Friday, July 17, 2015

new zealand: our 3 week road trip

This past winter, we went on a 3-week road trip all over New Zealand. We rented an SUV and camped, sailed, hiked and explored the rugged South Island. On the North Island, we rented a little car to experience some of the country's fun eccentricities. Here is our route for anyone planning their own adventure. While NZ is a small island country, there is so much to do and see and eat. Even after our hustle and bustle, I left feeling like I still had so much I wanted to experience and explore. New Zealand is definitely No. 1 on my list of places to revisit.




Duration: 1 night
Our international flight from South Korea landed in Auckland early in the morning. We got out of the airport and checked into our hotel. Confession: a large portion of this day was spent snoozing. Flying from just about anywhere to New Zealand is a loooong ordeal. Later in the evening, we hopped a cab downtown and wandered the waterfront. Downtown Auckland is walkable (and felt a lot like Seattle to me) and I enjoyed the cafe scene immensely. That said, I was itching to get out of the city and start our road trip.
Duration: 2 Nights
After spending one night in Auckland, we boarded an early morning JetStar flight to Christchurch. At first, we considered driving all the way to Wellington and then hopping a ferry and then driving some more to get here. While I know we missed some beautiful scenery because we did not drive, flying more than made up for it in the amount of time (days really) that we saved.

While in Christchurch, we ate really good food, got used to driving our SUV on the left hand side of the road (freaky!) and embarked on some local adventures. We marveled at the Cardboard Cathedral, wandered through the botanical gardens and took an impromptu trip to the seaside to visit a really big rock.

Duration: 1 night
We planned to leave Christchurch early in the morning for Lake Tepako, but we ran into some pretty serious setbacks. The first was discovering that our SUV had been broken into the previous night. We had to get new camping equipment and a new car because of this. We got premium insurance on our rental and were very pleased with how easy it was to exchange SUVs.

To throw another wrench in our plans, on the way out of town, we encountered brush fires and had to take a detour. I soon discovered that detours in NZ are not so bad because, well, everything is pretty. Eventually, we found our way to Lake Tekapo around dusk. We quickly set up our tents and then watched the sunset paint everything beautiful shades of gold. I fell asleep with a huge grin on my face. This is why I flew nearly to the ends of the world.

Duration: 1 night
Before leaving Lake Tepako, we visited the Church of the Good Shepherd and then climbed a mountain! This was easily my favorite day in NZ. After snapping a billion photos and working up a good sweat, we hit the road. Our destination was Mt. Cook. I have to tell you that it is extremely difficult to drive for more than five minutes in NZ before wanting to stop to take a picture. We were responsible and only pulled over at designated rest spots, but eventually we just kept reminding ourselves that the view we would have from our campsite would be far better than any view from the road. So we put the pedal to the medal and made it to our campsite. We meticulously chose where we set up our tents so we would have an optimal view of the peak. Hilarity (and chaos) struck when in the middle of the night a gale force windstorm arrived and snapped our tent poles. At one point, I was holding up our tent with my feet! We broke camp before sunrise (and one day early) and booked it to Queenstown.

Duration: 3 nights 
While I was bummed that we had to leave Mount Cook a day early due to weather, Queenstown did offer plenty consolation. Our apartment was right on the water and I spent a lot of time on the balcony admiring the Remarkables, the mountain range that juts up behind Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown was the perfect place to recoup after the whirlwind that was the first leg of our trip. 

We spent a lot of time wandering the waterfront and climbing on big rocks. We also got stuck on a broken down gondola for nearly two hours, but in the end the funny stories I get to tell about the fiasco made the misadventure completely worthwhile. 

Duration: 2 nights
Along the road to Milford Sound, we stopped to tour a network of glow worm caves. No cameras were allowed in the caves and I am so glad. You only have a few short minutes to be mesmerized by the experience and I tried so hard not to blink so I wouldn't miss anything. And then, as we drove the twisty, windy Highway 94, we had to stop a gazillion times to marvel at everything that is Milford Sound. We spent two (rather wet + soggy) nights camping in the sound and we even took a cruise! These two days were like eating your favorite dessert: delicious and decadent but gone before you know it and leaving you wanting more. 

