Australia is great, but New Zealand is even greater. This is the perfect country to travel through if you are a nature lover.
Lots of pleasant cities, beautiful mountains, amazing fiords, glaciers, geysers, thermal areas and much, much more.
Three months in New Zealand started in Auckland. Auckland is a pleasant city with wide streets and lots of trees. We spent a couple of days in the city, visiting museums, parks and the beautiful harbour.
We were four guys traveling together, so renting a car seemed like a good idea. We took one for 40 days at NZ$30 per day. Compared to Denmark, that’s pretty cheap! We could return the car in Christchurch, which suited us perfectly.
Northern New Zealand
We had planned to cover most of New Zealand, so we began the trip by heading north. First stop was Whangarei Heads where we climbed Mt. Manaia (419m). It wasn’t a very high top, dolphins but the climb was pretty steep and the view from the top was rewarding. Next stop was Bay of Islands, where we had read it should be possible to see and swim with dolphins. We had an excellent trip and saw lots of bottlenose dolphins. They swam right next to the boat, and jumped several meters up into the air. Fantastic.
From Bay of Islands we continued north to Kaitaia to see some of the large sand dunes near the western coast. Drove down the coast through the Waipoua forest with the gigantic Kauri trees. They were big, but nothing compared to the redwoods in California.
After seeing the north, we went back south, through Auckland and down to Rotorua. There are a lot things to do in the Rotorua area. The first thing we wanted to do was a rafting trip on the Kaituna River. This river is a grade 5+(!!) because of two falls on 4m and 7m respectively. Pretty amazing. Especially the 7m fall was quite spectacular! The kiwi guides are great and game for anything. After surviving the two falls without flipping the raft, our guide helped the raft to flip twice on smaller falls. Great fun!
Next stop was the thermal area in Waimangu Valley. It’s a beautiful area much like Yellowstone in USA. It’s definitely worth a visit. The fun continued with a tandem skydive from 10000ft. For anybody who likes a good adrenalin rush, this is a must! Climbing 10000ft in a plane, just to throw your self out of the plane and free-fall through the air at a speed of approximately 200km/h. Brilliant! After 30 seconds of free-fall the parachute is released and suddenly everything is quiet. The view is magnificent.
After the skydive we drove south to Taupo. This area is also filled with thermal activity. We went to see Waiotapo Thermic Wonderland where the famous Lady Knox Geyser erupts once every day. There are lots of beautiful thermic pools and water temperature reaches more than 75C. After seeing the thermic area, we drove past the impressive Huka falls where vast amounts of water rush through a small gorge.
Turangi is supposed to be a beautiful area with lots of volcanoes and great trekking. Unfortunately the weather sucked when we arrived, with very poor visibility. We decided, that there was no point in doing any trekking, and instead continued south to the capital of New Zealand – Wellington.
The purpose with this trip around New Zealand was mainly to see the fantastic nature, so we didn’t spend more than one day in Wellington. It is a nice city though and we did take the cable car to the top of one of Wellington’s hills. There was a great view of the city from the top.
It was now time to say goodbye to the northern part of New Zealand, and take the ferry to the southern part. The ferry ride from Wellington to Piton is very very beautiful. It takes you through the dazzlingly beautiful Marlborough Sounds and is well worth the quite expensive price.
Abel Tasman National Park
On the North-western coast of the South island lies the Abel Tasman National Park, where both trekking and sea-kayaking is possible. We spent one day trekking, and the next five days kayaking We rented two single kayaks and one double and it was great. There are campgrounds near the coast in the park, so it is possible to kayak from campground to campground. The sea kayaks are easy to steer, because there is a small rudder, which can be manipulated with the feet.
The landscape was beautiful and kayaking was fun, but the highlight the trip came when we visited Tonga Island, a small island just off the coast where quite a lot of seals stay. Kayaking between up to 25 seals at a time was nothing short of fantastic. We came within a few meters of the seals and they seemed very curious. It was great! After five days of kayaking, trekking, watching seals and beautiful sunrises we returned the kayaks and continued south to Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is a small town from where it is possible to go whale watching. I didn’t go though because it was pretty expensive. There are so many things to do and try in New Zealand that if you do it all you’ll go bankrupt! The town lies beautifully in front of a mountain range.
From Kaikoura on the east coast we crossed over to the west coast. The nature on the South island is fantastic, and just driving around is a pleasure. Our next destination was Franz Josef Village from where it is possible to go trekking on the Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Village
In the village we booked a full day trek on the Glacier. Franz Josef Glacier is special because part of the glacier lies in only 250m above sea level with vigorous forest on both sides. The reason why this possible is that the amount of snowfall at the top of the glacier is vast. In average 70m(seventy meters!!) of snow lands on top of the glacier every year. The snow and ice flow down the mountain and some of it melts of course, but because of the vast amounts, the glacier still moves forward at a rate of 1m per day.
