The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List

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It's no secret whatsoever that New Zealand is my favorite place on earth. If I could move there tomorrow, I probably would. I love everything about the South Pacific nation, from its landscapes to its laid-back vibe, to how beautiful and remote parts of it still are.

I've been to Aotearoa four times now (and I even lived there for about 5 months), and yet I'm STILL finding new things to do on each and every trip.

To inspire you and give you some ideas for your own NZ itinerary, I've put together this ultimate bucket list of things you should do in New Zealand.

The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List

Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List

See an All Blacks rugby game

Rugby isn't just a sport in New Zealand — it's akin to a religion. Catch the All Blacks, the New Zealand national team, in person at least once.

Drive 90 Mile Beach

Even though it's incorrectly named (the beach isn't 90 miles long, it's more like 55 miles), 90 Mile Beach IS officially a New Zealand highway — meaning if you have a car capable of tackling sand, go for a drive on this unique beach! (And, if not, rent a board and ride the sand dunes instead.)

RELATED: DOs and DON'Ts on a New Zealand Road Trip

Ride horses in Pakiri

Ever wanted to ride a horse on the beach? Check out Pakiri Beach Horse Rides.

Pakiri Beach

Hug Tane Mahuta

Tane Mahuta is a giant kauri tree in Waipoua Forest in Northland — and by giant I mean the largest kauri tree in the world. The name means “Lord of the Forest,” which is pretty apt due to its size and the fact that it could be as old as 2,500 years.

Brave the SkyWalk

In Auckland, you won't want to miss the great views from the top of the Sky Tower. And, if you're brave enough, sign up for a SkyWalk — a guided walk around the outside of the tower on a platform 630 feet above the ground.

Drink wine on Waiheke Island

A short ferry ride away from Auckland lies Waiheke Island, a popular spot for a day trip from the city. The island is know for its fantastic wineries, so be sure to visit a few (Cable Bay is my favorite).

Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island

Dig yourself a hot tub on the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel Peninsula is one of my favorite little-known spots in New Zealand. If and when you go there, be sure to visit Hot Water Beach at low tide, when you can dig a hole in the sand and watch it fill up with geothermally-heated water.

See glowworms in Waitomo Caves

Head to the Waitomo Caves south of Auckland, where you can see thousands of glowworms hanging in the dark caves. For an extra fun adventure, go black water rafting while you're there.

Surf in Raglan

The surf town of Raglan is known for being both chilled out and beautiful — and would be a great place to take some surf lessons.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Save Money While Traveling in New Zealand

Skydive the Bay of Islands

You can skydive all over New Zealand, over lakes and mountains and everything in between. If you want a really pretty jump over water, though, consider booking your jump in the Bay of Islands, which has some incredible beaches.

Be a Hobbit in Matamata

No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a trip to the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata. Pose with some colorful hobbit holes, and then have a pint at the Green Dragon pub.

Bag End at Hobbiton in Matamata, New Zealand

RELATED: 5 Middle-Earth Locations You Can Visit in Real Life

Witness Rotorua's geothermal oddities

If you want to witness some geothermal wonders first-hand, go to Rotorua. Once you get past the smell of sulphur that permeates the town, you can enjoy geothermal parks, geysers, bubbling mud pools, and mineral pools in all sorts of ridiculous colors.

Attend a Maori cultural show/hangi

Before the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, the Maori people called the nation home. Rotorua offers a few opportunities to visit a recreated Maori village for a traditional hangi dinner (food steamed in the ground) and to see some traditional songs/dances. My favorite is either the Mitai Maori Village, or the Tamaki Maori Village Experience.

Go zorbing

Ever wanted to throw yourself down a hill inside a giant hamster ball? Well you can do it in Rotorua! It's called zorbing, and it's really really fun.

Zorbing in Rotorua

Hike the Tongariro Crossing

If hiking is your thing, you won't want to miss the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 12-mile hike through volcanic landscape in Tongariro National Park. The hike is one of the most popular day hikes in New Zealand, and has some really unique views over volcanoes and emerald green lakes.

Support conservation on Kapiti Island

New Zealanders are really passionate about conservation, whether it comes to preserving their country's stunning landscapes or its native fauna. One of my favorite conservation areas is Kapiti Island, a bird sanctuary. My favorite bird there? The colorful takahe! Head over for a day trip, or an overnight stay.

