19 January 2018 by Claire Benktander
With land given over to miles of forests and mountains, remote fjords and glaciers and wonderful winelands, it’s easy to get lost in New Zealand's endless possibilities. That’s why we’ve collated this list of the top 10 things to do in New Zealand, curated by our specialists, to help you get the most out of your trip. Step foot on sulphur-bubbling active volcanoes, helihike vast glaciers, and enjoy fine wines in luxury lodges, all framed by the most impressive of backdrops.
1. Discover Fiordland on the tip of the South Island
Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu framed by the Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown offers endless activities for the adventurer, from skydiving to rafting. It has, therefore, long upheld its reputation as New Zealand’s adventure capital, but it’s deep in its fjords where you’ll experience a more unrefined kind of nature. The vast Milford Sound is iconic, but it's its remote sibling Doubtful that offers a more wild, isolated beauty, and you’re likely to find far fewer fellow travellers. Our Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise encompasses a sail through the pristine waters of Doubtful, where you’ll also spot penguins, seals and dolphins, and kayak in craggy coves. You’ll also enjoy a three-course dinner under the stars before more fjord discovery the next day. Trekking routes are also plentiful in Fiordland – the Hollyford Track around Milford Sound is particularly scenic. Our three-day extension is comprised of a wilderness boat ride, helicopter flight and tramping – as the locals call it – on routes that pass enormous rivers and historic Maori paths, culminating each day with a stay in a cosy lodge.
2. Explore New Zealand’s only active volcano, White Island
Steaming craters, wild geothermal activity, intense bubbles of sulphur and crater lakes rich with natural chemicals make up White Island, New Zealand’s only active volcano. This extraordinary display of nature is best seen from the sky with our Dual Helicopter Volcano Landing. You’ll fly over the hidden lake district, see immense national parks, rolling hills and stunning geothermal activity, landing on White Island itself to explore the volcano. The Mount Tarawera volcano, revered among the indigenous Maori people after its 1886 eruption, will be another stop on your flight – explore its impressive geothermal activity and giant craters and domes.
3. Fly over New Zealand’s northernmost tip and the vast Bay of Islands
In the wilderness of Cape Reinga sits an isolated lighthouse and ancient gnarled tree – it's New Zealand's northernmost tip and the most sacred place in all of New Zealand for the indigenous Maori, where their spirits come to depart the Earth. En-route to this rugged landscape lies the sprawling Bay of Islands, comprised of 140 carpeted subtropical islets. The best way to appreciate the enormity of these landscapes is from above and our Cape Reinga Fly-Drive will allow you to do just that. You’ll observe spectacular beaches and harbours as you approach the northern reaches, landing to embark on a driving tour where you’ll explore historic lighthouses, bays and swimming beaches, before sliding down the Te Paki sand dunes.
4. Helihike New Zealand’s colossal South Island glaciers
The terrain that makes up New Zealand's natural world is one of vast variety, and its most impressive could very well be the immense glaciers that flow nearly to sea level, the only place in the world where they lie so close to the coast. These enormous bodies of ice, Franz Josef and Fox, plunge from nearly 3000m high in the Southern Alps, flowing ten times quicker than most. Our Twin Glaciers by Helicopter tour takes in the two – watch from above as they wind down the valley from their mountain origins, before you begin your descent to a snow landing and explore the icy glacial expanse. New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook, is another ideal base for exploring the country’s largest glaciers, including Tasman, which takes the title at a depth of 600 metres. Our Mt. Cook Grand Circle and Landing takes in the South Islands via helicopter or sea plane, flying through the dramatic Southern Alps down to Fox and Franz Josef. After tracking north along the Tasman Sea you’ll reach the Tasman Glacier, landing on one of the three valleys of ice to explore, walking along caves and crevasses.
5. See the sights of arts and culture capital Wellington
The city of Wellington is just a quarter of the size of Auckland, but packs a real punch when it comes to panoramic backdrops and vibrant culture. Fittingly labelled as the arts and capital culture of New Zealand, Wellington is all leafy hills, mountain peaks and legendary museums, framed by a magnificent harbour. This metropolitan hub is home to copious art galleries and the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, where you’ll gain a fascinating insight into the country’s Maori heritage, natural environment and art culture. Discover the award-winning company which brought films like The Lord of The Rings to life – a visit to the workshop, Weta Cave, is a must for fans. See Wellington in all its glory on our Best of the North Island tour, where you’ll visit all the main attractions of the North Island including the Bay of Islands, culminating in a 2-day exploration of the city.
