10 Must-Do Activities for a Fantastic Summer in New Zealand

New Zealand’s South Island is an enchanting blend of breathtaking landscapes, thrilling adventure activities, and unique wildlife encounters. From the serene waters of Milford Sound to the adrenaline-pumping thrills of Queenstown, there’s something for everyone in this picturesque paradise. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking to relax amidst stunning scenery, this guide to the top 10 must-do activities will ensure a fantastic summer in New Zealand.

Key Takeaways

  • Cruising the Milford Sound/Piopiotahi offers a chance to witness some of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery and wildlife.
  • Doubtful Sound/Patea is a serene and less crowded alternative to Milford Sound, perfect for a peaceful exploration.
  • Queenstown (Tāhuna) is the go-to destination for adrenaline junkies, with activities like bungy jumping, jet boating, and skydiving.
  • Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park provides awe-inspiring views and trails for hikers of all levels, making it a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • The South Island’s diverse attractions, from the Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa to the geological wonders of Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, cater to a wide range of interests and ensure a memorable trip.

1. Cruise the Milford Sound/Piopiotahi

1. Cruise the Milford Sound/Piopiotahi

Embarking on a cruise through the Milford Sound/Piopiotahi is an experience that captures the essence of New Zealand’s raw beauty. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is not just a feast for the eyes but also a journey through a landscape steeped in natural history. Imagine towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and the serene waters of the fiord—yes, it’s a fiord, not a sound, carved by ancient glaciers.

While on the cruise, keep an eye out for the local wildlife, including seals basking on the rocks and dolphins playfully swimming alongside the boat.

Here are some activities you can enjoy while exploring Milford Sound:

  • Take a guided kayak tour to feel the grandeur of the fiord up close.
  • Walk the Foreshore Trail for an easy stroll with stunning views.
  • Experience the power of the Lady Bowen Falls and get a ‘free glacial facial’.

Selecting the right cruise is crucial for the best experience. Options range from larger boats with ample space to smaller vessels that offer intimate encounters with the fiord’s wonders. Whichever you choose, a cruise on Milford Sound is an unforgettable addition to your New Zealand adventure.

2. Visit Doubtful Sound/Patea

2. Visit Doubtful Sound/Patea

Embark on a journey to Doubtful Sound/Patea, a serene and less-traveled neighbor of the famous Milford Sound. The tranquility of this remote fiord, known as ‘the sound of silence’, is simply unmatched.

To reach this majestic fiord, you’ll need to cross Lake Manapouri and traverse a mountain pass by bus, an adventure in itself. Once there, a cruise through Doubtful Sound’s rugged peaks and lush rainforests awaits, offering a chance to spot dolphins, seals, and even the elusive Fiordland crested penguin.

Doubtful Sound is not just a destination; it’s an experience that encapsulates the untouched beauty of New Zealand’s wilderness.

Here’s what you need to know about the cruises:

  • Day Cruise: Approximately 3 hours, exploring the fiord to where it meets the sea.
  • Overnight Cruise: A more immersive experience, allowing for deeper exploration and wildlife encounters.

Remember, the journey to Doubtful Sound is as remarkable as the destination itself, making it a must-do for any summer adventure in New Zealand.

3. Get Your Adrenaline Fix in Queenstown (Tāhuna)

3. Get Your Adrenaline Fix in Queenstown (Tāhuna)

Queenstown, nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is the Adventure Capital of the World. Discover the best adventures on New Zealand’s South Island, from bungee jumping to jet boat riding. It’s not just about the usual hiking and biking; Queenstown takes it up a notch with skydiving, paragliding, and more.

Queenstown is a tourist playground that has truly earned its place as one of the most visited parts of the country. The striking mountain scenery and gorgeous waterfront area set the stage for an unforgettable experience.

After a day filled with adrenaline-pumping activities, relax in one of Queenstown’s natural hot pools. Here’s a quick list of must-try adventures:

  • Bungee Jumping
  • Skydiving
  • Jet Boat Riding
  • Paragliding
  • Skiing
  • Mountain Biking

Each of these activities offers a unique way to experience the breathtaking landscapes and get your heart racing. Whether you’re looking for thrills or just to soak up the stunning views, Queenstown has something for everyone.

