Aotearoa, (or, New Zealand) literally translated as "Land of the Long White Sand" is a country beautiful country made up of islands sitting on the edge of the world.
Despite often being missed from world maps, this extraordinary country shouldn’t be missed off any bucket list.
With beautiful beaches, hissing volcanoes, steaming hot springs, excellent brunch spots and breathtaking alpine scenery, New Zealand will have you racing to come back again and again.
Currency: New Zealand Dollar
Language(s): English, Maori
Plug Sockets: Type I
Ease of travel: 5/5 with car 4/5 without
Ease of communication: 5/5
Ease of meeting others: 5/5
General costs: ££££
I took a 3 week trip to New Zealand in February 2020 with my boyfriend, Paul.
The first stop on our New Zealand adventure was Auckland.
Auckland is the big, busy city in the North, and where 33% of Kiwis live. We were only there for a day and a half, so we crammed in as much as we could.
Things to do:
1. Head to the suburbs
After arriving pretty late, we headed straight to Ponsonby: a cute suburb of the city known for its edgy bars, shops and restaurants. After spending some time wandering the streets, we had a quick google and found we were near a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant - an odd but delicious combination (artichoke dumplings should become a staple at every dumpling restaurant).
Next it was time for a drink. Although there were plenty of bars around, there were a limited number actually open; it was pretty quiet (I mean, in fairness it was a Monday night, but still, it is the biggest city in the country).
2. Scoot (or walk) around the CBD
The city centre itself is fairly easy to get around, with nice shopping streets, brunch spots and a pretty walk along the pier. As soon as you step outside, you’ll notice the abundance of electric scooters on hand for people to rent. There’s several companies to pick from – so we downloaded pretty much all of them – uber, bird, jump, lime, flamingo, beam, wave – the lot. . A quick scan of the scooter, and off we were – speeding past walkers and enjoying the ride. It was pretty fun!
Scooter ride around Auckland
3. Mount Eden / Maungawhau
Next stop was Mount Eden – you can walk from the car park (a short 10 mins uphill) or take the longer route from the base. Either way you’ll get panoramic views of the city, and a look into the huge 50m deep crater.
4. Sky tower
The views from Mount Eden were nice, but for a more impressive skyline, nothing can top the 328 metre high Sky tower - $32 for an entry ticket, a few cheesy photos at the photo booth, a quick elevator ride and you’re at the top, gazing at the bird’s eye view of the city.
View from Mount Eden
View from Auckland Sky Tower
We didn’t stay long in Auckland – time constraints etc. (a sentence you’ll be reading a lot here), which is a shame as I would have loved to have gone to Waiheke island.
Next stop was Waitomo.
After a short, two and a half-hour drive down from Auckland, we arrived in Waitomo for an afternoon glow worm tour (why else does anyone come to Waitomo after all?).
Waitomo is world-famous for these eye-popping glow worm caves; this natural phenomenon truly is spectacular.
There are a couple of different companies to choose from, each offering their own take on the tour – whether you’re looking for a bog standard tour, a photography tour, an adrenaline-fuelled tour ( black water rafting). We chose to go with spellbound tours as they seem to have much much smaller group sizes.
After meeting at their main office and parking the car, we boarded a minibus and drove down to the cave entrance – approximately a 20 minute drive away. Before entering the cave, we were geared up with helmets and head torches. We took a slow walk down the pitch-black tunnel, letting our eyes adjust gradually to the darkness. Suddenly, flickers of bright diamond-like specks started to appear. At first just a few, then ten, fifty, hundreds appeared from all around. Before long the entire cave was covered in a blanket of twinkling lights.
We glided downstream on a boat ride, our guide explaining to us how the worms create the light, and giving us the chance to see some up close. We were then given some free time to make our way back – along the railing were camera mounts and tripods that we could attach to our camera, to try to take some photos. It was at this point that I realised I had brought the wrong camera lens with me, so my photos left much to the imagination!
After a quick hot chocolate and biccie stop, we made our way to the second cave, Te Ana o Te Atua. This cave was not a glow-worm cave. Here we were led down a tunnel enveloped in darkness except for a few small sinkholes (or, ‘tomo’) where day light peered through and shone on the many stalactites and stalagmites on either side. At the far end of the tunnel we saw a rare sight: part of a moa skeleton, a large flightless bird that has been extinct since the 1400s – impressive!
Overall the tour was great, and the guides were very friendly (and very accommodating when we were running late, as per usual).
