Top 10 experiences in New Zealand you must not miss
With all the talk about adventures in New Zealand, whether it’s from friends or from stories you heard through the media, it is hard to work out what you will do and what you have time for and even how far will the budget stretch.
The amazing ranges of mountains, vast forests and beautiful natural waterfalls make up the essence of New Zealand and out list of our 10 of our favourite must visit places visit in New Zealand.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Not far from Lake Taupo – New Zealand’s largest lake, lies Tongariro National Park, home to three active volcanoes, as well as being one of the best places in the world to hike; The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has earned a reputation as one of the best one-day hiking trails in the world thanks to its breath taking views and stark alpine beauty.
A 19km hike over mixed alpine terrain across these volcanic peaks the walk is renowned for its remarkable views over the plateau looking out to the sea and back to the Lake Taupo caldera. It passes the incredible volcanic lakes that characterise this area. Since joining the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987 Tongariro National Park has been called “one of New Zealand’s Must Do Experiences.”
Rotorua is considered to be the thinnest part of the worlds crust and is therefore alive with thermal activity – and the smell! The areas surrounding the town are full of geysers, boiling springs and bubbling mud holes that contribute to a smell of sulphur throughout the city. One such thermal park we recommend is Wai-O-Tapu, which is full of colourful hot springs, bubbling mud and the champagne pools. You will also find Lady Knox, a geyser that can shoot up to 20 meters in the air.
Rotorua is also considered the heart of New Zealand Maori culture. You will see evidence of Marae (meeting houses), carvings, and significant Maori landmarks.
Queenstown is the self proclaimed adventure capital of the world – a place that should be on your travel bucket list if you are an adrenaline junkie. Jump off a perfectly good bridge with a rubber band around your foot at the birthplace of Bungy Jumping, skydive from a plane, come seriously close to rock canyon walls on a jet boat, mountain bike, para-glide, canyon-swing or paddle a white water raft down insane rivers. Queenstown is a place hard on your body and brain and unfortunately your wallet.
And to wash it all down the nightlife in Queenstown is the best in New Zealand with bars and clubs for every appetite rocking in to the small wee hours of the morning. For the foodies Queenstown offers a huge range of options from fine dining to gourmet food trucks and arguably the most famous burger joint in the world – Fergburger! Oh, and did we mention that the area around Queenstown is renowned for its incredible wines – yes, you need to squeeze a wine tour in to that packed party agenda.
Drag yourself away from the fun and thrills of Queenstown if only for a day to head to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. Known for its magnificent scenery and a fjord that goes 15 kilometres inland. The fjord is surrounded by cliffs that rise over 1000 meters above sea level from which waterfalls cascade into the almost black sea. Expect to see a multitude of bird life, penguins, seals and dolphins on a boat cruise deep into the fjord.
For those keen on a hike the multi-day 50 kilometre long Milford hiking trail is a once in a lifetime experience traversing seven mountain passes, temperate rainforest, majestic waterfalls and snow-fed lakes.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest national park in New Zealand, but it packs the most beautifully big punch. A stunning coastal track stretches 51 kilometres along the coast and typically takes 3-5 days.
If time is short though you can also choose to walk a part of the amazing route past so many secluded white sand beaches, perfect for swimming, and either grab a water taxi or better still rent a sea kayak to return. It is not uncommon to get a visit from a pod of dolphins while paddling around the incredible beach headlands.
Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the world and unfortunately one of the most staggering images of the effects of climate change on the global ice packs. It is a relatively easy hike from the townships along the receding glacier valley and surrounding rainforest to see the glacier headwall and terminal lake – which has retreated over 3km in the last 100 years, nearly a kilometre of which has taken place in the last decade.
For those that want to go right up on the glacier local operators offer helicopter trips where you can get right in amongst the ice caves. You get a real sense of the enormity of the glacier and can hear the ice cracking, expanding and shrinking below you.
At 3,754 meters Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain. From Mt Cook Village there is an array of great hiking trails offering incredible alpine scenery and views of the huge mountain.
The popular “The Hooker Valley Track” is a 10 km route that takes between 2-4 hours to complete. It crosses the Hooker River by suspension bridge as well as the iconic boardwalk, Lake Mueller and the Mueller Glacier. Hiking up to the terminal lake at the Tasman Glacier feels like walking in to a world time forgot – you get the feeling dinosaurs will appear at any time.
In Maori the name Aoraki means ‘sky piercer’.
The Huka Falls waterfall can be heard before it can be seen (apparently it has been heard as much as 20km away). A staggering 250,000 litres of water flow through the narrow gorge every second falling 11 meters down into the Waikato River. The Waitomo River, which is usually 100 meters wide, suddenly narrows to only 15 meters wide, creating enormous pressure and the great falls.
It is a short hike from the road and parking to the Huka Falls lookout where you can stand above it and feel the spray (hence the nickname Big Smokey). Alternative thrilling jet boat rides to the falls pool are available locally.
Bay of Islands
Three hours north of Auckland you will find the incredible Bay of Islands in the so called winterless north. With over 140 islands in the greater bay, this destination is a Mecca for sailing, kayaking and boat trips. Penguins, dolphins and whales are regularly spotted. On the outermost rock of the bay is the famous rock formation the “hole in a rock” where in the right weather conditions a boat can pass through.
The original settler towns of Russell, Paihia and Kerikeri are all worth spending time in and the flagstaff and Maori Marae at Waitangi are significant in New Zealand history as the place where British colonists and Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi to form modern New Zealand.
An epic day trip can taken from Paihia to travel up 90-mile beach to New Zealand’s most northern point – Cape Reinga.
Only an hour from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island is a sanctuary from the city hustle and bustle. Explore the island on scooter or e-bike finding wonderful white sandy beaches, fantastic arts and crafts and a vibrant local cafe scene all thriving on the magnificent wines produced locally – all of which can be found dotted around the island.
There is endless choice of wineries to visit and lunch the summer afternoons away with the locals.
When it comes to gap year and adventures New Zealand really is a destination your can’t go wrong with. With so much to see and do and incredible natural beauty endless the biggest mistake most visitors make is not allowing enough time. It is a magnificent country with such diverse landscapes from the beaches of the north to the mountains in the south and a buzzing nightlife to top off any amazing day.