We hope you like our New Zealand experiences although we have to admit, listing them like this was tricky! So, how did we narrow down the many wonderful things you can experience whilst on holiday in New Zealand? We discussed the options here at What to do in Wellington at some length and collectively decided to use this criterion – “which of our many combined memories made us smile the most?!”
Many people skydive in New Zealand. As a common entry on the ‘I-must-do-at-least-once-in-my-lifetime’ list of individuals it is also one of the cheapest places on the planet to realise this dream.
So, having decided to do it you then had to decide where. We suggest you go for a 12,000 ft jump in Glacier country (south island) so that when you hurtle towards the earth at 120 miles per hour you’ll be able to see mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and the ocean.
We are not going to attempt to describe the experience – if we were Charles Dickens it would be impossible anyway. Suffice it to say that once you have taken that ‘leap of faith’ out of the aircraft, you’ll be trying to persuade everyone you meet to experience it themselves!
Swimming with wild dolphins wasn’t just top of our must-do list but has been a lifetime dream for many of us. In our opinion, there are two companies who surpass all the others by a mile in every respect and they are Black Cat Cruises, Akoroa, South Island and Dolphin Rendezvous, Mangonui, North Island. Swimming with wild dolphins was and still is perhaps ‘THE’ most magical, unforgettable, wonderful thing you could do.
This appealed because we liked the idea of being on one of only two or three boats likely to be out on the sound once dusk fell. Nothing disappointed us about this trip. The scenery is awe inspiring and majestic, the wildlife fascinating and exciting and the wonderful tranquillity and peace of it reigned supreme. The almost unnerving ultimate sound of silence is in fact one of the things we remember most and it is made so much of that all passengers are asked to sit down while the boat’s engines are turned off to allow everyone to experience in full this eerie nothing.
Some of us also got to dive into the black ice-cold waters – no-one knows how deep they go. Swimmers are few – most passengers just choose to watch and laugh at the crazy ones. The waters are so cold they don’t just take your breath away but make it impossible to breath. You were called back to the boat after a few minutes to prevent hypothermia. An amazing experience.
At low tide, the rocky foreshore of Curio Bay is exposed and along with it the remains of a 180 million year old petrified forest. You can wander around this site tracing out very obvious tree stumps complete with knots and wood grain and also fallen trunks and branches, some of which you have to touch to convince yourself they really are stone. There are fossils, particularly of ferns, to be found too but these are well hidden unless you get very lucky or a local or tour guide points them out to you.
The viewing platform is great to take in the whole forest but the hours we’ve spent here have been more about watching the Yellow-eyed penguins shuffle their way ashore as night falls. No matter how many times you might return here the place fills us with the same awe and magic as the very first time.
Some of us were lucky enough to be taken here in a private boat by a friend but there are many tour operators which offer cruises, snorkelling trips and scuba-diving excursions. The waters of New Zealand don’t seem to be short of teeming sea-life no matter where you stick your head beneath the surface but the Poor Knights take it up many notches further. The ocean life here is the equivalent to a major aquatic metropolis thanks to the presence of vast underwater sea caves, tunnels and arches.
When a Kiwi friend suggested we take our body-boards and go sand surfing we weren’t really prepared for the sheer size of these sand dunes or the gut wrenching thrills which followed. Climbing the dunes felt like going up a mountain made of treacle and admittedly wasn’t quite so much fun but still we reckon you’ll do it over and over again. Sure, you’ll be left exhausted, with sand in parts of you which you probably didn’t know you had and a memory which several years on will still make you grin like an idiot!
New Zealand is second-hand wonderland – shops sometimes resemble Aladdin’s caves with lots of ‘treasure’ to be found of both ancient and modern origin.
The best of this is, to our mind, the second-hand bookshops which seem to crop up in even the tiniest of towns. Here you can find books often well over 100 years old for which you pay next to nothing – floors to ceilings are a book-worm’s paradise. Forget loading your suitcase with reading material – you can find everything you need here – old, new, fiction (of every genre), non-fiction, maps, magazines and so on – for a fraction of what you will pay anywhere else.
Not for claustrophia sufferers! There are more than one or two moments in the few hours you’ll be underground in pitch black, in which you will have to fight a feeling of rising panic. Kitted out with hard hats, wet suits, rubber boots and head torches our group of six swam across underground lakes, slid into water filled pot holes from a height, squeezed through impossibly small crevices, crawled on hands and knees through half water filled tunnels and rafted on inner tubes along an underground stream with the roof apparently full of stars which in reality was the light from the glow worms.
Now to say we had to be dragged here by our partner’s kicking and screaming isn’t too much of an exaggeration. You, like most of us, will probably set out with the full (and secret) intention of having a quick look around for form’s sake and then leaving them to it. Several hours later, however, you’ll possibly emerged from this wonderful museum. Be prepared to be moved to tears, you will be entertained and learn loads in the process – guaranteed!
