In April this year, I went further than I had ever been before to tick a 5th continent off the list. The long white cloud; Aotearoa; 2 weeks in New Zealand!
With such limited time and flying both in and out of Auckland, it was always going to be a rush. I quickly realised that, just like my week in Morocco, I would have to accept that I wouldn’t see anything and return another time. Nevertheless I still explored a huge amount and it’s only whetted my appetite for more. My time was a mix of solo travel and travelling with a friend.
Saturday 8th – Wednesday 12th: North Island
I began my 2 weeks in New Zealand in Auckland at midday on Saturday 8th April. It started with a fairly relaxed first day, following a walking tour around the city from my guidebook then exploring the gloriously reclaimed Viaduct Harbour in the evening. On my second day in Auckland I walked to the weekend La Cigale farmers’ market for some great food and live music, then continued on to Auckland Museum for an introduction to New Zealand history. To end the day, I walked up Mount Eden for views over the city and harbour to Rangitoto Island and beyond.
On Monday it was an early start to catch the 8am InterCity bus to Hobbiton Movie Set for my 26th birthday! I’d bought a 15-hour FlexiPass with InterCity for $99 (£60) that covered all my bus journeys around Auckland as well as the InterIslander ferry later in the trip – definitely a worthwhile investment, as it also allows any changes up to 2 hours before travel in case your plans change. After a great day touring the movie set I continued south for another hour to Rotorua, the town of geysers and Maori culture. I ended my birthday with several hours soaking in the thermal Polynesian Spa at night for $29 (beats Iceland’s Blue Lagoon any day as far as I’m concerned).Tuesday was spent in Rotorua at both Te Puia (the national Maori crafts centre and home to Pohutu geyser) and Whakarewarewa (modern Maori village). Then it was back up north to Auckland on Wednesday, with a stop off to tour around Waitomo glow worm caves. I spent the afternoon reading in Auckland’s Arnold Park, before flying down to Christchurch.
Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th: Across the mountainsI had been told beforehand by people who had visited Christchurch years ago that it was a beautiful city – unfortunately the devastating 2010 & 2011 earthquakes changed everything and now the city centre is half building site, half car park. Despite that it’s a fascinating place to visit mid-rebuild. I was supposed to join a 10am walking tour on Thursday morning, but massively overslept (it always happens at least one day when I’m travelling…) so instead I took myself on my own self-guided walking tour around the central sights, from the old ruined cathedral to the botanic gardens and back again. After an incredible brunch at Black Betty’s Cafe (highly recommended) I spent the afternoon at the Quake City museum, Cardboard Cathedral and Re:START shipping container mall – all clear signs of Christchurch’s resilience and regrowth. The next morning I spent a few hours at Canterbury Museum (don’t miss the Antarctic exhibit), then it was time to pick up the hire car and head west!
(At least, we headed west once I had worked out that ‘R’ in an automatic car does not stand for ‘Road’ following a near collision with the glass wall of the car rental building… That counts as a life lesson while travelling right?)Anyway, it was a 1 hour drive out of Christchurch to the first scenic stop at Lake Pearson, then only another 10 minutes to the incredible Castle Hill – home of some enormous rocks and Narnia filming location. You could play the best ever game of hide and seek here. In the late afternoon, now fully conversant with how automatic cars work, we drove into Arthur’s Pass Village. Thanks to the cyclone that had just passed through (did I not mention Cyclone Cook? Worst storm in 60 years? We had a lot of rain…) it was still tipping down and half the short tracks around Arthur’s Pass were closed due to minor inconveniences like washed away bridges. This meant that the next morning on the Saturday, we decided to go west immediately rather than attempt a walk in the horrible weather. The hire car was invaluable during this part – if we had been relying on public transport, we would have been stuck until the next bus / train arrived. Plus we got to stop at all the nice viewpoints to take photos!
At Otira lookout we came across a very friendly Kia (mountain parrot), then it was about 2 hours to Hokitika and its gorge for lunch. It’s normally pure turquoise, but thanks to the cyclone (again) it was more of a milky grey. The drive along the Great Coast Road to Punakaiki was incredible – there were so many stops along the way and the sunset across the beaches was beautiful. After an evening stroll through the pancake rocks we ventured into Punakaiki cavern with a head torch and camera to find glow worms (we were successful!), then spent the rest of the night chilling in the Pancake Rock Cafe with pizza while the locals ran an open mic night.
