When my sister and I were originally planning our New Zealand trip we heartily believed that 16 days was plenty of time to explore and see many parts of New Zealand with her rolling landscapes, beautiful mountain schemes, and nature waterfalls… BOY WERE WE WRONG! As it turns out, during our entire time there, out of all of the people we met along our route, we were spending the shortest time in New Zealand out of EVERYBODY!?!!!
Before people even knew our travel plans they were quick to blurt out things such as “People who think they can travel all of New Zealand in two weeks are Noobs” (alright they might not have used the specific word “Noob” but it serves the same purpose in this case).
Although I definitely agree that New Zealand is a great place for extended travel, a 3 month trip or so on, I also felt like my sister did a great job planning a trip for us in 16 days, so we didn’t feel too rushed but we got the action packed adventure of a lifetime that we wanted. What is the one big thing that we would have loved to see but couldn’t find the time to make happen? Milford Sound. More about that later on…
First and foremost when traveling New Zealand you have to make the executive decision to decide if you can afford a rental car/camper or if you’ll be going by bus. I HIGHLY recommend a car if you can manage it. You won’t be disappointed. When planning, decide where you want to go, the distance between each place, and how long it will take.
On the North island we only had to spend about 2-3 hours a day traveling from city to city. Plus these areas are all extremely scenic one lane highways that just make you love being on the road. On the South Island its a bit more spread out but New Zealand is very car friendly as opposed to America where you have to travel far distances in most cases. I loved driving in New Zealand!
What are some of the events we were able to fit into our New Zealand trip in just 2 weeks time?!
This was an absolute must see place we just had to visit when planning the trip. It was our first pick because I am a huge Lord of the Rings Fan, because I love stories of far off places, battles, and lore, and because it just seemed like the perfect place to start our trip off right!
Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to visit New Zealand back before the LOTRs came out, but there’s an aura situated around the famous LOTR sights that makes it that much more magical.
“The Shire” is situated on the Alexanders personally owned farm lands right outside of Matamawa NZ, North Island, and you have to take a bus to reach the sight for the tour. It’ll cost you about $70 and they do except online reservations. They also have a shuttle bus from Matamawa itself if you can’t drive all the way to Shire’s Rest which is 20 minutes from there.
Zorbing is something I never knew existed until very recently. I randomly watched the movie Nitro Circus (similar to Jackass) and on it they had stunts where they would attempt tricks with huge rubber balls. After looking it up online, I realized that this was actually a sport people participated in and decided “where do I sign up?”
As I’ll say again the ease of renting a car and driving was really helpful because right after we finished touring Hobbiton we drove over to Rotorua which was about 1 hr 30 minutes away and headed to the Zorbing place. We also had a reservation here but it was not necessary the line wasn’t very long and they take walk-ins as you arrive.
There are two Zorbing centers in Roturoa and they are within 5 minutes of each other so you can choose where to go. We had a brochure for both and being the indecisive people we are we actually drove to both centers to make a choice and even then it was hard to choose, they both looked so fun. Rotorua is where Zorbing came into existence, so that’s a little fact to keep in mind when visiting, although I’m sure it the same everywhere.
3. Taking in the Red Wood Forest Rotorua
The next morning we were scheduled to go horseback riding and the place we stayed was full to bursting with information on all of the available things to do and where to go. The woman at the desk mentioned that the red wood forest was a great place to go on a short hike, walking amongst the old and wise red wood trees, plus it was completely free! How can you say no to that?
We had already planned on going horse trekking here so maybe we could squeeze it all in? We had not made reservations for the horse trekking, rather we arrived in the morning and signed up. They told us to come back in 4 hours so we turned on our merry way, drove back down the road to where the forest entrance was and spent the morning hiking through the forest, admiring nature and the scenery, then we stopped back at a lake along the way for lunch.
What a glorious day it was! Spending time in the forest, horseback riding, and lunch on the lake. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
4. Horse Trekking
My sister is a lover of horses. She competed on the equestrian team in college and she horseback rides every chance she gets when we are in our home town, or wherever there’s a horse. That’s why it was a must do on her list of things for vacation. I have barely been on a horse, but it was easy to agree to go.
She set us up to head out on a 1.5 hour horse trekking tour on lake Oreka. When we arrived we met Jenny from England who worked on the horse farm and would be our guide for the day.
We saddled up our horses and headed out. It was great! We went through farms with sheep on them, I mean through their pastures while they were in there. I wasn’t expecting that. It was extremely scenic and we came to a clearing that showed the lake. Unfortunately it was a bit hazy and it eventually did start to rain but it was still beautiful regardless, much like everything else in New Zealand.
