From kayaking Lake Taupo to wine tasting in Gisborne, here’s our take on the top immersive travel experiences to try in New Zealand!
“New Zealand is weird. I mean, it does not seem of this earth, not to me. It really is like something made up.”Peter Heller. Journalist and author, writing about a kayaking trip in Outside Magazine.
Adventure travellers have long been drawn to the distant peaks and icy glaciers of New Zealand. Encompassing its two main islands – the North and the South – and over 700 smaller ones, it’s safe to say that New Zealand is world-renowned for both its outdoor scenery and its outdoor pursuits.
But New Zealand is also a land steep in history, culture and excellent wines. Inhabited by the Māori from the 13th century onwards, modern New Zealand is a clash of indigenous and European colonial cultures. One day you can be walking through the Scottish-like streets of Dunedin, and the next, you’ll be learning about Māori history over a hangi feast.
Forget about the discomforts of that long-haul flight to New Zealand, because mountains, lakes, beaches, cities, and vineyards all make it worthy of bucket-list status. From bungee jumps to hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we’ve rounded up our favourite immersive travel experiences in New Zealand. Keep reading, to find out more!
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Immersive travel experiences in New Zealand
The only way to truly experience New Zealand is to immerse yourself in the island nation. If you love adventure sports like kayaking or hiking or the thrill of an adrenaline-fuelled bungee jump, then you’re in the right destination.
Equally, immersion doesn’t just have to be about the pursuit of the extreme. You can find equally incredible experiences touring through New Zealand’s wineries or just hanging out in glorious places like the Bay of Islands, where you can soak up the sub-tropical scenery.
Without further ado, here’s our list of New Zealand’s best experiences.
1. Kayaking Lake Taupo
If you like your experiences to be adrenaline-fuelled, then kayaking is one of our top NZ experiences. Perfect for anyone with a love of the water, and an adventurous spirit, with its 775 unique lakes, New Zealand is an excellent place for kayaking.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing your picturesque lake, but one of the most popular locations for kayaking is Lake Taupo. Not only is this New Zealand’s largest lake, but you’ll be able to say that you’ve kayaked in the middle of a volcanic caldera!
Even if kayaking’s not for you, around Lake Taupo you’ll find hiking and biking trails, as well as ancient Māori rock carvings.
2. Dolphin watching in the Bay of Islands
If you are a fan of marine life and want to experience this first-hand in a truly immersive way, then a dolphin-watching trip is a must-do when you’re in New Zealand.
Recognised for their intelligence and playfulness, New Zealand is blessed with several locations where you are likely to have a great chance to view these magnificent mammals in the wild. With its sub-tropical climate and azure waters, The Bay of Islands on the east coast of the North Island is one of the most popular destinations for dolphin watching.
3. Indulge in a little wine-tasting in Gisborne
New Zealand is rightly renowned as one of the world’s top wine producers. Every year, millions of high-quality bottles of white, rosé and red wine are shipped around the world for wine lovers to enjoy. However, if you are seeking some local varieties or rarer bottles that are not exported as often, your trip will present the ideal opportunity to sample some of them.
Across New Zealand, there are several wine-growing regions. If you are a die-hard wine fan, your choice of location to visit will depend on your favourite grape variety. For example, Gisborne, on the eastern point of the northern island, is a fantastic area to enjoy white wines such as chardonnay, riesling and Chenin blanc varieties.
In Gisborne, you can even join vineyard cycling tours, so you can work off those extra calories on the way around the wineries!
4. Enjoy on-demand excitement from your New Zealand hotel room
If you’ve experienced the excitement of dolphin watching and kayaking during your stay in New Zealand, you may be looking for other forms of excitement during your downtime. Luckily, with the help of a mobile phone, you can access plenty of on-demand gaming sites from the comfort of your hotel room
A perfect example is indulging in an online casino experience that is just like a high-class brick-and-mortar establishment. Given that most of New Zealand’s hotels (unless you’re staying in a hiking hut, or are camping really remote!) have fast and reliable Wi-Fi, connecting your smartphone is the ideal way to take a break from touring and sightseeing.
