Playing In New Zealand

New Zealand is the ultimate destination for those who love the great outdoors.

Whether you’re an adventure lover craving an adrenalin buzz, or a nature lover seeking peace and solitude, you’ll find it in pretty much every part of New Zealand. Equally, if you prefer your excursions to be to somewhere indoors, there’s plenty on offer too.

Outdoor adventures

New Zealanders epitomise the adventuring spirit and our country has a proud history of adventure heroes and heroines. From mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Graeme Dingle, to America’s Cup and Whitbread Round The World Race-winning yachtsman Sir Peter Blake, to multi-world record-breaking aviator Jean Batten and renowned Bungy Jump pioneer AJ Hackett: we Kiwis love a challenge.

New Zealand is known as the adventure capital of the world, and we have adventures everywhere. They might be on the water – with white-water rafting, jet boating, dolphin swimming, whale watching, trout fishing, sea kayaking, sailing, surfing, and white and black-water rafting. They could be up a mountain (or in the air) – skiing, snowboarding, heli skiing, glacier hiking, skydiving, mountain climbing or tramping (that’s Kiwi for hiking or trekking).

Being Kiwis, we’ve even invented a few new adventures of our own. The latest is “Zorbing”, or rolling down a hill – wet or dry, you get to choose – inside a large inflatable globe at a dedicated site. There’s also Rotorua’s famous Luge, a fun-filled down-hill ride on a three-wheel cart; and of course bungy jumping – arguably invented centuries ago in Vanuatu, but brought to the world more recently by New Zealander AJ Hackett.

Getting out into nature

If adventure isn’t really your thing, don’t despair. New Zealand’s dazzling, endlessly varied natural environment provides plenty of quieter pleasures, and many of them are free.

New Zealand has a spine of mountains running up both its main islands, which send melted snow into picturesque clear rivers, which run down through bushclad hills to sparkling, pristine beaches. This means that all over the country, there are wonderful walks to do. These can range from a short 15-minute walk up to a viewing platform for a panoramic view of some beach cove, to a four to six-day tramp like the 78.4km Heaphy Track in the South Island’s Kahurangi National Park.

If you’d prefer to see the countryside by bicycle, New Zealand has many great free mountain bike tracks and cycle trails all over the country, including the wonderful Otago Central Rail Trail. A national project is currently underway to develop a network of cycle trails or “Great Rides” all around the country which will include mountain bike tracks, rail trails, urban cycle paths and sections of quiet country roads.

Heading to the beach is a big part of life in New Zealand, whether it’s for a swim on a hot summer’s day, or to “shake out the cobwebs” with a brisk walk in the winter. Everywhere you go, there are surf beaches, swimming beaches – even a hot water beach on the Coromandel Peninsula where you can simply dig a hole in the sand to make your own personal hot pool.

There are some beaches where you might walk for miles before you see anyone. “Avalon”, expatriate British author of the online “Avalon’s Blog” who immigrated to New Zealand some years ago, commented in a recent post: “You know you have lived in New Zealand about the right amount of time when you feel the beach shouldn’t have anyone else on it. Talk about being spoiled!”

Many towns and cities empty out over summer as New Zealanders throw on their jandals and take to the beach for their annual holidays, whether it’s to stay in a “bach” (holiday house), or to pitch a tent or park a caravan at a campground. A number of New Zealand surf beaches can be dangerous however, with strong rips that can drag swimmers out to sea. Take care to always swim between the flags and stick to patrolled beaches if you’re not sure.

On the bright side, New Zealand beaches have far fewer shark attacks than neighbouring Australia, and no water snakes.


Sport plays a very important part in the social calendar of many New Zealanders. A large proportion of children play team sports for a local club on the weekend while their parents watch from the sidelines – that’s if they’re not talked into coaching. As well as being good for the children, taking your kids to weekend sport can be a great way to meet other people in your community.

Many New Zealand adults also play weekend sport: in summer the most popular team sports are cricket and softball, while in winter it’s soccer, touch rugby and rugby. And when we’ve finished playing sport, we’ll head off somewhere and watch other people playing it, either live at a stadium, or down at the local pub on a big screen, or at home on TV.

In addition to pursuits such as skiing, snowboarding and wind-surfing, many Kiwis enjoy playing games like “touch” rugby, indoor soccer, indoor netball and basketball for social teams, and workers will often organise workplace teams to play in weekly social matches that take place in the evening.

Water-based sports like swimming, sailing, surfing and surf lifesaving are also popular in a country with so much coastline. Auckland, dubbed the “City of Sails”, has more boats per capita than any other city in the world, and 95 per cent of New Zealand children have swimming lessons.

