It’s hard to choose just five must-have experiences in New Zealand. The Land of the Long White Cloud is packed so full of incredible cities, towns, landscapes, and adventure activities that it can be hard to know where to start. How do you experience New Zealand to its fullest? How do you make sure you’re doing the right things and not missing out on essential NZ experiences?
Well, there’s no way to do it all, so here are five experiences that are unique to New Zealand’s culture and landscape. By surfing in Raglan, exploring Maori culture, doing a Great Walk, visiting Milford Sound, and experiencing geothermal activity, you’ll be well on your way to being well versed in New Zealand’s rich culture and attractions.
Let’s take a look at five must-have experiences:
1. Surf in Raglan
The charming beach town of Raglan is world famous in the surfing community for its black sand beach and long left-hand point break. In fact, the surf at Manu Bay offers what some say is one of the longest rides in the world.
With options for all levels from first-timer to advanced surfer, Raglan’s waves are not to be missed. Even if you’re not itching to get out there on a board, watching the surfers attempt to navigate the waves is nearly as much fun as being out there yourself.
If you’re going to hop in the water, be sure you have a safe surfing adventure by educating yourself about the beach, waves, etiquette, and emergency protocol.
2. Explore Maori Culture
A trip to New Zealand isn’t complete without some cultural immersion. Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) culture is rich and hugely relevant in New Zealand. While evidence of Maori culture is nearly everywhere in the country, from language to cuisine, a few places offer more cultural exploration than others, showing how integral Maori culture really is to Kiwi life.
Rotorua is widely considered the mecca of Maori culture in New Zealand — especially for tourists. In Rotorua, you can visit Maori villages, enjoy Maori food, experience a Maori theatre performance, learn about native medicine, and more.
Perhaps one of the best ways to experience Maori culture in New Zealand is to immerse yourself in natural landscapes. Nature is closely tied to Maori history, culture, and spirituality, and there are no shortage of significant natural spots and landscapes that have a Maori story tied to them. Try Tāne Mahuta or Te Rerenga Wairua, just to name a couple.
3. Do a Great Walk
New Zealand’s Great Walks are one of the biggest attractions the country offers. The 10 Great Walks (including one river journey) take you through some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever see, from alpine lakes and wildflower-covered valleys to wooded forests and mountain peaks.
While there are plenty of hidden gems in the South Island, the not-so-hidden Abel Tasman Coast Track and Routeburn Track offered some of my favorite tramping I’ve ever done. The views and trails are nothing short of spectacular.
Extremely well-maintained trails and accommodations, and the option for guided tours, make Great Walks quite accessible for a wide variety of people. Be sure to book tours and accommodation well in advance, as spots tend to fill up quickly.
4. Visit Milford Sound
Lauded by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth Wonder of the World, Milford Sound doesn’t disappoint. With waterfalls, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife, what’s not to love?
Do your best to book a trip to Milford Sound when the weather is clear. Fiordland is one of the rainiest places around, and overcast skies can often cloud the view of the sound. It rains 200 days a year in Fiordland, and the area averages 275 inches of rainfall a year.
Needless to say, bring your raincoat — especially if you book a cruise out into the sound (which you should!). The boat will take you extremely close to a waterfall, and you’ll likely get a bit wet.
5. Experience Geothermal Activity
Popular for experiencing Maori culture, Rotorua is also a hotbed of geothermal activity. With a plethora of both natural and man-made hot springs, the whole town often smells of sulfur. Some might say that’s a deterrent, but one soak in the healing waters will have you saying otherwise.
For a more spa-like experience, you can pay an admission fee to visit some of the pools right in town. If you want to experience geothermal activity in a more natural way, there are many pools that you can hike or walk to and that are free of charge.
There are many geothermal parks in New Zealand where you can gawk at the colors, sulfur smell, and power of the water bubbling up from below ground. Wai-O-Tapu is perhaps the most well-known. Mud pools, geysers, and sulphur pools make it unforgettable.
You might not be able to do every single thing New Zealand has to offer (unless you have endless time and money, that is), but if you want a true Kiwi experience, starting off with surfing in Raglan, exploring Maori culture, doing a Great Walk, visiting Milford Sound, and experiencing geothermal activity is a great way to go.
About the Author - Lettie Stratton spent a year and a half travelling New Zealand and found it, "absolutely unforgettable." Read of Lettie Stratton's work on her Contently page here.