With epic national parks and stunning landscapes, inspiring Māori culture, and hospitable Kiwi culture, your New Zealand trip will be packed with adventures. But if you want to make sure you see the best that this beautiful little country has to offer, here's a selection of the best experiences from Lonely Planet's New Zealand guide

A Tamaki Maori leader dancing in traditional dress.
A Tamaki Maori leader dancing in traditional dress © Fotos593 / Shutterstock

1. Māori Culture

New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture is accessible and engaging: join in a haka (war dance); chow down at a traditional hāngi (Māori feast cooked in the ground); carve a pendant from bone or pounamu (jade); learn some Māori language; or check out an authentic cultural performance with song, dance, legends, arts and crafts. Big-city and regional museums around NZ are crammed with Māori artefacts and historical items, but this is truly a living culture: vibrant, potent and contemporary.

landcape of the building in Auckland city at dawn.
Auckland is one of the world's most liveable cities © Klanarong Chitmung / Shutterstock

2. Pacific Auckland

Held in the embrace of two harbours and built on the remnants of long-extinct volcanoes, Auckland isn’t your average metropolis. It’s regularly rated one of the world’s most liveable cities, blessed with good beaches, wine regions, and a thriving dining, drinking and live-music scene, not to mention sub-tropical weather. However, it’s the rich culture of this ethnically diverse city that makes Auckland stand out on the global stage. Time your visit for any major cultural event, from Pasifika to Diwali, and you’ll see what we mean.

Female hiker looking at a map on a mountainous section of a hiking trail.
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks © Naruedom Yaempongsa / Shutterstock

3. New Zealand’s Great Walks

Hiking, or tramping, as the Kiwis call it, is one of New Zealand’s great pastimes. North and South Islands alike offer boundless opportunities to scramble up scree, spot wildlife in the wild, and lose yourself in some outdoors truly deserving of the epithet ‘great’.

Whether it’s the rainforest-shaded shores of Lake Waikaremoana, the newly opened Paparoa Track, or the cloud-nudging uplands of the Crossing, hikers will always find their happy place.

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Fern trees near a lush coastline.
Stewart Island is famous for its wilderness © R. Vickers / Shutterstock

4. Wilderness on Stewart Island

Birdwatching, kayak-ing, tramping, and cycling are some of the ways you can explore New Zealand’s third island, one where only 400 people live and 85% of the land is protected by Rakiura National Park. It’s also your best opportunity to view kiwis in the wild. Seeing these small indigenous birds while walking along the beach in the dark under the dazzling Milky Way is an experience to be savoured. If you’re lucky, you might even glimpse the Southern Lights. 

A lush green view from a train window.
The view from the train window of the TranzAlpine Railway © Steve Heap / Shutterstock

5. TranzAlpine Railway

Among the world’s most scenic train journeys, the TranzAlpine cuts clear across New Zealand from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea in less than five hours. Yes, there’s a vast mountain range in the way – that’s the scenic part. Leaving the Canterbury Plains, a cavalcade of tunnels and viaducts climb up the Southern Alps to Arthur’s Pass, where the 8.5km Otira tunnel burrows through the bedrock of NZ’s alpine spine. Then it’s down the other side to Greymouth...a jumping-off point to adventures aplenty.

People stand on a viewing point over the ocean with rocks in the distance.
Pancake Rocks can be seen on the West Coast © Anna Gorin / Getty Images

6. The West Coast

A remote, end-of-the-road vibe defines the West Coast. Road trips along the SH6, from isolated wildlife haven Haast to hiking outpost Karamea, thread together an alluring combination of sights: Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, Hokitika’s greenstone galleries, and geological wonders like Pancake Rocks. There are countless detours to mountain-biking and hiking trails, many of which follow the footsteps of early pioneers. Primeval wilderness is often only a short journey away by foot – or helicopter, or jetboat...

A red cable car rises above a cityscape.
Wellington is one of the world's coolest little capitals © Victor Maschek / Shutterstock

7. Wellington

One of the coolest little capitals in the world, windy Wellington is also synonymous with cinema, thanks to local boy Peter Jackson. Residents are also proud of its vibrant arts and music scene and special events schedule (from Fringe to WOW), plus dining choices that range from innovative food trucks to high-end gastronomy. But for visitors to the capital, the proximity to mountain-biking and walking trails, not to mention a glistening harbour, scores just as highly. Don’t miss it.

Discover Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

8. Tongariro National Park

At the centre of the North Island, Tongariro National Park presents an awe-inspiring landscape of alpine desert punctuated by three smouldering volcanoes. Often rated as one of the world’s best single-day wilderness walks, the challenging Tongariro Alpine Crossing skirts the base of two of the mountains and provides views of craters, brightly coloured lakes and the vast Central Plateau. As the crossing’s popularity has skyrocketed, DOC has limited visitor numbers per day, so book early. 

A beautiful bay is filled with boats on a sunny day.
Waiheke Island is a top getaway in New Zealand © Troy Wegman / Shutterstock

9. Waiheke Island & the Hauraki Gulf

A yachtie’s paradise, the island-studded Hauraki Gulf is Auckland’s aquatic playground, sheltering its harbour and east-coast bays and, despite the busy maritime traffic, its resident whales and dolphins. Rangitoto Island is an icon of the city, its near-perfect volcanic cone providing the backdrop for many a tourist snapshot. Yet it’s Waiheke, with its beautiful beaches, acclaimed wineries and excellent dining spots, that is Auckland’s most popular island escape.

A massive humpback whale leaps from the water
Spot humpback whales playing in Kaikōura © Konrad Mostert / Shutterstock

10. Kaikōura

First settled by Maōri, who demonstrated their taste for seafood by naming it Kaikōura (meaning ‘to eat crayfish’), this is NZ’s best spot for both consuming and communing with marine life. Feast on crayfish, go on a fishing excursion, or take a boat tour or flight to see whales, dolphins, seals and marine birds. Following a severe earthquake in November 2016, Kaikōura has rebounded and is now a fascinating spot to observe the pro- found impact of seismic activity along the coast.

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