By Helen Alexander |
Crystal-clear lakes, snow-topped mountains, rugged hiking trails – when it comes to finding ways to embrace the great outdoors, New Zealand has it covered. Whether you get your kicks on land, in the air or on the water, this selection of natural attractions is your essential guide to getting the best out of this adventure-filled destination.
Tackle Rough Terrain with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
You will however need to carry lightweight shorts, a heavy-duty rain jacket and a pair of gloves. That’s right – the weather along this rugged route can change in a matter of seconds, catching many unprepared ramblers off-guard.
But come rain or shine, those who do brave the variable conditions will be rewarded with some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery and landforms, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu. You might recognize Mt Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. So this trek also gives you bragging rights to say you’ve conquered Mt Doom and survived the Eye of Sauron!
A shuttle service drops walkers at the starting point in Mangatepopo Valley, which was formed during the last ice age, and collects them from the Ketetahi side of the track at the end, having passed through alpine meadows and pristine rainforest.
Most people stay in Taupo – roughly a three-hour drive from Auckland – where regular shuttle buses whisk walkers to and from the beginning and end of the track.
Where to Stay
Soak Next to a Volcano at Rotorua’s Thermal Waters
Forget beauty salons and luxury spas and opt for a pampering session North Island-style by immersing yourself in Rotorua’s geothermal waters.
Thanks to its volcanic terrain, this region in New Zealand is dotted with hot springs and mud pools – although due to the high sulphur content, some stinky sites are better for sightseeing than soaking.
Tread centuries-old rock as you weave a path past Pohutu Geyser – just five minutes from the city centre, it erupts to a height of 30 metres up to 20 times a day – and the colourful hot lakes of Kuirau Park.
But to actually step into this lunar landscape, head to the luxurious Polynesian Spa for a full-body mud mask treatment, the expansive Hells Gate mineral pool or the more rugged setting of Kerosene Creek – something akin to a toasty warm rock pool.
Rotorua is just under a three-hour drive from Auckland to the north and a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Wellington to the south. A number of bus companies run services along both routes.
Where to Stay
Make like a James Bond villain headed for his underground ice-bound lair with an Ice Explorer tour of the Franz Josef Glacier. Having been whisked to the awe-inspiring Pinnacles by helicopter, it’s time to tighten your crampons and grab a pickaxe before embarking on a thrilling walk through the region’s vast and frozen landscape.
Slide down crevasses, wander through pristine ice tunnels and trudge past walls of blue ice before recounting your feats of near-frozen bravery while warming up again at the nearby hot pools.
Franz Josef Glacier is approximately a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Christchurch, a five-hour drive from Queenstown and a four-hour drive from the lakeside town of Wanaka.
Where to Stay
Leap Off the Country’s Highest Bungee Jump in Queenstown
To fly through the air with the greatest of ease – or dive head-first towards the earth, depending on how you see it – head to Queenstown for a host of adrenaline-packed activities. The big, bad Bungee Jump in Queenstown that gets all the attention is the 134m-high Nevis, which promises a stomach-churning 8.5 seconds of freefall.
But there are plenty more ways to take to the air in the Queenstown region. There’s the world’s biggest swing at The Ledge, where thrillseekers can soar on a 400m arc over the town at night, the original Bungy site at the 43m-high Kawarau Bridge – the place to cling to a loved one and share the thrill of a tandem jump – and three 130m-long zip lines that reach speeds of up to 60km/h.
Situated towards the bottom of the South Island, Queenstown is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from rugby mecca Dunedin and offers great access to the fjord region and natural attractions such as Milford Sound.
Where to Stay
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Adrenaline junkies are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation, from the dormitories and private rooms offered at budget-friendly options like the YHA Queenstown Lakefront to the super-luxurious The Spire Hotel, which is located near region’s ski slopes.
Water: Float Away at Abel Tasman National Park
It is New Zealand’s smallest national park, but what Abel Tasman lacks in size it makes up for in beauty – by the bucketload. And while it might be tempting to set up camp on the sand of one of the golden beaches, there simply isn’t time for sunbathing, thanks to the range of aquatic adventures on offer.
Check out sheltered coves that can only be accessed by water on a boat trip, or paddle along the Kaiteriteri coastline and out to unspoilt islands or even a fur seal colony in a sea canoe.
Located at the top of the South Island, the park is easily accessible from the towns of Motueka, Takaka and Kaiteriteri, and an 80-minute drive from Nelson, where most ferries depart for the North Island.
Where to Stay
Photo credits: Getty Images