Eating and Drinking

As in many countries, food and eating out have become a big part of life in New Zealand. New Zealanders are well-travelled and so we enjoy sampling cuisines from all over the world. And there’s certainly plenty of choice here. The city of Wellington, for instance, has more restaurants, bars and cafes per capita than any other city in the world, including New York.

An emerging “New Zealand” cuisine draws inspiration from the traditions of France, Italy, the Mediterranean and Asia, resulting in a unique Pacific Rim cuisine based on our readily-available fresh produce, wonderful prime beef and lamb, and plentiful “kai moana” or seafood.

New Zealanders are becoming more proficient and imaginative when it comes to cooking our own food too, and we love to invite friends over for a meal or a barbecue in the summer. Many enjoy going out and catching their own fish on a boat, trying their luck with a line down at the local wharf, or going diving for shellfish and crayfish. For those of us who prefer to keep our feet dry, there’s plenty of fresh fish available to buy. Fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful in supermarkets, and weekend farmers’ markets have become more popular in towns and cities not just as a source of cheap produce but as a social meeting place. Some also have gourmet meat, artisan breads and other delicacies on offer – and of course, being New Zealand, there’ll be coffee.

We kiwis take our coffee – but fortunately not ourselves – very seriously. There’s been something of a coffee revolution in New Zealand in the last 30 or so years which has seen cafes, mobile espresso carts and coffee roasting businesses sprout up in what sometimes feels like every street in New Zealand. New Zealanders, it seems, are seriously addicted – we’ll look for any excuse to head to one of the country’s ubiquitous cafés and sit outside enjoying a well-made flat white, latte or long black and watching the world go by. Whether it’s to meet friends, hold a business meeting, or simply get a quick caffeine “fix” to get us through the working day, there always seems to be time for a coffee. Most cafes welcome children and many offer children’s menus and “fluffies” (steamed hot milk).

New Zealand’s wine industry has developed an international reputation, with our Sauvignon Blanc rated throughout the world as the definitive benchmark style for this varietal. Wine trails are a popular pastime in grape-growing areas like Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa in the North Island, and Marlborough and Central Otago in the South Island. In summer, many vineyards become venues for wine and food festivals and outdoor music concerts.

Beer drinking and brewing has a long tradition in New Zealand; however until quite recently the local market was dominated by a handful of large breweries and beer varietals were fairly limited. These days, increasing interest in the art of making beer has seen a sharp growth in the number of small independent brewers producing very fine “craft” beers, or beer brewed using traditional methods.

Culture and live entertainment

New Zealand has an excellent local music scene, with a small but thriving recording industry. You’ll find live music in pubs and nightclubs in all the cities and in many small towns, while outdoor music festivals featuring local and international artists are a highlight of the New Zealand summer.

Most cities – and some towns – boast first class theatre, orchestral concerts and dance, and the main centres play host to large-scale rock, pop and jazz concerts.

New Zealand has a rich artistic heritage which encompasses both “Western” art forms and Māori visual art, both traditional and contemporary. Many of our most internationally-successful artists are Māori artists who blend elements of traditional Māori expression with European modernism. Ralph Hotere is one of New Zealand’s highest selling artists, but works by Māori artists like Shane Cotton, Michael Parekowhai and Robyn Kahukiwa are also highly prized. New Zealand has many fine art galleries, small and large, which provide a showcase for local art practitioners as well as international artists.

Biennial international arts festivals are held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and give New Zealand audiences a chance to see handpicked selections of the world’s best dance, theatre, film, music and visual arts, while at Readers and Writers Weeks, booklovers can go along and hear the world’s finest writers talk about their craft and answer questions.

One of the highlights of the winter social calendar in New Zealand’s main centres are the film festivals that seem to proliferate: from International Film Festivals offering a bit of everything, to documentary festivals, human rights film festivals, festivals celebrating the films of a particular country, the Incredibly Strange film festival… the list is endless.

Free and low-cost things to do

Quite apart from all the wonderful scenery you can explore for free, there are lots of other things to do in New Zealand that don’t cost much – if anything. Visitor Information Centres are always a good place to start for ideas, and an online search using the place name and key words like “free things to do” and “secret spots” can turn up hidden gems.

Here are some links to websites with some great tips on free and low-cost things to do in New Zealand:

New Zealand’s Information Network
Sydney Morning Herald

See also the following websites for good information on travel and play in New Zealand:

Tourism New Zealand
AA New Zealand