Hang out on quirky Cuba Street

You can't miss Cuba Street in Wellington — it's where you'll find lots of international cuisine, some shopping, art, and plenty of buskers performing all over the place.

Ride the Wellington Cable Car

The historic Wellington cable car runs between Lambton Quay and the city's botanic gardens, and while it doesn't sound super exciting, you should definitely ride it anyway. The ride is short and sweet, and the views at the top out over the city are fantastic.

Wellington Cable Car
Wellington Cable Car

Climb sea cliffs at Castlepoint

On the windy east coast towards the bottom of the North Island you'll find Castlepoint, a pretty beachside town with a lighthouse. Not many people come out this way, but it's worth the drive — just be careful to not get blown off the cliffs by the intense wind.

RELATED: New Zealand Smackdown: North Island vs. South Island

Cross the Cook Strait by ferry

Taking the ferry between the North and South islands is definitely a must! The journey takes about 3 hours and there's plenty of nice scenery along the way.

Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park

Located at the top of the South Island near the city of Nelson, Abel Tasman is a national park worth a visit. Rent a kayak and explore the pretty coves and beaches (or you can book a tour to see the best of the park by water and on foot).

Hike the Queen Charlotte Track

Whether you want to just do a half-day hike or tackle the entire 43.5-mile track, hitting the Queen Charlotte Track through the Marlborough Sounds is well worth the effort. You'll hike through coastal forest and along historic bays, and get some incredible views of the Sounds.

Go whale watching in Kaikoura

Located in a spot where mountains meet the sea, Kaikoura also sits near a deep underwater trench that draws all sort of marine life to the area year-round. Kaikoura is best known for its whale watching tours (though you can also swim with dolphins and/or fur seals there).

Kaikoura, New Zealand
Beautiful Kaikoura

Swim with Hector's Dolphins in Akaroa

Further down the coast on the Banks Peninsula you'll find Akaroa — an adorable, French-infused town that is also home to some unique marine life. Here you can see (and swim with) the rare Hector's Dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world.

Ride the TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine train runs between Christchurch (on the east coast) and Greymouth (on the west coast) on the South Island, crossing the Southern Alps at Arthur's Pass. The train ride only takes a few hours, making it a must if you love trains and/or great scenery.

RELATED: Packing For a Trip to New Zealand

Hike on a glacier

New Zealand has some really unique glaciers; on the West Coast, they extend down from the mountains into temperate rain forests. You can book a heli-hike on either the Franz Josef or Fox glacier, which I highly recommend — just do it before they recede much further!

Watch stars at Lake Tekapo

The skies over Lake Tekapo in the center of the South Island are some of the darkest and clearest in New Zealand — maybe even in the world. If you've ever wanted to go stargazing, this is the place to do it.

See Mount Cook

Standing at 12,218 feet, Mount Cook is New Zealand's tallest mountain. On clear days, you can see the mountain from miles away across Lake Pukaki. But it's worth driving to Aoraki/Mount Cook viallage to see the mountain up close, too. If you have time, consider one of the walking tracks in the area — my favorite is the Hooker Valley Track.

Mount Cook in New Zealand
Mount Cook

Pose with boulders

If giant rocks that look like dinosaur eggs don't interest you, then don't go see the Moeraki Boulders on the Otago coast. But, if that DOES sound cool, head to Koekohe Beach.

See at movie at Cinema Paradiso

This funky little movie theater in the town of Wanaka is definitely worth a visit (as is the whole town of Wanaka, for that matter). The theater replaces normal movie theater seats with couches and car seats, and they bake fresh cookies at intermission.

Go bungee jumping in Queenstown

Commercial bungee jumping was “born” in Queenstown at the Kawarau Bridge in the 1980s. Today, the city has three different jumps — and you definitely should do at least one of them. (My pick? Definitely the Nevis, which is the most epic of the three!)

Ride in a jet boat

Like bungee jumping, jet boating was also born in Queenstown. These boats are designed to zip along on top of Queenstown's shallow rivers, and can pull exciting 360-degree spins inside narrow canyons.

Take a flightseeing tour over the Southern Alps

It's one thing to fly in a teeny tiny plane — but it's another entirely to do it over some epic, snow-capped mountains. Be sure to splurge on a flightseeing tour somewhere on the South Island.

