland Harbour Bridge is not to be missed if you’re in the city. It’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and it lights up beautifully at night. Make sure you’re there to capture the sunset too – bring a good camera.
Or if you're a daredevil or thrillseeker, you can experience the Auckland Harbour Bridge in a totally different way: climb the bridge (an unforgettable experience which will take you walking under, around, up and over the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge) or jump off the bridge (you'll get to experience the only ocean touch bungy in New Zealand).
6. Cruise to the Hole in the Rock (Bay of Islands)
Take a cruise to the Hole in the Rock in the Bay of Islands and spend the day dolphin spotting. The departure point for this tour is Russell Wharf. But the Bay of Islands has more to offer than just the awesome cruise to the hole in the rock... Have a look at our Bay of Island blog post for even more inspiration for your road trip north of Auckland.
7. Soak Up Maori History at Waitangi Treaty Grounds (Waitangi)
Want to learn more about Mauri culture? Then don’t miss Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, home to the famous Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The place where a treaty was signed between the Maori and the Europeans.
8. Try your luck at SkyCity Casino & Sports Bar (Hamilton)
If you’re looking for a night out with some gambling and/or watching sports, head to SkyCity Casino in Hamilton. This huge entertainment complex is situated in the Central Business District and overlooks the Waikato River. Or have a few drinks at the Zone Sports Bar at SkyCity in Hamilton and watch your favourite sports team beat their rivals.
9. Paddle a Waka Ama Canoe (Mt. Maunganui)
Give traditional canoeing a go and paddle a real Waka Ama (Maori canoe) in Mt Manganui with a guided tour. This event is a true cultural experience on waka ama (outrigger canoes), delivered by Tangata Whenua (people of the land) of Tauranga.
10. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (Waitomo)
Truly breathtaking for all ages. The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are a must-visit if you’re on the North Island. The caves maintain the same temperature all year round so you can visit no matter the weather. Combine this NZ must-do with visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set and you can see both at an amazingly low price.
11. Tour the Hobbiton Movie Set (Matamata)
Fans of Lord of the Rings simply cannot miss this rare and wonderful opportunity to visit the movie set of Hobbiton (near Hamilton and Cambridge). Experience Middle Earth in this bucolic setting for The Shire. Combine your visit to Hobbiton with the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.
11. Hike the Tongariro Crossing (Tongariro)
Take a self-guided hike or join a day tour to experience the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park. This tramping track crosses volcanic terrain, with views of Mount Taranaki, Mount Ngauruhoe, the Kaimanawa Ranges and Lake Taupo.
12. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (Rotorua)
Take a walk through an incredible volcanic landscape. Smell the sulfur and see what earth must have looked like many thousands of years ago. That's Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua in a nutshell. It is a must-see when visiting this town.
TripAdvisor used these words to describe Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: "One of the most surreal places on earth, so naturally, it’s high on the list of Rotorua’s must-see attractions. A place to marvel at nature’s artistic splendour, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is also committed to providing a safe visitor experience."
13. Experience a real Maori Hangi Dinner and Performance (Rotorua)
Make sure to stop in Rotorua to learn more about the fascinating Maori culture. Enjoy an evening experience in this authentically styled Maori village where you can enjoy an evening of local customs including a traditional Maori dinner feast.
14. Self-Guided Geothermal Tour (Orakei Korako)
Join this completely self-guided tour for an extraordinary geothermal experience! A unique natural geothermal attraction, situated between Rotorua and Taupo. View up close, geysers, mud pools, hot springs, silica terraces, New Zealand's natural bush and a very rare thermal cave. Said to be "Arguably the Best Thermal in New Zealand".
15. Cycle the Timber Trail (Piropiro Pureora Forest Park)
Hire a bike and cycle the Timber Trail, an 87km journey which winds through ancient forests and takes you across thrilling suspension bridges. Awesome views and easy to intermediate in terms of difficulty. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.
16. Explore the Art Deco World (Napier)
Visit the town of Napier and take a tour of the incredible art deco architecture. The Art Deco Trust has dedicated its resources to preserving the area’s beautiful 1930s streetscape. This is a place where history comes alive – a great place to hang out for history buffs and culture vultures. Also, plenty of events and festivals are happening all year round.