6. Tour the shores of Abel Tasman and famed wine country Marlborough
Abel Tasman is one of the country's most picturesque coastlines, with endless golden beaches and dense bush – its eponymous Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s most popular hikes. Pair this with some of the world’s best vineyards and you’re met with the sunny tip of the South Island. Our Abel Tasman Discovery provides a wonderful exploration of the coast, comprising a full-day tour. You’ll be guided across the national park via boat, exploring white beaches and turquoise bays, before trekking along trails edged by waterfalls and lagoons. To discover all this region has to offer on the open water, our Abel Tasman Full Day Sailing provides a personal captain on board a modern catamaran, on which you’ll spot seals and colourful birds, anchoring in craggy bays to swim from white-sand shores. And of course, a visit to New Zealand isn’t complete without discovering the fine winelands of Marlborough. Choose from over 100 vineyards to visit on our Marlborough Wine Tour, tailored to your taste buds, or take our Marlborough Sounds Gourmet Seafood Cruise. You’ll sail the sparkling waters of the Sound while sampling fresh seafood – Cloudy Bay clams are a particular highlight, expertly matched with a fine white wine.
7. Experience indigenous Maori culture and the geothermal wonders of Rotorua
New Zealand is steeped in indigenous history, and the complex mythology and rich 1000-year-old heritage of its Maori culture is a distinctive part of the country’s identity. Rotorua on the North Island is one of the best places to get a taste, and also plays host to some of the country's most diverse geothermal activity – its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire means geysers, natural hot springs and mud pools thrive. Our Te Po Indigenous Evening Experience combines the two – you’ll visit a historic Maori village with over 500 geothermal wonders, indulging in a hangi feast prepared in a pit oven. You’ll finish the day with a stunning drive through the geothermal valley until you reach the vast Pohutu Geyser, the setting for your evening of Maori mythologies, stories and cultural performances. Embark on our Geothermal Wonderland tour to explore further the bright biodiverse geo-thermal waters that make up a large part of this region. This half-day tour will guide you to mud pools, craters and hot springs, ending with an exploration of the striking Waimangu Volcanic Valley, where forests frame huge hot water lakes and hot springs.
8. Speed along the Southern Alps on one of the world’s most famous train journeys
Between the punting students and neo-Gothic architecture that make up Christchurch, New Zealand’s ‘most English city’, and the gold rush town of Greymouth, lies some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer. Enormous mountain peaks frame green and yellow forests on the TranzAlpine Train journey, which navigates the backbone of the South Island. You’ll travel over gorges and rivers before crossing the Southern Alps, where mighty mountainous landscapes are your reward at every turn. After traversing through heavy beech forests, you’ll reach Greymouth – this epic route can also be done in reverse.
9. Stay in a luxury lodge on the shores of Lake Wanaka
Whether you’re spotting wildlife on lake tours, embarking on guided fly-fishing expeditions or hiking the trails of its striking national park, Lake Wanaka offers a wealth of activities perfectly suited to discovering its spectacular scenery just an hour north of Queenstown. Hidden in the green surrounds of the lake lies Tin Tub luxury lodge, with outdoor hot tubs, alpine wooden ceilings, decking and enormous windows, making for a wonderful base from which to explore the lake. Enjoy a homemade breakfast prepared using local ingredients before you explore the surrounds, after which you’ll return to cosy seating areas and a sauna. Enjoy a glass of wine by the log fire as you spend the evening stargazing – Wanaka is home to some of the world’s darkest skies, setting the scene for a magical experience.
10. Discover the vineyards and beaches of Waiheke Island
Just a quick boat ride from Auckland lies the island paradise that is Waiheke, known for its natural beauty, laidback beach life and wine culture. The focus on excellent food and wine is paramount here, showcased in the plethora of dining options and of course, countless vineyards. Experience all that Waiheke has to offer on our Waiheke Island 3-day extension, where you’ll explore the extensive viticulture the island is known for, discovering three of its finest vineyards. Be sure to sample some seafood during one of your two included meals, after which you’ll stay in a luxury suite overlooking cliffs, rocky bays and the golden sands of Owhanake Bay. Be sure to take advantage of the outdoor jacuzzi and infinity pool, perhaps before indulging in your included spa treatment, a 90-minute massage for two.