Visit Milford Sound

Milford Sound was once called “the eighth wonder of the world” and is New Zealand's top tourist attraction. Meaning that a cruise on the fjord of course deserves a spot on this list. 

Mitre Peak at Milford Sound
Mitre Peak at Milford Sound

RELATED: New Zealand Fjord Smackdown: Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound

Climb the world's steepest street

In the city of Dunedin, you can find Baldwin Street, officially the steepest street in the world. I dare you to try and run up it.

Explore the Otago Peninsula

Not far from Dunedin lies the Otago Peninsula, which is home to some unique New Zealand residents like the royal albatross and the endangered yellow-eyed penguin.

Drive the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins

One of my favorite drives in New Zealand is the drive along the Southern Scenic Route through a particularly scenic areas known as the Catlins. There are some incredible coastal views here, so plan on pulling over a lot to take photos.

Go cage diving with great whites on Stewart Island

Believe it or not, New Zealand is home to a large number of great white sharks! Some massive ones live off the coast of Stewart Island (the “third” NZ island), and in the summer months you can book cage diving tours.

Take one of the “Great Walks”

New Zealand is known as a hikers paradise, and the country has 9 of these multi-day treks through some of the country's most breathtaking natural scenery. Popular Great Walks include the Milford Track, the Kepler Track, and the Routeburn Track.

Go lupin hunting in the spring

Starting in November and lasting pretty much all spring, the lupins bloom all over New Zealand's South Island. Yes, they're technically weeds. But do they ever make for gorgeous photos! Spend at least an afternoon lupin-hunting.

Lupins at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Witness the Southern Lights

Lastly, if you find yourself in a very dark place towards the bottom of the South Island, it's worth checking out the forecast for the Aurora Australis — the Southern Lights. The dancing lights are often visible from the very south of New Zealand, and are incredible to see.

Explore New Zealand by campervan

If you ask me, the best way to explore New Zealand is by campervan road trip! You have the freedom to see and do what you want, and can also save some money on food and accommodation by cooking and sleeping in your van.

RELATED: New Zealand Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary if You Only Have 2 Weeks

What to Pack for New Zealand

There are definitely a few things you'll want to make sure to bring in order to help you check off these bucket list items. Things like:

And, even though it’s not a tangible item, I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.

Check out more of my New Zealand packing tips here!

New Zealand is a bucket list destination for a lot of people — and it's no wonder, since there are so many bucket list-worthy things to do there! BUT, that doesn't mean that traveling to New Zealand isn't attainable. Heck, I've been there four times! You CAN find deals on flights to New Zealand (Air New Zealand often has great fare sales from the U.S.) and you can travel New Zealand on a budget, too.

Which items are on YOUR New Zealand bucket list?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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56 Comments on “The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List

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  1. You forgot to tell people that New Zealand is under quarantine now and for some indeterminate future time due to the Virus. Foreigners are not allowed in.

      I didn’t forget; I am well aware! But I have 800+ posts on this website written over the last 10 years; I cannot add notes to all of them laying out current pandemic statuses; that would be a full-time job. There is a blanket statement at the top of every post that clearly states that I’m not encouraging travel until it’s safe again, and that anything you find on this site right now is for inspiration purposes only.

    Stumbled on your blog … likewise we fell in love with NZ when our kids went as exchange students fifteen yrs ago .
    Nine trips later we bought an oceanfront lot in Taupo Bay far Northland ( four hours north auckland) and building a home

    .Add to your list …Russell , Bay of Islands , Black water rafting ( hike in cave ) blue water pools outside Wanaka , Napier Art Deco festival,Nelson foodie / able taseman nature combo ,
    Raglan maybe greatest surf town on the planet. Road to Milford Sound in December to see lupin and waterfalls maybe close to heaven on earth. …

    Love / Hate .. no people ,yes we like / love a lot them , but love fact still sparsely populated.
    We lucky to live on coast in California, arguably most beautiful place in US ,but we have 40 + million pp in Cali vs 4 m in NZ . Once you get out four biggest cities , a big city is 40 k
    Everyone knows you or you know someone …

    Yes nzers are racist …sorry but true . They are human too. .. Both Maori vs White vs Maori ,everyone hates Chinese . And some hate Americans in general, but not you … just say your from California ,you’ll be ALL Right.Everyone wants talk about Trump regardless whether you pro or not ,move on , ask how’s fishing? .. any good markets? Move on don’t take bait, most polite enough to stop , just move on , or joke everyone has crazy uncle … but don’t talk politics or how much you have or make ,even if asked.