Sunday was the last day on the west coast. There was more glorious sunshine and views (plus a craft market) during the drive up the coast to Tauranga seal colony (take a zoom lens! Don’t leave it in the car like me!), then it was inland through Buller Gorge with stops at Maruia Falls and the serene Lake Rotoiti. By the time we reached our final destination of Motueka, it was pitch black and pouring with rain once more.
Monday 17th – Thursday 20th: Cook Strait
On Monday, the sunshine appeared again in a stroke of good luck for a day trip to Abel Tasman National Park. I’d booked a kayaking, water taxi & walking trip with Marahau Sea Kayaks (their Gourmet Platter, $169 / £99), which allows you to go on a self-guided walk through the rainforest paths before taking you on a kayak tour along the coast. If you’re lucky you’ll come across some sea lions! Wear shorts and shoes that are easy to take off – you’ll need to walk through the sea to get on and off the water taxis. The next morning we drove through the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive with views out over the sounds to reach Picton in time for an afternoon wine tour around Blenheim. I’m not much of a wine drinker normally, but the Sauvignon blanc grown here is superb.
On Wednesday morning I took the interislander ferry across Cook Strait (more wonderful views!) to the capital city fondly known as Windy Wellington. I had booked onto a guided tour around the Parliament buildings which gives a great intro to New Zealand government & politics, past and present. While walking to my hostel, by chance I discovered one of the largest wooden buildings in the world at the Old Government Buildings. I spent the evening perusing the restaurants on Cuba Street then made my way to the Library Bar. It’s a really cool place with bookshelves as decoration and incredible cocktails, but I guess when I envision a library I expect it to be slightly quieter – the place was buzzing!
The last day in Wellington was jam-packed; Weta Workshop tours first thing (hundreds of props from LOTR, Avatar, Thunderbirds etc.), followed by a walk up to Mount Victoria Lookout then down the other side to what many call the best museum in New Zealand – Te Papa. The Gallipoli exhibit there for WWI commemorations was unlike anything I’ve seen before, with huge scenes (created by the Weta Workshop) representing stories of individual New Zealanders from Gallipoli. While waiting for the sleeper bus that would return us to Auckland, we headed to Oriental Bay for climbing, paddling and stargazing. Go there at night to see the city all lit up and reflected in the sea.
Friday 21st: Final day in Auckland
After a 10-hour sleeper bus run by Mana Bus company (very cramped, but better than sleeping upright in a chair) we were back in Auckland for the final day. We caught the Fullers ferry for $36 (£20) over to Waiheke Island, which takes 40 minutes to arrive on an island of beaches and wineries. For once I had no specific plans so we started wandering towards Oneroa village, but got distracted along the way by a penguin sign and some rockpools along the coast that were perfectly made for exploring. We were having a wonderful adventure until about half an hour in, when my friend went swimming and cut her foot on an oyster shell under the water… and the blood started pouring out. Thus followed some makeshift first aid, a frantic scramble up some steep fields, dodging rabbit holes hidden by the grass, through a broken barbed wire fence back to the ferry terminal, who stuck us on a bus to the medical centre. Four stitches later, about three hours after we’d arrived on the island, we finally made it out into the village for a brief stroll along the beach. Lesson: always carry a first aid kit!
It was definitely an adventure to end my 2 weeks in New Zealand. On Saturday morning it was time to begin the torturous 40 hour journey back home… to a delayed bus and flat car battery. C’est la vie!
- Hobbiton – more than just a movie set
- Exploring the Great Coast Road
- Te Papa Gallipoli exhibit
What I’d change
- Time! I needed more time! 2 weeks in New Zealand was enough to get a fast-paced overview, but if you want to do it justice you need 4 weeks.
- If that’s not an option, fly into Auckland and fly out of Christchurch/Queenstown, or vice versa. It will massively cut down on travel time – New Zealand is a longer country than you think!
- Get out of the cities more. I partially did this while I was there by adding in the wine tour and delaying my boat over to Wellington, but the beauty of New Zealand is in its landscapes.
- Carry a first aid kit xD
Hopefully this has been helpful to anyone looking to plan a trip to the wonderful country of New Zealand. My top tips would have to be: hire a car (although the InterCity bus pass is a good alternative for a budget), don’t rush about too much, and get out of the cities. It’s a whole other world ripe for exploration and adventures!
Are you going to New Zealand? What are you looking forward to most? Or if you’ve been, what was your favourite place?