We then climbed a steep mountain for an even better view and we even tried a little cantering which I was very horrible at but my horse Cassie (Same Name as me!) is a pro and she helped me through it. I noticed that horse trekking is available all over New Zealand, because of how scenic it is. You can find a horse trekking tour in most towns so if not here, why not there?
Huka Falls is said to be one of the most photographed landmarks in New Zealand and we didn’t want to disappoint by not stopping. On the way to our next hostel we left horseback riding and it was about a 2 hour drive to get to Taupo so stopping at Huka Falls was along the way and we got there almost before closing. They do lock the gates at night so make sure to look up the times.
In the summer time in New Zealand it will stay light until almost 2200 but at Huka Falls the signs says the gates are closed and locked at 1800. Luckily we arrived an hour before that so we had just enough time to stop for a couple of pictures and a quick moment of reflection before we headed on our way. So beautiful.
Now this is a trekking that is no joke! We were absolutely positively with out a doubt extremely unprepared for this hike. On a good day I’m sure it is a fine and dandy walk up and around the volcano but on this day, we got caught in quite the wind storm right at the peak of one of the mountains. Most of the websites tell you to have warm clothing, pack snacks, bring water.
At the bottom of the hike it tells you the same things. Make sure to listen! We planned on making sure to get all the things on the list, then we drank a little too much the night before at the hostel, woke up late, and were rushed out the door without a glance back (thank heavens for the clearly filtered water bottles).
The hike in total (entire circuit) takes 2 days, but you must reserve your spot at the cabins. We were doing the day hike which is about 19 km or 10 miles, but it is not a complete circuit. You start at one point and you don’t come back around, you keep forward progress all the way to the end. They have shuttle services all around and they will take you and drop you off, especially at most of the hotels in the area. You start in the vast volcanic terrain and end in a lush forrest as you wind down the mountain. It was definitely a hike to remember.
7. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves was listed in an article of top places to visit and I wanted to get over there so we decided to make the drive. It was way too touristy for my liking, and expensive. Although I did learn some facts about glow worms and it was really cool seeing them in the cave, but the cave itself was completely modernized with railings and all that jazz. Not my cup of tea.
After the Glow worm caves we were off to Wellington to see Queen’s Harbor and spend an evening on the wharf. At one of the hostels we met another set of sisters that recommend the Weta Cave Tour to us. Weta is a company Peter Jackson started and it is the company that did all the effects for the LOTR trilogy and now the Hobbit trilogy as well as many major motion pictures.
Weta Cave is a very very very tiny museum with different props from various movies as well as a gift shop and a small theater where you can watch a 30 minute video on how the company was formed and how things evolved into the movies we see today.
Recently they started giving tours to “Window into the Workshop” where you actually get to go inside of the studio and see hired workers in action, working on projects. I don’t think they intended for the studio to be so popular because it is quite small and the workshop tours fill up fast. We definitely registered online from the suggestion of the girls we met and its a good thing too because when we arrived around noon, all of the tours were already sold out.
They have all kinds of different projects in the workshop, past and present, and among them is the MOST AMAZING thing of them all, a life size working warthog from Halo!! They built it for Microsoft to make Halo short films and it actually drove through a wall twice with barely any dings. Why oh why was there no cameras allowed because I would have some how weaseled my way in there for a quick pic. You won’t be disappointed if you decide to add this to your list of activities.
9. Interislander Transit
Ferry ride from the North to South island or vice versa. Weirdly when we planned our trip, we looked in terms of where the international airport was (Auchland) and built our trip based on that, working our way South. Most of the people we met along the way were starting South and working North. Its your preference. I believe that Auchland is the only international airport so that might factor in what you want to do also. For us, we just caught a flight out of Christ Church airport (which closes at night?!) so plan accordingly for that.
Anyway on the ferry we met the nicest newlywed couple from Canada that we chatted with. They were 81 and 85 years old and had met dancing at a senior citizen home. How awesome is that! It was raining all morning so we didn’t have the best view from the ferry especially with the fog, but it was still an enjoyable ride with plenty of snacks to indulge in at the cafe.
If you are renting a car to travel then this is definitely a choice for you but plan ahead, some of the car rentals make you drop off your car and pick a different one up on the other side. They will also fine you if you take your car to a different island and don’t bring it back. This can also be inconvenient because you are required to check bags on the ferry and can only bring so much with you, just like the airport.
