My fiancé and I just got back from an amazing trip to New Zealand. We flew into Auckland, rented a car and made our way across the North and South Islands. The trip cost a pretty penny so it was a good thing we started saving for it about a year and a half ago. SO worth it. We stayed in seven different Airbnbs, took five flights, rode one ferry, rented two cars and drove more than 1,000 miles. And we'd do it all over again.
Figured I'd share our itinerary, in case you've ever thought about going ... which you should, especially during January and February, the summer months. It's incredible.
Pretty much all international flights connect in Auckland, so you might as well start your journey here. We spent our first night at this dope Airbnb in Ponsonby, one of the city's hipper neighborhoods full of cool boutiques and amazing restaurants.
We met up with some friends and got brunch at Cali, a tasty restaurant in Newmarket. Highly recommend.
Next on our agenda was a visit to Piha, a black-sand beach 30 minutes from Auckland. This is when you'll get to put your driving skills to the test as they drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand, and the road to get to Piha is narrow and winding. It takes some getting used to, even as a passenger.
We hit the road the next morning and began our long drive down the North Island to Wellington. We did the whole thing (eight hours) in one day, which was a bit much. I'd recommend stopping and spending the night on Lake Taupo, which is GORGEOUS and about halfway between the two cities. You can take a night out of your Wellington visit to do this.
Next up: Hobbiton!
Part of the reason our eight-hour road trip took so long is because we made two stops. First was Hobbiton, which, if you're even remotely interested in Lord of the Rings (and "remotely" is about how interested in it I am), is a MUST. The tour takes an hour and a half and is ridiculously impressive. Perfect, detailed hobbit holes everywhere, and free cider at the end. So awesome.
Our next stop was in Rotorura for ZORBING. Yes, that's right. You put on your swimsuit, get inside a giant plastic ball with a bit of water inside and they push you down a hill. It's about as crazy as it sounds and SO FUN. My fiancé was skeptical, but ended up loving it. Worth the stop.
Wellington is lovely and a nice place to park yourself for a couple nights. We returned our rental car and stayed in a cute Airbnb near downtown. It's easy to cover the whole city on foot. There's no need to make big plans — just wander around, popping into whatever boutiques and restaurants strike your fancy.
Shopping on and around Cuba Street was one of my favorite activities. I bought the denim jumper I'm wearing above in a vintage shop called Emporium. Bought the sunglasses at a thrift store somewhere around there too.
We had nothing but great meals in Wellington. The place above is called Poneke; it was delicious and located right on the water, but our #1 favorite meal was at Matternhorn. It's pretty fancy, but the U.S. dollar is stronger than the NZ dollar right now, so go for it! Other places we loved were Sweet Mother's Kitchen (for lunch) and the Library (for drinks).
SOUTH ISLAND ROAD TRIP
After leaving Wellington we took the ferry across the Cook Strait, picked up our second rental car and embarked on our South Island road trip. Our first stop was Motueka, a cute little village with surprisingly good restaurants (we loved Mango and Precinct) and the above movie theater, which greatly appealed to my geeky fiancé.
The main reason for our visit to Motueka was to hike to Coast Track in nearby Abel Tasman National Park. I've never been on a such a beautiful hike in my entire life. The trail overlooks Tasman Bay with stops along the way at a dozen impeccable beaches. We only hiked the first four miles or so and turned around, but the track actually goes for about 30 miles. It's definitely on our to-do list for a backpacking trip!
After hiking the track do yourself a favor and stop at the Fat Tui on the way back to Motueka for a giant, sloppy, gourmet burger that'll knock your socks off. I died for this burger. This burger appears to me in my dreams. I loved this burger.
We spent our other free day at Kaiteriteri Beach, which is protected by a bay and therefore not subject to big waves — perfect for leisurely wading, swimming and floating. One thing we'd wished we'd had was a big umbrella — the sun is seriously intense in that part of the world! We reapplied sunscreen like it was going outta style.
After Motueka, we embarked on our tour down the west coast of the south island, stopping for a night in Cape Foulwind. The couple who own the house above converted it into studios for tourists — we found it on Airbnb, of course.
We only had an evening in Cape Foulwind and managed to go on a walk to a seal colony down the street before the sun set. This was one of the most breathtaking scenes of our trip.
Next on our agenda was a quick stop at Pancake Rocks, a classic kiwi attraction. It's basically a limestone formation that's eroded over time into pancake-like slabs neatly stacked on top of one another and interspersed with blowholes. You can walk through the formations in about a half hour.
We spent the following night on a farm next to the beach below in Karangarua. It was interesting to have the ocean to our left and cows to our right.
We came across a photo shoot on this beach involving a bride on a horse at sunset. Hopefully she didn't get bit by too many sandflies. They were pretty bad during our stay.
Next stop: Fox Glacier.
Aaaand there's what's left of the glacier, just past Cory's shoulders. It used to be a lot bigger. The walk to get there was nice, and we picked up our first hitchhiker! Bumming a ride is huge in New Zealand. It's pretty easy to do if you're open to a little adventure.
That wrapped up our tour of the west coast, and next it was time to head inland to Queenstown, situated on a massive lake, nestled in the mountains. The drive was unreal.
Queenstown is awesome. We could've spent so much time here, but we only had three days. We made the mistake of renting an Airbnb in Arrowtown, a neighboring city 20 minutes away. It was annoying to have to drive into Queenstown every day, so don't make the same mistake if you go. This'll also enable you to return your rental car.
The real reason to visit Queenstown, however, is for the adventures.
Bungy jumping is a MUST in Queenstown. It's home of the original commercial jump site, a 141-foot high bridge we decided to leap from. It's scary, yes, but only for about ten seconds! Totally worth it to be able to say you've done it.
What was scariest to me, however, was canyoning.
With bungy jumping your safety is in the hands of the dudes working the ropes and there's little room for error. With canyoning, you're in complete control. You'd better rappel down that cliff, jump into that waterfall and slide down those rocks correctly or you're gonna be in a bad way. And they trust you to do these things! Wtf!
Aaaaand then I rode in a shark-shaped speedboat / submarine that dives under the water, leaps above the surface of the water and spins donuts until you want to hurl. We saw it out on the lake one day while we were eating dinner and I was immediately like, "WHAT IS THIS I WANNA DO IT."
The ride was INTENSE. I almost puked and had to have the guy slow down. But it was so worth it. I road in a shark boat. I can die happy now.
We wrapped up our trip by flying from Queenstown back to Auckland, got dinner at an awesome tapas place called the Black Hoof, spent the night in an Airbnb downtown, did a little shopping the next day, and then and flew home.
It definitely helped to have an overnight flight. They feed you dinner on the plane, you go to sleep, wake up, they feed you breakfast, then you land and 13 hours have passed.
Here's a condensed version of the itinerary I'd recommend:
Day 1: Auckland, Piha Beach
Day 2: Hobbiton, ZORB, Lake Taupo
Days 3-4: Wellington
Days 5-8: Motueka, Abel Tasman, Kaiteriteri Beach
Day 9: Cape Foulwind
Day 10: Karangarua, Pankcake Rocks, Fox Glacier
Days 11-14: Queenstown
Day 15: Auckland
Put this on your bucket list!