Having read and heard about the beautiful nature New Zealand has to offer, a visit to this country was really high up our list. Travelling through Australia we kept on running into people saying: ‘oh, you think it’s beautiful here? Wait till you get to NZ!’, ‘Oh you think everyone’s so friendly out here? Just wait until you get to NZ’. So, as you can imagine, our expectations were set sky-high!
Did New Zealand meet those expectations? Well… YES! It did. It is an absolutely stunning country and I can only recommend going there! However, there were a few ‘buts’, starting with New Year’s in Christchurch…
Best New Year’s ever?
We had booked a flight from Melbourne to Christchurch for the night of the 31st of December. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t sound like the best date… And you’re right. It was, however, the cheapest flight available for that time, so we went with it anyway. But we didn’t leave Australia unprepared: we had bought two bottles of sparkling wine in Australia, just in case the stores in Christchurch would be closed already when we arrived. We knew there would be a big NYE celebration in the park right next to our hostel, so we were actually pretty excited to celebrate New Year’s in Christchurch. While waiting on our shuttle bus at the airport, we Googled this event, to see exactly what would be going on. Then my eye fell on the next few words: liquor-ban. Nah, we thought, this can’t be serious. It’s probably some kind of mistake. The lady at our hostel reception agreed with us, so with our bottles in hand, we walked to the park. And this is what we walked into:
And they were checking every bag…
So, we had no choice than to return to our hostel and drink our wine. Around 23.30 we went back to the park in order to see the fireworks. There was actually a pretty good band playing cover-songs, but the whole setting was… kind of weird. People had brought plaids and stools to sit on and nobody was really dancing… I had pictured this event so different!
We had fun anyway and the fireworks were quite nice too. The doodle sack player and the wizard that used his magic to bless 2017 (yes, I’m serious) seemed to put an end to the little bit of partying vibe that the band had established and at 0.30, the park was empty. A bit disappointed, we went back to our room to finish our second bottle of sparkly wine…
Yes, we drank the wine out of a mug and straight out of the bottle. That’s the kind of night it was.
After our spectacular New Year’s and exploring Christchurch for a bit, it was time to pick up our rental car and start our road trip. Unfortunately, campervans were financially out of the question (something to do with high season), so we opted for a small car. To keep our budget further in check, we would camp all throughout New Zealand, so we bought all the camp-stuff we would need.
Becoming regulars at The Warehouse
We’ve had a bit of a rough start; our tent almost flew away during the first night, so we chose to stay at a hostel during the second night, when more wind and rain was predicted. After that, it was time for our first taste of the stunning landscapes: Lake Tekapo
Number one reason to visit New Zealand is, of course, the absolutely stunning nature. And it didn’t disappoint; from bright turquoise lakes to smelly geysers and glaciers, to endless roads along picture-perfect hills. New Zealand simply is a painting. Everywhere you look. It’s the reason why this post contains so many photos. And these don’t even scratch the surface – just wait for our Snapshots.
Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki are definitely eye-catchers. I had never seen a lake this bright and we got the perfect campsites as well; directly next to the lakes. Pukaki might have been slightly better than Tekapo since it offered a view on Mt. Cook as well and we were able to get some of the freshest salmon sashimi we had ever tasted.
It just melted in our mouths
Doubtful and Milford Sound
Despite the rain, we had a great time visiting Doubtful Sound, a hidden fjord along the west coast of the South Island. It was a full day trip, with a lot of enthusiastic, story-telling staff and beautiful scenery.
The region, which holds Doubtful and (the more famous) Milford Sound is famous for its rain. Apparently, Milford Sound sees an average of 184 days of rain per year. They give it a nice spin though: ‘rain is just waterfalls in the making’. Well, I still don’t like the rain, but I have to admit that in this region, it has something about it.
‘New Zealand’s Most Beautiful City’ that’s not exactly the thought that popped into our minds when we arrived in Rotorua. However, the city has won this award two times, in 2002 and in 2006. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we will not further comment on this award. What Rotorua will definitely never win, is the award for Best Smelling City. Rotorua smells. Very bad. Imagine rotten eggs and you’re getting close to what it’s really like. Why the smell? Well, it’s due to the geothermal activity that is going on underneath the city. The geothermal activity is not only to blame for the awful smell, but also for the mystical and enchanting smoking pools that can be found throughout the city.
