New Zealand

Our rental car for the next two weeks
US or NZ?

A two-week road trip through New Zealand if fast paced.  There is a lot to see here.  This was the first country on my 8-month travels that I would have someone with me for the entire country.  New Zealand is good for couples or group travel because you can have a lot more fun on a road trip in a car or camper van  with more people.

 

With New Zealand, there is the North Island and the South Island and to get between the two you take a ferry. It’s pretty well touristed and since everyone speaks English. At times, I thought New Zealand was more the like the US than Australia.

We flew into Christchurch and stayed at a little AirBnB, stocked up on TimTams, then headed out.  The first stop tends to be Lake Tekapo, which is one of the most picturesque and clear lakes I have ever seen.  We camped on the shores here one night.  The area is known for its star-gazing and if you get a chance, dinner at the observatory’s Earth and Sky Cafe is worth a trip up the hill.

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Next we hiked in Mt. Cook National Park.  This is New Zealand’s tallest mountain.  You’ll see a lot of other hikers initially but they generally do not venture too far up the trails so before long we had the place to ourselves. This is a really good place to stop for some day hikes .

Mt. Cook National Park
Bungee jumping on the South Island

If you’ve ever traveled much with Kiwi’s, you know they are about as wild and daring of any of the travelers.  They also tend to be the ones at the hostel at the end of a day with a broken arm too, but usually with no regrets along side it.  It’s not surprising then that there are a lot of adventure sports here.  We found our first group of bungee jumpers going off this bridge.One of the most amazing places to see in New Zealand is the Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.  It’s incredibly picturesque and beautiful, but unfortunately,  the weather did not cooperate with us.  We were in New Zealand in late November and the rain was relentless. It was actually really impressive to drive along the edges of a rock face as the thunder and rain pummeled the car and flowed over the cliffs.  Unfortunately, it didn’t make for the best photos. We tried to give it an extra day or so to see if the weather would clear but the forecast was not good.  If I were going to do this trip again, I’d either try to see Milford sound at a better time of year, or give yourself a few days there with the hopes that you’ll catch good weather.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still beautiful, but most of the photos just turned out to show the intense fog that surrounded us.

This was all we could see of Milford Sound

Once we got out of Milford Sound and closer to Queenstown, the weather started to lift.  Because the past few days had been a torrential downpour, it was time to get out of the car by Queenstown and I’m really glad we stopped there.  I don’t think many people go to New Zealand to see their quant little cities but Queenstown is worth a stop for something other than stocking up on more wool socks.  Start in Queenstown Gardens and then wander your way to the shopping area at the waterfront where they have one of the best breweries we tried in New Zealand (and we tried a lot of them).

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Despite the constant rain, I think one of my favorite days of hiking was in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the South Island.  Here, you can hike through prehistoric forests and up to Franz Joseph Glacier and the Fox Glacier.  It rained the entire time but it was worth getting soaking wet for.

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When we got to the north end of the South Island the weather cleared up and we got some sunshine at Abel Tasman National Park.  There are tons of places to camp here and it seemed to be its own little campervan village in the parking lot.

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Cheeseburger or meatloaf on a bun

To get from the South Island to the North you take a ferry.  This can be booked online and runs between Wellington and Picton.  We went with a higher class option and got dinner as well.  From there, we went to Rotorua which is one of my favorite stops in New Zealand.  This is a good hub to see a lot of different attractions from and it has a great boardwalk down by the water with hands down, the best cheeseburger I have ever had in my life at the Craft Brew Kitchen.  Honestly, this is like one of the great secrets of New Zealand, no one ever mentions how good the cheeseburgers are there.  It makes me feel like the US is neglecting its flagship food.  Pretty much all the cheeseburgers I had there automatically come with a fried egg on top as well so it makes them very hard to beat.

Zorbing – yes, we are in the ball

From there, we went Zorbing at OGO one cold morning, which is apparently where it was invented.  If you do go Zorbing on a cold day, the cool thing is they fill the ball with warm water and it’s really, really comfortable.  This was another thing we hadn’t planned to do and only booked the night before so I think we started at something like 8:00 AM.  I found this to be really, really fun and would do it again but for longer.  My only regret was getting on the road and getting going so soon.  From there, you can go to the Yellowstone of New Zealand known as Taupo, where there are geothermal pools and a sort dinosaurs-lived-here-a-few-years-ago vibe.

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About this time, we started to notice that just  about anywhere you go, you are reminded of the Lord of the Rings in one way or another.  Since the series was filmed on both the North and South Islands you might find yourself doing the same thing.  Although Hobbiton is the main attraction, there are dozens of other tours associated with filming locations, dressing like a hobbit, or even a 14-day Lord of the Rings tour. One of the last things we did in New Zealand was go to Hobbiton.  This was absolutely, hands down, just as cool as you would ever hope it could be.

Hobbiton!

However, one of the most awe-inspiring experiences I’ve had traveling was seeing the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.  I don’t know what can be better than innertubing through dark caves that seemed to be lit by stars.  It was magical.Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the trip to New Zealand was drawing to a close.  We had one last dinner at the Sky Tower, which is the space needle of Auckland before heading out.  Me to Australia, and Chad back to work.