From the Southern Alps to 90 Mile Beach, New Zealand offers spectacular scenery, friendly folks, exciting adventures and lots of lamb on the hoof. Here are 10 of the top travel experiences in Kiwiland.

Go Bungy Jumping

Based on a puberty ritual of the natives of Vanuatu, AJ Hackett and friends perfected the gear that allows men, women and children to dive from great heights without hitting bottom. The trick was replacing the vines around the ankles with industrial strength rubber cable tethered to winches to retrieve jumpers. The 100-year-old suspension bridge 141 feet above the Kawarau River on New Zealand’s South Island was the world’s first commercial bungy site. A jump costs about $100 and includes a T-shirt and certificate — photos and video for a few dollars more. You choose whether to get dunked in the river, or stay dry. After the jump, staff in a little rubber boat haul you aboard like a big fish, unhook your legs, and drop you on shore, where you must climb a steep stairway to return to the parking lot. The Kawarau site includes a high-tech Bungy Dome which simulates a jump for those reluctant to take the actual plunge. For eight and a-half seconds of free fall – it feels like eternity – go for the Nevis Highwire. There’s no upper age limit to bungy, but it’s not for the obese. You can bungy from the Auckland Harbor Bridge or jump tandem at Taupo. Variations include the Sky Jump, a cable-controlled base jump in Auckland, or the Big Swing at the Agrodome Park in Rotorua.

Explore Milford Sound

Walking the 33-mile Milford Track – one of the great walks in New Zealand – is a real accomplishment. Rain is almost guaranteed during the four-day tramp. Fortunately, the wonders of the magnificent Milford Sound can be viewed comfortably from one of the many cruise ships that ply the glacier-carved ocean inlet. Milford Sound is part of Fiordland National Park, a world heritage site. Lush rain forests cling to the steep 3900-foot cliffs – draped by waterfalls — that rise on either side of the nearly 10-mile long narrow cleft in the coastline. The waters are home to dolphins, seals and penguins. View the rich marine ecosystem below the surface, including rare black coral, from The Milford Deep Underwater Observatory in Harrison’s Cove. A boat ride down the Sound and back will take a couple of hours. Getting there takes five hours by road from Queenstown, two and half-hours from Te Anau.

Swim with the Seals

We scheduled two wild animal adventures in New Zealand, swimming with the rare Hector’s Dolphins in Akaroa, and swimming with the fur seals in the Tonga Island Marine Preserve in Abel Tasman National Park. The dolphins were shy and didn’t want to swim with us. The seals were captivating. Book online, or sign up at the beachfront kiosk at Kaiteriteri Beach . John the Walrus, the bearded guide who leads the tour, is a hoot. He sang and told stories about the wildlife and history of the area on the boat ride to Tonga Island. Outfitted in wet suits, snorkels, mask and fins, John led us into the water where we frolicked up close and personal with the seals for an hour. Afterwards, we sipped hot cocoa on a crescent beach while waiting for the water taxi back to Kaiteriteri. The whole expedition takes the better part of a day, costs about 108-dollars and was a bargain at any price.

Attend a Maori Hangi

There’s no better way to get a glimpse of New Zealand’s native culture than at a Maori hangi. Hangi refers to the traditional Polynesian method of steam cooking in the ground with hot rocks – like a Hawaiian luau or New England clambake. A number of tribal families around Rotorua offer tourists a cultural experience along with the meal. Book when you arrive at your lodgings. Tattooed performers introduce you to Maori village life through dance, song, stories and native crafts. The men are nearly naked to display their full body tattoos, most of which are only temporary. Once upon a time, the designs were carved into the flesh. The visit starts with a haka challenge from a warrior, the exchange of a peace token, then a speech of welcome. If you’ve ever seen the New Zealand All Blacks play rugby, you’ve seen a haka, a truly awesome display. The Mitai hangi serves an excellent meal and throws in a glowworm walk to their sacred spring. Another hangi option is the amaki Maori Village.

Ride Horseback on a Beach

This is the first adventure we booked in New Zealand. Many countries won’t allow horses on beaches; many guides won’t let you gallop, but Kiwis aren’t into restrictions. Gail and Don McKnight at Cape Farewell Horse Treksat the northern tip of the South Island will outfit you with a helmet, mount you in an English saddle on a well-behaved horse, and guide you through the green hills to Wharariki Beach. With the Archway Islands rising above the surf, and an occasional bull seal lolling on the sand, it’s a magical place. “Giddy up!” and you’re off for a gallop down the mile-long beach — a fantasy fulfilled. Afterwards, dismount and explore the caves carved by the waves. On the North Island, try Pakiri Beach Horse Rides.


