New Zealand is a country that knows how to show visitors a good time. With breathtaking scenery, heart-pumping adrenalin activities, fascinating cultural experiences, and some of the best food and wine on the planet, choosing the right excursion can be more challenging than spotting a kiwi in the wild.
Fortunately there are tour options to suit everyone -- from sedate scenic cruises to rewarding cultural experiences and hardcore adventure sports. You can choose to soak up the scenery, paddle a Maori war canoe, hang out in Hobbiton, sample some pinot noirs, ride on a vintage steamship or raft down a seven-metre waterfall? The following 'don't miss' suggestions should help make your decision a little easier.
Queenstown to Dunedin (overnight)
While it might seem crazy to pay to get off your cruise, this overnight excursion is definitely worth the extra expenditure. For a start, you get to feel like a rock star when the ship makes a special stop in Milford Sound especially for your tour group.
The adventure begins with a transfer by charter boat and is followed by a scenic bus ride to Queenstown, one of the country's most picturesque destinations. Along with plenty of famous New Zealand scenery, get a glimpse into the country's past with a visit to the quaint mining towns of Arrowtown and Clyde, which are clustered with pretty shops and boutiques.
A trip to Walter Peak High Country Farm provides a classic Kiwi farm experience and the journey there and back on TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship with a story to tell, offers a charming slice of history. There is even a sing-a-long with the resident pianist, which might sound cheesy but is a lot of fun. Add a detour to a stunning Central Otago winery, take a leap of faith while attached to a bungee cord, record that remarkable view of The Remarkables and take a tour of Dunedin and you have designed a 24-hour trip-of-a-lifetime.
Who Should Go: Those who want to see as much of New Zealand as possible and have the stamina to handle a jam-packed itinerary. Note: you might need a day on a deckchair to recover after this tour, but the memories will last forever.
Why: It packs in everything New Zealand is famous for -- in 24 hours. If you aren't planning on getting back to the Land of the Long White Cloud anytime soon, this tour is a requisite. Yes, it's expensive, but it's worth it.
Kaituna River White Water Rafting
Rafting the Kaituna in Tauranga is not for the faint-hearted, but beginners are more than welcome on this trip, which takes on the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
Kaituna River is a 'pool drop' rafting experience, which means there is a calm pool that allows everyone to regroup after negotiating each of the 14 rapids and three waterfalls. While two of the waterfalls are quick and fun, watch out for the second last one, as the guides love nothing better than tricking everyone into paddling back into the falls for an impromptu shower.
Be warned: right before the last waterfall there is a bailout side path called the Aussie Highway, so-called because no Kiwi can resist the opportunity to tease an Australian. After this, there is no turning back -- it is time to take on the thundering seven-metre wall of water that is Tutea Falls, an extreme adventure that will leave everyone grinning from ear to ear.
Who Should Go: Adventurous travellers, who are reasonably fit, and like to challenge themselves.
Why: It is one of the few spots in the world where beginners can tackle Grade 5 rapids. Plus, you will be able to brag about this tour for years to come.
Lord of the Rings -- Hobbiton Movie Set
You don't have to be a Tolkien nerd to be charmed by 'the Shire,' the 4.8 hectare movie set that brought Hobbiton to life during filming of The Lord of the Rings. While the trilogy netted billions at the box office, it also put New Zealand's breathtaking scenery in the spotlight as the farmland near Matamata, in the North Island, was transformed into Middle Earth.
Hobbiton's hills are dotted with more than 40 Hobbit Holes, which you can stroll around with a friendly guide who knows all about LOTR (and how to keep those who aren't fans equally entertained). Don't forget your camera, as Hobbiton is impossibly pretty, covered in colourful flowers and many little nooks that will raise a smile. Tours finish with coffee and a treat at The Shire's Rest cafe, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Who Should Go: Lord of the Rings' fans, of course. But the scenery makes it worth doing even if you have never read the books or seen the films. There is a fair bit of walking across uneven terrain, which could be challenging for some visitors.
Why: Hobbiton is so realistic that you will expect Bilbo Baggins to pop out of a Hobbit Hole and join you on the tour.
Hawke's Bay Wine Country
If you think New Zealand doesn't produce full-bodied reds, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Hawke's Bay has a similar climate to Bordeaux and is famous for its luscious merlot, cabernet sauvignon and Syrah wines. You will also find plenty of rich, complex chardonnay and lighter, aromatic whites on this tour through the heart of Hawke's Bay wine country from Napier.
About half a million hectares of rolling hills provide the perfect backdrop for wine-tasting at the area's many cellar doors, most of which are family owned. Which wineries you visit will depend on the tour, but Ngatarawa (pronounced Naa-taa-ra-wa), one of New Zealand's earliest boutique wineries, is one of the most delightful. Its long, tree-lined driveway and cellar door, housed in a 100-year-old racing stable, showcase the region's claim to fame as New Zealand's oldest wine growing district.
Along with plenty of sampling (some tours include up to three cellar doors), you will also try local delights such as Rush Munro's famous ice cream, creamy local cheeses and handmade chocolates.
Who Should Go: Food- and wine-lovers will especially enjoy this tour. However, there is no need to be an epicurean expert; all you need is a willingness to listen and learn.
Why: New Zealand is world-famous for its excellent wines. This is your chance to find out why and to visit the country's oldest wine region.
Bay of Islands
Northland Maori Waka Encounter
In the past, Maori used waka (canoes) the same way we use cars today, however waka taua were special. These ornate, beautifully carved vessels transported warriors and were considered sacred. This tour, leaving from Bay of Islands, gives you a rare opportunity to paddle a waka taua with your fellow shipmates, led by a Maori chief, who shares personal tribal and family stories during the journey.
Along with learning traditional paddling techniques and waka manoeuvres, you get to learn a traditional Maori song and issue a haka challenge to the other boatload of passengers. There is fierce competition to determine which waka can paddle the fastest.
One of the many highlights on this trip is reaching Haruru Falls. The word Haruru means 'big noise,' and that is what you will hear as you approach this wide, five-metre-long waterfall. It is a leisurely trip back downstream with a stop at the family's marae (traditional meeting house) and time to enjoy the scenery along the way.
Who Should Go: Those who are interested in learning about Maori culture and enjoy a hands-on tour experience. You don't need to be super fit as 'Mr Yamaha' helps out when you need a break.
Why: It is not every day you get to paddle a warrior canoe.