I have always dreamed of visiting New Zealand but it was hard to convince my husband to fly 12 hours non stop. A few months ago he said “Ok, let’s do it” and it was time to put my plan in motion.
First things first: You may check what is necessary depending on your citizenship. For us, Canadians, all we needed was an electronic Visa that we applied online and is valid during 90 days. It cost the equivalent of USD 57.00 each.
The flight is not as bad as we initially thought. With good thrillers on our Kindle devices and Bose cancelling noise headphones, it was quite easy to endure the long haul.
Planning a trip to New Zealand was not as easy as I initially thought. There are two islands and they are bigger than I have foreseen.
The North Island is 113,729 square kilometers (43,911 sq mi), making it the world’s 14th-largest island.
The South Island is even bigger, with 150,437 square kilometers (58,084 sq mi), making it the world’s 12th-largest island.
It’s not about the size and the distances, but the type of roads as well. Although almost 100% of the roads are sealed and called “highway”, they are two way and extremely narrow, with transit from the opposite direction sharing the space with us several times, sometimes with an arrow showing who has the right to proceed first, other times just a sign “one lane, proceed with care”. On the scary “blind corners”, with precipice in one side, steep rock cliff on the other side and no clue if someone is coming or not, they will have a traffic sign operated by sensor.
On top of that, I must add that we drive on the left (there’s a paper written “keep to the left” stuck on the dashboard, as a permanent reminder).
Last but not least, the driver goes on the right side of the car and the controls for wipers, direction and headlights are all on the opposite side than we are used to. It’s confusing!!!
I wanted to turn right, the wipers would go on. The day it started to drizzle, instead of the wipers, it was the time for the sign for changing directions to go on!
It’s also necessary to sum up the roundabouts, where we must look for cars coming from the right, instead of what we are used to, that is, “look for cars coming from the left”! :). It’s complicated! 🙂
If you are planning to move around New Zealand, you have two options: Renting a car ou use public transportation. We opted for renting a car for the flexibility and we were not disappointed, although rentals (with the top companies) are expensive. Not only the rental is expensive but the “zero liability and zero deductible” on the “all inclusive insurance” are responsible for prices go skyrocketing. It was my decision of not having to deal with the “free insurance” provided by my credit card in case of (toc toc toc) something bad happened. I bought all insurance possible, and by the end of the trip we celebrated the fact that we drove a. lot and had no issues at all! 🙂
The biggest question, before flying to the island, was what areas or towns I should book accommodation.
I started the plan identifying the main sites I was interested to see.
On the North Island:
- Auckland (not that I was interested, but this one would be our main entrance, as the flight lands there
- Coromandel Peninsula. I’ve always read it’s a beautiful place.
- Rotorua – It’s famous due to the thermal springs and also has the title of “North Island Adventure Capital”
- Napier – Wines and Art Deco architecture
- We were not interested in visiting Hobbits although I’m aware they are pretty famous.
For the South Island, that most people refer to be prettier, we had a longer list:
- Christchurch – Not very interested in the town, but I though it could be a nice getaway for a flight coming from the North Island
- Mount Cook -Highest mountain in New Zealand with great hiking
- Queenstown – The adventure capital of New Zealand
- Fox Glacier
- Franz Josef Glacier
- Milford Sound – Probably the most famous sound (fjord) in the world
- Doubtful Sound – UNESCO World Heritage area in the heart of Fiordland
- Abel Tasman National Park – The smallest National Park in New Zealand
Could I plan a trip to New Zealand and see all of the above? It’s a good question mark and with a lot of planning I can tell you that I wouldn’t change anything we did! I am the kind of person who likes to have everything planned from day 1, so I booked all hotels and bought the main tours in advance.
After a lot of research and drafts, I decided on: One week visiting the North Island and two weeks dedicated to the South Island.
Exploring the North Island
The city of Auckland is not spectacular, specially compared to other major cities. It’s quite small and at the time we were (January 2020) there was a lot of road construction going on.
Auckland is a harbour city and the port area is probably the most beautiful part. From the Ferry Building is possible to buy tickets and explore other parts of the bay.
How long to stay in Auckland?
