New Zealand Travel Guide
New Zealand is a prime destination for the adventure traveler. Great as a solo or group trip. Your wallet will hurt a bit as there are so many adventure experiences you will be keen to try.
Abel Tasman Kayaking
Buller Canyon Jet
Franz Josef Glacier Heli-HIke
Giapo Ice Cream
Glow Worm Caves
Hooker Valley Hike
i-Site Travel Offices
Kaikoura Whale Watching
Oakridge Resort in Wanaka
Skotel near Tongariro
Tasman Lake Kayaking
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Wanaka Movie Theatre
Top 5 things I HOPE you know before you go:
1. This is a car place. Rent a car! Driving is easy. There are a lot of one lane bridges you have to look out for but that is as tough as it gets.
2. Just because a city is noted on the map and SEEMS like it would be an actual city, it is more likely a small town. Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch are proper cities with real stores and services. The other cities noted are almost all quite small.
3. I always book my hotels online, but here a few times I walked in and inquired about the rate. The rate in person was usually cheaper than the price online. Especially in the small towns and off the road side, inquiring in person may give you a better rate than online but it does risk your dependency on their vacancies.
4. The i-site centers are really great places to book your tours. They have done most of the things they are talking to you about, can advise you, and book things for you.
5. I spent 26ish days in New Zealand and it was not enough time! I tried to do both islands but found myself always in a hurry and without much downtime. There were so many things I missed. I would give at least three weeks to drive the circle around the South Island.
Details on Things to Do
Bay of Plenty
Rotorua, this place is some evil den of boiling disgusting sulfuric water with scary hotels and high prices, in my opinion.
But there are some cool spots outside of Rotorua. I enjoyed going to Waimangu Volcanic Valley this has a little walk through the forest and a boat ride that takes you around some of the volcanic activity. The fascinating thing about this one is that it has a lake over one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the pink and white terraces. They were lost when a volcanic eruption caused the lake to cover them. So, they are just right below you (though you can’t see them). - http://www.waimangu.co.nz/
Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms is a must. Though if you saw these things up close you would realize they are ugly and in reality kind of gross. You can take inner tubes inside the cave which is cool, but really dark and you can’t see what is in the water and in some points you have to jump in to pitch black water in a dark cave, so it wasn’t for me (like zip lining)… but still really cool - http://www.waitomo.com/Glowworm-Caves/Pages/waitomo-glowworm-caves.aspx
Hobbiton has a gorgeous garden for great pictures but too expensive and small. Free beer was offered at the end of my tour (but not really because your ticket could have bought you dozens of beers).
The Tongariro hike was great. These are the volcanoes/ominous mountains that were used or somewhat used (I imagine quite a bit of CGI was in there) for Lord of the Rings.
I stayed at Skotel and they had everything. I could have even rented hiking gear if I wanted to. Most of the hotels nearby have pick up and drop off for the hike, packed lunches, and pretty much everything you need. You don’t need a guide, there are enough people on the trail to make it very easy.
You must stop by this ice cream shop Giapo it has the most delicious over the top ice cream cones. Trust me, I don’t recommend many food places, but I still look at the pictures of my ice cream - http://giapo.com/
It is a nice town but you must do Te Papa when you are there. They have the ONLY Colossal Squid on display in the world (obviously it is preserved and not swimming around). Cannot recommend the café though, my salad had a bug in it. Also, right outside the museum a seagull pooped on my sandal clad foot. So, watch out for those seagulls!
If you are a bird and animal lover (like me) you will enjoy Zealandia. I walked around the sanctuary on my own. I saw a stick bug and many birds while wandering.
The Interislander Ferry between Wellington and Picton was such a cool experience, but weather dependent. A storm can delay you jumping on a ferry last minute. I was stuck in Wellington for a few days because I did not book the ferry ahead of time. I suggest to book this early on to avoid getting stuck longer than needed.
I don’t know what makes Wanaka amazing, but it just is. The vibe is awesome. The lake is beautiful. The sky/stars are stunning. There is just something about it.
