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Top 10 Things to Do

A guide to the 10 most unmissable sights in New Zealand.


A unique mixture of geothermal wonders and Maori culture have made Rotorua one of New Zealand's most celebrated attractions. Sulphurous steam vents, geysers and bubbling craters of startling beauty create an ethereal backdrop for historic Maori villages and therapeutic spas. Rotorua is consistently voted New Zealand's most beautiful city. You can also get a fascinating insight into the agriculture of the North Island from the Agrodome, famous for its sheep and sheep-shearing display, and its range of 'xtreme' activities.


A city on the edge of a spectacular snaking lake in the mountainous south of the South Island, Queenstown has become synonymous with wild, heart-stopping adventure activities - bungy-jumping, jet boating, parapenting, whitewater rafting, and much else. It is also a centre for more traditional physical activities such as trekking, horse riding, biking, rock-climbing, skiing and golf. For those in search of more leisurely pursuits, there's the Skyline Godola cable car, offering panoramic views, or cruises on Lake Wakatipu.

TranzAlpine Railway

This spectacular railway crosses the South Island daily from coast to coast, between Greymouth to Christchurch, a journey of 4 and a half hours. Reaching its highest point in the Southern Alps at Arthur's Pass (where stopovers are possible), it travels through forest and farmland, river valleys and gorges, and you can drink it all in from the open-air viewing carriage.

Bay of Islands

Located on the eastern side of its northernmost peninsula, this is one of New Zealand's most entrancing coastal regions. Dotted with 144 islands, the Bay of Islands Marine Park offers transparent blue-green water, secluded subtropical beaches and a wondrous range of marine life (dolphins, marlin, whales, penguins, seals). The 'Cream Trip Supercruise' takes you on a tour of the islands on a catamaran that also delivers the mail, and includes the famous natural wonder, the 'Hole in the Rock'. The historic settlement of Waitangi ('Birthplace of the Nation') overlooks the Bay of Islands. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840, between representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs - a lasting bone of contention, now the focus of guided tours and a range of cultural performances.

Fiordland National Park

The southwest corner of the South Island is one of the most spectacular regions in all New Zealand, and much of it has been preserved as the Fiordland National Park. As its name suggests, its coastline is shredded by fiords; the backdrop of snow-capped mountains rises to pinnacles through slopes decked with forests, lakes and waterfalls. One of the Fiordland's most famous beauty spots is Milford Sound, which lies beneath the pyramid-like Mitre Peak. Three of New Zealand's famous 'Great Walks' (trekking routes) run through the park: the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. These have become so popular that hikers have to book their slot well ahead of time if visiting in October to April.


If you want to see whales, head for Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island, in the north of the region called Canterbury. Here, sperm whales can be seen all year round, and killer whales and humpback whales pass on their seasonal migrations. For an unforgettable encounter with a whale, book a ride on one of the specialist boats or spotter planes.

Waitomo Caves

Here is another unforgettable encounter with nature, but of a quite different kind. The Waitomo Caves, in the Waikato region of the North Island, are limestone caves decked with stalactites and stalagmites, but what really sets them apart are the ceilings - ceilings glittering with the light of millions of tiny 'glow-worms'. In fact, they are the larvae of a cave-dwelling fly, which live in sticky tubes, emitting a luminescent glow to attract their food: midges that become trapped in their sticky threads. The effect is startlingly beautiful, and can be enjoyed from boats that pass through the flooded caves.

Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington

This is the must-see museum of New Zealand. It's the national museum, housed in an uncompromisingly modern building on the waterfront, completed in 1998. It contains a wealth of information, and interactive exhibits, about New Zealand's unique history and culture, geology and natural history. Maori cultural treasures form a key part of the collection, including a Marae (traditional Maori meeting place). The museum also mounts a regular round of cultural events (dance, performances, talks).

International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch

New Zealand has always been at the forefront of Antarctic exploration and research. At the International Antarctic Centre, visitors can get a real flavour of what it's really like to be there, through a remarkable simulation of Antarctica's extraordinary environment, in all its awesome moods. It's the closest you can come to being in Antarctica without actually going there. Other displays show the research currently being carried out in Antarctica.

Wine-tasting in Hawke's Bay

New Zealand has been producing top-class wine for decades. One of the best places to find out more is in Hawke's Bay, on the east coast of the North Island. The 'Hawke's Bay Wine Country' offers not only tours of the vineyards, but also gourmet meals based on revolving seasons of first-rate local produce.