The Must-Do Activities for Backpackers in New Zealand
New Zealand is the country for bucket list activities! Not only will you tick off those once-in-a-lifetime adventure activities, but you’ll also get the chance to embrace the natural environment in many different ways! Keeping in mind that a true backpacking experience is a mix of adventure and those more affordable experiences to keep you on the go for longer. So what are the top things to do in New Zealand for backpackers? We’ll keep things as concise as possible in this list (because we can think of about 100 things to do in New Zealand). Here’s the plan: We’ll start with 10 generic items that you can do pretty much anywhere in New Zealand then go into specifics with our North Island and South Island must-do lists.
So whether you’re into wildlife, landscapes, adrenaline activities, relaxing or even crafting, we have included a range of activities that every backpacker should try when travelling around New Zealand. It’s not every day you’re exploring all the way at the bottom of the South Pacific, so make the trip worth is and do some epic activities!
While you’re here, you might also want to check out the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.
1. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
There are hundreds of hikes among breathtaking scenery in New Zealand but one hike that stands out is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the North Island. This full-day hike takes you over volcanoes to emerald green and vibrant blue lakes, steaming vents and vistas of mountains, forest and lakes. There’s a reason why it is the most popular day walk in New Zealand.
Find out how you can walk this hike yourself in Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
2. Bungy Jump in Queenstown
New Zealand is a country of adrenaline adventures, and there is a lot more coming up in this list. However, the heart-stopping activity that New Zealand is most famous for has to be the bungy jump. While there are a lot of places to jump from a ledge in New Zealand, Queenstown has three unique bungy jumping experiences. Either jump from the world’s very first commercial bungy jumping site at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), or do the highest jump in New Zealand at the 132m (433ft) Nevis Bungy (on Viator and Tripadvisor), or freestyle it with the bungy cord strapped around your waist with The Ledge Bungy (on Viator and Tripadvisor)!
Check out where you can be leaping from in 7 Epic Places to Bungy Jump in New Zealand.
3. Swim with Dolphins
With penguins, sea lions, whales, seals and a whole lot of unique native birds, New Zealand is definitely a place for wildlife nuts! One of the awesome ways to have a close encounter with nature is by swimming with dolphins in their natural environment. Boat trips from Kaikoura, Akaroa, Tauranga and the Bay of Islands take you to swim with these social creatures that are just as interested in you as you are of them!
Find out where to swim with dolphins in 5 Best Places to Swim with Dolphins in New Zealand.
4. Carve Your Own Greenstone
Immerse yourself in the Maori culture of New Zealand by learning how to carve your own greenstone. Greenstone, or pounamu, is a sacred stone in the Maori culture often carved into different shaped pendants with their own special meaning. This makes an awesome souvenir to take home after an epic backpacking trip in New Zealand.
Find out more at The Greenstone Pendant Meanings and 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
5. Do a Multi-day Great Walk…
… Or one of the awesome alternatives. To see the famous landscapes of mountains, lakes, beaches and forests, tie up your hiking boots and tackle one of the many multi-day hiking adventures in New Zealand! The most famous of which are the New Zealand Great Walks. However, as a budgeting backpacker, you might want to consider these Great Walk alternatives for half the price!
6. Skydive Over Incredible Scenery
Sure, there are many places in the world where you can fling yourself out of a plane strapped to a stranger, but the reason why so many backpackers choose New Zealand for their free-falling thrills is because of the incredible scenery. Skydive over New Zealand’s largest lake in Taupo (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or over the glaciers at Fox Glacier! Or how about the Southern Hemisphere’s highest skydive from 20,000ft in Franz Josef (on Viator and Tripadvisor)?
Pick an awesome skydiving location from 12 Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.
7. Relax in a Free Natural Hot Pool
New Zealand, more particularly the North Island, has been shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity. With that, there are quite a few geothermal hot pools to enjoy. Even better, they’re free and we’ve listed all the best one for you in 7 Free Natural Hot Springs in New Zealand.
