New Zealand Bucket List... with a Twist

By Jodi Narbey

9 minute read

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Are you looking for the best things to do in New Zealand? But perhaps you’ve read a few too many generic bucket lists written by travelling bloggers? Well, as a proud born and bred New Zealander who does what I do for a living, I travel round New Zealand regularly and am here to share with you my bucket list…with a twist.

Tour companies based in other countries may send their teams over here occasionally for a visit, but I think the true essence of New Zealand is best shared by those of us that live and breathe it every day. Like me :)

As far as my interests go, I think I’m probably quite a lot like you - I’m into a variety of things on top of having the travel bug. I’m a huge fan of the outdoors (hey, I’m a Kiwi through and through) and enjoy snowboarding, hiking, running and keeping fit. I’m also a great food and wine appreciator, artist, book lover and dog fan. I’ve lived in the big smoke (city) in the North Island, the rural South Island and the very special Waiheke Island, which as a keen painter is a total dream. What I’m getting at is that there is something for everyone in NZ – yes, it’s an outdoorsy place, but there’s so much more on offer too.

If you google ‘New Zealand Bucket List’ you’ll discover lists of ‘top’ activities and ‘must see’ places, written by travellers who have been here and done it. But does one size fit all? Or do you have your own things you enjoy doing while you travel? I might sound old, but to me it’s not all about ferrying from one place to the next, snapping pictures for your Instagram as you go. For me, it’s about taking my time, appreciating a new place, learning something new or discovering a different way to enjoy a classic place. So here goes… my bucket list with a twist.

Let me know what you think in the comments or if you have anything to add from your experiences.

1. Milford Sound - stay a while.

The one and only, the famous, the beautiful – Milford Sound. An epic journey through the heart of Fiordland takes you to this beautiful area of water, mountains and forest tucked down into the southernmost point of the South Island. And yes, the classic ‘coach/boat/coach’ trip is fantastic, but here’s what I say.

Do the overnight cruise. You’ll get to experience that much more than a normal day visitor. In the evening, wrap up warm and take yourself out onto the deck after dinner with a cup of hot chocolate. It’s at times like this I feel truly connected to nature and able to think my most freeing thoughts. Then, do the same in the morning. The captain will turn the ship’s generators off and let you listen to ‘the sound of silence’ and let me tell you, the sound of silence in Milford Sound means just that. Take in the sound of distant waterfalls, lapping waves, birdsong and nothing but nature. The whole trip is fantastic and you’ll get an experience most others don’t get.

Visit Milford Sound on any of the New Zealand Trails guided trips.

Overnight boat in Milford Sound

2. Fiordland National Park - take to the skies.

Fiordland National Park is not only home to the famous Milford Sound, but many other incredible sites and experiences too, if you’ve got a little time to explore. There’s Dusky and Doubtful Sounds (as well as countless other Sounds all up the coast), as well as three of New Zealand’s Great Walks – the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler Tracks. I’ve been lucky enough to hike all of these trails (in some cases more than once) and highly recommend any of them. But for this list with a twist, I’d like to recommend the sheer joy of bucking the trend for hiking and taking to the air. You’ll only really get a true sense of the size of the Fiordland National Park from the air. With an area over 12,000 sq km (4,600 sq miles), it makes it one of the largest national parks in the world. Crazy for little ol’ New Zealand, right? There are a number of options to take to the skies, from fixed wing to helicopter, so the choice is yours. Give us a wave!

Do this and more on the New Zealand Trails World Heritage trip.

Milford Sound from the air

3. The West Coast - venture inland a little.

Most people travel along the West Coast and stop off at the famous Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, then head up to the Pancake Rocks before moving swiftly on. But wait! Nestled inland you’ll miss out on the Paparoa National Park if you’re not careful. A walk on one of the well-marked trails will reveal spectacular cave formations, lush green forests and remarkable limestone canyons. Then there’s the vibrant emerald rivers, overhanging trees and rocky outcrops that make a walk through this national park an unforgettable day.

The smell of the moss and ferns with the sounds of the river running in the background is something that always springs to mind when I think about this place. My last advice is to make sure you stop and visit to the Nile River Glow Worm Caves. The awesome guides will take you on a journey through an underground cave system, where thousands upon thousands of glow worms light up the rock ceiling above your head. You can read more about the whole experience here on our blog if you like. It’s beautiful!

Do this and more on the New Zealand Trails World Heritage trip.

Paparoa National Park

4. Arrowtown goldmining town - take to the saddle.

Arrowtown is a tourist mecca and the little town with its idyllic historic street and souvenir shops can quickly get busy with coach parties and tourists. I lived here for a little while and know full well that in the height of summer the car parks get very busy too! So, what’s my advice? Rent a bike! Yes, I know, you may not have ridden a bike for years, or you may be an expert. Either way, this is bike country, and you’ll see so much more from the seat of a bike.

Many people join a four-wheel drive tour here and if you want to bump along in the back of a Land Rover then this might be for you. But for me, it’s about hitting the riverside trail under my own steam on my bike. The sound of the river, the promise of gold (hey, this was the heart of gold mining country, you never know where a nugget might show up) and the beautiful setting mean you’ll be away from the crowds in no time. The well-maintained trail leads you past cosy homesteads, sheep filled pastures, neatly grown vineyards and right out to the location of the world’s first commercial bungy bridge. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to fling yourself off a bridge or head to a local winery when you arrive! Or both :) 

Do this and more on the New Zealand Trails Pure South trip.

