To say that Kiwis are outdoor types is a gross understatement. While travelling around New Zealand you will meet locals who get up in the morning for a surf, then squeeze in a spot of rock climbing at lunch-time and maybe paddle off for a sea kayak at sunset.
At the weekend they will be stuffing their packs and heading into the mountains for some serious trekking and camping adventures.When you go to New Zealand and get an eyeful of the scenery, you’ll understand why the desire to spend as much time outside as possible is in the blood of your average Kiwi.
Of course, it’s not just about checking out the view. New Zealand is the adrenalin capital of the Southern Hemisphere – they can’t stop inventing new ways to scare the hell out of themselves – and you. It’s the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping after all, but it doesn’t stop there. Most adventure activities can be booked through tourist information offices, at your hostel in NZ, or directly through commercial operators. Backpacker hostels will have info on local attractions, and may offer discount rates for guests.
If outdoor trekking or “tramping” is more your vibe, then look out for the Department of Conservation (DOC) offices in all major centres. They hold the passes to national parks, walking tracks and accommodation along the routes.Visit doc.govt.nz for more info.
Outdoor Canoeing/kayaking: Canoeing (in open, two person canoes) and kayaking (in narrow, one-person crafts) are widely available. Ride the heaving rapids or cruise sedately down tranquil water.
Where? All over the country.
Canyoning: Abseil down sheer cliffs next to crashing waterfalls, shoot down polished rock chutes and into deep pools – a high-adrenalin way to explore the rugged outdoors.
Where? Auckland, Wanaka and Christchurch are just three of the many areas you can give it a go.
Diving: New Zealand boasts some awesome diving for the enthusiast. The Poor Knights Islands (Tutukaka), off the coast of Northland, are one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, according to Jacques Cousteau. The diversity, density and colours of subtropical and temperate sea life among caves, tunnels and arches is amazing. There are also plenty of centres around NZ where you can learn to dive.
Where? The most popular sites include Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve (Whangarei), the Wreck of the Rainbow Warrior (Bay of Islands), volcanic White Island (Bay of Plenty), plus Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds (Fiordland) for their uniquely shallow black coral.
Dolphin swimming: Frolic with dolphins in their natural environment with operators who have so far remained eco-friendly.
Where? Bay of Islands, Bay of Plenty (North Island),plus Kaikoura and Akaroa (South Island).
Fishing: From big game fishing, to trout fishing,to dangling a line off the end of a wharf, fishing is popular and widely available. The best months are January-May (boat fishing March-November).
Where? The east coast of the North Island, including Tutukaka, Whangaroa, Whitianga, Major Island, Whakatane, The Bay of Islands (big game), Lake Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Southern Lakes (trout).
Horse riding: An opportunity to get out intothe “back blocks” (middle of nowhere).
Where? Kaikoura, Westland, Wanaka, Taranaki,Taupo, the Coromandel and more.
Mountain biking: A great way to see thecountry, you can stick to the roads or head off intothe national parks and off-road tracks – do not, however, ride on the national parks’ walking tracks.
Sailing: Kiwis love the water – just look at Auckland’s double harbours any Saturday or Sunday for evidence of that. The Bay of Islands is another popular sailing spot, but almost every coastal town will have an active yacht club and charter operator. Hitch up with a local yacht club and crew for free,or charter a boat for a day.
Where? Auckland, Northland, Tauranga, Hauraki Gulf,Lake Taupo, Marlborough Sounds and plenty more.
Sea kayaking: A very popular and peaceful way of enjoying the stunning scenery of the sounds,fi ords and peaceful bays. You can kayak for half days, full days and even overnight trips.
Where? Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Abel Tasman National Park, Fiordland.
Skiing: New Zealand has the best skiing in the Southern Hemisphere and many snow bunnies from the north head to NZ for summer. Many small, cheap club fields operate in the South Island while the larger commercial operators include Whakapapa and Turoa in Tongariro National Park, plus Mt Hutt,Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in the Southern Alps. Smaller than European fields, they are up to international standards. Heli-skiing and glacier-skiing are popular (but expensive) options for intermediate to advanced skiers. Many backpackers pick up work on the major ski-fields, but you need to be early.
Where? Central North Island, Taranaki, Nelson and the Southern Alps.
Whale watching: Get close to a sperm whale, orca (killer whale) or any of a number of other species off the coast of Kaikoura. Weather is a complicating factor, so allow two or three days if you’re determined to spot one of these majestic beasts.
Where? Kaikoura, South Island.Team sports: Every weekend and at the end of most working days, Kiwis head for the sports fields to indulge in everything from rugby and football to touch rugby (huge in summer), beach volleyball and netball. Settle for more than a week or two and you’ll be able to hook into a team easily enough.
Windsurfing: Like sailing, it is popular on all lakes and around the coast, sheltered or not.Where? Lake Taupo, Auckland, Bay of Islands and just about everywhere else.
