It took us 48 hours of drive time to travel across both islands of New Zealand and after the experience, all I can say is, “wow.” This country is just spectacular. There are (long list alert!) mountains, glaciers, fiords, forests, wide open planes, steep hills, huge lakes, rainforests, massive beaches, famous surf spots, little islands, tons of vineyards, and so much more nature that I haven’t even mentioned. On top of that, every Kiwi we met was happy to welcome us to their country and to help us when things went awry.
We began our 15-day road trip in Christchurch. We flew in from Fiji and picked up our rental van—you might already know her as Winnie—from Lucky Rentals and hit the (left side of the) road. Below are two maps that outline our journey. If you are curious, click on the maps for a more detailed view.
Although I don’t recommend anyone copies our trip exactly (I would skip the cyclones), there are parts of New Zealand that no one should miss.
New Zealand Musts:
As I mentioned in a prior post, seeing Milford Sound should be on your bucket list. If you have loads of gold, I would recommend you stay the night at Milford Sound and hire a plane for a second day of viewing because, even though we didn’t do it that way, I know it would be worth it. It is just that amazing. And if you are some kind of all-powerful being that can control the weather, I would also recommend seeing it after some rain—one hour after the rain stops to be exact. That way, you will see millions of beautiful temporary waterfalls that appear all around the sound. We were only there on a sunny day, but I could cry just imagining how beautiful that must be.
Camp at Punakaiki Beach Camp
Punakaiki is most known for their Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, though we found the whole area to be impressive. We parked our van at Punakaiki Beach Camp—a pristine location smack dab in between the rainforest and the beach. While camping there, we went on a pretty spectacular run through the rainforest then later had a sunset beer on the beach. Also, the campsite’s facilities are just really nice.
Eat Meaty Pies in Queenstown
Our meaty pies from Ferg Bakery were to die for. These pies are roughly the size of your hand, filled with beef and onion in a perfect gravy and encompassed with buttery dough. Just writing about them is making me drool. While in Queenstown, we were awake too early one morning so we were cranky and snipping at each other until we had these pies which made everything better. Much better. We also heard the Ferg Burger next door to the bakery was great and saw the line to prove it. So really, just go to Queenstown, walk around town, take it all in, and plan to eat a lot of excellent, well-prepared beef.
Hike Roy’s Peak
Sadly, we did not get to hike Roy's Peak because we were in the middle of a series of bad things happening. But, I still find myself randomly Googling photos from the peak and hopelessly dreaming of going back to experience it for ourselves. I believe it is an all-day hike that will end up in the Lord of the Rings view of your dreams. Google it for yourself since I don’t know how to ethically share other people’s photos.
Visit Zealandia in Wellington
Zealandia is an eco-sanctuary dedicated to restoring the area’s forest and water ecosystem to pre-human conditions over the next 500 years. What a feat! For just $20 NZD per person (which I considered a happy donation) you can hike around the eco-sanctuary for as long as you want. We climbed up steep hills, crossed suspension bridges, watched birds eat from the funniest lunch boxes, and got glimpses of huge bugs and lizards. If we had brought lunch with us, we would have stayed there all day. It is worth exploring outside Zealandia too. The nearby city of Wellington is a fun and windy city with a bit of a San Francisco vibe.
Relax in Hot Springs in Taupo
Just outside the town of Taupo is the Spa Thermal Park. If you walk into the park, you will immediately notice geothermal steam rising from the ground. Just follow that steam and you’ll find all-natural hot springs just oozing from the Earth! Okay, oozing sounds gross. So, trickling from the Earth? The whole park is on a subtle hill. As you head up the hill the water gets hotter. Up top, we found a pool all to ourselves, and although the bubbling water was borderline too hot and we had to stand up every few minutes to cool off, we spent a relaxing hour in our own private paradise.
Take a tour in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
The locals will tell you that the whole Waitomo area is way too touristy to visit but you know what? I am a tourist and this tourist wants to see glowing worms in a cave and do other cool cave adventuring things. So there locals! This was the most expensive of our experiences in New Zealand (Our budget kept us from other pricey adrenaline filled experiences New Zealand has to offer like bungee jumping) but it was oh so worth it. For $150 NZD we spent four hours in the limestone caves. We repelled down 27 meters of sheer cliff, floated down a river on inner tubes in complete darkness, swam under the glow worms (I know!!!), and rock climbed back up those 27 meters of cliff. It was a unique and exciting experience.
Surf in Raglan
Since I am not the surfer in this two-some, I will let Andrew jump in here with his recommendation. Andrew?
Hello! Andrew here. I lucked out on the conditions when we arrived—waist to head high with occasional overhead sets and offshore winds—and it was a blast! I surfed along the rocks at the south end of the bay. Compared to California, the spots I could paddle out to (Raglan, Whangamata, and Muriwai) were not very crowded, had warmer water, and helpful offshore winds that kept it clean. And if the wind changes onshore you can just drive to the other side of the island in an hour or two! Thank you to the friendly locals who pointed me in the right direction for some great waves.
If you have been to New Zealand, what were your favorite experiences on each island?