New Zealand Highlights

From Fiji we flew to New Zealand and visited Seamus’ hometown of Palmerston North in the North Island where we spent a few weeks meeting family and friends. We then took a ferry from Wellington to Picton and travelled around the South Island in the family van.

Below I’ve listed highlights of everywhere we visited in the North and South Island including:


  • Wellington & Weta Workshop
  • Kaponga – eating a Hangi & hiking Mount Taranaki
  • New Plymouth
  • Waitomo – Glow worm caves
  • Matamata – Hobbiton movie set
  • Rotorua
  • Huka Falls
  • Lake Taupo
  • Ohakune
  • Taihape


  • Picton
  • Kaikoura
  • Christchurch
  • Tekapo
  • Mount Cook
  • Arrowtown (instead of Queenstown – passed by in surprise and decided to stop here instead)
  • Wanaka
  • Hokitika
  • Punakaiki
  • Nelson
  • Marlborough (didn’t stay – would definitely go back to)

Quirky New Zealand

When you first pull out your map of New Zealand and plan your road trip, make a point of noting the locations of  22 GIANT sculptures dotted around the two Islands. It definitely makes for a more interesting road trip!

Click here for a full list and locations:



I’ll start here with New Zealand’s capital – Wellington.


I loved Wellington. A small, beautiful city nestled at the bottom of the Cook Strait, encompassing a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, surf, and a working harbour.

It has that industrial-meets-art-meets-nature feel to it, and I was so impressed at how the City had managed to fuse into its natural surroundings so beautifully and creatively.

Here are my highlights:

Wellington Waterfront

Max Patte - Solace in the Wind

Max Patte – Solace in the Wind

Hands down my favourite city promenade. Plenty of places to eat and drink and the artwork is fantastic. Seriously, this waterfront should win awards.

Click here for more information about the art installations, including English sculptor Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind and the Wellington Writer’s Walk.

well8 well9 well10 well11 well12 well15 well16 well17

I recommend eating at Wagamama, especially on a week day when people are at work. Yes, yes – it’s a chain but the views are spectacular, it’s very peaceful and the food is gorgeous.


Weta Workshop

well5  well7

Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in Miramar producing effects for television and film. A few titles you will definitely know:

  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Hellboy
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • King Kong
  • District 9
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Hobbit
  • The Adventures of Tintin

You can visit the workshop garden and shop where you’ll see a few models and props exhibited, free of charge.


However, I would seriously recommend taking a tour of the actual workshop itself. You’ll meet some of the artists and learn about the artistry and creativity behind 20 years of award winning film-making. You’ll even have the opportunity to handle some of the models and props!

Check the website for available tours, prices and details of how to book. When we went it was about $25 NZD.

Surf Watch (and celebrity spot) and Dine at Spruce Goose

Visit Spruce Goose for great food and surf.


This was the first place we went to for lunch when we arrived in New Zealand. Sitting by the window watching surfers and tucking into some great food, I knew we had landed somewhere special. It was our first celebrity sighting as well – All Black Rugby Player Ma’a Nonu had just had his lunch when we arrived.

Great spot.

Mount Victoria Lookout


Get your city bearings and some of Wellington’s best views at the Mount Victoria Lookout. Though sunny and mild most of the year, strong winter winds through the Cook Strait give Wellington the nickname “Windy Wellington.” You’ll definitely feel the breeze up here.

Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa)

Always an interesting exhibition on at this museum. We had arrived during the 100th Anniversary of Anzac Day so we got to see WETA Workshop’s The Scale Of Our War – Gallipoli Exhibition which is running until April 2018.


Cuba Street District

Cuba Street is the liveliest street in Wellington where you’ll find most of your bars, restaurants and entertainment.

We are headed to New Zealand for Christmas 2016 where I’ll report back on new places to eat, drink and be merry!

Exploring the North Island

Day 1-3

Palmerston North to Kaponga (Mount Taranaki)
(2.5 hours 190km from Palmerston North)


The giant loaf  – Manaia


We travelled from Seamus’ hometown to Kaponga, just south of Mount Taranaki.
We stayed on the family farm and I experienced my first Hangi – a traditional New Zealand Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. If you get the opportunity to eat a Hangi meal – take it. This method of cooking is also popular on surrounding islands such as Fiji.


