We are head over heels in love with New Zealand. Everyone who has ever been to New Zealand says the exact same thing, but now we get it. We had not planned on going to NZ initially because it is an expensive place to travel, but we decided it was worth it and that maybe we will cut our trip short instead. NZ was totally different than everywhere else we traveled. We mastered driving on the left side of the road, we hiked (or tramped I believe the Kiwis like to call it), we slept in a van for 17 nights, we cooked almost every meal, and we tried to wander down gravel roads as much as possible. My camera struggled to capture the full beauty of the place in front of me. New Zealand reminded us of home a lot (except with a lot more sheep and less people) and it made us excited to return to home to Colorado.
This post contains entirely too many pictures, but with a place so beautiful (and a photographer of a husband) I could not help it…enjoy!
We road tripped around the South Island so we would not try and cram too much and feel rushed everywhere. We will just have to come back and hit the North Island on a future trip! We drove a total of 2,464 miles in 18 days.
We started in Christchurch before heading south around the island (clockwise) before heading back to Christchurch. Highlights of the places we visited were: The Catlins, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka and Blenheim.
Things We Liked
English, freedom, camper vans, nature, cooking our own food, grocery stores, hiking, small towns, cheap wine, van life, not carrying our suitcases around, and feeling comfortable.
We also liked the differences in English…my favorite is when they call the cooler the chilly bin. I think I might bring that one back with me 🙂
Things We Disliked
Bugs (SO many bites), expensive, rainy days (and fog covering the mountains), gas stations that were few and far between, spotty internet service/paid wi-fi, lack of available showers (this was due to the fact we were living in a van), and terrible gas mileage.
We called our trusty camper van, Monty, home for our time in New Zealand. Our trip revolved around the van: it was our transportation, our kitchen, storage, and our bed. By the end of the trip we were ready to give her back (sleeping in a van every night gets old and also makes you feel homeless), but we also became very attached! The van had places to sit and a table for hanging out in the day and you could remove the table and set up a bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for it being just a couple of cushions you push together. We would drive around all day and then every night we would have to locate a campsite to park our car in. New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) makes it pretty easy to do with DOC sites all over NZ, although they all cost a small sum of money to stay there ($11-$19 USD for the two of us). They all had toilets of varying cleanliness and that is about it. Every few nights we would pay almost double (around $30 or more USD) to stay in a holiday park to take advantage of a nice shower. Our only complaints were having to setup/tear down the bed everyday, the lack of showers, and having to pay so much money for a parking spot to park our van overnight.
Painted camper vans are all over New Zealand. Ours was no exception! We loved the art on our van and we even got to meet the artist while getting gas about an hour from Christchurch. We rented from Escape Camper vans, but Wicked Camper vans was also very popular…all of their vans were slightly inappropriate (I would have HATED to have one of them) but they entertained us so much!
Moke Lake outside of Queenstown wins the prize for our favorite campsite. The 5 km drive to the campsite off of the main road was entirely gravel and filled with sheep and cows. We enjoyed this site so much we stayed for 2 nights! Bonus — the ranger who lives at the site was awesome and we loved chatting with him.
1. Roy’s Peak
There were very few things on our must do list in NZ, but Scott was set on hiking up to Roy’s Peak. The hike was 3 hours straight uphill in the heat through fields of sheep to get to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The 5 hours spent hiking was well worth it (although if you asked me on the way up I probably would have not agreed)!
2. Wine Tasting in Marlborough
If we are nearby a wine region we are going to go check it out. We have been to Napa, Sonoma, and Temecula in California and also went to some wineries in Croatia. It was only natural that in New Zealand we would go check out the wine scene in Marlborough, which is known for the sauvignon blancs. We had rented bicycles in Temecula on a trip a few years back and we had heard that Renwick/Blenheim were great places to go on bicycle wine adventures…it did not take much else to get us to sign up! We chose to go with Wine Tours by Bike and we could not have had a better experience. They picked us up at our holiday park and we picked up our bikes. We were within 30 minutes biking to over 15 cellar doors (they call the tasting rooms at wineries cellar doors in NZ), they were all close together, there were no hills and we were able to avoid roads with a lot of traffic.
In the middle of our cellar door visits we had lunch at Wairau River Wines. The lemongrass pork burger (with coconut satay sauce) perfectly paired with a reserve Viognier made us melt it was so good. Along the way we picked up a bottle of wine or two to enjoy our last few nights in NZ and stored them in our handy wine bottle holders attached on the back of our bicycles. We even found out that one of the wineries is in Mondo Vino, the liquor store up the street from our house and we cannot wait to seek out a bottle when we get home. We love wine tasting. We love biking. We love eating. Our bicycle wine tour in Renwick was a perfect day for all of those things!