Duration: 3 nights
When we left Milford Sound, we knew we were done camping. Our gear was broken from the windstorm we encountered at Mount Cook and soaked from the rain that poured in Milford Sound. So instead of camping at some farm on the coast as planned, we drove a long way to Dunedin. While in Dunedin, we visited a penguin reserve, toured the Cadbury factory (and ate way.too.much chocolate), hiked out to the Nugget Point lighthouse and took a train inland to see the Taieri plain and gorge. 

Duration: 1 night
To break up the drive from Dunedin to Christchurch, we stopped for lunch at the Moeraki Boulders. We spent the afternoon walking down the beach and crawling all over the bizarre rocks. We got back to Christchurch late and ate really good tacos from a taco truck in the parking lot where our SUV was broken into before we left on our southern island road trip. I was super sad to be leaving the South Island. 

Duration: 2 nights
After an early morning flight, we landed in Auckland. While in the city, we took a ferry to Rangitoto Island and climbed a volcano. We also watched a rugby game, which was both amusing and confusing at the same time. We stayed in the Jucy Hotel, which was...special. We stayed in a four person room on Valentine's Day and laughed about it nearly the whole time. I was glad to see the backside of Auckland when we drove out of the city.

Duration: 3 nights
We drove in criss crosses all over the northern island while trying to find Hobbiton. The set lies hidden in gently rolling farm country, and more than once we were convinced that our GPS was lying to us about how to get there. We made it to the film set just in time to grab lunch before our tour began. Nerding our over the Lord of the Rings was sublime. We got to drink at the Green Dragon and take pictures of hobbit holes.

We then drove the twistiest and windiest road of the trip, which left three of us out of the car at one point trying not to barf, on our way to Whitianga, a quiet, sleepy coastal community. While in town, we hiked to Cathedral Cove to chill out on a sandy beach.  

Duration: 1 night
We came back to Auckland just in time to return our Jucy rental and eat one last meal before going to bed. Our flight left for South Korea early in the morning the next day.

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Our trip was so much fun and such an adventure. Soon, I will post some tips and personal advice about our route. If you have any practical questions about rentals, camp sites or activities, I would be more than happy to provide more specifics! 




Check out more fun travel blogs @ Weekend Wanderlust!

11 comments

  1. Looks like you saw plenty in those 3 weeks, I love looking at people's itineraries :)

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    1. We saw so much, and yet there was still SO MUCH to see!

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  2. Great itinerary - I think you were very wise to do mainly the South Island on this trip, as it sounds like you enjoyed it rather than just rushing headlong around the whole time. You will definitely have to come back for more of the North Island though ;) I've really enjoyed seeing how much you've liked my beautiful country!

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    1. I can't wait to come back! I will definitely hit you up for some tips on the North Island!

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  3. Wow that sounds like an amazing road trip! Road tripping New Zealand just sounds like one of those things that would definitely stay engraved in your memories. And your photos are gorgeous by the way!

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    1. Thanks :) I think this trip has caused a severe addiction to all things NZ for me.

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  4. Great post and great pictures! It's my first time in your blog but already I love it. Love the design. Will be definitely keeping an eye on your blog. :)

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  5. Wow, I think we did almost exactly the same three week itinerary that you did. New Zealand is amazing, isn't it? It's a bummer that you missed Rotorua though. It was one of the highlights of our trip.

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    1. Really? How funny! NZ stole my heart. I would move to Milford Sound in a heartbeat!

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  6. Your photography is unreal. Did you take them pictures yourself? I have to admit I have never visited New Zealand but it looks incredible. It's high on my list of places I want to visit. I'm a real sucker for scenery and by the looks of it NZ has some wonderful views to behold. I wish I had more cash, I'd love to go next year.

    Abraham @ ASIC

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