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Geo domes near Wanaka

New Zealand is renowned for its natural beauty. Here are some of the best nature experiences in New Zealand which celebrate the rugged mountains, atmospheric fjords, rolling hills, native animals, and remote wilderness areas that have earned New Zealand world-wide acclaim.

Go ziplining in Queenstown

Ready for an eco-tour with a difference? Kererū are known for eating fermented berries from native plants which make the huge pigeons experience the sensation of being drunk. This makes them ‘drop’ out of trees before flying tipsily down to the forest floor, a feeling the Queenstown ziplining Kererū Tour mimics with its 21 metre high jump from a platform deep in the forest. In between scaring yourself silly on ziplines and the tour’s big drop, guides share a kererū conservation story which explains how this tipsy bird – which has been honoured with the title ‘New Zealand’s Bird of the Year’ – is set to save the planet. 

Stroll along the Blue Pools Track

Widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s best short walks, you’ll find the Blue Pools Track along Haast Pass, between Wanaka and the West Coast. The walk begins with an easy stroll along open flats with spectacular mountain views before you pass through a beech forest and arrive at a swing bridge over the Makarora River. Keep going to the second swing bridge as this offers the best view of the Blue Pools. Walk to the end of the bridge for great views up the river gorge. You won’t need to turn up the colour saturation on Instagram when you post photos from this short but sweet walk. Mother Nature has already dialled up the blue for maximum effect.

Sledge down the Kaituna River

Bring your swimwear, towel and a sense of adventure and zoom through the towering gorges of the Kaituna River on a riverboard. You need to be at least 15 years old, physically fit and a confident swimmer to do this Rotorua tour. Apart from that, simply jump in and go with the flow. There are panoramic views of Kaituna Falls to enjoy along the way but don’t worry, you won’t have to plummet down them on your sledge. Don’t forget to look up an enjoy the scenery as you travel along the river and bounce over small rapids along the way.

Kaituna River Sledging
Kaituna River Sledging

Book a Milford Track day walk

If you want to experience the Milford Track there is no need to tackle the whole walk. A Milford Track day tour showcases the best of Milford Sound in just one day. After a coach transfer from Te Anau to Milford Sound it’s a short boat ride to Sandfly Point followed by an easy 11 kilometre round trip walk along the Arthur River to Giant Gate waterfall. After a return boat ride to Milford, there’s time for a Milford Sound scenic cruise before the bus trip back to Te Anau.

See glowworms at Waitomo

Walk, wheel or travel by boat into a cave at Waitomo and view thousands of Arachnocampa Luminosa glowworms which can only be seen in New Zealand. This incredible sight is a major drawcard for international tourists but locals currently have the glowworms’ sparkling bottoms all to themselves. Tours include legends and stories that bring this place to life. Some guides are direct descendants of the Maori chief who originally explored the cave.

Guided Maori forest tour

Discover New Zealand’s largest remaining stand of kauri and keep an eye out for owls and kiwi on a guided Twilight Encounter Guided Maori Forest Tour with a Māori guide in the Waipoua Forest near Omapere.  Stories, legends and tales of Tane Mahuta (the god of forests and birds) bring this tour to life as the sun sets and the surrounding landscape is filled with the sounds of nocturnal animals. There’s time to soak up the sounds of the forest and visit the world’s largest kauri tree before the bus takes you back into town.

Guided Maori forest tour
Guided Maori forest tour

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Hike the Northern Volcano Circuit

Experienced trampers will enjoy this eight-day self-drive Northern Volcano Circuit hiking tour which combines three guided walks with car hire and accommodation. Start your trip in New Plymouth before tackling Mt Taranaki, a 12km hike with spectacular views, then strap on those boots for a private guided trek along the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s best and most challenging day walks. Rotorua is the perfect spot to soak any aching muscles before you hit the trails in the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and return your hire car to Auckland the following day.

