15 Unmissable Experiences for your New Zealand Bucket List

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A New Zealand Bucket List

You might have recently noticed a swathe of bucket list posts here on Aussie on the Road.

My China bucket list, South Korea bucket list, and Australia bucket list (in addition to my 1,000 item bucket list) are among the most popular posts on the site and they’re also some of my favourite posts to write.

While I’d love to someday sit down and write an Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List, for now, I thought I’d highlight fifteen amazing experiences in New Zealand that I think should be added to any New Zealand itinerary.

franz josef glacier new zealand
Image courtesy of Christopher Chan.

Hike Franz Josef Glacier

Hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had in all of my travels, standing atop Franz Josef Glacier in 2010 was an utterly surreal experience.

While it is far from the only place on earth where you can hike on these slow-moving mountains of ice, New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier has the distinction of being one of only two glaciers on earth where you can experience it in a temperate climate.

The glacier literally comes to a halt a short hike from a steamy section of forest – an unbreaking wave of solid ice that defies expectation.

While it’s no longer to possible to hike up onto the glacier from the ground as I did in 2010, heli-hikes still allow you to experience the thrill of standing atop of a fading force of nature.

Franz Josef village itself is a gorgeous, but remote location. Make sure you bring some cash, as I didn’t spot any ATMs when I was there.

Curious? Read more about my experience climbing Franz Josef Glacier.

milford sound
Image courtesy of Bernard Spragg.

Cruise on Milford Sound

Sometimes described as the Eighth Wonder of the World (but what isn’t?), Milford Sound is one of the most surreal and beautiful landscapes you’ll ever come across in your travels.

Technically not a sound (it’s a fjord), this portion of the Fjordlands National Park is all deep, dark waters, towering cliffs, and dew-bejeweled plants.

The experience of cruising Milford Sound is one of utter serenity, with playful seals and inquisitive dolphins doing little to detract from the overall air of quiet reverence that blankets the space.

It’s a truly remarkable experience.

abel tasman national park kayaking
Image courtesy of NZ Department of Conservation.

Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park

One that I wasn’t fortunate enough to tackle myself in 2010, kayaking through picturesque Abel Tasman National Park is one experience I am dying to check off my New Zealand bucket list.

Whether it’s a cruisy half-day tour or a multiple day exploration, the experience of taking your time with one of New Zealand’s most beautiful parks is one every traveler should seek out.

For me, the five-day tour sounds like the best way to see it all without feeling rushed. One for my next trip!

queenstown bungee kawarau bridge
Image courtesy of Traveling Otter.

Go bungee jumping or canyon swinging in Queenstown

Beautiful Queenstown won my heart when I visited in 2010, but I wasn’t lucky enough to include any of the extreme sports for which the mountain town is famous.

While bungee jumping is an iconic New Zealand activity, the canyon swing is something more my speed. There’s just something counter-intuitive about going towards the earth head first. Call me crazy.

While bungee jumping and other adrenaline inducing pursuits are available across the world, you’ll find few safer (or more beautiful) spots than New Zealand.

christchurch botanical gardens
Image courtesy of Bernard Spragg (again!)

Fall in love with Christchurch

It’s hard to put a finger on what it is that makes Christchurch such a beautiful city.

The city’s resilience in the face of multiple disastrous earthquakes is obviously a huge part of its charm, but there’s just an aura about the town that makes it feel immediately like a home away from home.

It’s a green, breezy city with a relaxed vibe that just begs you to put up your feet and relax for a few days. There’s a reason Christchurch is one of my favourite cities.

aurora australis southern lights new zealand
Image courtesy of Ben.

Witness the Aurora Australis

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are obviously more famous, but the Southern Lights are no less spectacular.

Visible from both southern Australia and southern New Zealand, there ae a nuber of notable places to view the Southern Lights in New Zealand.

It’s not really something you can plan your trip around, but if you’ve got the time, why not set up camp somewhere in the south and see what you can see?

New Zealand vineyard
Image courtesy of Chris Gin.

Eat and cycle the Tasman Great Taste Trail in Nelson

Nelson featured on my 10-day New Zealand itinerary, but it was just a stopover between Franz Josef Glacier and flying to Rotorua the following morning.

Even so, I have fond memories of attending the Nelson Carols by Candlelight and playing Phase 10 into the wee hours with another backpacking couple.

In researching for this post I came across the Great Taste Trail, a delicious (pun intended) combination of cycling, delicious food, breweries, and vineyards.

The 174km loop might seem a bit daunting to some, but I love the idea of getting out and stretching my legs (and my stomach) in such a gorgeous corner of the world.

waitomo black water rafting
Image courtesy of Wired for Lego.

Blackwater Rafting at Waitomo

Another highlight of my 2010 trip, seeing Waitomo’s famous glow worms while also enjoying the thrill of some pitch black tubing was a thrill I cherish to this day.