After our exciting day, we drove up to Hamilton, where we spent the next night.
Glow worms in Waitomo
“Hamilton? Really?” was pretty much what everyone said when we said we were staying there for the night, and in fairness, you probably could give it a miss. We stayed here partly because it works out quite nicely as a base to explore Waitomo and Hobbiton, and partly because we had a friend who lives there.
In fairness to the city, it’s quite nice – plenty of brunch spots, bars, restaurants, and easy to get around. Perhaps it wouldn’t make it into the ‘top ten travel destinations of New Zealand’, but it’s nice for a night or two.
Easily one of my favourite days on the trip given I got to spend the afternoon pretending to be a hobbit! Booking online in advance was vital as the time slots book out very far in advance. It’s easy to get to – you can take a scenic drive through green rolling hills from Hamilton or Rotorua or - if you don’t have a car- there are plenty of tour agencies departing from Auckland, Rotorua and Hamilton.
From the car park, we took a short bus ride and entered the movie set, a wonderland of rolling green hills dotted with pretty hobbit holes that was incredible to see. Even Paul, who is not a LOTR fan, loved it – the detail that has gone into every one of the forty four hobbit homes is astounding. After plenty of time for photos, the tour finishes with a free drink in the Green Dragon Inn.
One of the 44 hobbit holes
Our next stop was Rotorua. We had chosen to spend two nights here, although in hindsight we could easily have spent five! The scent of rotten egg (from the sulphur) from the geothermal activity hits you in the face before you even enter the city – but you get used to it pretty quickly, and it’s definitely not as bad as everyone makes out.
There are loads of things to see and do in Rotorua – geothermal wonderland, natural hot springs, Maori experiences, skydiving, zorbing. You name it!
1. Geothermal parks
There are two main parks you can visit: Te Puia and Waiotapu. We chose Waiotapu.
Entering the park, I suddenly felt like I was walking through an alien landscape – everything is so foreign: bubbling mud, radioactive-looking lakes, smoky caves and steaming, churning pools of boiling water. There are three main walks you can follow; we chose to walk along all three paths in turn, and it didn’t take long at all. The ‘pièce de resistance’ is the Lady Knox geyser – although this particular geyser gets a helping hand to explode at a set time every day by the park guides. Overall the park was great; we loved spending the day wandering around this fascinating collection of colourful thermal activity.
Slime-green lake in Waiotapu
Bubbling mud pools
Lady Knox Geyser
2. Maori cultural experience
Rotorua is one of the best places to experience Maori culture – and there are lots of options including overnight stays, day tours and evening tours. Researching our options, we found most companies had very similar itineraries, with equally similar reviews. We chose to go for a combination package at Mitai village evening experience in addition to entry to the Polynesian Spa.
On arrival, we were seated at tables and taught about Mitai history including old ways of travel, cooking and hunting. We were then treated to a delicious traditional hangi meal, followed by a cultural show – an hour of singing, dancing and the haka (obviously). Overall it was a really fun, interesting and interactive evening.
3. Polynesian spa
With our combo ticket, we had access to the Polynesian spa, so the next day we spent a few hours soaking in the hot springs and gazing at the picture-perfect lake view. It was a nice way to spend a few hours, but in all honesty the centre was quite small, and definitely not as impressive as some of the hot springs I’ve been to in Australia. (Sorry!)
4. Redwood Park (Whakarewarewa forest)
With sky-high redwood trees and suspension bridges connecting viewing platforms – the redwood park is a great place to spend a few hours. By day you can take in the views, by night a light-show descends, which makes for a magical experience. There are also several walks and mountain bike routes to choose from.
Eating and drinking in Rotorua is pretty easy, there are loads of options. We mostly ate on Eat Street (I mean, the clue’s in the name) – all the restaurants and bars were lively with delicious fare.
Next stop was Lake Taupo, the first of many picturesque lakes along our NZ trip.
This vast lake is perfectly set up for travellers with cafes, bars, shops and an abundance of water-based activities to take your pick from. We chose to kayak, specifically a kayak tour going to the nearby famous Maori rock carvings.
It started well. We were paired off into double kayaks and off we went, paddling across the beautiful waters. Fast forward to two hours later, and there was a sudden change in the wind. Paddling became an instant struggle; water hurling over the sides of the kayak, rain thundering down and waves desperately trying to push us back to shore. After a short time trying in vain to fight back, we realised we weren’t going to win, and so started our return – no Maori rock carvings for today.