4. Go Bungy Jumping

4. Go Bungy Jumping

New Zealand is the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping, and there’s no better place to take the plunge than in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. With several iconic jumps, including the historic Kawarau Bridge, the thrilling Nevis Bungy, and The Ledge with its stunning views, you’re spoilt for choice.

Queenstown isn’t just about bungy jumping; it’s a hub for all things adrenaline. Whether you’re leaping, diving, or zipping through the air, the experiences here are unmatched. Here’s a quick guide to the top bungy spots:

  • Kawarau Bridge: The original bungy site, perfect for first-timers.
  • The Ledge: Offers a freestyle jump with panoramic views of Queenstown.
  • Nevis Bungy: New Zealand’s highest bungy jump, not for the faint-hearted.

Embrace the fear and leap into the unknown. The exhilaration of bungy jumping is an unforgettable part of any New Zealand adventure.

5. See Aoraki / Mount Cook

5. See Aoraki / Mount Cook

Standing tall at 3,724 meters, Aoraki / Mount Cook is not only the highest mountain in New Zealand but also a beacon for adventurers and nature lovers alike. Nestled within the Southern Alps, this majestic peak offers a range of activities that cater to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you’re looking to embark on a scenic helicopter flight with an alpine landing or explore the mountain’s beauty on foot, Aoraki / Mount Cook has something for everyone. The Hooker Valley Track is a popular choice for an easy hike that rewards with breathtaking views.

For the more daring, heli-hiking and summit climbs offer an up-close experience with this iconic mountain. Remember to plan your visit to make the most of the summer season’s offerings.

Summer Activities at Aoraki Mount Cook Village:

  1. Scenic Helicopter Flight with Alpine Landing
  2. Heli-hiking adventures
  3. Summit climbs
  4. Exploring the Hooker Valley Track

Make sure to check out the various tours available during the summer months to fully experience the splendor of Aoraki / Mount Cook.

6. Visit Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula

6. Visit Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula

Nestled on the east coast of the South Island, the Banks Peninsula is a verdant volcanic wonder, offering a sanctuary for wildlife and a retreat for nature lovers. Explore the maritime magic of Akaroa Harbour, the peninsula’s crowning jewel, where the charm of a small coastal town meets the grandeur of nature.

In Akaroa, you’ll find a delightful blend of cultural heritage and natural beauty. The town boasts excellent restaurants, a quaint museum, and opportunities for wildlife encounters, including the chance to see the world’s smallest dolphin species, the Hector Dolphin.

Whether you’re cruising along the scenic drives or embarking on a nature cruise, the Banks Peninsula is a place where memories are made.

Here are some top activities to consider during your visit:

  • Take a nature cruise to witness Hector’s Dolphins.
  • Enjoy the local cuisine at one of Akaroa’s fantastic restaurants.
  • Visit the Pōhatu penguins and immerse yourself in their natural habitat.

7. See Hector’s Dolphins

7. See Hector's Dolphins

Embark on a journey to Akaroa, one of the few places in the world where you can encounter the enchanting Hector’s dolphins. These marine gems are the smallest dolphins in the world, and a nature cruise from Akaroa offers a chance to see them up close. Alongside these playful creatures, you might also spot penguins, seals, and sea birds, all while absorbing the stunning views of the volcanic crater.

With tours like Black Cat Cruises, you’re almost guaranteed a sighting of Hector’s dolphins. Their 2-hour eco tour is so confident in their dolphin encounters that they offer a free cruise if no dolphins are sighted. It’s an experience that seamlessly blends adventure with the natural beauty of New Zealand.

For those seeking a more immersive experience, Dolphin Encounter provides tours year-round. You can choose to simply view the dolphins or, for the more adventurous, swim with them. However, make sure to book in advance as these tours are incredibly popular and can sell out quickly.

Remember, while swimming with dolphins can be a dream come true, it’s important to respect their space, especially when they have young with them. Sometimes, just sailing alongside these magnificent creatures and watching them interact with their environment is a magical experience in itself.

8. Visit Cathedral Caves

8. Visit Cathedral Caves

Exploring the Cathedral Caves is a mystical experience that’s only possible a few hours each day, aligning with the low tide. Check the official website for the precise times to plan your visit accordingly. The journey to the caves includes a scenic 20-minute walk through a lush forest, leading to a beach where the caves await after a further 10-minute stroll.