Arrow River trail

5. Get to know a local - hire a Kiwi guide.

It would be all too easy to visit New Zealand and not really get to know anyone all that well apart from a casual chit chat. And the thing is, we’re quite a chatty and friendly bunch here. In fact, our hospitality is something we’re pretty famous for.

When I travel, I like to get to know more about the characters I meet along the way and find it really adds to the whole experience. You never know what you might discover! For instance, I never would have learned so much about new Kiwi music, how best to dress for a day in the mountains (who knew I hadn’t got it right by now!) as well as how to properly BBQ a steak, if it hadn’t been for the guides on my last trip. Total legends!

So, for this bucket list item, I challenge you to get to know a local. Properly. A great way to do this is to hire a guide. Whether you head out with one for a day or a fortnight, you’ll likely get to know a thing or two about them, their home country and the New Zealand culture as you go. They will add so much to your experience.

Read more about the guides at New Zealand Trails here.

Friendly Kiwi guides

6. The Marlborough Sounds - paddle a kayak to your overnight lodge.

The Marlborough Sounds are an extensive network of winding waterways at the northern end of the South Island. The most famous of these is Queen Charlotte Sound, a beautiful expanse of water home to a rich variety of marine life. Many people pass through it on the ferry as they make their way between Picton and Wellington in the North Island. But I say stop! There is an opportunity here to try something new.

I say, paddle a kayak to a little lodge tucked into a secluded bay for the night. Paddling a kayak is easy once you get the hang of it and gently gliding through the water is a wonderful way to get close to the birds and marine life as you pass by. There are a selection of lodges and accommodation available depending on your budget, but I always enjoy staying at Lochmara Lodge. Once you arrive, you’ll find a welcoming home for the night with an art and sculpture trail to follow, a cosy restaurant overlooking the water and with no access by road, and a wonderful feeling of seclusion. It’s always a place I look forward to visiting and it really is a lodge like no other. Kiwi through and through!

Do this and more on the New Zealand Trails Masterpiece trip.

Kayak the Sounds

7. The great Kiwi multi-day adventure - spend two nights in the wop-wops.

If you’re in the ‘wop-wops’ in New Zealand, it means you’re out in the wilderness – in the great outdoors! It means you’ve packed your overnight gear and are planning to be self-sufficient for a couple of glorious days. It’s time to put your phones away, stick your sun hat on, make a plan and off you go.

While I really enjoy the overnight hikes in New Zealand, there are plenty of options if you’re not a big hiker. What about a few days kayaking or biking instead? You don’t have to be super fit or highly experienced - as long as you stay safe and go with a guide.

One of my favourite multi-day adventures is the two-night hiking trip into the Nelson Lakes National Park where the trails push my comfort zone a little, but the rewards are well worth it. Spending the night in the Angelus Hut (New Zealand is famous for its network of well-equipped backcountry huts) with the stars lighting up over the lake is always a night to remember.

Do this and more on the New Zealand Trails Kiwi Classic trip.

Angelus Circuit

8. Eat great food - grab a proper Kiwi breakfast in a local cafe.

For me, food is more than just a fuel, but a part of the day I look forward to very much.  Especially breakfast. And especially when I’m out and about touring and in for a busy day. Each place has special places that serve the best breakfast, from lakeside restaurants to quirky cafes and fast-food shacks. So, I recommend adding this to your bucket list for sure - head out to a locally owned café for a leisurely coffee and breakfast with the weekend papers or your favourite book.

As for what to try, well - if you’ve got a sweet tooth, then it takes a lot to go past the pancakes, bacon and maple syrup you’ll see on most breakfast menus. And if you’re after something more savoury, then the avocado and poached egg on sourdough is another popular choice of mine. As for the coffee, if you ask me, you probably won’t find another one better in the world. We take our coffee particularly seriously in our cafes down here. Relax and enjoy.

Enjoy a day in Queenstown and much more on the New Zealand Trails World Heritage trip.

Morri Street Cafe

9. Watch the West Coast sunset - with music in your ears.

Watching the sunset is always an important part of my day. It’s a time to absorb my new experiences, reflect back and take in the wonder of nature. Some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen have been from the West Coast of New Zealand, where the colours light up the skies over the wild waters of the Tasman Sea.

To make the whole experience even better, I recommend you plug in your headphones and listen to the sounds of Pokarekare Ana, one of New Zealand’s most beloved folk songs. Take a listen on
You Tube now and find yourself transported to the beautiful shores of New Zealand. Don’t forget to download a version to bring with you when you come. Listening to this always makes me feel incredibly proud of my homeland.

Enjoy sunsets and more on the New Zealand Trails Masterpiece trip.

West Coast sunset

10. Hike the Tongariro Crossing - hire a local guide.

Of course, the North Island could have a bucket list of its own, but I wanted to at least add my favourite day hike to this list. The Tongariro Crossing on the North Island is an experience like no other – the volcanic landscape and emerald blue lakes are otherworldly. It’s certainly a big day out and my tip here is to make sure you hire a local guide to bring the whole experience to life. Their advice on how to manage the hike as well as their stories and deep local roots and knowledge will really make it a day to remember. Not only that but it’ll make it more likely you’ll complete it in good time and only in the best weather for your safety.

Take on the Tongariro Crossing on the New Zealand Trails Sweet North trip.

Tongariro Crossing

There are many more things I could add to this list but of course you need to make your own way and discover things as you go. So, I wish you all the very best with your plans, am always here to help and we hope to see you in New Zealand soon!



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