The land with amazing nature, with the highest swing of the world and of course the land of the Maori.
I had the blessing to travel here for almost two months. I will tell you about different ways to travel through New Zealand and where I have been. For you some inspiration and joy.
New Zealand, it is so diverse and it is not too big to travel, in two months you can see a lot of the country. But never let anyone tell you, you should only visit the south island because that is the most beautiful one. First of all, I think you have to visit both because they are so diverse and both great. Second, if you have only time for one I would recommend the north island.
I preferred that one; the tiny islands near Hahei, hot water beach, the amazing blue waterfall, Huka falls, the coloured lakes, black sand beaches, and way more! But more about North and South later in this blog…
Ways to travel through New Zealand
First I will quickly tell you some ways to travel through New Zealand.
I used Stray, there are several tours you can book. Besides that you are stuck to the route you choose, I enjoyed this way of travelling a lot.
The bus is quite comfortable and drives only in the daytime. When I was there the busses didn’t have a toilet but toilet stops were made often enough.
I first booked only a tour for the South Island. Several people said it is the best part. Later I decided I wanted more time in New Zealand so I also booked a tour on the North Island. On the tour, the bus stops at several places overnight and several places for only a quick stop. All these stopes you can hop out and stay longer if you want and take the next bus.
I have done some hitchhiking a few times, but only from parking lots where I could ask people to drive with them. Also some experience with ‘having my own car’, well I met some friends with their own car and I could join. Also used ones the InterCity bus and one time I had a domestic flight.
Pros and cons of these different options.
Hop on hop off buses;
+ You meet a lot of people
+ Go to a lot of places
+ Can go as slow or as fast as you want (Well almost, if it fits with the bus times).
– You are stuck on the route the bus goes
– Sometimes the bus is full
A bus tour; (personally no experience within New Zealand)
+ A lot is arranged, so relax and enjoy.
+ You meet a lot of people
+ Go to a lot of places
– Often quite expensive
– You are stuck on the route the bus goes
Your own car
+ Freedom to go where ever you want to go
+ Your own speed, stay somewhere longer, take that picture of that lake where you driving by, etc.
+ Less dragging around your luggage.
– Meet fewer people, especially if you are sleeping in your car as well.
– If your car breaks down you can get extra costs and you have to arrange something else (also depends on your insurance)
+ Meet all different people
+ Legal in New Zealand
– Element of risk
– Sometimes you need a lot of patience till you find your ride
I used this when the hop on hop off bus was full and I wanted to go along.
+ Busses go almost everywhere.
+ You can book a ticket easily online.
+ Travel more the local way.
– There are not a lot of trains in New Zealand.
– Planes include a lot of waiting and from the airport, you still need another way of transport.
I can recommend the InterCity bus for one or more separate trips. It was not especially cheap but also not that expensive. For the whole trip I would not recommend it, less fun, fewer people you can really connect with. So for 1 or 2 trips perfect if you want to see New Zealand by bus I would go for a special hop on hop off bus.
Pancake rocks, mountains and more…
I started in Christchurch, it’s the biggest city on the southern island but to me, it didn’t feel really really big. It’s all still very damaged from the earthquake in 2011. It simply costs too much to rebuild everything. The cathedral in the city centre is heavily damaged but I think they should leave it like this because it is a beautiful reminder about the sad times and the strength to build up again.
I drove through Alberts Pass, a beautiful road through the mountains.
To Greymouth, a nice town on the west coast. Here I met some friends with a car and we went to the Pancake Rocks. A weird but amazing natural phenomenon. We also went to Hokitika and Hokitika Gorge. The bus doesn’t go to Hokitika Gorge but it is a must see. At the gorge, there is an amazing blue coloured lake, which is definitely worth walking around.
Driving through the landscapes in New Zealand is wonderful, for that reason I would definitely recommend your own car. I like to stop at several places, really see the landscape and enjoy it before driving along.
Up to Franz Joseph, a nice town in the mountains. Here you can walk to a glacier. Sadly when we were there it was raining so heavily that we could only do the valley walk. Raincoats on, rain covers over bags, waterproof hiking boots and even borrowed an umbrella so we thought it would be okay! We were okay and still, in the end, soaking wet. But we did see the glacier, only from a distance though. At the valley walk, you end up at the bottom of the glacier. You walk through the place where the glacier has been, but it is all melted away. Kind of impressing to see, a lot of waterfalls here and with this rain they were bursting water!
