10 Bucket-List Experiences to Try in New Zealand

Tongariro Crossing
Tongariro Crossing | © Harry Lund/Flickr
Thalita Alves

For many, New Zealand is the ultimate bucket-list destination. With a seemingly endless collection of breathtaking landscapes as well as a trove of activities to suit all tastes, ages and budgets, this is a country that definitely ticks all the right boxes. While you’re visiting, make sure to add these remarkable experiences to your must-do list.

Bungy jump

The ultimate bucket-list experience for thrill-seekers venturing into this epic adventure land. You get bonus points for leaping from Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge (the place that brought us the bungy that we know today), but anywhere that offers this activity is sure to get your heart pumping. Auckland’s Sky Tower and Harbour Bridge, Lake Taupo and Rotorua are some of the other popular bungy jump destinations to keep on your radar.

Bungy Jump at Kawarau Bridge

Go diving or snorkelling at the Poor Knights Islands

The Poor Knights Islands are located off the east coast of the North Island’s Northland region, just 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) off the Tutukaka Coast. These islands were carved out of a series of ancient volcanoes and are globally renowned for their diving and snorkelling. Caves, arches and tunnels, as well as whales, dolphins and fish are just some of the wonderful treasures hiding beneath these ocean waters.

Schooling Koheru fish, Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand

Hike the Tongariro Crossing

A visit to Tongariro National Park will expose you to a number of bucket-list worthy attractions. But not everyone can handle multi-day alpine treks, nor are they experienced enough to climb the treacherous ‘Mt Doom’. The day-long Tongariro Crossing, however, is relatively accessible as long as you have a good level of fitness. Views of of rugged alpine features that make this park so compelling are abundant throughout the 19.4-kilometre (12.1-mile) journey.

Tongariro Crossing

Whale watch in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is often touted as the whale-watching capital of New Zealand. And for a very good reason too: an array of migratory whale species pass through its oceans as they venture south. Giant sperm whales can be seen pretty much year-round, and local tours enable visitors to spot other marine critters that may be lurking about, like dusky dolphins and native fur seals.

Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Embrace all things Tolkien

For Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans, the highlight of any New Zealand visit will be seeing the locations that brought Middle Earth to life. A Hobbiton tour is definitely worth investing in if you want to feel like you’re part of the story. The Department of Conservation also compiled an extensive list of the natural wonders Peter Jackson tapped into as he tried to capture Tolkien’s fantasy world.

Hobbiton, New Zealand

See the Southern Lights

New Zealand’s clear dark skies offer the perfect vantage point for stargazers wanting to bask at this incredible Southern Hemisphere wonder. The Aurora Australis (aka the Southern Lights) are best seen in the Otago region, just outside of Dunedin, as well as the dark sky reserves in Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Aurora Australis in New Zealand

Visit Milford Sound

An out-of-this-world attraction that has enthralled its visitors throughout the centuries, writer Rudyard Kipling famously proclaimed Milford Sound to be the eighth wonder of the world. Whether you choose to hike its awe-inspiring forested landscapes or you’d like to cruise along the waters to get up close to its waterfalls and towering peaks, it’s fair to say that no New Zealand bucket list would be complete without a visit to this remarkable destination.

Mitre Peak and Milford Sound Landscape

Cruise, raft and go spelunking in the Waitomo Caves

You don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to relish the wonders that line the Waitomo Caves — though it helps. A scenic cruise will showcase the area’s exquisite limestone caves and the unique glowworm species that live there. For the adventurous travellers among us, Waitomo is a playground filled with epic experiences: think black-water rafting, abseiling, rock climbing, bush walking and, of course, spelunking into the darkness.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Get up close to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

One of the unique things about New Zealand is that you can hike some of its most accessible glaciers. Now, it must be said that while Fox and Franz Josef are approachable, a helicopter ride is the only way to reach the latter. Fox Glacier, on the other hand, can be climbed if you’re up for it. But both icy terrains, however you explore them, will wow you.

Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Head on a Great Walk or Ride

Avid hikers will be familiar with New Zealand’s nine Great Walks: the country’s finest and most challenging multi-day treks. These are based around the country’s various national parks, and offer plenty of contrasting landscapes and challenging trajectories to captivate those who relish the idea of going off-grid for several days. If cycling is more to your taste, there are loads of fantastic multi-day routes to look into — like the Great Walks, some have deservedly earned Great Ride status. How’s that for bucket list material?!

The Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks

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