The ultimate guide to the best things to do in New Zealand 2023:
1. Visit Mount Cook National Park/ Aoraki
Mount Cook National Park is one of the top sights in New Zealand.
For an experience of a lifetime, why not book a heli hike.
2. Experience Hobbiton Movie Set
The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is a one of the unforgettable things to do in New Zealand for any Lord of the Rings fan.
The filming location for the fictional village of Hobbiton has been preserved so it appears just as it did in the movies, and guided tours run every day.
3. Sail Through Milford Sound
Milford Sound is definitely one of the top things to see and do in New Zealand.
Milford Sound or Piopiotahi has been named one of the best travel destinations in the world, and for good reason.
The natural wonder was formed by the erosion of ancient glaciers over millions of years, creating a body of water towered by sheer cliff faces and waterfalls.
You can either take the long drive to Milford Sound yourself, or do the Southern Discoveries Coach and Nature Cruise from Queenstown.
When people ask how many days you need to visit New Zealand, I always say make sure you have enough time to visit Milford Sound, which is a 6-hour return journey from Queenstown.
4. Tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is probably the most famous hike in New Zealand, as it’s the filming location for Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
The 19.4 km (12 mile) one-day trek allows you to get up close to Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), and it’s one of the New Zealand must-do experiences.
At the start of your hiking day, leave your car at the finish point and jump on the shuttle bus to the start point.
Believe me when I say that this is one of the very best things to do in New Zealand.
5. Bathe in Natural Hot Pools
This country is famous for natural hot springs, and bathing in the geothermal water is one of the top things to do in New Zealand on your first visit.
Rotorua is the most famous spot for geothermal activity, home to Manupirua Springs Hot Pools.
For a free hot spring experience, don’t miss the drive up to Kerosene Creek just outside Rotorua.
At Lake Taupo, definitely go to Wairakei Terraces.
6. Go White Water Rafting on the World’s Highest Rafted Waterfall
New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to go white water rafting.
The Kaituna River near Rotorua provides the highest rafted waterfall in the world, and it’s one of the unique things to do in New Zealand.
7. Wander the Lake Pukaki Shoreline
When you first set eyes upon the shores of Lake Pukaki, you’ll be mesmerised.
The bright turquoise water and snow-capped peaks of Mount Cook in the backdrop makes for one of the most picturesque spots on earth.
The Lake Pukaki Shoreline Walk is a great way to capture the beauty of the area, and why not have a swim if you can brave the glacial waters!
8. Learn about Māori Culture in Rotorua
The town of Rotorua is very culturally significant for Māori people and one of the best places to learn about their history.
Te Puia is a geothermal wonderland where you can learn about Māori traditions and watch Māori carvings be made (it’s also home to the world famous Pōhutu geyser).
This is the best thing to do in Rotorua.
Alternatively, a visit next door to Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village, allows you to experience a day in the life of Māori villagers, observing their customs and cooking styles.
9. Photograph the Church of the Good Shepherd
The Church of the Good Shepherd is an old Anglican church perched on the edge of Lake Tekapo.
It’s one of the most photographed spots on South Island and particularly beautiful at sunrise.
Seeing the Church of the Good Shepherd for yourself is one of the top 10 things to do in New Zealand.
Many people say that the best time to visit New Zealand is November and December, when the Lake Tekapo shoreline is covered in pink and purple wild flowers.
10. Marvel at Huka Falls
Huka Falls is the most famous waterfall in New Zealand, draining a quarter of a million litres of water per second from Lake Taupo.
It’s free to visit and the amount of water is pretty mesmerising.
Also, the Spa Thermal Park to Huka Falls Walk is a great way to follow the flow of the Waikato River before reaching the thundering falls.
This is the best thing to do in Lake Taupo.
11. Make it to the Top of Roy’s Peak
Roy’s Peak is one of the best full day hikes in New Zealand.
The tramp takes you high above the shores of Lake Wanaka and offers impressive views of the Southern Alps mountain range.
This is the best thing to do near Lake Wanaka.
12. Bungee Jump off the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge
Thrill-seekers will absolutely love bungee jumping off Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge near Queenstown.
It’s the number one adrenaline-filled activity on South Island, and undoubtedy one of the crazy things to do in New Zealand.
