As three budget loving Indians, but with a wish list to visit the most exotic locales on this globe, it took us 4 months of careful planning to make this dream trip to NewZealand happen in the most economical way possible whilst ensuring no landscape or activity got compromised. Result:
16 days at different cities & towns- 10 flights & 3000 kms by road
16 nights at different places- Hostels, B&B’s, farm stay, airports, friends’ places
Every possible land scape of nature- glaciers, fiords, ice bergs, mountains, caves, geysers, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, springs, oceans.
At least 1 new activity every day- fiord kayaking, sky diving, glacier hiking, ice berg exploration, Surfing lessons
All of this in 1 Country – Kia Ora New Zealand! (Mar 2015)
If you thought LOTR was your motivation to visit NZ, that would be demeaning this country, as LOTR is but a tiny slice of the gorgeousness & adventure that awaits you here! (At this point, my cricket crazy husband glares at me to mention a highlight I have forgotten to capture in my above summary- that we also caught the 2015 Cricket World cup Semi finals in Auckland :))
Thanks to our constant quest to minimize budgets, Our journey began with a tiring 4 changeover flights to reach Christchurch from NZ (Delhi -> Kochi -> KL ->Sydney ->Christchurch). We landed in Christchurch after 2 full days of flight & airport naps and crashed at a hostel to begin our road trip the next day fresh & recharged (Almost)
- Christ Church to Mount Cook
A 5 hour drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook via NZ’s most beautiful lake- Lake Tekapo (This is saying something considering NZ has a million lakes and all of them are more beautiful than anything you have seen). The way it hit us is unforgettable. With two of us in the front and my husband sleeping in the rear, all of a sudden the 2 of us in the front yelled a loud “Oh my God” and my husband woke up shocked and terrorized. A magical turquoise blue view had hit us for hardly a second and disappeared with the turn of the car. We were sold and like addicts we drove faster towards it. Suddenly after a slope, a huge blue sea, a sea of copper sulphate (Recall the way the test tubes with copper sulphate looked back from high school days?), shining and dazzling under the sun. We abruptly stopped the car in the middle of the road, out of shock and wonder (until a passerby knocked some sense into us Indians 🙂 ).
After a lazy afternoon by the lake, we drove along lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki for another 2 hours to reach the beautiful town of Mount Cook, most popularly known as the town of Edmund Hilary.
2) Mount Cook to Queenstown
We began our day with sunrise at Mount cook, all set for a day amidst the ice bergs in the glacial lake of Mount cook. After a night drinking at the iconic “Old Mountaineer’s Cafe” (Edmund Hilary’s favorite hang out) this small quaint town at the mountain’s foothills was a memorable stop.After a short hike of 3 Kms and a speed boar ride of another 3 kms, we were right in the middle of the glacial lake with small ice bergs all around us. For the next 2 hours, our source of drinking water was truly “Pure glacial water” straight from the melting icebergs
By lunch we began our drive to the “Adventure Capital of the world”-Queenstown. After this trip when ever I am asked the question “Where is the one place in the world you would like to settle down”, I answer “Queenstown”. The energy and beauty in this town is in perfect balance making it a sweet spot for nature lovers, adventure junkies and party animals. Situated on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, the lake runs for 100kms all along one side of the city giving it gorgeous views and potential for some great adventure activities.
Fun Fact- You can do a different adventure activity every day for 40 days in Queenstown
4) Queenstown to Milford Sound
The Kiwis refer to Milford Sound as the “8th Wonder of the World” and not for no reason. The road to Milford sound and the actual Sound itself are truly breathtaking and warrants more than a day (Most visitors do a day trip from Queenstown, but trust me that is not enough). We drove from Queenstown by lunch (A very very long beautiful rough driveof 6 hours) and reached after sunset. We stayed at this lodge (The only accommodation available here) right on the banks of the river amidst the Fiords.