Tackle the Old Ghost Road

Follow the original 1870s trails used by early gold prospectors on a self-guided walk along the Old Ghost Road. You’ll traverse remote valleys and alpine plateaus and follow mighty river gorges as you hike this historic miners’ route. This walk is best for experienced hikers as you’ll need to carry a full pack with accommodation provided in well-equipped private huts. The region’s heritage and rugged beauty makes this walk well worth the effort.

Explore the Wanaka wilderness

You don’t need to be super fit or an experienced camper to enjoy this three-day Wanaka Wilderness Explorer alpine heli-hiking tour. Each tour is designed especially for you and you’ll stay in one of two private Geo Domes tucked away in the remote McKerrow Ranges. After a scenic helicopter flight over the Southern Alps, you’ll spend two days enjoying guided backcountry hiking adventures tailored to suit your interests, fitness level and the local weather conditions. After a tasty dinner cooked by your guide there’s time for stargazing before you drift off to sleep. This bespoke hiking adventure comes with a private guide and offers untouched natural beauty and serene solitude.

Geo domes near Wanaka
Stay in geo domes near Wanaka

Swim with dolphins at Akaroa

Summer is the perfect time to leap into the “refreshing” waters of Akaroa Harbour and swim with Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species. After donning a wetsuit and receiving a briefing, you’ll cruise around Akaroa harbour until someone spots some dolphins. If the pod exhibits playful behaviour, swimmers are permitted to jump in the water. If the dolphins look like they’re losing interest, you’ll have to get back in the boat so keep them entertained by making noises underwater or spinning around on the spot. The wildlife calls the shots and it’s the humans who have to perform on this nature tour.

Go bird spotting at Zealandia

See up to 40 species of birds including playful Kākā parrots, endangered hihi honeyeaters and bright green kakariki at Zealandia, a 225 hectare eco-sanctuary just outside Wellington. There are walking trails to suit all ages and fitness levels. Don’t miss the free tours lead by passionate volunteers who are experts at spotting hard-to-find birds. Zealandia is also home to more than 100 kiwi but as the birds are nocturnal it’s unlikely you’ll see them during the day. Your best chance of spotting one is to join a Zealandia By Night Tour which also includes the chance to see morepork, wētā, glow worms, tuatara and more. 

Say hello to Farewell Spit

New Zealand is home to one the world’s longest and most ecologically significant sandspits and the best time to visit it is in summer. At this time of year, more than 50,000 migratory birds fly all the way from Alaska and Russia to feed at Farewell Spit after their long journey. Sand dunes shaped and covered with undulating ripples created by the wind run down the centre of the spit. Climb to the top of one and you’ll enjoy 360 degree views of Abel Tasman National Park, the rugged mountains of Golden Bay, Cook Strait, the rolling ocean and the spit. There’s also a historic steel lighthouse and Fossil Point, with its perfectly formed fossilised seashells and layers of natural history, to explore.

Farewell Spit
Climb a sand dune at Farewell Spit

Go wild on Stewart Island

More than 85 percent of Stewart Island has been declared a national park plus it’s the world’s southern-most Dark Sky Sanctuary. Day or night, you can indulge your love of nature and the great outdoors on New Zealand’s third largest island. Explore the many walking tracks, spot seabirds and penguins on a boat trip, swim at peaceful Bathing Beach or bring a telescope and gaze at the heavens above. This nature-lovers paradise offers something to suit every budget, age and ability.

Explore New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands

Set sail for New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands on a seven-night round-trip wilderness expedition from Invercargill which explores the rugged and remote Enderby, Campbell, Snares, and Auckland Islands. You’ll visit windswept Rata forests and albatross colonies, wade through fields of megaherbs and spend Christmas Day hanging out with sea lions and their pups at Enderby Island’s Sandy Bay on this nature-packed cruise.

Hit the road on a driving holiday

New Zealand has plenty of scenic driving routes to explore in a hire car or campervan. Travel alongside pristine beaches around the Coromandel Peninsula, learn about the country’s gold mining history in the Otago region, or set off on a week-long round-trip from Christchurch through New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The roads are mostly sealed and well-maintained but check out these New Zealand driving rules for tourists to ensure your journey is smooth.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.