New Zealand is the best place in the world to blow your savings doing crazy stuff. I should know; that’s exactly what I did and I don’t regret it for a moment! And now I’ve created a New Zealand adventure itinerary where I’ve put together the very best of the adventures I had to inspire you and help you make your own. Whether you’re an adventuring novice or expert, whether you want your adventures on land, sea or air, I’ve got you covered. Because sometimes it’s just got to be done, right? So go on – you won’t regret it!
Note: whilst a lot of these activities can be done all year round, this itinerary is better suited to New Zealand in summer and late spring/early autumn.
New Zealand Adventure Itinerary Part 1: The North Island
The North Island is seen as the softer of the two islands but it’s a great starting point and still has a huge range of awesome adventures, particularly if you love beaches and watersports. So in this section we’ll be making a huge loop of the north section of the North Island, starting from Auckland head up to the Bay of Islands, all the way up Ninety Mile Beach, then making our way back down through Piha, Rotorua, then finally Tongariro (near Lake Taupo). Let the journey begin!
Parasail in the Bay of Islands
Cost: Moderate -$80-100 NZD
Experience needed? No
Kiwis are an adventurous bunch of people and they’ll take to the skies at any given opportunity. Parasailing is probably the cheapest way to get a bird’s eye view of this beautiful country, and substantially less hardcore than something like skydiving. But it’s still seriously fun!
There are loads of places to go parasailing from, but we did it in the Bay of Islands. This is simply because we wanted to spread our adventures out across the whole island, as opposed to doing them all in Queenstown, etc. It was a good idea – the Bay of Islands looks amazing from above – so many funny-shaped islands and beaches to gawp at, all surrounded by beautiful turquoise ocean. It’s also home to New Zealand’s highest parasail, reaching 1300ft! We went with Flying Kiwi Parasail in Paihia.
Drive off road on Ninety mile beach
Cost: Low – a tank of petrol!
Experience needed? A driver’s licence ;)
This gigantic beach is a far cry from the sun umbrellas and resorts that line the beaches back home in the UK and Europe; this thing is vast and wild. And it’s also a public highway. Buckle up and put your foot down! You can also go bodyboarding down the sand dunes as well as quad biking.
A good starting point to explore Ninety Mile Beach is Ahipara, the most southerly point of the beach, and Kaitaia is the best place to stock up with supplies. Then the further north you go the more wild it gets. The beach carries on up almost to Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s most northerly point and home to a beautiful little lighthouse. It’s a mission to get here but that’s part of the adventure.
Disclaimer: a lot of rental companies won’t let you drive their cars on the beach due to safety, hazards, and so on. Four-wheel drives are definitely more suitable but we did see lots of normal cars on there too. One had a bit of trouble getting back onto the road, but they weren’t driving very intelligently anyway. Be aware of the tides! Tour buses can take you there if you don’t have – or don’t want – to risk your own wheels.
Hit the waves in Piha
Cost: Low-Moderate – $70+ NZD
Experience needed? There are lessons to suit all levels and places to hire gear if you just want to surf independently
The West Coast of New Zealand has some ridiculously good surf, and the beautiful Piha is the country’s most famous spot. The surf is the most reliable and best quality in the area, possibly the whole of the North Island. It’s also classed as one of the safest beaches, so it’s perfect if you’re a beginner. Piha Surf School is a great place to start learning or get a brush up.
Once you’ve had your fill of surfing for the day, the little town of Piha is beautiful and the beach is nothing short of stunning (the film The Piano was shot here). There’s a real hippie vibe to the town, and there are a good bunch of cafes and camping spots here too.
Go white water rafting in Rotorua
Cost: Low – £85 NZD
Experience needed? None!
Tucked away just north of sulphuric Rotorua is the Kaituna River, home to the world’s largest commercially rafted waterfall. Basically it’s the largest drop you can raft down if you have zero experience of the sport. It’s 7m to be precise.
We did it with the company Rotorua Rafting. These guys are born and bred kiwis with that “sweet as” kiwi vibe we all love. They’re really cool dudes. Cruising through beautifully green forests, do some rock jumping, go for a swim down the rapids, have a shower in a waterfall. And let’s just say that 7m drop (Tutea Falls) is a real rush! I held on for dear life.
Queenstown is another white water rafting hotspot and probably the most famous in New Zealand. Those waters are glacial, so they’re bright turquoise and very cold!
Rafting bonus: black water rafting in Waitomo
Waitomo is famous for its glow worm caves, but did you know that you can go rafting through them in the pitch black? Oh yes. Head 80m underground with a rubber tube and a headtorch for one awesome experience. At one point you’ll be floating through what looks like a whole galaxy of glow worms and it’s amazing. Check out waitomo.com to find out more.
Hike through Mordor and up Mt Doom in the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Cost: Low: around $60 NZD including transport there and back from the nearby towns.
Experience needed? Previous hiking/long-distance walking experience recommended and/or moderate level of fitness.
Yep, in New Zealand you can walk up to the top of Mt Doom (aka Mt Ngauruhoe), and it looks just as impressive in real life. It won’t be bellowing smoke and lava when you’re there like in Lord of the Rings, but Mt Ngauruhoe and its surrounding volcanoes are still active.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is New Zealand’s most famous day hike and I totally get the hype: it’s out of this world. There aren’t many places where you can slide down the loose pumice sides of an active volcano, 1800m high, surrounded by steaming eggy vents and bright coloured lakes. It’s about a 15 mile trek, though, so you need to be fairly fit!
