You don’t have to rob a bank with three friends in US Presidential masks to get your Point Break adrenaline rush in New Zealand. Being perched near the bottom of the globe over two perpetually moving tectonic plates creates some peaky terrain that can have you skiing in the morning and surfing at sunset. From freefalling off a bridge, to going over rapids in pitch black, to abseiling a waterfall, there are lots of options for the thrill seekers, peak climbers and rush junkies. In the North Island, you can race a Lamborghini one day and zip-line through 300-million-year-old stalagmites and stalactites under the ground the next.
From rafting a waterfall to climbing a live volcano we've picked 20 ways to get your adrenaline fix around the North Island and it wasn't easy choosing.
You’re going to get wet exploring a country flanked by ocean so your first experience might as well be full immersion. Wakeboarding or skiing behind a high-powered speedboat blasts you full of endorphins, makes you feel invincible like you’re sprinting on water, and guarantees a wet crash. Only an hour’s drive north of Auckland you can learn to carve up foam on a wakeboard or water skis, or, if you’re experienced then get a full throttle ride slammed full of jumps, spins and flips. Options for riding with Blue Adventures include the glassy Omaha Estuary, in Omaha, scenic Scott’s Landing or the private Spectacle Lake, where nobody else is making waves.
Hurtling over terrain that doesn’t look like you should be allowed to hurtle over makes quad biking exhilarating. There are plenty of options around but quad safaris at Muriwai Beach will have you careering over forest tracks and then racing along black sand, with waves to the left of you and dunes to the right. You don’t need a licence or any experience, the briefing’s only 15 minutes, and your trip is tailored to your preference for thrills and speed. The twilight ride gives you a wild, west coast sunset and for a kicker there’s clay shooting and archery.
Waterfalls are nice to look but they get really interesting when you’re able to leap over the edge. Backwards. Canyoning, 50 minutes west of Auckland, with Awol Adventures will have you squeezing down steep, volcanic, water-polished rock chutes and going over the highest commercially abseiled waterfall in the region. At 60 metres up, the view’s a stunner from the top, and it’s a mighty rush to the bloodstream to get to the bottom. Fully kitted out in wetsuits and rubbers shoes you’ll repel, chute and free jump over the old Kauri dam releases; nature’s natural hydro slides. And afterwards you can explore Piha’s black sand and surf and then hike up over Piha’s North Head for a bird’s eye experience of the raw power of the West Coast’s White Beach.
If you’re going to bungy jump you’ll want AJ Hacket behind you. AJ was arrested 25 years ago when he first jumped off Auckland’s Harbour Bridge - to prove he could - and now everyone wants a piece of the free fall action. Jumping off the Harbour Bridge is a 40 metre rip snorting plunge and the only ocean touch bungy available. The views from the bridge are gob smacking and you get exclusive access to a part of the bridge most pedestrians - tourists and locals can’t get to.
You won’t be popular with swimmers but hiring a jet ski is one fast and furious way to see Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Wave at people on the bloated ferry as you dash past to Waiheke, Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands, where you can find your own secluded beach to swim in and check out the sea life. You can hire them yourself and take off for up to six hours without feeling like you’ve got a guide hanging over your shoulder, summer or winter. Afterwards, if you’ve never experienced the classic rush of spinning and bouncing in a sea biscuit you can try that too.
Most people dream of owning a Lamborghini but unless you live in Sant'Agata Bolognese in Italy, then only a small percentage of the population actually do. It’s not famous for Prosecco, but Hampton Downs just out of Hamilton, lets you ride in the latest Lamborghini Huracan. With a pro driver, you’ll make a mad dash from 0 to 100 kph in 3.2 seconds on the straights, then roar around blind bends and crests that will stun you into an insanely wide grin. Afterwards you can brag about experiencing a 610 horsepower, quick-shift, dual-clutch electronically controlled all-wheel drive system at 250 kph!
‘Wai’ means water and ‘tomo’ means hole in the ground. So if you’re going to go down a hole in the ground in Waitomo, chances are you’ll find yourself in some water. Often deep water. You can’t explore Waitomo Caves without being guided and the wildest tour, The Black Abyss, includes abseiling a 35 metre tomo, exploring the glow-worm crowded Ruakuri Cave, zip-lining through 300-million-year-old stalagmite, stalactite and limestone décor. The finale is black water rafting, which involves flinging yourself into an inner tube and trusting the wai to take you where it will, including down rapids you can’t see.
How does a human get inside a giant inflatable ball and bounce along like they’re made of air? That is what two friends behind OGO thought in 1985 when they invented zorbing by climbing inside an inflatable orb and bouncing down a steep hill. Then, for an extra buzz, they figured out how to get two humans inside and added water. Like the luge, this crazy activity was invented in Rotorua and is a must when visiting the pungent town. Go for the two people, hydro, zigzag down the hill option for an ultimate zorborific time.
In Europe, luges are incredibly fast snow sleds. In New Zealand, luges are simple toboggans that barrel down concrete tracks at high speed. When you first do it you half expect a safety officer to stop you as all you’ve got is a handle for both support and breaks and it doesn’t feel legal. But it is. Fuelled by gravity and panic, the Skyline luge in Rotorua is the longest track in the country and as safe as you want it to be. It’s not high end but the advanced track can take your rear end for one totally high ride.
