The coolest things to do in New Zealand

The coolest things to do in New Zealand



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A beautiful country with lots of character, it’s no wonder it’s a backpacker favorite. From city-stomping to stargazing, here are some of the best things to do in New Zealand

It was the last mass of land on earth to be discovered. What a discovery it was, and oh, how the nation has flourished since then. A scenic, multicultural gem at the base of the globe, although it’s very far away for most, it’s the perfect bucket list destination, and it’s about to reopen! So, let take you to the very land of the Kiwis — this is our rough guide of cool things to do in New Zealand.

City life: Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington

View of Auckland from Mount Eden — ShutterstockView of Auckland from Mount Eden, one of the city’s 53 (dormant) volcanoes — Shutterstock

One of the world’s most pleasantly liveable cities, Auckland is also one of its most multicultural, with large numbers of Asian and Polynesian citizens. Located on the North Island, it lost its status as capital in 1865, but continued to grow, and remains the country’s leading destination for arts, culture, education, food, sports and more.

It can be expensive, but provides a nice mix of things to do for pretty much any budget. The Auckland War Memorial Museum provides a fabulous look at Māori history and tradition, while the New Zealand Maritime Museum dives into its seafaring history and brings to life how it would have felt to be a 19th century immigrant to what was then a wild and lonely place. Otherwise, go for dinner on the Waterfront, the promenade of world-class bars and restaurants; climb one of the 53(!) volcanoes in and around the city; or, if you’ve got kids, go wild at one of the many adventure playgrounds or water parks.

Tram on New Regent Street in Christchurch — ShutterstockNew Regent Street is dubbed the country’s most beautiful street — Shutterstock

Christchurch, on the South Island, is a more English-style city, with buildings like the 19th century ChristChurch Cathedral sitting on the central square which hosts regular market days. In 2010, Christchurch released “A City For People Action Plan” with the aim of making the city even nicer, with open spaces and more greenery for pedestrians and cyclists. Following the disastrous earthquakes in 2011, the city has been rebuilt but still retains charms such as the flat-bottomed punts drifting from the Victorian-era Antigua Boat Sheds down the Avon River, the pastel colors of the country’s ‘most beautiful street’ New Regent Street, masses of parkland and the Botanic Gardens, and the wonderful food and drink selection at the Riverside Market.

Lake landscape of Zealandia Te Mārā a Tāne — ShutterstockZealandia Te Mārā a Tāne is an ecosanctuary near Wellington that attempts to restore the natural surroundings to their pre-human state — Shutterstock

Finally, and unusually, we’re leaving the capital, Wellington last in our list of the larger cities. It lies on the southern edge of the North Island and its mix of nationalities, from Dutch to Indonesian, Korean to Greek, Indian, Samoan and many more means it may be small, but it’s one of the friendliest capital cities you’d care to find. With a focus on some of the nicer things in life — coffee, ice-cream, craft beer and so forth — as well as institutions such as Te Papa Tongarewa (the national museum and art gallery), Zealandia Te Mārā a Tāne (an ecosanctuary attempting to restore a valley, forest and freshwater ecosystem to their pre-human state), and the Wellington Cable Car for commanding views, and you might just linger far longer than you initially thought.


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Different perspectives: the North Island and the South Island

View over the Waimakariri river gorge — ShutterstockThe Waimakariri river gorge is one of the various landscapes that a journey along the TranzAlpine rail route has to offer — Shutterstock

To get a bit of a handle on the varied landscapes of the country, hop on board the TranzAlpine train (New Zealand does love a wildly-placed Z) between Christchurch and Greymouth. Its 223 km route takes around five hours to complete, and passes through some of the South Island’s most stunning scenery.

Pulling out of Christchurch, you’re soon crossing the patchwork fields of Canterbury Plains, and out towards Springfield, gateway to the Southern Alps. Previously, the line had ended here, before planning, engineering and bravery constructed a track through the mountains. The previously severely isolated township of Arthur’s Pass is the next port of call, before the train edges along the cliffs of the Waimakariri River, through 15 tunnels and over four dizzying viaducts. Having crossed the mountains, the landscape turns lush and green as you cross rivers, cruise along lakes and wind through forests before finally arriving at Greymouth.

