THE NEW ZEALAND DIARIES: 6 WEEKS
New Zealand was six weeks of adventure– which you can experience yourself by following our itinerary– and we don't want to forget a minute of it.
So, if you're interested in hearing about our personal experiences exploring Kiwi nation, you've come to the right place! Check out our New Zealand travel diary below!
DAY 3: KIA ORA!
Anyone reading this (thanks mom), will know we recently left small town Alberta, Canada for the very slightly more exciting Auckland, New Zealand.
We've been in New Zealand for three days now– three days filled with the hospitality of New Zealand strangers. Our first evening found us staying at the Attic Backpackers hostel. Arriving after 2:00 am with four bags of luggage was a bit of a mess, and, after long hours flying, so were we. Luckily, the staff at AB helped us out extensively due to what they referred to as our "Canadian charm". Answering all of our naive questions with perpetual friendliness, they had us out roaming the city like we actually knew what we were doing.
A great welcome message to start your NZ adventure found at Attic Backpackers!
Day two and we were off to Matamata, home of Hobbiton.
Now, initially for our trip, we had planned to travel carefree by hitchhiking and making our plans up as we went, but a quick minute of searching and we realized you don't not book during peak season. Because of this I went a bit overboard, booking each of our buses in advance. Making it to Matamata was easy as the bus stop was minutes from Attic Backpackers. Making it to our tour? Less so. We arrived at the tour start point and waited. Time passed... no bus. Talked to reception... give it five minutes. No bus. Where was the damn bus?
Apparently, because we booked through the Middle Earth Trilogy, we had a different pick up location that had been overlooked by the tour operators and ourselves. But my ingenious planning meant we had a 12:45 pm tour, and a 4:10 pm bus to catch to Rotorua. We would have to make the difficult choice of going on the later Hobbiton tour or catching the only bus to our next town.
But, then came the generous offer from the iSite staff member! They would put us on the 1:15pm tour, and personally make the twenty minute drive there, pick us up before the gift shop, and take us the twenty minute drive back to make our bus.
And Canadians are given the good international reputation!
The fangirl in me lost it when I saw Bag End in Hobbiton
Thanks to our lovely iSite lady, we made it to Rotorua and spent day three at Te Puia on a Maori tour.
After our mishap the day before, we were happy to arrive twenty minutes early and line up for the cultural performance. This began with the offering of friendship to our tour groups "Chief", who would be chosen from the audience. And guess who had lined up early and were now standing at the very front of the group? Lucas and I, the newly chosen Mr. and Mrs. Chief.
After accepting the offer of friendship that doubled as a threat, Lucas and I received VIP treatment: front row seats, inclusion in the entire performance, and I was given the joy of watching Lucas share breath with multiple half-naked, male, Maori warriors. We then experienced a semi-private (8 person) tour of the geysers in Te Puia and a cultural Steambox meal (fresh chicken, raw potato, pumpkin, stuffing, etc. which was steamed nearly two hours over a very hot geyser).
Geothermal activity at Te Puia
For now, I need to sleep– we have a very taxing spa day tomorrow.
DAY 10: PARALYZED IN PUKEOKAHU
First of all, my mom and Daryl (my stepdad) would have loved the Polynesian Spa. Actually, I'm unsure they would have left once going in. Natural rock pools with mineral waters ranging from 36° to 42°C all overlooking the lake in Rotorua. Add in a massage that even I– being the most ticklish person in the world– couldn't cringe during, and you might have found paradise.
Recreating Daryl's classic relaxation photo
To repent for our luxury day at the Polynesian Spa, we have been hauling ass for the last few days.
Luckily, our excitement to go Black Water Rafting was enough to draw us out of our spa daze and bring us to Waitomo, the town that boasts a population of about 50 without the thousands of tourists that travel through each day to see the spectacular glowworm caves it offers.
Black Water Rafting offered the best of both worlds, not only did we get to jump off small waterfall ledges, we also got to float in total darkness beneath the starlike glow of thousands of beautiful maggots attracting their supper! Very romantic. Oh, and mom, I know how much you would have loved the eels in the water! I guess the one called Lucy is pretty playful!
Ready to swim with eels under a blanket of maggots
Intermingled with some nice casual hikes, Waitomo was a definite success. But if you're not tired of hiking, you move on to Taupo. And so on we went.
Our "short" hike to the Huka Falls turned into a hike to the Craters of the Moon, where the plants survive in 70°C conditions (in contrast, humans scald at 50°C), and ended up lasting most of the day. Tired and extremely hot, we ended our hike by jumping off a 10ft ledge into the clearest river we've ever seen.
We were a bit concerned about our lengthy day hiking since we were doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next morning, but being 21 and in denial is a wonderful thing. Too tired to do anything else, we went to a theatre to watch The Revenant and wind down for the day.
