New Zealand.. The paradise on earth. This is what comes to my mind when I look back at our time spent in this beautiful country.
It all started when we were shortlisting the destinations for our trip in July 2018 and we stumbled upon NZ. July is the peak winter season in NZ which makes it an off season for tourists. Hence we got a good deal on the flight tickets. The best way to explore NZ is by road. The landscapes are so beautiful that you are likely to pull over every 200 m for a picture. Hence traveling via your own vehicle gives you that freedom.
And so the journey through the paradise on the earth began :
Day 1 : Auckland
We landed at the Auckland airport in the evening, and directly went to the pickup centre of our rental car from Go Rentals. We first checked in to our hostel first and then headed out for a little stroll and dinner. On our way back we made a quick stop at a 24 hour supermarket, to buy some ready to cook food, biscuits, chips etc for our adventurous roadtrip that was about to begin the very next morning.
1. Go Rentals are really good for renting a car in NZ. They also provide pick up and drop off shuttle to the airport. The process of renting and dropping is really easy, fast and hassle free.
2. Do visit Sky Tower for a 360 degree view around the city.
3. Queen street is good for strolling around, it is quite lively; specifically over the weekends.
: We stayed at Metro Backpackers, it is a clean and cozy hostel located just 200m from the Sky Tower.
Day 2 : Auckland – Hobbiton – Rotorua (The Polynesian Spa)
We started early in the morning as our first stop was Hobbiton, which is approximately 175 kms or 2 hours drive from Auckland. I would highly recommend this place to everyone. Even if you are not a fan of “The Lord of the Rings”, or “The Hobbit”, you will still enjoy the place. This was definitely one of the best parts of our trip. This place offers a 2 hour guided tour and it often fills fast so make sure you do advance booking online. Thanks to the beautiful drive and various stops to take pictures, we made just in time for our tour booked for 12pm.
From Hobbiton, we headed towards Rotorua, which is 70 kms and takes around 1 hour. Rotorua is famous for the Maori culture and the geothermal activity in this area. Our first stop in the city was The Polynesian Spa, a developed geothermal spa facility famous for its unique bathing experience, acidic and alkaline natural mineral springs. We booked the Deluxe pool spa, which has 5 mineral hot pools overlooking lake Rotorua. Four of these are alkaline and one is acidic also known as the Priest pool. The most adventurous part is the cold plunge pool. Book your spa here.
After a refreshing bathing experience at the spa, our bodies felt refreshed. Then we landed at an Indian restaurant called Steam to satiate our soul where we gorged some steaming hot Aloo Paranthas and this was our last tryst with Indian food before we began our odyssey into the wilderness.
1. The Green Dragon Inn is a short stop as part of the Hobbiton tour. This is a warm and cozy pub from the movie, which was a meeting place for the all residents of Hobbiton to gather and chatter about their day’s events. You can enjoy a complimentary drink either the non-alchoholic ginger beer or an Apple cider. There are also some snacks available that you can order.
2. Do not skip the souvenir shop at the reception of Hobbiton.
3. Booking Deluxe pool spa gives you the access for the entire day whereas the private pools are limited to 30 mins.
: A local’s home booked through Airbnb.
Day 3 : Rotorua – Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – Waitomo Caves
Rotorua, famous for its geothermal active sites, is one of those places where one feels upclose with Mother Nature. Wai-o-Tapu, a geothermal wonderland is just 27 kms from the city and is full of hot springs in the park with vivid colours that will leave you in awe. All these pools can be covered on foot following the three ‘walks’ marked on the map given to you at the reception. However, you can’t touch the water or swim in these ‘pools’.
1. Wai-o-Tapu, Lady Knox Geyser is located at a small distance from others and it is induced to erupt daily, at a particular time for the tourists.
2. Do not skip the mud pools just 2kms from Lady Knox geyser.
Post having an wonderful day at Wai-o-Tapu, we continued our streak to witness another natural wonder, the glow worms at the Waitomo caves. These caves are very very ancient. On the first level inside, you will see the how over the years the cave formation has happened. As you go deeper, there are stream passages. You will be in a boat slowly navigating through the caves and on the ceiling you can see millions of natural LED like glow worms. Pictures are not allowed as that can affect the worms.