17. Ride the famous Cable Car (Wellington)
Get a great view of New Zealand’s capital city by riding the cable car from the main shopping street of Lambton Quay all the way to the hilltop suburb of Kelburn. Experience Wellington’s history and scenery on the city’s only funicular railway. It’s so much fun and a must-do for all visitors.
Ride the Wellington cable car
18. Visit the Botanical Garden (Wellington)
The perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle. Take a moment to relax in the capital’s beautiful Botanical Garden, featuring 25 acres of a unique landscape and including a children’s garden too. A great day out for the whole family. Admission to the Wellington Botanical Garden is free of charge. See for more info about the fun thing to do in Wellington.
19. Go to Wellington Zoo (Wellington)
Home to cheetahs, red pandas, giraffes and lions, Wellington Zoo is a wonderful place to see amazing and rare wildlife. The zoo offers a ‘Close Encounters’ experience for children and adults to get up close to the animals and spend some time shadowing the zoo keeper. Great fun for all!
20. See the masters of special effects at Weta Workshop (Wellington)
See how the geniuses of Weta Workshop have created the amazing effects and characters of many Hollywood productions. Of course, there's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. They have also worked on amazing films like Power Rangers, Ghost In the Shell, Avatar, District 9 and many more.
21. Enjoy local food & buy local food at farmer's markets (North Island)
Want to rub shoulders with the locals? Then make sure you stick around for the various city markets or farmer's markets in Auckland. Have a look at where to find these markets. They usually take place on weekends. Nothing beats enjoying a great coffee and freshly baked artisan bread on a Saturday morning.
South Island things to do
The South Island of New Zealand is the favourite part of New Zealand... For most travellers. This list of things to do on the South Island will definitely prove that this part of New Zealand has lots to offer. From thrill-seeking outdoor activities to tasty or fun indoor activities, the South Island has it all. Start planning your New Zealand road trip. The South Island is waiting for you.
22. Sightseeing in Christchurch
Christchurch is one of our South Island campervan pick-up points and we definitely recommend spending a day here to check out the great food, shopping and wonderful sights. Don’t miss the International Antarctic Centre where you can see the penguins, Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Christchurch Arts Centre and Canterbury Museum.
23. Check Out Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (Christchurch)
Willowbank is a unique wildlife park and nature reserve in Christchurch. It cares for more than 95 different species, divided into 3 sections:
exotics: includes a wide range of different Macaws
heritage farmyard: this section includes arapawa goats, damara sheep, enderby island rabbits and zebu.
New Zealand natives: where you will find typical New Zealand cuties like the Kiwi (classic New Zealand bird), kea (bird) and tuatara (reptile).
24. Wind Down at Hanmer Springs
Hit the Hanmer Springs thermal pools for a spa experience like no other. These thermal pools maintain a balmy temperature all year round and the complex includes sauna and steam room access as well as fun waterslides for families travelling with children.
25. Hike & kayak at Abel Tasman National Park (Tasman)
Tackle one of the coastal hikes in Abel Tasman National Park, a vast protected area located between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay at the north end of the South Island. A great place for kayaking and water sports, camping and beaches. Paddle into the heart of Abel Tasman National Park on a full-day kayaking and trekking tour with a guide.
Or take it a bit more easy and book a cruise through the park. Or skydive over Abel Tasman. Enjoy the amazing scenery just the way you like it.
Experience the beauty of Abel Tasman National Park | photo: Nils van der Burg (CC BY SA 2.0)
26. Skydive near Franz Josef
Skydiving on itself is an amazing and thrill-seeking activity. Imagine doing this while enjoying scenery that consists of mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers and ocean views. Skydive Franz Josef has New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook and the biggest glaciers Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers immediately on the right and the wide blue ocean on the left. Multiple departure times.
27. Experience two glaciers in one day and go for a snow landing (Franz Josef & Fox Glacier)
Take a scenic helicopter flight across the Franz Josef Glacier and enjoy hiking across the ice. Be sure to book with a guide, all equipment is usually provided so just make sure you bring some warm clothing.
Or take your glacier experience to the max and go for the Twin Glacier Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier helicopter flight including a snow landing.
28. Experience the iconic Milford Sound (Fiordland)
Perhaps one of the most iconic natural landmarks of South Island. This fiord located within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site is a must-visit for anyone who wants mind-blowing panoramas. Take in 360-degree views of the Fiord on board of a purpose-built cruising boat.