View of the green hills and the beach of Great Barrier Island — ShutterstockLie on the beach on the wondrous Great Barrier Island — Shutterstock

You might also want to gaze upwards to see what you can see. Great Barrier Island was the first in the world to be named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, so if there’s one place you know you’ll be able to see the firmament in all its wonder, it’s here. Lie back on the beach, listen to the waves, and gaze at the sky while local guides tell ancestral tales about humankind’s mystical place in the universe.

From the widths of the sky to the depths of the sea, and a spot of whale-watching: New Zealand has always been a prime location for this, with Kaikoura on the South Island considered the top destination. There are other options, however, including Hauraki Gulf and its 22 species of whale (as well as bottlenose dolphins), opportunities for diving at Whakatane and, while not specifically a whale-watching tour, kayaking around the Bay of Islands provides chances to spot blue whales and orcas.

Stay under the stars

Couple looking at the scenic view from their glamping pod — ShutterstockNew Zealand is one of the coolest places in the world to camp. If you’re not so accustomed to really off-grid accommodation, glamping is a popular alternative — Shutterstock

If you don’t feel like staying in one of the cities, New Zealand is one of the best places in the world for camping and the great outdoors. Again, no matter what your budget, there’ll be an option for you.

If you’d simply like to rock up with your tent and camp, there are places like Poukaraka Flats, a campsite on Waiheke Island. Facilities are basic — just toilets and cold showers — but it’s a great base for exploring the forests, beaches and historical and natural reserves of the area. The same can be said for the Matai Bay campsite, popular for snorkeling, fishing and wildlife-watching. Some, like Matai Bay, work on a first-come, first-served basis, and others — and definitely those in national parks — will need to be booked in advance. Check before you go and you’ll be fine.

To see a bit more, why not rent a camper van? There are scores of companies that will rent you a van, and by following your nose (and New Zealand’s famously winding roads!) you’ll be able to see scenery you wouldn’t even have guessed at. It also, of course, gives you the option of flexibility: stay in a small town hotel for a night if you fancy, or sleep outside if the weather is warm.

Finally, at the top end, there’s glamping. Increasingly popular, especially in places with big skies and empty spaces like Norway and, of course, New Zealand. Top-end glamping resorts can include things like gourmet meals, spa treatments and wine-tasting, all done with incredible sea views or on mountainsides with a vast valley below. So however you plan to experience the outdoors, New Zealand has options for everyone.

Delight in small things

Mount Ngauruhoe — ShutterstockMount Ngauruhoe — Shutterstock

Around 45 minutes north of Auckland, you can find the small town of Matakana. It’s a little world unto itself, with gorgeous beaches, small, high-quality vineyards, a quirky local arts scene, and the Matakana Village Farmers Market. Come here to buy some of that delicious local produce, and take a picnic down to the river’s edge or to one of the nearby beaches.

With New Zealand being famous for its landscapes, there’s trekking to be done. If you’re not one for a week or more in the wilderness, there are organized one-day hikes around places like Tongariro Crossing, passing the Emerald Lakes, Blue Lakes and Mount Ngauruhoe (or Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings if that’s how you’d prefer to know it).

Close to Dunedin in the very south of the country you might find Tunnel Beach. I say you might find it, because you have to get to the windswept headland first. Follow the path down the cliffs and enter a narrow tunnel carved out by workers in 1870; it’s this passageway that provides access to a stunning, secluded bay

In short, there are simply too many wonderful oddities in this amazing country to list here, but hopefully, this short guide has given you a small overview of the many, many different ways you can experience New Zealand.

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David Szmidt

David is a lead writer for, as well as a football-watcher, music-listener and beer-appreciater. @UtterBlether