If lounging poolside for days on end sends you loopy, but sliding down a 50-foot hill on a toboggan gets you giddy, then this is the guide for you. Leave your relaxation at the boarding gate — we’re hitting all of the best thrill-seeking spots in New Zealand as we talk canyoning, bungy jumping, skydiving, and white water rafting. Come along for the ride, I dare you!
Ten miles from Cape Reinga, straddling the tip of the North Island, lie the Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes. Comprised of a six-mile coastal strip of jaw-dropping dunelands, the rolling ridges rise up to a staggering 492 feet and are home to the popular extreme sport of sandboarding. While the official sport of sandboarding involves standing up with one’s feet strapped in, more like surfing or snowboarding, those trying for the first time are encouraged to lie flat on their belly before flying off at high speeds head-first down to the bottom of the dunes. In any case, you can bring your own board or rent one on site. After that, it’s all up to you how to experience the pure joy and excitement of this unique sport.
Canyoning, Waitakere Ranges
Amongst the beautiful rainforest of the Waitakere Ranges, you can take part in a range of invigorating canyoning experiences with AWOL Canyoning. Try your hand at abseiling beneath showering waterfalls, sliding into hidden, underground pools, or descending deep into ancient caves. Discover natural rock pools and volcanic gorges, all before ending your trip with a visit to the beloved black-sand Piha Beach. There’s no previous experience required, so anyone up for a day of adventure can give it a go with full-day, half-day, and night excursions available. Shuttles transport guests directly out to the ranges from Auckland City, with knowledgeable guides along for the ride who can also teach on the lush flora and fauna of the forest while instructing guests through whatever adrenaline-filled activities they choose.
Harbour Bridge Bungy and Bridge Climb, Auckland City
If you’ve ever been to Auckland, you’ll have set eyes upon (or driven over) the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge. Stretching over the Waitemata Harbour and rising 141 feet above the water, it’s the country’s largest bridge. Not only was the Harbour Bridge Bungy Auckland’s first permanent bungy site with its opening in 2003, but the attraction remains New Zealand’s only ocean-touch bungy. Developed by the renowned adrenaline junkie AJ Hackett, it’s hand-crafted for a good time. Strap yourself in and take a deep breath as you plunge over the edge and down into the harbor below—head-dunking optional! After you’ve had your fair share of pumping adrenaline with a 131-foot drop, continue the thrill in the other direction with a climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge. On this fully-guided tour, scale the bridge along custom engineered walkways for a 360-degree view of Auckland. You just might want to hold on to your hat!
SkyJump, Auckland City
While you’re still in the city of sails, make the essential trip up the emblematic Sky Tower. As the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, the 1,076-foot-tall Sky Tower is a great place to test your limits with a dive from the Sky Deck over the city’s Central Building District. Different from your typical bungy, the SkyJump will have you donning a “flying suit” and strapping into a harness before you plummet feet-first down the side of the tower—past 53 floors while reaching speeds of up to 52 mph. Nail your landing in the SkyCity Plaza below to cheers of excited bystanders, and ride the wave of adrenaline for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).
ZORB inflatable ball rides, Rotorua
Three and a half hours south of Auckland, New Zealand’s geothermal city of Rotorua is home to the one-of-a-kind experience of Zorbing. Invented in New Zealand in 1994, the ZORB is an inflatable giant sphere that can house one or two people as it hurtles downhill along a series of tracks. Take it straight down the hillside over twisting tracks that turn your tummy, over epic jumps, or down the steepest, longest, and fastest ball rolling track in the world—opt to add water to your ZORB for an even crazier experience. If you like your hits of adrenaline with a serious case of the giggles, ZORB is just the thing for you.
White water rafting, Lake Rotoiti
You’re never far from a fast-flowing river or freshwater lake in Rotorua. Just 25 minutes from the city center lies Lake Rotoiti and the Okere River flowing into it. Strap on a helmet, zip up a wetsuit and get ready for the most exhilarating ride of your life. The raucous, two-hour paddle downriver includes several Class 5 features, from tumbling cascades and swift-flowing rapids. Guides will help steer your group along the winding watercourse, with views of beautiful forests and rivulets before you brace yourself for the main event. Tutea Falls is the world’s highest commercially-rafted waterfall and will have you plunging down a 22-foot drop. Chances of being tipped in your raft are high and full submersion is guaranteed, but fear not—these guides are well-versed in the fall, and a successful drop will have you popping back up to the surface still in your seats with heartbeats thundering in your ears and hands clapping for joy.