    Don’t expect to know NZ by big must see tourist spots , Go to festivals it’s national sport in NZ every week is festival ( because was so isolated and sparsely populated excuse to get together) same with markets , Kerikeri ‘s great example a combo arts / farmers / concert market just excuse get out see friends .

    Great coffee , wine and bakeries .. Restaurant quality has improved greatly with expansion tourist industry . Kiwis are frugal by nature so quality restaurants couldn’t survive until tourism grew , Restaurant spending until recently frugal in part because Kiwis tied to less money oriented culture. As tourist you will see more of NZ than Nzers do . North island doesn’t go to south and South despise Aucklanders and blame for most their problems.
    But Nzers will have traveled and likely lived i n both in Britain and Australia for years, but never traveled outside their island.

    They would rather do without , than work more days . But not lazy just opposite. This is both admirable and frustrating for Americans who are jealous of the months of vacation and paid time off , but frustrated country doesn’t make anything ,so everything from electronics to Building materials are expensive and careers are so non existent ,that it is expected smartest and best young people will leave work in OZ or Britian . Resulting in brain drain for quality educated work force.
    Costs are less , as there is less waste , but higher labor costs result , not because they aren’t hard workers ( they are) but if surf is up , orDecember 10- January 10 Christmas holiday , the whole country all goes vacation and shuts down all together to be with family and mates.

    If you travel to any key gateway tourist cities , Auckland ,Christchurch, Queenstown don’t expect
    To meet kiwi servers in restaurants or hotel staff , they simply don’t exist . Kiwi youth are doing their “ Over Seas “, so national labor shortage exists , so expect to see more German and kids from Ohio than from Rotorua .

    It’s a foreign country ,just because the language is the same ,
    don’t make mistake that culture is same same as American. Be careful with what you say.. or how much you say. Understand “ Tall Poppy “
    American culture whatever that is? is both loved ,envied and mocked and scorned.
    You’ll be asked a lot questions ,keep answers short and turn it around ,and instead ask questions about NZ ( why you are there ) . Understand , NZers don’t see middle America , Only students and very very wealthy Americans ( top 5 percent) , who are surprised by how cheap everything is with 30 percent currency discount ( don’t bring it up source pain and embrassment to “ frugal” kiwis)
    and never ever mention , what a deal housing price is ( as most kiwis can’t afford average house) or quality of the building of the housing construction. Most existing Kiwi housing quality is poor and Kiwis are sensitive about it , they can talk about, just don’t agree and join that conversation . They stating obvious your looking down on them.
    ( New construction for Kiwis is getting better, but still frugal in weird places so different choices )

    They will live in shack but buy a great boat and Ford pickup truck to pull it. A perfect example ,
    Is national pride in not having clothes dryers , it rains every day, but national sport is not rugby , but pulling wet clothes off clothes line . Almost pride in showing how frugal but bit silly at same time .
    Drinking is a big part of culture ,pubs depending on community is more than place to drink but often an integral part local kiwi culture .With so much emphasis , Not drinking is frowned on more than overindulgence , and often personal insult not to accept as if someone looking down or too good for them.

    Still with flaws one best places in world .. enjoy , but remember it’s proud different country.

    Hello Amanda,
    I found this very very helpful but i was wondering if you could help me with what i could tick off this bucket list if I’m in new Zealand for a week?
    Also looking at where these places are as well…The most practical?

      Hey Aindiri! It would be tough to even cover half of this list in just one week! I would suggest focusing on just one island (either the North or South). On this list, everything above “Cross the Cook Strait by ferry” is on the North Island, and everything below it is on the South Island. Other than that, it depends on what you’re interested in, whether you’ll have a car, etc!

    How long of a trip do you think it would take to complete all the things on the bucket list? Would it be affordable?! Thank you!

      Oh geez, I don’t know! You would definitely need a few weeks at least! Though some of these things wouldn’t be possible at the same time of year since they are season-dependent. And unfortunately New Zealand is not a super budget-friendly destination. Many of the things listed here are free, but others can get pretty expensive.