It’s subjective. We spent one full day and it was sufficient. We visited Davenport (took a ferry from the port) and the Central Business District, including Prince Albert (“that” Albert??) Park.
Next destination was Whitianga in the Coromandel Peninsula, approximately 190km away.
Our B&B was located in Whitianga, as part of my research that came with the result that Whitianga was one of the prettiest villages in the peninsula.
We got there after approximately 3 hours driving, including stops for pictures.
Google Maps works perfectly fine there, the only “catch” is not take “Route 309”, that would be the “shortest way” to reach Whitianga.
During my research I learned that Google usually suggests “Route 309” but this road is not sealed, is steep in some parts, fits only one car at a time, meaning that if there’s someone coming from the opposite direction one of the vehicles must drive backwards until finding a larger space, so the other vehicle can proceed. On top of that, some visitors also encountered wild pigs blocking the road.
To solve this “proposed itinerary” from Google, I kept giving specific directions for the “next village” in order to keep along the main highway, that is a two way road, narrow, with tons of turns but at least it’s sealed and has signs showing who has the right-of-way at super-narrow stretches of the road and on bridges (almost all bridges are single lane).
It’s a tiny pretty village. We stayed there during two nights.
- Taking the passenger ferry to “Ferry Landing” and from there there’s a beautiful walking uphill to “Shakespeare Cliff“. This is one of Coromandel‘s most outstanding vistas and where the Cook Memorial is situated. From there we can see Whitianga Simpson Beach, the islands in Mercury Bay and Lonely Bay (a really pretty bay where Captain Cook stayed for almost two weeks).
- On the next day we took a boat tour with “Sea Cave Adventures” where we visited several caves and the mega famous “Cathedral Cove”. We got calm seas in the beginning of the tour but at middle point the sea changed for rough waters and big surf. Everyone was screaming and apprehensive as we were on a Zodiac boat, “flying” up and down with the crispy waves. The Captain (also the boat owner) is very skilled and when we returned to the port I saw one of the guests congratulating him for his expertise. The guy was saying: “I am a boat owner and you managed that rough sea very well”. Ok! We did it!
Our next destination was Rotorua. We visited Waitomo Caves, located 242km away from Whitianga, and from there we proceeded to Rotorua.
We had our suitcases in the trunk, and this wasn’t an issue during our trip. We found New Zealand a very safe place to travel.
I had bought tickets for the two “experiences” at Waitomo Caves. The first one was a “walking experience” through the caves, where we learned about glowworms and saw several ones. There are also stalactites and stalagmites but they can’t be compared with other caves we have visited, like Aven d’Orgnac in France or Eisriesenwelt in Austria.
After the walking tour inside the caves, we went on a second tour that I had bought, this one visited the caves by boat. It’s a small boat, about 20 passengers in each of them, and we can see a great number of glowworms. Pictures are strictly forbidden during the Waitomo Boat Tour.
Only problem of the Waitomo Boat Tour is that this is an attraction that should be enjoyed in silence. Unfortunately they allow children! During our boat tour there was a screaming toddler crying during the whole time, and as the sound got amplified inside a cave, it was an awful experience for everyone. This is the type of attraction where an age limit of at least 10 years old should be enforced. We can see more glowworms than in the walking tour, although the walking tour has more information about these interesting creatures.
All by all, the glowworms tours are really interesting. The worms emit a light in order to attract insects that get caught in their web (like a spider web, with the difference that the shape is different, they produce only vertical lines, one at the side of the other, not the traditional “spider web shape” we are used to see).
Recommendations: If you are on a budget, go just for the walking tour (Ruakuri Cave). If you have money to spend and want to risk meeting screaming children, do as we did and take the “Waitomo Glowworm Cave” as well.
If you don’t want to spend a cent watching glowworms, just skip this attraction because there are several trails in New Zealand where you will see tons of glowworms for free (keep reading and I will show the one we went at Fox Glacier, although I saw several other towns with the “free glowworms trails” posted everywhere).
From Waitomo we continued our trip to Rotorua (another 140km), where we arrived around 5pm (with plenty of light, as it was summer).
Our hotel was centrally located and we went to get to know the city after parking the car.
