Wanderlust: A New Zealand Travel Guide
Have you ever been to a place that you just DID NOT want to leave? Like, literally felt a tightness and anxiety in your chest about leaving? That's how much my husband & I loved our time in New Zealand, and exactly how we felt about leaving that beautiful place.
This post is going to be a little bit out of the ordinary (I hope you love it) because I really wanted to share our wanders with a New Zealand travel guide! Now.. I know what you may be thinking: WTF does a New Zealand travel guide have to do with sewing?
Well, my friends. I feel like traveling is such a beautiful gift that SO many people in the millennial generation get to experience today. It's something that we can all share and experience together, no matter where we are from.
And I think it's so important to get outside of your comfort zone and experience new places and new people.. It's such a big, beautiful world out there, how could you not want to see it? And to learn about it?
I feel like the majority of seamstresses are fairly introverted people, and traveling New Zealand is the PERFECT holiday for my fellow introverts. You will LOVE New Zealand if (like me) you can say YES to these questions:
- Do you love driving, listening to music, and just watching beautiful scenery pass you by?
- Do you love a good, long, challenging hike?
- Are you comfortable living minimally in a camper van?
- Do you love the unpredictability of being able to visit a glacier and a rainforest, all in the same afternoon?
- Do you want to just GET AWAY from WiFi, and be in peace for a while?
Our trip to New Zealand was about 3 weeks long. We each packed a backpack full of clothes, two big books, and our DSLR camera.
We rented a camper van from Escape Rentals, which we drove around the 3 weeks we were in New Zealand. The camper van was not only our mode of driving around the country, but we were also able to sleep and cook in it.
I know that renting a camper van might not be the #1 option for a lot of people, but we absolutely fucking loved it. It was so peaceful, and so simple.
We stayed at so many different, unique campsites throughout New Zealand. There are three major ways in which you can stay overnight with a camper van:
- A paid campsite. These campsites allow camper vans (like ours), bigger RV's, or tents to stay overnight. You can also choose to pay for a powered site, which is slightly more expensive. (But totally worth it.) All of these sites typically provide WiFi as well, for a small fee. (And showers!)
- A DOC campsite. These are often just basic campsites with restrooms, and require a DOC pass to stay there. We purchased the pass ahead of time, which granted us access to all DOC campsites on both the North & South Islands. You can also just pay the fee in cash on arrival, if desired.
- Freedom camping. These are often just small plots of land or parking lots where you can park your vehicle and camp for free. Of course, since they are free, they are the definition of minimal. (No power, no lights, no showers. Toilets, if you're lucky.)
We tried to stay at the DOC & freedom camping spots more often than not, to help with our budget. But every 3-4 days we would stay at a paid campsite, so that we could charge our camera and phones, get some WiFi, and take a shower.
I'm typically a BIG planner, and wanted to plan out our entire trip, day by day. But alas, with starting The Flora Modiste, I literally had NO time to do that for this trip.
The weather was completely unpredictable the entire time we were there, and we had to change our plans around on the daily, just to accommodate it.
ANYWAYS, I could go on and on.
Below, I have broken down our trip into where we went each day, and our favorite things we did there. I haven't included too much food or drink, since we did most of our eating and drinking in the back of our camper van (Highly, highly recommended!) but I hope you find it helpful if planning your own holiday to Middle Earth.
I mean.. New Zealand.
A New Zealand travel guide: The North Island
We flew in to New Zealand from LA, and arrived at the Auckland airport. Auckland was DEFINITELY the biggest and most populated city in all of New Zealand, so I would bet that it's typically going to be the cheapest option to fly in to.
All in all, we spent about 7 days in the North, which I think was a pretty good amount.
I would have loved to have spent another 5 days or so, so that we could have traveled more in the northern areas of the North Island.. But if you're in a time crunch, I'd say 7 days is a pretty good amount of time.
The North Island: Auckland & the Coromandel Peninsula
After arriving in Auckland, we grabbed a Super Shuttle that took us to pick up our camper van at Escape Rentals. Super easy, the cost was about $40 total for my husband & I. After picking up our van, we got TF out of Auckland--So busy.
We drove east over to the Coromandel Peninsula, which was absolutely beautiful. Literally like a rainforest.
Our main destination on the Peninsula was Hot Water Beach.
There is a section of the beach where the sand is incredibly hot.. If you dig in the sand, it's literally like a little spa of hot water, it's incredible. The tides from the ocean come in to cool you down, and then it warms up again with the hot water. It's pretty amazing, I've never seen anything like it.
We also picked up vegetables from a farm on the side of the road here, and a man named Pete read us some of his self written poetry.
The North Island: Matamata (Hobbiton) & Rotorua
Matamata = Hobbiton. Need I say any more?
If you are at all a fan of LOTR, this is a MUST. Literally so amazing.. I may have cried a little when we were driving up and they were playing the Shire music. I could go on and on about this beautiful place.. Just do it.
After Hobbiton, we drove to Rotorua, which is famous for its geysers. It smells a bit like sulfur--Be warned.
