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The Best Things to See and Do in New Zealand in 2024

Updated: Jun 20

After spending two years living and working in Queenstown, New Zealand, I have compiled this list of the best things to see and do in New Zealand (Aotearoa.)

Travel in New Zealand can be as action-packed or as relaxed as you want it to be, but there will always be jaw-dropping scenery, which is why to this day I stand by my claim that New Zealand is the most beautiful place on Earth!

Here are, in my experience, the 10 best things to see and do in New Zealand, to get you started on your Aotearoa travel bucket list!

Sheep in a field with a crystal lake in kingston New Zealand
Pristine lakes and mountain vistas in Kingston, South Island


The 10 Best Things to See and Do in New Zealand

1. Lake Pukaki & Mt Cook

For me, visiting Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook is the best thing to do in New Zealand. The photos will never do it justice. If there is one place I implore you to see on your travels through NZ, it's here.

You can reach Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook by driving 2.5 hours out from Queenstown in the South Island. There is free camping by Lake Pukaki, complete with drop-toilets, but no running water (leave no trace!)

When I visited I was the only vehicle in the camping spot, which was blissful. I drank a bottle of Chardonnay and watched the sky light up with stars. Stargazing in New Zealand is phenomenal in most places, but Mt Cook is a Dark Sky Reserve - so they are particularly spectacular here.

After a night sleeping by the lake, you can drive the last 70km to Aoraki Mt Cook. It may go without saying, make sure to fill up with petrol beforehand, as there is nowhere on the way to do this... (I learned the hard way!)

There are many different trails you can take, and I chose the 5km Hooker Valley track over some swing bridges to the frozen lake. Dawn is the best time to catch the sunrise behind Mt Cook, it's mesmerising.

Valuable Resources :

  • The CamperMate App is an excellent resource for finding free camping sites all over New Zealand.

  • Before you plan a hike of any kind check the Department of Conservation website for any alerts on the conditions of the trails.

I Dream of Mangoes in black sitting by a frozen lake with snow capped mountains in the background
Hooker Lake


2. Ski The Remarkables

The Remarkables ski fields are only a 40-minute drive from Queenstown, and a must-do if you're there during the winter season of June - October.

Skiing the remarkable is one of the best things to do in New Zealand, but it comes at a price! A lift pass for one day is pretty steep at $165, so if you're planning to head up the mountain more than a few times I would get a season pass, there is a huge early-bird discount so make sure you buy it well ahead of time.


The Salvation Army Shop in Queenstown do a ski sale every year where you can pick up second-hand skiing equipment before the season starts. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for exact dates, it's normally in April. Bear in mind that some people will start queuing outside the shop at 4am on the day of the sale, the prices are THAT good!

Another thing to know is that public transport around Queenstown/The Remarkables is not really a thing, but hitch-hiking IS! Don't be afraid to stick your thumb out. New Zealand is very safe and hitch-hiking is the norm. I know a lot of people who used it as their sole form of transport whilst living there.

I Dream of Mangoes  celebrating a run at the remarkables
Celebrating my first ever run!


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.

3. Hobbiton

Visiting Hobbiton is one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand. Okay, so even though I'm a massive Lord Of The Rings fan I was a bit trepidatious about visiting Hobbiton, as the thought of swarms of tourists being shepherded around The Shire like cattle was in my mind. However...

Hobbiton was so great!

It is so well organised, and not crowded at all. The standard movie-set tour is $120 and the Shire's Rest is about 2 hours drive from Auckland. The scenery on the way to Hobbiton is incredibly different from the dramatic jaggedness of the South Island. We drove through endless rolling meadows.

From the Shire's Rest, your shuttle will take you to the Shire, accompanied by a little video speech from Peter Jackson and the intro music to the movie playing - which might just make you cry!

During our tour we were in a small group of 8, with a really charismatic guide who had lots of fun facts to share and he took awesome photos. They made it so that it didn't feel like anyone else was around. I was really impressed.

The front entrance to bilbos home
Bilbos House


4. Doubtful Sound

Visiting Doubtful Sound was one of my favourite things to do in New Zealand. The more famous Milford Sound is very beautiful, but IMO it is overshadowed by its lesser travelled big sister, Doubtful Sound. This is probably because the latter is much harder to get to.

I would suggest a 1N2D cruise with a pick-up from Queenstown. Day trips are available, but it's such a long journey, I think you'll create better memories by taking more time.

We went with 'Real Journeys' - who were really good, they even had wildlife guides on board. The trip included decent food, all transfers, 1 night on the boat, and a mini kayaking excursion.

Normally this would set you back about $900, but there's a great discount site called Bookme which quite often gives massive discounts for attractions in NZ. We managed to get 70% off for our trip to Doubtful Sound - so it's a good idea to keep an eye on their latest offers:

The journey itself is quite epic: bus, boat, bus, boat...but the scenery is so stunning the whole way down so there's plenty to keep you occupied.

the cascades at doubtful sound
Beautiful nature in Doubtful Sound


5. Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is definitely one of the best things to see and do in New Zealand.

I love wine! I am a Sommelier by trade, so I'm always keen to visit a new wine region and Waiheke Island did not disappoint.

You can reach Waiheke Island by taking the ferry from Auckland which takes about 40 minutes. A foot passenger return ticket is $35 including a hop-on/hop-off bus ticket for the Island. You can book this on the Fullers Ferry Website at least 24 hours in advance.

When I was there the only way to get to the more secluded wineries like Man O War was to drive, but this means we couldn't drink, so it depends on your priorities! Nowadays they offer a pick-up shuttle so make sure to check each winery's website for specific travel instructions.

