First-timer’s guide to New Zealand: 5 things to see and do

27 May 2020

New Zealand’s sweeping landscapes never fail to take your breath away. Those jagged mountain peaks rise out from the ground dramatically. The hills are swathed in bright green, rolling across the skyline for miles. Pristine lakes sparkle endlessly.

Renowned for its spectacular scenery, New Zealand is a paradise for outdoor-lovers yet its cities and culture are just as engaging. From exploring Māori artefacts at the Auckland Museum to discovering exquisite Art Deco architecture and New Zealand’s only castle, there are plenty of things to delight.

For first-timers to this awe-inspiring country though, where do you start? Perhaps you explore the North Island or the South Island. Maybe you base your trip around sampling the country’s mouthwatering wine. Or, you embrace the great outdoors and try adventure after adventure. From dramatic scenery to vibrant cities, new experiences lie around every corner in New Zealand.

Here, we’ve chosen five things we think you should see and do on your first trip to New Zealand. They’re perfect as a starting point for your journey to this spectacular spot on earth…


Nestled on the South Island, glaciers have carved the area known as Fiordland over 100,000 years ago, creating a mesmerising landscape. Deep fiords filled with water in a rich blue-black hue glimmer in the sunshine, rugged mountains are dotted with rainforests, and soaring granite peaks tower over you. It’s a truly breathtaking sight to experience.

Within Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Site, you’ll find Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds, stretches of water inside the peaks.

The well-known Milford Sound is a fiord with inky-blue waters and sky-high cliffs that rise vertically up from the shimmering body of water. You can cruise the water on a boat trip but if you’re travelling with an adventurer, try kayaking across the deep blue-black water. Thrill-seekers should also try scuba diving down to the underwater observatory at Harrison Cove to see the black coral and 11-legged sea stars!

We’d also suggest a trip to the enchanting, lesser known Doubtful Sound, New Zealand’s second-longest and deepest sound. Expect waterfalls, forests, and wildlife including Bottlenose dolphins and Fiordland Crested Penguins.

Wineries and vineyards

New Zealand's wines are world-renowned and there are plenty of tours to help you learn more about the different varieties – and taste a little, too!

If you’re in Auckland, head to Waiheke Island, a mere 35 minutes by fast passenger ferry from Auckland. You’ll find vineyards galore, plus olive groves, beaches, charming art galleries, cafes and boutiques. If you’re in Queenstown, try a delicious Pinot Noir from one of the 80-plus wineries in Central Otago.

For a sip of those delicious gooseberry, grapefruit and pineapple notes you find in a mouthwatering New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, head to Marlborough. A cycling tour here is a delightful way to experience the rolling vineyards and sunny weather.

Add the exquisite city of Napier to your wine-tasting list, too. Located in the North Island, an hour’s flight from Auckland, stepping into Napier’s city centre is like stepping back into the glamorous 1930s, with opulent Art Deco buildings lining the streets. The area is known for its world-class Pinot Gris and Syrah wines and there are plenty of gourmet nibbles and wines to delight foodies and wine-lovers!


From the kiwi bird to whales, New Zealand’s spectacular scenery is home to a dazzling array of wildlife.

Swim with New Zealand Fur Seals in Kaikoura or dolphins in their natural environment in Pahia. See the world’s smallest dolphin swim past you in the glistening waters, as you paddle next to Hector’s dolphin in the historic French township of Akaroa. Don’t forget a waterproof camera!

Always wanted to see majestic whales soar through the seas? Spot these ginormous creatures in Kaikoura and the Hauraki Gulf, an area nestled next to Auckland.

A visit to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of the famed kiwi bird! This nocturnal, little feathered friend with its curved, long beak can be seen on Kapiti Island (off the coast near Wellington) and on Stewart Island.

Māori culture

Māori culture is entwined with New Zealand’s heart. As you explore the country, you can experience many different aspects of Maori culture; from the Pōwhiri, a traditional welcoming ceremony, to enjoying food cooked in a Hangi, an underground earth oven. You could even find yourself trying your hand at the famous Haka, the war dance made famous by the All Blacks rugby team.

You’ll find plenty of cultural tours and experiences in Auckland, Northland, Rotorua, and Canterbury, so you can discover the history, language and traditions of the Māori wherever you travel to.

Don’t forget to add the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, on the Bay of Islands, to your list. It’s New Zealand’s most important historic site, where, in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, New Zealand’s founding document.


The location for the epic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogy, New Zealand’s landscape needs little introduction but did you know that you can step inside an actual Hobbit-hole?

Hamilton, a couple of hours’ drive south of Auckland, is where The Shire came to life in the films. You can visit the Hobbiton Movie Set there – a magical village with 44 Hobbit-holes set within a farm of 1,250 acres.

With filming locations for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies found all throughout the country, you can add a stop to your itinerary whether you find yourself on the North Island or South Island.

If you’re venturing to Queenstown in the South Island (a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts), stop off at Paradise, which was one of the locations filmed for The Hobbit Trilogy. The home of the elves, Rivendell, in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogy, was filmed in the beautiful Kaitoke Regional Park, near Wellington.

Here, we’ve chosen five things to see and do for your first visit to New Zealand but there are so many other places to explore. No matter whether you’re a keen birdwatcher, adventure-seeker, or want to discover the rich heritage of this beautiful region, get in touch with your Travel Counsellor to plan your tailor-made New Zealand holiday.


Share this:

Travel Counsellors help thousands of people create personal travel experiences they’ll never forget. Start your journey today.
Find your Travel Counsellor
Back To Top