13. Find #ThatWanakaTree
When you visit Lake Wanaka, it’s a rite of passage to hunt down #ThatWanakaTree.
The famous willow tree sits alone in the water at the southern end of the lake.
14. Cycle the Golden Mile in the Marlborough Wine Region
The Marlborough Wine Region is the most famous in New Zealand, home to the zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
When people ask what to do in New Zealand in December, I can highly recommend a summer bike ride through the ripe vineyards.
15. Dig for Hot Water on Hot Water Beach
Do you know anywhere else in the world where you can dig your own pool of hot water in the sand?
On Hot Water Beach (Coromandel Peninsula) you’ll find a natural phenomenon where hot springs run underneath the sand.
At certain times of the day, you can dig below the sand, creating a pool of thermal water to bathe in.
Be advised that you can only dig for hot water for 2 hours either side of low tide, so check the low tide times here and arrive 2 hours before.
Also worth noting is that the hot water channels are only located on a specific part of the beach (in front of the small rocks in the ocean).
You can hire shovels from the café near the beach.
16. Immerse Yourself at the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand
Te Papa is the country’s national museum, located in the capital city of Wellington.
When considering where to go in New Zealand for first timers, Te Papa is a great place to start learning about the country.
The brilliant museum is free to enter and has rotating exhibitions focusing on New Zealand’s history and culture.
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Wellington, New Zealand.
17. Drink by the Fire at One of the Oldest Pubs in New Zealand
The pub is found on the country road between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the roaring fire is the perfect spot for a drink to break up your journey.
18. Jet Boat Through the Shotover River Canyons
Just outside of Queenstown you’ll find the Shotover River, where you can do an 85km/hour jet boat ride through the canyons.
The activity isn’t for the faint hearted, but it’s SO much fun.
19. Kayak to Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove is one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand.
The famous crystal blue water is the perfect place to do a kayak tour, and you’ll also be able to see the iconic Cathedral Cove archway.
When researching things to do in New Zealand North Island, you can’t miss Cathedral Cove.
20. Take the Queenstown Skyline Gondola
The Skyline Gondola is a cable car which takes you high above Queenstown for brilliant views over the town and the lakes/ mountains beyond.
This is one of the must do’s in New Zealand, and the best thing to do in Queenstown.
21. Go Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island has been named one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
The wine-producing region has great vineyards to visit with spectacular views.
It’s located just off the coast of Auckland and you can catch the ferry from Downtown.
For wine enthusiasts, visiting Waiheke Island is one of the best things to do on New Zealand’s North Island.
22. Photograph the Glenorchy Red Shed
Glenorchy is a small locality just outside Queenstown surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Checking out the iconic Glenorchy Red Shed is a must-do activity here.
Also, the lakeside drive between Queenstown and Glenorchy will truly take your breath away.
23. Witness the Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park
In Mount Aspiring National Park you’ll find the stunning Blue Pools Track.
The easy walk takes you over swing-bridges to the clear blue waters of Blue Pools.
24. Say Hello to the Kaikōura Seal Colony
If you want to see the famous Kaikoura Seal Colony, all you need to do is head to Point Kean Viewpoint.
Part of the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, the viewpoint provides the opportunity to see the colony of New Zealand fur seals up close.
25. Tramp up to Mt John Observatory
Mt John Observatory is an astronomical research observatory above Lake Tekapo.
You can hike up to the observatory via the Mt John Summit Circuit Track, offering incredible views of the lake and the Mackenzie Basin from the top.
26. Travel to the Northernmost Tip of New Zealand
Located right at the very top of the North Island, Cape Reinga is the ‘end of the road’ and the furthest point you can reach.
Visiting the Cape Reinga Lighthouse is a bucket-list activity, and from here you can watch the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide.
27. Hike or Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is widely considered the ‘paradise’ of New Zealand.
Secluded beaches make for pristine sand and clear blue water.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a 60km track winding through forest and across beaches.
You can do a short section of the walk and get a water taxi to take you back to your car/ campervan.
Don’t fancy hiking? You could explore by kayak instead.
28. Walk to the Franz Josef Glacier Lookout
Glacier Country is located on New Zealand’s ‘Wild West Coast’ – the place where icy mountains meet lush rainforest.