On a side note, when we were booking I found an awesome coupon code that got me $60 off and free cancellation or change your date amenity up until the day before. Make sure to look around for any codes before booking.
10. Abel Talsmen Kayaking
On the South island right when you come across there are two choices of places to stay at: Nelson or Picton. Picton is right where the ferry drops you off and Nelson is about a 1.5 hour drive away. This is where we stayed at one of our favorite hostels in New Zealand called the Bug Backpackers.
Here’s the thing about hostels in the New Zealand summer time. They are a hot commodity because everyone is traveling and the hostel way in New Zealand is a good way to go, which means they sell out fast. We had planned at staying in a specific hostel in Taupo for the Tongaririo Crossing, but it was sold out weeks before we were even going. For this hostel we booked early to get our spot and it was well worth it, a great place to stay and just a short walk from the center of town.
We spent the night in Nelson and the next morning we drove over to Abel Talsmen National Park where we rented some kayaks, took a quick course on how to maneuver, and were in the water in a flash. The scenery here is beautiful. There were four different beaches you could stop on to eat lunch which was extremely fortunate since we packed ours and up by one of the islands there were seals showing off and a baby seal perched on the rocks crying for his mother who was putting on a show for us.
What a great day this was! As we kayak’d back to the start point the seas got rougher, but we persevered and it was great. They have multiple day hiking/kayaking and places to stay all along the beaches so if you want, that’s definitely an option too.
11. Lake Matheson
On the way to Franz Josef we found out about a beautiful lake that has still waters and an awesome mirror effect. It was only 20 minutes form our hostel so we decided to drive over and check it out. There is about a 40 minute walk around the lake and its not very aggressive by any means and it is very scenic, well worth the trip.
There is a look-out where you can walk down on a small dock over the water and from here if the sky is clear and bright you will see the view with the mountains shining off the water. It was still a bit cloudy but we were able to get a few good pictures before moving on.
12. Heli Hiking Franz Josef Glacier
This was one of my favorite places to stay at! The hostel was great, called Chateau Franz Backpackers and we met some really fun, awesome people while we were there. One girl in particular pretty much convinced me in 20 minutes that we just had to ice hike on the Franz Josef Glacier.
I had heard about it and didn’t know much, but she showed us some of her pictures and I realized we had to make it happen. I immediately started calling the reservation center and they were booked so I woke up the next morning at 6am and called some other agencies. Some how in some way we finagled our way onto a flight at 10:00, to the glacier!
It was even more ridiculous because while we were up on the glacier the weather picked up drastically and they had to cancel the afternoon flights. This was AMAZING! We walked across the glacier, drank some glacier water form a spring, saw a couple of rock falls, and went through an ice cave.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone who’s feeling adventurous and wants to take a hike on a glacier for a day. I was the only person to fall on the ice, but the claw on crampon caught my sisters boot in front of me and I went flying down on the ice, and I caught it on GoPro, which no one will ever see. Ha!
13. Haast Past
While we were up on the glacier they asked if anyone was planning on heading to Queenstown and I raised my hand. The guide said, “Ohhhh, you didn’t know… there’s a place called Haast Pass and it closes every day at 6pm because of falling rock.
There was a bad accident that killed a few Canadians a few months back.” WHAT!? I couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard about this. We were going to have to book it to make it to the gate in time. So after flying down off the mountain we ran to the car and immediately set out. Haast Past makes this list because making the gate was extremely adventurous in and of itself. We unfortunately couldn’t go to the hot springs to soak in the water which was a bummer, but sacrifices had to be made.
What did this mean? It meant that I was going a minimum of 140kph which is way faster then I’ve ever driven in Japan. My sister couldn’t sleep because I was stressing her out and I was passing all kinds of people on the road. It was extremely scenic and really nice I just couldn’t relax enough to enjoy it.
What time did we reach the gate? 5:55pm, we went through cheering out our windows and so proud of our accomplishment. I actually got an adrenaline rush from that drive.
What happened then, well some of the most scenic views of our trip were on the other side of that pass, so we rolled down the windows, cranked up the radio, and enjoyed the view of the never ending twilight that is New Zealand in the summer time.
The greatest part about this was that we were one of the last few people to make it through Haast Pass so after we stopped at the first lookout for photos we were the only ones on the road winding our way South to Queenstown. That was the best time of the day to make it through there, I am certain. Thank God we did!
