New Zealand had always been on the bucket list for both of us, because of the Sauvignon Blanc (Christine’s favourite wine by far) and the hiking. In late 2012, Trevor got a job offer to start January 2 so we suddenly had the chance to take a vacation for longer than 1 week. We still only had 2 weeks to see the country, so had to make the most of our time there.
Additional pictures are available in our New Zealand gallery (Click Here).
After our plane landed in Auckland in the morning, we took the Super Shuttle from the Auckland airport to downtown. We stayed at a wonderful budget self-catering apartment at Hotel Waldorf Stadium. To beat the jet leg, we walked to the nearby ferry terminal and jumped on the next boat to Waiheke. Waiheke is a fantastic island to explore – wonderful restaurants, beaches, walking trails, and wineries. We spent the whole afternoon on the island and walked to two wineries for tastings. We took a catamaran ferry back to Auckland.
In the morning, we had planned to take the ferry over to the volcanic island, Rangitoto, for some good walking. The weather was terrible (raining and overcast), however, so we decided to take a hop-on-hop-off bus to catch the highlights of the city. We got off at a few of the attractions to spend more time there, such as Bastion Point lookout, Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium (good shark tank!), and Parnell Village (a great area of the city with cafes, restaurants, shops and art galleries).
We rented a car and drove approximately three hours south to Rotorua, a city known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs. Given we just had the one day to see the town, we immediately drove to the Te Puia cultural centre in the Whakarewarewa valley, where we joined the next tour group to see the geysers and thermal mud pools. The Pohutu geyser here erupts many times daily. We next visited the Polynesian spa where we both enjoyed soaking in some natural hot springs. Afterwards, we walked to Kuirau Park where we enjoyed walking past bubbling mud pools for free (a must see in Rotorua). We stayed at the Regent of Rotorua boutique hotel for the night, which was great and really surpassed our expectations.
In the morning, we drove roughly 2.5 hours to the visitor centre at Tongariro National Park to do the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is supposed to be one of the best day hikes in the world. Unfortunately for us, the majority of hiking trails in the immediate area were closed because of recent volcanic activity. So we drove about 20 minutes south to the town of Ohakune where we grabbed lunch and waited out the rain. Afterwards, we did the crazy Lake Surprise day hike, which involved plenty of rock scrambling and water crossings with amazing mountain views. Wanting to make our way further south, we stayed overnight with Trevor’s family in Palmerston North (roughly 2.5 south of Ohakune).
In the morning, we drove the two hours south to the capital city, Wellington. We both loved Wellington – it’s a beautiful city on the water surrounded by houses up in the hills. We enjoyed lunch in the pretty botanical gardens. Afterwards, we rode the historic Wellington cable car from Lambton Quay up to Kelburn, where at the top there’s a nice lookout. We next walked along the city’s wonderful waterfront and went to the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa – we were surprised by how well done it was. In the evening, we walked around the downtown streets and stopped to enjoy the sunshine and some drinks on a patio. We had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Tequila Joes. We stayed overnight at the budget motel, Hotel Victoria Court Motor Lodge.
We decided to take a short early morning flight to Picton on Sound Air, rather than take the long ferry ride. We picked up a new rental car in Picton and drove to our hotel in nearby Blenheim, 171 on High Hotel, where we would be staying for two nights. After checking in, we were soon picked up by our wine tour guide with Highlight Wine Tours. There was only one other couple on the tour so it ended up being great value for money. We stopped at several wineries in the Blenheim area (including Bladen, Brancott and Saint Clair), tasting many different sauvignon blancs. Later that evening, we had an incredible dinner in Blenheim at Raupo.
In the morning, we drove the three hours to the Abel Tasman National Park for some amazing hiking. I was embarrassingly still sore from our Lake Surprise hike from several days ago but didn’t want to miss the amazing scenery at Abel Tasman. When we got to the park, we took a water taxi from Marahau to Bark Bay and walked back (approximately 23 km). It was a good, easy hike with amazing scenery. We had packed some snacks and water to enjoy along the way.
We flew New Zealand Air from Blenheim to Queenstown with a short stopover in Christ Church. We took a Super Shuttle from the airport to Hotel Coronation Lodge, where we stayed for three nights. That afternoon, we did a group wine tour with Queenstown Wine Trail through the Central Otago wine region. We really the enjoyed the tour and learning about the differences in styles and tastes to the more famous Marlborough wine region.
In the morning, Trevor signed up to do a bungee jump with AJ Hackett at Kawarau Bridge. We both took the bus there and Trevor ended up doing the jump twice because he enjoyed it so much and they discount any subsequent jumps. In the afternoon, we walked through Queenstown, strolling the beach and browsing in mountain equipment and souvenir stores. We really enjoyed tasting some New Zealand wine at The Winery.
We had pre-booked a morning fly/cruise tour to Milford Sound with Real Journeys (Click Here). We really lucked out with fantastic weather that day. The fly/cruise option is wonderful because you are out on your cruise ship before all the tour buses and self-drive tourists reach Milford Sound. On the 1.5 hours cruise of the sound, we spent most of our time up on the top deck (dress warmly!) enjoying the great views of sheer cliffs, massive waterfalls, glaciers and rainforest. We were lucky and managed to see both seals basking on the rocks and dolphins jumping.
In the morning, we picked up a rental car and drove to Franz Josef Glacier. We stopped for a quick lunch at Haast. We visited Fox Glacier on the way to get a quick look at the glacier we would not be hiking up. The scenery in this area is incredible.
We had booked a Glacier Valley Walk tour of the Franz Josef Glacier (Click Here). The tour was very cool and took about 3 hours. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch in the small town of Franz Josef before driving just over 2 hours to the largest city on the west coast of the south island, Greymouth. We stayed the night at Hotel Paroa.
We dropped off our rental car in Greymouth and took the early afternoon TranzAlpine train to Christchurch. The 4.5 hour train ride took us through some nice scenery of the Southern Alps. From the train station, we walked to our budget lodgings in Christchurch, Arena Motel. We had the most amazing dinner at a nearby Moroccan restaurant, Simo’s (Click Here), that we still talk about years later. I think we would both go back to Christchurch for that restaurant!
In the morning, we walked to the old downtown of Christchurch which had been destroyed by a earthquake in 2011. The area was still fenced off in parts and there was still uncleared rubble from buildings. The tourist tram line was not running at the time of our visit. After wandering around the area for a while, we walked back to our motel and got ready to head to the airport. We were flying back to Auckland and then onto Toronto from there.