Top 10 Things to do in New Zealand

Ollie Law Chief Bushman at Bushman Tours Ollie
6 min read

If you’re visiting New Zealand this year or perhaps, you’re already here trying to work out the difference between “yeah, na” and “na, yeah”, then chances are you’re wondering what are the top things to do in New Zealand are? Well, a quick search on Google will provide you a wave of ideas, it’s a national crisis to decide on what the top 10 actually are though.

Bushman Tours has you sorted with our outdoor focused trips. After all, NZ is the #1 country in the world for outdoors activities! 

Here are our top 10 things to do while in Aotearoa (the correct top 10). 

#10: Visit the world’s clearest lake

Nelson Tasman Blue Lake Information
Picture by Nelsontasman.com

A world number one anything is worth a visit, right? But what if we told you it wasn’t a simple bus ride with fifty other tourists that got you there? You guessed it, you must hike! 

The Blue Lake found in the South Island’s Nelson Lakes National Park is a two-day hike away from the park’s entrance, and it’s accessible all year round. Due to it’s age and sacred meaning to Māori (who named it Rotomairewhenua), swimming is not allowed in this lake.

Photographer Klaus Thymann was granted special permission from the local Māori iwi (people) thanks to Rob Merrilees, a Niwa hydrologists curiosity of the lakes unbelievable clear look. By 2011, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) confirmed Blue Lake to be the clearest natural body of fresh water known to man. 

The Blue Lake is considered a national treasure next to our Kiwi bird, Richie McCaw (see point 2) and a good pie (see point 5). While only 7 metres deep, the clarity of the lake water can exceed 80 metres which is close to the theoretically calculated clarity of distilled water. It gets this effect from its geographical location, protection from surrounding mountains and lacking any organic matter, algae, or sediment.

Current hikers have claimed that sitting and camping next to the lake is the most beautiful experience you can have, making this a clear winner for things to do in New Zealand.

#9: Hike the Fiordland National Park

Hike Tours in Milford Sound
Southland New Zealand

If your favourite film growing up was Jurassic Park and ever since seeing Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill (Kiwi by the way) running frantically away from those “clever girl” Velociraptors, then Fiordland National Park is the best place to start. 

If you’re planning on driving there from the North of the South Island, make sure to head down the West Coast and book a hike with one of our Bushman

You’ll be convinced from the moment you reach the Coast – all the way to the Fiordlands – that you’ve stepped back 200 million years. Just check out the views…

West Coast New Zealand Cave Tours
Cave system in the West Coast of New Zealand

This National Park is one of the largest in the world (12,000 square kilometres) that features fiords, limestone caves and one of the highest waterfalls in the world. The best way to see all this is to walk it (obviously), and this park offers plenty of options. 

An obvious place to start is Milford Sound. Considered as the most photographed and shared Fiordland in the world, Milford Sound is a very famous and wonderful place to view our epic Southland. But among a few other travellers and a substantial amount of hungry Sand Flies, there are other hikes abound. 

The Routeburn offers a mixture of multi-day and half-day walks, all with equal amounts of awesome. Or, you can try the Kepler Track. Either one will provide a glorious 360 view of alpine goodness, snow capped mountains and diamond Fiordland waters; where mountains seem to slice into the channels. 

#8: Embrace and fall in love with the Māori culture

Local & Cultural Adventures

The typical things to do in New Zealand usually involve very touristy focused activities, but if there is anything that we’re most recognised for, it’s our stunning and exciting culture and history of the first people. When visiting Aotearoa (New Zealand), it’s a must to experience and learn about our beautiful indigenous customs.

The best place to start is Whakarewarewa or the Tamaki Māori Village in Rotorua. Here, you can learn the customs and history of the Māori people and what it means to visit their land. You’ll get a chance to try our legendary Hangi meal (a type of BBQ cooked in the ground). 

You may also get a chance to board a traditional Waka Taua (canoe) in the Bay of Islands and traverse the stunning Waitangi river, listening to ancient stories, traditions and histories that shape the culture and identity.

The West Coast again offers more cultural surroundings with an opportunity to carve greenstone and bone carvings at Bonz ‘n Stonz Carving Studio and Gallery in Hokitika. If you’ve got someone back home nagging for a souvenir, this is the place to go! 

Pakeha (the Māori term for white people) are not the original people of New Zealand. It’s important that when you’re here, you recognise and embrace the indigenous culture this country was born from.