The Franz Josef Glacier Walk takes you through the Franz Josef Glacier Valley to the viewpoint, where you can see the retreating glacier up close.
29. Eat at Christchurch’s Riverside Market
Riverside Market in Christchurch is a really cool foodie spot with street food, artisan food vendors and upmarket eateries.
It’s the most buzzing spot in Christchurch and a must-visit stop on your South Island adventure.
Christchurch has a lot of English influence, just like the city of Dunedin.
30. Bathe at Onsen Hot Pools
You’ll see Onsen Hot Pools all over Instagram.
The luxury private hot tubs with breathtaking views have become a must-do activity for those wanting a special experience in Queenstown.
For those who love spa days, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Queenstown.
31. Ascend The Auckland Sky Tower
Auckland’s Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
From the top you’ll be rewarded with 360 degree views of the city, the harbour and the extinct volcanoes dotted on the horizon.
There are also three restaurants and cafes up the Sky Tower, along with a SkyJump and SkyWalk for thrill-seekers.
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Auckland.
32. Black Water Raft in Glow Worm Caves
The Black Water Rafting Experience is a brilliant way to see thousands of glow worms from the comfort of your own rubber ring!
The unique activity takes place at the Waitomo Caves, a network of glow worm caves on the North Island.
For adventurers, this is one of the top things to do on New Zealand.
33. Eat and Drink in a Heritage Gold Mining Town
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town surrounded by alpine forests.
It’s particularly stunning in autumn when the trees on the surrounding hills become a curtain of reds and golds.
When considering what to do in New Zealand in March, a visit to the autumnal wonderland of Arrowtown is a must-do.
34. Go Luging
Luging involves going down a track on a sled, and it’s a lot of fun.
35. Do a Boat Tour in the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is an area in Northland made up of 140 subtropical islands.
It’s one of the best spots in Australia to see marine life and secluded idyllic bays.
Many of the islands can only be accessed by boat, so why not join a full day tour which provides the opportunity to swim, snorkel, paddleboard and see dolphins.
36. Get on Board the HukaFalls Jet
The HukaFalls Jet is a thrill-seeker’s dream, taking you right up to the base of the Huka Falls in a speedy jet boat.
Prepare to spin, fly and feel the spray of the Huka Falls on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
37. Wander Around Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour
Viaduct Harbour is Auckland’s old commercial harbour, which has now been re-developed into a beautiful marina with upscale restaurants and bars.
The highly rated New Zealand Maritime Museum is found right on the water and it’s a great spot to learn about the country’s seafaring history.
38. Hike Up Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond is a mountain above Queenstown, which takes a full day to summit and descend.
From the top, you’ll be rewarded with epic views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range.
39. Step Foot on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the protected place where the first agreement between the Māori and the British was signed.
It’s found in the stunning Bay of Islands area of Northland.
40. Hike Up an Extinct Volcano
Mount Maunganui is an extinct volcano by the ocean, which is now one of the best short walks in New Zealand.
From the top, you’ll get excellent views over the Bay of Plenty.
41. Do the Rotorua Redwoods Treewalk
To see some of the tallest trees in New Zealand, you should do the Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua.
The 115 year old Californian Redwoods are found in the beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest.
42. Boat to the Māori Carvings at Mine Bay
On a secluded section of Lake Taupo, which can only be accessed by boat, you’ll find the famous Māori rock carvings.
Why not join a boat trip to the carvings for a bliss afternoon with the opportunity to learn about Māori culture.
43. Go Sandboarding on Giant Sand Dunes
Up near Cape Reinga you’ll find the Giant Sand Dunes.
The impressive natural attraction of shifting sand dunes is a great place to try sandboarding.
In high season, there’s a kiosk open where you can hire bodyboards.
44. See the Turquoise Water of Hokitika Gorge
Hokitika Gorge was ground out of granite by the Hokitika River and has a distinctive milky turquoise colour.
This is because it’s fed by glaciers and contains lots of rock flour.
The best way to see the gorge is on the Hokitika Gorge Walk.
45. Hike and Camp on the Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is a 32km/ 3-day hike and one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
The multi-day hike links Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks, with camping spots along the way.
It starts near Milford Sound and ends near Glenorchy.
For keen hikers, this is one of the best things to do on New Zealand’s South Island.