An interesting thing of Rotorua is that it smells of rotten eggs. I knew this before going but I had totally forgotten about it.
It was funny because I selected a boutique hotel that is approximately 100 years old, so, during our arrival, at the parking lot, as soon as my husband opened the car’s door he said: “Wow, this old building probably has many problems, this place smells like sewer. Can you feel it?” Of course I could feel it (the smell was really bad), but I said “no, it’s just your impression, there’s no different smell here”. haha.
Then… while I was helping him to take the luggage off the truck I remembered “Rotorua = smells like rotten eggs”!!! I happily told him: “It’s not the hotel’s fault! All the town smells like that, we are in Rotorua!”. It was funny! 🙂
The thing is, after you are there for 20 minutes, you get used to the smell and will not feel anything “different”.
On Thursday nights (that’s when we got there) there’s a Market Street attraction, with music and several stalls selling delicious food. This is highly recommended in many travel guides and we took advantage of this information.
On the next day, we were picked-up at our hotel by “Rotorua Canopy Tours” to go zip lining.
- Rotorua Canopy Tours: One of our trip highlights! They picked us up at our hotel and after giving safety instructions they drove us to a beautiful forest where we walked uphill along a nice trail while learning about native plants, birds and conservation. We have never gone on a zipline before, so we were anxious and thrilled. The guides were awesome and gave us the necessary confidence to proceed. The first zipline is not long. It goes getting longer and higher as the activity progress and our confidence builds up. It was WONDERFUL. Don’t miss this attraction and make sure you book with this company. They are 100% great professionals.
- During the afternoon (after the zipline tour), we went walking to explore the city and also visited the Polynesian Spa. We didn’t use the pools there because our hotel had three heated pools, one of them almost impossible to get in, as the water comes almost boiling! We just took pictures and enjoyed the premises.
- During the same day, at 6pm, we had another company picking us up. We booked (away in advance) tickets to the “Mitai Maori Village“, where we watched a music/dancing performance and had dinner. This is a great way to get to know more about the Maori Culture while enjoying local food prepared the way they use to cook (big hole in the floor, covered and slow cooked).
After staying in Rotorua for two nights, we were ready for our next destination: Napier
On our way to Napier we drove along the scenic “Thermal Explorer Highway” and visited Wai-O-Tapu. We have been to Yellowstone and to the Big Island in Hawaii, so…. this attraction was just “ok”. Can be an option for those who are driving along this route (like us) or for someone who has never been in an active volcanic area.
Napier is a medium size town of 63, 000 thousand people. It’s linked to Hawke’s Bay (where the airport is located). They are called “The Bay Cities“. It’s relatively attractive but not spectacular. The region is also famous for its many wineries.
We visited Napier’s Deco District on the day we arrived and some wineries on the next day, before driving to the airport, where we returned the car and took our flight to Christchurch, on the South Island.
The South Island
If you plan to see most of the island, be ready to change accommodation quite frequently.
It’s hard to be based on just two or three places and explore from there.
You will most likely spend more time traveling than actually visiting a place.
Advice: Do not plan too many things, the island is really big.
We landed at Christchurch Airport in the evening, got our rental car from Hertz, and checked-in. We were starving, so, before any sightseeing, we went out for dinner.
It was our intention to visit the Cardboard Cathedral but when we were three blocks close to it, it was already 10.30pm and we didn’t feel safe to be walking late at night with wallets, mobile phones, etc. There were few tourists on the streets and several homeless were already making their beds, drinking and talking loudly on the sidewalks.
On the next day, before taking the highway early in the morning, we drove around the downtown area, where it is still possible to see the destruction caused by the 2011 earthquake.
From Christchurch we drove along the scenic route 73 and stopped at Rakaia Gorge and Geraldine (where we had a delicious breakfast).
The first view of the Southern Alps is magical.
After several hours driving (the map will say 4 hours, but it takes more), we arrived in beautiful Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is, in my opinion, the best place to stay if you want to visit Mount Cook.
Lake Tekapo is one of the most visited places vistas in New Zealand. The color of the lake is incredible, it looks like the pictures were taken with a filter or edited using Photoshop!