#7: DO IT MR FRODO SIR (Climb Mt Doom)

Tongariro Circuit Great Walk information
Tongariro Crossing

We hope that what brought you here was a burning desire to see some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes on earth, not to see where Frodo Baggins lost his cool ring? However, we get it, those films are pretty important. 

When many visitors come to New Zealand, they often take a trip to the beautiful Hobbiton found in the Waikato, but you’re no short, hairy-footed Hobbit, you want to go face Sauron head on! 

That’s why you should head to Mt Ngauruhoe, a 2,287-metre-high, active stratovolcano used as Mount Doom in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

Even if you’re not a LOTRs fan, this climb is considered one of the best things to do in New Zealand, with it’s linking track to the famous Tongariro Crossing

On this hike, you’ll hit the top of the volcano and pass stunning Emerald Lakes for panoramic view of the National Park. 

Please keep all your precious rings on fingers during your visit. 

#6: See our wonderful wildlife

Nina Valley Wildlife Spotting

Hundreds of millions of years ago, the land mass that is now New Zealand decided to slide away from Australia and head south-east (we don’t blame it 😉). This allowed separation from many large predators and produced a unique ecosystem of birds found nowhere else on earth. 

Our birds are our most unique wildlife with the Kea being one of the most famous next to the Kiwi. 

Kea are considered one of the world’s smartest birds as well as the only alpine parrot. These cheeky geniuses are frequently seen destroying and breaking into camper vans near the underpass to Milford Sound, or opening up the backcountry huts water system for a drink.

New Zealand is also blessed with the world’s smallest penguin known as…Little Penguin. The most original name ever. These speedy creatures can be found down south fishing and nesting. 

We even have a “Bird of the Year Award” where the beautiful Kererū took the 2019 slot. Check out their fantastic website to help donate. 

What New Zealand lacks in poisonous creatures it makes up for in epic sea life. In Kaikoura, you have a chance to see local seal colonies, dolphins and even whales. While in Dunedin, head south and look up at the massive grace of our Albatross, the world’s largest winged bird.  

#5: Grab a world-famous-in-New Zealand pie

We have a saying here that most things we have are world-famous. It got a bit ridiculous when even our gumboot throwing competitions became “world famous”, but our pie’s…that’s different!

Most of the world think of a steaming, savoury desert sitting on grandma’s windowsill when they hear pie. But to Kiwis, a pie is a delicacy, a throne to cheesy covered mince heated to a thermonuclear level. It’s an easy way to see the difference between a local and a visitor in a gas station; the former will always leave with a pie in their hands.

So, where do you get one? If you’re heading through Canterbury after joining one of our Bushmen on a ridiculously cool hike, you HAVE to stop at the Oxford Sheffield Pie shop (it’s a love child to the Sheffield Pie shop). The pies are big and bulky with gluten free and vegetarian options. 

If you’re further south and can make the drive to Roxborough on your way to Dunedin, it is the law that you stop at Jimmy’s Pies at the southern side of town. These are the original pies. In fact, the last time we were there we went for seconds 🐷

However, a good gas station, dairy or supermarket will have plenty of options, and while they might differ in taste, the experience is a classic, Kiwi tradition. 

#4: Go and watch local music

Kiwis are a creative bunch. We have number eight wire, bungy jumping and the first whistle used in sports…no kidding!

But one thing to do in New Zealand that’s frequently missed is the local music scene. It can be hard to find something on, but here are a few sites to start with:

You’ll struggle to find a venue that hasn’t once hosted Flight of the Concords, Fat Freddie’s Drop or perhaps even Lorde. The vibes are great, and the bands are locals who do it because they love it. Being part of that culture is important for our small island and we promise you’ll have a good night. 

Wellington’s cultural and trendy vibe is a great starting point for a night out on the town filled with varieties of music; start with San Fran. Auckland also hosts the largest selection of rock bands; start with Anthology Lounge, or Ponsonby Social Club. Christchurch and Dunedin are known for the heavy stuff and reggae/dub, go and check out The Dark Room, New City Hotel or Blue Smoke.

#3: Fush & Chups on the beach

A common question to Kiwis is “what’s your traditional dish?” Outside of a Hangi, it’s pretty much fish and chips. 

You’ll find the best fish and chips shops near the beach, making it a fantastic meal for your trip around New Zealand. 

Finding the right fish and chips shop is tough. You should always check out Google Reviews and TripAdvisor, but the best, most honest way to find one is to wait on the high street, and see how many locals go in. 

