NEW ZEALAND OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
New Zealand is a mountainous island nation that sits in the Southwest Pacific. New Zealand is heaven on Earth for outdoorsmen and women, as there are endless outdoor activities and it’s generally a safe country to explore. You can climb inactive volcanoes, spelunk, skydive, bungy jump, surf, hike (or tramp as Kiwis say), and camp to name a few. New Zealand is a trek to get to, and once you get there you won’t want to leave, so make sure you have a minimum of two weeks to explore (I originally planned on 5 weeks and ended staying 3 months!)
The North Island is best known for the beaches, geothermal activity, and Maori culture, while the less-populated South Island is known for the mountains, rainforest, and National Parks. In addition to its friendly locals, New Zealand also seems to attract adventurous travelers from all over the globe, so expect to meet a lot of great folks.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand’s landscape is so varied and there is so much natural beauty all year long that there are reasons to visit in every season. Surrounded by water, the climate is mostly temperate, with peak tourism in the summer and winter. The warmest months (December – March) draw in beachgoers, hikers, bikers, and those seeking other outdoor sports, while the coldest months (June – September) attract skiers to the mountainous regions of both islands. There are less visitors in the spring and fall, but, still, you’ll be happy you visited, though expect a bit of rain.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN NEW ZEALAND
Hiking – the island’s volcanic history has formed rugged terrain of varying degrees of difficulty for endless hiking opportunities.
Beaches- the beaches best for leisure and holiday are on the North Island, which usually runs warmer than the South.
Fishing – charter a boat for the best ocean fishing December through June, or head inland to the crystal clear rivers and lakes for trout and salmon. Lake Taupo offers excellent trout fishing.
Wildlife Viewing – during migration dolphins and whales are easy to spot from lookout spots on both islands – go on an award-winning whale watch and swim with fur seals in Kaikoura.
Hot Springs – dip into a sulfuric hot baths all over Rotorua on the North Island, don’t mind the sulfur smell.
Skiing – the South Island is home to the country’s highest peaks and best skiing.
WWOOFing – New Zealand’s lush vegetation and fertile volcanic soil make it ideal for learning how to farm organically. An added bonus of volunteering is a free place to stay!
Sky diving – sky diving over Lake Taupo is one of the most popular adventures in New Zealand!
Culture – visit vineyards during the spring harvest, immerse yourself in Maori culture, visit gold-rush towns frozen in time, or hop on a Lord of the Rings tour.
GETTING TO NEW ZEALAND
From the West Coast of the US it’s about a 12 hour flight. The main airport hub is in Auckland on the North Island, but you can also fly into Christchurch on the South Island. Once you arrive, rent a car or a camper van for easiest exploring. Local buses are cheap, plus there are hop on-hop off buses for backpackers, but the absolute best way to get around is by camper van.
TOP NEW ZEALAND POSTS
- My New Zealand Bucketlist
- Tongariro Crossing Hiking Guide
- Hiking to Hot Spring’s on New Zealand’s Copland Track
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NATIONAL PARKS IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand’s 13 national parks offer thousands of miles of protected territory to explore.
Tongariro National Park is home to the largest volcano on the North Island and, thanks to an eruption warning system, offers one of the most popular day hikes in New Zealand. The 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing will take you past giant craters, steam vents, and incredible turquoise lakes.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a happy place for climbers. Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, is the ultimate vertical challenge. Tasman, Malte Brun, Elie de Beaumont, Sefton and La Perouse are others on the must-climb list. Otherwise, visit the Tasman Glacier and stargaze by night.
Whanganui National Park offers the 290km-long Whanganui River, the home to most of the country’s river-based adventures. Start your canoe or kayak tours at Taumarunui and sleep along the riverbanks in easy-access campsites.
Abel Tasman National Park is a great spot for multi-day hikes (there are huts along the way) and sea kayaking, followed by lounging on the beach. The ideal mix of exertion and relaxation.
Mount Aspiring National Park is a hiker’s paradise – home to one of the country’s highest peaks and full of glaciers, alpine lakes, lush vegetation, and snow-capped peaks.
Nelson Lakes National Park on the South Island is a popular area for fishing, camping, and tramping. There are plenty of day-long tramps, but the most popular long-distance one is the Travers-Sabine Circuit.
OTHER MUST-SEE NEW ZEALAND DESTINATIONS
Kaikoura is a picturesque coastal town that offers tons of coastal hiking and marine life viewing, especially great whale watching. It’s the only place on earth that you can see giant sperm whales on a tour.
The Waipoua Forest is home to the largest remaining tract of New Zealand’s native Kauri trees. Hike under the largest trees you’ve ever seen and keep a lookout for rare birds.
Just an hour from Auckland, the black sand beach at Kariotahi is a stunning backdrop for a day at the beach.
The Tasman Great Taste Trail in Nelson is a network of bike trails that takes you by some of the region’s best breweries, wineries, and eateries.
Wind your way through water-filled tunnels and swim through underground waterfalls under a starry night of glowworms at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
For the ultimate claim to adventure fame spend the afternoon jumping off the 500 foot Nevis Bungy Jump just outside of Queenstown.
Cruise the 16 km-long Milford Sound by boat, taking in the striking scenery, clear water and dramatic mountainscape, around you. Take your time getting there, as the alpine drive of Milford Road is just as jaw-dropping.
TOP NEW ZEALAND TOWNS TO EXPLORE
Auckland – New Zealand’s most populated city boasts some of the country’s best museums and cultural destinations. From there, venture to nearby Cornwall Park, Mount Eden, Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, or Waiheke Island and Rangitoto Island just off the coast.
Queenstown – has become known as the adventure sport capital of the world. You’ll find skydiving, bungee jumping (one of the most popular activities in the area), kayaking, high speed jet boating, and white water sledging (white water boogie boarding)!
Christchurch – the South Island’s largest city is still recuperating from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Lace up your sneakers and take in the city en foot – visit the Botanical Gardens, tour the street art, and snap photos of the modern architecture mixed in with the heritage European style the area is known for.
Wellington – New Zealand’s capital and the heart of the artistic and food scenes. The winding roads of this small coastal city are packed with museums, theatres, galleries, shops, and bars.
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