There are some great surf spots in this area, if surfing’s your bag.

Not so much of a hike as a good walk but nonetheless, treat yourself to a decent leg stretch across Egmont National Park. The trails are quite easy, well marked and the scenery is beautiful.


Day 4

Kaponga to New Plymouth
(1.25 hours 90 km (on coast) from Kaponga)

New Plymouth is another great surfing location. The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, is a 13km promenade with stunning views!

Day 5

New Plymouth to Rotorua
(6 hours, 453km from New Plymouth)

Stop off at:
Waitomo caves (2.5 hrs drive – 181km from New Plymouth)
Hobbiton Movie set, Matamata (1.5 hrs drive 90km from Waitomo)
Rotorura (1 hr drive 69km from Matamata)


The BIG Apple statue in Waitomo, where you can also stop off for some BIG AZZ ice cream!


The big Kiwi statue in Otorohanga


Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Opening hours
Click here
to check out deals and to see if timings have changed:

  • Allow 45 minutes for your tour
  • 1 Apr – 31 Oct: tours run daily every 1/2 hour from 9:00 am with the last tour at 5:00 pm
  • 1 Nov – 31 Mar: tours run daily every 1/2 hour from 9:00 am with the last tour at 5:30 pm
  • Last tour on Christmas Day is 4:00 pm

There is no ‘best time’ to see the glowworms, although if you want to avoid queues get there early or as things are winding down. The tour includes a boat trip through the caves. The glowworms are an absolutely stunning sight, and the guides are wonderful.

You will not be disappointed and you will see thousands of glowworm – guaranteed.

Take lunch in Otorohanga and visit the kiwi statues (20 mins 17km)

Hobbiton Movie set – Matamata

NI17 NI18 NI16 NI15 NI14 NI19

This was an amazing tour – well worth the money and if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’d be a fool to miss this. At the time we paid $75 NZD and I think the price has gone up slightly since.

You should allow 2 hours for the tour plus a little extra for the bar and gift shop.

Again – aim for booking a tour towards the end of the day or at the beginning. It’ll be less busy. You must book in advance!


We arrived in Rotorua a little bit late and a little bit knackered, and so finding so many bars and restaurants around was a welcome relief! Also goes to show how touristy this part of the North Island really is – and for good reason.

Unfortunately we had just a day the next day and it was absolutely pouring down with rain, so – knowing that we would one day return to New Zealand, decided to take our soggy selves back to Palmerston North.

What we missed:

  • Wai-O-Tapu Champagne Pool
  • Geysers
  • Hotpools and natural spas
  • Luging – apparently if you want to luge, this is the best place in the country according to locals!
  • Tauranga beach town

Day 3

Rotorua to Palmerston North

Huka falls on way to Lake Taupo
It was nice but we were cold and wet so took a few pics and didn’t stay long


The Ohakune Carrot


Ohakune is a popular base in winter for skiers using the ski fields (particularly Turoa) of nearby Mount Ruapehu and in summer for trampers hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

It’s a very small village (1 road) – if you’re just passing through, stop off for a leg stretch, cup of tea and a picture with the giant carrot.


Taihape gumboot

Taihape is the gumboot capital of the world!


Gumboot Day is a native celebration of Taihape. It occurs the Tuesday after Easter, and has been a regular event since 1985. It is a celebration of all things to do with gumboots, and includes the famous gumboot throwing contest.

The north of the North Island – Auckland and around is very much on the to do list for future trips.


We took the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry from Wellington to Picton and the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry back. The Interislander was better – Bluebridge smelt of toilets and was a lot smaller.

You get no discounts for booking early, the prices are fixed but it pays to book at least a week or 2 ahead during peak times (especially if you are travelling to a schedule) as the ferries can book out very quickly.


