Top 10 List of What to See and Do While You Work & Travel in New Zealand

Top 10 List of What to See and Do While You Work & Travel in New Zealand

The best part of doing a work and travel program in New Zealand is the emphasis on the importance of BOTH working and exploring. Gaining international job experience is a fantastic way to boost your resume, but so is having interesting stories about what you learned and places you explored along the way.

To help you get started in outlining a few must-see places to check out during your time in New Zealand, Greenheart Travel alumna, Carolyn Ross, shares her ten favorite spots on the North and South Islands.

1. Hiking in the Catlins

My favorite place in all of New Zealand was The Catlins.  It is a series of towns along the South Island east coast with absolutely spectacular views, wildlife, waterfalls, and overall nature.  You absolutely need a car to get to it and most of the roads are gravel so plan for lots of extra driving time.  

I came up from Invercargill—which is absolutely freezing by the way—and meandered on through The Catlins up to Kaka Point.  There are 21 different walks or sites listed on The Catlins official tourism brochure with all but one taking an hour or less to get to and back again, called an hour return in NZ speak.  

You can visit the southernmost point of the South Island called Slope Point and also see the Nugget Point Lighthouse, an iconic photo opportunity especially at sunset.  The Catlins is also advertised as one place to see the yellow-eyed penguins.  The best time to go is either at sunrise or sunset so either get there early or stay the night either camping along the beach or in one of the area’s motels or hostels.  

While I did not see any penguins during my trip, I did get to see two New Zealand sea lions up close and personal.  The weather was spectacular the day I went.  It was raining off and on but this only led to countless rainbows appearing all day long, adding an extra special element to this area for me.  

2. Enjoy a Pint During Speight’s Brewery Tour in Dunedin

Even if you are not a beer drinker, the Speight’s Brewery Tour and Café in Dunedin is fantastic.  I decided to do the brewery tour and lunch deal which was $59 and was worth it just for the meal.  You get an entrée with a side, appetizer or dessert, and beer included for lunch, and it was enough good food to fill me up for the entire day. (Without the tour, this could almost cost you that much on its own so I highly recommend the deal.)  

The tour I first expected to be exceedingly awkward as it was only me and a Speight’s staff photographer with the tour guide, but it ended up being very enjoyable. I had Rob as my tour guide, and he was highly personable and energetic.  Unlike the Cadbury tour also in Dunedin, you are encouraged to take all the photos you want on the tour and you go into many of the manufacturing areas, getting a full feel for their location, history, and the role Speight’s plays in the local community.  

One unique thing about their beer in Dunedin is the factory runs over a waterway which is where they get the water for their beer.  The factory has a tap out front where locals are welcome to come get some of their natural water for their own consumption.  Speight’s Beer is a New Zealand staple, so if you are in wonderful Dunedin, I would highly recommend stopping by.

 3. Seek Out the Blue Glacier Waters

Make sure you get a chance to see the blue water in New Zealand.  This may seem like a weird and non-descriptive thing to look for, but it is well worth it.  Lakes and streams near the glaciers in New Zealand have a type of sediment called glacier flour, or finely ground rocks from the glaciers, that rests at the bottom of some waterways.  Sun reflecting off of the glacier sediments gives the water a very distinctive blue color which is unlike anything I have even seen and cannot even be fully portrayed in photos.

You will know it when you see it and there are a number of places across New Zealand to find it, like at the Blue Pools Walk, one of many walks along the Haast Highway.

4. Road Trip Along the Haast Highway and Hike the Haast Pass

Which brings me to the Haast Highway/ Haast Pass walks.  The Haast Highway, or Highway 6, is one of a few ways to get over to the South Island’s West Coast.  The West Coast is a well worth it experience in and of itself, but make sure to enjoy the journey over to the South Island as well.

There are 14 official walks along the Pass with some well-worth-it waterfalls and good lookout points.  I started from Wanaka to head towards the coast and you get some spectacular views of the backside of Lake Wanaka, especially at sunrise.

Continuing on through the Pass there are a number of different marked stops and walks along the way, but lots of other great views to see even without being officially designated.  The waterfall here was my favorite I saw all day, and it was one I just noticed along the road and spontaneously stopped at.  If you are traveling anywhere by car in New Zealand, make sure to never be in a hurry because some of my favorite places have been those unexpected surprises.

5. Check out the Glaciers and Take a Walk along the Callery Gorge in Franz Josef


I headed to the South Island’s West Coast with the intention of seeing the glaciers.  I started with Franz Josef and then headed on down to Fox Glacier.  But as the glaciers are becoming more unstable, you cannot get as close to them as before, unless you want to pay $200 or more on a helicopter flight to the top.  (I certainly did not.)

So while in the Franz Josef area, I tried to make the most of my time there in a cost effective way, and I checked out some of the other designated walks in the area.  Here I found my favorite sight of the weekend trip, even including the glaciers themselves.  The photo below is from the Callery Gorge Walk, an easy trek from the Franz Josef village.

Being so close to actual glacier walks this was obviously an exceedingly less popular walk, but this allowed me to be the only one on it and really enjoy the sounds and feels of New Zealand nature.  Despite the fact that there are several glaciers along the West Coast, this area is a rainforest with tons of large plants and that “in the jungle” feel to it.  It was also the first time I got to see the blue glacier water up close and seeing it appear in the middle of this rainforest was a sight to behold.