46. Whale Watching in Kaikōura
I can’t teach you how to do a New Zealand accent, but I can tell you the best place in the country to go whale watching.
Kaikōura is a coastal town on South Island, home to an impressive sperm whale population.
Between June-September (low season) you can join a whale watching cruise to see giant sperm whales off the coast.
47. Watch the Aratiatia Dam Open
Every day at 10am, 12pm, & 2pm in Lake Taupo, the Aratiatia Dam opens creating the Aratiatia Rapids.
The rapids are created by a large amount of water being released through a narrow gorge, and the rapids actually feature in The Hobbit (when the dwarves travel down the gorge in wooden barrels).
48. Kayak to the Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary (Donut Island)
Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary (Donut Island) is a hidden gem just off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.
The protected wildlife sanctuary is home to incredible natural beauty and a hidden lagoon in the centre of the island’s collapsed blowhole.
You can do a guided kayak tour to the island from Whangamatā.
49. Visit the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market
The small town of Matakana has become a bit of a vibey holiday destination for Aucklanders in recent years.
Found just an hour north of Auckland on the Matakana Coast, expect brilliant food & drink, as well as stunning beaches and bays.
The famous Matakana Village Farmers’ Market is a must-visit stop every Saturday, with organic produce, great coffee and live music by the river.
You’ll also find brilliant street food and a buzzing atmosphere.
50. Explore the Wineries of Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay is a scenic wine region on the East Coast of North Island.
With over 70 wineries in the area, you can hire a bike and follow the winery trail to various different vineyards.
The ultimate winery bike trail in Hawke’s Bay starts at the coastal vineyards of Haumoana/ Te Awanga before following the TukiTuki river inland to the vineyards near Havelock North.
51. Eat Incredible Sushi at Lake Tekapo
The tiny alpine-style town of Lake Tekapo is an unlikely destination for an authentic Japanese restaurant, but that’s exactly what you’ll find there.
Kohan does fantastic sashimi, sushi and bento boxes in a cosy setting (reservations required as it’s always booked up).
52. Check out Omaha Beach and Ti Point
Omaha Beach and Ti Point are two stunning coastal spots just an hour north of Auckland.
Located on the Matakana Coast, Omaha Beach offers some of the whitest sand in New Zealand and is accessed by a beautiful boardwalk.
Opposite Omaha Beach you’ll find Ti Point on a small peninsula, a brilliant spot for swimming in the clear turquoise water.
53. Wade into Glow Worm Caves for FREE
Waipu Caves provide a unique opportunity to see glow worm caves for free!
Found in Northland at the edge of a farmer’s field, the caves are open to the public for free.
To see the glow worms for yourself, you’ll need to enter the cave and head to the left.
Then, wade through ankle-deep water for about 50 metres and you’ll be amazed by hundreds of glow worms above you.
You will need waterproof boots & a torch, and also take care at the start of the cave because the rocks are slippery.
54. Appreciate Art and Food in Nelson
Nelson is a great place for art and food lovers to visit.
Nelson is also located on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, a network of cycle tracks passing through vineyards, fruit stalls, fish and chip shops and the Pic’s Peanut Butter Factory.
55. Take the Wellington Cable Car
The Wellington Cable Car is an old funicular railway which takes you up to an amazing viewpoint over the city of Wellington.
56. Spot Wild Kiwis in Tawharanui Regional Park
Tawharanui Regional Park is just an hour north of Auckland and it’s a great spot to see kiwis in the wild.
To see the kiwis, you need to head to the park after dark and take a red light torch.
Then simply listen out for rustling and stay quiet!
57. Visit the Colonial Town of Russell
Russell is a charming beach-side town with colonial architecture, blue water and impressive viewpoints.
A great way to visit Russell is to get the passenger ferry from Paihia for a beautiful journey.
58. Walk Along Wellington’s Waterfront
The Wellington Waterfront Walk is a great way to see the best of Wellington.
Begin at Queen’s Wharf and walk south along the City to Sea Bridge before continuing past the Naked Man Statue to the marina and the beachside area of Oriental Bay.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the best things to do in the North Island & South Island of New Zealand. Don’t miss the Ultimate New Zealand Roadtrip Itinerary or the Best Short Walks and Hikes in New Zealand.