Picton to Christchurch

Day 1

The coastal drive from Picton to Christchurch is just beautiful. Rugged, wild, vast, ocean swept views. I think the coast was my favourite part of New Zealand – well, it’s hard to choose a favourite but I did find myself lost in that scene. Beautiful.

s3 s10


En Route to Kaikoura

Stop off for a bite to eat at….

The Store

Good food. Terrific views.

See the Seals in Ohau…

Ohau Waterfall Walk

s9 s7


Kaikoura is the perfect place for marine life encounters and coastal walks. This is one of the places for spotting whales, dolphins and so on.

We’d seen our whales in Mexico so we just stopped off for some seafood at the giant crayfish cafe which is located on the main road.

The crayfish here are prizewinning  (but for that very reason they are hugely expensive). We got affordable clams!

s5 s4

Christchurch and around

Day 2 – 6

More than four years after a 6.3-magnitude quake struck Christchurch killing 185 people, the city is still in a state of recovery. The disaster triggered a massive US$30 billion rebuild programme – the biggest public works project in New Zealand’s history. But when we visited in 2015 it was still pretty post-apocalyptic.


Piles of rubble and empty lots have left a hole in what was once the central business district. But that’s not to say Christchurch is not worth a visit. There’s still stuff going on in the city, be it piecemeal, and the surrounding countryside is beautiful.


The City

185 Empty White Chairs – Earthquake Memorial


Peter Majendie’s poignant installation opposite the Transitional Cathedral on the corner of Cashel and Madras streets has been the city’s unofficial earthquake memorial since February 2012. Where a church once proudly stood, the 185 white chairs each represent one of the 185 lives lost in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Each chair, just like its owner, has its own distinct personality, with the installation including armchairs, dining room chairs, a wheel chair, and even a baby capsule. The 185 square metres of grass that the chairs sit on represents new growth and regeneration

Canterbury Museum

Great place – always an interesting exhibition going on.
cc8 cc5cc7 cc11 cc10 cc12

The Historic Port Town of Lyttelton

Stop here for cafes, bars, quaint bohemian shops and picturesque views


Sumner Bay

A beautiful little seaside suburb of Christchurch. Stop here for surf and fish n chips.

cc15 cc16

Lyttelton to Akaroa

Head down to Akaroa from Lyttelton for views over the surrounding bays. On the way back stop off at Governors bay for walks.


Rakaia Gorge 

A beautiful day trip out from Christchurch.

cc18 cc19

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Days 7-8


The Rakaia Salmon


Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing. BIG TIP! Plan to travel here when there is no moon. One big full moon = no stars. If you happen to be here  during the full moon and that cannot be helped, then don’t worry too much about it. It’s still pretty bloody beautiful!

We stayed at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park – it was bliss – situated right by the lakeside. We got ourselves a parking spot and slept in the van which we’d kitted out with a mattress. The facilities at this park are outstanding! Hot showers, large kitchen area with individual units, internet rooms and heated lounges.

s14 s30

Walk and Gaze

s15  s19 s20 s21 s22 s23 s24 s25 s26 s27 s28 s29 s31 s32

Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook

Day 9

This is when the drive turns from beautiful to stunning!

s34 s35 s36 s37 s38 s39

Mount Cook

We stayed at the White Horse Hill campsite. Perfect.


We arrived in the afternoon and hiked for a few hours before sunset. The hike is flat and very easy and the trail begins from the campsite.


TIPS: Beware of sand flies and take bite to eat with you to enjoy when you reach the end. We made some sandwiches and took some wine and snacks. It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

Following our hike, we did a bit of ‘camp cheating’ and had drinks and sat by the fire in nearby Hermitage Hotel by the visitor centre. Gorgeous wine, cosy sofas and views to die for!

s42 s44 s45 s47s43 s46

In the evening from our campsite, the mountains glowed under the moon and stars.


Mount Cook to Queenstown

Days 10-11

Whatever your plans are in Queenstown, don’t miss the gem that is Arrowtown. If you happen to be here in Autumn you are in for a treat. The colours of the trees are like nothing I have ever seen in my life! We were totally enchanted with this fairytale town and decided to stay for a few nights and skip touristy Queenstown altogether!

s51 s61

Try your hand at gold mining and explore the quaint little shops and restaurants that are trapped in a wonderful time warp!


