As promised, I’ve been trying to get back into blogging by letting go of some of my other commitments- and so far, so good!
Today, I want to tell you about our trip to New Zealand. NZ is one of those places that is just so far away from anything, making it difficult and expensive to reach and therefore completely underrated. We had 3 weeks off in December, and deliberated for months whether to do China and Japan or NZ and Australia. Being based in Singapore, we figured that we were the closest we’d ever be to “Down Under”, and the weather in China/ Japan at that time of year was another factor that made us pick a sunnier trip. It was a really expensive trip- partly because there were a lot of flights involved, and also because meals and tourist activities were pricey. I’m still living off ZAR which is unfavourable in most countries. I cannot wait to earn in another currency!
Looking back, NZ is one of my favourite trips to date. Imagine rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, volcanos and bubbling mud pools, tropical forests, natural beauty like you couldn’t believe. It’s completely untouched and preserved. I feel like if some of those attractions were in a more accessible place like in Europe or the US they would have thousands of people queueing to see them, but because its NZ, most tourist attractions were relatively quiet, even in December.
So, off we went to Australia, spending a few days in Melbourne, and then heading to Auckland. I researched a ton on the perfect itinerary to optimise our time, so I want to share highlights below. NZ is split into two- the North Island and South Island. Most people only do one but I managed to do both in 8 days and didn’t feel overly rushed. I’ve worked out an itinerary of 10 days below because mine was a tad heavy on the driving which was only manageable because Rishav and I shared the driving. It would have been too hectic with just one driver. Note that South Africans don’t need a visa for NZ- score! Thanks to Tourism New Zealand for assisting me with the trip and providing me with a Media Pass which was a big help in terms of accommodation and sightseeing. All pics below are credited to them.
Day 1: Auckland
Skip this if you can. It’s a really grotty city, with nothing much going for it. We had initially intended to spend 2 nights here but 1/2 a day was more than enough time for us to walk around and it just didn’t appeal to us. You don’t go to NZ to spend time in a city, so leave Auckland as quickly as possible. Most international flights arrive here so you may not be able to get out of a stopover.
Day 2 and 3: Rotorua
It’s an easy 3 hour drive from Auckland to Rotorua. As much as possible, try to drive and don’t fly- the scenery is gorgeous and you really won’t mind driving. The roads are excellent and well marked.
Visit the Hobbiton Movie Set
On the way to Rotorua, you’ll pass Matamata, which is where the Hobbiton Movie Set is located. I’m not a huge LOTR fan but this was SO cool. It looks exactly like it does in the movie, and you’re able to tour the entire set and visit a hobbit house. Rishav is a fan of the trilogy and the hobbit movies and he LOVED it. The amount of attention to detail by Peter Jackson is insane and the whole village looks super convincing. Book it here.
From there, head to Rotorua. I stayed at Springwaters Lodge, a B&B that was literally the owner’s home, with a few rooms rented out to guests. This concept is a bit weird because you’re sharing a living space with a family- I did feel a bit strange sitting in the lounge (the only place I could get wifi) while everyone else was watching TV but I was soon to find out that much of the accommodation in NZ is like this. The room was clean and the facilities were fine so that’s all I really ask for.
Rotorua is amazing! It’s known as a hot spring destination- there is a lot of geothermal activity meaning that there are natural hot springs everywhere. There are also lots of forests and lakes that you can hike through, and it’s a fantastic spot for mountain biking and was probably the highlight of NZ for me. It was just so beautiful. There are loads of adventure sports on offer like kayaking, zip lining and quad- biking- the entire town is built around a massive lake. Check out all the activities you can do here. Some of my favourite things were:
The Redwood Whakarewarewa Forest
Spend anywhere from an hour to 5 hours walking or jogging through these massive Redwoods, that stand 60m tall. The forest is only 5 minutes from central Rotorua and admission is free.
We went to Rainbow springs, where we saw a kiwi, and to Agrodome where we watched a sheep show that was fascinating- 36 different types of sheep! However both were quite touristy and I preferred the natural beauty a lot more.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Waimangu was super incredible. We saw volcanic craters and witnessed geothermic activity right in front of us. NZ The colours are beautiful and you can see the sulphuric acid rising up. The visit takes around an hour, and it’s an easy self guided walk through the volcanic valley.
Wai- O- Tapu Thermal Wonderland
This is another natural attraction that I loved. The landscape has been moulded and sculpted by geothermal activity and what you see is breathtaking. This is the spot where you can see the mud pools which is really cool.
Here, you can see one of only 2 geothermal caves in the world. Even though this was beautiful, I think I may have overkilled it a bit by visiting three of these parks. I would probably pick the other two and give this one a skip if I had limited time.
From Rotorua, we flew South to Christchurch, where we spent a night. Christchurch, imo, is also not worth seeing. Of course, it’s been devastated by an earthquake, and it is slowly starting to rebuild, but there isn’t really much going for it. We stayed at a gorgeous B&B here called Clearview Lodge, but we didn’t do much else apart from just go for dinner that evening. Instead of spending time here, opt to fly straight to Franz Josef Glacier, which was our next stop.
Day 4: Franz Josef Glacier
The Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are absolute must sees. They’re situated close together, about 5 hours away from Christchurch, but there is an airport that is closer. Again, we checked into a room within someone’s home, but this one felt far more homely and welcoming than the other places we stayed. Holly Homestead was lovely! We booked a Helihike for early the next morning which was really pricey at around $300 per person, but it was definitely worth it. We boarded a helicopter which zipped us up to the glacier, and we hiked through it for around 3 hours. We wore ice pick shoes and it was an experience I’ll never forget.
PS: sorry that these pics are of random people and not us. We didn’t take our SLR camera and somehow I lost all the photos off my phone so I’m just using the ones supplied by the tourism board.
Day 5 and 6: Queenstown
From there, we drove 5 hours to Queenstown, where we spent one night. I’d recommend two. Queenstown is a gorgeous little town with great restaurants and lots of watersports and other adventure activities. It’s known as the adventure capital of the world – check out some of the activities on offer here.
Day 7: Te Anau
Te Anau is around 3 hours’ drive from Queenstown, and is the midpoint between Queenstown and Milford Sound, which is another must- see attraction. We spent a night in this little town which was very cute, and spent the evening visiting the Glowworm caves which was really cool.
Day 8: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a fiord, which is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea bounded by high cliffs. These are very common in Norway. Milford Sound is one of the few fiords that is quite accessible and is a must do on your NZ itinerary. Instead of self driving the remaining 3 hours to Milford Sound, we opted to take a coach from Te Anau which took way longer than if we had to drive. We did Milford Sound as a day trip with Real Journeys, and it’s basically a full day of travelling and touring, only 3 hours of which is the actual Milford Sound tour. It was freezing on the boat, which I didn’t expect, but it was still gorgeous. Book it here.
Day 9 and 10: Queenstown
You need to get back to Queenstown because that’s where the closest airport is. So take an easy drive back from Milford Sound and chill out in Queenstown along the harbour. It’s quite a hilly town, making for amazing views, so it’s especially great if you go in a group and rent a villa.
It’s a fantastic trip, so definitely add it to your to- do list and enjoy, enjoy!