Waitomo is famous for its caves full of glittering glow worms, but blackwater rafting in Waitomo combines the experience with the thrill of navigating pitch black caves and tunnels full of icy water and precarious drops.

It’s a thoroughly exhilarating experience!

hobbiton new zealand
Image courtesy of Tom Hall.

Visit Hobbiton

Nerd that I am, I grew up reading JRR Tolkien’s seminal work of fiction.

My teen years and early twenties were spent obsessing over Peter Jackson’s faithful translation of the book to the big screen.

For this reason, paying a visit to quaint Hobbiton on New Zealand’s North Island is something I was gutted to miss out on doing in 2010.

If seeing this tiny corner of The Shire isn’t enough for you, there are entire Lord of the Rings tours that take you to other iconic filming locations such as Weathertop, Edoras, and even Mount Doom.

all blacks game
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Attend an All Blacks game

Whether or not you’re a fan of the fifteen a side game is irrelevant – there are few more iconic New Zealand experiences that witnessing the haka before the All Blacks inevitably dismantle whichever unfortunate team has paid them a visit.

Rugby is a religion in New Zealand, and the national team are one of the powerhouses of the sport.

Attending a game, even if you don’t really understand it, is an experience in cultural immersion that I recommend in any country I visit.

fjordlands national park
Image courtesy of almassengale.

Trek in Fjordlands National Park

The Fjordlands National Park is home to more than ‘just’ the utterly transfixing Milford Sound, with a network of breathtaking hiking trails crisscrossing the entire park.

Whether you opt for a guided tour or you want to tackle the wilderness yourself on a multi-day hike, Fjordlands offers up unbelievable landscapes with a healthy serving of ice cold rain and wind.

It’s definitely not for the faint of heart!

auckland new zealand
Image courtesy of Anuradha Dissanyake.

Explore Auckland

While not the nation’s capital, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and a logical starting and/or finishing point when visiting the Land of the Long White Cloud.

The city itself is home to a number of attractions including the Auckland Museum and the jaw-dropping Sky Tower, but it is as a base from which to explore nearby attractions such as the Bay of Islands, Waitomo (see above), or taking a cruise out on the Tasman Sea.

bay of islands new zealand
Image courtesy of Prayitno

Skydive the Bay of Islands

Speaking of the Bay of Islands, it is one of the most sought after skydive destinations in the southern hemisphere.

What better way to take in the spectacular chain of islands than from 16,000 feet?

If throwing yourself out of a plane isn’t your cup of tea, the Bay of Islands is a subtropical slice of paradise perfect for beach escapes, scuba diving, whale-watching, kayaking, camping, and much more.

It’s another one I’m dying to check off my to-do list.

maori hangi new zealand
Image courtesy of Sarah Stewart.

Experience a Maori hangi

Maori culture is a fascinating part of New Zealand’s cultural tapestry, and getting a taste of that (pun intended) at a Maori hangi is a fantastic way to sate both your curiousity and your appetite.

A hangi is a traditional BBQ in which heated rocks are buried alongside food in a pit oven. Dishes include chicken, fish, root vegetables, cabbage, and a variety of other flavours.

There are a number of places around New Zealand to attend a hangi or a Maori cultural village, so why not add it to your own bucket list?

zorbing rotorua

Go zorbing in Rotorua

If tumbling down a hill inside a gigantic hamster ball isn’t your idea of a good time, I don’t think I want to know you.

While the instantly recognisable inflatable ball can now be found all over the world, the original Zorb is native to New Zealand and is at its best in Rotorua.

Open year round, Zorbing New Zealand lets visitors experience either a wet or dry Zorb journey, and is a great half day activity in the geothermally active corner of the country.

 Traveling to New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the safest and most accessible countries in the world.

It’s a frighteningly easy country to navigate that boasts a little of everything, English is the lingua franca, and it is a developed country in every respect.

With that being said, here are a few handy tips to make sure you’re ready.

  • 1. Buy NZ dollars

Don’t forget to buy NZ dollars ahead of your trip, as you may not have access to credit card or ATM facilities everywhere you go. Rural areas of the country are very much off the beaten track, so it pays to have some cash on hand.

  • 2. Get travel insurance

If you’re ticking off any of the above adrenaline fueled activities, there’s always the chance that disaster may strike. Don’t be like me when I broke my arm in Indonesia! Buy travel insurance!

  • 3. Book your accommodation

While you certainly can wing it and just breeze into town without a hostel lined up, it always pays to plan ahead in a tourist haven like New Zealand.

Whether it’s hostels or B&Bs or upscale hotels, my preference is Booking.com due to the free cancellation option. It’s always good to keep things flexible until you’re ready to hit the road, right?

Seriously. They’re manna from heaven.

Just getting started

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what New Zealand has to offer.

While the country might be small, it’s one of the most geographically diverse and fascinating nations I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

I’ll be compiling a 50 item Ultimate New Zealand bucket list in time, so I’d love your recommendations to help me populate it!

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