Despite this, it was still pretty fun (not to mention, a good workout) – we commiserated by eating a huge tapas meal at Atticus Finch and putting back on those calories we had so gallantly burned.
Huka Fall River
Huka Falls and the thermal pools
The next day we went to visit Huka Falls – an impressive waterfall with a scenic walk alongside. The thermal pools are definitely worth a dip. The water is pretty shallow, but if you can beat the crowds to the slightly deeper area by underneath the small waterfall, you’ll have a great time.
Onwards from Taupo, we headed South and into Wellington.
I would love to have stopped for a couple of days on the way to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (aka Mordor), but New Zealand is huge and we just didn’t have time.
Wellington is such a cool little city – it’s like a mini Melbourne (for anyone who hasn’t been to Melbourne before, this is a HUGE compliment). With quirky streets, cute eateries and independent shops on every corner – it was fab. As with the Auckland and Hamilton, there are scooters ready to hire and ride all over the city, which makes getting around the city even more fun.
1. Te Papa Museum
One of the most interesting museums I’ve visited – it definitely shouldn’t be missed on your trip to Wellington. With fascinating exhibitions detailing Maori history, nature and New Zealand’s unique geography to name a few, you could easily spend days here without getting bored.
2. Wellington Cable Car
Starting from the main shopping street and terminating at Kelburn (a suburb near the Botanic Gardens), this cable car offers great views of the city and has become an icon for Wellington.
3. Botanic Gardens
After taking in the views at Kelburn, it’s time to check out the botanic gardens!
We learnt the hard way that this area is a scooter-free zone. They stop working as soon as you’ve crossed the park gates. The first part of the path is downhill, so it’s easy not to notice immediately. We scooted with ease to the base of the hill, before immediately grounding to a halt at the next part of the path, a very steep incline. After a short time googling why our scooters weren’t working, we realised we’d crossed into the scooter-free zone. The next part was not so fun. Those scooters are heavy, and there’s no other way out – don’t even think about leaving them there because a) it’s selfish and b) you can’t actually end the ride until you’re out of the area, so you’d end up paying by the minute for ever and ever. Ah well. More good exercise I suppose?
4. Drive around the coast
After our traumatic scooter ride, and my inability to move my arms, we decided it was time for a comfortable, scenic drive around the peninsula. The drive was beautiful, passing bay after bay all the way to Point Halswell.
5. Mount Victoria Lookout
For scenic views of the city and harbour, head to the Mount Victoria lookout.
View from Mount Victoria
6. Eat, drink, shop!
There are so many places to do any of the above – particularly along Cuba Street and the waterfront. I was pretty excited to find out that this city is also home to the only Welsh bar in the southern hemisphere - naturally we spent several hours there!
Wellington was fun, but it was time to head on – this time to South Island!
North Island to South Island Crossing
There are two main ways of getting between the two islands. Option one is to fly. Option two is to take a picturesque ferry ride from Wellington to Picton through the Cook Strait, followed by a leisurely tourist train stopping in Blenheim (wine country), Kaikoura (for whale watching) and Christchurch. We chose the latter.
The ferry ride was beautiful, and very peaceful. We paid extra to get lounge access – a quiet lounge with comfy window seats and $10 to spend on food/drink. The ferry arrives in Picton and our bags were sent straight through to the train. Meanwhile we spent an hour strolling around the town (after making a beeline for the ice cream shop, obviously), before heading back to the train station.
With comfy seats, audio commentary via headsets and enormous glass windows, this isn’t your typical commuter train trip, this is a scenic railway journey.
Views from the train ride
We headed directly to Christchurch, our next stop.
Christchurch - a small, quirky and lively city – has sadly been brought to the attention of the world over the past decade for two tragedies - the earthquake of 2011, and the mosque shooting of 2019.
Walking around, it was odd to see the remnants of the earthquake a full nine years after the event. Loud shops and fancy restaurants stand in a jagged line, with building sites, abandoned homes and bulldozed buildings poking through – a daily reminder of the extent of the disaster.
1. Quake city
This is a really interesting museum for anyone wanting to learn more about the earthquakes. With footage from the quake, videos of victims describing the horrors of being trapped in buildings, and exhibitions about the rebuilding effort and resilient spirit of the community.
2. River Avon
Nope, you're not in Cambridge, you can go punting in New Zealand too!
