OOne of the world’s greatest destinations for adventurous travellers, New Zealand’s epic landscapes are ripe to hike, bike, kayak, raft and more, with world class wine and seafood, wonderful wildlife and fascinating culture along the way…

Why not also check out our New Zealand Destination Guide?

1: Hike the Routeburn Track

Hike the Routeburn Track with Curious Hike the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track, New Zealand – Image by Janis Apels

‘Tramping’, as hiking is dubbed in New Zealand, is the ideal way to absorb the islands’ varied landscapes. Routes range from gentle beach strolls in Abel Tasman National Park and more demanding one-day hikes, such as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or less-known Pouakai Crossing to the jewels in New Zealand’s trekking crown: the multi-day Great Walks.

My pick of the many hikes is the Routeburn Track, a 32km, 2-4-day adventure, traversing mountain meadows and mirror-like tarns beneath the peaks of the Southern Alps.

2: Visit Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa Tongarewa – Image by Jiri Foltyn

Wellington’s state-of-the-art national museum is more than a collection of hundreds of thousands of artefacts and artworks. It’s a journey into the country’s psyche.

Exhibits span the epochs, from dinosaurs’ teeth to video installations, and include some 30,000 taonga (cultural treasures) offering insights into Maori heritage and traditions, pounamu (greenstone) adzes and tiki (pendants), waka taua (war canoes) and feather cloaks.

Other diverse collections and temporary exhibitions feature pakeha (post-colonial) history, endemic flora and fauna, and ground-breaking modern art.

3: Kayak on Doubtful Sound

Kayaking on Doubtful Sound with Curious Travel

Kayaking on Doubtful Sound – image by Thomas Lusth

Milford Sound draws the crowds, and it is undeniably beautiful. Yet its sibling to the south is longer, deeper, quieter, altogether wilder, its many snaking arms fed by cataracts tumbling down rainforest-clad mountainsides. The highest, Brown Falls, cascades in steps from a height of over 800m.

Paddle into Hall Arm to absorb its ‘sounds of silence’, and watch for bottlenose dolphins, penguins, fur seals and humpback whales at the fiord’s mouth where the dark waters meet the Tasman Sea.

If you are curious about travel to New Zealand do contact us for more information.

4: Swim with fur seals in Kaikoura

Fur Seal at Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Fur Seal at Kaikoura, South Island – Image by Katarina S

Sandwiched between its namesake mountains and the vast Pacific, the perky town of Kaikoura is a magnet for whale-watchers hoping to spot some of the huge cetaceans that call these waters home (sperm whales swim here year-round) or the humpbacks that migrate past in June and July, as well as killer whales that visit between December and February. Almost as popular as whale watching boat tours are dolphin swims. But the unsung highlight is a sub-aqua encounter with the fur seals that haul out on rocks just outside town. Coming face to whiskered face with these inquisitive, lithe, acrobatic mammals is unforgettable.

5: Tour the vineyards of the Marlborough Region

vineyards in the Marlborough district of New Zealand's South Island

Vineyards in the Marlborough Region – Image by Jefferey B Banke

In 1873, a Scottish farmer planted some vines in the sun-soaked (for New Zealand) plain flanking the Wairau River, which snakes to the Cook Strait on South Island’s north-eastern tip. Not much happened for another century until 1973, when the Marlborough region’s modern winemaking industry took off.

It took off in incredible style. Today dozens of vineyards patchwork the area west of Blenheim, with around 50 cellar doors offering tastings.

Whether you self-drive, cycle or join a guided tour, a day spent sampling some of the country’s finest Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays is a delight. See here for more information on the Marlborough Region Wine Trail.

6: Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier

Helicopter Tour to Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand.

Helicopter at Franz Josef Glacier – Image by Matt Makes Photos

Two vast rivers of ice creak their way over 12 kilometres down from the loftier altitudes of the Southern Alps towards the west coast of South Island. They are the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.

