Whether it's surfing, hiking, camping, cycling or skiing on your adventure tourism hit-list, here's where to have an unforgettable experience in New Zealand, writes Johanna Thornton

Where to cycle

Te Ara Ahi, Rotorua

Explore Rotorua by bike, it's an area rich with volcanic attractions including mud pools, geysers and steaming vents. The Te Ara Ahi cycle track is an easy one or two-day ride that takes in five of the area's geothermal parks: Whakarewarewa, Waimangu, Te Puia, Wai-O-Tapu and Waikite Valley Thermal Springs, beginning in the centre of Rotorua. The bike ride also stops at Māori cultural sites, the Lake Okaro wetland, Rainbow Mountain, and Redwoods Mountain Bike Park — a mountain biker's paradise. Redwoods is home to one of New Zealand's oldest mountain biking networks, with a series of trails catering for all levers of rider, with well-graded trails depending on ability, from beginner to extreme.

Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough

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The Marlborough Sounds is one of New Zealand's most famous waterways and The Queen Charlotte Track provides stunning access to its bays and ridgelines. A two-to-three-day intermediate-to-advanced cycle over 72km takes riders from historic Ship Cove in the outer Sounds down the ridgeline to Anakiwa with glorious views along the way. There's access to the track from many of the most popular bays in Queen Charlotte Sounds if the full three-day ride is too much of an adventure, with campsites, motels and adventure activities peppered along the way. This is a ride best planned in advance, with the first section of the trail closed in peak season and a reasonable level of fitness required.

Wilderness Trail, West Coast

On the rugged West coast of the South Island is an unforgettable bike trail that ventures through ancient rainforests, rivers, lakes and wetlands. The Wilderness Trail is a four-day cycle along old tram lines, through gold-mining towns and across historic bridges from the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea. Tackle all four days or do a day trip from Ross, Greymouth, Hokitika or another point along the way. The journey is notable for its smooth trails and easy accessibility, graded easy-intermediate. Plan your trip and accommodation through westcoastwildernesstrail.co.nz.

Where to hike

Coromandel Coast, Coromandel

Coromandel is an adventurer's dream, with pristine golden beaches great for fishing, surfing, camping and tramping. The remote northern end of the peninsula is home to the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, which traverses the coastline between Stony and Fletcher Bays. Following an old bridle path formed by early pioneers, this half-day hike encapsulates the scenery Coromandel is famous for — incredible beaches, views to Great Barrier and Cuvier islands in the Pacific Ocean, lush greenery and remote farmland. Begin the walk at either Fletcher Bay (which has a fantastic DoC campground that's worth a stay) or Stony Bay Campground, both located north of Colville. There are transport and guides available through Coromandel Discovery, which offer a minibus ride from Coromandel, a local guide and afternoon tea. The shuttle is currently priced at $99pp for adults (normally $117), and $40pp for children (0-15, normally $45). For more on the Coromandel, see p15

The Coromandel Coastal Walkway. Photo / Supplied
The Coromandel Coastal Walkway. Photo / Supplied

Kahurangi Regional Park, Nelson

The second largest of New Zealand's 13 national parks, Kahurangi in the northwest of the South Island means "treasured possession" in Māori and this accurately describes its majestic scenery. It's home to one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Heaphy Track, which passes through forest, riverbeds and mountain ridges. Less well-known is the 85km Old Ghost Road, a five-day, four-night hike following an old gold miners' road connecting the Lyell (Upper Buller Gorge) to the Mōkihinui River in the north. Expect native forest, tussock, river flats and awe-inspiring valleys on this challenging alpine tramp. Hikers can choose to do a shorter overnight return trip to one of the first huts at either end of the trail, with accommodation available through oldghostrd.org.nz.

Fiordland National Park, Fiordland

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The remarkable scenery in the southwest corner of the South Island is marked by 14 fiords hewn into steep-sided valleys with tumbling waterfalls, granite peaks and glittering lakes. Home to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, the area offers some of New Zealand's most beautiful natural scenes. The National Park has several not-to-be-missed multi-day hikes, including the Routeburn Track (partially reopened after flooding earlier this year), Kepler Track and the Gertrude Saddle day trek. For more great walks, see p6-p7.

Where to surf

Shipwreck Bay, Ahipara

At Ahipara on the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach in Northland visitors are guaranteed waves, as well as dazzling sunsets and unspoiled sandy beaches. One of New Zealand's most renowned surf spots, Shipwreck Bay or "Shippies" has two world-class surf breaks to offer. The Wreck has classic left-hand waves that break over sand, and Peaks to the west is a legendary break accessible by foot or four-wheel-drive with long, perfect right-handers when the conditions play ball. To get there, surfers need to paddle over rocks or launch from the rocks, so best left to the experienced.

Ōakura Beach, New Plymouth

Taranaki has a concentration of epic surf breaks up and down the coastline, and is an outdoor enthusiast's playground with mountainous terrain, rivers, forests and rugged beaches to explore. Ōakura is the place to start if it's lessons you're after, with Tarawave Surf School offering lessons (summer months only) and the Surf Life Saving Club patrolling weekends and summer holidays. Brush up on your skills at this typical beach break and head to neighbouring breaks Ahu Ahu Rd and Weld Rd for more great waves for surfers of all levels, with Weld ideal for longboarding.

