My Ten Favourite New Zealand Experiences

New Zealand


New Zealand is filled with so much natural beauty that it would be difficult for anyone to choose only ten favourite experiences.  Even with only two weeks in this astounding country, I had to leave out some truly great moments and places.  How could anyone forget listening to music at the otherwise deserted public washing-machine-turned-disco with the guy who was too drunk to communicate comprehensibly?  Or watching baby fur seals learn to swim a few feet away from you?  New Zealand offers some truly unique experiences that will make you never want to go home.

My Ten Favourite New Zealand Experiences


1. Visiting penguins



Penguin viewing was the entire incentive for this trip.  Despite visiting New Zealand during one of the worst times for viewing during the penguin’s breeding cycle, I was not disappointed.  Although I only saw one little blue penguin the night I stayed in Oamaru, I was very lucky to see about a dozen of the rare yellow-eyed penguins at Katiki Point Lighthouse near Moeraki.  Also at Katiki Point, while you’re waiting for the penguins to come home for the day, you can get your fill of seals swimming and resting below the rocky cliffs.


2. Watching glowworms light up the night


glow worms


The glowworm caves in Waitomo are a well known tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, the entrance fee of $50 NZD doesn’t fit with most budget travellers’ pocket books.  There are areas in New Zealand where you can see glowworms for free, but I was always too tired by the end of the day to venture into a dark cave that may or may not have leeches lurking in its waters.  With some regret and sadness, I accepted that my number two bucket list goal would not be achieved.  After completely forgetting about glowworms, a stranger approached me and out of the blue asked if I had seen glowworms yet.  I promised to keep his identity and the location a secret, but I can say that a select few and I had an amazing night hike through waterfalls and over slippery logs before arriving at a moss-covered glen.  The blue light emitted by these tiny larvae gave me a new understanding of the word beauty.


3. Soaking in a hot waterfall


Keresene Creek hotspring


Soaking in a natural hot spring had been high on my to-do list for at least a decade, but I had never even imagined there was such a thing as a hot waterfall.  Kerosene Creek is so relaxing and enchanting that it will make you want to cancel all your other plans for the day so that you can soak in the hot river until the sun goes down.  If you still haven’t got your fill, there’s no reason to leave when it gets dark.  Bring some candles with you to light the main pool and sip on some local wine for ultimate relaxation.


4. Hiking Abel Tasman


Abel Tasman


The Abel Tasman Coast Track was my first multi-day, solo hike and even though my feet were covered in painful blisters and I ran out of food, it was an otherwise perfect hike.  Rising at dawn each day, the trail was practically empty.  Gorgeous beaches with turquoise waters were around every corner and I did my best to swim in all of them.


5. Eating gluten-free fish & chips


Yes, fish & chips is on the list of top experiences.  It is nearly impossible to find gluten-free fish & chips in Canada (or even the US), so when I discovered that both Auckland and Christchurch have affordable, gluten-free chip shops, I was ecstatic.  Not only do these shops have gluten-free fish & chips, they serve a variety of battered and deep-fried seafood.  To top it all off, for dessert you can order a deliciously greasy pineapple fritter.


6. Checking out the cute town of Oamaru


Steam Punk HQ Oamaru


Before I left for New Zealand, my mother called and made me promise to not get into cars with strangers.  By the time I got to Oamaru, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  I hadn’t had a real meal in days and my feet were so sore I could hardly get around.  So when a nice looking, older man approached me in the park to comment on my hula hoop and invite me on a tour of the town followed by a home-cooked dinner at his place, I ignored my promise to my mom and jumped in his car.  At this point in the trip, I was willing to risk my personal safety for a hot meal.  I got lucky – The food was delicious, the company was great, and I saw so much more of Oamaru than I would have otherwise.

Note:  While hitchhiking used to be quite common in New Zealand, it is not seen as much anymore.  Obviously, getting into a car with a stranger always carries some risk and, as a rule, I do not advocate it.  In my case, this stranger was vetted by the hostel owner at Swaggers Backpackers.


7. Getting warm at Hot Water Beach


Hot Water Beach


Yes, Hot Water Beach is crowded with tourists, but sometimes when you’re travelling solo, you need to be around people and to be re-inspired by their excitement.  While I had no intention of going to Hot Water Beach, it was on the way to Cathedral Cove.   So my friend, who was kind enough to chauffeur me around the north island, and I made a pit stop.  Whatever else it may be, Hot Water Beach had the magical combination of soaking in a hot spring and swimming in the ocean.  Though there may be several other secret hot spring locations in New Zealand, Hot Water Beach is simply fun.   Find yourself a piece of real estate at low tide where the temperature of the water bubbling up isn’t too hot or too cold, dig a hole, and relax in your handmade hot tub right next to the crashing waves of the ocean.


8. Stumbling into a random winery


Sometimes Google Maps is wrong.  Sometimes it shows you a road that is, in reality, a farm.  Sometimes you still find your way to the cidery you wanted to visit only to find out the place has been closed for months.  But you don’t give up, you improvise.  You see a sign for a winery at the end of a long road and think to yourself, ‘This must be fate guiding me.’

