For the ultimate mix of adventure and scenic beauty, canyoning offers the chance to see some of New Zealand’s most thrilling landscapes.
Canyoning is about the opportunity to explore New Zealand’s scenic beauty whist getting a hit of pure adrenalin. Swim in clear, deep pools, leap through gushing waterfalls, zipline and abseil down beautiful canyons and leave with amazing tales of adventuring in New Zealand.
North to south, here are five of the top guided canyoning tours in New Zealand – not perhaps for the faint-hearted but guaranteed to deliver a memorable experience for anyone prepared to follow the leader.
Piha Canyon - Auckland
West of Auckland and away from the city lights, Piha Canyon has formed in a volcanic rock valley that’s a spectacular setting for adventure. The highlight is a series of thundering waterfalls that cascade their way down the valley towards the ocean including the highest commercially-abseiled waterfall in the Auckland region. For a more extreme option, the adventurous opt for the night canyoning experience exploring the passages through caves, pools and ledges, illuminated by only a headlamp and the glowworms glittering on rock walls.
The West Coast beach of Piha, with its black sand beach and famous surf break, is a 45-minute drive from Auckland’s central city. Away from the rugged west coast, the Waitemata Harbour’s sheltered waters are the place to boat or kayak from beach to beach. Tuck in after all that exercise at one of a multitude of great restaurants and bars (try a tasty sharing plate at Depot or Miss Moonshine’s).
Sleeping God Canyon – The Coromandel
Some say this is the ultimate New Zealand canyoning experience – a journey into an otherwise inaccessible environment, last frequented by kauri foresters 100 years ago, and a gem in a region famed for its outstanding landscapes. On The Coromandel coast – just south of Auckland – jump from a 13-metre high ledge and abseil down a 30-metre gushing waterfall in a day pumped with adrenalin hits and moments of pure exhilaration. The Sleeping God Canyon expedition may have you exceeding your personal limits but the enduring consequence is likely to be an unforgettable day out.
Thames is 1 hour 30 minutes’ drive from Auckland and the gateway to The Coromandel. From Thames you can walk the popular Pinnacles track or head over to Whitianga to explore the Coromandel’s picture-perfect east coast beaches.
Doom Creek Canyon - Nelson
Less daunting than it sounds, Doom Creek is a fantastic canyon located in the Mt Richmond Forest Park of the South Island’s Nelson Tasman region. Abel Tasman Canyons guides tours into hidden places, moving from spaces where the sky disappears to sun-drenched shingle beaches. Doom Creek has plenty of jumps, but never compulsory because the canyon is almost horizontal with steep vertical walls. It’s your choice as to how high you climb before you turn and launch back into crystal clear pools.
Air New Zealand operates daily flights from Auckland to Nelson (1 hour 25 minutes). Nelson Tasman is packed with spectacular scenery, three national parks, and the highest sunshine hours in the South Island. Known for craft brewing, hiking and active adventures, the region is a spectacular holiday destination.
Leaping Burn Canyon - Wanaka
Just outside the resort town of Wanaka – a year-round outdoor mecca in New Zealand’s southern lakes region - this canyoning experience takes place in the spectacular canyons of the Matukituki River Valley beneath the Misty Mountains pathways once travelled by hobbits and dwarves. Explore crystal alpine pools and ancient forest, plunge through water-polished chutes and abseil down waterfalls as you climb, swim and float down through a world of water and rock punctuated by crashing waterfalls. This unique alpine journey will have you extending your comfort zone.
Air New Zealand operates daily flights from Auckland to Queenstown (1 hour 50 minutes). From Queenstown, drive across the Crown Range to the laidback lakeside town of Wanaka. Paddleboard on Lake Wanaka, take a boat to Mou Waho Island or enjoy a film in the boutique Cinema Paradiso. In winter, ski popular Cardrona then follow that up with a local brew at Cardrona Hotel.
Routeburn Canyon – Lake Wakatipu
Leave behind Queenstown, New Zealand’s #1 tourist destination, to venture along the shores of Lake Wakatipu passing through Glenorchy and into Mount Aspiring National Park's Routeburn Valley. In this World Heritage Area – close to several locations used for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies – discover a spectacular environment that’s perfect for some serious adventure. Set off on foot and after a gentle 30-minute walk through native alpine forest, the excitement begins as you start the descent on your way to becoming a true canyoner.
Air New Zealand operates daily flights from Auckland to Queenstown (1 hour 50 minutes). Stay in Queenstown and enjoy the buzz of the resort town with easy access to the outdoors, ski fields, adventure activities and wineries. No matter the season, the legendary Fergburger is a must-do - a burger joint where the queues never stop but always worth the wait.