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Things to Do in New Zealand

It might have been the popularity of “The Lord of the Rings” movies that put New Zealand on the map, but it’s the enchanting landscapes, rich Maori heritage, and unforgettable natural wonders that keep travelers coming back. The North Island is home to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, and largest city, Auckland, but its real highlights lie outside the urban centers. Stroll the golden beaches of the Bay of Islands, journey to Middle Earth on a tour of the Hobbiton set, or cruise through the glowworm caves of Waitomo. Nearby, Rotorua is as renowned for its bubbling mud pools and lava fields as it is for its Maori culture, while farther south, the rocky peaks of Tongariro National Park form the backdrop to one of New Zealand’s most rewarding hikes. A short ferry ride from Wellington lands you on the South Island, where the landscapes get wilder, the weather more temperamental, and the cities even more laid-back. Expect to spend most of your time outdoors, traveling from the sandy spit of Cape Farewell, past the windswept beaches of the West Coast, to the dramatic fjords of Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park. Christchurch, revamped after the tragedy of the 2011 earthquake, is the main hub of the north, while the southern city of Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital, where thrill seekers congregate to try skydiving, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, and ziplining.
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Franz Josef Glacier
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60 Tours and Activities
One of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, the Franz Josef Glacier is a spectacular river of ice. It is one of the world's steepest glaciers descending 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) over its 7.5 mile (12 kilometer) path through the valley, ending in lush temperate rainforest. As it flows it travels over bumpy steps which forces ice upwards to create dramatic ice cliffs and sharp crevasses. Over 2,700 people visit the ice a day during peak season. Some spend their time exploring the terminal face while others take helicopters to take advantage of the views and get access to higher icefalls, so they can clamor over the less-populated ice and carve out an adventure in the stunning and challenging terrain.
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Lake Wakatipu
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84 Tours and Activities

Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.

Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.

The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.

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TranzAlpine Train
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Praised as one of the most incredibly scenic train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine chugs its way from Christchurch to Greymouth, via Arthur's Pass, daily.

Making its way from one coast of New Zealand to the other, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, the train crosses the broad expanse of the Canterbury Plains to climb the Alps via a series of four viaducts and 19 tunnels known as the Staircase.

The train journey reveals a stunning sequence of valleys, mountains and Southern Alps, including river valleys covered in beech rainforests, sky-mirrored lakes and snowcapped peaks.

The train carriages include group and individual seating, plus there’s an open-air carriage for top-quality photo opportunities. Food and beverages are available on board.

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Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
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The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.

Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.

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Te Puia
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When you first catch a glimpse of Pohutu Geyser thundering up from the Earth and crane your neck skywards at a column of water that’s nearly 100 feet high, you begin to understand why this place has drawn visitors for literally hundreds of years. Only five minutes from central Rotorua, Te Puia is a geothermal and cultural attraction in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. When compared to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Te Puia is closer to the geysers and also offers an impressive center of Maori arts and crafts. Tour the bubbling, geothermal landscape with a native Maori guide, and then retreat to the national weaving and carving schools to watch Maori students re-create the traditional arts of their ancestors. For a look at furry kiwi birds, there is a small, dark kiwi enclosure that houses the national bird, and for arguably the best evening in Rotorua, return at night to experience Te Po—a traditional ceremony and hangi feast of eating, dancing and lore.

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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
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Like much of New Zealand's attractions, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland centers on walking outdoors - but what a walk! The park is New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction; visitors follow demarcated tracks through a stunning variety of volcanic phenomena. You'll see fantastic, naturally colored hot-and-cold pools, the world famous Champagne Pool, the amazing Lady Knox Geyser and the massive craters that are the hallmark of the Rotorua region's volcanic heritage.

You'll want to bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards - the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some truly amazing views and scenery. New Zealand is known for its natural beauty, but this geothermal park accentuates it with its unusual geothermal topography. In particular, the shimmering water flowing over the Sinter Terrace Formations is not to be missed.

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Auckland Sky Tower
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The tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, Sky Tower offers breathtaking views for 50 miles (80 kilometers) in every direction. There is plenty to do up this high; relax with a coffee in the Sky Lounge, enjoy a revolving feast at the 360-degree Observatory Restaurant or, in true New Zealand fashion, you can also jump off Sky Tower. At 1,076 feet (328 meters) tall the Sky Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower and it took two years and nine months to build. It was built to withstand 125 mph (200km/h) winds and magnitude 7.0 earthquakes. It has three viewing levels and climbs into the antenna mast or around the exterior can be organized. The tower gets around 1,450 visitors a day and is one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions. During the year it is lit in the various colors of causes and charities to show Auckland's support.
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Marlborough Sounds
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Set at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds amazingly comprise one fifth of New Zealand’s coastline. Not because the region is large, however, but simply because the serpentine coast weaves in and out of so many bays it massively adds to the mileage. Here the coastline is so stunningly rugged that mail is still delivered by boat to towns that are cut off from roads, and visitors can actually ride along with the boat that’s delivering mail. It’s a rural time capsule that hearkens back to life in the 1800s, where sheep still roam the forested hills and fishermen ply the waters for mussels and live off the bounty of the sea.