The water of Huka Falls looks almost beautiful enough to jump into, if they weren't also terrifying
Time and sleep don't matter to 21 year olds so we were in bed shortly before midnight and up by 5:00am to do our Alpine hike.
Now, they warn you of the challenging nature of the Alpine Crossing, but we were still struck dumb by its intensity. Since we made great time on the first portion of the hike, we decided climbing Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom!) was a good idea.
It might be because I've never done anything like it before, but I'm surprised they allow inexperienced climbers to climb this volcano. Steep, with loose shale and rock, it didn't seem very difficult to make a misstep and send either yourself or a large rock tumbling down the mountainside. Three different times we heard the call of 'ROCK!' that found us frantically looking for the danger and trying to move without slipping before a rock mimicking a football in its size and erratic bounce hit us.
Okay... only one was as large and close enough to worry us, but still.
Before we understood what we were in for
Almost two hours later and we were able to say we had survived and we had conquered Mt. Doom!
With no time to celebrate (we began the seven hour hike at 7:15am, added in the three hour hike to Mt. Doom, and still had to catch our 4:00pm bus), we began our descent. I understand why the eagles helped Frodo and Sam down from Mt. Doom, because sliding down steep mountain-face, although a lot easier and quicker, might be even more intimidating than climbing up it.
Luckily, we still had four hours of hiking to look forward to after the demanding Ngauruhoe trek.
The Crossing was one of the more challenging climbs we have done, but pure stubborn energy goes a long way when mountain climbing. Awaiting us was a celebratory swim in the river followed by a carb and protein dinner plus a jug of chocolate milk and a bottle of Pinot for good measure. Crushed it.
Worth the effort to reach the peak of Mt. Doom
Instead of resting, like normal people, we were at the River Valley Lodge the next day and graciously accepted the offer of doing our following day's white water rafting adventure that very same afternoon instead.
Rapids ranging from grades 2-5 and a very knowledgable fellow-Canadian guide kept us entertained and safe (albeit sore), but the same cannot be said for our poor GoPro which was eaten by the river. The river gods must have accepted our offering: we survived the rafting and, on the plus side, I got to see Lucas fall in the river.
We also started a new trend, so now people in countries all around the world are learning the healing benefits of a well-made Paralyzer*.
Pour over ice, fill three quarters of the glass is coke, top off with milk. Do not mess with the order unless you want to drink curdled milk.
What better in the face of rapids than blue steel impressions?
As for our GoPro, our guide is going to do his best to get it back to us, but for now we just have to hope and move on to our next destination– Wellington!
DAY 23: WHEN MEN AND MOUNTAINS MEET
Since white water rafting we have made our way to the Windy City, Wellington. Unfortunately, the combination of water and wind gave Lucas an ear infection so we put some time aside for the doctor. Not that it stopped us from taking in the city life in Wellington: we dined on steak and pizza on Cuba Street; visited Te Papa, seeing both the colossal squid and the Dreamworks Animation exhibition; visited the film set locations for Lord of the Rings; and drank at Bad Grannies (the name reminded me of playing Cards Against Humanity with you, grandma!).
Recreating scenes from Lord of the Rings. Surprisingly, Lucas didn't have to be the ass.
The journey from Wellington to Nelson involved transport by what New Zealander’s call a ferry, but which I would call a cruise ship– nine stories that offered a full cafe, restaurant, and bar.
From there we have spent the majority of our last eleven days camping. We kicked it off in Marahau where we started our Abel Tasman three day hiking trip. The first half of our day we got to kayak the beautiful coast, and followed it with a four hour hike to our campsite.
Well, not our campsite, but a campsite.
Only when Ranger Steve came through the campsite checking bookings did we realize we had hiked past our intended destination. A happy error, as he decided to overlook it and skip the fine. Plus, three of the campers (Aron from Holland, and Lea and Annika from Germany) we met there would also be in the same campsites as us each following night of Abel Tasman. They became our hiking/camping buddies, sharing conversation, games, and their stoves, ensuring we weren’t bored or forced to eat cold porridge each morning.
The Abel Tasman experience
Three sunny and hot days of Abel Tasman and we were back in Nelson eating what we believed to be well-earned nachos, poutine, and ice cream. And we definitely didn’t say no when offered a beer from a friendly Texan, Mark. That beer turned into a couple beer, and pretty soon we were teaching two Canadians, an American, and a Brazilian our small-town classic– Supergame, the four part drinking game*.
*Ask me for instructions!
Thankfully, our bus for Franz Josef didn’t leave until the very reasonable time of 7:15am.
More than a little hungover (more likely sick from the two litres of ice cream we ate) and we were on the longest bus ride of our trip. It was one of the only buses as of yet to not offer WiFi, and it involved a transfer to a different bus that we could have sworn was sponsored by Hell due to the broken air conditioning.
