New Zealand packs quite a reputation for a country so far out on the map. Whether it is surfing in the ocean, hiking up a volcano, or skiing down the glacial slopes, the two islands combined present such a varied topography that there is no shortage of adventures. Moreover, NZ is overflowing with history and culture. Māori influence is evident in rugby, food, and entertainment, and the locals are more than delighted to pass on their knowledge to anyone who is willing to learn.
With so many things to see, taste, and do, it is easy to be overwhelmed by a sensory overload. This is why we have carefully selected eight of the best tours in NZ to help you make the best of this paradise on earth.
1. Milford Sound Multi Transport Tour
Milford Sound on the South Island is a spectacular fjord carved by glacier erosion during the Ice Age. The narrow inlets are flanked by steep cliffs that cast a protective shadow over the waters. From these towering peaks, waterfalls cascade down in a continuous roar, some from as high as 100 m (328 ft). The fjord is also teeming with wildlife such as fur seals and penguins.
On the Milford Sound Mariner Overnight Cruise, you will be able witness these magnificent creations of nature for yourself. The journey begins on land with a scenic drive from Queenstown to Te Anau, the beautiful countryside known as the gateway to Milford Sound. From there, you will board a cruise to travel through the inlets, where the occasional curious dolphin might swim by to say hello. There is also a chance to kayak and explore the shores when the cruise docks at Harrison Cove.
2. Small Group Franz Josef Glacier Walk
The white peaks of Franz Josef Glacier are impressive from afar. However, to truly appreciate why it draws thousands of awestruck visitors each year, you must experience scaling up the glacier for yourself.
The dynamic landscape of the glacier shifts almost daily due to the fast flow of melting snow. Nevertheless, under the care of a guide, it is safe to explore the higher altitudes of the glacier. After a safety briefing at the base, where you will be equipped with the necessary gear, a scenic helicopter ride flies you over the breathtaking Southern Alps onto the top of the Franz Josef Glacier. There, you will go on a one to two hour hike along an ethereal route, where scenes of soaring ice pinnacles and deep crystalline crevasses unfold before you. As a bonus, the tour ends with a trip to the Glacier Hot Pools, where you can almost feel the tension in your muscles melting away in the heat.
3. Black Water Rafting Waitomo Caves Tour
The name Waitomo derives from the Maori words Wai, which means water, and tomo, which means hole. Yet this understates the fascinating phenomenon that are the Waitomo Caves. In the darkest depths of these tunnels, native glow worms light up the layers of ancient limestone in a stunning display of iridescence.
While a walking or boat tour might suffice to see this surreal sight, a more memorable excursion is to view it on a raft. Float and careen through the network of tunnels in Waitomo caves on an inner tube. Even better, rappel 37 m (121 ft.) into the dark waters for an exhilarating adventure of canyons and waterfalls in The Dark Abyss. Whichever way you choose, you will feel as if you have traversed a different realm when you finally emerge into daylight.
4. Whakarewarewa Māori Village
Anyone who travels to New Zealand can appreciate how monumental Māori culture is to the Kiwis. From daily conversations to sacred ceremonies, the history and language of NZ’s indigenous people are imprinted deeply into the local way of life.
At the Whakarewarewa Māori Village, participants will get to partake in the practices of an actual Māori community. Learn about the significance of these traditions from residents of the village. Tread the grounds of historical buildings and sacred sites. Be awed by the roars of the Kapa Haka Groups during the cultural performance. To end the tour, request for dinner served in a sumptuous hangi, a traditional Māori meal cooked over natural geothermal waters. The Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe have been hosting visitors for more than 200 years, so you can be assured of a warm welcome to the village.
5. ‘Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Most people already know what Hobbiton looks like. The stout hobbit holes, framed by rolling hills and graceful trees, are an iconic sight. However, did you know that the Shire is part of an operational farm with more than 13,000 sheep and cattle? Or that Peter Jackson had all the frogs moved from the Frog Pond because they were too distracting?
These are just some of the fun facts that you will learn on the 2.5 hour Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. The tour takes you on a scenic drive through Rotorua before arriving at the Shire. There, you can see for yourself the places where the Hobbits and Gandalf revelled and conferred before their epic journey. While certain scenes required heavy construction of the location, the owners have also made it a point to preserve the natural splendor of the landscapes as much as possible. Peter Jackson took a look at the place and fell utterly in love. Without a doubt, you will too.
6. Full Day Waiheke Island Food and Wine Tour
Just a 40 min ferry ride away from Auckland, Waiheke is an oasis of artisanal produce. Waiheke is fast gaining a reputation for its vineyards, some nestled in valleys and others atop sunny hills, which produce an array of quality wines. Many of these wineries have their own gourmet restaurants where visitors can expect to be served the freshest farm to table delicacies.
On this tour, you will get a chance to see the producers working their magic with a visit to an olive mill and two premium vineyards. You will get to sample some of Waiheke’s most famous produce, such as luscious wild honey, freshly caught seafood, and creamy rich cheeses paired with fragrant olive oil. The picturesque island ranks high on many must-visit destination lists. On this unique full-day experience on the Island of Wine, you will be able to attest to Waiheke’s allure for yourself.
7. Full Day Abel Tasman National Park Hiking Tour with Cruise
The Abel Tasman Coast is know for its golden bays, with turquoise waters gleaming on its left, and the lush forest of the National Park extending far to its right. On this one-day coastal track, a private vehicle takes you from Nelson to the seaside town of Kaiteriteri, passing by blossoming gardens and orchards brimming with fruit along the way.
There, a water taxi awaits to ferry you across the crystal-clear bay waters. The significance of Abel Tasman becomes all the more keen as a guide relays the history of the area and the diverse ecology of the region.
After lunch on the idyllic Torrent Bay beach, it is time for a trek. Feel the sand shift beneath your feet and the salty air fill your lungs, as you embark on the final trek around the estuary to the Anchorage campsite. This coastal cruise and hike tour is the perfect way to appreciate the beauty of the Abel Tasman region.
8. Christchurch to Queenstown via Mount Cook One-Way Tour
Sometimes, the only way to take in the unblemished majesty of South Island is on an 11hr coach ride, with a knowledgeable guide at the helm. The journey traverses almost the entire length of the island, going past Mount Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo – where the dazzling turquoise water is fed directly from the alps, and the rocky Canterbury Plains, known better to Lord of the Rings fans as the wild city of Endora.
It also includes a stop at the tranquil Mount Cook Village, from which you can simply rest and be humbled by the soaring peaks of the mountain range, or venture closer for an inspection of nature’s wonder. There is also a second stop at Omarama, a small town in Otago where you can get a feel of rural New Zealand.