After years of dreaming & imagining what New Zealand (NZ) would be like, months of planning and one extremely long flight. We were off, we flew to NZ with Singapore airlines which was a 5-star service, who ensured we were fed, watered and entertained for 23 hours. The Singapore sling definitely put us in the holiday spirit! When we landed in NZ it was pretty easy going through security, but be sure that you don’t have any honey or dirty walking shoes/boots with you as they are hot on protecting their natural environment and you can see why when you explore the luscious flora & fauna of NZ.
Our pre-booked transfer was waiting for us outside the arrivals lounge we booked with Viator prior to departing the UK. £43 for 2 persons from Auckland airport to the centre. Viator was the easy way for booking all of our excursions through one company, they have an app which is very user friendly and the electronic vouchers are all stored in one place. There was only the odd trip which requested paper vouchers, be sure to check the details before you leave. You can book the trips separately possibly at a cheaper rate if you have lots of time in each location, however if your trip is short with little flexibility as ours was booking in advance takes the stress out of your travels. When we booked our excursions in advance, it was quite frustrating as the following week a discount code was sent to us at which point it was too late to redeem this discount. Through our experience, times when Viator gives discount codes is in November around Thanksgiving/Black Friday as it is an American company and in February (not sure why, maybe linked to Valentine’s Day).
After our short transfer to Auckland we were at our hotel which to be honest was more like a hostel (Kiwi International Hotel). This was one of our cheaper accommodation options ($99 per night) for a double room so we didn’t mind too much but be careful as the pictures may not always represent the room you stay in. We booked most of our accommodation through booking.com for flexibility as for most of them you can cancel up to 48 hours before your stay if you wish. Also great if you have a short time in New Zealand and during peak season. Our first day in Auckland consisted of wandering round the city and sampling the local cuisine, the green lipped mussels are a must try with a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
$50 for a cauldron of mussels, fries and a couple of wines.
Following this we had to find car hire for our road trip ahead. All of the car hire companies are on the same road in Auckland (Beech Road). We didn’t book this in advance as we thought we may be able to get a deal on a relocation. Relocations are more available from the South to the North and booking in advance is advisable in December (peak season), at one point we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a car which would have totally scuppered our plans. Not booking did prove more expensive as many of the rental providers were fully booked as it was peak season and we had to ask for quotes in 5 different places before we found an affordable car. We booked with Apex Car Rentals who were brilliant, Nadia who booked our car for us was very helpful. She found us a suitable car for $1275.60 for 11 days, this included fully comp insurance, ferry crossing and Naviman.
After we had booked the car we wandered around the city and then down to the waterfront to an Irish Bar. We had a couple of drinks each setting us back $45.
Our first excursion was up to the Bay of Islands (£132.41 per person), we were picked up from our accommodation at 715am however, we were up a couple of hours before this due to the jet lag! We got a few snacks for breakfast as opposed to the meal option on the trip. We also stopped after a couple of hours at a little café which sells all sorts of delicious food and great coffees. We had a lovely sausage roll, bacon & egg buttie and coffees ($18) also as we couldn’t resist. After the 4 hours (approx.) journey to Paihia we had arrived in the beautiful bay of islands.
Firstly, we went for a history lesson with a very informative Maori at the Waitangi Treaty Ground where we were shown around the Maori Treaty Ground and Meeting House. In the afternoon we took a short ferry journey over to Russell Island where we were greeted by one of the few islanders who told us all about the residents and gave us a tour of the island.
We were very lucky to experience the amazing views.
We finished our stay on the island with a beer in the local pub which was quite expensive at $23 for 2 beers. On looking the beach of Russell Island.
It was a late return to Auckland, so we sampled some kiwi fish & chips on our return to the city. The place had only just opened, the owner was very friendly, gave us cake while we waited, free sauces and the food was amazing, costing a wee $20 for the two of us.
