New Zealand adventure vacations
map & highlights

New Zealand is a country just made for overland touring, where you’re never more than a few hours’ drive from the next location and the next adventure.
This is also undoubtedly the best way to appreciate the incredible diversity of rugged wilderness across the two main islands, from picturesque sandy bays to vast open plains, lush rainforest to fjords where seals and dolphins play, geothermal terrain to snow-tipped mountains. And there are so many exciting ways to get out there and explore it: on foot, by kayak, mountain bike, catamaran – or see it from above by helicopter tour or skydiving. But New Zealand faces challenges with biodiversity loss and damage to ecosystems: adventure vacations here should immerse people in the natural world while also respecting it to both encourage and fund conservation.
1. Abel Tasman National Park
2. Franz Josef Glacier
3. Kaikoura
4. Milford Sound
5. Paparoa National Park
6. Queenstown
7. Rotorua
8. Taupo
9. Tongariro Crossing
10. Waitomo
Abel Tasman National Park

1. Abel Tasman National Park

Named for the first European explorer to reach New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park is simply idyllic territory for hiking. Guides will explain the region’s flora and fauna as you walk through native forest, between golden beaches and isolated coves. Hikes can also be combined with catamaran or kayak trips when you might encounter seals and charming blue penguins.
Franz Josef Glacier

2. Franz Josef Glacier

Steeper than nearby Fox Glacier, the Franz Josef Glacier has more dramatic ice formations, and deeper crevasses and caves (where you may see the stunning blue ice). Both glaciers are in a serious state of retreat, although you can still hike on them, or try ice climbing. But you sure won’t be alone – it can take up to 30 minutes just to park in peak season.
Kaikoura

3. Kaikoura

Flipping its history of whaling on its head, Kaikoura is now New Zealand’s premier whale-watching destination. You can also see (and swim) with dolphins off the coast here, and there is a thriving colony of fur seals. It’s possible to stay in a treehouse lodge, and help out with your hosts’ tree-planting initiative which will also encourage native birds to nest.
Milford Sound

4. Milford Sound

The most popular way to explore this 15km waterway in Fjordland National Park is by cruise. But the best way to see Milford Sound is definitely either by kayak, or by trekking – the three-day Milford Track is the most famous of New Zealand’s Great Walks but there are many shorter, less busy routes. If you do prefer to take things easier, opt for a cruise with an onboard naturalist or geologist.
Paparoa National Park

5. Paparoa National Park

A vast South Island expanse of limestone cliffs and river canyons, native rainforest, mountains and wilderness, Paparoa National Park is a superb location for walking and overnight camping. Kiwi guides will ensure you pick up the right firewood along the way, and also show you around the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, eroded limestone stacks pocked with blowholes that seawater spurts through.
Queenstown

6. Queenstown

Queenstown on the South Island is New Zealand adventure vacations distilled. They call it the Adventure Capital of the World – they’re not wrong. Home to the A.J. Hackett ‘Thrillogy’ (which your correspondent once smashed on his birthday), Queenstown is 100% adrenaline set against the Southern Alps. Besides bungee jumps there’s skydives, jet boating, canyoning, mountain biking and luge –avoid summer though, when locals are far outnumbered by tourists.
Rotorua

7. Rotorua

The eggy pong that pervades Rotorua is a result of all the geothermal activity under the surface – as well as being the beating heart of Maori culture this lakeside town is also famed for its hot springs and thermal mud baths. Adventurous travelers might also know it as home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, on the Grade V Katuna River.
Taupo

8. Taupo

The Queenstown of the North Island, Taupo offers everything from bungee jumping to skydiving, kayaking on the beautiful lake to see Maori rock carvings, and jet boating out to the thundering Huka Falls. More sedate is the famous Craters of the Moon walking trail through lunar-like geothermal terrain of steaming, bubbling craters.
Tongariro Crossing

9. Tongariro Crossing

One of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.4km of epic scenery, over volcanic terrain and with a backdrop of lakes and mountains – including those that served as Mt. Doom in Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. No special equipment is needed for this day trek except good-quality footwear, but you can expect to be walking in a queue for much of the time.
Waitomo

10. Waitomo

The glowworm caves of Waitomo, close to Taupo and Rotorua, are one of the North Island’s best-known natural attractions, but this small village also offers thrilling black water rafting. Travel down a subterranean river in an inner tube, leap off cascading waterfalls into the pitch darkness, and float beneath a rock canopy studded with thousands of glowworms doing their thing.

Our top New Zealand adventure Vacation

New Zealand hiking vacation

New Zealand hiking vacation

Explore New Zealand's incredible landscapes

From US $7849 to US $8249 20 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 7 Mar, 5 Dec
2021: 2 Jan, 23 Jan, 13 Feb, 6 Mar
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.
Kelly Reid from our specialist operator Exodus shares some of her most underrated destinations in New Zealand: “It’s impressive to see how Christchurch is developing after the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, with great little bars and restaurants emerging. Queenstown and Rotorua are both flooded with tourists, and we suggest visiting less busy areas, while Auckland is quite difficult to get around and expensive. The Central Otago region on the South Island is underrated, with lots of wineries and great mountain biking and walking. I also love the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north, and Taupo and its surrounds.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tomas Sobek] [Abel Tasman: anoldent] [Franz Josef: Jackman Chiu] [Kaikoura: Arran Bee] [Milford Sound: eyeintim] [Queenstown: Michael Napoleon] [Rotorua: Yoann Laheurte] [Huka Falls: Ruth Hartnup] [Tongariro crossing: Laura Smetsers] [Waitomo caves: Rachael Horner]
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