Ah New Zealand. I wish I'd had months to stay in this beautiful place and loads of time to explore trails and off beaten paths. I would go back to New Zealand in a heart beat.
I went with my husband Patrick to New Zealand for our honeymoon, so we traveled in pretty high style and stayed in nicer places than I had been used to in my 20s. New Zealand is so set up for an amazing trip. The roads are great. The food is delicious. The people are helpful. The scenery is dramatic and awe-inspiring.
When we arrived to New Zealand after a long plane ride from San Francisco, we were greeted by a customs agent who remarked that there were no guns, no land predators, no venomous snakes of spiders, nothing to fear in New Zealand just good times had by all.
When we went: Late December into Mid-January 2012, New Zealand's summertime
This I believe is high season in New Zealand but it didn't feel particularly overcrowded. The weather was pleasant though we did get rained out of some prime destinations in the South Island (see below). When packing for New Zealand bring clothes for all climates, (layers, layers, layers).
Where we went:
North Island: Auckland>Rotorua>Lake Taupo (Tongariro Crossing)>Wellington
Rotorua was charming and a nice place to land after a long ass plane ride. We bused directly from the airport to Rotorua and soaked in some hot springs, stayed in a nice hotel, and ate some delicious food.
Our favorite place on the North Island was definitely Lake Taupo. We did "New Zealand's greatest day walk" a one day trek of the Tongariro Crossing which just blew our minds. Truly epic scenery. A bit crowded but for good reason. We booked a shuttle out from the hotel we were staying at in Lake Taupo.
Wellington is like the San Francisco of New Zealand, coastal and beautiful with loads of charm and great food. We just stayed for a night here to catch the ferry to the South Island but had a great evening strolling around.
How we got around: On the North Island we traveled by bus. We were a little intimidated to drive on the opposite side of the road straight away on our trip. It was convenient and comfortable to bus in the North Island and we didn't feel like we missed out on much by not having a car there.
South Island: Ferry from Wellington to Picton(rent a car)>Christchurch>Aoraki Mount Cook National Park >Wanaka>Queenstown>Auckland
In the South Island we rented a car in Picton and spent a few minutes coming up with a plan not to cause a huge traffic incident. As we drove away from Picton, the roads were pretty empty and it was less intimidating than we initially imagined.
It was SO WORTH IT to have a car on the South Island because we were able to pull off anywhere and just slowly enjoyed the scenery on the way down to Queenstown. We traveled on the East Coast, whose roads are structurally more sound than the West Coast as it's less battered by year round storms.
We first stopped in Christchurch which was badly beaten up by the recent earthquake. There wasn't much to do and everything was under construction. We regretted staying there. However, I'm not sure the current state of infrastructure.
Leaving Christchurch was a beautiful drive to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel inside the park which I highly recommend. Great views surround you and you eat breakfast with an incredible view of Mt. Cook on a clear day. We stayed in the park for a couple of days and enjoyed a few day hikes around the park. True alpine country with glaciers and New Zealand's tallest mountain.
Leaving the park we went to Wanaka where the weather turned on us a bit. It became pretty rainy and foggy when we were there. The town of Wanaka is super charming however and once again we enjoyed great food and lodging. We hike around the town and took in a good view of Lake Wanaka and the foothills that surround the town. Had the weather been better there are a lot of little day trips from Wanaka to explore.
Queenstown was our final stop in the South Island. We dreamed of taking a bus or plane to Milford Sound, but the weather did not cooperate. The road was closed due to landslide and chartering a flight was super expensive and would have only allowed us to land and look at the Sound for 30 MINUTES! Queenstown itself is pretty great, beautiful mountains and inlets surrounded the town so we still had a nice time. However if we went back to New Zealand we would definitely fly straight to Queenstown to make sure we could spend a least one day in the Milford area. It was the saddest part of our trip that we couldn't make it back there.
From there we flew back to Auckland and enjoyed another couple days, heading to the zoo and museums and just wandering around the city.
What surprised us:
THE FOOD! The food in New Zealand was so good! I had no idea it would be a highlight. Because we were on our honeymoon we treated ourselves to nice dinners every night, complete with dessert and cappuccinos at the end. New Zealand has a great mix of flavors. Because of it's close proximity to the Pacific islands and Asia. The Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indian food was all exceptional. In New Zealand for the first time since leaving China I had an authentic bowl of Beef Noodle Soup which was just as delicious as mainland China but with better quality ingredients! Because of it's European roots, there a lovely tea and coffee culture in New Zealand and we had more cappuccinos than I've ever had in my life!
The Price. This was by far the most expensive trip we have ever taken. Again, we were on our honeymoon so we stayed in nice accommodations and ate at nice restaurants pretty much every night. But you'll want to save your pennies before heading on this trip so you can really enjoy all the New Zealand had to offer. Your trip could potentially be much cheaper if you rented a van and camped your way around the country, which would likely be what we do when we return.
Wilderness Access. On this trip we wanted to see a fair amount of the country so we decided not to do any of the overnight backpacking trips in the country. New Zealand has world class trekking however and we will definitely be returning to hike one of its extended circuits sometime in the near future, our eyes are on the Milford Trek.
Resources: New Zealand has a great travel website called 100% Pure New Zealand Really easy to navigate with great photos maps and descriptions of destinations. Start your trip planning here.