There is SO much to do at Rotorua. If we had another day, we definitely would have spent more time here! We ended up visiting Te Puia, which is almost like a Maori cultural center. They teach you all about the geysers that dominate Rotorua, and teach you about the Maori culture.
We attended a Maori show, as well as a dinner that night. It was beautiful learning about the Maori culture, since we learn next to nothing about them here in the States.
The North Island: Wellington
We decided to make the long drive down to Wellington for one specific reason: The Weta Workshop.
Weta is the company that pretty much made LOTR.. They did the costumes, the special effects, the swords, literally pretty much everything for the movies. If you can't tell by now, I'm a pretty massive LOTR fan, so visiting Weta was a must.
We toured part of the workshop, and got to see tons of props that were in the actual movies. It was amazing!
We also visited the Wellington Museum downtown.
While at Weta, they talked about these massive figures (almost like sculptures?) that they made of WWI soldiers for an exhibit. The figures are so big, like 10 times bigger than an actual human, and are so incredibly lifelike.
The exhibit teaches you about the role New Zealand soldiers played in WWI, and was so incredibly well done. (And made me feel like an asshole for having no idea that New Zealand was also touched by WWI.) A
lso make sure to visit Mac's Brewery right next to the museum, they have beautiful views of the bay and delicious beer!
The North Island: Tongariro National Park
We spent two days at the Tongariro National Park because we did one of New Zealand's Great Walks: The Tongariro Crossing. AKA MOUNT DOOM. (I warned you.. Massive LOTR nerd here.)
This hike was about a 12 mile hike, and took us about 7 hours to complete.
It was definitely tough, but it was so incredibly beautiful. At one point when you are scaling the volcano, there are actual chains to help you get up it, which was pretty much the most challenging part, physically.
The uphill climb was much shorter than the downhill climb though, which I'm not sure is better or worse? Our toes were hurting so bad by the end of this hike (because 2/3 of the hike was just getting down the volcano) that the tiniest bit of pressure on my toes made me cry out in pain. (Like actually.)
Overall, an incredibly beautiful hike. We stayed at the Plateau Lodge, which also offers transport to the hike. (So convenient!)
The North Island: Waitomo
Waitomo is famous for its glowworm caves--They are literally everywhere!
We went on two different glowworm tours: The Waitomo Glowworm Caves Tour and the Ruakuri Cave Tour. I would definitely recommend going on the Ruakuri Cave Tour, but I would NOT recommend going on the regular Waitomo Glowworm Caves Tour.
There were so many tourists on this tour (I think the majority of them were from a cruise ship) it was actually a bit overwhelming. There were some incredibly rude people on this tour, unlike anything I experienced throughout our entire trip.
I would recommend doing the Black Water Rafting Glowworm Caves Tour--I wish we had done that instead of the regular boat tour! You see the same caves, but don't have to deal with the hordes of cruise tourists. And it's way more adventurous!
The North Island: Auckland
And finally, we make our way back up to Auckland.
I actually wasn't a huge fan of Auckland. It's a pretty big city, and after being out in the beautiful countryside that is the rest of the North Island, it was almost like a splash of cold water to be thrown back into a city.
But. It was nice to be in the quiet of the Auckland Art Gallery. Definitely worth a visit!
If you can't decide what to eat, go to Elliott Stables. They have tons of different food options. We even got to try what Kiwis think Mexican food is.. It was pretty interesting.
Our flight to the South Island was early the next morning, so we had to stay in Auckland for the night. (The only night we weren't in a van!) We spent the night at the Surf 'N Snow Backpackers Hostel. DO NOT STAY HERE. IT'S GHETTO AF.
We literally felt like we were sleeping in a cell. But thankfully it was only for the night, and we got to fly down to the South Island early the next morning.
A New Zealand travel guide: The South Island
We decided to fly to the South Island (rather than taking the ferry down from Wellington) simply because we had a free flight included with our round trip ticket from the States. The flight was about an hour, which wasn't too bad! And Air New Zealand is wonderful, so it was really no trouble at all.
We spent about two weeks down in the South.
Again, if you're in a time crunch then this is a good amount of time.. But honestly, we could have spent months there. I feel like we hit all of the big places, but I also feel like there was SO much else to see.
The South Island: Christchurch & Lake Tekapo
After arriving in Christchurch, we took a local shuttle (Steve's Shuttle) to pick up our van at Escape Rentals. Incredibly easy, and the driver was so friendly!
Due to a MF cyclone hitting New Zealand while we were there, we ended up having to go south & east, rather than our original intended route of south and west. Our first stop on our new route was Lake Tekapo.
The lakes in this area of the South Island are stupid beautiful.
The water is so incredibly blue.. But it's also kind of milky. It's amazing. Lake Tekapo is also known for its stargazing.
Unfortunately, while we were there, the cyclone was covering up the sky, so we weren't able to do any stargazing. But it's supposed to be absolutely incredible.
The South Island: Wanaka
With the cyclone picking up speed, we were trying to get as far south as possible to avoid it. We stopped in Wanaka, which is this cute little mountain resort town.
Since the weather was so bad, we pretty much just stayed in our van and played cards all night, but there are quite a few things to do in Wanaka.
