Our 11 Favorite Experiences in New Zealand

New Zealand is all about adventure and exploration. With only 4.5 million people in a stunningly beautiful land mass the size of Colorado, there is plenty to be discovered and not a lot of people to get in the way. There’s a reason they filmed Lord of the Rings here. It’s a big playground complete with jaw-dropping mountain ranges, gorgeous beaches, glaciers, volcanoes, and complementary adrenaline activities that will keep your heart racing until you can’t take it anymore.

There are so many awesome things to do in New Zealand but these were the 11 that topped our list:

11. Making our own hot tub at Hot Water Beach (Coromandel Peninsula) – New Zealand is a very active volcanic region. The central part of the North Island is almost like a mini-Yellowstone with hot pools, geysers, and a ubiquitous stench of sulfur. A little further north in the Coromandel Peninsula there is a hot pool directly under a beach and it is quite popular to grab a shovel and create your own “hot tub.”

Digging our hot tub on Hot Water Beach

Digging our hot tub on Hot Water Beach

Cathedral Cove, another awesome spot in the Coromandel Peninsula

Cathedral Cove, another awesome spot in the Coromandel Peninsula

Cathedral Cove

10. Exploring Arthur’s Pass (southern Nelson) – This was an area we stayed with my family that was a bit off the beaten path on the South Island. We were actually the only people staying at the hotel the first night, which meant we got to really know the staff well. Shooting skeet, hiking, and just relaxing in a valley surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains was a great way to spend a few days.

View from our place at Grasmere Lodge

View from our place at Grasmere Lodge

Hiking break

Hiking break

Dad went 0 for 19

Anyone wondering about the skeet results should consult my Dad

Never get on Alison's bad side, she has deadly aim

Never get on Alison’s bad side, she has deadly aim

Drewster, if you ain't first you're last

Drewster should stick to basketball

Arthur's Pass had some spectacular natural beauty and no one around

Arthur’s Pass had some spectacular natural beauty and no one around

9.  Zorbing (Rotorua) – Rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball. That’s all there is to say. Apparently they have these in Tennessee and Massachusetts for anyone interested. Might want to make sure you have health insurance first.

I guess it's safe...

I guess it’s safe…

8. Wine tours! (Central Otago and Marlborough Sounds) – New Zealand only produces 1% of the world’s wine but they do a damn good job with their whites and pinot noirs. Seeing Mom drink a lot of wine is always good fun.

Cloudy Bay in Marlborough Sounds

Cloudy Bay in Marlborough Sounds

Peregrine Winery in Central Otago

Peregrine Winery in Central Otago

Central Otago wine country

Central Otago wine country

Drew and his favorite sister

Drew and his favorite sister

The daughter she always wanted

The daughter she always wanted

7. Driving! Yes, driving (Everywhere) – There is so much beauty in all directions here and just driving around is a great way to get a look at as much of it as possible. A big thanks to my Dad who logged plenty of miles on the South Island while we relaxed and enjoyed the natural beauty.

On the way to Milford Sound and Fiordland

On the way to Milford Sound and Fiordland

Drive from queenstown to franz josef

Drive from queenstown to franz josef

Driving in Coromandel Peninsula

Driving in Coromandel Peninsula

Arthur's Pass

Arthur’s Pass

6. Milford Sound – This place is awesome. An absolute must-do on the South Island.

Milford Sound, guessing Alison snapped this one

Milford Sound, guessing Alison snapped this one

Who Dey!

Who Dey!

5. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (South of Lake Taupo) – The coolest day hike we’ve ever done in the 2nd oldest national park in the world (behind Yellowstone). A volcano erupted here just off the hiking path in 2012. It was not easy, especially in certain points on the col between two volcanoes where the wind was probably up to 60mph gusts, but a truly rewarding day.