Remember to wear sturdy walking shoes for the slippery terrain, and bring a waterproof jacket. The caves are naturally cool, so a warm layer is advisable with temperatures averaging 9

Here’s what you should bring for a comfortable exploration:

  • Sturdy walking shoes
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Warm fleece or sweater

A visit to the Cathedral Caves is not just a walk on the beach; it’s an adventure through nature’s grand architecture, lasting between 1 to 2 hours. Make sure to leave enough time to enjoy the return trip along the same trail.

9. Go Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park

9. Go Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park may be the smallest in New Zealand, but it’s a giant when it comes to breathtaking coastal scenery and golden beaches. Embark on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and immerse yourself in the park’s natural beauty.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely day hike or an adventurous multi-day journey, Abel Tasman has something for everyone. Popular activities include kayaking alongside seals, paddleboarding in crystal-clear waters, and exploring secluded bays. Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

  • Start at Kaiteriteri and take a scenic cruise to Medlands Beach.
  • Hike through lush rainforests and along pristine beaches to Torrent Bay.
  • Continue to Anchorage Bay, where you can relax or swim in the tranquil waters.

Remember, no matter your fitness level, there’s a path in Abel Tasman that’s perfect for you. Take your time, soak in the views, and enjoy one of the most unforgettable experiences in New Zealand.

10. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

10. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

To experience one of the most dramatic coastal landscapes in New Zealand, make your way to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These natural formations are a true spectacle, resembling giant stacks of pancakes made from limestone. The area offers a unique opportunity to witness the power of the ocean as it forces water through the blowholes, creating an impressive display.

The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are easily accessible via a 1.1 km loop track that takes about 20 minutes to complete. The walk is free and provides several vantage points for visitors to take in the stunning views. Here’s what you need to know before you go:

  • Location: West coast of the South Island, north of Franz Josef
  • Walking Track: 1.1 km loop
  • Duration: Approximately 20 minutes
  • Cost: Free

While in the region, don’t forget to explore other nearby attractions such as the Hoktika Gorge, known for its striking aquamarine waters, and the many outdoor adventures that await at Lake Wanaka.

Remember, the best time to visit the Pancake Rocks is during high tide when the blowholes are most active. So, plan your trip accordingly to ensure you don’t miss this incredible natural performance.

Embrace the Adventure: A Summer to Remember in New Zealand

As the sun sets on our comprehensive guide to a fantastic summer in New Zealand, we hope you’re buzzing with excitement for the adventures that await. From the adrenaline-pumping activities in Queenstown to the serene scenic drives along Lake Pukaki, the South Island offers a diverse tapestry of experiences. Whether you choose to marvel at the majestic Aoraki/Mount Cook, sip on the finest wines in Cromwell, or kayak through the crystal-clear waters of Abel Tasman National Park, your summer is bound to be unforgettable. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to create a mosaic of memories that will last a lifetime. And remember, this is just a taste of what New Zealand has to offer; there’s always more to explore, more to experience, and more to fall in love with in this enchanting corner of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of year to visit New Zealand for summer activities?

The best time to visit New Zealand for summer activities is during the Southern Hemisphere summer, from December to February, when the weather is warm and conducive to outdoor pursuits.

Do I need any special equipment for the activities on the South Island?

Some activities, like hiking or skiing, may require specific gear. It’s best to check with tour operators or local guides for specific equipment needs.

Can I see the Southern Lights in New Zealand?

The Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis, can sometimes be seen from the South Island of New Zealand, particularly in areas with low light pollution during the winter months.

Is it possible to visit both the North and South Islands in one trip?

Yes, it’s possible to visit both islands in one trip. Many travelers choose to do a road trip or take domestic flights to cover the various attractions across both islands.

Are there any unique wildlife experiences in New Zealand?

New Zealand offers unique wildlife experiences, such as seeing Hector’s dolphins, little blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, and possibly even spotting a kiwi bird in the wild.

What are some must-do activities in Queenstown?

In Queenstown, must-do activities include bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, and taking a scenic gondola ride to Skyline Queenstown for panoramic views.

Are the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound cruises different?

Yes, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound offer distinct experiences. Milford Sound is more accessible and famous for its dramatic peaks, while Doubtful Sound is larger, more remote, and often considered more serene.

What should I pack for a summer trip to New Zealand?

For a summer trip, pack lightweight clothing, a waterproof jacket, sun protection, comfortable walking shoes, and any specific gear for activities like swimming or hiking.

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