: Airbnb home located close to the Auckland airport.
Day 4 : Flight to Christchurch – Campervan – Christchurch
We arrived at Christchurch in the morning and our campervan rental company called Maui Motorhomes picked us up from the airport. We were super excited about the whole thing, as it was our first time traveling in a campervan. We spent the most wonderful time of our lives in our campervan for the next 15 days traveling across the South Island.
We explored a bit of Christchurch during the day. We had our breakfast at the C1 Espresso Cafe, located in the centre of the city. It is famous for this pneumatic tubes that deliver sliders to your table. Finding a parking spot at the city-center is generally difficult. So we parked our campervan a bit away from the city-centre and went around on foot. We saw 185 White Chairs, which is an art installation that pays tribute to the lives lost in the Feb 2011 earthquake.
Post sunset we were back on the road headed towards our first campsite. The road approaching the campsite was pitch dark. We were following the map, and it almost took us to the edge of a huge water body. We were pretty lost till we saw the headlights of another campervan from its parking spot. Lakeside Domain, is a very basic freedom campsite. The only facility that it has is a toilet. However, it has an amazing view of Lake Ellesmere. We cooked our first meal that night in our campervan 🙂
1. Try and make sure you arrive before dark at your camp-site so that you can scan the area and find a good parking spot for yourself. This is something that I would recommend for all the campsites – some of them are in pretty remote locations and you may be the only campervan around!
2. Freedom campsites do not have any charging facilities. Hence after every 2-3 days you may want to choose a powered site. These sites charge a fee per night per site basis. Other than charging points, they also have kitchen with cooking facilities alongside some essential utensils, Bathrooms with hot showers, playground, laundry services and some of them also have restaurants/pubs.
: Freedom Campsite at Lesston (just outside Christchruch) called Lakeside Domain
Day 5 : Leeston – Lake Tekapu – Chruch of Good Shepherd – Lake Pukaki
Lake Tekapo is about 200 km from Leeston – it is a beautiful drive with scenic landscapes all the way. You will be awed by the way this blue lake appears magically in front of you, almost floating in the air. It is usually so peaceful around that you will just hear the sound of small waves crashing on the shore.
After spending sometime at the lake we headed towards the Church of Good Shepherd, a small church made of stone boulders overlooking Lake Tekapo. Since it was getting dark, we drove to Lake Pukaki, our last stop for the day.
: Freedom Campsite at Lake Pukaki called The Pines.
Day 6 : Pukaki – Mount Cook – Wanaka
Our first stop was Mount Cook which has various walks/tracks that one can do. We picked up the Hooker valley track which is famous for its many picturesque suspension bridges.
Hooker Valley track is a 10 km moderate walk. You may choose to start early to avoid the rush or you can also target sunrise or sunset. In case you are not used to walking so much you can turn around mid way as every inch of this track is equally beautiful.
We drove through Lindis pass to reach our final stop, a powered campsite called Lakeview Holiday park at Wanaka. The drive through Lindis pass was one of the best in our entire trip. Due to the high altitude the mountains were covered in snow (I lovvvveeee snowwww!). We couldn’t stop at the lookout point as it was getting dark and we had to reach Wanaka before that. However, we decided that we will come back to Lindis pass the next morning.
Day 7 : Wanaka lake – Lindis pass – Kawarau
We started early from our campsite to visit the Lake Wanaka and had our breakfast by the lake itself. Its a very scenic lake. You can spend hours admiring its beauty, without getting bored.
From Wanaka we drove backwards to Lindis Pass, its an hour-long drive and was totally worth the effort. We spent sometime playing with the snow and clicking some pictures. Then we started for Kawarau which is a 1.5 hours drive from Lindis valley. We crashed early but it took hours for us to fall asleep as we were super-excited for the famous Bungy Jumping adventure sport we had booked for next day.
1. Make your bookings for the Bungy before-hand online here and try to reach as early as possible in the morning to avoid the rush. Hence, staying the night at the Kawarau Bridge campsite is an ideal place.