Main Attractions in Lake Tekapo:
- Church of the Good Sheppard (this is only a 2 minutes walking, if you choose lakefront accommodations)
- Mount Cook (where we went on the next day)
- Walk along Lake Tekapo
- Mount St Joseph Observatory (we went there twice, first time by ourselves, driving during light hours and the second one on a “Stargazing Tour”, during the night, that was a total tourist trap and cost almost $400)
Aoraki / Mount Cook
Mount Cook with its 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) is, undoubtedly, the best attraction in the area, specially if you are as luck as us and get there on a beautiful sunny day!
Mount Cook is well known for being constantly covered by clouds, and it’s very hard to see it! The mountain name in native language is “Aoraki“, which means “covered my clouds“. So, you can guess that during a cloudy day probably there’s no point in taking the drive (about 50 min from the main turn-off). It’s recommended that you park at Lake Pukaki Visitors Centre (you will see it easily from the main road) and the staff there will tell what the weather is about at Mt Cook.
The Hooker Valley Trail is now on our “Top Ten” regarding “most scenic trails” with Valle Verzasca as the “king” of them all.
The Hooker Valley Trail offers incredible views, three swing bridges and even some small icebergs floating on Hooker Lake, where the trail ends. Really amazing!
After two nights in Lake Tekapo, we drove to our next destination: Queenstown
There are salmon farms, a lavender farm and many fruit orchards in Cromwell along the road from Tekapo to Queenstown.
First thing we did in Queenstown after checking-in in our lake view accommodation was walking to the city center and trying the uber-famous Fergburger. This place is kind of an institution in Queenstown and attracts a large crowd daily. There’s a huge line (that takes about 15 minutes) and an additional 20 minutes after the order is placed. I must say that the taste and quality deserve every second of the waiting!
While based in Queenstown we also visited Glenorchy, an astonishingly beautiful drive along the lake that takes about 45 minutes each way.
Glenorchy is a tiny village with a few cafes and a gas station. The Information Office had no one there but the door was open and free maps of the region were available. We picked-up the map and went on the “Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway“, an easy walk around a wetland offering good views of Mount Alfred and the Lagoon.
After the pleasant walk, we drove to the Dart River Bridge and tried to go to Paradise and other Lord of the Rings’ scenery. It’s a dirty road, really narrow and as soon as I started driving there there was a car flipped, as the sides of the road aren’t even with the surface (in fact they are almost 1 meter below). We asked if the family needed help but they had already contacted the tow company.
I don’t need to mention that I freaked-out and went driving backwards until it was safe to make an u-turn. No visit to Paradise, at leastfor us. 🙂
Arrowtown is another interesting village we visited while staying in Queenstown. This is a historic gold mining town, very picturesque, and carrying charming cafes, restaurants, boutiques and ice cream stores.
After spending two nights in Queenstown we drove to Te Anau and from there, to the famous and scaring road to reach the Milford Sound!
We left Queenstown around 6.30am and drove to Te Anau. It was to early for check-in, so we left our stuff in the trunk and went to visit the city and a bird sanctuary located in Fiordland National Park.
We had tickets to go on a cruise along the Milford Sound, starting at 4.30pm. The reason I chose the last cruise of the day is that I’ve done my homework (haha) and read that being a very popular attraction, Milford Sound gets hundreds of tourists every day with many big boats, one at the side of the other. During day times it’s also time for big cruise ships to be in the area.
In order to avoid the crowds, I chose the last cruise of the day (starting @ 4.30pm) , as there would be only our boat there. Besides, as there are fewer people interested in this late cruise, the company uses a smaller boat. That was just perfect for us. How I discovered all that? Research, research, research! haha
We did the cruise with “Real Journeys” and were extremely pleased. Perfect boat (clean and on time), nice crew, excellent live narration without being “too much” or boring.
Milford Sound is not “just” Milford Sound. Part of the fun is the road to GET there!!! A real adventure, with a super-twisted narrow road, the 1.2km (0.75 miles) long Homer Tunnel where there are no lights (it’s pitch black) and on top of that it’s a single-lane tunnel! There are traffic lights on both ends in order to improve safety. This is also one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand, specially between Te Anau and Milford.
