Sometimes you just need an escape from where you are living. For us, it’s nice to escape the crowds and air of Beijing. After what seemed like almost a year of planning (this trip kept getting pushed back and back again), we finally made the final arrangements for our R&R that would take us all through New Zealand and then over to Australia. Stay tuned to the next post on what we did in Australia!
We spent about two weeks in New Zealand driving from the North Island to the South Island. We started in Auckland and ended in Queenstown. I am so glad that we decided to do both islands, and I feel that our time was well spent in each place.
We were fortunate to get a direct flight from Beijing to Auckland. With it being just under 13 hours, I was not looking forward to trying to sleep on the overnight flight. Fortunately for us, we each got a whole row to ourselves so we could lay across three seats. That’s the best long haul flight I’ve been on yet (not that I’ve been on many) but I don’t know how I am going to manage the next 13 hour flight if I don’t have a whole row to myself. We landed in Auckland, and I felt pretty rested and ready to go!
After arriving in Auckland, we had someone pick us up to drive us to our hotel in downtown Auckland. My first impression of Auckland (besides the gorgeous blue skies!) was that it reminded me of a small town. Maybe I’ve been living in a large city for too long but New Zealand was just full of towns to me-some large and some small.
Due to us driving from the North Island to the South Island in about two weeks, we didn’t get to stay in any one place for too long.
Once we checked into the hotel, we set off to walk around and explore the “city” a bit. It had a college town feel to me–we did find out later we were staying by a college, so that made sense. Anyways, we were looking for a place to eat and ended up finding a restaurant “Istanbul Shawarma”. Since we’re heading to Istanbul in just over a year, we thought this would be the perfect place for us to eat.
The next day we had to get our rental and head to see the Waitomo Glowworms but first, we wanted to explore a bit more of Auckland, so we decided to take an uber (I am so out of touch with using uber!!) over to Mount Eden. I am so glad that we did this. Mount Eden was a volcano at one point. It was fun walking up to the top to get nice views of the city.
Now that we had our rental car, we were off to see the glowworms! Side note: This was my first time driving on the other side of the road but after driving in Beijing, it was almost easier driving on the other side of the road! Traffic laws are followed and there are way less people on the roads. The hardest part was probably mixing up the turn signals and the windshield wipers.
After driving a couple hours, we made it to Waitomo. Since we had a bit of time before we were scheduled for our glowworm tour, we opted to do a nearby bush walk-Ruakuri. After we did that, it was time for our glowworm tour. We started by walking through the caves and seeing them there before going on a boat ride in the pitch dark and seeing them in the cave that way–that was cool!
After we finished our glowworm tour, we continued on to end our day in Rotorua. This ended up by my favorite drive of the whole trip. It was quiet on country roads with the most gorgeous weather.
There was not much happening in this town besides the AgroDome which we went to the following day. There was a large lake outside our hotel that smelled of sulphur so it wasn’t the most pleasant. The one thing we didn’t have time to attend was a Maori Dinner.
So the next day, we got up and went to the AgroDome. Here we saw so many different kinds of sheep and a sheep shearing show. We also saw a bit of sheep herding. I thought the breeds of dogs were interesting as they were more so crosses of other breeds. We also did a farm tour-on a wagon pulled by a tractor-to see more animals and sample some honey and kiwi juice. I loved the couple stops along the way to feed the animals. It was fun to see a three day old alpaca.
From Rotorua, we took an hour’s drive south to Taupo. I really enjoyed this little town. We had a great room overlooking Lake Taupo.
Unfortunately, it was a very rainy drive but lucky for us, the skies cleared up enough for us to go to Aratiatia Dam. Aratiatia Dam is a place you only want to visit at certain times throughout the day (that is when they open the gates to create these waterfalls). It was cool watching the area fill up with the water that was released.
Despite some rain the previous day, we had a nice day next when we went to see Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon. I’m glad we went to Huka Falls first thing as it was filling up by the time we left. Craters of the Moon was quite interesting–and we pretty much had the area to ourselves! There are many geysers here. It was important to stay on the paths or else you could potentially get burned.