I stayed at the Oakridge Resort that had like 10 hot tubs, a masseuse, laundry facilitates and it was off season for that resort. So I took a few days here and relaxed and refreshed from the traveling. It was a bit away from the city but it was very nice and comfortable. http://www.williamsgroup.co.nz/wanaka/wanaka/hotels/x,1,4232/oakridge-resort-lake-wanaka.html
Within walking distance of the hotel is a really really quirky restaurant called Lone Star. It is a Texas themed restaurant but with maybe more of an emphasis on the classics (Green Green Grass of Home, Johnny Cash, etc). I didn’t spend much time in the restaurant but in the basement the owners have opened a small movie theatre. The movie theatres hold about 50 ppl and are fully decked out with leather couches and reclining seats (some fully recline). In addition, they have beer and wine selections that they will bring to you in the theatre. I got cold and the woman working there saw and put a blanket over me in the middle of the movie. It was a really a very interesting place and fun for a night of something different and less touristy. When I was there it was mostly locals/tourist guide type clientele, maybe just because it was a little out of the main city though. http://www.lonestar.co.nz/
West CoastI did the Franz Josef Heli-Hike, you can also do similar activities at Fox. The Heli-Hike which took you up to the Glacier by helicopter, gave you about two hours to walk around on the ice then returned to the town. It also came with a pass to the hot tubs/spa that used melted glacier ice for their water (as I imagine most people do there since it is probably their water source). This was a last minute choice to jump on it and I really enjoyed it, it is one of the best things I’ve done, the pilots are not like I was used to and fly in a very show off-y way. In addition, due to weather they said annually about half of all trips are cancelled, so be prepared for plan B. A friend had theirs cancelled and they did a flight the next day where they could see all of the mountain range (due to clouds we couldn’t see past the glacier the day we went), I saw their video and it looked like a fantastic trip. http://www.franzjosefglacier.com/
I didn’t find Christchurch to be that fascinating of a city. I did really want to go to the Antarctica Museum. It was not the greatest museum ever, but they did have a Antarctic vehicle you could ride in and that was exciting. It was too pricey though and as someone that LOVES Antarctica I was not hugely impressed. Christchurch is a jumping off point for many people to travel to Antarctica so that part is quite neat (seeing the hangers for the planes that fly there). http://www.iceberg.co.nz/
The Hooker Valley hike is another one I recommend, but don't put your passport in your backpack and hike it in the rain!! That was a mistake. And I got stung by a bee. But it was still worth it and I can only imagine how awesome it must be without the rain.
Kayaking at Lake Tasman was so interesting. We got to kayak right up to the icebergs and taste them. It was beautiful with the mountain in the background. Another last minute New Zealand choice I recommend.
Kaikoura is a really great little city with tons of wildlife in the water, the dolphins here are everywhere and you can even swim with them if you want to. There are also a few resident Sperm whales that you can see too. I think the morning is the time with the most sightings so I went on the earliest Kaikoura whale watching tour, it was really good and we saw tons of wildlife.
I didn’t do Milford Sound because I met up with a group that was doing an overnight tour of Doubtful sound. This was good because it was off the beaten path compared to Milford. We took a ferry, then a bus, then boarded our boat. It is not a busy sound so we did not see hardly anyone else there on tours. We also got to kayak which was a lot of fun. And, one of the views they show you used to be on the background screen pics for Windows. I went to someone’s office and said, “Hey! I’ve been there!”. That was pretty cool. http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/specials/10-web-only-special/?gclid=CL3N4uyY0sMCFUPJtAodfmkAZg
Nelson-TasmanAbel Tasman was just gorgeous. I did a full day kayaking and hiking tour that was lovely. I booked it through one of the i-site offices. They are available everywhere and really make it easy to get good advice on anything you want to do in NZ. They were able to direct me to the right tour of Abel Tasman for what I wanted to do.
In Montueka they have a ‘Community Center’ that houses the Montueka Theatre. It is a one screen theatre filled with locals and is in the same building as the community basketball court and rec center. It has a Lord of the Rings theme. It is quite small and certainly not what I would call busy (for a movie theatre), it is a cute place to relax for a few hours.I did the Buller Canyon Jet (which is a must to do once in NZ) at Buller Gorge, they also had zip lining and a swing bridge. It was okay, there were a lot of sand flies and I thought overall the safety aspect (of all jet boats, not just this one) is questionable. But that is what makes it fun I suppose. It is fast paced, lots of turns and splashing, and I did find myself smiling. http://www.bullergorge.co.nz/