There are several attractions along the route and I highly recommend you download the Milford Sound Road Map in order to plan your stops and the driving time to get there.
Our cruise along the Milford Sound took two hours and driving back to Te Anau seemed easier / less stressful although it’s the same route. The weather conditions makes the whole difference on this drive and if you check online you will be able to see that the closures are frequent, in winter due to avalanches and in summer due to flooding.
We were reallyyyyy luck to get excellent weather, although there weren’t “1000 waterfalls” as people who go on a raining day describes.
Anyway, it’s always good to check the official website for road closures: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/traffic-and-travel-information/
We stayed in Te Anau for one more night, before driving to Lake Manapouri in order to embark in our overnight cruise through Doubtful Sound with the same company we visited Milford Sound (Real Journeys).
Several people ask “Which one to choose? Milford vs Doubtful Sound?”. I had the same question myself, when planning our trip. Well… it will depend on your time availability and your travel budget. Both are spectacular and I can’t pick a favorite as they have different characteristics.
Milford Sound is smaller than Doubtful Sound. Milford is 14km long while Doubtful is 40km long
The “walls” are higher (and more dramatic) along Milford, as it’s narrower than Doubtful.
Doubtful, on the other hand, is like a fairytale. It’s located in a remote and wild region. It’s vast, empty and the vegetation is primitive, same as thousands of years ago. It’s like seeing Planet Earth before mankind started destroying it.
Milford is the most popular, as it takes a short time to visit. You will find several companies offering two hours cruises. It’s also cheaper to visit than Doubtful. Some companies do offer overnight cruises at Milford Sound but I wouldn’t recommend that as it’s a short sound, so the landscape doesn’t not change much for a long staying. It’s really spectacular but two hours are enough.
As for Doubtful Sound, with 40 km to reach the Tasman Sea and several “arms” to explore, an overnight cruise is the way to go!
To go on the overnight cruise along the Doubtful Sound is necessary to drive (or take the company’s shuttle) to Lake Manapouri. We drove and left our car at the public parking (free). In order to embark, each passenger is allowed to carry one carry-on bag, so we left our large suitcases in the trunk. We were a little apprehensive in doing that but I always travel with my bike locker, so we had our bike locker around all our stuff. If a thief could break-in the trunk he/she would have to carry ALL our luggage together, and it would be heavy! haha
After checking-in at Real Journey’s office in Lake Manapouri, we crossed Lake Manapouri on a beautiful glass roofed boat while listening the guide’s live comments.
When we got to the other side of the lake, we waited a few minutes at the visitor center, that contains nice displays of the area’s fauna and flora as well some information about the hydro company that was responsible for bringing some development to that remote area.
From the visitor center we had a nice bus ride (23km) along a dirt road with an excellent driver-guide, who told several important aspects of Doubtful Sound and the surrounding area.
After the bus ride we were greeted by the crew members while embarking on board the “Navigator”. Excellent boat, with comfortable cabin and delicious food!
After sailing for a couple of minutes we could decide between different activities, like kaiaking, swimming (bbbrrrr!) or a zodiac ride going close to the shore. We preferred the zodiac. It’s great but it’s important to be prepared for the attack! The sandflies will try to “kill” you! We had an excellent deet that we’ve bought a few months ago before visiting Tanzania, and it worked well, but the sandflies will find the very small piece of skin where you didn’t apply the repellent and… they will bite fiercely!
Like the Milford Sound cruise, the boat goes all the way to the Tasman Sea, where we saw several fat seals.
Doubtful Sound is rich in wildlife and we were able to see seals, dolphins, blue penguins and exotic birds. Sunrise there is simply magical!
I think Milford Sound is for those who want to tick it off a bucket list, or who are short on time or budget, or who are looking to check New Zealand’s highlights. Doubtful Sound is for people looking for an intimate, peaceful wilderness experience and who want the “connecting with Mother Earth” experience. If possible, don’t hesitate: Book both of them!