I hopped out at Fox Glacier a small town where I did another hike to a glacier. This time beautiful weather! Partly because of the weather partly because the glacier and the walk are differently situated but here I could see the glacier better. Also visited lake Matheson, you can do a great walk around this lake and with good weather conditions you have a perfect mirroring lake.
Next Wanaka. A great town, not big but good vibes! It feels so friendly. Wanaka lake is famous for a tree that grows in the middle of the water. The story goes it started around a hundred years ago as a branch cut off a big willow tree to be a fence post. Apparently, this branch was stubborn and while the fence is long gone the tree has a famous life now.
Climbed Roys Peak. It is a bit of a climb but wow that is stunning! Definitely, go all the way to the top. O and don’t stand in line for this one picture, the top is even a better view and you don’t have to stand in line there. You look over Wanaka town, over the mountains and over lake Wanaka.
Queenstown the town for adrenaline…
From there I went to Queenstown. Queenstown is a touristic town, it are mostly travel shops and things for tourists. It looks nice and you can do a lot in the surrounding. For example, all the adrenaline things you can imagine; bungee jumping, skydiving and the biggest swing in the world.
That’s what I did, The Nevis Swing. First a free fall and then swinging in this beautiful big valley. Amazing! You should not be afraid of heights because it is definitely high! You first have to challenge the walk to the platform where you fall off over a small hanging bridge.
Stopped at Lake Pukaki and that one is stunning, so blue! New Zealand has definitely some incredible lakes, big nice coloured, sometimes really clear. For example, also lake Tekapo is really nice!
Last stop we did before returning to Christchurch was Mount Cook. The highest mountain in New Zealand. Beautiful walk to the mountain with snowy mountaintops, glacier water lakes and ice rocks ‘laying around’. Wandering around in landscapes like this it makes me feel in peace. So beautiful that my mind feels cleared and just enjoys.
I definitely miss those landscapes.
From Christchurch, I flew to Auckland. Auckland is a big city with a nice harbour. From Auckland I went to Paihia, where you can find clear blue water with small islands near the coastline, it feels relaxed there like everything is okay. Well, it was, except for the night. I stayed in a hostel where they had bedbugs. So maybe it was a bit too peaceful, so they gave me some less peaceful experience.
Back to Auckland, for only one night, to continue my trip from there down with the bus company.
Digging your own jacuzzi
First Hahei, this place is not big but it looks incredible, it has a lot of beautiful things like:
Cathedral Cove and Stingray Bay, both worth visiting. The walk there is great, Cathedral Cove is a cove in the cliffs on the beach and the water at Stingray Bay is really blue!
If you are here don’t miss Hot Water Beach. On this beach, you wouldn’t guess… You can dig a hole and make your own jacuzzi. The water in the ground can be up to 70 degrees Celsius, so you have to add some sea water otherwise you burn. But we found it an amazing experience…
At Hahei, you can walk to the top of Pa (it’s a mountain) and have this wide view over Hahei, over the sea and over all the islands that are laying in front.
Next Hamilton; Nice city, I mostly liked the gardens there. They have a big park with different gardens with all different styles and themes or from different countries. Themes like ‘concept garden’ and ‘fantasy garden’ and they were making even more gardens like ‘ancient Egypt garden’, ‘augmented reality garden’ and the ‘surreal garden’ but they were not open yet, unfortunately. So lots to see!
I love waterfalls!
On our way to Raglan we stopped at a big waterfall, the Bridal veil falls. I love waterfalls, water showing itself so powerful.
Raglan is a real surf town, I didn’t go surfing and only stayed here one day. But we went to Ngarunui Beach, a black sand beach. It looks just like a big muddy place somewhere but on the other hand, it really does look weird to walk in black sand on a beach.
Waitomooooooo! Famous for the glowworm caves. O and yes, it is amazing! It is a bit expensive maybe but so worth it. You are walking in the dark caves lightened by these glowworms. It’s like the stars but then really closeby. Halfway the cave we went in a boat to float under the stars, euhm, glowworms.
Next Hobbiton, another tourist attraction. It is the movie set where they filmed the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Also quite expensive but weird and fun to see! You can walk around in the village where the hobbits live, with the small hobbit holes, you can even go and have a drink in The Green Dragon, the bar from Hobbiton also known from the seen the movie.
Smelly place & rafting
After all the tourist things I ended up in Rotorua, a smelly place. There is a lot of sulphur that escapes the ground here and it smells like rotten eggs. So the whole town smells like rotten eggs! I can tell you, even after four days you are not used to it. But the town is really nice and everything you can see is so worth it! So keep reading about what you can find in Rotorua.
