The New Zealand Bucket List

You haven’t truly “done” New Zealand unless you’ve done these 100 experiences.

#50 - Encounter Wildlife at ZEALANDIA

Where is it? 53 Waiapu Road, Wellington

Part wildlife park, part tour, part testament to the powers of conservation, ZEALANDIA is a vast sanctuary set within a valley that displays 80 million years worth of the country’s natural history from the prehistoric past all the way up to the country’s colonisation by humans. Just 10 minutes from the heart of the Wellington CBD, the attraction is set up as a series of walks that allow visitors to journey through some of the lush flora on offer while seeing the unique bird life and other rare animals going about their day in untouched natural environments.

Over 40 species including New Zealand native icons Takahe, Kaka and Tui’s can be seen on both ground and air, with the wildlife free to roam around as they see fit – which maintains a natural atmosphere but can also make it difficult to get up close. The most obvious highlight for visitors from abroad will be the iconic Kiwi birds that are a national symbol of the country.

There are over 100 within the expanse of the valley although their nocturnal nature means you’ll have to visit at night to see them. If you’ve ever wanted to step directly into a landscape before time, ZEALANDIA is a very reasonably-priced and convenient way to do so during your time in Wellington. Image credit: Zealandia View Experience

#49 - Cruise Lake Taupo

Where is it? Taupo, Waikato

Formed as a result of a volcanic eruption, Great Lake Taupo is the country’s largest lake and offers a range of opportunities for enjoyment - from angling, to swimming, to sailing - all accompanied by a wonderful mountainous backdrop. For visitors, cruising is the most obvious way to benefit from Lake Taupo's scenery, with different itineraries available to cater to what guests are looking for – whether it be taking in the Lake's famously beautiful sunsets, enjoying a lunch or dinner cruise, or getting an up-close glimpse at its famous Maori carvings.

These carvings are particularly impressive, measuring over 10 metres in height and only accessible from the water – and despite their relatively young age, they still emanate a sense of spiritual significance that can be felt by anyone who makes the trip out to see them up close.

Those looking for an aquatic adventure can embark on a cruise on Lake Taupo with local companies such as Chris Jolly Outdoors, Sail Fearless and Lake Taupo Day Out to experience the tranquil beauty of this popular North island destination's signature feature. Image credit: Destination Great Lake TaupoView Cruises

#48 - Explore the Catlins

Where is it? Southland & Otago

Located to the east of Invercargill at the South Island's tip, The Catlins is a stunning hub of natural and uncrowded goodness that intermingles the best of both coast and rainforest into a single gorgeous package. The diversity of environments in this relatively small part of NZ is amazing in the subtlety of its beauty; it's home to some secluded and gorgeous beaches as well as a number of individual highlights including Nugget Point, Parakaunui Falls, Cathedral Caves, and Curio Bay.

Make no mistake, this is not a part of New Zealand oriented around adrenaline-pumping adventure; the Catlins reward the traveller in search of peace and solitude and who is willing to put in some effort to discover some of its secrets. There's a definite "edge of the earth" feeling to exploring here, and it's not uncommon to visit even the most popular tourist sites in the region and still not encounter another soul.

The region can be explored on four wheels via the Southern Scenic Route for those shorter on time (operator Private Discovery Tours offer a guided option), or alternatively by the Catlins Coastal Heritage trail which takes around 5-hours one way to comfortably complete all of its individual tracks on foot. There are few better areas of NZ in which losing oneself is so utterly enjoyable. Image credit: Venture Southland

#47 - Photograph Dunedin Railway Station

Where is it? Dunedin, Otago

If there's a symbol of Dunedin that can make the best claim to being internationally known, then the city's famous railway station would likely be it. Featured on postcards New Zealand-wide, it's a marvellous building that was constructed during the days of NZ's boom period. The station, which still functions for a limited number of tourist-oriented lines, is something akin to an active rail museum. Older models of trains are on display out the front, while various vintage ticket counters, arched stained-glass windows and finely-constructed wooden staircases round out the feeling of stepping back in time; all it's missing are the steam trains.

No expense was spared when building the terminal that was once the country's busiest, and to this day its intricate construction and decorative mosaic floors make for a great sight to behold. There's a reason why Dunedin Railway Station is often claimed to be New Zealand's most photographed piece of architecture – all it takes is a visit and a stroll in its presence to see why, and being just a short walk from the city centre, there's no reason to miss out. Image credit: David Wall

#46 - Visit the Maori Rock Carvings in Mine Bay

Where is it? Mine Bay, Lake Taupo

Hailed as one of the most extraordinary pieces of artwork in the entire country, the Maori Rock Carvings at Mine bay on Lake Taupo were created over four years by five artists and were finished in 1980. Each of the individual carvings have their own story, telling the tales of the artist, Matahi Brightwell's ancestor Ngatoroirangi.