3. Food markets
A great place to have lunch is the riverside food market. Located right on the riverside (as the name suggests) there are lots of food and drink options to choose from.
4. Canterbury Museum
Another interesting museum exploring New Zealand’s culture – it was a great place to spend a few hours.
5. Cardboard Cathedral
This unique cathedral was built as a temporary replacement for Christchurch Cathedral, which was destroyed in the earthquake. This building is one of a kind, made entirely from cardboard tubes and the walls of shipping containers; it’s worth a visit.
We picked up our campervan in Christchurch, ready to explore the rest of the South Island.
We were very lucky to borrow a campervan from family friends, and it’s definitely the right way to see the island, with ample camping facilities across the country.
Some scenes along the drive:
Parking up for lunch wherever we wanted
Tekapo was our next stop – a beautiful drive along the SH73 from Christchurch takes you to this small town with plenty to see and do.
1. Enjoy the lake
Lake Tekapo was definitely the bluest lake I’d ever seen. Relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine by the shore was a great way to end the day.
2. Mount John
We parked up at our campsite and decided we’d been eating out a LOT lately. it was definitely time to be a bit more active!
So off we went to Mount John – a short but relatively steep trek to the top with beautiful views.
If you’re feeling lazy, don’t fear, you can drive to the top too!
View over Lake Alexandrina
Dark Sky Reserve
Tekapo is known for its dark sky reserve. We had booked in for a stargazing evening in the hot springs (sounds pretty dreamy, right?). Before the trip I had been warned by several family members that these evening tours often get cancelled due to poor weather – any cloud and you can’t see any stars anyway - but things were looking good. We had a perfect cloudless day, and a clean sunset. We spent the early evening lying on pebbles by the lake-front and gazing at the thousands of twinkling lights above us; there were so many, it was as if someone had painted the sky with glitter. The tour didn’t start until 11pm so we took our time strolling slowly through the town towards the information centre, staring at the stars the whole way.
We checked in to the centre and waited inside for approximately 20 minutes for the tour bus to arrive. Well, during that 20 minutes the entire sky closed over with thick, thick cloud, and not a single star was left in view. What are the chances?! We went up to the stargazing centre anyway, and thankfully the moon was visible - so we took the opportunity to look at the craters through telescopes. Still no sign of any stars, so we went inside and were given virtual reality headsets instead. Now, I’ve not used these before so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. It was a really cool experience - a really educational, virtual tour around the solar system. So realistic in fact, that I actually felt motion sickness and had to close my eyes every time we zoomed between planets – a bit pathetic really!
Finally we got changed and spent an hour soaking in the hot springs, and taking in the views of some really pretty clouds. Our guide was great though, and kept us entertained with Maori stories about the various constellations (that no one could actually see).
All in all it was a pretty good stargazing experience, especially considering the total lack of stargazing.
The next day, we got back in the campervan and headed to by far my favourite place: Mount Cook.
Mount Cook is simply stunning. With never-ending scenes of pristine alpine peaks and lakes, it looked like Scotland on steroids.
We stayed in a campsite a little out of the village - Glentanner campsite - mainly because the one in the village didn’t have a shower, and this one did. There was however, to our horror, no dump station in the area so we had to limit our water use dramatically (why didn’t we use the dump station in Tekapo??).
There are lots of good hikes to do in this area of New Zealand, but with limited time, as always, we chose not to walk the Mueller hut route, and instead stick to the shorter, Hooker Valley track trail. Approximately three hours (or 11 km), it follows a well-paved track over hills and three swing bridges.
It was beautiful – some of the views along the way:
Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track
2. Tasman Glacier
The next day we headed to Mount Cook airport for our helicopter and glacier hike. We really wanted to see a glacier on the trip – initially we’d been toying with the idea of either Fox or Franz Josef, but they take a good amount of time to get to as there’s no direct road from Tekapo– so we decided to go for the Tasman glacier.
We took the scenic helicopter ride over, got out, put our crampons on, and hiked over the ice and through the caves.
Views from the front seat of the helicopter
Out on top of the glacier
Mesmerising ice caves
The ice cave was stunning. We squeezed through the entrance and navigated through wet, glass-like tunnels of bright blue swirly ice. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
The whole area around Mount Cook is so picturesque, so there are lots of places to stop along the road for a perfect lunch stop - just be careful of sand flies! Paul was practically eaten alive in the four minutes we opened the campervan door for.
