What’s the first thing you think of when you think of New Zealand? For most people it’s adventure travel. And for some people like me, it’s sheep. But I’m sorta strange, so we’ll go with adventure as the norm.
Even the tourism department labels themselves the “Home of Adventure Tourism”. I suppose it’s not too far off since a couple of the most popular modern day adventures were actually created in New Zealand and now have spread across the world.
A New Zealand invention, the jet boat was developed in 1960 by a South Island farmer to give better access to his high country land which was dissected by shallow braided rivers. The jet boat’s maneuverability and ability to travel in shallow water inspired another application, to take thrill seeking tourists onto the spectacular rivers and through canyons.
New Zealand’s adventure travel reputation was cemented in 1988 when young entrepreneurs AJ Hackett and Henry Van Asch arrived in town to develop the world’s first commercial bungy jump operation.
But wait…there’s more… Tandem paragliding was pioneered in New Zealand too.
New Zealanders seem to be big visionaries, fearless, and entrepreneurial. Certainly most of the Kiwi’s I’ve met fit that mold.
New Zealand is Adrenaline Country
Through a series of imagery and giant marketing campaigns, the country has successfully branded itself as the ‘adventure capital’. I suppose the same way that Italy is known for amazing food, or the Netherlands for flowers. A brand so strong that it is known worldwide.
New Zealand tourism has many other great things too – like sheep of course. But it also has beautiful views, famous hikes, Maori culture, and a really impressive camper rental industry. And even thought the Niece Project was here to see it all, it was the adventures that Lindsey was primarily interested in. The niece project sort of turned into the Niece Adventure on this trip! And as much as I want the nieces to really experience the culture of a place, I have to admit that adventure is a piece of the culture in New Zealand.
Budgeting for Adventure
Choices, choices – everywhere we went there were adventure choices to make, each one quite expensive. I was actually pretty surprised at how much each activity cost. And of course the more adrenaline producing and short the activity, the more money you have to be willing to pay! If you are traveling in New Zealand on a budget, choose your adventures wisely by planning ahead and knowing what all of your options are. Plus, look for combo activities that you can do together in one day or multiple days, but are cheaper if you book them together.
Many outfitters have started to throw in a few extras for the high prices which is nice to see. This normally came in the form of pictures or videos. Companies now take pictures of you doing the adventures and instead of charging extra for this service, they then share those images with you via Dropbox or an email program. It’s a really smart move by them as it’s generally great marketing for them. And most importantly it allows you, the customer, to sit back and just enjoy the experience instead of trying to constantly take selfies and pictures.
Niece Adventures That Made Us Scream, Laugh, and Smile
Adrenaline Pumping Adventures
“This is the best day ever!” Lindsey exclaimed. Now that’s a statement every aunt wants to hear. The day we did our combo jetboat/bungee jump I have to admit – I too was a bit woozy with endorphins! There’s plenty of ways to get that adrenaline rush in New Zealand, and we only scratched the surface, but here’s the activities we experienced.
Black Water Rafting in Waitomo
We started our adventures squeezing into wetsuits, putting on helmets, and flipping on our flashlights as we got ready to explore the underworld of Ruakuri Cave. Normally caving doesn’t require wetsuits, however this caving adventure is very different. In fact, I did this exact same activity 10 years ago when I traveled through New Zealand, and I’ve never experienced another tour like it anywhere in the world since. It really is a unique experience. An experience that includes tubing, waterfalls, lots of stairs, worms, and shit. Yes shit.
Even though the script was about exactly the same as 10 years prior, it was fun to have Lindsey go through it the first time. The darkness of the caves create a natural anticipation and uneasiness, and Lindsey was the perfect person to lead the whole tubing group through the cave, which meant she was first to try everything. Every drop, jump, and spider section were full of screams and laughter from Lindsey. I think the whole group likely got a kick out of her reactions and pure terror in some cases. I suddenly get why my older brother scared me all the time. When you are a scardy cat (like I was as a kid), then it becomes pretty fun to play with those emotions. Luckily I wasn’t the ‘villain’ in the cave – our tour guide Rodney was!
Ziplining Adventure in Rotarua
I don’t actually think that ziplining was a activity when I was here 10 years ago. I don’t recall seeing anything about it. However now ziplining companies are all over the islands. We took our tour in Rotarua and zipped along high above the tree canopy. It provided such a beautiful perspective on the forest. And it made my knees unstable at some of the heights we got to.
One thing I really enjoyed about the zipline tour was the element of conservation and education they inject into it. We not only finished the adventure high on adrenaline, but also much smarter about forest conservation and steps that New Zealand is taking to protect their bird populations.