8. Jump in a Jet Boat
Experience the thrills, near-misses with canyon walls, and 360-degree spins in one of the many jet boat tours in New Zealand! These Kiwi inventions are the nation’s favourite toy to glide across the surface of New Zealand gnarliest rivers and lakes.
See some of our favourites in 17 Places to Jet Boat in New Zealand.
9. See a Kiwi Bird
As mentioned, New Zealand has a whole lot of fascinating wildlife, but the creature everyone is intrigued to see is the kiwi bird! This nocturnal flightless bird is elusive and difficult to find in their natural environments. However, taking a night tour is a rewarding way to see what the kiwi bird gets up to. Alternatively, there are many conservation kiwi houses across the country where you can see kiwi in captivity as part of breeding programs.
10. Heli-hike on a Glacier
One of those bucket list activities is to see the majestic glaciers of New Zealand. In particular, Franz Josef Glacier (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Fox Glacier (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and the Tasman Glacier (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Take a helicopter flight through the valley carved by the glacier then land on top of the glacier itself where you’ll be exploring ice caves, crevasses and getting some awesome photos.
Find out more in 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers
North Island: The Best Things to Do For Backpackers on the North Island
The North Island of New Zealand is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural experiences, and adrenaline-pumping adventures, making it an ideal destination for backpackers from around the globe. From the geothermal marvels of Rotorua and the cinematic landscapes of Hobbiton to the surf-friendly beaches of Raglan and the vibrant streets of Wellington, there’s an abundance of affordable and interesting activities tailored to the adventurous spirit of backpackers. Whether you’re hiking through breathtaking national parks, delving into the rich Maori culture, or simply soaking in the natural beauty of this diverse island, the North Island offers a unique blend of experiences that promise to enrich your travels. Here are the top things to do for backpackers on the North Island, to fill your journey with memorable adventures and discoveries.
- Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves (Waitomo) – Drift beneath a galaxy of glowworms in this unique cave experience. Affordable guided tours offer insights into the caves’ history and geology.
- Visit Hobbiton Movie Set (Matamata) – Step into the Shire with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series. Though not the cheapest, it’s a must-do for fans and offers picturesque views.
- Surf at Raglan (Raglan) – Catch some of the best waves in New Zealand at Raglan, known for its friendly surf breaks. Surfboard rentals and lessons are available for all levels.
- Climb Mt. Maunganui (Tauranga) – Hike up Mt. Maunganui for stunning panoramic views of the Bay of Plenty. The hike is free and suitable for most fitness levels.
- Explore Te Papa Museum (Wellington) – Learn about New Zealand’s history and culture at the innovative Te Papa Museum. Entrance is free, offering an affordable day out.
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (Rotorua) – Experience geothermal wonders with colorful hot springs and bubbling mud pools. It’s a ticketed attraction but worth the price for its unique natural features.
- Kayak in the Bay of Islands (Paihia) – Paddle around the scenic Bay of Islands, exploring secluded beaches and crystal-clear waters. Kayak rentals offer a budget-friendly way to enjoy the area and its waterfalls.
- Walk the Wellington Waterfront (Wellington) – Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of Wellington’s waterfront with its sculptures, bars, and cafes. It’s a free and leisurely way to see the city.
- Explore the Coromandel Peninsula (Coromandel) – Hike to Cathedral Cove and dig your own hot pool at Hot Water Beach. These natural attractions are free, barring a small shovel rental fee at Hot Water Beach.
- Go Sandboarding at Te Paki Dunes (Northland) – Experience the thrill of sandboarding down massive dunes near Cape Reinga. Board rental is affordable, offering an exhilarating activity.
- Visit the Te Papa National Museum (Wellington) – Delve into New Zealand’s rich cultural and natural history at this comprehensive museum. Admission is free, making it a great educational experience.
- Hike the Waitakere Ranges (Auckland) – Explore lush rainforest and rugged coastline just a short drive from Auckland. Many of the trails are free to access and offer spectacular views.
- Check out the nightlife in Auckland (Auckland) – Experience Auckland’s bustling nightlife with plenty of budget-friendly bars and clubs. Look out for happy hour deals to save on drinks.