The next day, we had been expecting to spend a bit more time in the area, but a huge storm was approaching, so we took our cue to leave.
Eager to make the most of a potentially stormy day, we tried to find some walking tracks we could do in the areas not affected by the weather. This is where the fantastic DOC website came in – an invaluable resource! They detail hundreds of walks with starting points, directions and grading.
We found two short walks on the way. First, a kettlehole track in Pukaki – approx. one hour return with dramatic views over the lake. Second, we headed to Lake Benmore.
Lake Benmore was beautiful – it’s a pretty easy walk, mostly flat, but with spectacular views over enormous, azul blue lakes. What was more surprising was that we didn’t see a single other soul on the track – I suppose this is just New Zealand in a nutshell. When every part of the country is stunning, small walks like this just don’t attract the crowds, and this scenery just becomes the norm.
After our successful day of storm avoidance, we headed to Wanaka. This picturesque tourist hotspot on the lakeshore really surprised me. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting small-town with a couple of shops and the odd café – but in fact, Wanaka is pretty big with hipster coffee bars and cute shops all around.
1. That Wanaka tree
You can’t really go to Wanaka and not take a look at the instafamous tree – it’s even called ‘#thatwanakatree’ on google maps!
That Wanaka tree
2. Roy’s Peak
Another Wanaka site rising to popularity thanks to social media is Roy’s peak, and trust me: it lives up to the hype. This majestic mountain stands proudly 1578 m in the air, peering down at Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring below.
We’d been warned that the trek gets pretty busy by late morning, and so were told it’s best to head up early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Not being particularly early risers, we decided to try an alternative tactic; with sunset late in the evening at this time of the year, we set off mid-afternoon. Along the walk up we passed heaps of people coming down, and so it was pretty empty by the time we reached the top!
Heading up Roy's Peak
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is an easy trek, especially considering the sheer amount of posts from the viewpoint that appear every day on social media. It’s definitely not easy, but then again not super, super tough. It’s essentially three hours of moderate incline – switchbacks the whole way, then two hours downhill.
The views along the way are enough to keep up anyone’s motivation however, and if that doesn’t do it for you, the wave of confident, striding pensioners overtaking you at every corner certainly will.
By about two and a half hours up, we reached the famous viewpoint. The view is breathtaking, especially on a cloudless day like ours, but it’s not the actual peak – a bit of a shock when you realise there’s still more switchbacks to go to reach the top! So off we trotted, and thirty minutes of incline later, we had reached Roy’s peak. Yay! We celebrated with a caramilk twirl (THE best chocolate bar, just fyi) and headed back down - sweaty, blistery messes - but with a general feeling of accomplishment all around.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really need to do some more exercise.
We conquered Roy's Peak!
Onwards and downwards (?) to Queenstown, a small bust busy little city lying on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by soaring snow-covered peaks. This lively city has plenty to offer.
1. Adventurous activities
Queenstown is an adrenaline-junkie’s paradise: whether you want to throw yourself from a plane or get thrown about on a jet boat, Queenstown probably offers it.
You can’t visit Queenstown without a trip up the Gondola, and you definitely can’t go up the gondola without a few trips on the luge.
The gondola (or cable car) is a smooth scenic ride to a viewing platform. From here you can take in the view over a glass of wine, or go on a luge ride – or two, or three. One is never enough, as their slogan goes.
View from the top of the gondola
3. Cycling wine tour
This was one of my favourite days on the trip, and was essentially a DIY bicycle tour around as many wineries as we could manage – using the company ‘Around the Basin’.
After meeting in the centre of Queenstown, we took a bus ride to nearby Arrowtown, a gorgeous little town frozen in time from the New Zealand goldrush era.
The first thing you should do in Arrowtown is to visit the Provisions of Arrowtown Cafe, and sample their world-famous sticky buns!
From here we picked up our bikes and were given a map of the route, starting with a scenic, 15km cycle along the Arrow river trail, passing alongside twisting rivers, stunning countryside greenery and over scarily-high rope bridges.
By the time we had arrived at our first vineyard, we were pretty pleased with the decision to go for electric bikes! We cycled from winery to winery, buying bottle after bottle (the company would pick them up and transport them to us later) – a delicious and relaxing way to spend any day.
Beautiful views along the route
So many picture opportunities
Scary rope bridges!
