New Zealand adventure vacations travel guide

New Zealand basks in a well-earned reputation for thrill-packed outdoor activities, with more grand adventures than 100 hobbits could handle. But in some ways the country has been a victim of its own success. During peak season, the Great Walks can slow to a Not-so-great Crawl due to the amount of people on the trail, while bungee jumping in popular locations can feel like a factory assembly line. That being said,
If you like your vacations with a big side order of adrenaline, nowhere else comes close.
It doesn’t hurt of course that these activities, from kayaking and trekking to white water rafting and bungee jumping, take place against backdrops of such astonishing natural beauty that Hollywood came calling with ‘Lord of the Rings’ and never left. The scenery here is a big part of the overall experience, and if you can go when it’s not full of other people doing exactly the same thing, not only are you going to have a better time, you’ll be reducing the pressure on the environment too.

Best time to go on a New Zealand adventure vacation

New Zealand is a year-round destination for adventure activities: think of it like the UK, with the potential for four seasons in one day, but with the climate flipped 180 degrees, since it’s on the other side of the world of course. Winter (June through August) is ski season, but less suitable for trekking or water-based activities that can be disrupted by heavier rainfall. Summer (December to February) brings with it warm, sunny weather but also big lines on popular trekking routes and in iconic destinations such as Queenstown, Wanaka and the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Go in spring or autumn then, for generally pleasant weather, fewer crowds and to catch New Zealand’s magnificent scenery, from coast to mountain to rainforest, bursting with colour.

Go on a New Zealand adventure vacation if…

you want a practically endless amount of activities to choose from, and you’re prepared to accept a bit of a risk for a big reward.

Don’t go on a New Zealand adventure vacation if…

you’re looking for a totally exclusive experience – some of the most popular activities operate to an almost factory production line routine.

Our top New Zealand adventure Vacation

New Zealand holiday, small group

New Zealand vacation, small group

Combining the best of New Zealand's North and South Islands.

From US $6320 to US $6510 22 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2022: 15 Jan, 5 Feb, 26 Feb
2023: 14 Jan, 4 Feb, 25 Feb, 18 Mar, 11 Nov, 16 Dec
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about New Zealand adventure or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

What do adventure vacations in New Zealand entail?

If ‘adventure’ is your middle name, then New Zealand should be your return address. Here are white water rapids, climbing routes through blue ice caves, and eye-popping plunges into canyons, rivers and lakes with just a thin cord of rubber between you and a squidgy demise. Here are pitch-black leaps of faith over subterranean waterfalls, high-octane jet boats twisting and turning and bringing you so close to the rocks you smell the moss on them, and the chance to swim alongside pods of curious dolphins as they play off the coast.
All of these activities tend to have two things in common: 1) no previous experience or training is necessary to have a go, and 2) before slipping into your wetsuit or strapping on your parachute, you will almost certainly be asked to sign a waiver of legal responsibility for death or injury, drastically limiting your ability to seek compensation if anything goes wrong. The likelihood of anything going wrong is minimal of course, but if it does, you may well struggle to find justice in the courts. You can tip the balance of risk to reward in your favour by traveling on an organised tour – that puts the burden of making sure an activity is suitable on the operator, and means that if you have an accident that’s not your fault, you’ve got someone to sue! As Kelly Reid from our specialist operator Exodus explains, you’re in safe hands: "New Zealand is a very regulated environment and our local operator only deals with licensed operators with excellent safety records. There are stringent processes and checks in place in regards to safety that all local activity operators must go through in order to obtain the approved accreditation required to operate. Furthermore, Exodus conducts and reviews risk assessments for all our trips at least on a yearly basis or when we change any part of the tour. Our local team also is required to sign and adhere to our H&S policy which covers areas like this.”
Rare is the New Zealand vacation where you stay in one place for long. This is a country that invites overlanding, spoilt rotten with stunningly picturesque landscapes, and with as many adventure activities as there are sheep, which is to say, a lot. Much of this is what we’d call ‘soft adventure’ – trekking, kayaking, swimming with dolphins; then there are the classics which are not for the faint of heart – skydives, bungee jumps, white and black water rafting, and then there are the quintessentially kiwi activities that are mad, innovative and will leave you buzzing for days – jet boating, or the bizarre sport of zorbing which is about as close you’d probably want to get to being in a washing machine.

Cover up

Organised vacations will rarely include travel insurance, and it’s unlikely that the typical insurance policy will cover all of the things you might get up to in New Zealand, so you need to ensure you select the right one, which will probably cost a little extra. If in any doubt, best to double check with your insurance provider before you jump out of the plane rather than leaving it ‘til after. Our own bespoke insurance provision is a good place to start your search and help out a charity at the same time.

Trouble in paradise

For years now New Zealand has sold itself on the premise of its pristine environments, but in fact they are just as threatened as anywhere else. From polluted rivers to biodiversity loss and receding glaciers, this natural beauty is not without blemishes and they can’t be covered up any longer. For the most part, outdoor adventure activities have very little negative impact on the environment or wildlife (you’ll note we don’t suggest destructive quad biking in this guide) and engaging in them encourage authorities and operators alike to preserve the landscapes – in New Zealand the views are just as much a part of the experience.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tomas Sobek (edited)] [Paragliding: Tomas Sobek] [Bungee jumping: Katika Bele]