New Zealand: the small island with more fun per square mile than anywhere in the world

From Sand Boarding to Sky Diving, New Zealand is an adrenaline junky’s paradise.

Nz tongoriro

It’s not a surprise that New Zealand invented the bungee jump. A nation for thrill-seekers, it's blessed with some of the most beautiful natural adventure-scapes any country could wish for.

Unsurprisingly, it's super outdoorsy, but not in the same way as its brash next door neighbour; in a more subtle, deadpan, ‘oh look there’s an incredible volcano, but don’t feel you have to look’ kinda way.

And fuelled by impossibly good flat whites and crisp Sauvignon Blancs, it’s hard not to feel fired up to jump off something, anything, while you’re there (NB. Coffee before, wine afterwards is the rule).

New Zealand is hardly a 'hidden' gem - backpackers have been hitting it up for decades. But it is an unexpected discovery for me. I just didn't realise it was that good. And though it has a touch of the UK about it, it's also forged a real identity of its own, that's laid back, welcoming, easy and fun.

Though it's hard to tell with the Kiwis. Joke delivery is the deadest of pan and famously monotone, coupled with the bizarre appropriation of vowels (which can lead to hilarious misunderstandings).

Note, there are no bears in New Zealand. Not even Tui Bears. There are Tui Beers though. And they're rather nice.

But between drinking your body weight in good coffee and trying to work out whether your new pal is joking or not, there's adventure-time. And there's something for everyone - beginner daredevil to white knuckle addict.

I gave them all a go, to rank them in adrenaline order, all for you of course. I did it all for you. 😱

ADVENTURE LEVEL: Heart Fluttering

A photo posted by Hexjam (@hexjam) on

Sand boarding

It’s hard to pick a favourite activity from this line up but sand boarding (and its accompany sand-dune-rallying) was definitely a major highlight.

Heading out into Maori sand dunes from the edge of Northland’s famous 90 Mile Beach (fun fact: it’s actually only 90km but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?) you get to drive a sand buggy, so don’t forget your driving license.

Our guide displayed the dry Kiwi sense of humour with aplomb, leaving us totally unsure about when he was joking and when not (pointing us towards a totally vertical dune - joking, clonking over the edge of a vertical downhill - not).

Once I got the hang of the controls though, there was no stopping me. There is little that is more satisfying than putting your foot all the way down and listening to a dune buggy go, bumpiting you up to the top, passenger comfort be damned.

When we did reach the boarding dunes, the wind was blowing and ripples of sand were fizzing across the surface. We looked down at what looked like a very steep sand slide. There was a vertical section in the middle you couldn’t even see.

But our guide grabbed his board and whizzed down, insisting we copied, and once we were flat-bellied on the sand boards, and felt how soft and un-grazeworthy the sand was, we were quite happy to topple ourselves off the edge.

You can watch how it went here:

A video posted by Lizzie (@coxocube) on

Zip lining

This is a great introduction to the Kiwi’s love of falling off things quite fast. If Sky Diving or Bungee Jumping really doesn’t do it for you, this is a gentle-ish introduction to the fun of whizzing around at great heights. And if you’re going to do it anywhere, Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry from Auckland is the place to go.

We headed to Eco Zip to take on its three ziplines - Vineyard Cruise, City View and Kurinui (a Maori word our guide assured us meant The Big One...). Each a little bigger and a littler faster than the last. Frankly, it’s the only way to see the island, and with ‘Phone bungees’ and Go Pros, it’s a great way to get some scary snaps too.

The Tongariro Crossing

Not so much scary, more a test of your fitness levels! This walk involves getting up at five to start walking at seven, and it takes about seven hours. During which you'll traverse volcano landscape (with an optional side track up to the summit of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings), pass the properly emerald Emerald Lakes and cross over lush green views on the other side. Unmissable. Pack good shoes.

ADVENTURE LEVEL: Heart Racing

White water rafting

It's found all over New Zealand, thanks to carefully controlled rivers and water tables. But some of the best places in the North Island are around Taupo and Rotorua, including a grade 5 river, complete with the seven-metre Tutea Falls waterfall drop. Intense.

Sea kayaking

They're big fans of the kayak in New Zealand, so it’s a great place to try it for the first time, or take to the open seas.