This was the Big Kahuna of our trip, if you must know. Back in the day, when LOTR came out I was the lucky girl to get the extended version… on VHS! While watching the videos, I saw a bunch of the cast including Orlando Bloom secretly sneak behind the movie makers backs to go Bungy Jumping in Queenstown New Zealand.
I was already completely enthralled with the movies and this one act seemed the most adventurous thing EVER! In that moment I decided that one day I would also go to Queenstown New Zealand (against the Navy’s wishes since bungy jumping is prohibited in the 7th Fleet) and I would also take the plunge!
That day in question happened to be very rainy, but that didn’t stop my sister and I. We had travelled halfway across the world for this and we were ready! Now there are a couple of different places you can go to for bungy jumping in Queenstown. The Nevis is the highest plunge of them all, at 134 meters and its over a canyon, the platform suspended on wires. We decided on the Kwararu Bridge which is the home to the first Bungy Jumping Bridge in New Zealand.
The coolest fact about this is that when you get up in line to jump, they ask you what length of rope you want, there is a rope long enough to actually submerge yourself in the river below when you jump! We weren’t ready for all that, but its a good thought for a second try. It was a huge adrenaline rush and one I want to relive again and again, Bungy Jumping is AWESOME!
15. Lake Tekapo
After a couple of days in Queenstown exploring the area, shopping, getting a few piercing’s and dappling in Pinot Noir for an evening on the docks, we headed back up toward Christ Church, our awesome journey almost at an end.
Along the way we had no plans on where we would spend the night originally thinking to stay in Omarama where I wanted to go Gliding on a suggestion from a guy I met in one of the hostels. This unfortunately didn’t work out because we had stayed longer in Queenstown so we headed farther North to Lake Tekapo to have a shorter drive to Christ Church the next day.
Lake Tekapo is one strip of restaurants, a gas station, grocery store, and hotels with a camping area behind it. The strip is about a 5 minute walk, we stopped at the first hostel across the street from the village and up on the hill, they were fully booked.
We ended up being able to stay at a place right on the lake in the main village for only $25 for the night. There were 3 bunk beds in the room and our other 4 roommates were all from China and quite a funny bunch that were all pretty good with English.
During the day we went to the hot baths which are different from hot springs because they were man made and not natural but it was very relaxing and what was needed after our long trip. We sat in them all afternoon and then walked along the path around Lake Tekapo into the twilight hours.
That night we bought quite a bit of alcohol, cooked a feast of ramen noodles and chips, and laughed the night away with our new friends, who were eager to go star gazing. Unfortunately it wasn’t a good night for that, but we made up for it with drinks and laughter. My sisters new idea is to visit them in China!
16. Christ Church
The next morning, we said goodbye to our friends and headed to the last stop on our journey to a bed and breakfast tucked away in the city of Christ Church. What i didn’t know and found out just the night before from our friends was that Christ Church had survived a devastating Earth Quake a few years back in 2010 which had ruined the center of the city.
When we walked to the mall all of the shops were in container boxes that merchant ships carry, while the actual mall is being rebuilt. Many very nice buildings were destroyed from the Earthquake and even 3 years later they are still recovering from the damage. We spent our last full day in Christ Church lounging in our room, watching tv, with the windows wide open. It was a very relaxing day.
The next morning, very early, we took our shuttle to the airport, having dropped off our rental car and we began the long journey home. What a crazy trip the last few weeks had shown me about the world.
I already can’t wait to come back!
What’s the one big adventure we really wish we would have been able to go on but couldn’t?!
Milford Sound is only about 70km from Queenstown but there is a mountain separating the two areas which means it takes almost 5 hours just to get there. We wanted to go there desperately, as it is the part in the LOTR the twin towers when they float down the river in boats between the two statues. EVERYONE who is anyone that’s been there says it is majestic and beautiful even on a cloudy day, which there are plenty of in the summer in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a 5 day hike if you trudge and weave your way through all of it, or you can just take a boat around the area to see all of the major sights.
They do have bus tours at any of the information centers in Queenstown where you can take a bus there, go on one of the boat cruises, and then drive back in the same day. We decided this was two much all packed together at once, so lounging in Queenstown would be a better choice. If we would have had the 5 days or even just 2 full days then we would have made the journey and if possible, you should too! I may not have gone this time, but I will hopefully go again one day and Milford Sound is on the top of the list.
Overall our trip to New Zealand was a HUGE success and a great journey to share with my sister!
Which way did you go on your trip? What awesome things am I missing? There are so many things to do in New Zealand, please share your stories, adventures, and ideas too!
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