You’ll get your fish and chips in newspaper (don’t worry, it’s usually fake). Grab a small tin of sauce and head to the closest beach. Make sure you watch out for seagulls, ensure the wind doesn’t take away your rubbish and always, always relax.

One of the most famous fish and chips shops is the Mt Vic/Thorndon Chippery in Wellington. Although pricey, they have an exceptional level of food. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with a local, kiwi take away down a local diary.

#2: Go watch some ruga (Rugby)

TJ Perenara and New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Next to LOTR and the Kiwi, our national icon are the All Blacks and their epic Haka. One of the most successful athletes and considered as the greatest ever rugby player, Richie McCaw honed the captain’s jersey for nine years helping the team to a record 131 wins. They are the most dominant sports team in history.

Richie, his predecessors, and former captions perform an intimidating war dance prior to destroying just about every other rugby team on earth; it’s a classic, wonderful spectacle. If you’re lucky enough to be here when they play, then book a ticket. 

The atmosphere itself is super exciting even if you’re completely new to rugby. 

It’s not always an option though and most rugby is played over the winter months. So, it’s worth knowing other grades of rugby on offer. 

The next stage down from the All Blacks is the Super Rugby Championship. This starts from around mid-February and lasts 21 weeks with a game happening somewhere every week. Tickets are very reasonable at around $30 to $70 and the games are usually in the evenings with local taxis and buses leaving from the parks. The players range from international to new pros looking for a shot at the black jersey.

Next is Counties Rugby. Again, many of these professional rugby players will take part in this in respect of their origins and to continue to gain game time. 

A good tournament to go and see is the Mitre 10 Cup. Tickets are about the same price as Super Rugby in the final stages, but the location and vibes are more local and less commercial.

Finally, grass roots is where it all begins. They say the All Black’s string of success comes from our passion for grass roots rugby. Every town throughout New Zealand has some sort of team, and they play each other throughout winter. It’s free to go and watch but bring a koha (donation) for the club as a good-will gesture.  

If you arrive at a club around 9 am on a Saturday, pull up a couple of camping chairs, grab a coffee and sausage from the club house, throw the blanket you bought from The Warehouse over your legs, and you’ll get to watch “Rippers Rugby” (5 year olds and up) all the way to seniors. Sweet as. 

#1: Stay a night in a hut

Mueller Hut Mount Cook New Zealand
Mueller Hut in Mount Cook New Zealand

No doubt you just scrolled here before reading the other nine, that’s OK, we start from here too. Our #1 ‘things to do in New Zealand’ is getting outdoors…and visiting our beautiful huts.

Staying in one of our 950+ huts is the ultimate Kiwi experience. You haven’t explored New Zealand unless you experience the smell, the warmth and the greeting of those black, green and blue huts over the horizon after a huge day of walking. 

With few distractions and the lack of 21st century traditions, your are provided a place to recharge and relax.

Our huts are in safe locations from avalanche and other natural risks, this means they’re almost always in view of spectacular scenery and small side trips once you arrive.

If you’re on a local track – which you will be with our Bushmen – you have a high chance of meeting another local for a night of great “banter” (entertaining conversations). 

Huts are located all around New Zealand often being seen multiple times on a day hike. This provides protection for those caught in the elements as well as an option to rest up for lunch. Some have rain water available, plus toilets (long drops) and a spot to sleep close to the fire place, while others could barely be noted as ‘sheltered’.

Kiwis are very proud of the huts that the Department of Conservation (Doc) and local track owners have built, and they will help look after them upon arrival. When you hike with one of our Bushmen, a morning task will be to do your part and help clean up. In some circumstances, you’ll replace the fire wood, give the hut a sweep and check for any rubbish. 

When you book with Bushman Tours, your fees and ticket for a night in the hut is covered. Many New Zealand huts require a ticket to use. Often, huts can get busy and those who fail to buy their ticket sleep on the floor or out on the deck. But it’s hard to know which ones are free, so leave that to us!

You could spend $100+ on an overpriced hotel, $40+ on a loud hostel, or, go and sleep with the Kiwis at the feet of mountains in one of our huts. 

We’ll see you out there.

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Ollie Law Chief Bushman at Bushman Tours Ollie

I have been blessed to travel much of the world over the last few years and there are three things I’ve come to learn: 1) nature NEVER disappoints, 2) if EVERYONE knew who fragile the planet was, they’d try harder 3) people are remarkable if you give them the opportunity. These, and some other topics are what I love to write about.

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