With my top ten highlights of South America post being so popular, I thought I’d do the same for New Zealand – the little country with a lot to offer.
We only spent six wonderful weeks in New Zealand, but we packed in as much as we could and we feel like we got a great insight into what the home of the Kiwi is all about. We could have done more, as there is certainly a huge amount to see and do, but here are some of the experiences we did that I would recommend:
Now I’m not one of those people who is crazy about dolphins, but after hearing so many good reviews about the experience, swimming with them was something I wanted to try. I’m so glad that I did. Swimming with these beautiful and playful creatures in the wild was one of the most amazing things I have ever done – and what better place to do it! Dusky dolphins are known for their aerial acrobatics, and they a local to Kaikoura – a beautiful place world-renowned for its abundant sea life. If you’re here, you can also see whales and albatross, and swim with seals!
2. Freedom Camp in the countryside
It was a wonderful experience to explore New Zealand by road. Hiring our own campervan was a rather large expense, but it was worth it. We feel privileged to have been able to see the country in our own time and in our own way. Although there are some great cities, it’s the rural and harder to reach parts of New Zealand that are the most beautiful, memorable and unique. There are places where the restrictions on Freedom Camping are tough (and places where it’s not allowed at all – so make sure you check the rules for the region you’re visiting), but even if you can only freedom camp for a few nights it is completely worth it. You’ll find yourself fully immersed in the beauty of the nature around you. It really is the best way to see New Zealand.
3. Feel the need for speed with a jet boat ride
If you’re visiting New Zealand you have to devote some time to one of the country’s speediest pass-times – the jet boat. There are lots of places to give it a go, but we decided to do the only white water jet boat ride available – hurtling down a narrow canyon at 85 kilometres per hour on the Nga Awa Purua rapids in the beautiful Aratiatia Scenic Reserve. We weren’t disappointed!
Waitomo is famous for its vast underground networks, which makes it perfect for exciting underground exploration and stunning glow worm displays. We decided to do the ‘Lost World Tour’ – involving a 100 metre abseil into the darkness of a massive cavern – but you can do all sorts here, including black water tubing, a trip into special glow worm grottos and canyoning. As for the Lost World, I think it was the best way to do a real subterranean adventure…
5. Hike one of the best day walks in the world at Tongariro
This is one of the best day walks in the world for a reason. In just a day, you can hike through the immense terrain of Modor, passing three active volcanos – including Mount Doom itself (Mt Ngauruhoe). It’s a 19.4 km adventure that snakes along mountain springs, old lava flows, active volcanic craters and thermal steam vents. There’s not another walk like it.
6. Get hot and steamy with geothermal activity
There’s lots of places to see evidence of New Zealand’s volcanic and geothermal activity, including the Tongariro Alpine Pass and the dormant volcano island of Rangitoto, but some of the best shows of earth’s natural power are found around Rotorua. We visited Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to see the famous Lady Knox Geyser’s regular eruption, the silica terraces and the fizzing champagne pools. This place has a very colourful and diverse mix of geothermal displays. It’s also close to the secret Kerosene Creek, where you can have a quick dip under a volcanically-heated waterfall.
7. Find your inner adrenaline junkie in Queenstown
Queenstown is known as the birthplace of the bungie – so when you come here, you know you’re in for something a little crazy. While I didn’t like the thought of jumping head-first from a bridge strapped to a giant elastic band by my feet, I did fancy jumping off a cliff on a giant swing. It was the scariest and most exhilarating thing I have ever done, and if you don’t feel up to it, you can always watch…
8. Unwind and relax on a beach
Now you may not think of New Zealand as a popular beach destination (and the weather may mean that you don’t always get a hot sunny day), but the country does have some spectacular coastlines. From Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach to Abel Tasman National Park, there are some gorgeous beaches in New Zealand that are perfect to relax on – especially after your adrenaline-fuelled activities in Queenstown!
9. Have a Hangi in a Maori village
Yes, it’s just for the tourists and the Maori don’t live in rival villages performing the Haka to each other anymore, but it’s worth visiting one of these places if only to learn a little about the ancient traditions and customs of the Maori tribes. There are plenty of different places to experience this, but we went to Mitai Village for a cultural performance and traditional ‘Hangi’ dinner that included a visit to the wildlife park Rainbow Springs to see the Kiwis after dark. Although it was just for show, the performance was informative and entertaining, the hangi was delicious and we even got to see some Kiwis!
10. Cross the Cook Straight with the Interislander Ferry
Although it can be a big expense and it can be cheaper to fly, we’d been told by many that the ferry trip itself is a New Zealand experience not to be missed – and they are right! Leave behind Wellington and in just a few hours you’ll be cruising through the beautiful Marlborough Sound with dolphins, penguins and seals playing in your wake. If you’re lucky you can even spot Whales from the ferry and even if you don’t see any wildlife, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the world to be on a boat in.
There is so much more than this to do in New Zealand, but these are some of the experiences that we felt that any quintessential trip here should include. For such a small country, New Zealand has it all – belching volcanoes, sandy beaches, freezing glaciers and all with the backdrop of some of the most spectacular countryside. Within the space of a day you can dive off a bridge, ride a helicopter over a glacier’s icy peaks and then watch the sunset from a secluded sandy cove. There really is something for everyone, and there’s no other place quite like it.