The best way to see these impressive carvings up close is with a scenic cruise or kayaking adventure on the famous Lake Taupo.

Located on the western bays of the lake, the rock carvings are a must-see attraction when in the Taupo region. A popular spot for photography, be sure to bring your camera when you visit this impressive site.Image credit: Adam Bryce

#45 - Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve

Where is it? Hokitika, West Coast

The otherworldly, turquoise-blue waters of Hokitika Gorge make for one of the brightest displays of many similar bodies of water on New Zealand's South Island, with the added benefit of being far more accessible to boot. Deriving its colour from ground rock-flour from regional glaciers, the colouration of the river within forms a drastic contrast with the surrounding grey-and-green environment that's prominent even on grey and cloudy days.

Reached via a combined drive from Hokitika proper followed by a short 650-metre walk, the gorge is yet another in a long line of highly photogenic bodies of water in NZ. The trail to the Gorge makes for a relatively easy journey, and is also suitable for those with strollers and wheelchairs, with its key highlight being a suspension bridge allowing visitors walk over the blue river before reaching the gorge to sit and admire its beautiful surrounds in peace.

For those who are chasing a more adventurous experience in Hokitika, the ability to travel further up the river to take part in a kayaking tour, jet boat ride or helicopter flight, and see it from above, exists as well. In all, it's truly a great visual reward in return for minimal effort invested. Image credit: Tourism West Coast

#44 - Ride the Otago Central Rail Trail

Where is it? Otago

NZ ranks amongst the best countries in the world when it comes to quality cycling routes, and its original ‘Great Ride’ - the Otago Central Rail Trail - is a key demonstrator as to why. Stretching over 150 kilometres, the trail’s wide, gravel path winds its way through both countryside and alpine areas, during which the scenery transforms from mountainous and rocky landscapes to farmland, vibrant rivers and prosperous towns.

There's also plenty of man-made heritage to soak in along the way, with much of the mining history that lead to the original railway's construction still in existence in some form. Old gold mining villages are mixed in with various landmarks and points of interest including Ophir Bridge, Hamiltons Cemetery and the Styx Hotel and Jail to go along with the inherent natural beauty of the Otago region and make each day of riding its own event.

The trail can be explored at your own pace with accommodation pre-arranged before heading out; alternatively, operator SheBikesHeBikes offer bike hire and a number of suggested itineraries for tackling the trail, ranging from shorter single-day journeys to extended 5 day trips that allow for a full sampling of all the track's highlights. Image credit: Dept. of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai

#43 - Walk the Heaphy Track

Where is it? Starts/ends at Karamea, West Coast

One of New Zealand's series of 9 “Great Walks”, the Heaphy Track is an epic journey through the Kahurangi National Park, NZ's 2nd-largest and one that's renowned for its coastal forests. The generally well-formed track on the West Coast is long, spread out over 82 kilometres and can be navigated over 4 to 6 days, with a number of well-maintained huts available along the way.

The Heaphy Track is ideal for beginners, as it ranks as perhaps the most gentle of the NZ Great Walks, and thus acts as a great introduction for gauging your endurance. The walk can be done in both directions with the journey from the west (starting at Collingwood and ending in Karamea) the easier of the two options, allowing you to focus solely on the beauty of its surroundings. Guided tours are available, too, through companies such as Bush and Beyond, Kahurangi Guided Walks and Southern Wilderness which help augment the walk with both insight and (potentially) quality food.

Lower visitation numbers and a long overall span lead to the Heaphy giving a greater sense of escapism than some of the other Great Walks, too, and it's possible to walk for hours at a time without seeing another soul. Image credit: Dept. of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai

#42 - Take an Aoraki/Mt. Cook Scenic Flight

Where is it? Aoraki/Mt Cook

The alpine regions of New Zealand make for some of the most visually stunning destinations for a scenic flight in the world, and with Aoraki/Mount Cook being the country's highest mountain, it's only fitting that it provides some incredible sightseeing opportunities from the cockpit of a helicopter or plane. Clocking in at 3,724 metres high, this is an impressive peak, and its surrounding glaciers and the characteristic ghost-white snow of the adjacent ranges make for a blanket of beautiful bleakness.