5) Milford Sound
Woke up at 5:30 am to the sound of rain and insects splattering on the windows. After a cup of hot tea (We had carried the famous Masala Chai all the way from here 🙂 ), we drove to meet our Kayaking Instructor for the day. The fiord waters are usually crystal clear with amazing marine life of dolphine & seals in abundance. One of the best ways to experience fiords up close & personal was through a Kayak. We signed up for a half day Kayaking trip to Milford Sound’s highest falls called “Lady Bowen Falls”. What followed was my favorite day of the trip 🙂
After kayaking in the clear pristine waters, by around lunch we boarded a cruise to experience the fiords from a higher angle. The weather was just perfect with mild winds and drizzle.
After what turned out to be one of my most favorite days spent amidst the pristine fiords in perfect weather, we started our drive back to spend the night the Lake Te Aneu, a small beautiful town (Town here usually meant 2 streets 🙂 ) nestled by the Lake Te Aneu
6) Te Aneu to Queenstown
Next morning we began our drive back to Queenstown. We could not get enough of this city and were glad to have one more day here. Once again we drove along the lake to visit this town called Glenorchy which is where almost 25% of LOTR was shot.
Fun Fact- The cafes in Glenorchy are renown for their Hot chocolate. Trust me, paying 12 NZD for a small hot chocolate was worth it (Coming from someone who was willing to take 4 flights instead of 1 to save money, it means something 🙂 )
What followed the blissful day was a very very interesting night. Our last night in Queenstown turned out to be more interesting than anything we imagined. I am going to to try to narrate it the way it happened and hope you guys can empathize with how amused we would have been at the end of that night (Or almost the beginning of the next day 🙂 )
We were recommended this pub called “Winnie” by the hostel folks so we went looking for it and began the night with a wine tasting session there. The hostel folks had told us that this place was economical but had great vibes,however the place was funnily quite posh and was no economical by any stretch. But since we had already placed our order, we were stuck. Now the 3 of us are at a table in extremely happy moods and all set to drink the night away. After one round of wine (We ordered a wine tasting platter), I went to use the wash room. Here there was this girl (Or woman you could say) of about 25-30 years of age, who kept staring at me and suddenly walked up to me said “You have such lovely hair and I love your complexion”.She then said “May I join you for drinks now, as I am a solo traveler and would love to spend a few mins with you”. In my half drunk state, I happily agreed and brought her to our table. Now the 2 guys in my group were gaping at why I was bringing this foreign chick with me and when I quitely took them aside and told them she had invited herself. (Clarifying at this point so you can appreciate the story better, one of the guys was my husband Varun and other was a friend named Karthik) . Suddenly all worries of budget go out of the window and Karthik offers to buy her a drink! She accepts and they walk to the bar. While he is ordering the drink all smiling at how lucky he had gotten for the night, she suddenly disappears. We all look around and spot her in one corner in the arms of a man, in a very intimate position. After about 10 more minutes, she walked back to our table and tells us “Please hide me, that guy there wants to take me to his room.. I was just having some fun with him but he seems to have gotten serious”. By this time we had all had at least 3-4 drinks and so with no thought we agreed. Hiding her between us, we took her out of the bar. That guy spotted us and followed us. As soon as we saw this, we ran on the road in multiple directions with her and finally reached the a deadend lake. We had lost him somehow. Here we sat for the next 2 hours and all 4 of us chatted about everything in the world. It was amazing to hear that she was an immigration officer in Australia and mother of 2 and was just unwinding and taking a break after really long and so having some good fun. She was so easy to talk to and so non-judgmental,we all loved her. After 2 hours suddenly said she wanted to go back to the bar. Why? Reply- “I thought the bartender was quite cute, so I was hoping to catch him before the bar shuts for the night.. now that we have lost the other guy I think I can safely go and try my luck with the bartender”. Wow, we loved this woman! So Karthik & I went to check the bar “Winne” to reconfirm if the other guy had left while Varun stayed with her. We went checked and told her he had left and took her to the bar. At the entrance she stood a little surprised and told us “But this is not the bar we were at, why are you checking here?”. We were at “Winnie’s” so why was she confusing us? She took us to the next bar and said that was the correct one. Then it hit us. We had stumbled into an expensive place called “Ballarat & Co” and spent that eventful evening & night there wondering why the hostel said it was cheap! Wow, if not for that mistake, we may have missed out on one of our most eventful nights 🙂 (The girl went on with the correct bartender and we never saw her again). It was 4 am.