    Hey loved this list! I live here in NZ and thought you really captured a good overall glimpse of our country 🙂 definitely had a smile when you mentioned Rotorua! Just for those planning their trip here I thought of a couple more must-see’s that you may or may not have done yourself 🙂 Haumarana springs- where A LOT OF rotorua lake water comes from (all 11 lakes), the spring is 15 meters deep and the scenery is unparalleled! Walking around the blue and green lakes ( smaller walks for the amateur hiker- you could do the blue like walk in Jandel’s!), Bridal veil falls, Huka falls (in taupo- intense waterfall fueling the country’s longest river. Lauri museum in northland- so stunning! On a blustery day/stormy as hell day, the waves crashing wildly on the rocks of Muriwai beach is a stunning sight- a natural blowhole there is quite a majestic performance! Possibly one of my favorite things- the west coast beaches here are particularly wild so not encouraged to swim as its pretty dangerous but the sights are simply stunning. I’ll stop blabbering on now! Hope this has helped a wee bit 🙂

      Thanks so much for the extra suggestion, Cherie!

    Hi Amanda, I don’t know that I agree with cage diving to see great whites. I don’t think that it does the sharks much good to associate humans with food.

      I definitely can understand that opinion! However I just wrote about a cage diving experience in South Africa ( and I actually don’t see how it *could* teach sharks to associate humans in the water with food. If anything, they might associate boats with food, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Feel free to read the post to read about my full experience!

    Pinned. This is great. I will come back to this when I visit NZ

      Awesome! There’s so much to see and do there, even though it’s a relatively small country!

    I actually live in Wanaka at the moment. Just for a year and only ten weeks left of this, but I have to say that whenever I Wanaka mentioned somewhere I’m getting excited.
    Everybody should come here sometime in their life!
    I was actually quite proud of myself reading this bucket list, I have to say I have ticked off quite a lot of boxes within my time.
    But also, I think you could have added the Dunedin Butterfly House it is absolutely amazing and a really fun experience, this coming from somebody who absolutely hates butterflies and generally everything that flies…
    Also, Cape Reinga is absolutely worth a trip. It is the very top of the North Island and you can actually see the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean crashing in the middle. Everybody should see it!
    Thank you for this amazing list it has given me a few new ideas what to do before I leave and when I come back!

      I haven’t been to the butterfly house – I’ll have to check that out sometime! And I agree that Cape Reinga is awesome; it’s a great add-on if you go up to 90 Mile Beach!

    Let me just say one little known but amazing idea, as i do live in nz and have most my life. Go to wharariki beach in golden bay at low tide. The beach is stunning, with amazing rock structures, and sand dunes, and beautiful waves, But the important part is at low tide, theres a little pool of water where baby seals will play!

      A very good tip, Alaia! I’ll have to remember that for the next time I’m in NZ. 🙂

    I love this bucket list! And I used it a lot over the last ten months;) I wasn’t able to do every point of the list,but thanks to you I found some amazing places!
    Here are some impressions I’d like to share with you!

    Happy Travelling!

      So glad to hear you found this list useful, Isa! Looks like you had an incredible trip!

    If you like birdwatching, visit Tiritiri Matangi Island (north of Auckland) which is a conservation area for endangered birds. Get there by special ferry run from Auckland. This day out was one of my favourite things in NZ.

      Great tip! I haven’t heard of that island, but it sounds awesome!

    This is a good list, wish I had seen it before I visited NZ last year, but I still did a fair few of them! I didn’t enjoy skydiving as much as I thought I would, maybe because I went tandem but I didn’t get much of a rush from it where as bungy really got my heart going (I think because I was on my own for that and had to go of my own accord). I definitely want to go back someday soon and do a few of the great walks and hopefully some shark dives!

      I haven’t been skydiving yet, but I’ve been bungee jumping 4 times – and it’s just as scary every time! I definitely think it’s because you’re on your own, and YOU have to be the one that makes that jump!

    I’m happy to say I’ve ticked lots of these!

    But sadly I did miss out on a few, even in a year of living here in New Zealand. I can’t imagine I won’t be back one day! Will have your list in hand…

    Great list, thanks!

      I’ve been to NZ four times and still have items on my NZ bucket list that I haven’t ticked off yet – so don’t feel bad at all!

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