Kuirau Park in the city center
After seeing these pools, we were intrigued and decided to visit Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland, to see one of the bigger geysers. The Lady Knox Geyser erupts every day at 10:15 sharp (it gets a helping hand) and, to be honest, it felt a bit like a Disneyland attraction.
Disneyland-feelings at Wai-O-Tapu
The rest of the park made well up for it though! We were already stunned by the colours of the lakes on the South Island, but this took it to a whole new level: bright green, turquoise and orange… the pools had every possible colour!
Stunning colours at Wai-O-Tapu
Although we only did one (full) of the nine so-called ‘Great Walks’ in New Zealand, I think we did some pretty great walking overall. It all started with a short hike around Akaroa. We started in extremely foggy weather, but when we reached the top of our hike, the fog cleared like magic. And there they were: the bay and the many sheep.
Hiking around Akaroa
We hiked around the beautiful (freezing cold) snowy Mt. Cook, did the short, very wet, Key Summit-trek around Milford Sound and climbed the absolutely stunning Roy’s Peak next to lake Wanaka.
Happy campers at Roy’s Peak
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
To get a taste what these Great Walks are all about, we hiked 24km of one of them: the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It was sunny, but the track itself was a bit disappointing unfortunately. It was more or less the same all along, and views on the beautiful ocean were scarce. The 24km felt more like 50, but we had a nice day anyway.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
Tongariro Northern Circuit
We have to admit that the highlight of all our walking (or ‘tramping’ as the Kiwis call it) was the only ‘real’ Great Walk that we did: The Tongariro circuit. It’s located on the Northern Island and you might recognize the scenery from the Lord of the Rings movies. The circuit passes Mt. Doom…
Glad we’ve made it to the top
We walked, uhm.. tramped, across windy open spaces, slept in huts and washed ourselves in crystal clear pools. The third day was probably the best. We went up to the red crater and had perfect vision (not a guarantee in this area) on the crater lakes and the surroundings.
View from the top
Despite the very bad forecasts, we had great weather, which contributed to us having the best time while walking the circuit!
All the luck we had…
We’ve already told you about our spectacular New Year’s Eve and our first windy night camping, but our road trip had more tests in store for us.
As you might know, the times we had camped back at home can be counted on one or two hands. The reason why we almost went flying during our first night was due to the fact that we didn’t know how to set up a tent properly… luckily we found two helpful French girls who showed us how to do it right. Pfeww… that was a relief!
The situation inside of the tent
However, a well set-up tent might help against heavy storms, it doesn’t shield you from the cold. Double-layered clothing, hats and gloves didn’t do the trick either, unfortunately. And the bottle we’d filled up with hot water to keep us warm didn’t really help with our night’s rest either. We were too scared it would burst in our sleep and we would get severely burned.
The views kind of make up for the freezing nights
After visiting some absolutely out-of-this-world-beautiful, but freaking cold, sights, like Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook, we were so happy to make it to the, a bit warmer, harbour town of Oamaru. We watched the cute penguins hopping on land to breed at night, right in front of our campsite, and we were ready to hop into our warm-ish bed, when the airbed felt awfully empty… Yes! There was a hole in our airbed! Can you even believe this?!
Unfortunately, we had too much confidence in our duct-tape solution. Every 2-3 hours we had to get up to pump some more air in our bed. It was great.
So, you think we’ve had our fair share of bad nights yet? So did we, but the worst night was yet to come. After having had a good time in Queenstown and Wanaka, we headed to the west coast of the southern island. We arrived in the town of Fox Glacier and it was actually sunny…
The main reason to stay in Fox Flacier
Hitting the curb
To celebrate the wonderful event of sunshine, Ferdy was driving back into town to buy some beers, while I was setting up the tent. It took him an awful lot of time to just get some beers and I was already getting worried. Then he walked up to the campsite. He’d hit the curb and got a flat tire. And we’d decided not to get insurance.
