I know we’ve said this about a lot of places during our trip, but we both left New Zealand completely certain that it had been our favourite country. We were lucky enough to have a solid month there, which may had something to do with our love of the place, as we didn’t have to rush our explorations at all. We also met some of the BEST people during our time there, and have certainly never been anywhere so insanely beautiful (seriously, it doesn’t seem real).
Trying to compress a whole month of adventures into one blog post is pretty much impossible (even ignoring how bad we’ve been at updating), so we’ll leave you with some of our highlights. We travelled around using the Kiwi Experience, Hop On Hop Off bus (getting it 50% off was a massive bonus), and despite the rumours we’d heard about it and some of the “party bus” stories, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. It may have felt a little too much like a school trip at times, but it was great to be with a big group of people all the time. Not saying that we’re sick of it being just the two of us, but it makes a nice change to have a solid group to travel with! Special shout out to our Northern Queen Livie, who we met on the very first day of the Kiwi bus, realised she had the exact same amount of time in NZ as us, and bonded so immediately that we were inseparable for the next month. Miss ya Liv!
A highlight of the North Island has to be the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most popular hikes in the country. It was a pretty gruelling 8 hour hike, which Anna and I decided to make even worse by adding a climb of Mount Doom to our itinerary. But now we can say we’ve done as Frodo and Sam did, so totally worth it. When we were climbing up the bitterly cold and windy Red Crater, we may have wanted to turn around, but the view at the top was hands down the best I have ever seen. Flippin’ phenomenal.
And just to add to the LOTR references, we knew that no trip to NZ was complete without a visit to Hobbiton to get a true behind the scenes peak. Ngl, my inner nerd was in her element.
Another North Island favourite has to be our night at River Valley. This is one of the Kiwi Experience stops, where we didn’t exactly do anything, but stayed at this cute little lodge in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rolling hills and sheep, with no cell reception or wifi. So as you can imagine with a bunch of 20 something year olds, we made our own, alcohol-fueled fun haha. The room we stayed in also deserves a mention, as it was basically just 4 massive bunk beds in one, each side sleeping four people. Definitely one way to become more comfortable with the people on your bus #spoontrain. The lodge also had a fun little trolley that you used to cross the river by dragging yourself along, which provided a large amount of entertainment for some fairly hungover travelers.
One final place that sticks out to us on the North Island was Wellington. Sadly we did have to say goodbye to a bunch of our fellow Kiwi Experiencers who were either ending their experience in Wellington or heading back north to Auckland. But that of course meant that we had to finish our time together properly, with a big, maybe slightly messy, final night out. We did make sure to slip in some culture though, and checked out the fantastic Te Papa museum, and climbed up Mount Victoria for a view of the city.
Although it doesn’t fit into either the North or South islands, feel like we’ve got to mention the Cook Strait ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton. Certainly the most spectacular ferry crossing I’ve ever done, as the Marlborough Sounds are just beautiful.
The South Island was our favourite of the two, as we might have thought that the North was beautiful, but it has nothing on the South, which just keeps on surprising you. We really enjoyed our few nights in Abel Tasman/Kaiteriteri, because the 3 of us had opted to add another night onto standard KE itinerary, so that we could spend a full day hiking Abel Tasman national park. The walk was beautiful, and the weather perfectly sunny. We were super lucky with the weather for the whole month we were in NZ, as we had barely any rain, but one of my standout memories does have to be the bitter NZ winter cold! Just a bit of a shock after so long in Asia and Australia.
Possibly the no.1 highlight of NZ, or even the trip as a whole, has to be the birthday present we gifted ourselves in Franz Josef. A helicopter ride and glacier hike may not have fit into our budgets (oops), but was so worth the extra purse tightening that had to happen afterwards. We’d put our names down for the heli hike on the bus, but knew there was a big chance we wouldn’t actually be able to do it, as the slightest hint of bad weather meant that the hike could be called off. As mentioned before though, we were incredibly lucky, and despite a little grey cloud looking like it may ruin our chances in the morning, we were given the go ahead. The 9 of us in our group suited up, were given crampons, and headed out to the helicopter. Neither of us had ever had the chance to ride in one before, so we were near enough bouncing off the walls with excitement. I was lucky enough to be placed in the front, so the view out of the window as we flew towards the glacier was just breathtaking.
Once we’d landed on the ice we strapped on our crampons, and with our lovely guide Ben hacking out a path for us with a pickaxe, spent the next 3 hours exploring the glacier. It was unbelievable, and I’m just going to let the photos do the talking here.
So there were a lot of favourite places in New Zealand, but I think the final one has to go to fun, crazy Queenstown. It might have something to do with the fact we celebrated turning 23 here, but we spent a solid week in QT and were never bored (…mainly just drunk or hungover haha). Everyone had been telling us to look forward to Queenstown, and it was definitely the best place to celebrate our birthday. We had 3 fantastic nights out with some really wonderful people, and I even did something I never thought I’d do, and signed myself up for a bungy jump! Although I was absolutely bricking it on the gondola ride up, it was one of the best things I have ever done, and I honestly just want to bungy every single day now. Not something I thought I’d ever say. In Queenstown we also took a day trip to Milford Sound, another ridiculously beautiful part of the country, where we saw dolphins swimming right in front of the boat, and some seal pups sunning themselves on the rocks.
As you can probably tell from this slightly gushy post, we really did fall in love with New Zealand, and it was by far the hardest country to leave. Working holiday visa anyone?
A & K