When the Doubtful overnight cruise ended, we got our car. We found it the same way we left it, with all our luggage secured stored in the trunk! 🙂
We drove to Lake Wanaka and visited three interesting sites along the way:
- Kawarau Bridge Bung – Although we didn’t have any intention to go bungee jumping, we went there and admired a few brave souls jumping from a heigh of 43m (141ft). This is the first commercial Bungee jumping in the world.
- The twist Crown Range Road, in order to access Cardrona Hotel. This is the highest main road in New Zealand and offers incredible views.
- Cardrona Hotel. This is one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand (1863) and is one of only two buildings from the CardronaValley gold rush era. We entered the lounge and gardens to take some pictures and got good laughs reading their FAQ’s sign
- Bradrona (Cardrona Bra Fence).The famous bra fence that started around 1998 as a joke between friends. Passers-by began to attach bras to a rural fence and nowadays it’s a tourist attraction. There we see all sizes, shapes and patterns of bras!
Lake Wanaka was not on our “must see” list, but Fox Glacier was and I didn’t want long and stressful drives, so Lake Manaka was chosen because it was about 3 hours driving from Te Anau.
It is an “ok” place with many cafes but can’t be compared with other attractions.
On the next day we left early in the morning to Fox Glacier. The drive is astonishingly beautiful and I highly recommend you visit the following attractions along the way:
- Blue Pools
- Fantail Falls
- Thunder Creek Falls
- Dune Lake Walk
As always, the road is narrow, with several places fitting only one vehicle at a time and with many landslides along the route. It’s beautiful but also scary.
Main attractions in Fox Glacier Town are Lake Matheson and the glowworm trail (free).
The Fox Glacier Trail, that would be another attraction, was experiencing a long term closure due to a huge landslide. We took some pictures of how massive the landslides can be and moved on.
Lake Matheson is also called “The Mirror Lake”. We went there as soon as we got to Fox Glacier but the weather didn’t cooperated. It was cloudy with some drizzle. The best point to take a picture is on the opposite side of the car park, so be prepared to hike for a while.
Lake Matheson is known as the most photographed lake in New Zealand, and a must-do attraction in the West Coast region. Besides having wonderful tracks and exotic birds, the fame of Lake Matheson comes from Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected in its waters.
The lake was formed 14,000 years ago and its dark color comes from organic material from the forest floor.
We returned to Lake Matheson on the next day, early in the morning, and found that this is the best time to visit, as there’s no breeze. We had breakfast at Matheson Cafe before proceeding to Franz Josef Glacier.
Located 40 minutes away from Fox Glacier, Franz Joseph is one of the highlights of New Zealand, and the funny thing is that both of us had already virtually been on that track many times while walking on the gym’s trading mill.
Franz Josef Glacier
The Franz Josef Glacier Walk is a classic walk that must be in everyone’s list. This 1.5 hour walk from the huge car park is the most popular of the Franz Joseph activities where it’s possible to watch waterfalls, the Waiho river and the glacier, at the end of the path. The trail is very well maintained and it’s necessary to cross two small streams that involves stepping stones in order to keep your shoes dry.
We went on this walk after visiting Peter’s Pool (same parking lot, different trail). This is a perfect mirror and we took beautiful mirror-perfect pictures.
Our next destination on our “must see” list was Abel Tasman National Park but to get there we were going to split the long drive and overnight in Greymouth.
Between Franz Josef Glacier and Greymouth there’s an attraction that should be visited by everyone driving along the west coast: Hokitika Gorge.
Hokitika Gorge is an excellent place to explore and the walk is short and easy. Close to the parking lot there’s a small viewing platform from where it’s possible to observe its milky deep blue waters. The trail continues to a swing bridge and that’s the best place for taking photos into the depths below.
We got to Greymouth around 5pm and went to have dinner just before “hopping dead” and sleeping like angels.
On the next day, we walked around the town of Greymouth (nothing special there) and after breakfast at a local place we drove to our next destination: Kaiteriteri located at the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park.
Driving along “The Great Coastal Road”, one of the “top 10” coastal drives in the world was pure fun! We include several attractions along the route and I recommend you not miss them, but, if you are short in time, make sure you visit, at least, the Pancake Rocks. It’s an amazing attraction!