Connecting to this trek is another walk called Tatare Tunnels, a possible viewing spot for the glowworms and a great example of man-made tunnels in the middle of the rainforest.  While the main glacier walks should not be skipped, neither should the other walks in the Franz Josef and Fox areas. If you have the time to make a full day of it, be like me and do every single one.

6. Enjoy the Art and Culture of Christchurch

I greatly enjoyed exploring Christchurch, from seeing the still present earthquake damage and long term recovery process, to the art and culture. One of the best attractions was the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, usually just called “Christchurch Art Gallery.”

Like most museums and art galleries in New Zealand, this location has free entry and several free events. They have a number of rotating exhibits and due to having a decreased stock of art from the 2011 earthquake, are currently featuring a number of local artists. The museum has free daily tours if you want to learn more about the backstory to some of the artists, but I chose to explore the museum on my own as well.

185 chairs and Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch.

If you are able to plan your travels in advance, check out their free events such as the “late night Wednesdays.” I attended one themed around Adventure, where local entrepreneurs and local athletes discussed their travels and how to make money in the process.

7. Indulge in the Food, Beer and Coffee Selection in Auckland

Almost everyone starts in Auckland when they first arrive in New Zealand.  While I would highly encourage you to get out of the big city as soon as possible and go explore all of the nature and culture of New Zealand, there is still plenty of fun you can have in Aukland.

One of the best aspects of large cities is all the wonderful food to eat (and beer of course).  The best café I found is called Little and Friday with a few different locations around Auckland.  When I was working in a café in Mount Eden, the Newmarket Little and Friday was a great place to relax after a shift.  You would think after working in a café the last thing I would want to do is go hang out in another one, but the delicious food here made it well worth it.

The beautiful collection of desserts was by far my favorite but they of course have sandwiches, coffee, and over beverages as well.  The tables fill up fast so try to go in at off time but even with a wait, the chocolate and raspberry cake was well worth the line.  While you are in the area, check out the Auckland Domain and Mount Eden, both near-by with Little and Friday and perfect half way spot between the two.

8. Take in the Views from the Top of Mount Maunganui

Not to entirely forget the North Island, one of the best views I got to see during my limited time there was from the top of Mount Maunganui.  An awesome town in itself to explore, the climb to the top of the actual Mount is well worth the trek.

I will admit I was huffing and puffing a bit on the way up this one, but the view from the very top was well worth the effort.  You are not so high that you cannot see the details of the town, which makes it cool to have an aerial view of places you can actually recognize.  Locals claim to be able to do it in 30 minutes or less, but plan for more like an hour if you are in more average shape like me.

You can also do the much more flat, but still lovely, walk around the full base of the Mount. The scenery and ocean is a continual view and when I did the walk just after sunrise, it was the friendliest walk I think I have done in New Zealand.  I think every single person who passed me took the time and effort to say “hi” or “good morning.”

This kind of friendly attitude is a charming characteristic across all of New Zealand and this walk is almost worth it just for the warm welcome you receive. Many locals do the walk every morning so don’t be shy, say hello to strangers, and enjoy the views of this locally embraced tourist town.

9. Sample all of the Chocolate on the South Island

During my weekend travels around the South Island, I took it upon myself to find and taste test the local chocolate shop in every town where I could find one.  This was surprisingly easy to do so enjoy one of the best guilty pleasures of vacation and eat some local chocolate!

I have had many different chocolates in New Zealand, and all of them are quite wonderful A few to check out include:

  • Seriously Good Chocolate Company in Invercargill
  • Coco Chocolatier in Geraldine,
  • She Universe in Christchurch
  • Patagonia Chocolates in Queenstown and Wanaka
  • Cadbury in Dunedin
  • …did I mention I may have a problem?
  • Theobroma Chocolate Lounge in Riccarton (my favorite!)

Theobroma’s shop is inside the Westfield Riccarton Mall, on the way into Christchurch from the south, and I will admit that one trip here was not enough for my sugar addiction. I stopped here every time I could, even once dragging my host family along. They have an awesome selection of truffles, fondue, baked desserts and chocolate drinks such as this Iced Chocolate.  Theobroma also has locations Hamilton, Auckland, and Palmerston North, but I can personally attest that there is some seriously good chocolate to be found all over New Zealand.

10. Trek the Iconic Mildford Sound

Probably one of the most iconic but more challenging places to get to, Milford Sound in the southwest of the South Island is well worth the hype and the trek. Being the middle of winter, I chose to take a bus from Te Anau into Milford Sound, and also did a Jucy cruise through the Sound.

While Milford Sound’s beauty is much more impactful during the summer when all of the waterfalls are actively flowing, the place held a different kind of beauty to it with all the snow.  Photos cannot do this place justice as they are unable to fully capture the magnitude of the mountains all around you.

You are driving through a series of valleys, including some filming sites from the Lord of the Rings movies, and everywhere you look the view is just spectacular, not to mention the mountains and waterfalls of the Sound itself. The cruise takes you to the brink of the Tasman Sea, and while it is often raining, this only helps to bring out the grandness of the Sound and often creates some additional waterfalls.

Winter conditions can make the roads a bit tricky and can often cause the area to be closed, so plan ahead or use one of the many bus services that start in Te Anau or Queenstown.  Milford Sound is talked about as one of the best sites in New Zealand for a good reason.


What sites or experiences do you recommend for anyone working and traveling in New Zealand? Share them in the comments below!


One thought on "Top 10 List of What to See and Do While You Work & Travel in New Zealand"

  1. Janet Newman says:

    What a great article!!!

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