Get Your Outdoor Fun Fix in New Zealand’s Scenic Paradise
There’s a reason this island country is known as the home of adventure travel. From its Great Walks to cliff-diving, there’s truly something for everyone when it comes to getting outside in Middle Earth.
In a place so indescribably gorgeous, the great outdoors of New Zealand are always calling. On an adventure here—whether that means a casual hike or bungy jumping—you’ll enjoy the energizing, mood-lifting effects of being active with the extra benefit of Aotearoa’s unrivaled landscapes and scenic fanfare on land and water. Here’s how to do it right.
We recommend planning to stay at least three weeks to avoid saying, “I wish I had…” But shorter trips can be great too. New Zealand has now reopened to U.S. travelers after closing its borders in March 2020 due to COVID-19, and most will need proof of vaccination and a negative pre-departure test. Learn more about the current requirements for entering New Zealand here, including a NzeTA or New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority visa, easily obtained through an app. From there, you can roam freely in this glorious country.
Walk every which way
There’s a track or path that’s just right for you, so bring family or friends and hit the trail, slow or fast. Thirteen national parks beckon with all types of inviting and challenging terrain, more than 18,000 square miles of it, and protected natural reserves abound throughout the country. (Pro tip: What we call hiking is “tramping” in New Zealand.)
There are several shorter walks that take around 1-2 hours, like the North Island’s Rangitoto Summit Track in Auckland the South Island’s Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track in Canterbury, or the Blue Pools Track in Otago. Or take walking to new heights among sky-high redwoods on suspended bridges and platforms at Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua, North Island.
For those seeking more quality time on foot, New Zealand invented Great Walks, 10 different multi-day hikes throughout the country. Two options for spending a lovely four days are the North Island’s Tongariro Northern Circuit or the legendary Milford Track in Fiordland, located on the South Island.
23 great bicycle rides
While Great Walks are truly great, the many other incredible experiences include the mostly off-road 23 Great Rides of New Zealand which make up the NZ Cycle Trail. Choose from the North Island’s Hauraki Rail Trail in Waikato and the Remutaka Cycle Trail in the Wellington and Wairarapa area, or the South Island’s Otago Central Rail Trail.
You can even install the Great Rides App and go bikepacking, where you explore the Great Rides along with more remote areas. Ride from top to bottom of New Zealand on the Tour Aotearoa route. Sample the new That Place mountain bike park in the Whanganui area, North Island, and down south, Lake Dunstan Trail mountain biking in Central Otago, connecting Clyde and Cromwell townships.
Join the get-wet set
In this island country, you can hug the coastlines or paddle inland water by kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or vessel of your choosing. Kayaking is best done in the North Island’s Bay of Islands or Abel Tasman National Park, and in the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds of the South Island. If a flowing river beckons, the Whanganui is the longest navigable river in the country and flows through North Island, while Lake Taupo near Rotorua is also a serene choice with myriad views. Up north, Auckland Sea Kayaks’ Cavalli Island Expedition lasts three days, and Wild Fiordland’s Dusky Sound kayak and sailboat adventure shows off 300 islands in the South Island.
No one says you must bound down the rapids at super speed, but the opportunity’s there if you want it in grade-five waters and with qualified rafting guides. The North Island offers river rafting around the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay, as well as the Tongariro River near Lake Taupo. South Island rafting is a favorite near Queenstown and Christchurch. And, yes, you can raft off a waterfall near Rotorua.
It may not be fast, but the Discover Waitomo Black Labyrinth is fabulous. Experience black-water rafting in caves, on tubes through underground rapids, and below a sky of glimmering glow worms.
For another popular watersport in New Zealand, stand up and paddle away. With so much water, there’s so much choice in paddleboarding locations, including the North Island’s Bay of Islands, Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, and Gisborne, plus the Abel Tasman and Christchurch in the South Island, all summertime paddleboarding paradises.
Get your adrenaline rush
Bungy was invented here, so give it a fly at the original Kawarau Bridge Bungy near Queenstown at 141 feet. If that isn’t enough to increase your heart rate, Nevis, at 439 feet will do the trick. Oh, and you can jump nude if you want extra bragging rights. You can also leap off the world’s highest cliff jump, nearly 200 feet tall, at the Canyon Swing in Shotover Canyon.
As Kiwis like to say, “New Zealand is one big natural playground.” And there’s nothing like going to play and discovering that for yourself.