Imagine heaven, pristine, untouched beauty, one of the cleanest waters, lush green nature, milky white fluffy sheeps, mirrored lakes – New Zealand.
We visited during the month of May and it is a low season in New Zealand. It marks the onset of winters and it could be really foggy and rainy at times which makes you miss the gorgeous views. But we extremely enjoyed the chills and surprises which weather gave us. And the snow peaked black mountains just added on to the beauty.
Our two week itinerary covers only some part of South New Zealand. Our focus during this trip was to immerse in nature, explore the tramping tracks along the way, sample good food, and do all of that in a relaxed manner. This trip raised the bar of beauty of nature. Now wherever I go, I keep thinking of the pristine nature which New Zealand has.
Whatever we could not do/visit due to limited time, we plan to visit New Zealand again for longer period.
This itinerary provides pointers if you are planning on a trip to New Zealand. However now I feel, one should not plan ahead with the bookings etc, as at many places, I wanted to spend more days, but was restricted due to time and non-refundable bookings.
Some tips :
- Hiring camper van in New Zealand is very popular choice. Or you can also hire a car and do camping instead of hotels/hostels as there are plenty of camping sites, holiday parks (free and paid) everywhere, providing access to clean toilets, showers and kitchen.
- It will be a good idea to plan itinerary on the fly. There are several lookout points along every road, and loads of walking and tramping tracks in every city. They take unexpected amount of time, leaving you in trouble if you have planned limited days in every city. This is the problem we faced, and we modified our itinerary at some places. We wanted to spend more number of days in Te Anau, Queenstown, Arthur Pass. But we could not do lot of modification as some bookings are non-refundable. This led us to miss many things which we otherwise intended to do.
- However if you intend to do activities like whale watching and sky diving, you might need to plan in advance, as they get booked early.
- New Zealand is very expensive, so eating out all meals is a costly affair. But all the hostels and holiday parks have well equipped kitchens. You always have option to buy groceries do some cooking on the go.
Day 1 : Christchurch
Basic Day Expenses :
- Accommodation : 84 NZD at Dorset House (Backpacker Hostel)
- Lunch : 38 NZD at Mexicano’s
- Dinner : Self cooking Hostel’s kitchen
After spending a sleepless night in excitement, we reached Christchurch at afternoon. It is around 2.5h journey from Sydney. We couldn’t view the Southern Alps from plane as we were seated in the middle row. So the first quick tip is to take the seat on the Left hand side while going to CC and right hand side while coming back from CC , if you want to enjoy the majestic view from the sky.
Immediately after reaching, we bought Simcard for 35 NZD which gives 1 GB data and 200 minutes of out-going calls and unlimited incoming valid for 30 days. We had made prior booking for the car rental with Anzed company. The owner is very nice, pick you up from airport, and will explain you in detail about everything. You are welcome to borrow as many maps or music CD’s from him for your road trip. We booked a Sedan for 14 days including GPS rental costing approximately 720 NZD.
Some of the things you can spend time doing is to visit the Botanic gardens, Cathedral square, and there is also another church made of cardboard called cardboard cathedral.
Day 2 : Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Basic Day Expenses :
- Accommodation : 68 NZD via Airbnb
- Breakfast : 28 NZD at Burger King
- Lunch : 36 NZD at Mackenzie’s Cafe Bar and Grill
- Dinner : Prepacked food
The drive from Christchurch to Tekapo does not take more than 3 hours. The last one fourth part of the drive gives spectacular views of the Southern Alps. This whole Mackenzie’s region is the dark sky reserve and gives one of the best opportunity to view night sky and enjoy the stars.
Our stay was at one of the Airbnb along Lilybank road, quite a secluded location with awesome views, and only 8km from the main part of town.
We spent good amount of time admiring the Church of good shepherd and the turquoise blue water of Lake Tekapo surrounded by 360 degree snow capped mountain ranges. This location is one of the most photographed location showcasing the galaxy backdrop in the night. During our time the weather was cloudy and stormy, so we could not spot any star in the night. However, during the day time, weather was quite clear and we could capture the views of lovely mountain ranges.
We decided to give another shot at viewing stars, so we put alarm for 2AM at night, and to our lovely surprise, we were awarded with a sky full of stars and faintly visible galaxy. Looking at that sky full of stars and galaxy view, my mind just landed into a world of mysteries waiting to be unlocked, but sad at the fact that time would not be by my side the day when these mysteries get solved.
Day 3 : Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook
Basic Day Expenses :
- Accommodation : 180 NZD at Hotel Hermitage
- Brunch : 29 NZD at Hotel’s Cafe
- Dinner : 142 NZD at Hotel’s Special Buffet
This drive is short one, will take around 90 minutes. This day the visibility was very poor as the entire sky was filled with heavy clouds. But the chilliness in the weather and strong winds made my day. The route is very beautiful, giving you views of Southern Alps and Lake Pukaki, but you need a clear weather to be able to enjoy it. I recommend to visit the DoC centre first after reaching Mount Cook Village, and gather information on the available trekking routes housed in the Aoraki/ Mount cook National Park. They have walking tracks ranging from few hours to many days. These tracks should not be missed, as they will give views of the Alpine surroundings of the National Park, the glaciers and the majestic mountains including the highest mountain of New Zealand proudly called Mount Cook. As we had only night of stay planned here, we decided to utilize the time to the maximum and go for some of the shorter courses.
a. Tasman Glacier View Point, Blue Lake and Tasman Lake : Take the Tasman valley road until you see a parking spot. From that spot, this track is only 90 minutes return. Along the way you will see the Blue take which was originally formed from the glacier, but sadly over the time this glacier reduced and the lake could no more receive water from the glacier. So all that remains is now a blue lake turned green and made up of rain water. This lake is green now because of the growth of algae at the bottom. However this lake becomes a cool swimming spot during the summers.
Further you go up, you will see the Tasman Glacier and the Tasman Lake. Again you can see how the climate change is real and the glacier size has reduced manifold. Now only the remnants of ice can be seen floating in the Tasman Lake. But overall this view is breathtaking, as you are again engulfed by mountain ranges all around and the vast lake and glacier views.
b. Hooker Valley Track : On a moderate speed, this track will take 3 to 3.5h return. This starts at the visitor cente of White Horse Hill campground. You will experience one of the most breathtaking views of the Mueller glacier and Hooker river along the entire trek. You will cross three big suspension bridges swinging over the gushing waters of Hooker River. The walk is completely safe as government has laid out boardwalks on most of the routes. Some of the parts of this track are quite rocky too. But at the end, you will be amazed to see the Hooker Glacier, and the views of the Southern Alps and Mount Cook. After reaching the final viewpoint of this track, my heart just pounded with excitement.
You should choose the tracks as per your liking and if you think you will be returning late in evening, please make sure you pack some headlights. As this is also a dark reserve, so you won’t be guided by any other light. Another essential which helped us was a set of umbrella, especially during this season when the rains could be quite frequent and unpredictable. There is another track Sealy Tarns Track which is famously also called “Stairway to Heaven” which we decided to go the next morning.
A Video Preview 😀
Day 4 : Mount Cook to Wanaka.
After a good breakfast at Hotel Hermitage, we left for Sealy Tarns Track. This is a must do and you will be rewarded with heavenly views of Hooker valley and nearby peaks after completing the stairway of approximately 2200 steps. This walk also leads further up to Mueller hut (famously first peak Sir Edmund Hillary climbed). But don’t attempt Mueller Hut track without any prior preparation and experience.
We climbed further up for 1 hour from Sealy Tarns summit, but then people returning back mentioned that snow is quite heavy, and already reaching knee lengths. So we decided to go back, as we were not prepared with proper attire and equipment. So we kept Mueller Hut track in our to-do list and will be scaling the next time we are here 🙂
By late afternoon, we left for Wanaka. We had booked a very cute “cosy cabin” in Wanaka for spending the night. Situated on the outskirts of Wanaka, this cosy cabin is straight out of fairy tale. The owner had himself constructed this cabin, and many years ago his family used to stay in that cabin, which later they transformed to be available for guests to book. The huge property also serves as a ski resort in winters, and wedding hall in summers. There are lovely farm animals – alpacas, sheep whom you can feed in the morning.
After checking-in, it was already evening, we just went to Wanaka town for dinner. After dinner, we stopped by Lake Wanaka for some time, and headed back to our cabin and called it a day.
Accomodation : Cosy Cabin at 86 NZD
Day 5 : Wanaka.
We started the morning by taking the tour of property around our cabin, and feeding the alpacas and sheep, we left for another hike on recommendation of our cabin’s owner. Initially we had planned for Roy’s peak, but then we changed our plan on the recommendation and chose to go for Isthmus peak track.
Isthmus Peak Track
This track is surrounded by two pristine lakes, Lake Wanaka on one side and lake Hawea on the other. This track is also suitable for mountain biking (Grade 5). The return distance is 16 km, and is an advanced tramping track. We started around 11:00 am and finished by 7 pm.
The track passes through several private properties initially, so please ensure to follow the signs and stay on the track. The majority of the track is quite steep, and takes you through several different terrains. We were really exhausted, but the sense of achievement on reaching the summit was unparalleled. Many times you will think the summit is just there, visible to the naked eye , but that is not the case. This track whirls you through back, front of many mountains and throws several surprises. I never drink soda and we were running low on water, but on reaching the summit I just devoured the one can of cola we had, and it tasted like the tastiest beverage in the world. We contemplated the beautiful view for some time, and started our descend. It was dark by the time we reached, so we had to use our headlights for last few kilometers.
Later in evening we checked in to Zula Lodge. The staff is really lovely and cooperative. After a good workout, we had just enough energy left to celebrate the night with drinks, and a lovely self cooked meal.
Accomodation : Zula Lodge at 89 NZD
Day 6 : Wanaka to Manapouri
In the heart of Fjordland National Park are the two wonders of nature – Marlborough Sounds and Doubtful Sounds. One day or an overnight cruise is best way to experience this vastness filled with ocean waters, retreated Glaciers, surrounded by rich flora and fauna, forested spectacular hills, and the silence broken only by the several cascading waterfalls.
We decided to go for one of them and chose Doubtful Sounds (booked through realjourneys). Manapouri is the starting point for this cruise. We had booked a day tour, however I would suggest to opt for an overnight cruise if you really want to get imbibed in nature and wilderness. The cruise staff was knowledgeable and shared amusing stories through entire journey. We were really fascinated to be able to see this hidden part of the world. It is advised to carry mosquito repellent, good layers of clothing as it was winters and it can become quite chilly standing on the deck, and prepacked food. We were so amused by the beauty around, that we kept standing on the deck for entire cruise, admiring the wilderness.
Later at evening we went back to our Freestone cabin, and we had the most lovely evening there. These wooden cabins are fully equipped with small kitchen, and a bed to sleep, built in a beautiful surrounding. The only thing to keep us warm was wood and each other 😉 Once again we utilized the kitchen to prepare ourselves delicious meal and retired for the night.
For those who want to go for Milford Sound, the starting point is from Te Anau. Even if you are not planning to go for Milford Sound, please don’t miss the scenic road drive “Milford Road” from Te Anau to Milford Sound. And that is what we did the next day.
Accommodation : Freestone Cabin at 93 NZD
Day 7 : Manapouri to Milford Road (Te Anau)
This day we altered our future booking plans as we wanted to spend more time at certain places. I would again emphasize to make all your bookings refundable, as in a beautiful place like New Zealand, it is hard to know beforehand where your heart wants to spend more time. So let the bookings not bound you from being able to absorb into the soul of the place you like. I feel no matter how many blogs we read, or ask friends, sometimes the tiniest things could make you wanna stay at a place, which no one would have ever mentioned.
So this was going to be a drive only day, but it is fascinating, when you are driving on roads where it feels like roads to paradise, surrounded by pristine miracles of mighty nature all around. 😉 And especially when the road is the “Milford Road” it truly feels like one. So we bid adieu to our cabin, and the lovely hosts (we really wanted to spend another night there) and embarked on our journey to Milford Sound road.
There are numerous photo opportunities and short walks to do along the route, and we decided to stop on a few of them. Chasm was one of my favorite (please lookout for this sign and must visit).
While on Milford Road, key stopping points
- Eglinton Valley
- Mirror Lakes
- Disappearing Mountains
- Lake Gunn
- Exit of Homer Tunnel
There are many tour operators who give an option to pick you up from Queenstown or Te Anau and bring to Milford Sounds starting point. Please refrain from choosing that option, especially if you have a vehicle of your own. This will bring you independence to truly enjoy this lovely drive.
The whole experience took us nearly 5 hours after which we returned back to Te Anau and just enjoyed the evening strolling around the city.
Accomodation : YHA Te Anau at 88 NZD
Day 8: Te Anau to Queenstown to Glenorchy to Kinloch
Next morning, we started for Queenstown. Approximately 2 hour long drive and we reached this beautiful city. I wonder if someone ever hosts beauty pageant for cities, Queenstown would absolutely reach the finale.
Queenstown is renowned for adventure sports, this city hosts activities like sky diving, paragliding, bungy jumping, jet boats, luge, golf etc.
Spend a few days here, around 3 nights or more, depending upon the adventure sports you have planned. Either book the activities online, or you will also find loads of operators in the city itself. However in the summers, I would suggest to make prior booking. Apart from these activities, there are few walking tracks ranging from beginner to advanced levels offering surreal views of the city and lake basin. Or else just take a walk around the city, pick some souvenirs, relax by the lake and just admire the view all around. Almost all the houses here have a million dollar view, so you may also go for an Airbnb here as the views are worth the stay.
While you are in Queenstown, you must not miss a drive to Glenorchy. The round trip doesn’t take more than 2-2.5 hours. Situated along Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is full of beautiful landscapes. Owing to this beauty, there are few Lord of the Rings filming locations in this route also, which the fans should be able to relate!
We went further up-to Kinloch Village from Glenorchy. However, please give Kinloch a pass, if you are not planning to do any activity (skiing or hiking) there.
Accommodation : Kinloch Lodge YHA Glenorchy at 95 NZD (Not recommended to stay unless you are going for hikes in Kinloch village)
Day 9 : Queenstown to Franz Josef
Franz Josef Village is a cute, small place, primarily famous because of access to Franz Josef glacier and Fox glaciers. As per Wikipedia, more than 2700 visitors can be seen per day coming to have a sight of these glaciers. This village has many good options of cafes, restaurants and accommodation.
Depending upon the budget, there are different options to experience these glaciers.
- One way is to take a short walk to the nearest safe point of the glacier, you will be in a distance range of 750m to 1000m from the glacier’s terminal face. This walk is easy and doesn’t take a long time (maximum 1 hour). It starts from the car park of Franz Josef valley and takes you to the point from where this glacier can be seen quite easily and clear.
- There is another track called Alex Knob, an advanced tramping track, providing the view of Franz Josef glacier.
- Other options are making a booking with local operators for helicopter ride for aerial sightseeing, or a guided glacier walk, heli hike etc.
Accommodation : Franz Josef Montrose at 65 NZD
Day 10 : Franz Josef to Arthur’s pass
Arthur’s pass is the base to explore the Arthur’s pass national park. This mountain pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps (739 meters above the seal level), and is an extreme engineering feat. The weather in this area is highly unpredictable, and during the time of our stay, it was constantly raining, hence we could not really explore much.
Some of the famous walks here include Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, Bealey Spur and Avalanche Peak.
More information can be found here on DOC official website
Accommodation : Arthur’s Pass YHA, The Mountain House at 82 NZD
Day 11 : Arthur’s pass to Hanmer Springs
Initially we had planned to visit Punakaiki, Nelson and Marlborough region, but we had some changes to the plan, and revisited our itinerary and included Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura.
As we were approaching near the end of our trip, it was time to unwind and relax. And what would be a better place than Hanmer Springs to relax in Thermal Pools and Spa. We took a full one day package and literally spent entire day relaxing in the hot pools. They have various different pools, one of our favorite was sulphur pool, having highest temperature among all, 40-42 degree Centigrade, and natural water coming from a nearby thermal water source. Tip : Don’t take your Go Pro in these pools, as steam may malfunction your device, the mistake we made and regret 🙁
I would really recommend Malabar restaurant for dinner. They serve fusion Indian dishes, mind blowing flavors and presentation, and worth mentioning the wide array of fine wines to choose from.
The next morning we spent some time visiting some other attractions within the city. We played some games at A Maze n Golf. As we both are big animal lovers, we went to Hanmer Springs Animal Farm to feed the lovely farm animals, and feel those compassionate moments by spending time with animals.
Accommodation : Hanmer Backpackers at 76 NZD
Day 12 : Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
The Maori word Kaikoura means “Eat crayfish” and that is what is found in abundance here. If you want to see the marine life – seals, dolphins, whales, you have come to the right place.
We booked with “Whale Watch Kaikoura” for the early morning whale watching tour. These tours are heavily dependent on the whether conditions, and are bound to be cancelled if the whether is considered unsafe. But fret not, they do 100% refund in event of such cancellations, or adjust you for the next tour. They guarantee 95% success rate for whale spotting, and even do 80% refund if the tour results in no whale sighting.
Another place worth visiting is “Ohau Point Lookout ” for a glorious view of the Seal colony. Further ahead from this lookout point there is “Ohau Point Stream Waterfall Track” , where you can see the seal pups playing in the stream, what an incredible sight to view!
One of the place which is often quoted by everyone to try Crayfish is Nin’s Bin. We did not get a chance to visit, but would definitely recommend to try as everyone gives good reviews.
Accommodation : Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park at 74 NZD
Day 13 : Kaikoura to Christchurch
Last day in New Zealand, and we planned to visit the ” International Antarctic Center”. One prime motivation to visit was to have a play day with Siberian Huskies 😀 We really had a good time spending time with huskies and knowing about this breed from the experts.
Staying in Singapore, comes with the demerit of hot weather year round, so we have not kept husky pets. But we really have this in our plan to move to a colder country, and include huskies in our family. It is a pity that people living in Tropical regions, keep huskies, which affects the health and mental state of this breed, leading to a shorter life span.
Anyway, coming to The Antarctic Center, it has really cool activities to do. You can easily spend half a day there and experience an Antarctic Storm, Hagglund ride, watch and learn about penguins, 4D show , and most of all you gain knowledge about Scott Base research facility, the role of New Zealand and several other countries in Antarctica activities pertaining to environmental protection. This is also the place where you need to come if you plan on taking a ride to Antarctica from New Zealand 😀
For the night, we chose to stay at a Lodge close to Airport. We had an option to drop off our rental vehicle at the lodge and they organize drop to Airport in a mini bus, which was very convenient for us.
Accommodation : Airport Gateway Motor Lodge at 90 NZD.
Day 14 : Depart from Christchurch back to Home
With all these memories of a lifetime, and a wish to visit again soon, we departed back to Singapore. New Zealand has really imprinted our heart, and until now, several months after this trip, I ponder into the memories and start dreaming as if I am there again, while listening to the songs we played in car, looking at the photos, even talking about the experiences we had.