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The 20 Best Things to Do in New Zealand for First Timers


New Zealand is an amazing country to visit, and it can offer a variety of different experiences to visitors with varied interests. One the one hand, it has vibrant towns and cities, and on the other hand, it is a country known for its outstanding natural beauty and diverse landscapes. New Zealand is also known for its unique history and culture, which are a basis for many of the attractions and activities in this country. No matter what type of experience you want during your vacation and regardless of your personal interests, you will plenty to keep you entertained during your stay. Here are the 20 best things to do in New Zealand for first-timers.

Botanic Gardens in Christchurch

20. Visit the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch

A nice place for a day out is Christchurch, and one of this city’s top attractions is the Botanic Gardens, says Lonely Planet. It is spread over 30 hectares along the riverside, and it is gorgeous at any time of the year. There are lawned areas, themed gardens, a children’s playground, a gift shop, a café, and the Botanic Gardens Visitor Center. You can spend a full day at this attraction as there is plenty to explore. It is also a nice place to relax.

Auckland Museum

19. Go to Auckland Museum

Even from the outside, the Auckland Museum in Parnell is an impressive sight. It is a neoclassical temple that was built in 1929, which is topped with ta copper and glass dome that was added in 2007. On the ground floor, there are displays of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts. Head up to the first floor, and you will find military displays and a war memorial. Other than seeing these displays, another reason people visit is to watch a Maori cultural performance for an additional fee.

Blue Penguin Colony

18. See the Blue Penguin Colony

New Zealand is home to an amazing array of wildlife, including the Oamaru blue penguin colony. TO see these penguins, head to the Bird Sanctuary in Oamaru. The penguin colony surfs and wades ashore every evening to nest in the old stone quarry. There are stands set up at the bird sanctuary for visitors to watch them making their daily parade to their nests, and it is an impressive sight. This is an excellent activity for animal lovers.

Mount Eden

17. Enjoy the Views from Mount Eden

One of the best places to get stunning views of Auckland is Mount Eden, so this is a place where you should take your camera along with you. Head to the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone, and you can enjoy views across the isthmus and both of Auckland’s harbors. Although the views are impressive at any time of the day, one of the best times to visit is to watch the sunset.

Arthur’s Pass National Park

16. Explore Arthur’s Pass National Park

This is an alpine wilderness that straddles the Southern Alps. In 1929, this became the first national park in the South Island. It covers approximately 1144 kilometers square, of which two-thirds is on the Canterbury side. The remaining third is in Westland. This national park is a rugged, mountainous area that has deep valleys and many well-marked hiking trails. Some of the top trails include the ones that go to the Temple Basin and another that takes you to Devils Punchbowl. Experienced hikers might attempt the two-day hikes, such as the Cass-Lagoon Saddles track or the Goat Pass.

Te Puia

15. See the Wonder of Te Puia

There are two reasons to visit Te Puia. The first is to enjoy the natural wonder of the geyser erupting, and this happens around 20 times each day. It is a spectacular sight that you will not see anywhere else in the world. The second reason to visit is to take the guided tour. This will take you through a re-created precolonial village, a kiwi enclosure, and a large section of the Whakarewarewa thermal zone. The highlight of the tour comes at the end when, for an extra fee, you can watch a cultural performance that includes a kapa haka concert.

Lake Wakatipu

14. Take a Boat Trip Across Lake Wakatipu

A fun outdoor activity is taking a boat trip across Lake Wakatipu, says Lonely Planet. The third-largest lake in New Zealand, this lake has an unusual shape like a lightning bolt. It contains some of the purest water anywhere in the world. Taking a boat trip across the lake will treat you to some spectacular sight. Another way to experience the lake is to take a trip in the Hydro Attack, which will give you a shark’s-eye view below the surface.

Te Matua Ngahere

13. Visit Te Matua Ngahere

A fantastic way to appreciate the natural beauty of New Zealand is to visit Te Matua Ngahere. One of the highlights of a trek through this area is the Four Sisters, which are four tall trees that are fused together at the base to the largest living kauri.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

12. Absorb New Zealand’s History at Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the most significant historical site in New Zealand. It is the location of the first group of Maori chiefs signing the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown in 1840. When you visit., your admission fee includes entrance to the Museum of Waitangi, the historic Treaty House, and the Whare Runanga. You will also watch a spirited cultural performance. This is the perfect place to learn more about the culture of this country.

Whales in Their Natural Habitat

11. See the Whales in Their Natural Habitat

The waters surrounding New Zealand is one of the natural habitats of the whales. If you are keen to go whale watching, then the best place is Kaikoura, which is on the South Island between Christchurch and Picton. This is known as the whale watching capital of New Zealand. The species of whale you will see depends on the time of year you visit. Humpbacks live in the waters in the winter, while orcas are present in the summer months. You can watch sperm whales at any time of the year.

Hobbiton Movie Set

10. Go to the Hobbiton Movie Set

Wanderlust recommends a visit to the Hobbiton movie set. New Zealand is often associated with the Lord of the Rings franchise and JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Visitors to this country can see the Hobbiton movie set if they go to the rolling hills of Matamatato. There are 44 Hobbit holes on the site, set amongst the lush pastures. Another place to visit if you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings is Weta Cave in Wellington, which is a workshop where all the costumes and special effects were created for the movies.

Bay of Islands

9. Visit the Bay of Islands

There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands, and they are scattered between the Purerua Peninsula and Cape Brett. There are multiple boat trip operators that will take you for a boat trip around the islands. However, a boat trip isn’t the only activity you can enjoy from this location. It is a popular spot amongst nature lovers as you can watch the wild dolphins swim. It is also a fun place to visit if you enjoy water sports, as there are lots of fun activities to try. The Bay of Islands is also a good place for a fishing trip or to relax on the beach.

White Island, Whakaari

8. See the Volcano at White Island, Whakaari

White Island is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and it is one of the country’s most iconic active volcanoes. To visit this volcano, you need to take a boat trip and this is a fun activity in itself. You can then go scuba diving in the waters around the base of the volcano to enjoy the underwater scenery. You should take along your camera because the area is beautiful.


7. Enjoy the Urban Vibe of Auckland

No visit to New Zealand is complete until you have spent some time in Auckland as this is one of the most vibrant cities in the country. Auckland has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best cities in the world, and one reason for this is the diverse array of activities you can enjoy there. You will find a vast array of museums and galleries in this city. It is also one of the best places for dining out as the restaurants on offer are multicultural and diverse in the range of cuisines and styles on offer. One of the best restaurants in the city is SidArt, which offers an exciting culinary experience with a price tag to match.

Glowworm Caves

6. Wonder at the Glowworm Caves

Glowworms are unique to New Zealand, so you will not see them anywhere else in the world. To see them in their natural habitat, you should go to the Waitomo Cave system on the North Island close to Waitomo. Known as the Glowworm Caves, they are a magical sight. The best way to see inside the caves is to take a boat trip.

Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

5. Explore Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

This geothermal valley is home to the biggest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, called Pohutu. Also on this natural site, you will see boiling mood pools. When you visit this attraction, you should also go to the New Zeland Maori Arts and Crafts Center, as this will give you an insight into the Maori culture. There is usually an opportunity to watch a cultural performance when you visit the center.

Bungee Jumping in Queenstown

4. Go Bungee Jumping in Queenstown

Queenstown, a city on the Southwest side of South Island, is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. If you are an adrenaline junkie who likes to try new and thrilling activities, then this is the place to visit. Skydiving and bungee jumping are two of the most popular activities here. Another option is to try the Shotover Canyon Swing, which is the world’s highest cliff jump. There are plenty of other exciting activities to enjoy, so you will find something that gives you a thrill.

Hawke’s Bay

3. Take a Bicycle Wine Tour Around Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is a wonderful place to enjoy spectacular views. It is also the place to head if you want to take a bicycle wine tour. This activity allows you to explore the area and enjoy the sights, while also sampling some of New Zealand’s best produce. In addition to learning about wine production and sampling some of the wines, these tours will also take you to the farmer’s market. This is one of the best ways to experience the delights of the food and drink produced in New Zealand.

Abel Tasman National Park

2. Go Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park

There are multiple activities that you can enjoy at Abel Tasman National Park. These include relaxing on the beach, enjoy a coastal walk, kayaking across the waters, watching the seals and dolphins in their natural habitat, and hiking through the lush vegetation. This is a free activity, so it is ideal for those who are visiting New Zealand on a budget. Also, the park is large enough and has enough trails for you to visit several times and have a new experience at each visit.

Milford Sounds

1. Take in the Wonders of Milford Sounds

According to Hand Luggage Only, the best thing to do in New Zealand for first-timers is to explore Milford Sounds. Many would argue that Milford Sounds is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and Rudyard Kipling once described it as the eighth wonder of the world. There are mountains, waterfalls, and dolphins swimming in the water. The best way to see the sights is to hop on a boat. After exploring the area, visit the Milford Discovery Center and Underwater Observatory. This gives you a 360-degree view of the underwater environment.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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