Things to do in New Zealand

What to do in New Zealand

Whether it's sipping a flat white in a stylish city café, learning about the fascinating Māori culture or trekking through untouched forests and rugged mountainscape – New Zealand has an astonishing variety of experiences and scenery to suit every traveller.

  1. Te Papa Museum
  2. Hiking
  3. Milford Sound
  4. Rotorua
  5. Kaikoura
  6. Waitomo Caves
  7. Hobbiton
  8. Sky Tower, Auckland

From steaming volcanic zones and rugged mountains to glacier-fed lakes and subtropical forests, and that’s to say nothing of its thriving cities and towns, New Zealand has a wealth of attractions and cultural landmarks to discover. This list will help inspire you on your next New Zealand holiday.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Te Papa Museum

Te Papa (‘Our Place’ in Māori) uses interactive technology to showcase the country’s rich history and culture. A motion simulator conveys visitors back to the native bush, while other attractions let you experience a simulated volcanic eruption and earthquake. Māori culture is presented graphically – there’s a marae, or village, on the premises – and the hands-on activity areas are very popular with children.

While you’re there: Enjoy a picnic in nearby Waitangi Park afterwards.

2. Hiking

New Zealand has thousands of kilometres of trails (known as ‘tracks’) suitable for hiking (known as ‘tramping’). You can opt for a guided walk with comfortable accommodation or walk the same route independently. Wherever you choose to hike, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent landscapes – clear lakes and tumbling waterfalls, grottoes of tree ferns, unspoilt forests and native birds.

While you’re there: The South Island’s Abel Tasman Coastal Track, an easy three- to five-day coastal walk in the Nelson area, is ideal for family groups.

3. Milford Sound

Milford Sound is the best-known and most accessible of the majestic glacier-carved fjords scattered along the southwestern coast of the country. Boat trips on the Sound provide close-up views of awe-inspiring scenery and a chance to see playful dolphins.

While you’re there: Perhaps just as impressive, the road to Milford is one of the world’s finest Alpine drives.

4. Rotorua

Nicknamed ‘Sulfur City’, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland of geysers, bubbling mud pools and strange odours. It's also a major centre for Māori culture – one third of the city’s population is Māori. You can see Māori artisans at work at Te Puia Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Whakarewarewa and a replica of a traditional Māori village in Rotowhio.

While you’re there: Check out the Buried Village of Te Wairoa, New Zealand’s equivalent of Pompeii.

5. Kaikoura

This pretty town is one of the best places for whale-watching. You can spend a magical afternoon watching magnificent sperm whales – or don flippers and snorkel to join the dolphins in their watery world. Minke, humpback and the southern right whale can also be sighted. Kaikoura means ‘meal of crayfish’ and delicious crustaceans abound and can be purchased ready-boiled from fishing huts along the coast.

While you’re there: If you have a few hours to spare, the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a delightful coastal path with killer views.

6. Waitomo Caves

Of the three caves open to the public, Waitomo Glowworm Cave is the best and most famous. Known to the Māori from antiquity, European settlers were amazed by the magical beauty of the Glowworm Grotto – today, you view the grotto from a boat, pulled across the river by a fixed wire beneath galaxies of glimmering luminous pinpoints. Of the other two caves, Aranui Cave is dry, with illuminated stalactites and stalagmites, while Ruakuri Cave is open for increasingly popular black-water rafting.

While you’re there: For more caving insights, visit the amazing Museum of Caves.

7. Hobbiton

If any single factor has caused a recent boost in visitor numbers to New Zealand, it’s the exposure of its spectacular and varied landscape in The Lord of the Rings films. Visitors who want to see their favourite parts of Middle Earth are now served by numerous tour companies. One of the best sites for fans to visit is Matamata, now referred to as ‘Hobbiton’, since a farm on its outskirts is the setting for the Shire in The Hobbit.

While you’re there: The other noteworthy site is Mt Victoria in Wellington, where Frodo was pursued by Ringwraiths in one of the first scenes shot for the film.

8. Sky Tower, Auckland

The city’s most striking man-made landmark is the Sky Tower, the tallest building in New Zealand. A visit to the tower offers an audiovisual depiction of Auckland’s history and panoramic views of the twin harbours below. Glass-fronted lifts whisk visitors to the top of the tower, where a revolving restaurant turns steadily at one revolution per hour.

While you’re there: Below the tower, New Zealand’s largest casino, Sky City, is thronged with gamblers.

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