This island is actually a live volcano and from the mainland most days it can be seen sending out clouds of smoke and steam into the sky. When you actually land and step out onto this incredible island it is easy to imagine you are on some hissing, steaming alien planet complete with lakes, bubbling mud pools and a bright yellow punctuated landscape where the sulphur crystals form into weirdly shaped masses. On the boat ride over you are given a hard hat and gas mask and briefed on emergency evacuation procedures (this is a live volcano and evacuations can and do happen). Scattered among the fascinating natural features are the remains of the island’s last sulphur mining factory now abandoned and ruined. Quite simply this place is amazing.
11) Te Papa Museum – Wellington
Unquestionably one of New Zealand’s finest museums right on the water front of Wellington harbour. Here you will learn about the Maori culture and history of New Zealand. With 4 amazing ‘Discovery Centres’ for children, this unique museum will keep you entertained for hours.
12) Matiu Somes Island, Wellington Harbour, North Island
This Department of Conservation (DOC) managed, pest free conservation island is a short ferry ride from down town Wellington but may as well be a million miles away for the peace, serenity and solitude it affords. Rich in Maori history this island has been a quarantine station (for both animals and humans) and a prisoner of war camp before becoming the wildlife haven for rare and endangered species that it is today. Here you can see the Tuatara – a large lizard-like animal found only in New Zealand with a lineage so ancient it is sometimes called the living dinosaur.
13) Gisborne, Eastland, North Island
Gisborne is technically a city with a few differences! For a start it’s the place to visit if you want to be the first to see the New Zealand sunrise. That said, perhaps it’s the beaches, the people, the weather, the street cafés, the best second-hand book shop in the world (complimentary coffee served as you browse)…..we’re not sure but it is an indefinable something that we think you will love.
14) Rarawa Department of Conservation camp site, Northland, North Island
By the riverside and underneath the pines is this basic DOC camp site. A two minute stroll (or a five minute paddle up the river on my surf board if the tide is right) brings you to the pure white silica sands and impossibly blue crystal clear waters of Rarawa Beach. The night skies here seem to have more stars than spaces and the only sounds you will hear are fish jumping in the river, the ocean if there is a big swell on and the far off lowing of the cattle.
15) Motutara Farm, Whananaki North, Northland, North Island
This is one of our favourite places on the North Island. Technically a camp site, known locally just as Barron’s (the name of the wonderful family which own it) it isn’t like anything else you will ever have experienced before. Take your pick from 3 beaches (dolphins and whales regularly come calling) or a river-mouth setting; pitch your tent in a secluded little nook carved out of the cliff itself to wake to ocean views or hideaway in a Pohutakawa valley which leads down to the ocean.
16) Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, South Island
Majestic, awe-inspiring, mysterious, mystical, evocative…..we could create a whole alphabet of adjectives and still be nowhere near describing somewhere which has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The sound of silence reigns supreme here in this place of waterfalls, dolphins, penguins and seals and for us is one of the best New Zealand experiences you will have.
17) Matai Bay, Karikari Peninsula, North Island
New Zealand is hardly short of places rich in the ‘oh’ factor but the twin sweeping crescents of pale sand beaches at Matai Bay are lapped by waters so stunningly beautiful it might just make you cry. If you really can’t tear yourself away when the sun sinks then no problem. There is a very cheap DOC camp site here which overlooks the bays.
18) Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island
Some of us have been fortunate enough to skydive here so this place holds a special place in our hearts but even without that magical memory Fox Glacier would still be in our top 20 list. The glacier is of course an obvious draw and the many things you can do here but this little township has a particularly appealing atmosphere and watching the antics of the kea will also keep you entertained for hours.
19) Lake Waikeremoana, Eastland, North Island
Despite the fact that you’ll find it difficult to pronounce without stuttering, Lake Waikeremoana is to us a much revisited place where some of us would go to gather thoughts, wander through Jurassic Park-like forests and immerse yourself in all that is beautiful and natural.
Lake Waikeremoana is also a lake you can snorkel in, to the edge of a sudden drop-off in fact, where gazing down into the black, seemingly bottomless void is both heart-lurchingly scary and wonderful.
20) Rere Falls, Eastland, North Island
New Zealand has more waterfalls of every variety (high, beautiful, dramatic, fairy-like setting) than you can shake a stick at. Rere Falls is to us super-special because it allows you to walk behind it like in Tarzan films. Then, to slide on the rock slope through the cascading curtain of water on your backside and end up in the swimming hole at the bottom. Although not one of the filming sites of The Lord of the Rings films, this place nonetheless is so magical that you always half expect to see Gandalf come wandering along.
For more detailed information about these top 20 New Zealand experiences please contact us directly at What to do in Wellington.
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