Apologies for the shaky cam, it's hard to film while Kayaking!

We headed out on a late afternoon trip to Rangitoto island, in the bay around Auckland. It’s a moderately challenging kayak, depending on the size of the waves, and do make sure to avoid the ferries in the working harbour.

But it’s a great introduction too, not too physically demanding and with a destination in sight. And after our guide, Logan, helped us make our way to the island he presented us with steaks, coffee and a hike to the summit on arrival ready for sunset.

The trip is carefully planned to get you there for Sunset, then you hike down in the dark (not as scary as it sounds, no mammals remember!). But when we got to the bottom we were absolutely sure there would be a boat there waiting to take us home. There wasn't, but the night kayak back was pretty magical.

ADVENTURE LEVEL: Heart Stopping

Now we get to the serious adrenaline sports.

You'll have noticed I’ve not actually talked about bungeeing yet. Well everywhere you look in New Zealand, you can probably throw yourself off. So I won't talk about it here. (No, I totally wasn't too scared...)

I jumped off the Auckland sky tower and out of a plane at 16,000 feet. Is that enough for you people?

If you do want to do a bungee, Taupo is an excellent place in the north island and the South Island is littered with them. If you don’t, may we suggest these fine alternatives.

SkyJump

The Sky Tower offers two adrenaline soaked suggestions - the Sky Jump and the Sky Walk. I jumped, others in my group took the walk.

And we concluded that though I had originally seemed the bravest, the most hardcore, the biggest adrenaline junkie… the walk was actually harder. But let me tell you about the Sky Jump.

My GoPro footage reveals an early moment of panic, in my ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ mutterings, but when it actually came to it, there’s really nothing to compare jumping off a building. Except perhaps how Superman feels.

And it uses stunt technology so you can genuinely feel really safe. Though my stiff body language reveals my terror.

The team are wickedly good at taking the fear away though. I was the first jumper of the day and they talked me to the edge, with my tiptoes and finger tips the only things holding me up - before I’d even really said hello.

Just try and keep your bloody eyes open, it’s only a few seconds long!

Sky Dive

If you're not gonna bungee, you're gonna have to jump out of a plane. It's as simple as that. You're in New Zealand now.

There are several places in NZ that claim to be the most impressive or most beautiful. But if we had to put money on it, the Bay of Islands would get ours. This collection of islands and azure waters looks stunning from sea level, so seeing it in all its glory from 16,000 feet is something else.

Your tandem expert will propel you out of the plane and all you have to concentrate on is keeping your eyes open to appreciate the amazing views below. As someone who popped her skydive cherry in Peterborough, I promise you, they’re a whole lot more impressive on the other side of the world.

Is anyone hiring for dive instructors, btw? Imma sending my CV.

NB: Video footage is nice but don’t worry if you can’t afford it. Its fun to watch back, but honestly remembering the feeling and the view is so much more important than a video - however much you want to put it on social media.

New Zealand in a nutshell

New Zealand is many things, but active and outdoorsy runs in its blood so it’s perfect for an action-packed trip. My time spent jumping off things and whizzing down things totally blew the cobwebs away. I failed to check my work email after the first couple of days and genuinely felt I had escaped from the real world (helped a little by the time difference!).

The icing on the cake was everything between the action - the thermal spas in Rotarua that soothe any rafting aches, the beautiful 90 Mile Beach in Northland with warm waters to frolic in when you’ve put away your dune buggy, the delicious food in Auckland and the wineries to take your time over in Waiheke.

Add to that friendly people, everything being so darn close and weather that’ll give Brits a dearth of conversation and you’re in for a winner.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty sad to be home.

All images/Instas: Hexjam, Kim & pals

Want to get stuck in?

Discover all the adventures you can have in New Zealand at newzealand.com, and keep the action alive #NZMustDo.

Head to New Zealand with STA Travel on its 21-day Active New Zealand package, starting at £3149pp including loads of hair-raising activities, all accommodation, meals, a local guide, transport between destinations and to and from activities.

Return flights from London Heathrow start at £575pp and the tour starts in Auckland and finishes in Wellington. Various departure dates available, head to www.statravel.com, call 0800 988 0390 or pop into a STA Travel store to start planning your adventure.

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