Must see attractions between Greymouth and Abel Tasman:
- Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. The Pancake Rocks were created when the sea bed raised above sea level by earthquakes. They were sculpted by rain, wind and sea. Beautiful and well signed trail less than 1 mile long.
- Pororari River Track. Beautiful trail along the Pororari Gorge, with steep and dramatic cliffs on both sides. The water is so clear we can see all the rocks at the bottom of the river. The track is almost flat in the beginning but turns steeper and steeper till we reach the swing bridge. It’s necessary to cross a small cave during the hike and when we were going up you were in doubt if we were in the right path. We waited for some people returning in order to make sure we didn’t miss any turn. On the way back it was our turn to inform to those looking lost and concerned near the cave that “yes, go ahead, it’s beautiful there and this is the correct track”. 🙂
- Seal Colony at Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay. Lighthouse and beautiful trail leading to a platform where we can admire fur seals swimming and playing with their babies.
Abel Tasman National Park
Just when you think it can’t get any better, we spent a day in Abel Tasman National Park. Boat is the best way to go, as to hike the entire Abel Tasman track, one of the great “tramps” in New Zealand, takes 3-4 days. During the boat tour it was possible to walk just a small section while the boat meet the hikers on the next bay. We opted for walking and it was really great.
We booked our accommodation in “Little Kaiteriteiri” and if you go to that region I highly recommend that. While Kaiteriteri attracts the crowds with tour buses, campers and tour boats, “Little Kaiteriteri” is more exclusive, sophisticated and totally uncrowded. To reach Kaiteriteri there’s a short hike up and over the headland separating the two villages.
Little Kaiteriteri is considered one of New Zealand‘s most astonishing beaches. Although we found it beautiful, with its crystal clear waters, we are “beach lovers” and have been to many astonishing beaches around the world. Little Kaiteriteri is not on our “Top Ten Beaches”.
For us, the highlight in traveling to this region was visiting Abel Tasman National Park. Although it’s the smaller National Park in New Zealand, this park is super scenic and the Tonga Island Marine Reserve is absolutely great, with seal pups, little blue penguins, dolphins, crayfish, ray, crabs and dozens of exotic birds.
We went on a tour with “Abel Tasman Eco Tours” and had a wonderful day. From 9am to 3pm it was great every single minute! We learned a lot about conservation, had a delicious meal on a deserted beach and hiked between two bays. Hiking between two bays gave us the opportunity to admire the emerald sea from the top, before meeting the boat & pilot at the next bay. This was one of the highlights of our trip.
Saying “good bye” to the South Island
After staying in Little Kaiteriteri for two nights, we drove to Nelson Airport where we returned the rental car before taking the short flight to Wellington located on the North Island.
Although it’s New Zealand’s capital, it’s a small and quiet city. We came to New Zealand for the nature, not for the cities. Wellington is known to be the windiest city on earth although our luck with the weather didn’t fail in any one day and we didn’t experience wind while we were there.
The attractions we enjoyed more:
- Te Papa Museum. This is a top notch museum and it’s free! There’s a wonderful exhibit on the World War I, modern and historic art pieces and a full display (also very interesting) about earthquakes.
- Mount Victoria Lookout – From the top we had panoramic views of the wharf, the city, the airport and the sea that lies between New Zealand and Antarctica. We got there by public bus and returned by food crossing a lovely forest on a trail that was steep in some parts.
- Wellington Botanical Gardens. Another free activity that we explored while staying in Wellington. The park has pruned gardens and greenhouses as well as dirt paths into native bush. We got there by cable car and returned by bus.
We had a 5.8 “shake” at almost midnight (yes, an earthquake!) that made us imagine the fear people may feel when the earthquake is stronger and longer.
Saying “good bye” to New Zealand
After two nights in Wellington we went to the airport, using the excellent “Airport Flyer Bus” (big bus with only the driver and the tow of us inside!) and took a flight to Auckland. From Auckland we flew to San Francisco. From San Francisco we finally flew to Vancouver! Yes, it’s a looooooong way!
I hope this “journal” and itinerary can be helpful to you when planning a trip to this magically beautiful country!
Cheers! Saúde! Santé!