Our top life-changing New Zealand Experiences

From the quirky to the sporty, artsy to the outdoorsy, New Zealand offers an abundance of experiences that will thrill you, entertain you and often, change you. Although we are world-renowned for our epic outdoor adventures, maybe it doesn't have to be all adrenaline-filled to alter your perspective? Take a peek at our suggested life-changing experiences right here in our very own backyard (minimal safety gear required). 

Spend the day on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka IslandImagine whiling away the day on a secluded paradise island. 

In Māori, the Bay of Islands can be known as Ipipiri, which means ‘many places.’ One such special place is Urupukapuka Island. This pest-free, 208-hectare island is the largest in the Bay of Islands. 

Urupukapuka Island is ringed by dreamy white sand beaches, warm clear water for snorkelling, beachside campsites and walking tracks winding through long grass.

At Otehei Bay you can hire kayaks, or grab a bite to eat from the licensed café.

During the summer months, you can catch a passenger ferry from Paihia and Russell, or you can visit by water taxi or private boat.

Doughboats, Lake Taupō

If you're visiting Lake Taupō chances are you'll want to get out on the water.  

One of the latest and most striking additions to the Taupō waterfront are Doughboats – inflatable doughnut-shaped boats with room for up to six people to cruise the inner reaches of the Great Lake. 

Aboard your very own bubble-like boat, you can explore the many bays and hidden coves, leap into the lake for a swim, or enjoy a picnic while bobbing on the waves. 

You don’t need a special license to drive a Doughboat – just nominate someone as skipper and set off on your unique lake cruise.

Go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop

The Troll WWWeta Workshop is world-famous! But in Wellington, you can have your own hands-on experience of cinematic craft. 

From a 45-minute excursion to a full-day tour, at Weta, you can immerse yourself in the world of movie-making. 

Get up close to props and models used in the Lord of the Rings films, watch visual effects artists at work or visit one of the real, miniature television shooting stages used in Thunderbirds are Go. 

Visit a rugby haven 

In Palmerston North, you can visit the first-ever public museum devoted to rugby.

Since opening in 1977 the New Zealand Rugby Museum has continued to expand and has been housed in its current premises in the Te Manawa complex – Palmerston North’s museum of art, science and history – since 2011.

Discover everything you ever wanted to know about rugby, from the first game played in Nelson in 1870 to the juggernauts that are today’s All Blacks. 

There is a wealth of riches for the footy fanatic and the merely curious alike.

Explore the world of WOMAD

WOMAD, or World of Music, Arts and Dance, is a festival held at locations throughout the world. In New Zealand, the event has made its home in Taranaki. 

At the end of each summer, the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth's sprawling Pukekura Park comes alive with colour, culture, music and food from all corners of the globe.

With renowned international performers covering a huge range of musical genres, performance art, global cuisine and a multi-generational, laid-back festival vibe, WOMAD is a cultural celebration like no other.

From local soul to bagpipes; African jazz to shakuhachi, the Bowl of Brooklands rings to the sound and vision of a staggering array of dancers, performers and musicians from truly anywhere and everywhere.

Winter Whale watching

Whales KaikouraWinter offers the best whale watching and seal spotting and with New Zealand’s extensive coastline (clocking up over 15,134 kilometres) you are spoilt for choice. Combine whale watching and spectacular scenery in Kaikoura as the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps provide a dramatic background.

While resident sperm whales are the main attraction, you can also spot the humpback, minke, blue, fin, sei, killer, beaked and pilot whales. The humpback passes through Kaikoura on its annual pilgrimage to Antarctic waters to feed.

Enter the surreal Sculptureum in Matakana

SculptureumImmerse yourself in one of the most impressive private art collections in New Zealand. Here you can travel through a rich selection of international artists – including the works of Cezanne, Chagall and Rodin. Change your perspective and enter a sense of childlike curiosity in the delectable sculpture gardens (do not miss the delightful ‘Rabbiton’ in the Garden of Creative Diversity). When owners Anthony and Sandra Grant opened their property to the public, they described it as “art entertainment” and it does not disappoint.

Star gaze at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve

AorakiTake yourself to the Mackenzie Basin which is nestled in the foothills of the Southern Alps. Here, stars twinkle brightly in a crystal-clear night sky that makes it feel as if the heavens are closer to earth.

The skies above the surrounding region, which includes the country’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook, have been officially declared an ‘International Dark Sky Reserve’ with a gold rating. Covering 4300sq km over Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve forms the world’s largest such reserve.

Immerse yourself in illuminated art at the LUMA Southern Light Project

LumaAs the nights begin closing in and the first snows have fallen in the Southern Alps, Queenstown begins counting down to the winter season that launches with an award-winning festival of light. The LUMA Southern Light Project is a sensory experience bringing together illuminated art, light sculpture, performance and community over four days on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.

Image Credit: Tomas Whelan Henderson