abel tasman

16 May Adventuring In New Zealand

Nicole Gernon on Twitter: @nicole_gernon

If you’re planning on going further afield for your holidays this year, New Zealand is a great option. Relatively compact, you can fit both the North and South Islands into two or three weeks. AA Roadwatch’s Nicole Gernon has travelled the length and breadth of the country sampling every activity and has all the information you need to make the most of your trip.

Getting There

There are a plethora of airlines offering reasonable flights to New Zealand, usually stopping in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. It’s worth checking with a long-haul travel agent to see if they can get you a better deal with a few days in another location thrown in.

Getting Around

Coach Tours

The trouble with New Zealand is that you’ll want to see and do everything. Tours allow you to fit a lot in, take the stress out of planning and enable you to meet people – great if you’re travelling solo. The two main companies are Kiwi Experience and Stray; we went with Kiwi Experience and I would highly recommend them.

The coaches stop at lots of different points so you can explore forests and beaches that you may not necessarily visit if you were driving. The drivers will tell you what activities you can do in each place, but be warned, sometimes you can be tempted to do more activities than you’ve planned. Having said that, there is not one activity that I regret doing!

Even though I loved the coach tour, you can always drive or take the inter-city coaches:


Driving is really easy, the roads are great and signage is clear. Hiring a car or campervan is relatively simple or you should be able to pick up a cheap and reliable second-hand one.

Inter-city coaches

You can buy basic bus-passes to get you from A to B but it wouldn’t be my mode of choice as the coaches can be slow and uncomfortable.


Accommodation can be quite expensive in New Zealand. While hostels are generally clean, they’re not that cheap and aren’t really up to the same standard as other countries – it’s rare to get a free breakfast. This is a slight downside to doing one of the bus tours – you’ll feel as if you want to stay at the pre-booked hostels because that’s what everyone’s doing. These are about $30/night.

Hotels are also fairly pricey, especially during high season or if there’s an event on, so make sure you book well in advance to get the best deals. Airbnb is a good option, especially for couples. Of course, a campervan can solve your accommodation dilemma.

Highlights by Area

New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. Here are my top picks for each area, in the order that you’re likely to encounter them.

North Island

Auckland: Modern, commercial city, pleasant but lacking any major attractions. Head to the waterfront for drinks and brunch.

Auckland Skytower

Go to the top for a great view of the city. You could also jump off it if you want – we decided to wait and swing across a canyon instead in Queenstown.

Eden Park

Try to catch a rugby match in the home of the All Blacks or at least somewhere in the country, to see how the southern hemisphere does things.

Bay of Islands:  Northernmost point of the country, beautiful scenery with hundreds of islands. We did our skydive here which was breathtaking – you get a fantastic view of the islands and the beaches. We also did a cruise around the islands and swam with dolphins – one of the best experiences of my life. If you don’t make it to Bay of Islands, don’t worry, there are lots of other place where you can skydive – including Lake Taupo and Franz Josef – while Kaikoura is a good spot for swimming with dolphins.

Hot Water Beach: Where else can you make your own hot pool? Dig a hole, it fills up with water from underground streams and you have your own personal hot tub! Nearby, check out Cathedral Cove, home to impressive rock formations and the location for Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” video.

Rotorua hot springs and geysers: The town park is covered in smelly geysers of all shapes, sizes and strengths.

Te Puia Maori Experience and Wildlife Park

Learn about Maori culture and see kiwi birds and other wildlife. They’ll cook some eggs for you on a geyser and Pohutu – the equivalent of Old Faithful – erupts like clockwork.

Hobbiton: The home of Bilbo and Frodo is not just for Lord of the Rings fans. It’s quite expensive though – as soon as the Kiwis put LOTR in front of anything, it’s fair game for them to charge you an arm and a leg for it – and they will literally put LOTR in front of anything!

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves: One of the best places in the world to see glow worms. There are so many options, but I recommend the Black Water Rafting version – the Black Labyrinth – because you go tubing in a rubber ring down a “waterfall” into a cave and float along looking at the glow worms emitting their lights; it’s spectacular and really different.

Lake Taupo and Tongariro Pass: The setting for Mordor and Mount Doom and home to the emerald lakes. It’s a fairly gruelling trek though, especially in the winter when we did it – our photos of the emerald lakes are just a load of mist! Give yourself plenty of time and bring loads of food. It’s a great sense of achievement.

Wellington: The capital is the coolest and windiest city in the country; make sure you check out the enormous Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.


Fascinating nature reserve where they’re trying to emulate New Zealand’s habitat before foreign species were introduced.

Weta Studios

Another must for LOTR fans, it’s where they create the CGI for the films.

South Island

Abel Tasman National Park: We sea kayaked up to a secluded beach and saw loads of seals on the way, if you’re lucky some may come up to you. Stay overnight in a basic cabin with no electricity and minimal facilities – you’ll feel like you’re on a real adventure! The next day, trek back through the national park’s stunning beaches, mangroves and rainforest.

kayak 2

Franz Josef Glacier: Take a helicopter up to the Glacier and go on a guided trek through crevasses and caves for an hour. Afterwards you can soothe those aching muscles in the town’s hot springs.

Queenstown: Everyone falls in love with Queenstown because it’s so picturesque and it’s where you can really get your adrenaline pumping!

Canyon Swing

We did a canyon swing in the Shotover Canyon which allows you to choose from hundreds of different ways to throw yourself off a ledge and swing across the canyon, or you can invent a new way. Some say it’s better than a bungee jump.

Bungee Jump

If you do want to do a bungee jump, there are lots of opportunities, but the Nevis on the way into Queenstown seems like the best spot. You can do lots of different lengths, including one that dips you into the water!

Shotover Jet Boat

Come within inches of the canyon walls on a high-speed craft.


The Remarkables overlook Queenstown and really live up to their name. Skiing here is quite good and surprisingly cheap.


Queenstown is also the best place to party in New Zealand. Start in Pig and Whistle, then move on to Searle Lane, Bar UP, and probably our favourite – Cowboys, where beers are served in giant pitchers, you can do a bucking Broncho, games and challenges – touristy but great fun!


Queenstown is home to the world famous Fergburger – no one does a burger like the Kiwis.

canyon swing
Top Tips
  • Make sure you sort out travel insurance that covers you for all the activities you’ll want to do.
  • Some beer can be expensive but if you stick to the local brew like Waikato it’ll be cheaper, or get pitchers if you’re in a bar.
  • Bring a decent camera/Go Pro. Some activity companies don’t want you using your own but others don’t mind.
  • WIFI in New Zealand is notoriously awful, be prepared to have limited access or to pay for it everywhere.
  • Don’t be fooled by the lack of heat, bring bug spray because the sandflies are a nightmare!
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Nicole Gernon