Travel Guides

10 of the Best Things to Do on a Gap Year in New Zealand

Not sure what do in New Zealand? Here are our tips for a top gap year experience...

Fancy a gap year in New Zealand? New Zealand is the only country where Brits can get an automatic working visa for up to 23 months until the age of 30, so it certainly seems like the logical choice, but what to do in New Zealand when on a gap year can be a bit harder to decide.

Naturally, planning what to do in New Zealand on your gap year can be rather difficult. We’re guessing if you’ve made it this far into the process, whether you’re still contemplating or have already signed up, you’ve already realised that a gap year in New Zealand can offer a variety of adventures that are completely unique to the country.

Whether it’s the scenery, the sports, the wildlife or the adventure you’re after when you head to the other side of the world though, our list of the best things to do in New Zealand on a gap year will sort you right out.

From the Lord of the Rings and pretending your Frodo to skydiving, bungy jumping and heading out on a road trip, here are our top ten essential tourist stops for any New Zealand gap year.

1) Go Below in Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves are home to various large caves, including; the Glowworm Cave, Aranui Cave and Ruakuri Cave. The Glow-worm leads past huge stalagmites and stalactites into a stunning cavern called ‘The Cathedral’. By the end of the tour, you’ll be boarding a boat and rowing down a river within the cavern, past countless little lights on the banks – the glowworms. One look at the photo above will tell you that it’s a gap year experience you won’t forget.

Aranui Cave is known for it’s limestone rock formations meanwhile, while your entrance to Ruakuri will take you spiralling on a 15m staircase by a Maori burial site. Glowworms, streams and waterfalls are also a regular sight here.

2) Go Whale Watching

You can’t go on a gap year in New Zealand and not take in the wildlife. One of the most amazing opportunities to do this is undoubtedly on a whale-watching tour, and the Whale Watch team at Kaikoura come highly recommended.

A scenic two and a half hour drive from Christchurch International Airport, the awesome Whale Watch team are indigenous Kiwis, and their tours have won numerous national and international awards for tourism. What better way to breathe in the wildlife of New Zealand on a gap year than with those who know the area better than anyone.

3) Visit a Maori Village

If you’re keen on breathing in the culture of the country while on your gap year in New Zealand, what better way than to visit a Maori Village. Numerous tours operate across the country offering exactly that.

If you want to stand out on your tour meanwhile, and fancy yourself as a linguist, try learning the Maori word: ‘Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu’. It’s the longest place name in any English speaking country in the world, and we’re betting you’ll badly embarrass yourself when you give it a shot.

Wonderfully, it translates as “the summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.” It’s a bit more eccentric than ‘Hull’, anyway.

4) Take on a Cycling Tour

Wherever you are in the world, jumping on a bicycle and peddling away is often the best way to experience the country, the scenery and discover all sorts of sites and meet a whole lot of people who wouldn’t have met otherwise.

If you’re not in a rush in your gap year and want an experience you’ll never forget, why not take a week or so off and tour the country on your bike. You can tour the South or the North islands, or go shorter and follow seven day programs around the West coast Wilderness, cycle from the Alps to Ocean, on the famous Otago Central Rail Trail or jump on your mountain bike and take on some trails.

Remember Queenstown is famous for its trails, and Crankworx launched their new annual mountain bike competition in Rotorua this year, so if you’re mad for the mountains, you won’t be left at a loss!

5) Take the Lord of the Rings Tour

You can’t make a list of the best things to do in New Zealand anymore without mentioning the Lord of the Rings. But there’s very good reason for that – the scenery and sets in the film is stunning, and guess what? They looks even better in real life. Obviously.

From the famous mountains to Hobbit Holes, the Green Dragon Inn and a whole host of other interests, if you liked the films, New Zealand has the tour for you – you just need to find the one tour to rule them all. Get it? Get it?!! Then why aren’t you laughing?

6) Hike the Franz Josef Glacier

If you’re looking for a unique gap year experience in New Zealand that you’ll be talking about for years to come, this is what you’re after. They say travelling makes you a better story-teller, and this is one hell of a story.

There are various companies which offer tours of the Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Guides, being one of the most famous, and tours can range from helicopter pick-ups and heli-hikes to simpler guided walks or overnight alpine trekking. You can even go ice climbing if you’re really up for it.

7) Explore Tongariro National Park

The oldest national park in New Zealand, Tongariro has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, and can be found in the centre of the North Island.

At a remarkable 796 square kilometres, you’re not going to be seeing your way round the whole park, so a tip of ours is to head to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a highly recommended venture which brings in some stunning scenery from volcanic paths to plains and rock pools. A guaranteed success for your gap year Instragram.

8) See Waterfalls and Baby Seals

Whale watching is one thing, but if you’re really going to get up close and personal with the wildlife of New Zealand on your gap year, you’re going to want seal pups – because who doesn’t love seal pups?! Awwww. Look at those eyes.

In Ohau, you can take off on a stunning waterfall walk and then meet some baby seals along the way. If this doesn’t sound like you’re idea of a great gap year experience, then you’re no friend of ours. Look at those eyes!

9) Leap Off The World’s First Commercial Bungy

If you’ve never bungy jumped before but you’re ready to take the big leap, why not do it on the Kawarau bridge, the original commercial bungy jump.

The bungy business was opened back in 1988 by adventure pioneers AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch, and it’s become famous due to it’s status as the world’s first.

The 43m plunge has thrilled millions of locals and travellers over the past 28 years, and even offers Queentown’s only opportunity for a tandem dive. If you’re looking for an adventure in New Zealand with a bit of a back story, this is the stunt for you.

10) …And Skydive in the Same Day

The beauty of New Zealand? The country is so brilliantly set up for action-sport-loving adrenaline-seekers that you can go bungy jumping, skydiving, white-water jet-boating and canyon swinging all in one day. There’s even a tour that will take you round all of them and throw in some food for your efforts.

If you head to’s 5X1 you can find some amazing day tour opportunities that are sure to give you the most memorable 24-hours of your life, no matter what you’re particular passion is.

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