This was our longest drive of the trip but we had to get down to the bottom of the North Island. We made it to Wellington which was a small city–and one that is extremely windy!! Here, we visited Mount Victoria to get some cool views of the city (it was a crazy steep and narrow drive up to the top).
Wellington was a nice city to walk around as well. I think it may just be a bit too windy for me as the majority of days throughout the year have strong winds.
The next day we took the InterIslander Ferry from Wellington to Picton. We had to drop off our rental car first (and pick up a new one on the other side) before boarding. The ferry we were on used to be a cruise boat, so it was quite nice. We boarded fairly early before others and were able to get comfortable seats for the 3 hour ferry ride. I took some “Sea Legs” (like Dramamine) just in case because it had been so windy, and it put me right to sleep. I did wake in time though to enjoy the gorgeous views along the way and as we pulled into Picton, which is the “Gateway to the South Island.”
Picton was another small town that was basically a resting point before we continued on our journey in the South Island.
We could have a short 2 hour drive or a long 6+ hour driving depending on if the roads were open. There is still major impacts from the earthquake that hit NZ. And with a cyclone that went through a few weeks prior to our visit, that had closed the roads too. Fortunately for us, the roads were open, so we got the shorter drive to Kaikoura! It was a pretty drive for the most part but as we got closer to the town, there was more and more construction happening with some one lane roads due to them working on the roads.
We got to stop at one point to see the first (of many) NZ fur seals! They were so cool! There was a huge seal colony on our way to Kaikoura but we unfortunately couldn’t pull over to see them due to the construction. We were though able to go and visit another seal colony that was close to where we were staying. We first saw one or two along the rocks but as we continued along (and got away from the other people), that’s when we really started to see the colony. They were fun to watch!
Going whale watching was one reason why we stopped in Kaikoura. We were lucky that we were able to head out (despite the rough seas) because they had to cancel the day before due to the seas being too rough. Most (not all) get to see at least one whale on these outings. We saw two sperm whales and then went back to revisit the first one for a second viewing. Because the sperm whales need to come up to breathe among other things, the guides know how long until the whale resurfaces (they can stay under for about 30-45 minutes). It was a cool experience.
Christchurch, similar to Picton, was just a place to break up the drive. We stopped here on our way to Mount Cook. Christchurch was really still recovering from the earthquake that hit awhile back. Lucky us (ha), we of course were staying in a hotel in the heart of the city…and one we couldn’t access due to road closures for a big Spring Festival event. To once again get some views of the city (so many great mountains to go up in NZ to get these great views), we went to Victoria Park and Thomson Park.
We left Christchurch and started making our way to Mount Cook but with a day stop at Lake Taupo. This was so worth it. I’ve never seen water this color! It was the most beautiful teal/green. It was so quiet and peaceful here too (besides all the Chinese tourists but you just walk a few feet the other way and have the place to yourself!). We also got gorgeous weather. This was a great place to take a break for a bit.
We finished our drive by arriving in Mount Cook…aka, the middle of nowhere-except for the big, gorgeous lodge where we were staying. We got an awesome view of Mount Cook from our room. Everywhere was a great view-from our lunch spot to our dinner spot. Because it was such a nice day when we arrived (and who knew how the next day would be), I wanted to take advantage so we set out for a hike. We started on one of the popular hikes but due to the fairly strong winds and the swinging bridges that needed to be crossed, we sadly, didn’t finish that hike. We did get some cool views of the mountain and the glacier nonetheless. We then tried another hike (no bridges involved) and got some more cool views.
That night we had the best dinner we had on the whole trip (mmm-steak!) and then we went stargazing. Despite us being tired, I’m so glad we went outside to see the stars. I’ve never seen stars like that before. Wow!! It was amazing–so many stars could be seen. Awesome views of the Milky Way too. I’d recommend going to Mount Cook just to see the stars.