Jet boating, Huka Falls
Huka Falls is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attractions, featuring a series of astounding cascading falls up to 26 feet in height that all lead up to the massive 36-foot waterfall where gallons of water thunder to their depths. The jet boat tour will take you upriver to the rumbling mists of the falls as you whiz past sheer-sided cliffs and tree-covered riverbanks at 55 mph. Marvel at the incredible views of the Huka Falls from water level as you zoom about in the white water, passing by plumes of white smoke from adjoining hot springs and past the Huka Prawn Park. You’ll also be taken to the Wairakei Geo-Thermal Power Station and the Aratiatia Dam before your expert driver throttles the boat around 360 degrees and leaves your head spinning.
Stunt plane piloting, Abel Tasman National Park
Ever wondered what it’s like to be in the cockpit of a plane high above the clouds? Just outside of Abel Tasman National Park, you can discover how it feels to actually be in control of one. For the true thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie, you’ll want to head down to the top of the South Island , in search of this truly hair-raising experience. Without any prior aviation knowledge or experience, you can board an open, two-seater stunt plane for a trip you’ll never forget thanks to U-Fly-Extreme. Over the beautiful and rugged New Zealand coastline, you and your pilot will take to the sky to perform figure-eights, flips, rolls, and loops for the thrill of a lifetime.
Kawarau Bridge Bungy, Queenstown
Any true adrenaline junkies can pay tribute to extreme sports heritage with a visit to Queenstown and a trip out to the site of the “World’s Home of Bungy”: the very first bridge bungy jump. The 141-foot high Kawarau Bridge—AJ Hackett’s renowned original bungy—will have you teetering on the edge of a sheer rock face, before diving headfirst into the stunning Kawarau River gorge. Opt for a solo jump or do it tandem, along with the option of a good head-dunking into the icy cold river below. Test your limits on this ultimate bungy experience set against the backdrop of beautiful jagged mountains and the snow capped peaks of New Zealand’s South Island.
Kawarau Bridge Zipline, Queenstown
While you’re at the Kawarau Bridge, you best head over to the Zipline Experience for some high-speed fun. Considered more of a “soft thrill,” the zipline is great for those wanting to join in on the antics without committing to the terror of a fully-fledged bungy. There are lots of ways to ride the zipline, depending on what sort of sensation you’re after: you can sit upright in the seat, backwards, or lie headfirst on your belly! Push off from the top and whiz down 462 feet of line at 37 mph. Great for families, groups of friends, and tour groups, you can get everyone involved with tandem seats and multi-ride packs.
Nevis Swing, Queenstown
One more while we’re here—Queenstown has been coined the “Adventure Capital of the World” after all! Take bungy jumping to the next level with the Nevis Swing, a thrill-seeking innovation and another brainchild of gravity defiers AJ Hackett. As one of the world’s largest, the Nevis Swing has been known to draw a fair few bellows and shrieks from its participants, who freefall straight into the Nevis River Valley gorge before swinging out in a wide 984-foot arc. Not for the faint-hearted, the swing shoots out over the water and into the valley. As usual, you’ll be able to choose whether you tackle this one on your own or with a friend. However, this time you’ll also get the honors of releasing the swing yourself. Take a deep breath and don’t look down!
Sky Dive, Franz Josef
If all of the above is still not enough, you’ve made it to the bottom of the South Island with one last chance to do it big. Take to the skies and jump out of a plane at a whopping height of 20,000 feet. Skydive Franz Josef operates one of New Zealand’s highest skydives, right above the stunning Westland and Mt Cook National Parks, giving jumpers the opportunity to skydive among the country’s highest mountains, biggest glaciers, azure lakes, and the Tasman Sea. Freefalling for a total of 85 seconds, you’ll experience pure exhilaration as you plummet through the sky at 120 mph before floating safely to the ground beneath a parachute.
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Header photo by Pablo Heimplatz.