New Zealand – Top Things To Do

New Zealand is a particularly great destination for those who love to be active and enjoy the great outdoors. Walking also known as 'Tramping' is big here and it's one of the best ways to immerse yourself in nature. There are also a lot more extreme activities to enjoy (if that's your thing) from bungee jumping to black water rafting. Don't worry if you want a slower pace though, strolling is also acceptable and there are plenty of places to do that too. See below for some highlights.

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Walking Routes

New Zealand is possibly one of the best places to go walking in the world. This is largely down to its beautiful scenery but also how accessible they make it. Each location you visit will have an isite - these are great in general to find out what is good to do in the area but they're particularly good at giving advice on the best walking routes nearby and often give out free maps. There are 9 'Great Walks' in New Zealand. Of course it depends on what your idea of great is, but these are the big epic ones designed to take your breath away. All of these take a few days and so you can book night stays in huts along the way.

See the department of conservation's website for more info

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Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom
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Abel Tasman National Park

Take advantage of the many beaches

When you think of New Zealand, I don't think beaches automatically spring to mind, but I think they should. Obviously being an island you're spoilt for coastline but the beaches aren't like the ones we're used to in the UK. In particular the area around Nelson has golden sand (left) and the Northland is like a little sub-tropical paradise. Don't however expect the resort like atmosphere you get here. There will likely be only a handful of nice restaurants and/or bars, you're unlikely to come across a fair ground but maybe that's a good thing.

Waitomo Caves

The sole attraction of the little place that is Waitomo but it's a good one. You have to experience their amazing network of caves complete with glow worms that light up the ceiling like a thousand stars. There are a few options of different guided tours you can take or if you want a bit more adventure then you can opt for one of the more extreme ways to explore the caves. These can often involve jumping, climbing and swimming and you can also partake in Black Water Rafting, which is floating through the caves on a rubber ring. See the link below for the different types of experiences they offer. I did the Black Labyrinth and I'm a wimp!

Visit Hobbiton

Immerse yourself in a little bit of Lord of the Rings in the village of Hobbiton. The set used in the films including the more recent Hobbit movies is still there in the middle of the countryside, delighting visitors year round. You'll be taken on a tour around all the Hobbit houses while your guide tells you about the process of building the set, what it was like to film here and a few anecdotes along the way. It's well worth it and you can round off your day by relaxing in The Green Dragon pub with a pie and an ale.

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Bilbo's House - Hobbiton

Hot Water Beach

Based on the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Coast of the North Island, Hot Water Beach is a unique tourist attraction. Rent spades from the local isite, find a spot and start digging in the sand to create your own hot water pool from the natural spring water. It does get very busy though and so arrive early so you can find a spot. Also be carful because it can get really hot - I did hurt my toes. The beach is at its best 2 hours either side of low tide. You can check the best times and get more info here

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Experience Maori Culture

The best place for Maori Culture is in the North Island particularly in the Northland, Auckland and Rotorua. All tours are slightly different but generally you will be taken to a Maori village and taught all about their traditions and games including how to greet each other (bumping noses) and about what different facial tattoos mean. The banter is usually great and the guides are great at getting people interacting and talking. The day ends with a Hangi where the food is cooked in a oven under the ground. Expect meats and vegetables and New Zealand's sweet potato - the Kumara. And I really can't talk about the sponge pudding enough. They will also very likely teach you the Haka and if you're lucky enough you might even be selected to perform it in front of the whole party. I was hiding at this point.

Rotorua's Thermal Parks

You can experience Rotorua's thermal activity just by standing in the street. The smell of rotten eggs does seem to linger about but I have to say I didn't think it was as bad as a lot of people made out. You can also walk around the free parks and see bubbly pools and steam which are all based actually in the centre. But if you want to really immerse yourself in smelly sulphur there are parks you can travel to, the main one being Wai-o-Tapu. If you would prefer your thermal experience to be more relaxing visit the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua itself alternatively why not have a mud bath at Hells Gate Spa. Warning do not wear your favourite swimming attire it will smell and go grey but it is well worth it to pretend your a hippo for the day. They also offer twilight sessions.

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

If overnight tramping isn't your thing you can do part of The Tongariro Northern Circuit - The Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a 7hr day trek. This way you also get to see Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. You can climb up it too, or you can just stand at the bottom and shout Lord of Rings quotes at everyone else. There are lots of other sites along the way too too including bright green pools and red rock caverns. Wear decent shoes as the ground is very uneven and in parts quite sand like. You can arrange transport from and back to Taupo but the buses leave at certain times and so make sure you're back in time. It is a relatively tough walk if you aren't a frequent walker but up hills are minimal and you won't get views like it anywhere else.

Watch a Rugby Game

An absolute must do. There should be plenty of opportunities during your trip as the local teams play each other regularly and ticket prices aren't that expensive. Great thing about New Zealand's small population is if you go out in the local bars afterwards there is a chance you might bump in to some of the players. I was lucky enough to catch and England vs New Zealand game when I was there. Everyone is very friendly and didn't mind when we got up and sang God Save the Queen at the top of our lungs. They were a little less friendly when for a split second England was in the lead but then they beat us and all was merry again. It's a great experience and some great half time pies, Rugby is very important to the country and so it's definitely something you should do.

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Canterbury Crusaders Rugby Game

Hike On A Glacier

The two places to do this are Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, both situated not too far apart on the west coast. The most common thing to do it a heli-hike where there transport you to the top of the glacier and then take you on a guided walk over the ice. It is quite expensive but because the glaciers are receding, there might not be much chance to do this in the future. In addition, these glaciers are a lot more accessible than most being closer to sea level so this is not something that you can do just anywhere.

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Giant Squid at Te Papa

Visit Te Papa Museum

New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa is one of the most interesting and interactive museum's I've been to. It teaches you about New Zealand's history and the land it's built on. There is even an earthquake stimulator. There's also an exhibition on the native animals and plants which includes a giant squid which is kept in an incubator. Upstairs, it provides an insight into life in New Zealand from the first settlers, British colonisation up until today. The Museum sits on Wellington's harbour front where there are lots of restaurants nearby and it's free to enter with lots of lovely helpful people to answer your questions.

Drive On 90 Mile Beach

90 mile beach is not in fact 90 miles but 88 Kilometres. It is legally classed as a highway and so visitors and locals often use it to drive on. I won't lie it's absolutely brilliant driving a car along the beach as water sprays upwards and you whizz along the sand. However, it's only suitable to do this at certain times of day as we found out when our car broke down, never to recover, on said beach. Luckily we managed to get it off the road in order to be rescued by the AA as they won't come and get you if you're on the beach itself and rental car company's won't let you go on it. If you'd prefer not to risk it, coaches take visitors on tours and drive along the beach which takes the stress off you but it's not quite as fun. You should also take the opportunity to get a body board and 'surf' down the many sand dunes.

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Sand Dunes at the top of 90 mile beach

Relax In A Natural Spa

I mentioned a few of these above in Rotorua - the Polynesian Spa and Hells Gate mud spa but there are natural spas all over the country thanks to the thermal activity. There is nothing better than after a long day sitting outside while the sun is shining in a pool of hot water. These spas are relatively cheap and provide lots of different types of pools to suit everyone in a really nice environment. In addition to the ones above other great spas include, Ocean Spa Napier, Hamner Springs, Tepako Springs and Glacier Hot Pools Franz Josef. In Taupo you can also visit the hot water stream and pools which have naturally formed in the Waikato river.