The glacier-trek was great. We spent all day walking and climbing on the glacier and it was both beautiful and exiting. We enjoyed it tremendously. In the afternoon we were picked up by a helicopter, which landed on the glacier. A short but exhilarating trip took us back to Franz Josef Village.
Our next destination was the action adventure capital of New Zealand – Queenstown. If something is exiting and possible to do, you can do it in Queenstown. The setting of Queenstown is spectacular. It lies right next to New Zealand’s third largest lake, Lake Wakatipu, and just in front of the beautiful mountain range the Remarkables.
The first thrill we tried was Jet boating on the Shotower River. In a 2½-ton heavy speedboat capable sailing in only 10cm of water, we rushed through narrow gorges missing the cliffs only by centimetres. The boat can do a 360º turn in a distance approximate to it’s own length. It was a very thrilling ride that can be highly recommended. The next thrill was bungy jumping, a must when you go to Queenstown. We booked through a company called Pipeline. Their motto is:
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room”.
They offered a 102m bungy jump in the beautiful Skippers Canyon. The car drive to the bungy bridge was spectacular. Many places the road is carved into a vertical cliff and there are only a few places where two cars can pass each other.
The bungy jump was a great adrenalin rush. You accelerate to approximately 120km/h before the bungy cord provides the deceleration. After a few bounces, you were lowered to a boat and the thrill was over. Excellent!
Now it was time to do some more driving. We drove to Dunedin which is a Scottish inspired town with many nice buildings. Our main destination was Otago Peninsula though. Here we visited Penguin Place where one of the most rare penguin species in the world, the Yellow Eyed Penguin, can be seen. It is estimated that there are less than 5000 left. A reservation protects the penguins.
From Dunedin we drove north towards Mt. Cook, which at 3754m is the highest mountain in New Zealand. The area was absolutely beautiful picture shows Lake Pukaki with Mt. Cook in the background. The trekking in the Mt. Cook area is supposed to be excellent, but the killjoys I was traveling with wanted to go back to Queenstown. That caused an argument, which ended in a split-up. From now on I continued alone.
I did some trekking around beautiful Queenstown and was rewarded by some great views of the Remakables and Lake Wakatipu. The setting of Queenstown must be one of best in the world. The trekking in general is spectacular in the southern part of New Zealand. I planned to do a lot of trekking, and therefore bought an annual hut pass. There are several marked treks with huts for every 2-4 hours.
Dart and Rees
Dart and Rees is a 6-day trek starting and ending in the small town of Glenorchy. It was a great trek covering between 80 to 90km including a day-trip to Cascade Saddle. Cascade Saddle was the highest point on the approximately 1650m above sea level. The nature was beautiful and included views of both lakes and glaciers. After having traveled with 3 guys for more than a month, it was great to spend some time alone – just walking in the mountains.
Routeburn – Greenestone – Mavora Walkway
After having rested for a few days, it was time for another 6-day trek. This time the trek was actually three treks, starting with the 2-day (one of the Great Walks), continuing on the 2-day Greenstone trek and finishing with the 2-day Mavora Walkway trek. It was a beautiful trip. The first four days went through mountains and valleys (1675m being the highest point), while the last two days were spend in flatter country without meeting anybody.
The Mavora Walkway trek ends at a lake, 60km from the nearest town, and with the very sparse traffic it can be difficult to hitch a ride. I was lucky though and got a ride to Te Anau.
From Te Anau I took a bus trip to the beautiful and famous Milford Sound. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good, but the trip was OK anyway. The rainfall in the area is enormous. In average 7m of rain falls every year but once an entire meter of rain fell in just 24 hours!
After driving through Homer tunnel we arrived at the sound and saw the famous Mitre Peak. The scenery was great.
A boat took us all the way to the ocean and back. The views were great, and we saw dolphins swimming and seals on the cliffs.
Back in Queenstown I relaxed for a few weeks and took some pretty good treks, the best being the climb to the top of Ben Lommond (1748m). That was an excellent trip with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. I met some wonderful people – the kiwis are very kind and helpful.
My stay in New Zealand was coming to an end. Three months had just flown away and I could easily have spent another month or two. I took a bus to Christchurch from where my plane to Sydney would leave.
The last few days was spent in Christchurch. Saw the city and enjoyed the beautiful Cathedral Square with the Christchurch Cathedral. Find a Danish Bakery and bought some great pastry. I also visited the Banks Peninsula, a good place for trekking.
That was it. New Zealand is a fantastic country, and anybody who gets a chance should go there for as long as possible!