However, luck had to be on our side, or so it seemed, because this all happened right next to the only garage of Fox Glacier. Problem was that the owner was just miserable. A grumpy old man, who didn’t feel like doing anything, and was sure not going to help us at 5.30PM, since he was closing at 6.
So there it was: our very first tyre-change of our lives! While Ferdy was looking up YouTube-tutorials at the hotspot 100m away, I was starting to unscrew the tire. And I had so much fun doing it! It’s seriously one of those things I had always wanted to do, but never got around doing it (when are you going to change a tire just for fun, right?!).
The sun was shining and I was having the time of my life
To be honest, after all of this, I was ready for some dinner and sleep! It had been a long day, so we were both looking forward to some well deserved sleep. And we were lucky that night and got some sleep. The next night, however, all hell broke loose. Or at least, that is what it felt like. It rained and it stormed, and we were up all night just holding the freaking tent pole, so the tent wouldn’t collapse. Just great.
As you can imagine, we were quite ready to get out of this mess. We packed up our stuff, and were heading for Arthur’s pass – a beautiful pass that would get us from the west to the east coast – where we could stop for a great walk with some stunning scenery. No, this was also not happening for us…
Somewhere halfway through, we ran into a road block. The amazingly friendly road worker explained to us that due to the heavy rain (Heavy rain? Where?), there had been a landslide and the road had been closed. The only road that leads to Arthur’s pass and – the sunnier – east coast…
When we finally got on a ferry that took us from the South to the North Island, we were hoping we had left the bad weather and bad luck behind us. And that was true. For the main part. Towards the end of our trip on the North Island, the bad luck found its way to us again. While packing up our tent, I somehow hurt my back pretty bad. Being the drama-queen that I am, I fainted in the middle of the parking lot.
Just when I started waking up again, I heard a man running up to us to see if everything was ok. Ferdy’s response? ‘My girlfriend just passed away’… Luckily I woke up in time to convince the kind man otherwise.
Kind of my posture, after hurting my back…
Besides sheep, Lord of the Rings and beautiful scenery, what else pops to mind when you think of New Zealand? That’s right, Extreme Sports! I think almost everyone who’s going to New Zealand will try either sky-diving, bungee jumping, mountain biking, or I-don’t-know-what.
Talking about extreme sports, did you know that the world’s steepest street is located in New Zealand? In Dunedin, to be precise. Baldwin Street is only a small street of 350m long, but in these meters, it climbs 70m in altitude, with the last part of the slope being around 35%.
After walking to the top, I decided to finally face my fears of not being able to start on upgrades (‘hellingproef’), and drive our not-so-powerful rental car up the street.
No matter how far I pushed the gas pedal, the car got slower and slower while I got more and more nervous. But…I made it! And I had a blast!
Arriving in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, we simply had to join the fun, but decided to keep it calm and start out with the Luge.
This didn’t satisfy me, however, and I decided to book a spot for the Nevis Swing the next day. Since Ferdy is seriously afraid of heights, I was going by myself. Nervous and excited, that’s how I felt when I hopped on the bus that would take us daredevils to the canyon, where we would be released 160 metres (!!!) above the canyon floor.
Did I like it? Well, maybe you should see for yourself:
Yes, that are tears that I’m wiping out of my face at 1:13…
What else? Beside all of the above mentioned, there is so much more to tell about New Zealand! We tasted delicious wines (who knew white wine could taste so good?!), we’ve seen at least a million sheep (getting stuck in fences, because, you know, the grass tastes better on the other side of the fence), visited an interesting and very well put together museum in Wellington and had the best time visiting friends I made when I was travelling through Vietnam. I think it’s quite special when you meet people travelling, hang out for about a week, and visit them 7 (!) years later, and it feels like nothing has changed. We still got along like we did back in Vietnam. They were unbelievable welcoming and made us feel right at home. Thanks again, Lucy & Steven! We hope we can return the favor one day!
So yes, we would definitely recommend visiting New Zealand, especially to people who love nature and hiking!
Christina & Ferdy