Outdoor Adventures in New Zealand

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Outdoor Adventures in New Zealand
The land of the bungy, the zorb, and the jet boat is a testing ground for outdoor adventurers. Towering mountains, deep caves, wild rivers, and stunning fjords are all yours to explore.
By Guy Needham, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett/Tourism New Zealand
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    Adrenaline Adventures
    New Zealand’s reputation as an adventure playground is well-earned; you can free just about all your fears here. Skydive 15,000 feet over dramatic scenery, paraglide from steep mountainsides, or zip-line between native trees. The Kawarau River in Queenstown is home to the world’s original bungee jumping operation, where you can throw yourself off a bridge, headfirst, toward a raging river below. The bungee springs you back at just the right moment—unless you opt for a wet version. To combine island wine-tasting with zipline thrills, catch a ferry from Auckland to experience Eco Zip Adventures on Waiheke Island.
    Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett/Tourism New Zealand
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    Ride the Rapids
    The modern jetboat was invented in New Zealand. Thrusting down rivers at 50 miles per hour, spinning 360 degrees, and coming uncomfortably close to canyon walls are just some of the thrills of a South Island jetboat ride. The famous Shotover Jet has been joined by the KJet, so now travelers have a choice between two spraying rides. Not wet enough for you? Try class-5 whitewater rafting in the central North Island for a real fight against mother nature. The Wairoa River only operates for 26 days a year since a hydroelectric power station has to be shut down to release the water that carries rafters over the country’s most exciting drops.
    Photo by David Wall/age fotostock
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    Explore Way Down Under
    Black water rafting (or inner tubing through a cave) is dark and damp, scary yet exhilarating. The Waitomo Caves in the central North Island offer the best-known underground rivers. Outfitted in a wetsuit, headlamp, and helmet, you’ll ride rapids, float between stalagmites, and gasp in awe at the glowworms twinkling above. Advanced cavers can have the subterranean experience of a lifetime in the deepest sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere, Harwood’s Hole near Nelson. After a 45-minute walk through beech forest and along jagged limestone formations, you'll reach the sinkhole, which descends more than 170 feet.
    Photo by Matt Long
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    New Zealand for Lava Lovers
    The "youngest country on earth" was forged along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a geological pressure cooker that creates glaciers and volcanoes (and is susceptible to earthquakes). One of New Zealand's active volcanoes, White Island in the Bay of Plenty, is accessible by either boat or helicopter. It's an alien landscape pocked with craters, steaming with fissures, and smelling of sulfur. Auckland was built upon 53 volcanoes, the most prominent being Rangitoto Island just off the coast in the Hauraki Gulf. Daily ferry trips are available, and if you’re not keen to walk over lava, there’s always the land train to take you up the 850 feet to the top.
    Photo by Guy Needham
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    National Parks of New Zealand
    New Zealand’s stunning national parks have served as memorable backdrops for countless Southern Hemisphere adventures. With breathtaking fjords, dense rain forests, and white sand beaches, the parks overflow with natural beauty that's complemented by their isolation. The UNESCO World Heritage Tongariro National Park in the central North Island and Fiordland National Park on the South Island are two of the country’s stars. Nature lovers will delight in the abundance of endemic plants, rare reptiles, and of course the flightless national icon: the great spotted kiwi.
    Photo courtesy of Venture Southland/Tourism New Zealand
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    Under the Sea
    In 1985, French intelligence agents bombed and sank the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s flagship vessel, in Auckland harbor. Today the shipwreck lives in Matauri Bay north of the Bay of Islands and is home to a diverse set of subtropical marine species. Not far away is a dive spot that Jacques Cousteau rated among the top 10 in the world—the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. With crystal-clear waters, huge schools of fish, colorful plant life, and the world’s largest sea cave, it’s an exciting place to get your PADI scuba certificate. Diving in New Zealand is not just recreational; it’s often the way locals catch their kaimoana (seafood), such as crayfish and sea urchin. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to dinner.
    Photo courtesy of Dive Tutukaka/Tourism New Zealand
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    Walks to Remember
    The Milford Track in the South Island is so revered that a government minister declared it a must-do for all New Zealanders. The country’s premier walk is also so special that only 40 people are allowed on the three- to four-day hike at a time. Seeing this unspoiled landscape is worth the 33 miles of work, whether you carry your gear and sleep in backcountry huts or do the upmarket porter option. If you’re short on time, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on the North Island is a good bet. Emerald and blue lakes, volcanic formations, and snow-covered tundra make it the most popular day trip in New Zealand. Make sure you come well prepared for the area's notorious weather swings. A much shorter, but no less spectacular walk, is to Cathedral Cove on the North Island's Coromandel Peninsula.
    Photo by Bronwen Gregory
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    New Zealand's Favorite Mountains
    New Zealand’s mountains are nothing short of majestic. Sir Edmund Hillary honed his craft on the country’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, before conquering Everest. The Southern Alps are the spine of the South Island, with ranges such as Queenstown’s Remarkables providing stunning backdrops to glacial lakes. In the central North Island, the troika of Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe mountains dominate the landscape and occasionally put on a lava show to remind mountaineers that nature still rules. In Maori mythology, Mount Taranaki left his fellow mountains after losing a battle. He's now said to be brooding in the Taranaki region where he's planning his return. Until then, skiers and climbers can make the most of his conical slopes.
    Photo courtesy of Fraser Gunn/Tourism New Zealand
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    Cycling the New Zealand Countryside
    New Zealand has started to link up a national cycleway from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. There are already numerous routes, both road and mountain paths, that make for an active alternative to flying between towns. If you want to see the real New Zealand, this is how to do it. From Auckland, pedal south to the Waikato River Trails. Or head to the country’s best known cycling route, the Otago Central Rail Trail in the lower South Island, which was built along a 20th-century rail line. The 90-mile trail crosses old viaducts, passes country pubs, and enters dark tunnels; give yourself five days to explore. Other exciting two-wheeled options are the Great Taste Trail, incorporating food, wine, beer and art galleries in the South Island region of Marlborough, and the easily achievable, but still wilderness, thrills of the Old Coach Rd near the North Island's Tongariro National Park.
    Photo courtesy of Tourism New Zealand
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    Island Wine Time
    Lovers of New World wine will not want to leave New Zealand. Heady pinot noirs from Otago vineyards surrounded by mountains, some of the world’s best-selling sauvignon blancs from Marlborough, and bold cabernet merlots from Hawke's Bay will all leave a lasting impression. That’s before taking a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland to Waiheke Island, home to more than 20 vineyards and even more eateries. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t book a (very) long lunch. Local tip: Go early and soak up the sensational views of Auckland from Te Whau, Cable Bay, or Mudbrick Vineyards. It’ll be hard to put down that glass and leave. Other standout Waiheke vineyard restaurants are Tantalus Estate and The Shed at Te Motu.
    Photo by Sarah Reijonen