- Go WWOOFing (Various Locations) – Volunteer with WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to get free accommodation and meals in exchange for work on organic farms. A great way to see the country and meet locals.
- Skydive over Lake Taupo (Taupo) – For the ultimate adrenaline rush, skydive over Lake Taupo and enjoy stunning views of the North Island’s volcanic landscapes. While skydiving is on the pricier side, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s worth splurging on, and there are often deals and packages available for backpackers looking for an unforgettable thrill.
Find out more in the 51 Best Things To Do on The North Island.
South Island: The Best Things to Do For Backpackers on the South Island
The South Island of New Zealand is a haven for adventurers and nature lovers, offering an unparalleled array of breathtaking landscapes, thrilling activities, and serene beauty spots. Renowned for its majestic mountains, pristine fjords, and crystal-clear lakes, the South Island caters to backpackers seeking both adrenaline-fueled exploits and moments of tranquility amidst nature. Whether you’re aiming to conquer the peaks of the Southern Alps, gaze upon the starlit skies of Lake Tekapo, or explore the adventure capital of Queenstown, the South Island delivers experiences that resonate with the heart of every explorer. From the tranquil Abel Tasman National Park to the rugged wilderness of Fiordland, each destination provides a backdrop for unforgettable memories. Here’s a guide to the best things to do for backpackers on the South Island, where every activity promises to amplify your love for the great outdoors and adventure.
- Hike the Abel Tasman Coast Track (Abel Tasman National Park) – Explore golden beaches and clear blue waters on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You can camp or stay in huts for a small fee.
- Visit the Franz Josef Glacier (Franz Josef) – Walk up to the glacier or take a more affordable guided tour to learn about its history and geology. The glacier’s accessibility makes it a must-see.
- Stargaze at Lake Tekapo (Lake Tekapo) – The clear skies over Lake Tekapo offer some of the best stargazing in the world. Visit the Mount John Observatory or simply admire the stars from the lakeshore for free.
- Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail (Otago) – Cycle through the scenic heart of the South Island on a historic railway route. Bike rentals and budget accommodations along the way make this a great option.
- Explore Queenstown (Queenstown) – Known as the adventure capital, Queenstown offers bungee jumping, skydiving, and more, but you can also find affordable activities like hiking or enjoying the lakefront.
- Milford Sound Cruise (Fiordland National Park) – Take a cruise through Milford Sound to see waterfalls and wildlife. Look for off-season deals for a more budget-friendly experience.
- Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park (Abel Tasman National Park) – Rent a kayak to explore the park’s stunning coastline at your own pace. This is an affordable way to see hidden coves and beaches.
- Witness the Southern Lights (Stewart Island) – Stewart Island offers one of the best chances to see the Aurora Australis. The experience is weather-dependent but completely free.
- Wine Tasting in Marlborough (Marlborough) – Sample some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc with affordable tasting fees at many vineyards. Some wineries offer free tastings or tours.
- Ski or Snowboard in Wanaka or Queenstown (Wanaka/Queenstown) – Hit the slopes in the Southern Alps, with options for all budgets. Look for package deals that include lift tickets and rentals.
- Hike the Routeburn Track (Fiordland National Park) – Experience one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks through stunning mountain scenery. Huts or campsites provide affordable accommodation options along the way.
- Explore Dunedin’s Street Art (Dunedin) – Take a self-guided tour of the city’s vibrant street art scene. It’s a free way to explore Dunedin and appreciate its creative side.
- Visit the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki) – Check out these unique limestone formations on the West Coast. The walk to see them is short and free.
- Go Wild Dolphin Watching in Kaikoura (Kaikoura) – Kaikoura is one of the best places to see wild dolphins and even swim with them. Boat tours offer budget-friendly options for wildlife encounters.
- Hike Around Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (Aoraki/Mount Cook) – Explore the trails around New Zealand’s highest peak, offering breathtaking views. There are free and low-cost camping options for budget travelers.
Find out more in the 51 Best Things To Do on The South Island.