We’ve never been so relieved to get to our destination, another very small town, Franz Josef. We spent our short evening hiking to the beautiful glacier there, and in the morning were already off to Wanaka.
At least we would have been if we had caught our bus…but we didn’t.
Instead we had to visit our friendly Intercity bus dealer at the YHA, who knew of someone driving our intended direction. So we hopped in a beater car with Sue and Cody, from the US and New Zealand respectively.
Cody was obsessed with the idea of seeing bears in Canada (“you can just see them on the side of the road?!”), and Sue warned us of a rough journey. But a free ride is a free ride and we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth... let’s just say it was a very rough journey. Apparently, Sue had only received her license a week before moving to New Zealand and had never drove before, which would have been fine had she not been driving a manual through a very mountainous region.
Under those circumstances, she did a great job– only one stall put us in danger of rolling back down the hill into oncoming traffic. Understandably. She did get us there in one piece, so we were more than grateful.
Hiking down to Franz Josef Glacier
Wanaka was well worth the hazardous journey. Surrounded by mountains with a lake at their centre, it is one of the prettiest cities we’ve visited. We spent a lot of our two days here wandering around the downtown area, but we also managed to make it out to the Puzzling World to see some optical illusions and to race through the maze there (find four corners and your way out– like Lucas stood a chance against me). I won the race, but my Neapolitan-esque ice cream burn made me feel I had lost in the end.
After that, Lucas spent the afternoon in the lake cooling off and I went to do a short hike to see the city from Mt. Iron.
Hiking up to Mt. Iron
The only thing between us and Queenstown was a large scoop of ice cream, and now here we are, with no bus mishaps along the way. I’m writing this to try to take my mind off the fact that we’re about to go jump off a bridge. If that doesn’t kill us, there is always Nevis Bungy tomorrow. Hopefully I will be checking in soon, if not then assume the worst.
DAY 32: LIVE FAST, DIE(ABETES) YOUNG
This portion of our trip could probably be summed up by the word overindulgence. Our lack of willpower has ensured that not only have we eaten and drank well, but that we’ve overeaten and over drank as well.
Our budget blower began in party city, Queenstown. Immediately upon arriving our thoughts focused in on a bottle of hard liquor (after and during the watching of the Running of the Wools- a literal streaming of sheep through the streets of Queenstown) and settled on the familiarity and comforting amnesia of paralyzers.
Luckily our likeminded roommates were willing to be coaxed into drinking games and a visit to the bar. Mostly because any that wished to had already completed their bungy jumps.
As for us, we had a hungover bungy to accomplish at the early hour of 11:30am. Just enough time to wake up and find our courage. Unfortunately Lucas woke a bit late and didn’t have time to gather his courage, so he was a bit unnerved and unresponsive to the staff member trying to converse while strapping us together to dive off a bridge. In hindsight, this may make him altogether sane, so I should probably stop calling him crazy.
Suffice to say, much less drinking (and a much higher jump) followed the next day as we prepared for our Nevis bungy at triple the height of the previous days jump. As a reward for not backing out of our bungys, we went to Ferburger for Queenstown's most famous burger. That evening still included the enjoyable company of some Brits, a Canadian, and a Kiwi who all shared our dorm room.
Can't skip Fergburger
Our expensive and quick paced Queenstown experience was contrasted by a week of slow travel. We spent time in Te Anau and did a serene mountainesque day hike on the Kepler track.
Hiking a gradual incline for over three hours will get you this view
We made it to Milford Sound (rightfully declared an eighth wonder of the world) and saw seals sun bathing on the rocks.
We haven't even reached Milford Sound yet and these are the views we get
The spectacular range of Milford
We hitchhiked (14 different rides spanning seven different nationalities with Kiwis being the most common) the Catlin Coast, joining the ice water in Curio Bay to get up close to the two dolphins playing with observers, going through the caves at Cathedral Cove and stumbling on four penguins in their nests hidden deep in the caverns, visiting some of the nicest falls in New Zealand (both the McLean Falls and the Purakanui Falls), and seeing the lighthouse at Nugget Point– all within a few days.
McLean and Purakanui Falls
The rugged coastline and lack of popular tourism make the Catlin Coast an easy place to lose time, but Dunedin is a lively enough town to ensure you make up for any time missed in the amnesiac towns of the Catlins with a lot of coffee and liquor.
A tour of Speights includes half an hour of watching their commercials while drinking an unending supply of beers. We had to try all six…multiple times. Fortunately, it was also within stumbling distance to our hostel. Not to mention the cheap chocolate to be found at the Cadbury factory... only half of what we purchased is gone so far.
Amped on good feelings and good food, this week and a bit of travel has been laid back, but as exciting and indescribable as all of New Zealand. Off to Cromwell and Mt. Cook next!
