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Best of New Zealand Adrenaline: Top 7 Picks

Dan and Audrey share their top seven adrenaline picks in New Zealand

by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott Posted on 09 May 2013

When it comes to adventure activities, perhaps nowhere on Earth packs it in like New Zealand. It’s not just about the adrenaline - it’s also about the dramatic backdrop which these experiences take place against. It’s hard to imagine a place with more diversity of landscape packed into one country.

So when you’re standing on the edge of that bridge or canopy of that airplane mustering up the courage to jump, be sure to take a look around at the scenery. It will humble you. That’s what makes New Zealand such an amazing setting to push your limits and test your comfort zone.

Here are our top seven adrenaline picks from our recent trip around New Zealand during the New Zealand Encompassed Tour.

Note: The tour features heaps of included adventure activities such as surfing, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. But if you want to dial it up a notch and are wondering which of the optional activities to book, here are some memorable choices. In no particular order:

Hang Gliding near Abel Tasman National Park

As a kid, did you ever dream of flying like a bird? Well, now you have a chance to fulfill that dream.

Fly like a bird. Tandem hang gliding.

Fly like a bird. Tandem hang gliding.


An ultralight plane tows you and Trevor, your hang gliding master, up to about 2,500 feet and then it lets you go. Then it’s time to fly…on your own. Literally. You’ll have an opportunity to steer the hang glider and take it for a couple of spins and turns. The entire experience – the tow, the release and the descent – lasts about 20 minutes. The setting for this experience, just outside Abel Tasman National Park, is just stunning - views of the water, mountains and fields below. The sensation is like no other and offers a worthwhile life experience regardless of age or physical condition.

Details: Tasman Sky Adventures in Motueka.

Glacier Hiking at Franz Josef Glacier

It’s one thing to admire the surreal blue of Franz Josef Glacier from afar, it’s another to strap crampons to your boots and get amongst it. And that’s exactly what we did at Franz Josef Glacier.

Glacier hiking at Franz Josef.

Glacier hiking at Franz Josef.

A helicopter transports you (a cool experience in and of itself) from the town of Franz Josef to a landing pad right atop the glacier. From there, you spend approximately three hours with a guide hiking over the ice, through psychedelic blue ice caves, over ice crags and down slopes. You’ll never look at ice quite the same ever again.

Details: You can book the Ice Explorer (or other helicopter trips) with Franz Josef Glacier Guides directly in the town of Franz Josef or online in advance (recommended). All departures are weather dependent. Try to reserve as early a timeslot as possible as weather conditions are usually best in the morning.

Bungee Jumping in Queenstown

Whether you bungee solo or tandem with your loved one, there’s nothing quite like the sensation of voluntarily jumping off a bridge. You just have to try it to appreciate the terror of what you are committing yourself to. Our advice: go quickly before you have a chance to really think about what you’re about to do.

Love is a leap of faith, right? A Valentine’s Day bungee jump.

Love is a leap of faith, right? A Valentine’s Day bungee jump.

One of the things that always concerned us about bungee jumping was that the initial bounce would be jarring, like a snap. Instead, it’s soft, elastic and surprisingly enjoyable. We’re absolutely glad we did this.

Details: Stop by the AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand shop in Queenstown. They’ll walk you through all your bungee options, from Kawarau Bridge (43 meters and the original site of bungee jumping) to Nevis (134 meters). One piece of advice: don’t watch all the videos before you book your jump…or you may talk yourself out of it before you leave the shop.

White Water Rafting on the Kaituna River

Like everything in New Zealand, rafting can also be taken to adrenaline extremes. Within half an hour of dropping your raft into the Kaituna, you’ll be shooting over a 7-meter (23-foot) waterfall. The concept may sound terrifying, but the experience is an absolute blast – even, or perhaps especially, for first-time whitewater rafters.

What going over a 7-meter waterfall looks like.

What going over a 7-meter waterfall looks like.

Even if you’ve never been rafting before, we highly recommend trying this experience. In addition to the fun of the class five rapids and sheer drops, the rainforest setting of this segment of the Kaituna River is simply stunning.

Details: The great (and hilarious) guides at Kaitiaki Adventures will get you suited up, trained and in the water before you know it.

Skydiving at Fox Glacier

If you’ve ever entertained the idea of skydiving, then Fox Glacier just near Franz Josef is the place to do it. With Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, and Fox Glacier below you, it’s hard to imagine a more scenic place to fall from the sky. (This jump is said to the 2nd most beautiful in the world next to Everest which costs a small fortune and features a six year wait list.). The skydive at Fox Glacier is accessible and based on the reactions of everyone who did it, a blast!

The sheer joy of falling from the sky.

The sheer joy of falling from the sky.

Details: Try and book your skydive at least one day before with SkyDive Fox Glacier just outside of Franz Josef. You’ll have the option of jumping from 12,000 or 16,000 feet. At that point, does it matter? Everything is weather dependent, so try and reserve an early morning time slot.

Caving, Abseiling and Glow Worms in Waitomo

Part of the fun of heading deep into the Waitomo Caves is to see glow worms light up the roof of the cave like stars on a clear night. The glow worms are cool, but the real adventure comes in getting down into, through and out of the cave network via abseiling (or rappelling) , cave diving and rock climbing. Who knew that you could exert so much energy underground?

Abseiling down a waterfall into the Waitomo Caves.

Abseiling down a waterfall into the Waitomo Caves.

Details: We took the Haggas Honking Holes Tour which is the most adrenaline-packed cave tour on offer at Waitomo Adventures. For something a bit lower key, black water rafting and other options are available.

Swimming with Dolphins in Kaikoura

Although we’ve seen our share of dolphins swimming along our boat or jumping playfully in the air around us, absolutely nothing in our experience compares to actually swimming with them in the wild.

They are fast! If you think you’re quick, they’re quicker!

Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura

Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura

And we’re not just talking one or two dolphins, but hundreds of them. It is truly an incredible experience to have several or even dozens of dusky dolphins swimming circles around you. Amazing!

Details: Dolphin Encounter runs several trips a day from Kaikoura, weather depending. If the seas are too rough, the trip will be canceled for safety reasons. Although you’ll be outfitted with a nice buoyant wetsuit, you must be a confident swimmer, as you’ll be in the open water. You’ll have five opportunities to get into the water to swim with dolphins.

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures in New Zealand encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.

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