Keen to get out on the water?
Whether you’re into scuba diving, boating, fishing, kayaking or surfing, there’s plenty of ways to get wet in New Zealand. Here’s our pick of the top places to soak up the action – on, above and below the water.
With more than 15,000km of coastline and harbours dotted with islands, New Zealand is the perfect place to hoist the mainsail and shout ‘ahoy’. Good places to start are Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands. Crewed voyages range from a leisurely cruise on an historic square-rigger to several days on an ocean-going maxi-yacht. Take the helm of an authentic America’s Cup yacht on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour for the ultimate sailing thrill with Explore tours.
Ferry across the water
For a more sedate water exploration, cruise the sparkling waters of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour with Fullers ferries and learn about the city’s best-loved landmarks with commentary from the knowledgeable crew. As well as a brief stopover at volcanic Rangitoto Island, highlights include views of the Harbour Bridge, the city skyline, Devonport’s historic naval base and Bean Rock Lighthouse. The harbour cruise includes a free ticket to Devonport, which can be used anytime. Hop across and spend time exploring shops, cafes and galleries.
Kayaking with culture
Kayaking is an excellent way to really explore New Zealand’s magnificent coastline and inland waterways. Paddle out with the dolphins from the sheltered waters of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour to the spectacular volcanic Rangitoto Island. Hike to the summit of Auckland’s youngest volcano before watching the sunset over the Waitakere Ranges. The Auckland Kayak Trail abounds with Maori culture from Omana Regional Park near Maraetai to Waharau Regional Park in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges.
Canoe to paradise
Board an inflatable ‘funyak’ canoe and drift downstream into the heart of the world-renowned Mount Aspiring National Park to Paradise and on to Glenorchy on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown. Funyaks, available from the Dart River adventure company, are safe and easy to paddle. Explore the hidden streams, rock pools and dramatic chasms of the South Island’s magnificent Dart River; then travel the backcountry route visiting some of the famous filming locations featured in The Lord of the Rings movies.
Ride the falls
Jet boating is a uniquely New Zealand invention. Marvel at the water-level views of the spectacular Lake Taupo on board the Hukafalls Jet, while torpedoing down the river to play in the tail of the mighty white water of Huka Falls – the closest you can get without actually going down the falls. Get ready for the trademark heart-pumping turns and 360° spins. Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and is about the size of Singapore.
And so below
The late undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau once said the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, off New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, are one of the world’s top five diving locations. Dive wrecks, including the sunken Rainbow Warrior, drop-offs and sub-tropical reefs in clean, clear waters with Dive! Tutukaka. Explore huge kelp forests, swim with school fish or alongside dolphins. Learn about Maori history, the world’s largest sea cave, and the tuatara, the world’s only living dinosaur.
Swim in the glow
Under the green hills of Waitomo near Hamilton, lies a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. The cave walls are also covered with galaxies of glow-worms and stalactites and stalagmites formed over centuries by dripping water. The easiest way to see the caves is on a boat tour, but for a more adventurous experience try black-water rafting and swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube, or abseil or zip-line through the darkness.
Soak your cares away
Located at the juncture of two tectonic plates, New Zealand has a large amount of geothermal activity, with warm water bubbling up through the earth to form hot pools. Locals have enjoyed these soothing pools for centuries, some believing that sitting in mineral water helps with medical problems. Others simply enjoy the luxurious feeling of naturally heated water helping to relax weary bodies. For the experience of bathing in heated glacial waters, head to Tekapo Springs, about three hours’ drive from Christchurch.
Punting on the Avon
Punting refers to what has become one of the most iconic sights in the Christchurch region: a Venice-style gondola trip down the Avon River’s serene waters. Step aboard a classic-style punt boat – a flat-bottomed boat pushed along by a pole. Accompanied by a pilot in full Edwardian-themed clothing, you’ll head on a leisurely romantic cruise past some of Christchurch’s key highlights and local landmarks, which take on an entirely new life from the water.
