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
- Huka Falls
- Lake Taupo
- Mount Cook
- Arrowtown (instead of Queenstown – passed by in surprise and decided to stop here instead)
- 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: http://www.backpackerguide.nz/21-big-things-in-new-zealand/
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:
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.
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 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
- 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.
Mount Victoria Lookout
Get your city bearings and some of Wellington’s best views at the . 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.
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 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
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.
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!
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
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)
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
- 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
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 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
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.
En Route to Kaikoura
Stop off for a bite to eat at….
Good food. Terrific views.
See the Seals in Ohau…
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!
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.
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
Great place – always an interesting exhibition going on.
The Historic Port Town of Lyttelton
Stop here for cafes, bars, quaint bohemian shops and picturesque views
A beautiful little seaside suburb of Christchurch. Stop here for surf and fish n chips.
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.
A beautiful day trip out from Christchurch.
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
The Rakaia Salmon
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.
Walk and Gaze
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook
This is when the drive turns from beautiful to stunning!
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!
In the evening from our campsite, the mountains glowed under the moon and stars.
Mount Cook to Queenstown
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!
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
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
Follow State Highway 6 for INCREDIBLE VIEWS! You’ll be stopping every 10 minutes to take pictures.
Stop off at Ship Creek Walk for close encounters with the beautiful Fantails (beware of sand flies here – they are buggers!)
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.
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!
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.
Hokitika to Nelson
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.
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
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