NEW ZEALAND IS synonymous with geographic diversity of fairytale proportions. You can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon; find yourself in a sprawling metropolis one minute and speeding down a forested hillside the next.
Here, you’ll find 20 videos of some of the most breathtaking experiences anyone can have in New Zealand. And excellent as it might be to spectate, we highly recommend putting yourself inside the frame.
1. Walking the finest trail on Earth
Hike 33 miles along the Milford Track, the most famous of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” Explore native rainforest, peaks, and fiords from Lake Te Anau to the spectacular Milford Sound, located in the southwest corner of the South Island.
New Zealand gets a lot of press for its adventure sports — what you may not know, though, is that you can take pretty much any sport, add “heli-” to it, and that opportunity probably exists here as well. Below, the guys from Yeti Cycles use a chopper to reach some supremely epic downhill mountain biking trails around Queenstown.
3. Riding the Skyline Gondola…and biking down
It’s New Zealand’s only gondola-accessible bike trail, which takes you up 1,400 feet to a place of endless trails, panoramic views, plus a bar that gives you a good vantage point from which to take it all in.
4. Heli-surfing in Fiordland
As so often is the case, the most gloriously beautiful places on Earth are the least accessible. New Zealand’s Fiordland just so happens to be one of those places. But if you can dream it, there’s a helicopter that’ll get you there. In the case of these surfers, they may not have choppered their way to record-breaking waves, but the peaceful isolation was no doubt worth the trip.
5. Watching the All Blacks perform the Haka
11 Tri Nations Championships. 4 Grand Slams. 2 Rugy World Cup Championships. New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, are pretty much the New York Yankees of the sport. But it’s their pregame ritual, the Haka — a traditional Maori war cry to formally challenge (read: intimidate the hell out of) their opponents — that may be most captivating for non-rugby aficionados.
With so many peaks and valleys, you can paraglide just about anywhere in New Zealand (assuming you’re trained and/or have a guide). Or if you’d rather live vicariously, sit back and watch as seasoned paraglider Brooke Whatnall takes a massive glide off Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola.
There’s not a single place on Earth I wouldn’t jet-ski (places containing water, anyway). But if this video of some guys throwing huge waverunner flips off the coast of Auckland is any indication, New Zealand might be the place on Earth I’d choose if forced to pick only one.
Arguably no sport poses more opportunity for unbelievably impressive montages — and possibly unimaginably painful injuries — than kiteboarding. And since all you need is a steady stream of wind and a large body of water, New Zealand makes a perfect canvas for the sport. The gorgeous backdrop doesn’t hurt, either.
9. Laying a Hangi
If it’s a sin to visit Memphis without trying the barbecue, then it’s equally offensive to spend time in Rotorua without “laying a Hangi,” the traditional Maori barbecue method where lamb and other deliciousness is cooked over nature’s time-tested method of a pit full of hot coals.
10. Pack rafting
If you’re looking to get deep into New Zealand’s backcountry, there might be no better way than pack rafting. To the uninitiated: This is where you take an inflatable raft that fits in your backpack and venture into the wilderness. To the initiated: Watch this video, and then immediately get yourself to New Zealand.
11. Swinging the world’s highest swing
The Nevis Swing, near Queenstown, dubs itself as the “world’s highest swing.” We’re not going to take any official measurements, but we would take a 160-meter-high ride on this. Not to mention quadruple-check to make sure we removed our cell phone.
12. Paddling Lake Tarawera
This is the place to experience New Zealand’s epic geothermal activity. In short: Certain patches of Lake Tarawera in Rotorua are heated into the 100+ degree range by volcanic activity below. Which means, yes, it’s like the world’s largest hot tub. But it can also get dangerously hot, so…keep your arms and legs inside unless you know it’s safe.
13. Road tripping
Road trips in foreign countries are one of the most rewarding experiences a traveler can have, but a road trip in New Zealand might make every prior trip feel insignificant. With just about every type of landscape you can imagine, you might feel as though you’re taking every possible road trip at once…kind of like the travel equivalent of quantum superposition.
New Zealand is the birthplace of this extreme sport, so it only makes sense that you’d come here to try it out yourself. Or at the very least, watch your friends tumble down a hillside in a Human Hamster Ball.
15. Freediving and spearfishing
If you’ve ever needed a reason to get SCUBA-certified, watch this video of two freedivers spending a month diving off the North Island’s east coast. It’s pretty much like swimming straight through a tropical aquarium — except they’re also hunting their own meals along the way.
Another amazing benefit of New Zealand’s infamous Skylines (this one’s in Rotorua): ridiculously fast luge tracks –think bobsledding without the ice. You ride the gondola to the top, take in the scenery, and then speed down as fast as gravity can take you.
17. Trekking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
If the otherworldly landscape in the video below looks familiar, you’ve probably seen The Lord of the Rings — because it’s precisely where the mountain used to depict Mt. Doom is located. But since long before the region’s cinematic debut, this trail has been held as the most spectacular one-day hike in the country. Considering this is New Zealand, that’s saying something.
18. Climbing Mt. Cook
Mt. Cook — or Aoraki, by its Maori name — is the highest mountain in New Zealand, and entirely climbable assuming you’re physically fit and experienced enough. And of course, the crazy thing is you can go from a Himalayan-style mountainscape to beaches in the span of a couple dozen miles.
19. Trout fishing
My dad, a professional bass fisherman, likes to say that “90% of good fishing is just learning to appreciate the silence.” I would imagine that’s not too hard in a place like New Zealand.
New Zealand is home to the world’s largest “Sky Reserve” — i.e., an area that’s pledged to maintain almost-light-pollution-free status. That should tell you how seriously Kiwis take their stargazing. And what kind of incredible skies you’ll see down there.