It has nearly been a year over here in New Zealand – so I thought it was time for a Top 5 things to do in New Zealand (after previously blogging about my Top 5 things to do on South Island) – although it could so easily have been a Top 10! I feel that having spent so long over here (as well as taking two prior trips here in 2006 and 2010) I can choose my ultimate 5 paid-for activities I would recommend doing in New Zealand. Obviously these are down to personal taste, and the weather also played a factor in our decision. I have also chosen different things to those in my Top 5 to do on South island – it was so hard to choose and any of those could easily have made this list!
1. Helicopter trip over Queenstown – with snow landing.
We took a scenic helicopter trip over Queenstown with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to celebrate my 30th birthday recently (check out my previous blog post for more details). We chose the alpine scenic (flight 104) which included a snow landing and it was the most perfect choice! The scenery was completely and utterly stunning. We flew up with two other passengers over Arrowtown and Skippers Canyon and landed atop Mount Hyde. Here we spent time in the snow and it was great fun! The 360 degree views were just amazing.
The weather was also just perfect – which we think made a real difference. There had recently been a fair amount of early snow in Queenstown (we went in early May) and this coupled with clear blue skies meant we had the best of both worlds – summer sun and skies with the winter snow! Our pilot was great and took some great photos of us while in the snow. On the journey back I was able to sit in the front seat so had the most wonderful view of Queenstown – as we took off and circled round with Queenstown below us – I also managed to take some great photos. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and one we will never forget!
Cost: $310 per person – although we got a reduced rate of $199 each via a discount website called Book Me.
Times: Often throughout the day – depending on demand.
Activity time: 40 mins.
2. Milford Sound
We took an amazing boat trip (see my old blog post for more) out on Milford Sound with Mitre Peak Cruises. We chose this company because they used smaller boats than other bigger companies (such as Real Journeys etc.) so we could get a more personal and close-up experience.
One of the main reasons Milford Sound makes the Top 5 (as well as the brilliant boat trip) is the road to Milford. It really is one of the most scenic roads we have ever driven on! We were very lucky that the weather was clear and we had great views all the way along. There are loads of different stops on the way – our favourites being Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn, and lots of places to pull in and take photos. It is also quite windy and steep and care needs to be taken. It was fun passing through the Homer Tunnel and the view that greets you the other side is beautiful. We loved driving the road, and definitely one of our favourite road trips from the year.
Back to the cruise itself – we much preferred being on a smaller boat. It also wasn’t full so we had space and could move around. We queued up early for the boat and so were able to get a seat up top outside which was great. We then spent about 2 hours out on the sound. We passed beautiful waterfalls (Bowen falls was our favourite) and saw wildlife such as seals. We went right up to the Tasman sea and then turned back into the sound. The scenery along the way – as we passed Mitre Peak itself – was just gorgeous. Another definite highlight of a wonderful year in NZ!
Cost: $80 per person.
Times: Up to 7 times a day in peak season.
Activity time: 2 hours.
3. Dart River Jet Boat in Glenorchy
Back in December we experienced an incredible trip on the Wilderness Safari with Dart River Jet Safaris – check out my blog post for more details about our trip. This was our first jet boat trip – and we had read so many amazing reviews about it being the best – so it was a great choice! The Wilderness safari is split into 3 main parts – the bus journey from Glenorchy through Paradise (where we can get out to take some photos) and learn all about the movies and adverts filmed in this area. The next part is a 30 minute guided walk through the beautiful forest. And finally the last part was the awesome jet boat ride!
We were on the jet boat for about 1 hour 30 (so much longer than other jet boat companies), and our driver Simon was amazing! He was so careful negotiating the pretty dangerous river, and we always felt safe. It was such thrilling ride and we really did love every second. Some of our favourite parts were the 360 degree turns we did in the boat – we got a bit wet but it was great fun. Travelling along at speeds of up to 80kmph with the wind in our hair (gripping on tight!) was simply amazing and the whole trip was a fantastic experience.
Cost: $219 per person (they offer free transfers from Queenstown, although we drove ourselves to Glenorchy as its a stunning drive).
Times: 8am and 12pm (from Queenstown), and 9am and 1pm (from Glenorchy)
Activity time: 3 hours
Definitely one for fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (which of course we are!) but in our view no trip to New Zealand is complete without a trip to Hobbiton. We visited on a stunningly beautiful sunny day back in May (check out my detailed blog post about our trip) and the trip completely and utterly exceeded all of our expectations! The trip felt so real and authentic and not anywhere near as touristy as I was expecting! They have really sensitively planned the tours, to make the most of the location and to maximise the experience for guests. Our trip started with a old but quaint bus picking us up and driving down the gravel and windy road to start our tour at Hobbiton itself. Over the course of an hour or so we spent time exploring Hobbiton – accompanied by our awesome guide. We saw lots of hobbit holes (including Sam and Rosie’s and Bag End) and took endless awesome photos (see my blog for loads more!).
We also saw the famous ‘party tree’ and party area, as well as the bench where Gandalf and Bilbo have their smoke hoop competition. We really were walking exactly where the stars of the films had, and at every turn there was a sight you recognised from the films – amazing 🙂 The best part was to come with a visit to The Green Dragon to complete our trip. We enjoyed a lovely cold ginger beer by the fire, while we explored The Green Dragon inside and out – which had been incredibly well replicated. It really was the perfect end to the perfect trip and one we will always remember with excitement and fondness.
Cost: $75 per person.
Times: Tours run every half an hour starting at 9.30am and 4.30pm from the Shires Rest cafe – there are also various pick up options from Matamata and Rotorua.
Activity time: 1 hour 45 mins.
5. Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier
This is the only one of the Top 5 not from our 2012/2013 trip – this was back in 2006 on our first trip to New Zealand. It really truly was one of the best things we have ever done, and still holds its own amongst so many amazing things we have done this time around. We took our trip with The Helicopter line who were amazing from start to finish. They were incredibly professional and our guide was fantastic – so knowledgeable and above all safe – we never felt any danger or risk whilst walking on the glacier.
Our trip took us up to land on the Franz Josef glacier, and the journey up was spectacular! It was our first ever time in helicopter (we have been in them a further 3 times since!) and we loved every second! After landing on the glacier we hiked across it – using crampons attached to our shoes. We climbed through ice caves and spent lots of time exploring. The scenery was simply incredible and it was such a memorable trip.
Cost: $395 per person.
Times: Up to 2 or 3 times a day depending on season.
Activity time: 3 hours.
If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and would like help putting together an awesome itinerary (specialising in amazing off-the-beaten-track places) then feel free to take a look at my website – Blue Penguin Travel, check out some of my wonderful testimonials or drop me and email 🙂