Near Rotorua, you can raft, another amazing experience. There was a lot of rain before I went rafting and they said it was the highest grade of heaviness they are allowed to raft on with ‘normal people’. So I call that lucky! Heavy water, a lot of rocks and also the view was great, not that there was a lot of time to watch it… One time we also collapsed with the boat but then we heard that one of the people on the boat couldn’t swim so we had to make sure the boat got straight, sadly. (Why are you going rafting if you can not swim? Can be dangerous I think).
There was one lazy part in the river and the boat with trainees, who were learning to be an instructor, had to flip to boat upside down (while in it) and then turn it back. To learn how to react in a situation like this. Well, I don’t want to be a rafting instructor but it sounded fun so I swam to there boat and asked if I could join. It was so fun!
Rotorua itself is quite interesting as well. Due to the heat and the sulphur in the ground, there are natural hot pools, warm mud baths, all weird coloured lakes and geysers often surrounded by a lot of steam. So in the evenings, it looks a bit spooky. A lot of coloured lakes you find in Wai-O-Tapu.
For fun in Rotorua, you go to Rotovegas where among other things you can luge of the mountain.
And for a good walk next to Rotorua is a big forest with different areas where different kind of trees crow. Here you can even do a walk high above the ground near the treetops.
Meet the Maori people!
Next stop Murupara and lake Aniwhenua, where we were invited by a Maori family and learned some traditions. We learned the Haka, the real Maori war dance and they made the traditional Hangi for us, it is a way of preparing food.
The Maori are the first inhabitants of New Zealand and lived there before the European people discovered it. Luckily you still see some Maori influences or things written in the Maori language, for example, a lot of city names. Names as Kirikiriroa, where I have to watch first three times to see how many r and i are in this word. The language is a bit different then what I am used to. For example, I first had no clue how to pronounce lake Aniwhenua, but turns out wh is pronounced as an f. ‘Kia ora’ is also a word from their language and it means hello.
This is one of the bigger reasons I like to travel, to learn about new cultures and new things.
One member of this Maori family that invited us showed us the older rock carvings in New Zealand, hidden in the forest, made by the Maori. The stay with the family was great! They really treated us like family, that is something from their culture they told us, everyone is family.
About the food, it was amazing! In the afternoon they started preparing the food, they make a hole in the ground and place really hot stones in it, place the food (wrapped in fabric and leaves) on it and then bury it in the ground. It has to sit there for three hours, so after all the things we learned and the great time we spent with these lovely people we were treated by this amazing dinner.
Next, we drove to Taupo. Near Taupo, we stopped at the Huka falls, really powerful waterfall. Not especially high but the power was quite impressive and the colour was beautiful!
Lake Taupo, where the village is attached to, is the biggest lake in New Zealand. In Taupo, we found a free, natural hot pool and it was actually really hot, we spent our free afternoon boiling in this hot pool/river.
With Stray you are also going to stay at Blue Duck Station, that is a farmyard literally in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by the wilderness and untouched nature! No wifi or data connection. Back to basic! Because it’s off-grid there is almost no light in the area so perfect for star gazing! It is good to go back to basic for a while, first of all, you figure out how attached or addicted you are to wifi. But second it is good to relax and get some peace in your mind, that’s why I loved it and because of the stargazing of course!
Tongariro Crossing, definitely worth it
Don’t miss Tongariro National Park and make sure to do the Tongariro Crossing. It is a big hike over several mountains, around 20 km, the best crossing ever! The Lava stone you walk over, the coloured lakes you see, the views you get. And for the Lord of the ring fans, you see Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) with your own eyes! I loved I so much, a bit windy sometimes and a long walk but really worth every step. Make sure you wear several layers of clothes that you can take something off if it is hot or put something back on if it is windy/cold.
After this big hike, we went to Raetihi where we just relaxed.
Last but not least I went to Wellington. The capital city of New Zealand, which is known for its wind and, if I remember correctly, is also called Winy Wellington. You know those big letters with the word HOLLYWOOD on it. Here they have, of course, WELLINGTON in big letters posted on a mountain. With one difference: the last couple of letters are blown in the air.
Wellington has a lot of ‘hidden’ spaces with food courts or cosy stores, I like that, it’s always a joy if you find something like that. For example, a small side street where they have several take away places.
Well, as you probably noticed, I love New Zealand, this country has so much to surprise you!
What to know before going to New Zealand:
Take your hiking boots with you and climb that mountain! It is so worth it.
Next stop for me was Fiji, want to know more about that?? Read here!