2. You can also make the bookings at other AJ Hackett’s centres.
: Kawarau Bridge Reserve (freedom campsite).
Day 8 : Kawarau Bungy – Shotover Jet at Arthur’s point – Te Anau
Guys, you have to try Bungy jump once in your lifetime. I felt liberated deep in my soul. Yes, I was scared like anything. In fact, when I reached the edge of the board, I almost refused to jump. However, the staff over there were quite motivating and I finally took the plunge. Its the scariest, yet the best experience of my life. I would highly recommend it.
I would like to call this day as the most adventurous day of our whole trip 😛 because right after our Bungy experience we headed to our next adventure of the day, which was The Shotover Jet . It is the most thrilling boat ride of my life. The speed, the narrowness of the valley, the sharp turns and the ice cold water will keep you over the edge throughout. But the craziest thing is that there are no seatbelts. So just pray that your boat is packed with people, or else you will be shuffling left, right and centre.
: Top 10 holiday parks at Te Anau.
Day 9 : Te Anau – Milford Sound
We took an early morning stroll at the Te Anau lake and also visited the information center in the main market to check the driving conditions on the road leading to Milford Sound. There was indeed snow on the roads and the information desk advised us to drive slow and carefully.
On the way to Milford Sound there are various tracks ranging from 10 mins to multiple days. If you have time at hand I would definitely recommend doing at least some of these tracks like Lake Mistletoe – 45 mins loop, The Chasm – 15 mins loop, Mirror Lake – 10 mins loop etc.
1. You can easily do the three tracks that I mentioned above if you leave early from Te Anau. You will still be able to make it to Milford Sound by evening.
Day 10 : Milford Sound Cruise – Queenstown
We booked our Milford Sound cruise with Southern Discoveries. They have a beautiful lounge with big viewing windows and a spacious deck that is perfect for the photographers. There are nature guides on board that give you an entertaining commentary. You can also spot some fur seals relaxing on the rocks if you are lucky! The total duration of the cruise is 2 hours. You get free tea/coffee and lunch on board and you can also book a buffet lunch. They also have an underwater observatory that you may choose to include in your package.
We drove back to Queenstown via Te Ana.
: Kawarau Bridge Reserve Freedom campsite.
Day 11 : Sky Diving at Nzone
We booked our Skydive with Nzone at the Queenstown. For me skydive was slightly easier than Bungy, as this one had a professional accompanying me. The bird’s eye view of the Remarkables mountains and Lake Wakatipu is just magical and I would say that this activity is totally worth it.
1. Do book your skydive online in advance.
2. The weather conditions play a vital role in the skydives. So keep a day or two in buffer in your itinerary as you may have to reschedule over next couple of days when sky gets clearer.
Day 12 : Queenstown – Glenorchy – Queenstown
Queenstown is located on the shores for Lake Wakatipu. It is renowned for its variety of adventure sports, vineyards and historic mining towns. Gondula ride is the best way to get the spectacular scenic views of the Queenstown. It is the steepiest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere which gives breathtaking view of the Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cecil peak. The place also has a Bar where you can grab a drink and can also take a thrilling ride down the Luge.
Glenorchy is a mid-sized town close to Queenstown, located 45kms to the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It is tucked between snow capped mountains and the pristine lakes, rivers around make it the most picturesque town on the entire Island. You can drive around the town or sit at a local cafe and enjoy the view. However, cafes close early. So make sure you check the operating hours online.
We left Glenorchy post sunset and headed to Queenstown as we had a Star Gazing Tour booked at the Gondola, that unfortunately got canceled due to the weather. We spent next couple of hours in the market where we bought some souvenirs for friends and family back home.
1. We reached Glenorchy post 4 pm, hence all the cafes were closed except Mrs. Woolly’s General Store. It is a beautiful store that has locally produced artefacts, gifting items and grocery. They serve hot soups, coffee and pies.
2. Kawarau Bridge Reserve is the only freedom campsite near Queenstown. So if you have enough power in your campervan, you can camp here.