For an authentic experience in Marlborough Sounds, hop aboard a seafood cruise to sample the clams, mussels, and salmon the Marlborough area is known for. Or, to scour the shore on your own two feet, hike the famous Queen Charlotte Track that weaves through Queen Charlotte Sound.

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International Antarctic Centre
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Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.

Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.

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More Things to Do in New Zealand

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak

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Located only 25 minutes from the adventure capital of Queenstown, Coronet Peak is one of the most popular ski resorts on the entire South Island of New Zealand. This historic ski field is officially the nation’s oldest, and when it opened for business in 1947 there was only a single tow rope.

Today, however, Coronet Peak is a modern ski field on par with the best in the country. Aside from being the nation’s oldest, it’s also one of the last resorts in the country to watch its snow melt away. Given its southerly location, colder temperatures make for a longer season and better conditions for snowmaking. On most years, Coronet Peak will open its slopes sometime during the middle of June, and remain open throughout the winter until the mountain thaws in October. In addition to the long season, the resort offers views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps.

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Auckland Harbour Bridge

Auckland Harbour Bridge

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The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.

The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.

The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.

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Mitai Maori Village

Mitai Maori Village

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Government Gardens Rotorua

Government Gardens Rotorua

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The Government Gardens in central Rotorua are so bountiful that they could easily be mistaken for a piece of the old English countryside. If it weren’t for the telltale scent of sulfur that wafts through the air from the nearby hot springs, many visitors would forget where they’re standing, due to the Edwardian architecture and dignified landscape.

As it happens, this 50-acre compound on the shore of Lake Rotorua was gifted to the Crown by Maori tribes. Taking what was once a patch of scrubland peppered with therapeutic hot pools, the area was transformed into a public park complete with manicured lawns and the famous baths. To add to the impeccable nature of the gardens, an ornate bath house was constructed on the property and now serves as a piece of architectural history. Standing stoically above the flower gardens that burst with color each spring, the building houses the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, which is also well worth a look.

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Mt. Victoria Lookout

Mt. Victoria Lookout

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One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.

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Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop

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When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.

While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.

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The Chasm

The Chasm

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The Remarkables

The Remarkables

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New Zealand’s outdoor playground, the Remarkables, located high in mountainous country, possesses a great sense of excitement for any visitor looking to rip-up the alpines. With fabulous skiing, hiking, snowboarding and opportunities to just hangout, the entire family will get a kick from these majestic reserves.

Cool jumps, tunnels, trails, and even a bouncy castle at the crèche are available for children of all ages, while snow-sports schools are waiting for adults who have put off the slopes for too long.

You can also have a look at how the pros do it, with international competitions that take place. See boarders go sky-high off the half-pipes, or see renowned skier’s flow between slaloms at immense speeds.

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Parnell

Parnell

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The most charismatic of Auckland's neighborhoods, charming Parnell Village is Auckland's oldest suburb and is renowned for its restaurants, cafes, galleries and boutique shopping.

Spend a day exploring the fashionable village shopping area along Parnell Road which is renowned for quality crafts and good jewelers. In the evening there is an international flavor to the 40-odd restaurants and cafes in the area and a dinner option to suit every budget. Every second Thursday of the month there is music in the streets and Parnell’s galleries stay open until 7:30pm for late night art; afterwards you can bunker down in one of Parnell’s many lovely bars. Leave behind the main shopping area and you'll find beautiful, quiet parks including the Parnell Rose Gardens and some interesting historic buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral which stands at the top of the hill and exemplifies ‘Modern-Gothic’ style, as well as the impressive 1930s brick Auckland Railway Station.

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Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

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A fabulous UNESCO World Heritage area measuring 700 square kilometers (434 square miles), Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park stretches from Westland to Fiordland in the South Island.

There are 22 of New Zealand’s highest mountains soaring over this park, including mighty 3,755-meter (12,316-foot) Mount Cook itself, the tallest peak in the country. Perhaps the best way to take in the mountains’ grandeur is from the air on a helicopter tour of the park. A mecca for climbers, hikers, skiers and lovers of natural beauty, the park’s attractions include the Tasman Glacier and the warm and welcoming Heritage, New Zealand’s most famous hotel.

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Mission Estate Winery

Mission Estate Winery

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Auckland Domain

Auckland Domain

52 Tours and Activities

Every city needs a large central park, and Auckland Domain provides 185 acres where you can escape the bustle of the city. Set on the slopes of an extinct volcano and protected since the 1840’s, Auckland Domain is not only the largest, but also the oldest park in Auckland.

Located just east of the city center, Auckland Domain has a network of walking trails which weave their way through the forest. Unlike the pace of nearby downtown, peaceful moments abound in the park such as watching ducks land on the pond or relaxing on a bench in the shade. In the spring, cherry groves pepper the forest with a pink and vibrant hue, and during most times of the year you can find teams playing rugby on any of the large open fields. For all of the open space, however, the largest draw of Auckland Domain is the building atop the hill. Constructed in 1929, the Auckland War Memorial and Museum is a three-story, neo-classical building with displays on everything.

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