Ancient hanging glaciers, crystal-clear lakes, rivers of moving ice, and fearsome rocky outcroppings round out the scenery, while views of the towering Mount Cook itself make the sheer scale of the peak hit home. While the area is prone to wind and clouding, on clearer days the view is stunning, and even when shrouded by mist the peak of the mountain can often be seen poking its way through.

Flights in the region also typically include a glacier landing, with the ability to step outside and walk on the snow while taking some wonderful photographs. Due to its popularity as a destination, there are a handful of operators such as Air Safaris, The Helicopter Line, Tekapo Helicopters and various others that all provide the chance to see NZ's premier peak from the ultimate vantage point. Image credit: Air SafarisView Flights

#41 - Visit Auckland Museum

Where is it? Park Road, Grafton, Auckland

For an affordable dose of culture in Auckland, a visit to the historic and comprehensive Auckland Museum ranks as a must. The museum features a nice blend of both Maori and European historic influences which reflects Auckland's background as a whole, with a wide range of exhibits on offer.

Its key focus is the Maori and Pacific Island collection, which provides a touching inside look at the trials, tribulations and artistic achievements of both of these proud peoples. Polynesian art and artefacts in particular are intriguing to see, and its Pacific Masterpieces section on the ground floor showcases some of these at their best – it's hard for us today to believe that these people navigated the Pacific Ocean in mere canoes!

When visiting the Auckland Museum you'll have the choice of both exploring yourself or taking a guided tour which can provide more in-depth information on some of the sections for which information can sometimes be lacking. Lastly, a tip of the cap must be given to the park which the museum is found in – it's a stunning place in and of itself that, coupled with the architectural style of the building, adds yet another reason to pay Auckland Museum a visit. Image credit: Julian ApseView Tickets

New Zealand MapNew Zealand is a country that ranks among the finest on the entire globe when it comes to travel; few others can boast Aotearoa’s delicate and impressive mixture of physical beauty, strong cultural influences, laid-back locals and relatively untouched nature. The fact that all of this comes wrapped in an easily-navigable package makes a visit to New Zealand a relatively hassle-free experience for the aspiring traveller, and one in which it’s possible to soak in a staggering number of world-class attractions and experiences all within a compact itinerary.

First and foremost it’s the landscapes that makes New Zealand resonate with the hearts of most explorers; the country’s topography intermingles some of the best elements of the likes of Switzerland, the British Isles and and even a hint of Hawaii to form a diverse canvas that’s a joy to traverse.

Each of New Zealand’s Islands – and the individual sub-regions within those islands – serve as a microcosm of this; both North and South offer some stunning alpine vistas that hark back to prehistoric times and remain largely untouched by the influence of man, and the country is home to a number of truly striking peaks in particular. From mounts Taranaki, to Ruapehu, to Cook and near countless others, photographers both professional and aspiring will find themselves in their element with a visit to New Zealand; these majestic mounds are photogenic in the extreme.

The aquatic also plays a large role in New Zealand’s appeal; despite its imagery as a largely greenery-draped island nation, it’s the surprising quantities of gold and blue that help augment its scenery. The country is up there with the best on Earth when it comes to marine life encounters and experiences – perhaps best exemplified by Kaikoura‘s gorgeous coast – while a multitude of its beaches from Kaiteriteri to Ohope to Whangamata and everywhere in between are akin to something straight out of a postcard. Add in its incredible fiords and their deep, dark waters carving their way through dramatic peaks, and those with leanings towards the water will find endless opportunities to satisfy their wanderlust.

Volcanic and tectonic influences have been a large driving force behind shaping the country over millions of years, and as a result its many geothermal attractions have become symbolic of New Zealand as a whole. RotoruaTaupoHanmer Springs and a number of other locations offer travellers the chance to witness some of these striking phenomena in action, whether it be remarkable multi-coloured sulphur deposits, spouting geysers, or impressive displays of raw heat.

On the other end of the temperature spectrum, the country’s alpine regions and vast glaciers offer an entirely different experience; these massive ice formations serve as the foundation for a myriad of adventures ranging from ice hikes to helicopter landings.

Add in the strong influence of indigenous Maori culture and a number of associated cultural experiences ranging from live performances and in-depth museums, to historical landmarks, and you’ve got a cross-genre appeal that few other countries can boast.

New Zealand’s sheer quantity of things to see and do is beyond impressive – but what are its absolute “must-do” experiences? In our Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List, we highlight 100 of the most essential experiences that we feel best sum up the diverse and incredible highlights of the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. While much of it will be known to locals, we hope to both inspire travellers from afar to visit wonderful New Zealand – while also encouraging residents to get out and explore the best of their own, gorgeous, backyard.

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