In all honesty, the wineries were a little hit-and-miss and we found that the smaller, less commercial ones had more time for us.

Our favourite vineyard was Casita Miro - where a lovely lady sat down with us and told us about their range, and afterwards, we enjoyed some delicious tapas in the pretty garden.

A vineyard on waiheke island
The Vineyards of Waiheke


Not sure what to pack for your trip to NZ? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:


6. Curio bay

Nestled in The Catlins, in the Southwest corner of the South Island, Curio Bay is part of a rugged coastline reached by winding roads between forest and sea. It's another one of those New Zealand spots that looks like a desktop screensaver, it just doesn't look real.

It's too beautiful for mere human eyes to comprehend - and very, very deserving of its spot on this list for the top 10 things to see and do in New Zealand.

If you don't have your own transport you can rent a car in Queenstown and make the 4-hour drive down to Curio Bay. This will set you back approx. $100 a day, so if there's a group of you splitting the cost it can be quite reasonable.

The drive is stunning, I know I keep saying this, but the scenery in NZ is mind-blowing. Curio Bay Campsite is right on the cliffs, with big bushes to divide pitches, so that you feel secluded from other campers. We paid $35 for an unpowered pitch.

It's quite common to see Hector's Dolphins at the beach - and during my morning splash in the sea, I was surrounded by a big pod of them. I hope you are just as lucky!

Curio bay New Zealand
Curio Bay


7. Cycle Arrowtown to Gibbston

You can take a 15km self-guided tour through river gorges and suspension bridges, eventually leading to the wineries of Central Otago.

You can rent a bike from Arrowtown, the cost is $52 for a full day, but keep an eye on Bookme for discounts.

The ride to the first winery, Gibbston Valley, takes approx 1.5 hours. The food is really nice there, so it's well worth stopping in for lunch. If you're like us and get distracted by the wines at the first stop you can arrange for the bike shop to come and collect you and your bike for an extra $10.

Arrowtown itself is really pretty - so save some time to have a look around here too.

Cycling Arrowtown to Gibbston
Cycling from Arrowtown to Gibbston


8. Boating on Lake Wakatipu

I know that this list is getting a little Queenstown-centric, it's just so damn pretty there, and that's where I lived! Lake Wakatipu is in the town, with a backdrop of The Remarkables; it looks like Swarovski crystals.

You can rent a power boat for 1 hour ($100), a half-day ($300), or the whole day ($600), which carries up to 6 people. Whilst you can party as much as you want on the boat, the driver has to stay sober. Drink-boat driving is not allowed!

You can load up with a picnic, booze and inflatables, and have fun driving to various inlets and beauty spots, like Bob's Cove. The lake is glacial water, so all year round it's COLD... so while it looks tempting to have a splash it isn't for the faint of heart!

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from above
Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu


9. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

A really beautiful natural attraction in the North Island, Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are approx. a 1-hour drive south from The Shire's Rest, which means there is an opportunity to combine this with your journey to the Hobbiton Movie Set.

There are options for black-water rafting and caving - but due to time constraints, we opted for a 1-hour boat cruise into the caves. It was really pretty and interesting to see! We managed to secure 50% off of the normal $61 entrance fee via Bookme.

The caving looked incredible, if I had more time I would have chosen that option for sure!


10. Horse-Riding in Glenorchy

Being massive LOTR fans we didn't want to miss the opportunity to ride on horseback to Isengard, and Glenorchy is a beautiful place to visit.

Glenorchy is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown, and public transport is minimal. Driving or hitchhiking is a great option, and maybe you're tired of me saying this now, but yes, the views are GLORIOUS.

There are two stables offering trekking, with prices starting from $150. If you're after something more budget-friendly, there are plenty of walks around, including the beginning of the famous Milford Track; a 7-day hike all the way to Milford Sound.

We went with High Country Horses, and both of our steeds were forward-going and good fun! Again, don't forget to check Bookme for the best deals.

I Dream of Mangoes and horses in a river in Glenorchy
Riding to Isengard



In the spirit of authenticity, I only wanted to include things on my list of top 10 things to do and see in New Zealand that I have personally experienced and can vouch for.

However, there are some places that I wish I had been to... so make sure you don't miss out on the following:


Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Nelson to Abel Tasman

Bay of Islands


The best way to get around New Zealand is without a doubt to drive. You can buy a campervan in Auckland, travel North to South over the course of a couple of months, and then sell the vehicle in Queenstown for the same as what you paid for it, if not more.

For a more detailed look at road-tripping in New Zealand, check out my article: An Awesome One-Month Road Trip Itinerary for New Zealand's North Island.

If you're not in the business of buying a car, check out IMOOVA for vehicle relocations that cost little to nothing.

Luckily for locals and people visiting, NZ has not decided to kill off the concept of wild camping (I wish I could say the same thing for us Brits, F*ck you very much, UK government). This means you can pitch up all over the country for free, as long as you leave no trace behind.

For any outdoor adventure travel, I always recommend investing in a Lifestraw water bottle. NZ is keen on protecting the environment so having a Lifestraw means you stop buying plastic bottles. You can drink rain and river water with a Lifestraw, it's a really neat product.


Thank you for reading my travel guide: The 10 Best Things to See and Do in New Zealand, and I hope your New Zealand adventure is as special as mine was.

If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post updates every 1-2 weeks about my current travels around the world.

For more travel inspiration in The Pacific, check out my article: Observations from my time in Japan.

Happy Travels




I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.


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