We definitely could have spent longer at the Bay of Islands, if we had more time we would have drove up and stayed up there as there was plenty of accommodation and definitely more to explore we will definitely be back here – Bay of Islands we have not finished with you yet!
We picked up the car the next day, the Toyota Corolla was small but perfect for the two of us. We put our bags in the boot and one the back seat, we did manage later in the journey to fit a hitchhiker in for a small part of our journey but it was a bit of a squeeze. We travelled from Auckland to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, we left early as we didn’t know how long it would take to get there with us not knowing the roads in New Zealand. It took approx. 2.5 hours, close to what google predicted. As we got there early we went for lunch in a local Café, the ‘Hu Café’ the food was incredible, I had mini Lamb Burgers. For two main meals and two drinks it cost $60. After we had filled our bellies we were ready to meet the glow worms. Our booking was 3pm-6pm, we got all the gear on and our guides took us to the caves.
We opted for the black water tubing trip, this meant jumping into cold water with rubber rings, wet suits, helmets and torches. I was actually surprised how warm I was, the trip was exhilarating, the glow worms were fascinating, the tour guides were fun. The warm shower, soup and bagel at the end warmed our cockles. Don’t worry about photos the guides got all of them for a small costs.
That night we travelled to Rotorua. This journey was a lot longer than expected due to the Naviman taking us down some dodgy road which we should never have gone down. Lesson learnt is to never trust the Naviman, if it doesn’t look like a road after a while turn back and always follow the state highways. A map is the best option as New Zealand is easy to navigate around but you don’t want to try and take short cuts as you can end up down some unpleasant terrains. The locals are very helpful & friendly.
Rotorua was lovely although a little bit smelly. There are free hot pools in the centre, you don’t have to pay to see the thermal wonderland if you don’t want to as they are everywhere. You will wake up in the morning thinking that your other half or someone in the dorm has dropped a stink bomb! We stayed at the YHA which was modern in décor, the staff were very nice & helpful. Be sure to clean your dishes as travellers come and go and this helps out the hostel staff considerably. We could have stayed in Rotorua longer!
Next stop – Lake Taupo, we had an Air B n B booked for the night here which was a stunning house! We were welcomed, shown round the house, bedroom, hot tub and views. Jane and her husband were lovely although we didn’t spend too much time with them as we both went out for food in the evening and seen each other in the morning briefly before we left. We ate at the waterside which served pasta dishes and had a great lake view. Dinner was $75 in total. Again, we could have stayed here longer, there was lots of adrenaline fixes for junkies.
We had a long journey ahead of us to the ferry terminal which took approx. 5 hours, the ferry to the South Island took 3 hours. The views were fantastic on the journey and often dolphins can be seen, unfortunately they were not playing out that day! Alternatively there are shops, bars and food aboard and free Wi-Fi.
We stayed at Picton Yacht Club Hotel which was very close to the ferry terminal however unfortunately a let-down as the room was very basic and the pool was owned by the hotel next door. However, it was close to Blenheim & Marlborough making it a great location for our vineyard tour the next day.
We got picked up at 10am the next morning by Jade tours by Mike our tour guide who explained how the day would go and that water and snacks were available. Mike took us to 6 different cellar doors, despite the excursion only detailing 5, he enquired as to which wines we liked and if there were any particular vineyards we wanted to visit. He was very informative and the wine tasting was brilliant. We went to Lawson Dry Hills, No.1 (for the fizz), Withering Hills, Giesen’s, Hunter’s & Framingham. The wine was beautiful and we bought our favourites, we sampled nibbles at Giesen’s at our own expense and picked up some pressies along the way. We also visited Makana Confections at the end of the trip and got some gorgeous chocolatey peanut brittle. We saved the confection and No.1 for New Year’s Eve as something special later on our trip.