When an activity isn’t available for most of the year it makes it that much more intriguing. The Wairoa River, just out of Rotorua, is only open for rafting for 26 days when the hydro power station shuts down releasing the dam. Gallons of white water create heart yanking drops and turbulent rapids as you paddle like mad down the river sandwiched by a stunning steep rocky gorge. It’s one of the best grade five trips and is truly scary as. Book early with Kaitiaki adventures or if you miss out then raft the nearby Kaituna River and roar over the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
If you like adventurous mountain biking you’ll find trails to shred the gnar all over the country but the brilliance of Whakarewarewa Forest is that it has some of the best single track trails in the country so much so that they held the world champs a few years ago. With 150km of sprawling master crafted tracks surrounded by Giant Redwoods, there are plenty of rooty technical trails, jump lines, kickers, and extreme action to channel your inner Danny MacAskill. If shredding downhill is your thing, save your energy and catch a shuttle up. You can ride for hours in Whakarewarewa Forest and not hit the same trail.
Imagine approaching the island in Jurassic Park but instead of green slopes its alive with molten lava and smoke plumes 24/7. White Island is the only active marine volcano in the Southern Hemisphere that people can set foot on, and here you can walk up to the crater as well. You know something’s dangerous when you sign your life away beforehand – if the fuming island blows then you’ll go too! You can fly, chopper or boat over (check out wi.co.nz to find out the best option for you), but if you’re only doing one heli trip in New Zealand then save it for something else. The boat trip’s reasonable and often you see dolphins along the way.
If you have time to dogleg over to Gisborne then do it for the chance to boogie board the Rere Rock slide - Wharekopae Road, Rere. The 60-metre long waterslide has been pummelled smooth by the relentless Wharekopae River, so grab yourself an inflatable mattress, boogie board or inner tube and go for it. Or watch the locals for a while and pick out the best path. If you don’t have anything inflatable then find some cardboard and see how long it lasts. The brilliance of this is that there’s nothing commercial about it, just people having a wild time in a natural wonderland.
Jet boating up to the Huka Falls is a blast but being a passenger is passive. It’s better to walk to the falls look out, get your face sprayed while you marvel at the incredible volume of water, and then hire your own boat from Lake Fun Taupo to blat around in. If three of you pool together $60 then you’ve got two hours on Lake Taupo with a 50 horsepower four stroke boat and no licence required. Inflatable biscuits (donuts) are also available so you can throw a friend in the lake when you’re doing spins on the choppy water. You might even catch a fish for dinner.
Some people believe skydiving is better than sex. It’s true that a free fall skydive will leave you on a natural high for the entire day and is the closest thing you get to flying as a two-legged, wingless human. Taupo’s not the only place to skydive but is the best in the North Island, with the biggest tandem drop zone if you’re not an experienced solo jumper. Check out Taupo Tandem Skydiving for their deals. And when you’re 12,000 feet up you get to imagine how big the world’s most violent volcanic eruption must have been to create the vast Lake Taupo below.
Some think skiing’s better in the south but if you’re up for some off-piste adventure then crater lake on top of New Zealand’s largest, and sometimes angriest volcano is mind-blowing. From the top of the chairlift, unmarked lahar routes up Whakapapa on the northwestern side, or Turoa on the southwest, get you there. Seeing the magical lake at 2672 metres with 360 degrees views out to the coast makes you feel, literally, on top of it all. Then you get to shush down. You can hike up if the lifts are open in summer time too. Ruapehu can be treacherous so check conditions and seriously consider a guide if you’re inexperienced.
Riding fast engines is a trip but riding a horse all over trails is equally exhilarating because horses are unpredictable creatures. You can’t show any fear, and really they are the boss. Horse trekking for 3-4 hours in Taihape is no gentle pony ride. This is backcountry riding at its best and gives you flabbergasting views of Mt Ruapehu, the Ruahine ranges, and the Rangitikei river canyon. The ride is demanding on your body but when you and that horse are in sync, your legs and heart are pumped with the thrill of it.
What was once a naval frigate, the F69, is now one of the most exciting dive spots you’ll find in the country with disused launches, antennae masts, and decks that once sported over 28 war guns. Commissioned in 1969, the frigate’s been in Island Bay Harbour since 2005, where she was scuttled spectacularly in front of a large crowd. It took less than two minutes to go under and takes more than two days to navigate as the keel, now in parts, is 21 metres or 69 feet, providing some rad exploring when you’re under the ocean.
Zip-lining, which kiwis call ‘flying fox’ even though there are no foxes here, has been a favourite for generations. In Adrenaline Forest, Okowai Road, Porirua, you can yodel your heart out as you zip-line through the trees 30 metres up. You’ll also test your vertigo by riding a skateboard along a thin wire, climb a horizontal flipping ladder, tightrope, Indiana Jones yourself into a vertical net, and Tarzan swing across platforms. Start at level one, and once you’ve mastered the clipping system you can often skip two and head to level three and up for kicks.
While it might look like something teenagers do for kicks, there’s no age where donning overalls, slapping ammo around your middle and taking a semi-automatic gun into the wilderness isn’t fun. Paint Ball at Hostility Hill in Lower Hutt or Granada North in Tawa is a major adrenaline pumping good time, bringing out all your animal instincts. If you’re travelling alone or with a friend make sure you book on a day with other parties so you can get in on the game with as many frenemies as possible, whether you’re running the gauntlet or capturing the flag.