The next morning (like I thought), the weather was a bit cloudy, covering the top of Mount Cook. Nonetheless, we still did another hike to see the Blue Lakes and the Tasman Glacier. It’s sad that the glaciers are all disappearing.
Cromwell and Arrowtown
We started to make our way to Queenstown but we made a couple stops along the way. We first stopped in the small town of Cromwell for lunch. Here we enjoyed some of NZ’s famous pies (I really like the chicken one). We also got to check out the little historic area that was pretty.
After that, we headed to Arrowtown which was a bustling little area. It had some fun shops to stop in and check out.
Queenstown was the most bustling area we visited I think. Yet again, we had an awesome place to stay (our tour guide who helped arranged this trip did great!). We actually stayed in an apartment so it was nice to be able to do some laundry by this point in our trip. We had the perfect location with a short five minute walk to the main area and more great views.
The town reminded me of maybe what Vale, Colorado would be like (not that I’ve been there). Lots of great places to eat. Fun shops to check out. And so many different people there. We enjoyed some burgers from Fergburgers. We enjoyed steaks a couple times. We also enjoyed some yummy, fresh cookies from the cookie plus ice cream (I’ve never had so much ice cream on a trip than this one! I guess that’s what happens when you don’t really have it in a year and a half.).
We spent one day in Queenstown actually out of the town. We did a day trip to Milford Sound. While it was gorgeous weather in Queenstown, we got some rain in Milford Sound. Needless to say, it still was a cool experience because that rain added to the waterfalls and created some waterfalls that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I also enjoyed the stop at Te’Anau to break up the 4 hour drive (one way) and seeing the parrot along the way. Our bus driver also served as the guide and did a great job. Oh yeah, we also had another stop along the way to see the Mirror Lakes–so calm and clear to see reflections in it.
We spent the most days of our trip in Queenstown but only because we had a few things to do. We had the Milford Sound Cruise, but I also wanted to experience horseback riding in NZ! For this, we drove about 45 minutes outside Queenstown to Glenorchy (which I guess is famous for some Lord of the Rings stuff–can’t say I’ve seen the movies!). Since Ben isn’t into riding, I went for an all-day ride while he took pictures and explored the town. It was a gorgeous day weather-wise, and I got an awesome horse to ride. We stopped in a nice place for lunch before heading back. It was pretty through the mountains and cutting across the rivers.
For the last bit of time we had in Queenstown, I went to do Skyline Queenstown where I took the cable car up the mountain for awesome views of the city. Plus, I had fun doing a couple runs on the luge (that wasn’t quite like the toboggan ride in Beijing–I actually thought it was harder in Queenstown!). After doing Skyline Queenstown, we stopped in the Bird Wildlife Park to see the kiwis! They were so cool! Because of predators eating the kiwis in the wild, their numbers are dwindling. We got to see the kiwi feeding which was pretty awesome. They are cool birds.
And with that, the first part of our R&R ended. Next stop: Sydney!
TOTE: Take advantage when you can–who knows if/when you’ll be back!
PC: Ben Tucker Photography
Heading to NZ? Here’s a breakdown of how long we were in each city:
Day 1: Arrived in Auckland
Day 2: Auckland to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves to Rotorua
Day 3: Rotorua to Lake Taupo
Day 4: Taupo to Wellington
Day 5: Wellington to ferry to Picton
Day 6: Picton to Kaikoura
Day 7: Kaikoura to Christchurch
Day 8: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook
Day 9: Mount Cook to Cromwell to Arrowtown to Queenstown
Day 10: Queentown/Glenorchy
Day 11: Queenstown/Milford Sound
Day 12: Queenstown
Day 13: Queesntown to Sydney
Discover New Zealand did a fabulous job in helping make this trip become reality. From booking the awesome hotels to getting the rental to purchasing some tickets in advance, it was an easy process! Shout out to Alarna for all her hardwork and help!