New Zealand is an amazing place to visit. The scenery is like something from Lord of the Rings. In fact, the scenery can be exactly that from Lord of the Rings. The country itself is a bit of a contradiction. You can either spend your days hiking through the mountains and staying sleepy towns, or you can keep your adrenaline pumping by throwing yourself off a variety of different high-up objects. It’s one extreme or the other (or both if you’re into that kind of thing).
Each town I visited in New Zealand always seemed to have one or two must-dos, so with that in mind I thought I would put together my guide to New Zealand: what to do and where.
Mt Eden and bus tour starting point
I have to admit, I can’t really think of too much to recommend specifically in the city of Auckland itself. I did some shopping on the quirky Karangahape Road and then wandered around Victoria Park Market, but other than that (and going on a great bar crawl with Nomads Hostel) I found that getting out of the city and going to somewhere like Mt. Eden, where you can get views of the city from a distance, is worth doing. Ultimately, however, I found that Auckland is a good place to start a tour of New Zealand. It was here I flew into and here I caught my bus with the Kiwi Experience in order to make my way south.
Tamaki Maori Village and geothermal park
Rotorua was one of the places I enjoyed the most. I spent a day visiting a geothermal park to see geysers spouting steam out of the ground and an evening visiting a Maori village and learning about their culture (including watching their hukkas). I also did my skydive here and it was very scenic, diving over the lakes, but you can skydive in lots of places and I’ll recommend the place to do this later.
Arriving in Waitomo with the Kiwi Bus, I wasn’t really sure why we were there. There didn’t seem much to do. We were told to go to the local cave and so we did but we were somewhat skeptical. What we found inside was hundreds of glow-worms stuck to the ceiling, glittering away like stars. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos, so I can’t illustrate how cool it was. You’ll have to go and see for yourself.
Extreme sports and Tongariro Crossing
Taupo was the place where the majority of my bus group did their skydive as, apparently, it is the best place to do it on a backpacker budget (note, I do not mean cheap and unsafe, just relatively wallet-friendly in comparison to other jump sites). While my bus-mates were off skydiving, I went bungee jumping instead – it was good but again I will recommend the best place to do this later.
The other activity to do in Taupo is the Tongariro Crossing. This eight hour hike is unpleasant (in terms of pain) but the views are stunning and it’ll take you right past Mount Doom, so it is pretty much essential for any fellow LOTR fans.
This was a mandatory stop on the Kiwi Bus tour but sadly there was not much to do here. The activity we were offered was white water rafting but sadly this wouldn’t take place until the morning after we arrived, by which point we all wanted to leave for Wellington as we only had limited time there. I kind of wish we’d done it though because I didn’t get another chance on my tight timeframe.
Cuba Street and South Island crossing
I didn’t really have too much time in New Zealand’s capital city – just enough to wander in and out of some shops on the bohemian Cuba Street. Ultimately, Wellington was the place where I said goodbye to the North Island and crossed the sea over to the South Island to continue on my tour.
Nelson National Lake
If you’re keen to see some of New Zealand’s scenic highlights, then a trip out of town to Nelson National Lake is a good shout. Not only will you get some good shots but there’s always the option of jumping off the end of the little pier into the cold water – which I personally didn’t do but I’m not sure why.
Westport – Greymouth
I didn’t get up to much in either of these towns. In Westport, my bus embarked on a three-legged bar crawl. If you’re on the Kiwi Experience bus, then this is something to look forward to (if they’re still doing it that is). In Greymouth, we all stocked up on fancy dress outfits (stay tuned for more on this). Driving between the two, we came to another scenic spot of the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, which are basically rocks that look like they are made up of multiple layers. The thing with New Zealand is that just looking out the window at the views is an activity in itself and stopping off between destinations affords some fantastic sights.
Poo pub fancy dress
Whilst the sunset over the lake was something to behold, the Poo Pub was the highlight of my visit. If this is still part of the Kiwi Experience bus tour, then anyone on it is in for a treat. Here we spent the night having a fancy dress party, with a bin bag theme (basically, we had to make a costume using bin bags). My group went as ninjas. Whilst I think we did a pretty good job – we even accessorised with crepe paper and plastic swords – it was sweltering hot and we had to shed some layers as the night went on.
Glacier and Skydiving
The big thing to go in Franz Josef is a hike over the local glacier. Sadly, this involved spending an extra day here which I couldn’t afford to do, thanks to my impending flight, so I skydived over it instead. If you’re skydiving in the South Island then there is nowhere more scenic to do (although the photos on offer weren’t nearly as good). I really regret not staying for the hike, in fact I’d go back to New Zealand just to do it.
Cinema Paradiso and Puzzle World
If you go to Wanaka, you have to go to the cinema. I took a trip to Cinema Paradiso, which had one screen, filled with a mish-mash of chairs, including a sofas, armchairs and even a VW Beetle. The projectionist seemed to have a slip during the film and the image went but really that just added to the experience. There was also an interval, where fresh cookies were baked for our enjoyment (obviously they weren’t free but man were they good). In the morning, the Kiwi Bus took us all to Puzzle World. I can’t say we were thrilled with this choice of destination but it actually turned out to be a laugh and it came complete with a maze.
Extreme sports, Fergburger and teapot cocktails
Queenstown is undoubtedly the highlight of New Zealand. You can participate in an array of extreme sports but the must-do is the bungee jumping opportunities. Here you can find the highest bungee jump in New Zealand (the Nevis) and the Ledge bungee, which you can wearing a harness (instead of some rope strapped around your feet) meaning that you can run and jump, as opposed to just stepping off the edge. I would much rather have done it like that. Since I’d already done a bungee, I did the Nevis Arc canyon swing instead. If you’re not into bungee jumping then this is a great alternative. You feel more secure sitting firmly in your harness and there is less plummeting involved.
Despite all of this, my number one thing to do in this great town is visit Fergburger, for the best burger you will ever have. Now I know I said I’d go back to New Zealand for the Franz Josef Glacier hike but the truth is that is a cover. I’d go back just for the burger. As a bonus, I also had my best night out in New Zealand here, starting out at Base Hostel’s bar and moving onto teapot cocktails at World Bar. Enjoy!
Ending the journey
Christchurch was another place where I ended up not doing much – apart from a lunch visit to Wagamama (I was so excited when I spotted this place as my bus drove past) and a trip to an art gallery. Christchurch was basically the place where my journey ended. It was the ideal place on the South Island just chill and wander about before getting on a plane to Australia.