A bucket-list is so important because it helps you prioritise the things that you really want to do and see! It was hard to whittle down such an amazing, beautiful country but here are my absolute top bucket-list experiences from my trip around New Zealand.
1) Road Trip
(The day we sold the car in Auckland!)
I was desperate to explore New Zealand in a camper-van. I’d traveled the East Coast of Australia in a little camper-van the year before, and I think it’s the absolute best way to see a place. I was with my boyfriend, and we had absolute freedom to see Australia exactly the way we wanted. Often, we found ourselves spotting signs for something that sounded interesting, and impulsively changing our route. I wanted the same experience for this trip, so we actually ended up buying a converted Mitsubishi Grandis. It had two normal seats in the front, then the back was just one big bed, with storage underneath. We bought it in Queenstown at the end of our working holiday visa, and we found this was by far the cheapest way to get a vehicle, especially as we were hoping to sell it on at the end of our trip. It’s obviously a risk buying a car, but for us it really paid off and our little camper took us all around New Zealand, and gave us exactly the freedom and experience we wanted!
2) Bungee Jump
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, so there was no way I could leave without attempting one. I actually ended up doing it on my birthday which could have really backfired and ruined the day!
I did mine through a company called A.J Hackett, which is the biggest bungee company in Queenstown. It is probably going to be the most expensive 5 seconds of your life- standard price for one person is around $180 NZD (look for deals before booking!) but to be fair, they are really great at building up the atmosphere and making it feel like a real experience! I ending up absolutely loving the whole thing (even though on the bus there, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it). I would 100% recommend splashing out and just going for it- after all, travelling is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and you can't get much more drastic than stepping off the edge of a bridge.
4) Stargazing at Lake Tekapo
Tekapo is situated in an International Dark Sky Reserve, which means it is one of the best places in the world to stargaze. On a clear night, the sight is absolutely breathtaking, so it is well worth being a little flexible with your dates in Tekapo and waiting for a cloudless night.
I ended up doing the Crater Experience at the Dark Sky Project. The experience started at 1am and we got back around 3am, so it was a late night, but it was really amazing. The guides were so knowledgable, passionate and the telescopes that they were using were fascinating. Especially doing it in such a world-famous location, it felt very much like a 'once in a lifetime experience'. However, again, it is pretty pricy at $129 NZD per person, so a more affordable option would be to opt for the 'self guided' tour of just laying out under the star's and googling what you should be looking at.
5) Hooker Valley Hike at Mount Cook
Mount Cook is arguably one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, with towering snow capped mountains and huge floating icebergs, even in the middle of summer. Even just the drive towards Mount Cook is breathtaking!
There are lots of amazing hikes to do around Mount Cook, all varying in difficulty and length, but the most popular is the Hooker Valley track. It is only 5kms in length, only gains about 100m in height and is a well formed track so it is accessible to even the most reluctant of walkers!
6) Wine Tasting
(The three stages of a glass of wine)
New Zealand produces some of the best wine in the world, so it would be criminal to not visit some local wineries on our trip. We found by far the most affordable way to do this was to hire some bicycles and cycle out to the cellar doors, where we found standard pricing for a tasting menu of around 5 wines was $5-10 NZD (if you are on even more of a budget- which was definitely us- you can also share one menu!) I visited wineries at Hawkes Bay, Blenheim and Nelson, but I also know that Queenstown, Gisborne and Waiheke Island are great spots.
7) Hot Pools
New Zealand is scattered with hot springs, both natural and manufactured and there is pretty much no better way to spend an afternoon than soaking in a hot tub in the middle of beautiful scenery. My personal favourites were Tekapo and Hanmer Springs, which also has water slides! If you fancy a more upmarket, romantic version, visit the Onsen Hot Pools near Queenstown. You hire your own individual cedar-lined hot tub that looks over the Shotover River canyon. I went in the evening, and it was so beautiful with all the stars and silhouettes of the mountains. On the other end of the spectrum, for a free version check out the natural hot springs Otumuheke Stream at Lake Taupo!
8) Drink Coffee in Wellington
As well as being known as the 'windy capital of the world', Wellington is famous for its food, culture- and coffee. I am one of these absolutely obsessed, cant-move-in-the-morning-without-coffee kind of people, so for me, I was so excited to visit some of the infamous independent coffee shops dotted around Wellington. We ended up blowing most of our budget on about 12 coffees a day, but I can honestly say that I have no regrets. Our personal favourites were Lamason Brew Bar, Milk Crate and Customs.
9) Kayak in Kaikoura
One of the best things I did while travelling New Zealand was sea kayaking in Kaikoura. Kaikora itself is a really quirky, cool little beachside town and one of the main attractions is whale watching tours, and dolphin and seal tours.
The whale watching tours are usually done by helicopter and so are more pricy (though lots of companies offer a 'if you don't see one, you get your money back' offer), and the dolphin and seal tours are done by kayak. I opted for the kayak version and it was such an incredible experience! We were lucky enough to get super close to some dolphins and it was amazing seeing all the seals laid out on the rocks.
Because of the waves in the sea, the kayaking could be a little tough at some points but the tour took lots of breaks and you always felt like you were in safe hands.
Whether you are a Lord of the Rings fan or not, Hobbiton has to be on your New Zealand bucket list. The perfectly preserved movie set depicts Frodo's home in the LOTR trilogy, and stars again in the prequel 'The Hobbit'. The set was opened to the public in 2009 and offers guided tours (annoyingly, no self guided tours) around 44 perfectly preserved hobbit holes. It's pretty expensive at $89 NZD for 17 and over, and $44 NZD for under sixteens and I did find that group sizes are pretty big, and it is a little rushed as they start a new tour every fifteen minutes. However, for that price you get a super knowledgable guide, a free drink in the famous Green Dragon pub and it is a real once in a life time experience!
My friend is a pilot training near Hamilton, and he took this photo flying over Hobbiton. Crazy to see the contrast between the grass of Hobbiton that is watered, and the dead grass around it due to drought!
11) Learn About Maouri Culture
New Zealand as a country really embraces its traditional roots, so it was an amazing experience to learn about Maouri culture. We went to visit Whajarewarewa in Rotorua, which is a living Maouri village. They offer a group guided tour of the village, and explain how they use natural geothermal resources to cook, bathe and heat their homes. I thought this was such an amazing experience! The guides are all local and direct descendants of the early settlers to the village, so it made the entire tour feel really personal and they were confident
in answering any questions.
At the end of the tour, there is also an opportunity to watch a traditional Maouri dance and performance (included within the ticket price). For me, this was the highlight of the entire experience, especially seeing an authentic Hakka!
New Zealand is such a diverse and beautiful country that this bucket list barely makes a dent in all the amazing things to do, but I think it makes a good starting point!
Hope it helps when planning your next New Zealand adventure! ✈️