There are some really good hikes, and an interesting looking place called Puzzling World that we REALLY wanted to check out, but just weren't able to because of timing.
Overall, I'm not too sad we didn't spend a lot of time in Wanaka, but it looked like a pretty cute town to just walk around and explore, weather permitting.
The South Island: Milford Sound
Our next big stop was in Milford Sound. It's hard to describe this place.. It's almost like a bay, but with towering cliffs rising up all over the place.
And it's absolutely breathtaking.
We didn't drive all the way up to Milford Sound after Wanaka, but stayed the night at a DOC site, called Deer Flat. If you're up for camping without power, this place was absolutely incredible.
It was in the middle of the Upper Eglington Valley, and the surrounding mountains were absolutely breathtaking. It was literally like being in Middle Earth.
We booked a cruise of the Sound with Jucy, which was about half the cost of all the other cruises. Definitely recommended, and MAKE SURE you go as early as possible. By the time we finished our cruise, there was no parking, and it was a madhouse.
The drive up and down to the Sound was absolutely beautiful, but just be careful--There are tons of unexperienced drivers on this road, since it's such a popular destination.
The South Island: Queenstown
Oh, Queenstown! When we did our research for this trip, we thought that Queenstown was this big city.. But it's literally like a small mountain resort town.
We actually drove through Queenstown on accident, and didn't even realize that we had been in Queenstown. It's that small.
We spent about three days in Queenstown, and loved it. There is so much you can do in this town: Skydiving, bungee jumping, parasailing, hiking. You name it, you can probably do it in Queenstown.
We ended up going on a Nomad Safari, which was essentially a tour in this badass jeep where we went places you otherwise wouldn't be able to go in a regular car or van. (Think: Fording a big ass river.)
This tour also doubled as a LOTR scenic tour, so obvi we were in.
We also took the gondola all the way up the mountainside, and had a drink at the Sky Lounge. The views from the top of this mountain are absolutely incredible.
We paid for a great little campsite near the foot of the gondola, the Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde. Perfect for staying in Queenstown, and not too expensive.
My husband also went bungee jumping, but he's psycho. So.
The South Island: Glenorchy
From Queenstown, we made our way back west to Glenorchy. Glenorchy is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In my entire life. It's just breathtaking.
We hiked another one of New Zealand's Great Walks here: The Routeburn Track.
Mind you--We didn't do the whole thing. (Which would take 2-3 days.) But we did the first major chunk of the hike, and it was (without a doubt) the hardest hike of my life.
16 Miles, 7.5 hours, and 4,000+ feet in elevation hard. Some asshole with a blog told us that he did the route we did in FOUR HOURS. So we were only expecting to spend maybe 5 hours on this hike.. But it ended up being almost 8. Why would we put ourselves through that, you may ask?
Well. This hike shows you the Valley of Isengard from LOTR. I know, I know.
A beautiful hike, but only do it if you're well prepared. Which we definitely weren't.
The South Island: Franz Josef
After staying the night in Glenorchy, we made our way back up to Wanaka.
We were planning on spending some more time in Wanaka (since we got rained out last time) but once again, the weather was pretty shit. So we skipped out on Wanaka, stayed north of the town, and made our way to Franz Josef the next day.
Franz Josef was absolutely incredible. It's this tiny little town at the foot of the Franz Josef Glacier, but above the rainforests that line the coast. We stayed in Franz Josef for a few days, that's how much we liked it.
We went for broke while we were here and went on a glacier helihike.
This is where you get on a helicopter, they fly you up to the glacier, and you hike around a glacier for three hours with a guide. They then fly you back down the glacier afterwards, taking you back to town.
This helihike tour was stupid expensive (Like $700 for the two of us) but it was literally a once in a lifetime experience. We were lucky enough to get a standby spot, and wouldn't take it back for the world.
Go through the actual Franz Josef Glacier Guides--We had neighbors at our campsite that went through the other one in town and it didn't go nearly as smoothly as ours. Also, with the Franz Josef Helicopter company, you get access to their Hot Pools.
SO NICE after an afternoon of hiking on a glacier.
The South Island: Greymouth & Arthur's Pass
From Franz Josef, we made our way back up to Greymouth. There really isn't much to do at Greymouth.. Save go to Monteith's Brewery. This place was pretty cool--Some very delicious beer!
We spent our final night at the foot of Arthur's Pass. Arthur's Pass is also breathtakingly beautiful, it's hard to describe.
I'm actually pretty glad that our last day of driving was this way, rather than the opposite direction. Having this final, beautiful drive back to Christchurch was pretty special.
(BTW, Christchurch isn't even worth noting, we literally did nothing there before getting to the airport.)
A New Zealand travel guide: Final notes
Overall, New Zealand is an absolutely breathtaking (and for us, life changing) place. People keep asking us how our trip was, and we aren't really able to put it into words.
How do you say that most of what you have to go back to seems pretty mundane in comparison?
That it's so hard to live in the United States right now, and was so refreshing to not have to know what was going on back home?
That it's 100% overwhelming coming back to a city with a population almost as large as the entire country of New Zealand? We will be back New Zealand.. And for much longer next time.