Enjoy exclusively brewed XPA beer on tap and a selection of food sourced from local eateries from the onboard café while experiencing this iconic part of New Zealand. Get up close and personal with the waterfalls and local wildlife.
29. Guided Rob Roy Glacier Hike from Queenstown (Wanaka)
Rob Roy Glacier is a stunning hike in Mt Aspiring National Park. From Raspberry Flats it is a short valley walk, crossing the West Matukituki River before a steady climb up through a small gorge alongside Rob Roy stream and a journey through native Beech forest.
30. Enjoy an exciting day and night Out (Queenstown)
There is a reason why Queenstown is called the Action Capital Of The World. Check out this list of thrill-seeking things to do in Queenstown during the daytime. From hiking to skydiving and from bungy jumping to rafting. Queenstown has so much to offer.
Then at night, enjoy great drink and food in South Island’s exciting city of Queenstown. Some of the city’s best bars and nightclubs include the legendary World Bar, Below Zero Ice Bar, the cool and quirky Little Blackwood and the popular Rhino’s Ski Shack..
31. Bungee Jump at Kawerau Bridge (Queenstown)
When it comes to adventure sports and adrenaline activities, Kiwis know best. And Queenstown really is the place to be. They love a good bungee so if you’re here to live like a local, brave the drop and give it a go! Experience the original Bungy jump off Kawerau Bridge or test your nerves with the famous 134 metres Nevis Bungy Jump.
32. Capture the Views with Skyline (Queenstown)
Take the Skyline gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak and spend the day exploring the hilltop Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar, the Skyline Luge, the Skyline Mountain Bike Track or book yourself in for a stargazing experience after the sun goes down. This is an iconic part of the city that you don’t want to miss.
33. Picnic at Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown)
Soak up the scenery in Queenstown and take a romantic stroll around the beautiful lake. Pack a picnic and find a quiet spot to enjoy some afternoon refreshments. Other great places to bring your picnic basket include St Omer Park and Queenstown Gardens.
34. Guzzle your favourite tipple at Gibbston Valley (Queenstown)
Winos need to spend an afternoon checking out the Gibbston Valley Vineyard. The local Pinot Noir is award-winning and other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Known as the Valley of the Vines, Gibbston Valley is one of the most scenic wine-growing areas in the world. So even if you’re not much of a wine drinker, you can still enjoy the views of the rugged schist mountains and the Kawarau River gorge.
35. Enjoy a Lake Cruise (Queenstown)
Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery on Lake Wakatipu. There are cruises and lake tours leaving daily. A fantastic way to experience Queenstown’s main natural attraction.
36. Travel to “Isengard” and “Lothlórien” at Glenorchy
Not to be missed if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. Make tracks for Glenorchy and you’ll be able to visit the fictional locations of Isengard, Lothlórien and Amon Hen. This is a guided tour led by a family-run company and they will make sure you get all the photo opps you could dream of – so make sure you bring a good camera!
37. Taste the Famous Gibbston Valley Cheese (Wakatipu Basin, Otago)
Just 20 minutes outside of Queenstown is Gibbston Valley Cheese, a fantastic cheese shop specialising in premium artisan cheeses which are made in the local area. A great place for foodies to come and sample the local goods. Book a guided wine & cycle tour and experience Gibbston Valley like a local.
28. Go panning for gold (Arrowtown)
Head to the traditional mining town of Arrowtown and spend the day panning for gold in the Arrow River. A great short visit activity for all ages with guaranteed gold.
29. Go to the Bluff Oyster Festival (Bluff)
Bluff oysters are the best. There’s even a whole festival dedicated to these delicious saltwater clams. Open once a year, this festival is an aphrodisiacal treat for anyone who considers themselves to be a foodie and if you’ve missed the event, not to worry. There are plenty of Bluff oysters available in Queenstown restaurants!
40. See kiwis in the wild (Stewart Island)
Experience the Wild Kiwi Encounter on Stewart Island and spot kiwis in their natural habitat. The walk, led by your nature guide, is on a well-formed track across the peninsula, through spectacular coastal forest to a secluded sandy beach. As dusk sets in and daylight diminishes, venture by torchlight through the native forest with the stars and forest night sounds around you.
Here in the darkness you may spot the Southern brown kiwi (Rakiura Tokoeka) - often searching for food. Afterwards, retrace your steps through the forest to Little Glory Wharf for your catamaran ride back to Oban township on Stewart Island. You don't want to miss out on a unique experience like this.