A New Zealand Bucket List for Twenty-Somethings

Today’s guest post was contributed by Michelle Ray of Wander There. I’ve been spending much of my free Snowpocalypse time researching New Zealand so I really enjoyed reading about the highlights of Michelle’s trip to the South Island. It definitely gave me some new ideas for my own bucket list:

There’s something alluring about an island country (or in this case, two islands) known as ‘Godzone.’ Then, you add in all of the tails of adventure, beauty, wildlife and winding roads. Oh, and I can’t forget serving as the backdrop of The Lord of the Rings movies. Who wouldn’t want to pack their bags and head to New Zealand?

I don’t know if it was my adventurous spirit or love for natural wonderlands, but I had to find a way to New Zealand in my twenties. Luckily, fate dealt me a royal flush. I found insanely cheap airfare and was able to take off about three weeks from work on short notice. In less than two months, I was eagerly boarding a plane and on my way to the South Pacific, ready for an unpredictable adventure.

For those who have not been lucky enough to visit New Zealand, it is a breathtaking country with vibrant blue skies, low-hanging clouds and lush, green hills that give way to towering, dark mountains. I almost had to pinch my arm on a few occasions, just to remind myself that I was still on planet Earth. And, the Kiwis are such kind people who get to enjoy my now favorite beer, Speight’s (which, sadly, is not available in the States). On top of that, there’s an endless list of activities that you can add to your NZ “bucket” list.

Here are some of my memorable adventures….

Swimming with Dolphins

This was a must-do while I was in New Zealand. I have always loved dolphins, so much so that I wanted to be a dolphin trainer when I was younger. And, after some research, I learned that I could swim with wild dolphins in the ocean. Sold.

With snorkeling gear in hand, we boarded our boat in Kaikoura, and then sped out to sea. Not long after soaking up the sun and searching the horizon for any movement in the water, we came upon a pod of dolphins…well nearly 250 of them! We launched ourselves into the ocean and swam towards these curious and social creatures, ready to meet them and experience the world from their eyes.

While in the water, the dolphins would swim up towards me, circle me and even show off their acrobatic skills with graceful flips. Though we were asked not to touch them, those rules did not apply to the dolphins — some grazed against me! One in particular became my shadow, following me and constantly circling me, as if teasing me to play. The dolphins danced in the water and zipped around us for what felt like hours. I didn’t want euphoric experience to end, nor did I want to stop observing and interacting with my favorite animal – the majestic dolphin!
Kayaking Abel Tasman

At Abel Tasman National Park, the ocean meets sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, coves and seals. Plus, it’s an area rich in history and folklore.

Coming around the rocks, we kayaked to seals and seal pups sunbathing on rocks and gliding in the water. Some even swam under and around our kayaks, twirling and splashing. Then, the sun dived behind heavy clouds, and the southerly winds picked up. So, we started our long, adrenaline-charged paddle back to shore with the wind and water pounding against our face and kayaks.

Abel Tasman goes beyond stunning scenery and wildlife, though. While there, you meet other global travelers from different lands, leave behind trivial concerns and just let wanderlust set in.

Fiordland National Park

Sometimes a place can make you forget about how neon signs assault your vision with their dancing lights and car fumes infiltrate your lungs and sting your eyes…and make you feel completely alive. Welcome to Fiordland National Park. Here you can sail the majestic fjords, as well as backpack the Milford Trek and other less famous but overwhelmingly scenic trails.

While Milford Sound is the most accessible fjord (and well-worth a visit), I’m thrilled that we did an overnight trip in the remote Doubtful Sound. To arrive at this celestial fjord, we had to surrender ourselves to a boat that sped across the lovely Lake Manapauri, then we stepped on land and boarded a bus to cross the Wilmett Pass, the most expensive road in New Zealand…and from there, we became the only visitors of Doubtful Sound, well alongside 65 other passengers. There were no other humans for hundreds of kilometers.

We witnessed the glory of Doubtful Sound on a sunny day, which was only dotted with clouds, as well as the forested mountains engulfed in fog on a rainy morning. We also experienced the isolated fjord from the view of a kayak, as well as encountered some of the wildlife residents- seals, dolphins, sea lions, nearly extinct birds and even the rarest penguin in the world!

As a photographer, nature lover and adventure seeker, it was almost heaven. No wonder New Zealand is nicknamed the Godzone.

What’s Still on My Bucket List

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I didn’t get accomplish everything on my “bucket” list. So, I’m hoping to return in the next 4-5 years to do some tramping (backpacking) in Fiordland, climb Franz Josef glacier, visit Speight’s brewery, swim with seals, ski in Queenstown and attend an All Blacks rugby match. Oh, and also because New Zealand is a natural wonderland, and I like having my breath taken away by adventure and immense beauty.

What would be on your “bucket” list for New Zealand?

Michelle Ray is a 20-something travel addict and animal lover who works for homeless pets by day and obsesses about her next overseas adventure by night. Struck by wanderlust at a young age, Michelle constantly craves freedom, a difference in land and culture, a world away from the one that she lives. When not traveling, she shakes off her itchy feet through photography, writing, reading, hiking and kayaking. She recently moved to Colorado so she could wake up to stunning mountain views, pursue her passions and play outdoors more often. Follow her on Twitter @wanderstruck and join her adventures (and misadventures) online at

, , ,

22 Responses to A New Zealand Bucket List for Twenty-Somethings

  1. Gray February 11, 2010 at 12:22 PM #

    New Zealand is such a beautiful country, just going there would be sufficient for my bucket list! 🙂
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Solo Travel with Danube Express Journeys =-.

    • Steph February 11, 2010 at 1:01 PM #

      I agree, I am getting so excited ot be there in the fall!

