New Zealand is the land of adventure, and just about any crazy, thrilling or outdoor activity you can imagine, you can find there. Places like Queenstown are hubs for adventure activities, but there’s tons to do all over the country.
From zorbing to bungee jumping, there are some things that are quintessentially Kiwi. Other things are just plain awesome anywhere you do them, but especially in NZ. New Zealand is a place to lower your inhibitions and do those crazy things you never thought you’d do, getting your fill of adrenaline and pushing yourself to the limits. It’s also a place to truly experience nature, taking in all the beauty and wildlife the country has to offer.
The following are what I consider the top 10 activities to do in New Zealand and the best places to do them.
Skydiving – Taupo
It’s almost sacrilege to go to New Zealand and not try skydiving. You can do it all over the country, but I found Taupo to be one of the most amazing places I could ever imagine skydiving. (It obviously left an impression as it is the banner for this site!) In the air you’ll find yourself above Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand — and the same size as Singapore!
You’ll also have fantastic views over Tongariro National Park, where you might recognize some scenery from Lord of the Rings (including the mighty Mt. Doom). It doesn’t get much more thrilling than skydiving, and I have to say this was one of the coolest, most insane things I’ve ever done, anywhere.
Canyon Swing – Queenstown
While bungee jumping has become synonymous with New Zealand, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun. I personally have this fear of my back snapping or throwing up in my own face while the bungee flings me up and down… Lovely, I know. The Canyon Swing is probably the absolute best alternative to bungee jumping. You get the same thrill/exhilaration/blinding fear as bungee jumping, without the nasty backlash (literally). And you can choose how you go off the edge, with a huge variety of different jumps rated by “dirty underpants” as to how scary they are. (I made the crazy decision to do two of the scariest rated ones— backwards and handstand — which literally left me begging them not to make me go!)
After screaming your lungs out, you’ll probably find yourself laughing giddily as you fall into a huge, gentle swoop at the end of your rope, swinging through the canyon in the comfort of your attached seat. (Click on the previous two links to see my own jumps. The following video of another guy’s jump, from a unique position above, is a little shaky because I’d just come up from my first swing!)
Glacier Climb – Franz Josef
One of the top things I’ve ever done in my life was climbing the Franz Josef Glacier. (Fox Glacier is also an option.) The climb takes 6-8 hours, and you have a good chance of having some rain, but the tour comes with the proper gear for the long day. You’ll be so mesmerized by the scenery and the experience you’re having, you’ll forget about being a bit cold.
Waterfalls gush around you, blue ice tunnels wait to be explored, and you literally create a new path (with your guides hacking out steps just ahead of you) on your journey up the glacier. Walking around in crampons is pretty cool, too!
If this kind of a trek sounds like a bit too much for you, there is the option of taking a helicopter to the top. But personally, this hike was an experience of a lifetime for me and if you can handle it, I highly recommend going for it.
Whale Watching – Kaikoura
I’ve been whale watching a few times, and Kaikoura was by far the best experience I’ve ever had. In a little over two hours we saw eight whales — six sperm whales and two humpback whales. It was absolutely incredible! The boat tour itself was a crazy adventure. It was a bit rocky and the captain would speed off to find whales, then yell for us to all get up and scramble out to the deck to see the whale (and try to capture the elusive tail shot). Then he’d yell for us to get back inside to our seats, and the process would start again. It was a smaller boat, and everyone interacted and got excited together which made the whole adventure a lot more fun.
Even once you’re off the boat, Kaikoura is an adorable little town to explore for a day, and you will likely spot a bunch of sea lions relaxing on the rocky shore near town. You can get pretty close, but be careful not to disturb them too much!
Sandboarding – Cape Reinga
Sandboarding is a fun (though slightly exhausting) activity that you can come across in different parts of the world, and everyone seems to do it differently. In Cape Reinga, in the Far North, we took the sledding approach (laying on your stomach with your feet up and your face first). It’s admittedly a little bit scary, as you go down the dunes really fast, and they warn you to watch your feet and movements or you could flip and hurt yourself… Scary! In fact, I got a little too excited as I neared the end of the run and ended up flipping and rolling to the end. I wasn’t hurt at all, but did get a fair bit of sand in my mouth — yum! It definitely got my heart racing and was a really fun activity — but that climb up the dune after every run gets to you pretty fast!