7) Queenstown to Wanaka to Fransjoseph Glacier
We began our drive to Fransjoseph Glacier via one more beautiful lake called “Lake Wanaka”. After a lazy afternoon camping by the lake, we hit the west coast of NZ to drive along the sea to reach Fransjosef & Fox Glacier.
8) Fransjoseph & Fox Glacier
A day of glacial exploration where we boarded a helicoptor and landed right on top of the famous Fransjosef Glacier, explored around the crevices and caves of the glacier for half a day and came back to earth (literally). We followed this with a nice long hot bath in the geothermal glacial springs. After this we drove to Christchurch to end our South Island exploration and begin our North Island discovery the next day
9) Christchurch to Rotorua
We landed in Rotorua next day in an early morning flight from Christchurch to be greeted by smoke and hot springs in every street literally. This town of Rotorua is a bed of intense geothermal activity making the town very unique in that it is filled with hot springs, mud pools and geysers everywhere and its residents just go about their daily lives like it is the most normal thing in the world! We visited this famous goethermal national park called “Te puia” which is home to NZ’s highest geyser called “Pohutu Geyser”
10) Rotorua to Auckland
Next early morning we boarded the local bus from Rotorua to Auckland from where we picked up our rental car for our North Island drive. This was the day of the Cricket world cup semifinals and by husband had managed to get us VIP passes to the lounge area of the stadium using his marketing connections (Wink). While I am not a cricket fan, the experience of watching the match with all the luxuries of wining, dining & rubbing shoulders with players was great! Great free food, even better free expensive wine and great seats, it was an amazing evening. We finished dinner at the lounge and began our drive to Waitomo (Not to forget the heavenly Strawberries & Cream for dessert)
Most famous for its glow worm caves Waitomo was truly a unique experience, both in terms of the activity and the accommodation. All the accommodations we had booked were basic and less than 30 USD per person. So we never expected much anywhere except basic hygiene. However the Waitomo acco was a true pleasure. It was a full fledged farm with 2 houses inside (One of the hostess and one for us). The house was huge and beautifully done up with 3 BHK and perfectly furninishings. The hostess invited us for feeding all her animals on the farm at sunrise along with her 2 year old kid. It was a very authentic NZ farm experience.
After this great start to the day, we drove to the Waitomo caves for a boat ride under the glowworm studded caves. Hard to describe,but the glow worm studded cave looked like the night sky with a million stars all at an arm’s length away with the only noise been that of the boat paddling in water.
13) Waitomo to Matamata
Matamata is the “Shire” of the LOTR. Rolling hills, green pastures, sheep everywhere and hobbits of course.
Raglan is listed as one of the top 10 surfing towns of the world by Lonely Planet. This came to become a part of our itinerary after an exciting idea of Karthik’s that we should take surfing lessons. Turned out to be one of our best ever decisions as that one day spent surfing was probably the most fun I have had in ages. We played in the sea like children. Our Surf instructor was this guy called Steve who was an amazing coach but a little eccentric in his ways. This was my second favorite day of the trip 🙂 Thanks Karthik for making me do this! At the end of the session we just about managed to stand up straight on the surf board without falling when a wave hit. Am proud of that achievement till date (Trust me, it is extremely difficult and not at all as glamorous as it is made to look)
After a back breaking day at sea, we drove back to Auckland to catch our return flight, absolutely sad that this epic adventure was over, but glad for how fortunate we were to have experienced it. (Took the same 4 flights back to reach Delhi 🙂 )
Hope to say Kia Ora to you again Newzealand. See you again soon 🙂