We drove up to Abel Tasman for our kayaking adventure. When we arrived in the village it was very quiet, basically a strip of road with a few shops and bars. We went for a short drive from the YHA hostel in Motueka to the kayaking point in Marahau. When you get to the point you will wonder if you are in the right place, you go through some windy hilly roads and end up at a small beach and will see a few kayaks and a beach bar/restaurant. We booked our trip for the next day due to our short timeframe but if you have more time, check the weather as your trip will be much more enjoyable if you have calm and not windy weather as we found out the next day.
We prepped a picnic lunch for the next day and settled in for a night of cards and a couple of ciders with our fellow hostellers. We had an early night and rose ready with our sea legs! After a safety briefing we were now fully ready for an emergency capsize! We made our way to the beach and attached our skirts to the kayak and started our journey towards Adele Island to visit the seals.
The seals were in abundance and they made the experience, swimming very close to our kayak! After this we made our way to one of the beaches across the way for lunch. We were first to step on the land, eat our picnic and enjoy the sun & sea breeze. Knowing we had a difficult journey ahead of us on the way back due to higher wind in the afternoon we headed off. Wow the wind was strong, at some points we didn’t feel like we were moving at all, really tested our marriage, and at one point we ended up doing a 360! When we were half way back we decided to ditch the kayak at the drop off point as it was tiring trying to kayak even for the fittest!
We had a 5km walk back to do which I would highly recommend as the less stressful option if the wind is against you and not strong kayakers. It had some amazing views also which would have been missed otherwise. When we got back we had a nice cold beverage and decided the sea kayaking probably isn’t our strongest skill set. We then made tracks.
We headed to Pohara, to stay with Steve in his yurt (booked via Air BnB). As an alternative option for accommodation. Although when we arrived we were waiting around for Steve to get back, there was a yoga class going on and a pizza oven area which was decorated hippy style. The yurt was like an oven when we arrived as it was so hot, so we opened up all the flaps to air it out! The yurt was unique and I loved staying in the yurt. Every Sunday Steve bakes pizzas for the guests, the deal is that the guests just bring the toppings. Unfortunately we didn’t know this in advance and the shop was shut at 7pm on the day we arrived. We went to the local pub and ate there, were we had delicious ribs and chips. When we got back we had a couple of drinks with the guests out in the garden. The yurt may not be everyone’s cup of tea but was good to experience, getting back to nature. The showers were heated by gas and there is a spa if you stay longer.
To get to our next destination, Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki we had to go back though the national park windy roads via Moteuka. Towards the West Coast there was hardly anything in sight and the journey is longer than you think, this is when you realise how big New Zealand actually is. As you approach Punakaiki you will notice the large unbelievable waves. When we arrived at the hostel we were very happy as it was right next the beach and had amazing views, we stayed in the mobile home here which was another very different experience.
The owners are very helpful however please be warned there are no shops around so you can buy basics from the hostel reception but other than that you are eating out, which was no problem for us but could be if you are on a budget. We headed down to the pancake rocks which have naturally been formed due to the waves crashing in, absolutely fabulous. We walked round them which took about 30 minutes and then headed back, had tea in the pub next door and played pool before having a couple of drinks and watching the sunset at 9pm.
The next day we had the pleasure of Rose on our journey, a backpacker from Belgium who was making her way to a farm near Christchurch to work for Christmas. We gave her a lift to the junction at Greymouth as we were going to Franz Josef Glacier. We made a short journey to FJ Glacier and found our hostel (YHA). We had a look round town and found where our Glacier tour was later that day. The Glacier tour was wet and wonderful. We had all the gear and no idea. Wade was our tour guide and he took us through the national park through the trees, informing us of all the different types of trees, even tasting some of them. Then past the water flowing down the side of the rocks, explaining the different rocks to us all. Half way on the trek we could see the glacier, unfortunately due to glacier and weather conditions we were unable to step on the glacier! We got as close as we could, took pics and had a hot chocolate on a pile of rocks. Where we were, 6 years earlier the glacier was there, however has receded since. When we got back to the base we got to use the spa facilities next door, where they had 3 different pools, varying in temperature to soak in. We had food in our hostel and then made our way out for a couple of cheeky drinkies. The night life is good in Franz Josef, we really enjoyed our time here.
