A List of Must Do Activities in New Zealand

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Backpacking in New Zealand: Top 20 Memories

I’ve been to New Zealand twice and both times to this disconnected country were enchanting, exhilarating, non-stop and yet over far too quickly.  New Zealand was the first country in Oceania that I visited, some two years before I even landed in Australia.  Both times, I traveled alone, often without purpose. It might be one of the furthest countries away from your hometown (as it was for me) but this list will hopefully convince you that it’s worth investing in some flights to New Zealand. It’s a country just aching to be visited by everyone. Here’s my personal top 20, though a top 100 could easily have been concocted.

“You’ll never see the end of the road when you’re travelling with me ” – Neil Finn (Crowded House).

Bungy Jumping in Auckland, North Island

I had just checked into my hotel in Auckland, jet lagged to the hilt and was asked if I fancied going on a bus tour of Auckland the next day, including the option to do a bungy jump. Why not?

Bungy Jumping off Auckland Harbour bridge in 2007

Breathtaking and transformative at best.

Bungy jumping in Auckland

Glow Worms Trek, Franz Josef Township, South Island

On my second visit to New Zealand, I headed to the west side of the South Island and ended up in Franz Josef for a few nights where I met some fellow travelers who joined me on a glow worm trek. Into the night, we headed with torches through the rain to catch evening shots of glow worms.

Climbing Mount Maunganui, North Island

Steve, Flavia and I walking up Mount Manganui

Mount Maunganui was a highlight as you can see from the views.

Amazing views from the top of Mount Manganui

“Sometimes you need to turn the wrong way round” – Neil Finn

Amazing views from the top of Mount Manganui

Palmerston North “Suicide Capital Tour”, North Island

Most people go backpacking in New Zealand to stay happy and tick off stuff on their Phuket List.  Palmerston North was once described by Basil Fawlty as “the suicide capital of New Zealand” so I made a beeline for it.

Touring the suicide capital of Palmerston North

Touring the suicide capital of Palmerston North

As I dandered through the town centre of Palmerston North, I realized how much I loved it. It’s a great city full of colour and vibrance and off the standard travelers list. Basil Fawlty might have been cool, but he was wrong.

“Dust from a distant sun will shower over everyone” – Neil Finn

A colourful building in Palmerston North

A colourful building in Palmerston North

Waihi Gold Mines, North Island

Together with friends Steve and Flavia, we drove to explore the Waihi Gold Mines, which was a real treat. On a road in the middle of nowhere are these massive mines and loads of information and machinery to go with it.

A massive truck at Waihi Gold Mines.

“Either side of the world, chase the sun. Pay the maximum rate to feel so lonesome.” – Neil Finn

Amazing views at Waihi Gold Mines.

Amazing views at Waihi Gold Mines.

The Other Belfast

I boarded a local bus in Christchurch bound for Belfast and on the bus a guy from Belfast (the New Zealand one) notices my Northern Ireland football shirt. It turns out he has family from Londonderry and spent some time in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland!

Even cooler, after explaining to me some sights to see in Belfast, Sam invited me into his pub for a beer – Robbie’s Bar – where we posed with the Belfast flag! The other one.

Sam and I in Robbie's Bar, Belfast, New Zealand

Running with the Unicorns, Wellington, North Island

Have you ever been to Wellington? Yes. Have you ever been to Mighty Mighty nightclub? Yes. Have you ever gone running with unicorns? Yes. Truly bizarre but in a nightclub that has a table tennis table on the dancefloor (with no winner – just hit the ball as you circle) you run around and around with a bunch of people dressed as unicorns. Yes, really.

People with blue hair and we are running with unicorns

Interislander Ferry, South to North Island

The best way to travel within the two islands of New Zealand is on the Interislander ferry between Picton and Wellington. Having spent a brave length of time working on the ferries in England, France and the Channel Islands, this was dreamlike journey.

South Westland Salmon Farm, South Island

Fishing is significant in New Zealand and in the remote south west corner of the South Island, I visited a salmon farm. Yes, a custom built indoor pool where they make sure there were salmon in reproduction to be caught and sold.

Touring the salmon farm in the south island

Seeing the Kiwi Bird, Rotorua, North Island

I visited the Kiwi bird in a special enclosure on the edge of Rotorua with travelers I met on the road. No photos inside of course and they are nocturnal.

Kiwi Centre - Backpacking in Rotorua, New Zealand

Paragliding over Queenstown, South Island

Queenstown is the world home of the bungy jump — I felt like a bit of Paragliding was needed when I traveled through Queenstown!

Paragliding over Queenstown, New Zealand

Pohutu Geysir, North Island

This is the most prominent geysir in the volcanic area.

Touring geysirs in volcanic Rotorua

Hamilton Gardens, North Island

Sometimes you just want to sit in nature, write and have a cup of tea. After the madness of Sky Diving and Bungy Jumping, I spent a couple of days in Hamilton. It was here where I relaxed by Hamilton Gardens.

Backpacking in Hamilton New Zealand

Sky Diving in Lake Taupo, North Island

Ahhh yes, the day I sky dived over Lake Taupo. I remember all the details of a mad day in Taupo.  So worth doing – consider it a transformative travel experience at best.

Sky diving over Taupo, North Island

Tamaki Maori Village, Tamaki, North Island

This country is Aotearoa in Maori, not New Zealand. The natives were here long before the British came in and it’s highly important to know and respect their culture. I headed to the Tamaki Maori Village in the North Island for a Maori performance and some Hangi food. It was another fantastic memory where they make me perform a dance and ritual in an old school custom built Maori Village by a fire. I was leader of my pack and got a souvenir to keep.

Franz Josef Glacier Hike, South Island

The Franz Josef Glacier Day Hike was brilliant and strange at the same time but oh so very beautiful every step of the way.

On the glacier hike on an icy cold day in Franz Josef in 2010

Zorbing, Rotorua, North Island

Zorbing (rolling down the hill in a huge ball) is a fun and exhilarating thing to do.

Jonny Blair zorbing in New Zealand

New Zealand micronations – Theocratic Unitary States of Holy Gearlist

– 4 Micronations – I’m very keen to check out the 4 Micronations that border or have bordered New Zealand:

1. Soviet Socialist Union of the Wakatipu (no longer active but the location is still there)
2. The Republic of Frigus
3. The Republic of Meropis
4. Theocratic Unitary States of Holy Gearlist (no longer active but the location is still there)

The boot at the Gumboot Manor

The boot at the Gumboot Manor, Taihape, New Zealand

People always ask me if I prefer the South Island or the North Island, but I think that’s unfair on Stewart Island, which is the real south island. The truth is that while the South Island is beautiful, the North Island held more interest for me — travel for me is more about meeting people than it is about hiking mountains. Yes, the South Island has better scenery but my best moments from this country remain in the north.

Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad who founded and blogs at Don't Stop Living. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
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