Zorbing – Rotorua
More and more places in the world are trying to recreate zorbing, by putting the big zorb balls in water and letting people try to run around in them. Don’t buy it — that is not real zorbing! Rotorua is where the real zorbing is at, and it’s one of those activities you really have to try while you’re in New Zealand. There are a few different ways you can try zorbing — you can do it wet (the original and best way, where the ball is filled with some water), strap yourself in and do it dry, or even do it with another person!
Zorbing is fun from the very start. First you have to jump through this tunnel-like hole just to get into the ball, and then you find yourself slipping and sliding (if it’s wet) as you attempt to stand up (you’ll probably fail). Then they push you down this hill (where you may go in a straight line or zig zag like crazy!) and you slip and slide like crazy around and around down the hill. That might sound miserable to some people, but I promise it is really good fun!
Paragliding/Hang Gliding – Queenstown
Queenstown is rife with adventure activities. If you’re still keen to take to the air, paragliding or hang gliding (in season) might be your thing. I was hoping to go hang gliding myself, but it wasn’t the right weather/season so I had to opt for paragliding instead. The scenery alone is worth every penny, and I was rapt with the views from the top of the mountain I was about to run off of(!). However, I did feel that paragliding was a bit ho-hum after skydiving, so if you’re planning to do both in New Zealand, try to go paragliding first. Again, though, the views are simply to die for, and you will enjoy the time to really soak in and enjoy them as you slowly and calmly float down to the ground below.
The actual jumping-off part (where you literally have to run as hard and fast as you can toward the cliff edge — almost pulling the tandem guide behind you) can be a bit terrifying — especially when they tell you to wait for the right wind, then say, “OK we’re just going to have to go for it and cross our fingers,” like they did to me! However, once you’re in the air it is one of the most relaxing and wonderful things you can imagine.
Bungee Jumping – Auckland or Queenstown
Most people would say a visit to New Zealand isn’t complete without a bungee jump. AJ Hackett is world famous for his bungees and he is a Kiwi. Both Auckland and Queenstown offer fantastic bungee experiences, so whether you want to group all your adventure activities together in Queenstown or try to spread them out across your journey, you’ll have no problem fitting in the perfect bungee jump, and you’ll have plenty of different jump types to choose from as well!
Wildlife Spotting – Otago Peninsula
New Zealand has some fantastic wildlife, from bird to whales to penguins and sea lions. The latter two can be found on the Otago Peninsula on the South Island (easily reached on a tour from Dunedin). You can wander the beach with your guide and come thisclose to sea lions. (Just be careful not to accidentally wander in on one napping in the grass and scare him!)
When I visited, we were surprised to find out that all the sea lions were males, so the larger ones had taken some of the smaller ones to be their “cuddle” partners, and treated them submissively like females. It was quite a sight to see, especially when they start to fight over who gets to cuddle with who!
But what really makes Otago is the penguins. You can watch from higher up on the cliff as the yellow-eyed penguins make their way to shore, usually in pairs for safety. They hurriedly run past the sea lions, hoping none are hungry, and waddle their way up the cliff to safety where they can air out their wings in peace. While you can’t approach the penguins, if you’re lucky some might waddle right up near you and afford you a really great look at these adorable little creatures.
Hiking – Anywhere
New Zealand is the land of the outdoors. Both the North and South Island are chock full of gorgeous and varied landscapes — everything from stunning beaches to imposing glaciers and mountains, temperate rainforests to bubbling thermal pools. Everywhere you look on the map there is great hiking (or tramping as they liked to call it). One favorite day hike is in Tongariro National Park. An easy to reach and manageable hike (though sometimes closed in winter), this trek is through some of the most fantastic scenery you can imagine — taking in many spots used in the filming for Lord of the Rings, including Mt. Tongariro (AKA Mt. Doom). Other great “Walks” include the world-renowned Routeburn Track, Milford Track and Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
Interested in more about New Zealand? Read my previous post on New Zealand’s Far North: Reflections on Solo Travel or check out the Blog4NZ website for heaps more posts on this fantastic country.
This post is part of my participation in Blog4NZ, an effort by the travel blogging community to promote tourism to New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquakes. Many people are postponing their travel or are afraid to plan trips to NZ after the earthquakes, even though most of New Zealand was unaffected. And even affected places like Christchurch could still use the help of outsiders. Tourism is a big industry for New Zealand, and while the country is suffering enough from this natural disaster, we should not make their economy suffer more by avoiding traveling there.