Walk through the beautiful forests

s58 s57 s52 s53 s54 s55 s59 s56


Day 12

We stopped at lake Wanaka for views, drives and a cool little retro cinema – Cimema Paradiso – with sofas and cars as seats!


Wanaka to Hokitika

Day 13

Follow State Highway 6 for INCREDIBLE VIEWS! You’ll be stopping every 10 minutes to take pictures.

s67 s68

Stop off at Ship Creek Walk for close encounters with the beautiful Fantails (beware of sand flies here – they are buggers!)

s69 s70 s71

Lake Matheson

The weather was not ideal – we were lucky to get a break in the rain and took the short (hour or so loop) walk around the lake. Unfortunately no mountain views due to cloud coverage – but that’s nature for you!



Day 14 – 15

We stayed at Hokitika Holiday Park. Bit of an odd place with odd owners – not surprisingly the place has shut down. There are plenty of options in town.

You can take a Jade tour in town in one of the Jade shops  – it is actually quite boring but you get to see the people sculpting in the workshop which is pretty cool.

The National Kiwi Centre

This was actually well worth going to. You get to touch and feed the eels and fish for crayfish. They even have resident Kiwi birds you can see during feeding time (just barely as the room is dark). It’s a fun few hours!

11231799_10152792930897274_7659499600885322380_n 11125245_10152792930122274_7559559920022175751_n

The draw card, however, is Hokitika’s beach, famous for its driftwood and driftwood sculptures. Unless your’e stumbling into a time of year where they hold driftwood sculpting competitions, don’t hold your breath for anything mind blowing.

However, I fell in love with these wild waters. A beautiful stretch of beach.

20808_10152792930062274_5306190667309897687_n 10460274_10152792929927274_8720295796459395080_n 10410879_10152792929842274_6096540071381199023_n 11103035_10152792929742274_864325024520087639_n 11052411_10152792929717274_1113803054412157743_n 11351235_10152792923832274_7267613556144458949_n

Hokitika to Nelson

Day 16


The Punakaiki Rocks and Blowholes

This place is hands down awesome! You have to time the blowholes with the surf and high tide. We arrived at about 2pm but it does depend on the time of year you visit.

You can stay in Punakaiki. The walks are supposedly quite beautiful and it is the base from which to explore Paparoa National Park.

11168390_10152792931287274_3024881057982287887_n 11182090_10152792932382274_1557792631347531509_n 11350525_10152792932237274_4452370685968837930_n 11140075_10152792931102274_1427807526639101146_n


Situated at the top north-west of the South Island, Nelson is the sunniest region in New Zealand. The beach is very beautiful and there is plenty to do if you plan on staying for a longer time. We just stayed the night and set off the next day after a walk.


Click here for more info on what to do in Nelson.


We stayed in the Maitai Valley Motor Camp, just a 15 minute  drive out of town. Affordable and lovely!

Nelson to Picton

Day 17

Ngakuta Bay, Marlborough

OK, so this is somewhere I would DEFINITELY come back to and spend at least a week. We didn’t stop off anywhere but driving through it was mesmerizing. Just anywhere around here really – for scenery, wine and more!

Picton – the ferry back


New Zealand is beautiful and the scenery is magnificent. To top it off, I got to meet my extended family for the first time and got to explore the country with the best man in the world!

The only stickler about New Zealand is that going for a night out can be a challenge. Not many people go out often as going out relies on driving (and obviously you can’t drink and drive) and as a result a lot of places close early. Not all places though, especially in cities but your options for going out and staying out are narrowed significantly if you’re travelling. You do have to be a bit creative with your time and make your own entertainment, but that’s just how it is and the scenery is worth it.

Next stop: Australia

Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere else I travelled to: CubaMexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, Indonesia and Japan.


One thought on “New Zealand Highlights

  1. Pingback: Paradise Lost | The Unsung World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s