Adrenaline Bungy jumping: Welcome to the home of bungy. Famous Kiwi AJ Hackett launched his first commercial bungy jumping operation in Queenstown, but the activity is now available countrywide. NZ’s bungy operators are safe and reliable – you can always ask the local tourist office to recommend one for you. Your choices include the serenely stunning Taupo Bungy, the terrifying Nevis (out of a cable car) in Queenstown, and even a plunge from Auckland’s iconic Harbour Bridge.
Where? Queenstown has a concentration of jumps of various heights; see also Hanmer Springs, Taupo, Rotorua, Taihape, Mangaweka and Auckland.
Blackwater rafting: Tube down underground rivers through glow worm-lit caves in rubber rings.
Where? Waitomo, North Island.
Caving: Adventure caving tours involving abseiling, squeezing through small holes and splashing through underground rivers are fun.Where? Waitomo, Westport, Nelson and elsewhere.Jet boating: Invented in NZ, jet boats power through narrow, spectacular gorges in justcentimetres of water. From Queenstown, jet boatingcan be combined with helicopter and raft trips.
Where? Queenstown, Taupo, Whanganui River,Waimakariri near Christchurch, Rangitaiki Riverand Waikato River below the Huka Falls.
River sledging: The search for a new rush isendless. Ride polystyrene sleds down the country’swildest rivers with just a wet suit and helmet.
Where? Rangitaiki River, near Rotorua, and Kawarau River, near Queenstown.
Rock climbing: Rock climbing is a popular sport,pursued in quarries and up artificial walls, as well as mountains. Indoor climbing is also popular, and a great way to learn the ropes (arf) before heading out to the cliff face.
Where? Anywhere there are mountains and cliffs,really, including Auckland, Te Awamutu, the Southern Alps, the Darrans.
Skydiving: A most incredible rush, tandem skydiving is available all over NZ, giving you tremendous views while scaring yourself stupid.
Where? Queenstown and Rotorua are home to two of the country’s biggest skydiving operations, but you can take the leap all over the country, in places such as Taupo, Wanaka and Paihia. NZ’s highest tandem jump, at 18,000ft, can be found at Franz Josef Glacier.
Surfing: NZ surfers are a hardy bunch and can be found riding the waves all year round.
Where? Auckland (east and west coasts), Gisborne, Taranaki, Dunedin, Kaikoura and the West Coast. NZ’s most famous break is at Raglan, near Hamilton.
Whitewater rafting: Extremely popular and loads of fun. Choose from a half-day trip to a three/four day adventure. Rivers are graded from one (easy)to six (unraftable), according to diffi culty, and thischanges with weather conditions and water levels.
Where? Queenstown, Rotorua, the Whanganui River,Rangitata (Canterbury) and more on the North Island.
Zorbing: Ever seen those plastic balls for exercising hamsters? Well, some crazy Kiwis invented one for humans. You’ll roll downhill in a clear, inflatable ball.
Mountaineering: While NZ peaks are small byworld standards (the highest, Mt Cook, is 3,754m),many are technical and the capricious weather means the mountains should not be underestimated. This is where Sir Edmund Hilary practiced for Mt Everest.Where? South Island’s Southern Alps offer numerous opportunities for various levels of expertise.
Hiking: NZ has some world class walks. In Kiwi land hiking is generally referred to as “tramping”and is something of a national pastime. The popular tracks generally sport well-maintained paths equipped with huts which provide bed space and cooking facilities for a minimal fee. In summer months the huts are often full, so taking a tent is advised. Tracks range from gentle strolls to more strenuous ones.
The seven great walks
Tongariro Crossing: Recognised as the best daywalk in NZ, the crossing takes in the Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake and the Ketetahi Hot Springs and live volcanoes. Access from Whakapapa Village.
Waikaremoana Lake Circuit: A three or four-day circuit within Te Urewera National Park, with beech forest and spectacular lake views. Access from Tuaior Wairoa.Abel
Tasman National Park: This popular coastal track takes three to four days, passing through bush and over gorgeous, golden sandy beaches. Access from Nelson/Motueka.
Heaphy Track, Nelson Forest Park: A four to six-day walk, including a coastal section – watch out for sandflies. Access from Nelson or Collingwood.
The Milford Track, Fiordland National Park: World famous,this four-day walk is open from November-April. Numbers are regulated, it’s very popular and you must book in advance.
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds: Extends for 67km. It’s a comfortable three to four-day walk through native forest and offering great views of the waterways.
Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park: An alternative to the Milford, so it can get crowded. Takes three to four days, passing a variety of beautiful scenery, through rainforest and sub alpine terrain. Access from Queenstown or Te Anau.
New Zealand’s bush
Easily accessible with no special training, many visitors are lulled into a false sense of security by NZ’s temperate climate and the accessibility of the bush. Weather conditions can change very quickly – be well prepared. Contact the local DOC to book, and for excellent safety advice: doc.govt.nz