This was the most fun we had of all our New Zealand adventures. Even describing it brings a smile. Picture a clear plastic golf ball the size of a minivan. Inside, a soft, smaller chamber, big enough for two or three. Toss in a splash of mildly soapy water to make it slippery, and then roll downhill at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Hilarious! You can try to keep your feet, but we tumbled every which way, laughing the whole time. It’s another of those crazy Kiwi inventions for witless amusement. Zorb Rotorua is conveniently located next to the Agrodome. They’ll rent you a swim suit and towel, too.

Helihike the glaciers

New Zealand is home to two of the world’s actively expanding glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The ice advances from the Southern Alps down narrow valleys into lush forests close to the Tasman Sea. You can hike from a parking lot through a valley to the base of one of the glaciers and scramble up the face of the ice to the surface, or, you can board a helicopter for a scenic ride through the mountains and land high up the glacier directly on top of the ice. I recommend the helihike. Flights depart daily from the towns of Fox and Franz Josef, midway down the west coast of the South Island. Once on the ice, a guide will lead you to and through the most interesting caves and holes, while teaching you about the moving rivers of ice. At $225, the helihike was the priciest adventure we booked in New Zealand. Bring warm clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. The outfitters provide boots and crampons. We had a marvelously clear day — so warm our guide wore shorts – but foul weather will ground the choppers. Many companies offer these trips, such as The Guiding Company and Fox Glacier Guiding . Don’t leave without taking a drive to nearby Lake Matheson for an astounding photo op, the two tallest peaks in New Zealand – Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman – mirrored in its waters.

Go Jet Boating

I’ll admit I wasn’t all that excited about taking a jet boat ride on the Shotover River outside Queenstown. But rocketing – literally — through the canyon just inches from the rock walls, then slamming into a 360-degree turn, got my heart pumping. The boats are the brainchild of Kiwi Bill Hamilton, a self-taught engineer who was looking for a way to navigate shallow rivers. Intakes in the flat bottom of the boat suck in water, which is driven out through two jet units at the back. The big red jet boats can maneuver in just inches of water, hit speeds up to 35 miles per hour, and change direction, brake and reverse on a dime. The Shotover was the scene of a gold rush in the 1860s, and we saw a few diehard prospectors manning sluices along the riverbank. About $67 will get you a ride, a life jacket, spray jacket and a locker for your things. Bring sunglasses. For a few extra bucks, you can take home professional photos and a customized DVD. On the North Island, try Kawarau Jet or New Zealand River Jet.


When you want to relax and let your adrenaline levels settle down in New Zealand, head for a beach and rent a kayak. Outfitters are everywhere. We went with Golden Bay Kayaks at Tata Beach at the northern tip of Abel Tasman Park. The park is named after a Dutch navigator, the first European to anchor in New Zealand waters. Paddling silently in the easy-to-maneuver kayaks allowed us to approach nesting shags and seals sunning on the rocks. You can opt for a guided tour, or take off by yourself. The park’s shoreline is one perfect sandy beach after another. During the summer, you’ll have plenty of company when the weather’s good. In Abel Tasman, tired paddlers can load their kayaks on a water taxi for the return trip. Looking for a bigger boat? Paddle a Maori war canoe with Waka Taia Mai Tours in the Bay of Islands.

Black Water Rafting

Waitomo on the North Island is renowned for its caves. These caverns are lit by bugs — fungus gnats – which dot the ceilings in their luminescent larval stage. Some enterprising Kiwi christened them glow worms — far more appealing. You can clamber through the caves by foot, or float through them on an inflated tire tube. Kiwis call this black water rafting. For the ultimate adventure, take the five-hour Black Abyss Tour. Start by abseiling (rappelling) through a gaping hole in the ground down into the Ruakuri Cave, then climb and squeeze through the underground caverns until you catch a tube and float out. Moderate fitness is required. Bring a swimsuit and towel. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company provides all the gear and a hot shower afterwards. Rap, Raft ‘N’ Rock offers a similar all-inclusive trip.