Makorori Beach, Gisborne

Surf's up at Makorori Beach, Gisborne. Photo / Supplied
Surf's up at Makorori Beach, Gisborne. Photo / Supplied

To Gisborne now and Makorori Bay, which offers a variety of surf breaks and an area rife with history and beauty. The eastern cape of the North Island is breathtaking yet relatively undiscovered, meaning surf spots aren't as crowded as more well-known spots. At the southern end of Makorori Bay, find a right-point break producing a long peeling wave over reef, a fun spot for longboarding when waves are on the smaller side. Further north are breaks called Centre, Red Bus and Creeks, which are tricky to access at low tide but offer peaky lefts for those who attempt the paddle. Take a stroll along the Makorori headland for amazing views of the surf, Wainui Beach and Māhia Peninsula.

Where to ski

Whakapapa and Turoa, Mt Ruapehu

The South Island dominates when it comes to world-class skiing, but Mt Ruapehu in the North Island holds its own. Celebrated as New Zealand's largest ski field, Whakapapa is one of two ski fields on the mountain known for its family-friendly ski area. The Happy Valley beginner's slope is usually teeming with mini skiers mastering the snow plough. Turoa on the southwestern slopes has the longest vertical run in New Zealand and a range of terrain parks including half-pipe style bowls and smooth, wide trails. Both ski fields' location on the highest mountain in the North Island means they're exposed to the elements and enjoyment depends on the weather. Keep an eye on the conditions, especially for Turoa, and if it's a no-ski or snowboard day, Ohakune has lots to offer, including great mountain biking trails.

Ruapehu has two skifields to choose from - Turoa and Whakapapa. Photo / Supplied
Ruapehu has two skifields to choose from - Turoa and Whakapapa. Photo / Supplied

Cardrona, Wānaka

Set among the spectacular mountainous range between Wānaka and Queenstown, Cardrona ski field is great for families, ideal for beginners, has a well-equipped terrain park and has plenty to offer advanced riders with off-piste areas and consistent snow. Cardrona is an all-rounder with easy access and well-maintained infrastructure. Visitors to Cardrona Ski Resort can stay in either Queenstown or Wānaka, making the most of this beautiful part of New Zealand, and Treble Cone isn't far away for those who wish to flex their skiing skills.

Craigieburn & Mount Hutt, Canterbury

The Southern Alps features a range of slopes, with Craigieburn Valley between Springfield and Arthur's Pass the favourite of advanced skiers, revered for its varied and challenging terrain, hidden gems and lack of crowds. Craigieburn Valley Ski Area is only open to members and guests in 2020 but there are loads of guided ski tours that cover the Craigieburn area, such as the Snow Explorer tour, which takes in "New Zealand's best-kept secrets" Porters; Broken River; Mt Olympus/Temple Basin and Craigieburn. Mt Hutt, closer to the town of Methven, is a larger commercial ski field with primo powder, its high altitude equating to a reliable dumping of snow over its 41 runs and four terrain parks. Expect beautiful views of the Canterbury Plains from the summit.

Where to camp

Spirit's Bay, Northland

At the northernmost tip of the country, north of Kaitaia, is Spirit's Bay, a beautiful secluded beach with a magical campground. Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) Campground is a Department of Conservation site operating on a first-come, first-served system at what can be a popular spot in peak season. This campground has it all — swimming, fishing and walking (the bay forms part of the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway). Spirit's Bay is situated in Te Paki Recreational Park, one of the most diverse eco-systems in New Zealand, so there's plenty of natural beauty to discover in this otherworldly location.

Harataonga Bay, Great Barrier Island

Harataonga Bay on the east coast of Great Barrier Island/Aotea is an incredible spot for camping, flanked by two streams and sheltered by mature trees. The campground here is a well maintained Department of Conservation site at an epic white-sand beach that's ideal for swimming and snorkelling, and even surfing when there's swell. The campground forms part of the Harataonga Coastal Walkway, which is worth a trek. The island is accessible from Auckland via passenger and car ferry to Tryphena or Port FitzRoy, or by air.

Lake Tekapo, Mackenzie Basin

As well as a great camping spot, Lake Tekapo is located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. Photo / Miles Holden
As well as a great camping spot, Lake Tekapo is located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. Photo / Miles Holden

Tekapo is famous for lupin-covered fields, stunning alpine peaks and a shimmering turquoise lake. A small settlement three hours southwest from Christchurch, this picturesque location consistently attracts visitors keen to get up close to its beauty. Stay at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park and make the most of the activities on offer — alpine hikes, horse treks, four-wheel-drive tours or boating. There's another reason it's special though — it's located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, making it one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. Join a night tour at the Mount John Observatory, or drag your mattress out of your tent to gaze up at the stars.

For more New Zealand travel tips, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew