Land so distant that the very thought of being there leaves one with goosebumps…Land of mystical mountains, majestic rivers, mesmerizing highlands, galactic glaciers, untouched forests and idyllic beaches…Land where the nature comes alive in all its glory…Land blessed beyond belief…Land once inhabited by the Hobbits!! 🙂
Kia Ora!! 🙂 New Zealand is an enigma which is difficult to let go off long after having been there.
Penning down below the journey over 20 days as we made our way from the north of North Island to the south of South Island enchanted land!!
Travel Essentials: Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Ocean Pack, multi- layer clothing specially for South Island, forex card, passport, travel insurance, India driving license valid for 6 months (very important for a self-drive trip).
Travelling Around: Travelling around depends on a individual choices with NZ offering great options to explore this vast land:-
a) Car/Camper-van Rentals: This probably is the best and the most popular way to travel around. All the major car rental companies – Hertz, Avis, Europcar – have their well mapped network for easy pick-up and drop-off. For the camper-vans, NZ has got vast number of well designated camping grounds (Kiwi Holiday Parks and Top 10 Holiday Parks being the most sought after) which are well equipped with all the facilities. The best advantage of driving around is the flexibility that comes with it. You can literally stop anywhere as there are such gorgeous landscapes that a photo-op is never too far away.
b) Hop-on Hop-off Buses: These are a great option for people travelling alone and wanting to meet new people. Intercity has got an extensive network of intercity buses and a wide variety of passes to suit all kinds of travel needs.
c) Trains: Trains experiences with The Great Journeys of NZ provides the other alternative to taking the road less traveled with its network of – Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and Tranz Alpine.
We were fortunate enough to be able to explore all 3 and needless to say for a wandering heart like ours, the car rental option served us just fine.
Food: Food is not really a problem in New Zealand with cuisines from around the World available here. Add to that the farmers and night markets that are pretty common on weekends and you have a world class fare waiting for you. And with a number of Vegan options available, even the vegetarians/vegans can traverse this beautiful country without having to worry about their stomachs. 🙂
Stay: With many BnBs across NZ offering unique ways to experience the Kiwi hospitality, Airbnb or Bookabach remain the best way to explore this country (i.e if you are not going for the Campervan option). We were fortunate enough to stay in some gorgeous Airbnbs with some gracious hosts.
20 Days Self-Drive Itinerary: Auckland – Queenstown
Day 1-2: Welcome to the beautiful capital: Auckland
A beautiful little capital town in the North Island marked with stunning nature, beautiful landscapes, magnificent beaches, open parks and inviting locales. The city truly deserving of the title of being a gateway to New Zealand.
1) Urban Scapes: Spend a day soaking in the new terrain, people and the vibe of this exuberant city. Many places to explore within the city center – Sky-Tower, Water-front, lots of open parks with music festivals and carnivals being held if you happen to visit during summertime, and nearby mountains.
2) Beaches and Islands: Head out to one of the many islands in and around Auckland – well connected by a network of ferries. One of the most beautiful islands that we head out to was the Waiheke island. Its the second largest island in the Gulf after the Great Barrier Reef. Best explored on foot, walking on one of the many trails leading to rolling cliff-tops housing the vineyards, idyllic beaches and mesmerizing forests.
Day 3-4: Love in The Coromandel!!
If small little sleepy town in a far away world with some of the best kept secrets are your thing, then you are in for a treat exploring the Coromandel region of the North Island. The drive from Auckland to Hahei beach, Coromandel region takes about 3 hours. Get used to the slow life while you are here and immerse yourself in the wondrous ways the nature revels here in all its glory.
1) Cathedral Cove: Located near Hahei beach, this is one of the most popular and of-course one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand. Only accessible by foot, boat or Kayak. We chose to walk and it took about 30 minutes from the start to reach. Do take water and snacks along as there are no shops from which you would be able to pick up stuff. The walk is very picturesque and ends in a even more beautiful natural formation, called the Cathedral Cove. Geography comes alive in all its glory as you see its a stunning natural tunnel formed through a rock due to water and air erosion.
2) Hot Water Beach: Dig your own pools and see hot water from below the earths surface rush up and fill the area making you your own hot water pool right next to the beach. Read again if still not digested. 🙂 This is made possible as this beach lies directly above a fault-line (crack between earths geographical plates). As soon as you dig a pool, hot water from below the earths surface rushes up through the fault-lines. The best things is that it is right next to the beach. So you can get you guitars, candles and drinks to watch the sun go down under a starlit sky as you sit back and relax in your own hot pool right next to the crashing waves. Don’t forget to carry your shovels!! 🙂
Day 5-7: Hamilton Gardens, Hobbiton, Rotorua
Its a 3 hour drive from Hahei beach to Hamilton. Hamilton is essentially used as a base to explore the all enchanting set of the Hobbiton which would be on any travelers list for New Zealand. And while in Hamilton, we explored this gem called the Hamilton gardens as well.
1) Hamilton Gardens: This is a 54 hectare public park which takes one through gardens from different eras of civilization through the history of mankind. Very detailed and very soothing to the eyes as you find yourself transported back to the bygone era. You would be needing a minimum of 2-3 hours to explore this gem.
2) Enchanting Hobbiton: Well Bilbo Baggins wasn’t very far when he exclaimed “I am going on an adventure”. If you are/not a fan of the Hobbit, you definitely need to travel here to live a couple of hours in the mesmerizing world of the Hobbits. Rolling greens with bright green grasslands, small hobbit holes and the famous ale at the Dragon Inn. Welcome to the dream world as envisioned by the great man Peter Jackson.
3) Geo-thermal Geysers, Redwood Forest & Polynesian Spa @ Rotorua: Rotorua is a geo-thermal wonderland with naturally formed mud pools and geysers (some of which go as high as 100ft and erupt daily – Pohutu Geyser). The same can be experienced along with an immersion into the Maori (native people of New Zealand) culture at Te Puia Thermal Reserve.
Also famous in Rotorua is the the largest man-made Redwood Forest which has many trails (lasting from couple of hours to multiple days). And after a quick couple of hours hiking at the Redwood Forest, what better way than to cool off at the Polynesian Spa with the an array of 28 hot mineral pools sourcing from 2 natural hot springs.
Day 8-10: Drive to Wellington and cross over to South Island
To cross over to South Island, either you can directly fly from Rotorua to Nelson or drive to Wellington and cross-over to the South Island over an Inter-islander ferry. We chose to drive to be able to see some more of the stunning landscapes that New Zealand – Hokitika falls, Kerosene Creek (secluded natural hot water spring where you can take a dip). Finally crossed over to Picton – Nelson in the South Island aboard the Inter-islander. The inter-islander allows you to cross-over with you car aboard or you can drop-off your drive at Wellington and pick up one again as soon as you get off the ferry in Picton.
Day 11-12: Kayaking in the Tasman Sea!!
After the high of the North Island, we didn’t realize we were headed for another adventure in the South Island right at the start. We put up in Nelson since we were not in a self-drive anymore (as I had lost my driving license by then). Else if you do have a self drive, you would be better of putting up in Kaiteriteri. Once here, there are 2 options – go on a multiple day hike through the Abel Tasman National Park or go for a Kayaking expedition through the Tasman Sea. We chose the latter and boy what an exhilarating experience it was. Conquering the waves and our fears, while being on a kayak watching the Seals in their natural habitat – it was an experience to remember for a lifetime.
Day 13-14: Soak in the capital @Christchurch
Post the whirlwind at Abel Tasman National Park, head to Christchurch for some chill. Christchurch is a very English town and known for its vast open spaces including the many gardens that adorn the city (infact its known as the “Garden City”). We took the inter-city from Nelson to Christchurch via Kaikoura (very scenic drive along the coast). Alternatively, you can take a self-drive or catch the Coastal Pacific train. While in Christchurch, you can stroll along one of the many gardens, go cycling or go boating on the Avon river. We choose to Netflix and chill in our very stylish Airbnb and explore the International Antarctic Center.
Day 15: Aboard the Tranz-Alpine to Fox Glacier
Featured amongst the Worlds Greatest Train Journeys, Tranz-Alpine operated by The Great Journeys of New Zealand is a sight to behold and experience. Traversing through myriad landscapes – plains, rivers, gorges, mountains, it takes one from Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass in a little over 5 hours.
Day 16-17: Amongst the mighty Glaciers @ Fox Glacier
1. Lake Matheson: Small little lake nestled amongst the forest in the township of Fox Glacier. This lake is known for a perfect reflection of Mt. Aoraki, Mt. Cook & Mt. Tasman on a clear and still day. The perfect time to visit (highest probability of catching the reflection) is in the early mornings. The best way to reach there is to hire a mountain bike and paddle there. It also has a cozy little cafe at the entrance to cater to any of your hunger pangs once done with hiking.
2. Fox Glacier: This is definitely a must do while in New Zealand. Experience the beauty and the vastness of the glacial system. Quite unlike what we had previously experienced anywhere else. Its a wonderland and the experience of hiking through the glacial plains with nothing but the white and blue around will stay with you forever.
Day 18-21: Leaving the best for the last @ Queenstown
Having traveled and soaked in the myriad landscapes of this beautiful country, you arrive at this beautiful little town in the South of South Island – Queenstown. This town is known for its multitude of adrenaline pumping activites – from Bungee Jumping to Shotover Jet to Sky Diving, the options are plenty. Also its known for some surreal natural landscapes – Milford Sound, Arrowtown, Glenorchy. We decided to spend our time over 2 days split between Milford Sound and Glenorchy. And to make the time even more memorable, we were joined by 2 dear friends.
1. Milford Sound: Gorgeous fjord known for its stunning rain-forests, waterfalls and steep mountains. The stunning scenery makes every second of the 4 hour drive out of Queenstown worthwhile. And the drive itself is very beautiful. Do note that you would need to leave early morning from Queenstown to be able to get onto a pre-booked tour of the Milford sound. Alternatively you can also arrange for a pick-up from Queenstown as a part of the Milford Sound package. However would advice the self-drive option.
2. Glenorchy: A small little town, 45 minutes drive from Queenstown. We went there as it was suggested by someone to be one of the most picturesque corners of Earth and boy were we surprised. There are many hikes in Glenorchy along with campsites and the place was truly nothing short of being a Paradise!!
So- if a Road Trip is what your Heart is longing for; no place you would rather be than New Zealand!!