  2. Nancy February 11, 2010 at 2:18 PM #

    Cool list! I keep hearing about New Zealand. That’s so great that you’ll be there in the fall!
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Where and how do you write? =-.

  3. Michael February 11, 2010 at 8:57 PM #

    I am in NZ right now and your list looks great. Let me suggest one more for your future bucket list. . . the Wellington Sevens Rugby Tournament. Go check out my blog on it. . . and the pictures. Almost ALL the spectators dress up in full-blown costumes to go to the event.

    • Steph February 12, 2010 at 9:03 AM #

      Very neat! My cousin plays in a rugby league in DC but I’ve never seen professional rugby and I bet it’s a cool experience.

  4. Matt February 11, 2010 at 11:17 PM #

    Glad you enjoyed NZ! Great bucket list – I hiked Abel Tasman and hope to kayak Milford Sound. I’m told that it’s the best way to see the area – sandflies aside!

    Steph, any idea when you’ll be getting here next fall? Hopefully we can plan a meet up. Perhaps tackle a bungy together … ?!
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..A Look Back … 40 Years of Friendship in Turkey =-.

    • Steph February 12, 2010 at 9:05 AM #

      Hey Matt, it looks like I’ll probably be in NZ starting Oct.1 for about three weeks. Would love to meet up at some point. Bungee jumping is on my to-do list and I could use a friend to push me over the edge!

  5. Becs February 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM #

    If swimming with animals is your idea of a good time, I have to reccomend swimming with the seals in Kaikora. A totally unique expirence. You can swim with dolphins in a variety of places in NZ (did in both Bay of Islands and Akaroa and I highly reccomend Akaroa!) but seals, I can’t think of anywhere else in the country you can do that. I had the best time!

    And sticking with the animal trend, I loved the Penguin Parade in Oamaru. Totally touristy, but I quite enjoyed it!

    Sidetrack from the animals, totally see the Pancake Rocks on the West Coast. Free and beautiful! The best combo.

    And those are my adds for the South Island.

    North Island needs a whole seperate post:-).

    • Steph February 13, 2010 at 1:15 PM #

      wow that sounds really really cool as well! I’m going to become best friends with all the animals in New Zealand.

  6. Andrew April 26, 2010 at 11:02 AM #

    Hi There!!!

    I came across your article this morning, very cool.

    We are building a new brand up here in Portland around the idea of a Bucket List and the gear that goes along the adventures. If you have some free time, I would like to invite you to share some of your adventures with our community. You have done some cool things and they would make a nice addition.



  7. Matt November 29, 2010 at 5:07 PM #

    So after weeks stuck in a sardine can in the rainy Outback you’ve decided to reconsider your decision to skip NZ on your round-the-world trip, huh, Stephie? I’d say that’s the best change of heart you’ve ever had.

    Great post, Michelle! Abel Tasman was one of my absolute favorites. Beach/rain forest hiking is a rare opportunity.

    I’d add…
    – ZORBing in Rotorua
    – climbing Franz Josef (or Fox) is a must
    – once you get a taste of Speight’s Old Dark, you’ll never want to drink American beer again
    – take in All Blacks match if you’re lucky (or the local Union team)
    – drive through the Catlins (very underrated)
    – a little bit of everything in Queenstown
    – black water rafting in Waitomo caves
    – visit Sandfly Bay in Dunedin (hidden treasure beach with penguins, sea lions and incredible views)

    and now I’m longing to go back…

  8. Nicki November 29, 2010 at 5:08 PM #

    NZ is awesome! If you make it there, another fun thing to add to your list is wine tasting by bike! My friend and I went and had a fabulous time!

  9. Matt November 29, 2010 at 5:19 PM #

    Only just realized that Stephie just re-tweeted this link and the post is from long ago. I take back that whole “best change of heart” bit.

    We miss you!

    • Steph December 5, 2010 at 8:53 PM #

      haha thanks Matt- I will get there sooner or later! miss you too.

  10. Chloe Johnson November 30, 2010 at 4:50 AM #

    Loved reading this and chuckled a wee bit that you liked Speights (it is pretty good, and the marketing of it is even better!)
    As a Kiwi I highly recommend you add some taste testing of traditional Maori-New Zealand food to the bucket list.
    (If you are brave!)
    Check out these 7 foods you should try:

  11. Rob W. February 7, 2011 at 7:10 PM #

    Being a kiwi myself living outside of my country since 1997, I have been back twice (for pleasure). The first time my wife and I spent a month in the North Island and the second a month in the South Island and even then we felt like there was so much more that we could have seen or done.
    Add to your list:
    Have a hangi (traditional maori food cooked in the ground)
    Visit White Island (that smoking one in the Bay of Plenty)
    Waitomo Caves are a bit touristy though still different. There are cool caves nearby (forget the name).
    Do a vineyard crawl (like a pub crawl, though only drinking at vineyards)
    Go Zorbing (where they put you in a big plastic ball and roll you down the hill)
    Do everything possible in Queenstown (do the bungy there at least)
    and the list can easily go on….

    • Steph February 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

      Awesome thanksf or the additions! Can’t wait to get there myself!

  12. Allie February 1, 2013 at 11:01 AM #

    Hi I just wondered what camera you used in these photos? They are beautiful!

    • Steph February 1, 2013 at 11:15 AM #

      It’s a guest post, so not my photos- agree they are stunning!

  13. Allie February 2, 2013 at 9:57 AM #

    Ah I see! What camera(s) do you use? I really like your photos too!

    • Steph February 2, 2013 at 10:03 AM #

      Thanks! I have a Canon S90 point and shoot, but I just upgraded to the Canon S110. Powerful little hand held camera.

  14. David April 24, 2014 at 10:51 AM #

    absolutely beautiful…Who has never been in New Zeeland cannot understand its beauty. Very nice pictures

Leave a Reply