8 Destinations You Need to Visit for Adventure Travel in New Zealand
Want to have the most heart-pounding experiences in awe-inspiring landscapes? Then New Zealand needs to be on your bucket list! In the country that invented the bungy jump, the jet boat, Zorb and countless other wild and wacky activities, New Zealand is could easily be seen as the most adventurous country in the world. With that in mind, we’ve put together some New Zealand destination, four in the North Island and four in the South Island, that you need to have on your itinerary if you’re doing adventure travel in New Zealand.
So what kind of adventure activities can you do in New Zealand? Well, aside from everything we list here, an adventure trip in New Zealand is all about making nature your playground. Canyoning, white water rafting, giant canyon swings, bungy jumps, jet boating, caving in glowworm caves, hiking and so much more can be done in multiple locations around the country.
How to Visit New Zealand’s Adventure Destinations
New Zealand is a country with so many landscapes and activities that you’re going to want to travel around. Here are your options to get around New Zealand:
- Buy or rent a car – this means full flexibility to get to where you want when you want
- Buy or rent a campervan – take being one with nature to the next level by staying in campsites in your house on wheels
- National coaches – your A to B coach services will get you to all the main towns and cities in New Zealand at an affordable price
- Adventure travel bus tours – there’s an amazing selection of bus tours that specialise in taking you to the most adventurous locations with a group of like-minded travellers. Check out adventure tours with Hiking New Zealand, Wild Kiwi, Haka Tours, G Adventures, Flying Kiwi, Intrepid Travel and World Expeditions – just to name a few.
For more information on all of these transport options and more, take a look at our guide to What is the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand?
Auckland is the beginning of most travellers’ adventure in New Zealand. It’s home to the largest international airport in New Zealand, so it’s the easiest and often cheapest airport to arrive in New Zealand. It just so happens to have a few awesome things to do to start your trip on a high.
Auckland for 1 Day
If you’re on limited time in New Zealand, then we recommend staying in Auckland for just a day to get a taste of city life in the most adventurous country on earth. Go up the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest building, to either look at the epic views, do the terrifying “SkyWalk” around the tower’s outside walkway at 192m (630ft) (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), or even do the “SkyJump” from the tower (on Viator and Tripadvisor). While you’re in the big city, stock up on supplies before you hit the road!
Auckland for 2-3 Days
Auckland has a lot more to offer adventure seekers with more time:
- Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island. Not only is Rangitoto Island a 600-year-old marine volcano with lava caves to explore, but the forest of the island is also teeming with native birds as it’s a “pest-free” island. You’ll learn more about New Zealand’s wildlife and conservation as you explore the island and New Zealand as a whole.
- Do a boat trip to go whale and dolphin watching, because yes, there are heaps of marine wildlife even in Auckland! If you haven’t taken the time to check out the Sky Tower, (see above), then take the time to do so. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.
- For a free thing to do, walk to Mt Eden or One Tree Hill. These volcanic cones offer great views of the city.
Auckland for 4+ Days
Waitomo is home to some of the most unique and epic activities in the country. Waitomo isn’t just about seeing huge colonies of sparkling blue glowworms, it’s about seeing them in some crazy ways! Tubing, abseiling, climbing, ziplining… it can all be done underground in Waitomo’s glowworm caves!
Waitomo for 1 Day
We recommend tackling one of Waitomo’s amazing caving activities. Caving is available with Waitomo Adventures and The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). There are both wet and dry caving options to see amazing cave formations and glowworms.
Waitomo for 2-3 Days
- Try another cave tour! As mentioned, there is a tonne of ways to experience the Waitomo Caves, from boat trips inside glowworm caves, walking cave tours, and more. Check out all your options in the 6 Ways to Take On the Waitomo Caves.
- Waitomo also happens to be the start of an amazing road trip along State Highway 37 with loads of amazing free attractions to check out. Stop by the 17m (56ft) limestone arch of the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, the impressive Marokopa Falls and Kawhia Beach to dig your own natural hot pool in the sand at low tide! See a complete list of things to do with our 15 Free Things to Do in Waitomo.
Waitomo for 4+ Days
There are a number of walking tracks in the area, our favourite being the Ruakuri Bush Walk to see more glow worms. Take a trip into the nearby town of Otorohanga to see kiwi birds at the Otorohanga Kiwi House. Add to your itinerary with our guide to Waitomo!
Rotorua is so packed with activities that it’s impossible to get bored here! The small city is not only famous for being a hotbed for geothermal activity, but it’s also a real hub for Maori experiences. On top of all that there’s white water rafting on the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, giant-ball-rolling or “Zorb” (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), downhill kart racing with The Luge (on Viator and Tripadvisor), and so much more!
Rotorua for 1 Day
By day, explore the unusual geothermal parks like Wai-O-Tapu (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Te Puia (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or the free Kuirau Park to see geysers, colourful pools, steaming lakes and bubbling mud. By night, experience an evening Maori tour.
Rotorua for 2-3 Days
- It’s definitely worth spending more time in Rotorua if you can. There’s so much to do. On top of visiting the geothermal parks and having a Maori experience, which is a must, there are many adventure activities to add to your itinerary.
- Hire a mountain bike and explore The Redwoods which is great for all riding abilities.
- Jump onto a white water rafting trip on the Kaituna River to raft down a 7m/23ft high waterfall (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)!
Rotorua for 4+ Days
If you’re lucky enough to have more time to spend in Rotorua then you won’t regret sticking around. Check out these 20 Awesome Places to Visit in Rotorua!
Tongariro National Park
Walking over an active volcano is definitely on the bucket list of any adventure traveller! Tongariro National Park will serve thanks to it’s three active volcanoes: Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mt Doom from The Lord of the Rings!
Tongariro National Park for 1 Day
Hike the most popular day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing! This 19km (12 miles) journey takes you over Mt Tongariro, in the shadow of the volcanic cone of Mt Ngauruhowe, to the vibrant Emerald Lake. See steaming vents and breathtaking views along the way. Be sure to check out our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing so you are well prepared for this hike in an alpine environment.
Tongariro National Park in 2-3 Days
Waterfalls, mountain biking, skiing in winter, more hiking… There’s a lot more to do for adventure seekers in the Tongariro National Park.
- In winter, ski down an active volcano on Mt Ruapehu. Alternatively, mountain bike on The Fishers Track from National Park Village for epic views and downhill fun.
- Pick another walk in the Tongariro National Park Dual World Heritage Area from our 13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
- See Tawhai Falls, just a 5-minute walk from the main road, and the grand Taranaki Falls along a 1-hour loop walk.
Tongariro National Park in 4+ Days
Tongariro National Park is home to one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Tongariro Circuit. Pack your backpack for this multi-day hiking adventure. Alternatively, there’s the multi-day trail around New Zealand’s largest volcano, Mt Ruapehu, on the Round the Mountain track. Get more inspiration with our 10 Tongariro National Park Must-Dos.
Abel Tasman National Park
Golden sand beaches, lush native forests, beautiful blue waters teeming with wildlife… The Abel Tasman National Park is best described as New Zealand’s little corner of coastal paradise. It’s an excellent base for water activities, as well as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Abel Tasman for 1 Day
For those with limited time in Abel Tasman, you can get a great taste of the beaches, forest and waters with a kayaking day tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). Many operators in Kaiteriteri and Marahau will take you by water taxi into the national park, then either take you on a guided or self-guided kayaking trip. Kayak the whole day or choose to kayak one way along the coastline then take part of the Abel Tasman Great Walk back to the starting point.
Abel Tasman in 2-3 Days
Take on the Abel Tasman Great Walk! The minimum amount of time you can complete the 60km (37 miles) hike is in three days, or you can hike part of the Great Walk and organise to be picked up by water taxi in many locations along the track. Learn more in The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.