Jetboating Adventure Huka Falls
This activity was a first for me. I had low expectations for it, but I was wildly off base as it ended up being one of the most fun activities we did. I swear I screamed the whole time. Jet boating was like being in a video game – completely insane. We came so close to the river banks and trees it seemed impossible at times. The precision in which Liam, our boat captain, maneuvered the jetboat was impressive. It was fast, terrifying, and wet all at the same time!
Bungee Jumping Taupo
Nothing is more empowering than conquering fear. As hard as this was, I am happy I did it, and I’m even happier I did the tandem bungee jump with Lindsey! I never thought I could go to a ledge, 350 feet off the ground, and just fall off of it. You have to turn your brain off, and that’s something I’m really sucky at doing. Unlike any of the other adventures we did, this one gave me a serious case of butterflies for more than 24 hours prior to the activity. However the feeling of pure excitement and adrenaline erased all of those butterflies and just left wonderful happy memories of this ridiculous adventure.
Note – we did a Bungee JetBoat combo ticket (JumpJet) in Taupo and it turned out much cheaper and they threw in the pictures for free!
Not every adventure in New Zealand makes you want to puke, Lindsey and I did our share of soft adventures too. This may be my age speaking, but I much prefer the softer side of adventure! And hiking is free!
Hiking in Tongariro National Park
The one thing I really wanted to do was the Tongariro Crossing because I didn’t get to do it the last time I was in New Zealand. However the morning we woke up to do the crossing, it was freezing and windy. I looked at the gear we brought for Lindsey and knew that I really couldn’t take her up on the mountain pass in those conditions in Keen sandals. So we didn’t go, and I’m happy we actually waited it out. Instead we let the bad weather pass and went out that afternoon to do the Lower Tama Lake hike – an 8 mile hike that was full of stunning views and strong winds. And it was Lindsey’s first time hiking around an active volcano! We were surrounded by two beauties, Mount Ruapehu an active stratovolcano at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, and Mount Ngauruhoe an active composite cone made from layers of lava and tephra.
Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
Lindsey shrieked in excitement when we saw her first seal moving around the rocks at Adele Island. Seeing how excited she was to see the seals in the wild and get close to them made the whole tour worth it for me. The blue waters at Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island beckon you to get out on them. We took a ½ day kayak trip and then hung out at the beach soaking in the intense sun. Not only was this her first time seeing seals in the wild, it was also Lindsey’s first time sea kayaking and she did great. However, we did have a really calm day so that helped tremendously when it came to paddling!
Swimming with Dolphins in Akaroa
We bobbed in the water as the big Pacific Ocean waves lifted us and dropped us back down. But I barely noticed the big waves as I was looking for the pods of dolphins! Before you cringe, and start lecturing me about how horrible it is to swim with dolphins, remember that this activity is in New Zealand. And they are ultra conservative when it comes to protecting the environment and wildlife. So of course this dolphin swimming was on the up an up. We went to Akaroa outside of Christchurch to see the Hector Dolphins (only found in New Zealand) in the wild. They are the smallest dolphins in the world! There are strict regulations monitored by the Department of Conservation here and we abided by them all. And the good news is that part of the cost of the tour goes directly to the DOC helping further protect the dolphins.
We were told that when we were in the water we had to be ‘interesting’, so the captain suggested singing and the dolphins are more likely to come near us. We sang, and sang, and sang. Holiday songs, pop songs, and even the alphabet song. We weren’t in tune, but we were interesting! Shortly after we got in we had dolphins around us!
We had a great day out on the boat swimming with and viewing pods of Hector Dolphins with EcoSeakers. It was an expensive activity, but worth it especially since the company was small and family owned. And if I thought Lindsey was excited about seeing seals in Abel Tasman – she was over-the-moon excited to have dolphins zoom past her in the water! It really was a special experience and a great educational one too.
These are just the adventures that we took on, but there are so many more to choose from in New Zealand – it’s mind boggling. Canyon swings, rafting, sky diving, paragliding, canyoning, abseiling, climbing, and even zorbing.
How do You Get to All of These Adventures?
If you like adventure and want to try many different things, then consider a tour like Lindsey and I did – one that drives you from place to place throughout the islands giving you the best of all experiences and sights! Our Intrepid Travel small group tour was great for us as we covered so much ground and had a variety of activities available to us over just a 2-week period! Our local guide, Sue, was an expert in all of the activities so she could recommend and explain the various adventures and steer us in the right direction. And yes – she encouraged us to go bungee jumping and I thank her for that!
So whether you want your heart in your throat, or simply work up a good sweat outdoors, there’s something for every adventurer in New Zealand. After all, it’s the adventure capital of the world! Or as I call it – the screaming capital of the world.
For the 3rd year the Niece Project is working with Intrepid Travel! Check out their great family travel opportunities. Family doesn’t always have to mean the conventional family, it is also for aunts and uncles!
I was a guest of Intrepid Travel on this tour However all opinions are my own.