Cycling through vineyards
This famous restaurant isn’t just a burger joint, it’s become a main attraction in Queenstown city. With queues and queues of people lining up outside, no matter the time or day (I mean, seriously? Who really wants a big burger meal at 8.30 in the morning?). There is a way to skip the line, and that’s by phoning up and making a takeaway order. With so many benches facing spectacular views, you’ll feel like a winner.
5. Kiwi Sanctuary
After another attempt to go kayaking (It was FAR too windy), we were looking for more things to do in the city, and came across the Kiwi sanctuary. It was a great way to spend the afternoon!
The sanctuary isn’t just home to kiwi, but also to lots of Australian birds, and it was really fun to watch both the kiwi show and the bird show!
After our few days enjoying Queenstown, we headed down to Fiordland!
Before we flew to New Zealand we had been trying to decide whether to visit Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, or both! We’d finally made the decision to go to Milford Sound when the news came through that torrential downpours in the area had caused huge landslides – people were trapped, and the roads into the sound were blocked. We kept a close eye on the situation whilst we travelled around North Island, and although they had successfully rescued everyone who was trapped, and opened up the roads to emergency services, it was going to be a long while before the roads would be open fully. And so, Doubtful Sound it was.
Looking through our options of tours, there were generally three offered: an overnight cruise, a day cruise, or a kayak trip! Perhaps we could finally successfully kayak we thought, so we hastily booked the tour with ‘Go Orange’.
We drove from Queenstown down to Manapouri, where we parked ourselves overnight, stopping along the way for a quick walk around the start of the Keppel track. Manapouri is pretty small, and nearby Te Anau is usually where most people stay, but the trips all start from Manapouri, so we chose to stay here and have an extra twenty minutes of sleep the next day (have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person?).
The morning came, and we woke up bright and early and headed to the harbour.
Doubtful Sound is quite far away. It involves first an hour’s ferry across Lake Manapouri. It’s a beautiful crossing, and thankfully relatively calm over to West Arm. From here we had a little bit of time to look around the information centre before getting on a coach and driving over the Wilmot Pass to our kayak starting point.
The drive was stunning, taking us through never-ending, dense, jungle-like greenery interrupted by brilliant, white flowing waterfalls.
As we drove, it became more and more evident that we were driving further and further away from the blue sky of Manapouri and were travelling directly into some ominous looking black clouds.
Sure enough, we stepped off the coach and straight into torrential rain and wind. It certainly added a degree of eeriness and mystery to the sound, but it did also mean that kayaking was off the cards (the theme of the trip) so after a short walk to capture some photographs of the sound, we were back on the bus and heading back to the mainland.
We took the opportunity to have a potter around Te Anau, where bizarrely the sun was shining without a single cloud in sight. It’s a nice little town, and I can see why most people stay there.
I guess I’ll just have to add the sounds to my ever-growing list of places to come to when I next visit New Zealand.
This was my time up on this incredible whistle-stop tour of Zealandia.
It was time to head to Queenstown for my flight back to Melbourne.
Places I would have liked to have gone:
Hot water beach
Top tips for New Zealand:
Watch out for the weather. Trust no weather app and expect hourly changes! Pack sunscreen, swimsuit, rain jacket and thermals, even if you’re visiting in summer (yes, seriously), and don’t even try to wear anything flowy in Wellington – it’s unbelievably windy.
Book activities and accommodation in advance – especially if you’re travelling in high season. We struggled to find a tour one week in advance for Doubtful Sound.
Wear insect repellent and bring bite-relief cream. The sand-flies are everywhere in South Island and they are incredibly itchy!
For walks and tramps, check the DOC website – it’s a fantastic resource.
New Zealand roads take longer than you would expect to get from A to B. They’re often single-track and winding. Any breakdown and you’ll find yourself stuck behind a row of traffic for sometimes hours on end. Prepare for this and allow extra time.
We were advised to download offline maps before we went in case the signal was poor, but we actually didn’t find that a problem at all. We bought Vodafone sim cards at the airport and had signal pretty much everywhere!
If you’re using a campervan and the campsite has a dump station, use it. Don’t ‘wait until the next one’, like we did, because you will inevitably find that the next campsite does not have one. Trust me, the smell of dirty drain water shooting up through the shower drain at every road turn is not pleasant.
Make sure you have room in your suitcase for wine! Vineyards are everywhere, it’s pretty much impossible not to bring a bottle or two back. You have been warned.
‘Tramping’ is what the Kiwis call hiking.