First part of the hike

First part of the hike

This is Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, taken from summit of Red Crater

This is Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, taken from summit of Red Crater

Red Crater

Red Crater

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Where the volcano erupted in 2012

Where the volcano erupted in 2012

Finally making our way down

Finally making our way down

4. Flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown – Some of the most spectacular mountain beauty you’ll ever see.

Scenic Milford Sound Flight

Tallest waterfall in New Zealand

Tallest waterfall in New Zealand

Yep, that'll work

Yep, that’ll work

Scenic Milford Sound Flight

3. Fly Fishing (Taupo) – I absolutely have to come back here and fish the rest of this country. During our time here, the trout fishing in the tributaries east of Lake Taupo was the best around. The trout here are freaks of nature. Twice the size of similar species in the western US.

Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout

Double rainbows over the famous Tongariro River

Double rainbows over the famous Tongariro River

2. Nevis Bungy and Swing (Queenstown) – Alison absolutely crushed the Bungy jump, making Drew and I look like cowards on the lowly Swing. Check out Alison’s Instagram video.

That's Alison jumping off that suspended cable car

That’s Alison jumping off that suspended cable car

Drew wish so cool (he was scared out of his mind)

Drew is so cool (he was scared out of his mind)

Dropping in

Dropping in

I was scared out of my mind too

I was scared out of my mind too

1. Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier – Alison and I both agree this was our favorite experience in NZ. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef glacier

Look at those ice formations!

Look at those ice formations!

Our guide took us to places he probably shouldn't have

Our guide took us to places he probably shouldn’t have

Dad crawled up

Dad crawled up, but I’ll give the Old Man props – he held his own

Crampons are awesome!

Crampons are awesome!

This was one spectacular afternoon

This was one spectacular afternoon

I came here eight years ago and remember thinking at the time it was the most beautiful country I’d ever seen and that still holds true. Hopefully another eight years from now we’ll be back again and add to this list, likely through some walking tracks in Fiordland and Nelson, which we were unable to see due to weather this time around.

Have you been to New Zealand? Any other must-dos to add to our list?

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17 thoughts on “Our 11 Favorite Experiences in New Zealand

  1. Your pictures and experiences are amazing. I bet it was great getting together with family and catching up. Keep them coming. Traveling through Brian and Alison is great fun!

  2. Just officially added New Zealand to our bucket list (minus jumping off the cable car and the rolling down hill in a ball thing)! Wonderful pictures.

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  6. My daughter (a kiwi) just flew back in to Queenstown New Zealand after traveling around the world. She burst into tears when she flew in to Queenstown airport and said she was totally overwhelmed with the beauty of the place – she said she had never understood how stunning our country was until she spent time away from it and wondered why she ever wanted to leave. I said – thats exactly why – so you can see and appreciate it like visitors from other parts of the world do! I spend a lot of time in the South Island. As a North Island resident and as well traveled Kiwi myself I am so grateful to live here. I also met a Chinese man and his wife on the plane last time I went to QT who said its like walking into a photoshopped photo, the colours and lush scenery…so I love seeing stories of people coming here and enjoying it all. Makes me smile 🙂 thanks for sharing your Kiwi adventure too!!

    • Mia, you are lucky to live in such a beautiful country. Thanks for supporting your daughter in her travels – I’m sure it has given her much more perspective on how lucky she is to be from NZ, for the natural beauty, yes, but also for all the other opportunities that come from being born in a “western” country. Thanks for stopping by the site and for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Wow, you really seem to know how to make the best of your trips! Your pictures are blowing my mind! Can I ask you what camera you used for those? I would also love to know how you found your amazing guide who took you off the beaten track. I am trying to plan a solo trip to New Zealand 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  8. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your journey!!!!
    I asked my husband the other day ‘ what he’d like to do for our 35th wedding anniversary, if we could go ‘anywhere’ ……. Surprised by his response, since we’ve never talked about it, he said, he’d love to go to New Zealand….. So, I am doing some ‘checking’ around!
    After viewing your pics, I now ‘see’ why!!!

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