5. Go bungee jumping in Queenstown
New Zealand is known to the world for its thrill-seeking population, and it is little surprise that the country is fascinated by the extreme sport of bungee jumping. Backpackers and locals alike flock to the many bridges that serve as the venue for this thrilling endeavour, and to experience one of the most heart-racing pursuits that New Zealand has to offer.
One of the best bungee jumping sites is Karawaru Bridge in Queenstown. This is the oldest site for bungee jumping in New Zealand, having been open to the public since 1988. It is well organised and has highly trained staff, making it a perfect location if this will be your first ever bungee jump. Given the popularity of bungee jumping, book your jump in advance so you don’t miss out on the adrenaline high!
6. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for unspoiled beauty
For tourists who seek to be immersed in nature, there are countless options to get out walking or hiking in New Zealand. The country’s picturesque landscape and largely temperate climate make it an ideal location to take a long walk out into the hills, around the lakes, or even to the summit of a volcano.
For those who enjoy longer hikes or more challenging routes, the country provides well for this. If you plan to indulge in a day walk, an ideal location is Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Here you can enjoy a 20km walk that will take you through volcanic lands that were the setting for parts of the Lord of The Rings film franchise. It’s so good, that it claims to be the best one-day walk in New Zealand (hike it to find out the truth!).
You will see a range of different lakes on the hike and the rugged natural beauty that New Zealand is famous for. However, it is important to note that the route may not be passable in the height of winter when snowfall makes it almost impassable.
7. Explore Middle-Earth in New Zealand
New Zealand offers the chance for a seriously immersive Middle-Earth journey if you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, because the country’s diverse landscapes serve as the perfect backdrop for these epic films.
A highlight is the Hobbiton Movie Set in the Waikato region, where you can wander through the Shire, complete with hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and the Party Tree. Beyond Hobbiton, numerous locations across the country, from the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park to Fiordland, allow fans to step into the world imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien and brought to life by Peter Jackson.
8. Hike the Franz Josef Glacier
Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier is an exhilarating experience, offering a unique opportunity to explore one of New Zealand’s most impressive natural sights.
Located on the West Coast of the South Island, the Franz Josef Glacier is a dynamic and constantly changing ice landscape, but guided tours allow adventurers to traverse the glacier’s surface, navigating through ice caves, crevasses, and stunning blue ice formations.
The journey can start with a scenic helicopter flight, too, providing aerial views before landing on the glacier. Equipped with ice axes and crampons, you’ll be led by experienced guides who share insights about the glacier’s history, geology, and the impact of climate change.
9. Ride the TranzAlpine Train
The TranzAlpine train journey is one of the world’s greatest rail rides. Stretching from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island, this journey covers 223 kilometres of outrageous landscapes.
The route traverses the vast Canterbury Plains, winds through the snow-capped Southern Alps, and passes alongside the Waimakariri River. The journey includes a series of remarkable viaducts and tunnels, with highlights including the Arthur’s Pass National Park.
The TranzAlpine offers not just a journey, but an immersive experience, providing passengers with unparalleled views of New Zealand through its large viewing windows and open-air observation cars. This train ride is a must for anyone wanting to witness the spectacular heart of the South Island in comfort and style.
10. Go stargazing in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Stargazing in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park offers an awe-inspiring experience, set against one of the most impressive dark sky backdrops in New Zealand. The park lies within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, one of the largest in the world, ensuring minimal light pollution for optimal star viewing.
This celestial showcase allows you to gaze upon the Milky Way, Southern Cross, and other constellations in unparalleled clarity. Specialised tours provide insights into the night sky, often including the use of telescopes to view distant stars and galaxies. The experience is heightened by the park’s stunning daytime scenery of towering mountains and glaciers, making it a perfect destination for both day and night exploration.
There we go! 10 immersive experiences to enjoy in New Zealand. What will you add to your New Zealand bucket list?