New Zealand is arguably the adventure capital of the world, with what seems like more bungee jumping and skydiving operators than anywhere else on the planet. But even if jumping out of a plane is beyond your daredevil threshold, there are plenty of ways to earn cred as a thrill seeker while in New Zealand. We’ve ranked some of the best options on a scale from tame to whoa.
10 activities in New Zealand that’ll give you major thrill-seeker cred
Te Anau glow worm cavesThe only thing scary about this ride is the dark (the Te Anau glow worm caves are so naturally dark that even phones are forbidden). This two-hour boat tour takes you through 12,000-year-old pitch-black limestone caves where you'll spot constellations of arachnocampa luminosa, spider-like worms that naturally give off light in order to attract their prey. Though you'll hear the roar of an underground waterfall as you cruise around the subterranean waters, it's a tame ride. To take it up a notch, visit the insects' cousins in Waitomo, where tour operators like Black Abyss and Black Labyrinth guide you through darkened caves on rappel lines and inner tubes.
Thrill level: 1/10New Zealand Tourism
Skyline Queenstown LugeSimilar to a Go-Kart – only powered by gravity instead of fuel – the luge atop Skyline Queenstown is three minutes of self-driven, twisty-turny fun. Pop on a helmet and climb into your cart to navigate down 800 metres of dips and turns, complemented by stunning views high over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. While the downhill incline can help you pick up a fair bit of steam, braking is easy on both beginner and advanced tracks. Pro tip for speed demons: make sure you purchase at least two rides as you're required to take your first run of the day on the gentler (slower) blue run.
Thrill level: 2/10New Zealand Tourism
JetboatingInvented in New Zealand in the 1950s as a solution for navigating the many fast-flowing and shallow rivers (conventional propellers tend to strike the rocks along the bottom), jetboats are powered by the water itself, sucking it up through a pump and expelling it from a nozzle at the stern. Sounds pretty basic, but these boats are capable of topping 80 kilometres an hour, hugging the curves of narrow gorges by what feels like inches and taking 360 turns at high speeds. For a fast ride and a great view, get your Jet Thrills on Waimakariri River in the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Thrill level: 3/10New Zealand Tourism
ZorbingIt sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings, but this made-in-New-Zealand thrill sport is more like taking a ride downhill in the spin cycle of your washing machine. Zorbers get harnessed into the inside of a giant, inflatable ball and are then rolled down a course at speeds of about 30 kilometres an hour. It's a lot like extreme somersaulting, unless you do the Zydro version, in which the ball is also filled with water and you slosh right along with it in an upright position. Try it in Rotorua, the birthplace of Zorbing and home to the world's only free-drop track.
Thrill level: 4/10New Zealand Tourism
Glacier HikingHeli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier offers several kinds of thrills in one. First comes the getting there part – did we mention it's by helicopter? – followed by three hours of making your way through towering ice formations using ice axes and crampons. It's chilly, of course – you're hiking on a mountain of ice – but all that heart-pumping adrenaline is guaranteed to keep you warm.
Thrill level: 5/10New Zealand Tourism
SandboardingTake your basic toboggan, swap the snow for sand, and you've got sandboarding. Popular on the giant Te Paki Sand Dunes on the upper edge of the North Island, sandboarding is a high-speed, head-first rush down 100-metre tall dunes. The good news? You're guaranteed a soft landing. The bad news? It's a long, hard climb back to the top for your next ride.
Thrill level: 6/10Shutterstock
White Water RaftingThe class one rapids feel a lot like farts in a bathtub (welcome to Kiwi humour), but the class fives you'll encounter while rafting the Rangitata Gorge demand respect. Although this white water is ranked “extremely difficult" according to the International Scale of River Difficulty (there's just one level harder, and those rivers are considered unsafe), skilled instructors put it within reach of beginners. Sure, there's an option to get out of your raft and walk around the hardest parts, but you didn't fly all this way to wimp out, did you?
Thrill level: 7/10Rangitata Rafting
ZipliningTry to ignore the fact that the gondola that brings you up to Bob's Peak, high over Queenstown, climbs a towering 450 metres – it's not like you'll be descending that full amount on a single zipline. The truth is, it's more like six ziplines, each of which gets progressively steeper and longer as you go. While the early rides are short and sweet, the grand finale is a 300-metre line that descends 30 stories, with speeds that hit up to 70 kilometres an hour.
Thrill level: 8/10Ziptrek Ecotours
Nevis Swing“The World's Biggest Swing" sounds almost like a child's ride – until the moment you realize that your launch deck is suspended 160 metres above the ground and that the drop will send you careening at speeds of 120 kilometres per hour in an arc between canyon walls. While not for the faint of heart – or anyone afraid of heights – it's one of the most incredible thrill rides in a nation of thrill rides. The only thing that saves this ride from being more terrifyingly thrilling than the next one is that you don't actually have to take the initiative of jumping into the abyss – the swing staff hoist you over the canyon by your harness and release you when you're ready.
Thrill level: 9/10 New Zealand Tourism
SkyJumpIt's unavoidable, but the best thing to do before jumping off the 54th floor of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere is not to look down before falling 192 metres. Once you've made that mistake, take a deep breath, quiet all those inner voices and get ready to leap – that's right, this one is self-released. Though you're a long way up, it's a fast trip down – about eight seconds, to be precise – and unlike bungee jumping, you're affixed to a taught line with a propeller that slows you down smoothly and comfortably as you near the bottom. Unfortunately, the ride will be over by the time you realize what a blast it was – but there's a 20 per cent off discount if you do it a second time (and you'll want to!).
Thrill level: 10/10New Zealand Tourism