3. Movie Night in Wanaka
Every place we have been we have talked about going to the movies, but never seemed to make it there. We found out there was a a theater in Wanaka called Cinema Paradiso to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the new JK Rowling movie). The movie theater was so unique and was a local hangout. The theatre sold food and beer, they had couches in the theatre, there was intermission halfway through (and they waited for everyone to come back before resuming), and there was freshly baked cookies for sale during the intermission. More movie theaters should take a page out of their playbook…or at least get on board with the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies!
4. Milford Sound
Milford Sound is spectacular. We drove up one day and the mountains were covered in fog, it was rainy, and we could hardly see anything around us (except for a bunch of awesome waterfalls running down all the mountains covered in fog). It was spectacular even with the bad weather. We had planned to stay in Milford Sound overnight and do a cruise the next day. We arrived around 6 pm only to realize that we had underestimated the size of the town where Milford Sound is and there was nowhere to stay. The one holiday park was booked solid and we had to drive back 2.5 hours to the closest large town, Te Anou, to spend the night. We checked the weather report and the next day was supposed to be beautiful so we booked a cruise and decided to head back to Milford Sound for day two. We are SO glad we did.
The cruise of Milford Sound lasted around 2-2.5 hours. We saw waterfalls, cliffs, snow-peaked mountains, penguins, sea lions, and rainbows. We had heard that Milford Sound Cruises are overrated and we have to fully disagree with that. It might have had something to do with the perfect weather, but it was stunning. The pictures fail to do this place justice.
5. The Catlins
We loved our time in the southern most portion of the South Island, known as The Catlins. Gas stations were few and far between, there was an abundance of sea animals (penguins! sea lions!), the scenery was stunning, and there just wasn’t that many people around. Nugget Point and Cathedral Caves were my personal favorites, but everything we saw in the two nights we spent here were some of our favorites!
1. Franz Josef
Most people come to Franz Josef to check out the famed Franz Josef Glacier and we were no exception. As a birthday present we were going to go climb the glacier which involves a short helicopter transfer to the ice and then a few hours hiking and exploring one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world (before it is gone). We arrived in town the day the tour only to see rain in the forecast. We woke up the morning of the tour and it was pouring. The tour was off and we were pretty bummed, but they could get us on a tour the following day and the forecast looked perfect so we decided to stick around another day in hopes of climbing the glacier! The second morning we woke up to sunshine and we were sure it was going to work out! We arrived at the place as it started to sprinkle and the tour was off once again. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.
Although we were bummed about the glacier tour, we were far more crushed to learn some heartbreaking news about someone we met just over a month before. While in Japan we were able to see one of Scott’t long time friends, Eric, who is a Marine F/A-18 Fighter pilot stationed in Japan. He introduced us to one of the other pilots he was stationed with, Jake, and we hung out with him a few times in Tokyo. When in Franz Josef we found out that Jake was killed in a plane crash during a training routine off the coast of Japan. We were devastated. All we could think about was hearing him talk about how much he missed his wife, son, and how he couldn’t wait to meet his baby girl who is due in January…we were heartbroken thinking about how much they must hurt. We cannot begin to imagine what all of his family, friends, those serving with him, and all those who love him are going through. It was an honor to be able to thank him for his service and an honor to get to know him.
“On occasion, though not often, we are presented with a tangible way to thank a hero for his service. Jake Frederick made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, for you and for me, on December 7, 2016. He was a Marine F/A-18 Fighter pilot, and was finishing up another long deployment, when a mishap during a routine training flight took his life.
Left behind are his beautiful wife Kiley, three year old son Colt, and their baby daughter, who is due to be born in January. Kiley has served them all selflessly since their military journey began, sacrificing many things for their family.“
They are raising money for his family. If you feel generous this holiday season or would like to thank a hero for his service you can find the GoFundMe to support his family here.
Total Number of Nights: 18
Languages: English (!)
Currency: $1 USD = $1.42 New Zealand Dollar
Animals Spotted: Penguins, sheep, cows, fur seals, sea lions, hedgehogs, deer, lots of birds, kea (parrots), and so many more!
Number of Miles Traveled: 3,792 miles (including our flight from Australia)
Number of Miles Driven: 2,464 miles
Number of Miles Walked: 105 miles (average of 5.5 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 224,790 steps (average of about 11,830 per day)
Transportation Used: Camper van, bus, boat
Type of Accommodations: Camper van (1), hotel (1)
Number of Beds: 2