This was how I stumbled into the Kerr Farm Winery.  There was not a single other person around at this out-of-the-way farmhouse.  Just as my friend and I were about to leave, a man stepped out of the house and invited us in for a wine tasting.  It was a strange and surreal experience sitting in his dining room with no other customers while he poured different wines.  But the wine was very good and the whole thing made for an experience interesting enough to make it onto my list of top ten experiences.


9. Hiking to Kitekite waterfall


Kitekite Falls


While not a physically challenging hike, the Kitekite Track is everything you would expect from the Waitakere region.  Enormous silver tree ferns and puriri trees line the path as you pass babbling brooks.  At the end of the 1.8km track, the Kitekite Falls drop gracefully into a small pool.


10. Watching the sunset at Piha Beach


Sunset at Piha Beach


There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in New Zealand and Piha beach is among the most spectacular.  Even if you aren’t familiar with the movie The Piano, it is easy to see why Piha Beach was chosen as one of the locations.  The cliffs wrap softly around the black sand beach giving the whole place a majestic and romantic atmosphere.  Climb up Lion Rock for an overhead view of the beach to really take it all in.

Two weeks is nowhere near enough time to see everything in New Zealand!  I would have loved to explore more of the islands going further south to Wellington and Fiordland.  Rest assured, no matter what you do, every experience will be your favourite!


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23 Replies to “My Ten Favourite New Zealand Experiences”

  1. How lucky are you to have been able to see the glow worms! It’s the best kind of experience to have a local show you something special and even more so when you aren’t allowed to share the location! I would love to go to New Zealand for the endless hiking opportunities and to enroll in a mountaineering course too. Will definitely keep this list handy for when it’s time to go!

  2. I love how NZ has something for everyone, and it sure looks like you made the most out of your trip. We visited 3 years ago and also loved the glow worm caves and seeing the yellow-eyed penguins!

  3. I loved the penguins! New Zealand is so far away from europe but i really hope i can travel there. It looks gorgeous

  4. I want to know the recipe for the gluten-free fish and chips. = ) I have read that it’s good to take a road trip in New Zealand. I hope I can do it in the future. I love seeing photos of New Zealand. They are always green and full of adventure.

  5. Omg, the penguin and the glow worm cave. I am absolutely dying to go to NZ but it’s high up on my husband’s list too and coordinating vacation dates is so hard. I love seeing photos of NZ; thank you for sharing.

  6. Some friends of our just got back from New Zealand. They loved it! I can see why after seeing all of the photos that you posted. It looks beautiful and there seems to be lots to do there.

  7. It’s the first time I heard about glowworms. I thought they were stars or fireflies at first glance! And the Kitekite waterfalls looks so breathtaking.

  8. New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries we’ve ever been to. Your post perfectly lists down some of the coolest things to do in the country. But what’s surprising is that those are just merely scratching the surface. I was surprised myself how many things you can do and enjoy in New Zealand!

  9. New Zealand sounds so amazing. It is higher on my bucket list now that I know you can see penguins there! Also, I am fascinated by the glow worms. I didn’t realize there were other places to see them besides Waitomo! Thanks for the tips.

  10. I had NO idea there were Penguins in NZ! 😮 A good friend of mine is moving to Rotorua soon to study, and I’m already making tentative plans to go out and visit him. Other than Hobbiton (because I’m a nerd!) I’m kind of clueless, but you’ve given me some much needed inspiration with this post!

  11. These are all amazing experiences. Penguins in NZ. Wow thats a must see thing. I like to try to visit and hike the Abel Tasman and just simply chill all day on the beaches.

  12. Kitekite waterfall is stunning. In my village in Yorkshire, England there is a fish and chip shop which offers gluten free, they are the best fish and chips in Yorkshire too! I’ve been on so many penguin tours but haven’t heard of the yellow eyed penguins, I thought you’d done some special filter at first glance!

  13. New Zealand is filled with simply stunning vistas, and natural beauty that defies imagination. Hot waterfalls is something I’m hearing about for the first time…interesting!

  14. I would love to go here! I love beaches and waterfalls and the penguins seem so cool. New Zealand is high on my list of places to visit.

    1. New Zealand blew all of my expectations out of the water!

  15. New Zealand has so much to offer, most of which are outdoors, which I love! The Abel Tasman Coast Track is an interest of mine if I ever make it to New Zealand. Those views along the trek and blue waters would make it that much more motivating to keep pushing through.

  16. The glowworm cave in Waitomo is something that’s been on my bucketlist for quite some time now! I cannot wait to see them in person one day. Great list of things to do in NZ, seems like I have a better idea of what to prioritize 😀

  17. These pictures make New Zealand look absolutely magical! I love when you meet locals and they take you to secret locations at the most perfect timing like how you got to see the glow worms. Makes the experience just that much more authentic.

  18. What’s amazing about New Zealand is that you can see so much variety in landscapes and animal life! Penguins? Like whattt!?!!? Love it!

    1. Penguins are the best!

  19. That penguin is the CUTEST. Oh my goodness. Your post is definitely inspiring me to head to New Zealand- bump it up the list!

  20. I am currently in New Zealand and I am enjoying the place. I am so glad I stumbled upon your post, Jen!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and hope you’re having an amazing time!

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