Hang five (or 10)
There’s always a great surf break somewhere along New Zealand’s vast coastline. For a feast of great waves, follow Surf Highway 45 around the Taranaki coast which curves through 180 degrees. Further north, Raglan, Waikato has achieved legendary status thanks to its epic left-hand point break. Other North Island locations, such as Piha, Muriwai, Waipu, Gisborne and Mount Maunganui, are pumping when conditions are right. In the South Island check out Kaikoura and Dunedin.
Bag a big one
Fishing fanatics will be in heaven in New Zealand. December to June is big game fishing season. Head out from Russell or Tutukaka in Northland, or Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty and chase some seriously big fish, including marlin, yellowfin tuna and kingfish. New Zealand’s clear rivers and lakes provide excellent freshwater fishing brimming with rainbow and brown trout. Lake Taupo in the central north island is world-renowned for its trout fishing.
Swim with dolphins
There is only one place on the planet where you can swim with the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin – the Hector’s or New Zealand Dolphin – and that is the beautiful sheltered setting of Akaroa Harbour in New Zealand’s South Island. The dolphins are friendly and curious so they will usually come close to the boat. Once in the water the dolphins swim around and beneath you, as if to welcome their newfound friends.
Words by Kris Madden
Up for a little adventure?
Take a leap with bungy jumping
New Zealand is the perfect playground for the energetic and daring traveller, and nothing screams carpe diem" more than following in the footsteps of Kiwi bungy legend AJ Hackett. Back in the 1980s, Hackett kick-started the trend for taking a leap of faith off the Kawarau Bride near Queenstown and subsequently put New Zealand on the map as the home of all things bungy.
You can take the plunge all over New Zealand, from bridges or rail viaducts, off cliff-top platforms or even stadium roof! Book in an unforgettable jump off the Auckland Harbour bridge against breathtaking harbour views, dive into a river canyon at Queenstown's Nevis Bungy (the highest bungy in Australasia), or pay homage to where it all started by leaping off the Kawarau Suspension Bridge in Queenstown – the world’s first commercial jump site.
Delve a little deeper and go caving
According to spelunkers (the most serious of cavers), New Zealand's lush landscapes sit atop some of the most challenging and rewarding cave systems anywhere in the world. First-time cavers and seasoned pros alike will find themselves mesmerised by impressive stalagmite and stalactite limestone formations, glow-worm displays and subterranean rivers that exist below the surface of Aotearoa.
Waitomo, located in the Waikato region on the North Island, is especially famous for its underground adventures including black water rafting (not for the faint of heart in the wet season!) where you can abseil and tube through water-filled tunnels. Fiordland and the West Coast of the South Island also boast their fair share of naturally occurring underground lairs, including the longest cave system at Kahurangi National Park and Harwood’s Hole in Nelson, an extraordinary 183-metre deep sinkhole.
Ride the white-water rapids
Take a seat in the splash zone and see New Zealand’s world-famous scenery from the waterways on a rafting voyage. Adventure capital Queenstown on the South Island is the ultimate destination for white water rafting, with a rapid ride down Shotover River sure to leave your adventurous appetite satisfied. Also in the country’s south, you can explore the beautiful Franz Josef Glacier region by splashing through the icy waters with a team of eager rafters.
Of course, you can take in the pristine wilderness vistas via rivers in gentler circumstances as well. There are plenty of tranquil channels perfect for smooth sailing and easy paddling, in addition to the wet and wild waterways that are perhaps better suited to adrenaline junkies. Rafting rivers are graded from I to V (one to five) – the higher the ranking, the harder the ride. When it comes to adventure holidays, New Zealand ticks all the boxes.
Ready for a winter wonderland?