Though it’s easy enough to hike to the craggy, folded terminals discharging their crumbled moraine, the most exhilarating way to encounter the frozen fingers is on a heli-hike. Board a chopper at Franz Josef village to swoop above the glacier and land atop the crevasse-riven surface, donning crampons to roam its seracs, pinnacles and ice caves.

If you are curious about travel to New Zealand do contact us for more information.

7: Savour Christchurch’s Coffee & Creative Culture

Christchurch Cafes and Trams

Christchurch Cafes and Trams – Image by Hizor

The devastating earthquakes of 2011 shattered South Island’s biggest city. But though reconstruction is still very much a work in progress, an astonishing blossoming of art, innovation and community spirit has flourished.

Amid the building sites and broken blocks you’ll find inspiring ‘pockets of awesome’: pop up shops, food trucks, vivid street art, the Shigeru Ban’s extraordinary ‘cardboard cathedral’ and quirky Gap Filler (https://gapfiller.org.nz) projects such as the Dance-o-Mat, while stalwart cafés such as C1 Espresso (www.c1espresso.co.nz/) dispense coffee, hope and ideas.

It’s all a world away from the conservative city that existed before the quakes, being remade in new and inspiring ways.

8: Go Blackwater Rafting at Waitomo

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waikato, New Zealand

Waitomo Glowworm Caves – image by Shaun Jeffers

Beneath the limestone karst landscapes of western North Island snake some 45km of caves, an underground system more Middle Earthily eerie than even Tolkien or Peter Jackson could have imagined.

Among the stalactites dangling from the roofs of many of the caverns are constellations of glowworms, best admired while floating beneath in an inflatable rubber on a blackwater rafting excursion.

Other tours here range from sedate boat rides to the adrenaline-pumping, abseil-and-zipline Black Labyrinth caving adventure. http://www.waitomo.com

9: Explore the Catlins Coast

Tunnel beach, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand with Curious Travel

Tunnel beach, Dunedin, South Island – Image by Fakrul Jamil

The country’s wildest (and least touristy) stretch of coastline is a rollercoaster ride east of Invercargill, craggy cliffs interspersed with verdant rainforest, rocky bays and beaches where you might spot elephant and fur seals, sea lions, little blue and yellow-eyed penguins, but scarcely any other people.

Try to keep your eyes on the snaking road as you drive the Southern Scenic Route between Balclutha and Waipapa Point, stopping off to roam ancient forests, ride a horse along empty strands and perhaps spot dolphins or migrating humpbacks offshore.

Wildlife-filled Stewart Island (Rakiura) is just a short hop away.

If you are curious about travel to New Zealand do contact us for more information.

10: Work your Adrenaline Gland in Queenstown

Bungee Jumping

Bungee Jumping – Image by Strahil Dimitrov

There’s not much you can’t do in New Zealand’s adventure-sports capital if you’ve got the stomach and the wallet for it. This is where thrill-seekers hurled themselves off Kawarau Bridge on the first permanent commercial bungee jumps. As well as that shockingly scary river jump, today you can leap off the ledge overlooking Queenstown or experience an eight-second freefall on the 134m Nevis drop.

With paragliding, skydiving, whitewater rafting and river surfing, jet-boating, canyoning, hot-air ballooning, mountain biking and ziplining all on offer, there’s a buzz available to test even the most fear-hardened adventurers.

Why not also check out our New Zealand Destination Guide?

For more ideas on things to do in New Zealand contact us for further information and a free travel consultation.

Explore our other “Top 10 Things to do in…” articles:

Canada – Cuba Iceland – Italy – Mexico – Morocco – Portugal –  Thailand – Vietnam

Paul Bloomfield is a travel writer and photographer for the likes of Lonely Planet, Wanderlust, The Telegraph, The Times and the BBC, specialising in hiking, active adventures and wildlife-watching.

Follow him on Twitter @paulbtravel

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