DAY 42: FULL CIRCLE by LUCAS
“We're finally here!”, said absolutely nobody while entering the city of Cromwell.
Luckily for us it was only a one night stop in order to catch the bus to Mt. Cook. The night was rainy, which was actually nice as we had upgraded our campsite to a little couple’s shack where you could hear the rain pounding against the roof like it was going to cave it in.
In the morning we were back on the road, we made it to our bus almost perfectly on time, and we were off to see the largest mountain New Zealand has to offer.
Arriving early in the afternoon at Mt. Cook village, with only 300 permanent residents in the summer, we were astonished by how the flat yellow plains could suddenly engulf you in a valley and surround you by a massive mountain range.
So, we did what anyone who loves the mountains would do– dropped our stuff off at the hostel and went on an adventure. We walked the famous Hooker Valley Track and the wind became our worst enemy, throwing freezing rain and almost literally pushing us off the slick track. This was wind like I've never experienced, but to those at Mt. Cook is an average day.
Facing the Hooker Valley Track and the gusting winds it brought
After a night of movie watching and relaxing in a much needed sauna it was only a short bus ride to Lake Tekapo. A small town where beach go-ers and campers alike would love summer nights, Tekapo had something unique to offer everyone.
World-renown for its dark skies and amazing stargazing, Mt. John’s is an observatory that is becoming a hub for astronomers from all over who want to see the southern sky. They offered tours which fit perfectly in our plan, so we booked the tour for 11:30pm.
Our night stargazing was almost ruined– we were picked up at 11:00pm with the sky looking too cloudy for stargazing. Cloudy enough that they issued us a warning at the shop and offered a refund if we didn't want to risk a starless night.
In the end, we were a group of four and no one chose a refund.
So off we went to the mountain. It was a half an hour drive up, while we sat just hoping this half an hour would clear things up. And clear up they did; as soon as we reached the top the conditions could not have been better. While getting our complimentary hot chocolate, we looked up at the millions of stars billions of light years away in astonishment.
They showed us stars that have blown up billions of years ago, an upside down Orion’s Belt, Mars, and of course the famous Southern Cross which is not visible from our home in the northern hemisphere. Truly one of my favorite tours of the trip, and because we were only a group of four they let us into one of the observation domes to take a really good look at Jupiter.
The morning after, we were waiting to get on the bus to Christchurch– the largest city on the South Island, a city that is still recovering from earthquakes that occurred during 2011 and 2012.
The city is indeed still recovering, as you still see many areas under construction. They certainly make the most of it though, with very interesting street art and structures in place which gives the city a unique boost.
The construction gives way to new vibrancy
We were fortunate enough to stay in a post-earthquake refurbished B&B called Pomeroy’s, which happened to be one of the most comfortable stays on our trip with a rare included breakfast. Attached was the famous Pomeroy’s Bar and Grill, which was our choice for dinner and had us enjoying meals that wouldn't leave a normal person wanting dessert (we still got it though).
The next day we switched back to the hostel life again. It was a beautiful day as we started our way to a mall called the re:START Mall. The stores and shops are made out of recycled ship containers, making window shopping that much easier. Many of the containers carried their own colors and designs that contrasted each other to look a little clustered, but also very well put together.
Once on our way from the mall, we made our way to Quake City, the earthquake museum. Getting to see some live footage and learn some more about earthquakes was interesting, but nothing kept us more entertained then a table filled with Lego (hey, it's not only for kids!).
We had noticed quite a few posters for the famous comedian Danny Bhoy and decided to get tickets. Danny Bhoy was very funny and at one point I swear he had us both in tears.
In the morning we were up to grab our bus to Kaikoura, which we were told was one of the best spots in all of New Zealand. The first night was nice and relaxing as we headed to our dinner reservation at the famous Green Dolphin. Famous for making amazing crayfish, which neither of us had tried before, we were not to be disappointed. Accompanied by calamari and an award winning white wine it was definitely the fanciest dining of our trip.
Other than our attire, we shared our fanciest evening at The Green Dolphin for crayfish and wine!
The next day we did what you’re supposed to do when in Kaikoura– hop on a turbo jet boat to go see sperm whales. In all honesty it was very underwhelming so we probably wouldn't do again. I'm sure some people have seen the tail splash and other amazing experiences, but we saw a slight ridge on the water surface and not much else.
Maybe it was also because the following day our main event was to swim with wild seals, and that was probably the funnest thing on our trip. They gave us a wet suit and snorkeling gear and took us on a boat to a rocky reef where the seals would be either enjoying the sun or right in your face making sure you are watching them flip and twirl through the water.
Knowing that we have come to our last event, we are sad to be done travelling, but Auckland is going to be an adventure too. See you on the road!
Missy & Lucas
Thanks for following along with our journey, if you have any questions feel free to contact us! Otherwise, let us know what you're most looking forward to on your trip to NZ!