New Zealand is probably on just about everyone’s bucket list (if it isn’t, it should be), but for some reason, many never make it there. Yes, it is expensive to get there. Yes, it is far away. Yes, you need at least two weeks to even make the trip worth it. But let me tell you, IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. Just do it. There is so much of New Zealand to see- the landscapes, the ecology, the history, the people, the animals. New Zealand is unlike any other place on Earth, and it is constantly evolving due to its geographic location- on the edge of two tectonic plates that are sliding into one another.
New Zealand consists of two islands, and they made it very simple: the North Island and the South Island. During this trip, I spent most of my time on the South Island and a bit of the southern tip of the North Island. I only had three weeks here, and as I mentioned earlier, you need at least two weeks in order to really get the experience that is New Zealand.
Everything is pretty spread out in New Zealand, so having a way to get around is vital. Because I was traveling with a large group, we chartered a bus. Most travelers rent a car or take buses to cities. The bus limits you to only a number of places, whereas a car would give you more flexibility. For backpackers, New Zealand is known to be hitchhiker-friendly. The Kiwi’s (or local New Zealanders) are very friendly!
Day One…Arrive in Queenstown
There are two major airports- Auckland (North Island) and Queenstown (South Island). I had a brief layover in Auckland (located in the Northern part of the North Island) before arriving in Queenstown (located in the Southern part of the South Island).
We stayed at Pinewood Lodge, which is walking distance into the downtown area. This is a hostel style with bunkbeds and community/shared bathrooms, but they have other options.
Day 2 – 5…Doubtful Sound
From Queenstown, we took the bus then a boat to Deep Cove Fiordlands National Park in Doubtful Sound. We stayed in Deep Cove Hostel. It is important to bring rain gear and insect repellant, as the weather is rather unpredictable.
There is plenty to do here in the Fiordlands including riding a boat across Lake Manapouri, hiking Helena Falls, and hiking Brasell Point.
Day 5…Doubtful Sound to Queenstown
The trek back to Queenstown takes about 2.5 hours via Te Anau. Accommodations are Pinewood Lodge again.
Day 6 is when we did the Ben Lomond hike, which takes the entire day. Bring plenty of water, because there is no shade near the peak. There is an option to take the gondola about half way up (NZ$30 round-trip, takes one hour). It is a tough hike, but it is the prettiest hike I have ever done.
Day 7 was full of excursions. Queenstown is where bungy jumping was first created (specifically, AJ Hackett), so there is plenty of things to jump off of. Other options include canyoning and boating.
Be sure to check out Fergburger, a burger restaurant, and grab it to go while eating it at the beach!
Day 8…Queenstown to Aoraki
Aoraki National Park is surrounded by glaciers and aqua blue glacial lakes. We stayed at Aoraki/Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge. On the way to Aoraki, we stopped at Jone’s Farmer’s Market/Fruit Stand, Fork Farm (a working sheep farm), and had lunch in Wanaka at Lake Wanaka Park.
Day 9-10…Aoraki/Mt. Cook
One day, we went to the city of Twizel and visited Meridian Energy, which manages water resources in the Mackenzie Basin and Canterbury Plains. Then, we visited Ben Ohau Station, which manages high country and land tenure system.
Another day, we did the Hooker Valley hike and polar plunged in a glacial lake!
Day 11…Aoraki to Kaikoura via Christchurch
On the way to Kaikoura, we stopped at Rakaia Gorge (a braided river ecosystem) and Christchurch for lunch. We stayed at Kaikoura Top 10– a hostel with small huts and bunkbeds. The showers and restrooms are in their own separate hut.
Note: “Real fruit” ice cream is the way to go!!
Day 12 – 13…Kaikoura
The first day, we went on a dolphin swim with Encounter Kaikoura. Be sure to bring a towel and change of clothes (the water is very cold). You will wear a full wet-suit with mask and snorkel while swimming. You will be able to change on the boat, and there are showers back at the Encounter Kaikoura building.
I am not exaggerating in the slightest bit. Swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura was the best day of my life. I always go back to that moment as the happiest I have ever been.
Day two, we hiked to Point Keane on the Kaikoura Peninsula hike.
Day 14…Kaikoura to Wellington
Wellington is on the North Island, so we took a ferry at Picton. On the way, we saw Ohau seal pups. We stayed at Wellington City YHA– another hostel style with bunkbeds and community bathrooms on each floor.
This is also a city with great nightlife and fun events during the day. We found pop up art shows and street fairs and street dancing.
Day 18…Wellington to Tongariro National Park
There are so many hikes to do in the National Park including Taranaki Falls Track and summiting Tongariro, which takes an entire day.
Day 21…Tongariro to Wellington
Wellington also has an airport called Wellington International Airport, which is where we flew out of.