New Zealand has been in my travel wish list for so long… But it’s so far away from Europe! When we put together our entire 6-month trip, it was the country we had the most fun planning. There are so many possibilities on where to go! We started by establishing a priority list of things not to miss, helped by some Kiwi colleagues. Then we created an itinerary, before booking accommodation in every place we wanted to visit. We contemplated the idea of renting a van for such an adventure… But finally decided to sleep in a proper bed along the way. We completed our road trip in New Zealand within 6 weeks. There is so much to say that I’m splitting our experience in 4 posts:
- 1/4 – South Island: From Christchurch to Te Anau
- 2/4 – South Island: From Te Anau to Picton
- 3/4 – North Island: From Wellington to Rotorua
- 4/4 – North Island: From Rotorua to Auckland
We started off with Christchurch, biggest city in the South Island (despite being very small). It’s a peaceful place where we relaxed for a few days, after spending 4 weeks on the road in Australia. The climate in New Zealand was perfect for us, sometimes a bit chilly but pretty much always sunny. We needed a jumper as well as a good pair of sunglasses!
The earthquake that devastated Christchurch in February 2011 destroyed their cathedral. While the entire city is still going through a 20-year rebuild process, the Transitional Cathedral serves as a temporary cathedral. It’s also known as the “Cardboard Cathedral” because cardboard tubes have been used in its construction. The street art is also very present, locals have been adding many colours on empty walls with creativity! We had an awesome view of the city from the top of Mount Cavendish by taking the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car is a must do, Lyttelton Harbour is stunning with all its various colours.
What followed next was probably the most beautiful place that exists on Earth: Lake Tekapo. This is why it’s so important to book your accommodation early enough, the campsite we stayed at was in an amazing location so it was fully booked very quickly. We rented a mini chalet there, but the site offered various sorts of options: from delimited space for tents, parking area for campervans, to chalets like ours, from the smallest to the poshest version (usually for bigger groups or older people).
Lake Tekapo has that beautiful turquoise colour thanks to the surrounding glaciers. I wish this place was just around the corner so I could go there when I need to meditate. The Church of the Good Shepherd is the most photographed church in New Zealand. There is also a dog statue to pay tribute to the value of the Collie dog, without the help of which the grazing of the mountainous area would have been impossible.
We drove up to Mount John (1,031 metres above sea level) and walked the final part to get another amazing view of Lake Tekapo, next to Lake Alexandrina (left on the picture below). It showed us even more how this turquoise colour is unusual compared to a non-glacial lake!
Mount Cook Village
On our way to Mount Cook Village where we were going to stay, we decided to do a quick detour and drove along Lake Pukaki for about 40 km. It’s as stunning as Lake Tekapo with the same turquoise colour but twice bigger! Then we did the Hooker Valley Glacier Walk (3-hour hiking track) which was a bit more challenging than anticipated. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand and the Southern Alps offered amazing scenery, enough to keep us going while we were suffering (it was quite hot that day). There were 3 wooden suspension bridges in the track which were very wobbly… I can imagine how icy and slippery it could be during winter so I’m glad we did it in summer.
On our way to Queenstown, the access road to The Remarkables was very scenic! It’s one of the highest public road in New Zealand with about 1,500 metres above sea level. Our little car was struggling and we were worried the small engine would overheat. A 4X4 with a powerful engine would have been more appropriate. The Remarkables is the name given to the magnificent range of mountains we can see from the city, very popular during ski season but also very “remarkable” in summer!
Queenstown is definitely the place to go if you like extreme sports. There is a great cable car, the Skyline Gondola, which is the steepest I’ve ever been on. It looks like they cut an alley of pine trees on the mountain to build many crazy activities like bungee jumping, luge, paragliding, mountain bike trails… And the views on top are simply unreal: we can see Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, all at the same time:
If you’re more into chilling out, there is a really cool place to go to: the Onsen Hot Pools. This spa is a kiwi twist to the Japanese bath tradition called “onsen”, it offers relaxation with stunning alpine scenery. The pure water straight from the surrounding mountains is naturally rich in magnesium, detoxifies the body and mind. Add it in your bucket list if you’ve never been there!
Queenstown could be a very romantic place too! We were there during Valentine’s Day… So we indulged ourselves with a modern Japanese restaurant called Tatsumi Dining who designed a special menu for the occasion. Apparently Kiwis love celebrating this day as it was fully booked!
Then we drove 20 minutes to visit Arrowtown, which is a historic gold mining village where the architecture keeps the heritage of the area intact. This is also where you can find a very unique cinema: the Dorothy Browns. There are only 2 rooms which can only fit a small group of people each, plus a bar and a bookshop so you can read books while you’re waiting for your movie session. There was an intermission in the middle of the movie, which we didn’t expect at all! Enough time for a nice break to go outside or order more drinks for example. We loved the concept. Finally, the sky was so clear that we could see the Milky Way when it got dark… I’ve never seen so many stars, words can’t describe how beautiful it was.
Our next stop was properly in the middle of nowhere, roughly 15 km away from Te Anau in a very isolated independent small house. We had 250 hectares of land to play with (the equivalent of 500 football pitches if it helps), only sharing it with 2,000 sheep and 100 cows. It was probably one of our best memories! We initially chose to stay there to visit Milford Sound but unfortunately the (only) road to access it was completely flooded and closed for the entire month. We also had the remains of a tropical cyclone coming our way, these sort of things you can’t control. So we just decided to use this time away from civilisation to unplug properly, taking advantage of our isolation for a few days!
That’s it for today! Stay tuned for the second part of our road trip in New Zealand featuring many other cool places!
Big Girl x