: Kawarau Bridge Reserve campsite
Day 13 : Queenstown – Fox Glacier
This was our fourth and last stay at the Kawarau freedom campsite (As per the rules you can camp for a total of 4 days at any particular freedom campsite in a month.) We had our breakfast at the cafe inside the AJ Hackett Bungy center, and headed towards Fox Glacier. It is a 400 km long drive and also has some interesting walks on the way. We did the Fantail Waterfall, Blue Pools trail and Thunder Creek Waterfall (This was my personal favourite, the sight of the waterfall is breathtaking) in the afternoon and reached the Fox Glacier town in the evening.
Fox glacier is a small, cozy and beautiful town. We had our dinner at a very lively cafe in the city centre (walking distance from our campsite) called Cafe Neve.
: “Top 10 Holiday park – Fox Glacier”.
Day 14 : Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson – Gillespie Beach
Fox glacier trek starts from the parking and takes you to a view point from where you can see the glacier’s starting point. The trek takes a total of one hour and includes some steep climbs and water-streams that you need to cross on the way. Do follow the safety instructions written at the beginning of the trek.
1. Do wear proper footwear – hiking boots, trekking shoes or sports shoes.
2. There are reported accidents that happen when people try to cross the boundaries and explore the glacier by themselves. Do not do that.
Lake Matheson is located just 5 km from the Fox Glacier city centre and is another magical place in South Island. The trek is 2 hours of a loop which consists of Jetty point, ‘View of Views’ point and island of reflection. Lake Matheson is a brown lake and on a clear, non windy day you can see the reflection of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook.
From Lake Matheson, we headed to Gillespie Beach which is 20 kms away. You will find very less people on this road and at the beach/campsite. However, it was the most beautiful freedom campsites of all. We parked and straight away went to the beach to catch the gorgeous sunset which happens behind the glacier, in the opposite direction of the sea.
: Gillespie Beach freedom campsite.
Day 15 : Gilliespe Beach – Franz Josef
We had the most mesmerising morning walk at the beach.The shore consists of rounded stones, it is a treat if you like collecting stones. We collected stones in every colour, and it was a fun thing to do.
Post some breakfast we headed to Franz Josef which is 55 kms from the Beach. We made it just in time for our Glacier hike. Both Franz Josef and Fox glacier are among the most accessible glaciers in the world and hence there are a lot of tourist activities that you can do, which includes a sightseeing helicopter/plane ride, Glacier hike, Sky diving etc. Book your adventure activity at the Franz Josef Glacier here
– Rainforest Holiday Park, Franz Josef
Day 16 : Franz Josef – Arthur’s Pass
By now we were pretty good with cooking elaborate meals whether inside the campervan or in the kitchen of the paid camping sites. We used to focus on our breakfast and cook a little extra to have during lunch on the go. We started by 10 from Franz Josef and headed over to Arthur’s Pass which is about 233km.
Arthur’s pass is one of the most stunning roads in the NZ, the highest mountain pass through the Southern Alps. We were in no hurry so we took multiple stops to capture the beauty around us. We parked our campervan and went for a small walk.
– Avalanche Creek Shelter Campsite
Day 17 : Arthur’s Pass – Christchurch
We had to handover our campervan in the evening at 4, so we left around Arthur Pass around 10am. Our first stop was Lake Pearson, which is a beautiful and tranquil lake located just 20 mins drive from Arthur’s pass village. We parked our campervan on the side of the lake and had our breakfast there. This lake is famous for fishing and bird watching. As we saw the peaceful waves crashing on to the shore, we realised it was last day in this country that is nothing less than a paradise on earth. After finishing our breakfast we sat in peace for a while, soaking in the clean air, marvellous landscapes and our gorgeous memories that we created in last few days. We made a promise that we will definitely return soon, for there is so much that we haven’t explored still.
We returned our Campervan at the pickup/dropoff centre located close to the Christchurch airport post which a shuttle dropped us at the airport.
I hope this itinerary helps you in planning your dreamy vacation to the New Zealand…
Also Read : 5 Essential Travel Tips in New Zealand
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The Seeking Soul…