Read more about my experience on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
New Zealand Adventure Itinerary Part 2: The South Island
Time to move south! This is often seen as the better of the two islands for adventure and extreme sports, and I can see why. So whilst the North Island certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, the concentration of awesome stuff to do in the South Island is just insane. And it’s really all thanks to that beautiful mountain range, the Southern Alps…
This route starts in Picton (the main ferry terminal you can get to from Wellington in the North Island). From here we head down to Kaikoura, over to the West Coast to the Fox Glacier, down to Queenstown, then a big U-shape to reach the Fiordlands where you can find the Routeburn Track and Milford sound.
Swim with dolphins/go whale watching in Kaikoura
Cost: Moderate – around $150 NZD
Experience needed? None!
Rocking side to side in a little boat, watching the mountains fade into the distance, waiting for a hint of something to surface from the deep. Huge albatrosses gliding around you, seals bobbing up beside the boat, Kaikoura is an amazing place to take to the water before the whales even arrive. We were lucky enough to see three sperm whales and we followed them for around 15 minutes.
Kaikoura is the best place to spot these awesome creatures, with different species to see – sperm whales, seals, dolphins and albatrosses all year round, and humpback whales in June and July. The boats do a great job of tracking the whales down whilst not being intrusive. If you want to get closer still, there are a whole bunch of dolphin swims you can do in the Kaikoura area as well. We did our tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura.
Walk inside a glacier via helicopter
Cost: Very high – $450+ NZD
Experience needed? No – just average fitness and mobility
This is the most expensive thing on this list but also one of the most unique; take a helicopter up into the mountains, land on a glacier, then weave your way through the ice – does it get any more epic?
It was one of the activities I was looking forward to most, but unfortunately mine was cancelled due to bad weather. Warning: cancellations happen frequently. Give yourself a few days in the area in case your trip gets delayed and be sure to check what’s happening at both Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier, as you can do it at either place. My friends Sophie and Josh from justsimpleadventure.com did manage to do it (pictured above), and I can’t tell you how awesome it looks and how jealous I am. Read about their Helihike on the Fox Glacier here.
Jump out of an aeroplane in Queenstown
Cost: High – $300+ NZD
Experience needed? No – just a strong constitution!
If you’re an adventure junkie then you can’t miss jumping out of a plane in the skydiving capital of the world. And if you’re not you should still do it! Skydiving was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done, second only to snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.
The go-to place for skydiving in New Zealand is Queenstown, and for good reason; the views are amazing. But it’s also the most expensive. Head an hour north to Wanaka and you’ll shave off 10% or so off the price or so, but head to Lake Taupo in the North Island and you’ll save something like 25%. With a giant crater lake with Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) looming in the distance, the scenery is also amazing.
Read about my Skydive in Queenstown.
Go luging in Queenstown (or Rotorua)
Cost: Pretty cheap – $50-70 NZD
Experience needed? No – suitable for everyoen
Sit in a little plastic cart and tear down a downhill racecourse! There are hairpins, tunnels, and even bumps to give you a bit of air. Luging is hilarious.
It’s even more hilarious if you’re rubbish at controlling them like me – you’ll end up smashing against the edges, hitting your friends (accidentally-on-purpose), and so on. Then once you get the hang of it you can go surprisingly fast. I loved it! There are two main places to go luging in New Zealand – Skyline in Queenstown and Skyline Rotorua. Choose Queenstown for awesome views and Rotorua for speed. Both of these places offer a bunch of other fun stuff to do as well – such as ziplines and mountain biking.
Hike the Routeburn Track
Cost: Cheap – roughly $50-$100 NZD (depending on how many days you take to do it)
Experience needed? Preferably some experience hiking but not crucial. Anyone of average fitness should be fine.
This is my favourite of the three Great Walks I did in New Zealand (there are nine in total) and one of my favourite hikes of all time. It’s not too long or demanding and has a great variety of stunning scenery; waterfalls, forests, mountains… There’s something to marvel at almost every step of the way, and the huts where you stay for the night are in first-class locations.
Find out more about the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track (New Zealand’s most famous Great Walk and another great option). If you don’t have three or so days to spare there’s a ridiculous amount of beautiful day hikes to do in New Zealand. Other ones to consider are Roy’s Peak, Mt Cook and Mt Alfred.
Kayak the Milford Sound at sunrise
Cost: Moderate – $115-225 NZD depending on duration
Experience needed? There are a range of trips to suit all levels.
Visiting the stunning Milford Sound is on almost every travel itinerary to New Zealand. But did you know that you can do a dawn kayak there?! Oh yes! There are a lot of places to kayak in New Zealand, but this combination has to be one of the best.
Glide through the dark water beside huge peaks and waterfalls, passing seals and sometimes even dolphins. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, so don’t expect beautiful dawn colours when you go; expect dark brooding greys and huge black peaks. It’s out of this world.
I did the kayak with Rosco’s, who were really cool, fun and informative. My only regret is that I didn’t do the longest trip they had. I didn’t do it because it said it was for experienced kayakers (due to the distance you go). So I did the intermediate one instead and found it very easy – and I’m just average fitness who’s done nothing more than casual kayaking. Another great place to kayak is Abel Tasman, where you can paddle from beach to beach, some of which are only accessible by water and totally empty.
How much time do you need to do all this?
That’s largely up to you! I’d recommend a minimum of four weeks in total to just get this all done. You’d be spending a LOT of time driving/travelling from one place to the next doing it this way, and really only spending a night in each place, perhaps two in the bigger places like Queenstown. But it is doable. You would need your own transport to do it this way too, as buses and their random timetables will slow it all down.
If you want to get it done comfortably and add in some other things, explore some other places, have some down time, then I’d suggest 6 weeks, or even more… Besides, it’s impossible to spend too long in New Zealand!
That’s a wrap…
So there you have it folks – a guide to just some of the awesome things to do in New Zealand and best ways to burn that hard-earned cash! Did I miss anything? Or want to share an awesome NZ adventure of your own? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!