Abel Tasman in 4+ Days
Skydiving, scenic flights, canyoning, sailing and so much more can be done in the Abel Tasman National Park. Pick the activities from 10 Amazing Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park to add to your itinerary.
Franz Josef & Fox Glacier
Welcome to Glacier Country! Situated on the wild West Coast of the South Island, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are some of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Walk on these giant rivers of ice yourself on a heli-hiking tour, or choose one of the free options to immerse yourself in the amazing glacial landscapes, such as hiking in the glacier valleys. Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are only 20 minutes drive apart and have similar offerings in terms of glacier activities.
Franz Josef & Fox for 1 Day
If the weather is clear, hop on a heli-hiking tour to explore the ice caves, crevasses and more on top of the Franz Josef or Fox Glacier. If the weather isn’t that great, then put on a rain jacket and hike along the glacier valleys to the glacier terminal face or go quad biking (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)!
Franz Josef & Fox for 3 Days
As well as heli-hiking, add a couple of more awesome adventure activities to your itinerary:
- Hike along the glacier valleys (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Kayak on the stunningly reflective Lake Mapourika in Franz Josef (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Walk around another reflective lake, Lake Matheson, in Fox Glacier
Franz Josef & Fox for 4+ Days
And the list goes on with more awesome things to do in Franz & Fox. Skydive over the glacier, go horse trekking, quad biking and much more. Here are some of the highlights in the 5 Franz Josef Glacier Must-Dos and 5 Fox Glacier Must-Dos.
This adventure travel in New Zealand itinerary would not be complete without mentioning “The Adventure Capital of New Zealand”. Queenstown is the home of the bungy jump, jet boating, white water rafting, canyon swinging, hiking, canyoning and so much more! Where to get started?!
Queenstown for 1 Day
If there’s only one place in New Zealand, or the world, you’re going to brave bungy jumping then it has to be in Queenstown. The first commercial bungy jump in the world is at the Kawarau Bridge (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), while the highest is the Nevis Bungy (on Viator and Tripadvisor). For alternative adrenaline thrills, take on the Nevis Swing (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Canyon Swing (on Viator and Tripadvisor) for a mix of freefall and swinging motion across a canyon! As bungy jumping is only a half-day activity, you may also be able to squeeze in a jet boat ride too.
Queenstown for 2-3 Days
You could really pack a lot into 2-3 days in Queenstown if you base yourself in the town centre. Most activity providers pick you up from town.
- There are many epic canyoning trips surrounding Queenstown. Jump, abseil, swim and climb through nature’s playground.
- Go white water rafting on the Grade 4-5 Shotover River after your guides drive you along the gnarly Skippers Road – once voted one of the most dangerous roads in the world! Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.
- Spend a day at the top of the Skyline Gondola with The Luge go-karting, bungy jumping, zipline tours and more.
Queenstown in 4+ Days
Make one of your days a day trip to Milford Sound, which is often described as one of the most breathtaking landscapes in New Zealand. For more Queenstown itinerary inspiration, see 10 Queenstown Must-Dos.
One aspect of adventure travel that we have not yet hit on this itinerary is amazing wildlife activities… until now! Kaikoura is the capital when it comes to marine wildlife in New Zealand. It’s one of the few tourist destinations in the world where whales can be seen year-round. Plus, there are dolphins, seals, albatross and heaps more animals to be seen in their natural habitat!
Kaikoura for 1 Day
Take to the skies or jump on a boat for a whale watching tour! You have two options when it comes to observing these giants of the sea: via a scenic flight for a birds-eye perspective, or via a boat tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) to get close to the whales as they emerge to the surface for air. Either experience is bound to take your breath away.
Kaikoura for 2-3 Days
More wildlife experiences are to be had!
- Swim with playful dusky dolphins in their natural environment!
- Swim with New Zealand fur seals who are extremely interactive in the water (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Take a boat trip out to see the world’s largest seabirds and more on a bird-watching trip.
Kaikoura for 4+ Days
Walks, scuba diving, eating crayfish… check out more things to do in Kaikoura in our 10 Kaikoura Must-Dos.