Next Lake Wanaka. The journey from FJ Glacier wasn’t too bad and when you approach into the town and see the start of the lake it definitely has the wow factor. We pulled over quite a number of times to take pictures as it was so stunning and unbelievable how big it was. We checked into our accommodation which was X Base, the only down side to this place was the no alcohol rule! There is a cheap bar/food place attached in the basement of the hostel, we think that is the reasons why. We had a wander around the lake from the town and were surprised at how little marine action there was. The lake was undisturbed, the odd tourist having a dip but no boats! We went in search of the Wanaka tree and found a few selfie masters at the tree shore! (including me) We wandered back and headed into the town, had a drink, then a gelato followed by a Gin & Raspberry Cocktail in the Gin & Raspberry bar. This was recommended to us for the views and it wasn’t a let down despite the expensive drinks. We sampled the hostel bar/food place later on and ended up getting sucked into a game of boozy bingo with a group of backpackers in their early 20’s! Fun night had all round.
The next day slightly weary faced, we hit the road again for the final part of the trip. We took Arthurs Pass which gave us a good view of Queenstown as we got close. When we arrived we had got there a little early so we thought we would see if we could check into the hostel early. Pinewood Lodge were very accommodating and we were able to check in straight away. Although the accommodation sounds nice it wasn’t the greatest but we didn’t mind as we had Queenstown to explore. We headed to car hire place (Apex) to return the motor which had survived our thousands of miles journey in one piece. Then we were on foot, we had a look for some food and came across a place down by the waterfront. Where I had the most amazing waffle with Southern Fried Chicken, maple syrup and jalapenos and a Brotherhood Crushed Pineapple & Cider, delicious!
Next adventure was the jet boat at Arthurs Point. This was an amazing experience and my second favourite after the black water tubing with the glow worms in New Zealand. The Jet boat smashes along the Shotover River at speeds of 85kph and 360’s at various points on the river. It’s an amazing white water ride the driver skillfully whips the powerful boat past rocky outcrops, skim around crags and boulders, and speed through the dramatic and narrow canyons. The whole experience lasts 30 minutes, well worth the money! (£169 for 2 people).
Finally, to finish off our NZ adventure perfectly we’d booked a gondola ride to the view point and an evening meal. We also found that there was lots going on at the top of the gondola drop off and a trip up in the afternoon you would be able to enjoy the luges, mountain biking down the hill and even a bungee. The view was lovely on the journey in the gondola up the mountain, at the top you could see Queenstown and the view was out of this world, it didn’t look real and was like off a James Bond film set. We had a cocktail whilst we waited for our reservation. The all you can eat buffet was the nicest buffet I have ever tasted, high in quality and high in volume. Starters, sushi, soup, salad, mains, roast dinners, pasta, freshly cooked meat, dessert, chocolate, cakes, ice-cream, cheese & biscuits. Everything you could ever dream off. Once we had finished we were good for nothing, we made our way back to the accommodation to chill out before our flight the next day.
In the morning, we had a few hours to kill before the flight so we checked out and rented some bikes from Pinewood Lodge. This cost us $15 each for a few hours but definitely worth it. We took a cycle along the lake past the gardens were there were people tightrope walking and playing park Frisbee. Along the path there were magnificent views to see and little shops also. We made it all the way to the bridge and turned back, had a couple of stops on the way back and stopped at the boat yard for a coffee. The ideal end to the beautiful country of New Zealand and its outstanding natural beauty.
New Zealand was left with a heavy heart but I have no doubt that we will return again soon, so much more to see.
UK- based writer who is happiest when combining her two loves: Travel & Gin.