Ski the South Island slopes
When temperatures drop and verdant volcanic landscapes become cloaked in a blanket of white powder, New Zealand turns into a winter wonderland brimming with exciting alpine activities. Visitors at home and abroad flock to the slopes of New Zealand as soon as the ski fields are open for business, and it's easy to understand their enthusiasm!
The South Island alone is home to nine ski fields in close proximity to Queenstown and Christchurch, between them boasting an exciting variety of runs that trail through stunning scenery. The high alps of Queenstown and nearby Wanaka offer terrain to suit every skier, including heli-skiing for the serious powder hounds and charming après ski villages for leisure off the slopes. There are opportunities to carve it up on a New Zealand ski holiday in the North Island too thanks to Mt Ruapehu, NZ’s only skiable volcano.
Gear up for glacial hiking
On the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island lies the Franz Josef Glacier, highly regarded as one of the country’s most spectacular natural assets. Explorers can rug up and tackle on the icy terrain over a few hours starting with a scenic helicopter ride and ending in the Glacier Hot Pools. There are plenty of glacier tours for beginners and extreme adventurers alike, so everyone can experience glacier country at their own pace.
Just 23-kiloetres south of Franz Josef is its twin the Fox Glacier, larger in size but equally as captivating – the glaciers are at their biggest and best in winter. At the Fox, you can spend half a day hiking or climbing the World Heritage site, meandering through frosted valleys or even trekking the alpine peaks of mammoth Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.
Cold days and steamy hot springs
There’s arguably no better way to enjoy the natural therapies of New Zealand’s hot springs than by doing so at the crux of winter. After a day boarding, skiing, sledding or strolling the snowfields, warm your cockles by plunging into the temperate outdoor pools fed straight from the source – escaping the cold draughts whirling through the ski towns makes the experience all the more rewarding!
Boasting unbeatable views of Lake Tekapo and the snow-capped Southern Alps are the Tekapo Springs at the heart of the South Island, the perfect place to shake off any winter chills. The Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown and Hamner Springs a little north of Christchurch are also popular spots for post-ski relaxation.
A wonderland of winter activities
Winter in New Zealand isn’t just about skiing and snowboarding, though the country does pride itself on providing great opportunities for both. From June to August, New Zealand presents wintertime travellers with an assortment of activities both on and off the slopes.
While it may be a year-round endeavour, skydiving in winter awards daredevils some seriously spectacular snowy views, including the aptly named Remarkables. Back on land, you can spot a humpback, blue or southern right whale at Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island during migration season, or head inland to Queenstown for the annual Winter Festival – 10 days of nothing but après ski partying.
Skiing Around New Zealand
We give the lowdown on what slopes to hit in New Zealand, from Queenstown to Mt Hutt, based on your interests. Whether you're looking for the best apres-ski option, flawless powder or great facilities for your family, we've got the right pick for you.
Best for snowfall
Treble Cone – From late June to early October you can ride long, groomed runs in Treble Cone, the South Island’s largest ski area. The average maximum snow depth is 3.25 metres.
Best for food
Coronet Peak – Laidback mountain grub is the order of the day in Coronet Peak with venues like Heidi’s Hut at the base of the Rocky Gully T-bar serving up Italian-style fare and mulled wine.
Best for apres-ski
Queenstown – The party is relentless in Queenstown with several options on offer, from sipping lychee martinis at The Bunker or vintage wine at Bardeaux to dancing at The Buffalo Club.
Best for family fun
Mt Hutt – Kids ski for free? You read it right. When accompanied by a paying adult, children aged 10 and under receive free lift access at Mt Hutt. There are also childcare options and kids’ ski and snowboard lesson packages.
Best for exploring
The Remarkables – Beyond the resort’s boundaries you’ll find steep, exciting terrain and fresh tracks just waiting to be ridden and discovered. Ski-touring is popular from here, too.
Best for having it all
Cardrona – The runs are split into 25 per cent beginner and advanced respectively plus 50 per cent intermediate. There’s decent snowfall every year, it’s family friendly and very relaxed.