Apologies in advance for the length of this post but normally our trips are just a long weekend trip. Trying to cram two weeks into a couple blog posts is proving to be quite difficult! Especially when I have 425,015,643 photos I want to share of beautiful New Zealand and Australia.
Our portion of our trip in New Zealand mainly consisted of a road trip through the South Island. I included a link to our itinerary at the bottom of this post which includes all the restaurants, sites, and coffee places I saved along the way from extensive research and our handy Lonely Planet book.
Cole and I arrived in New Zealand Thursday evening – landing in Wellington and we headed immediately to our hotel, The Intercontinental. This may have been one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at – it was just one block off the water, down the street from the best coffee in town (Mojo!), we got upgraded to a beautiful room and received access to the club lounge! The only downside was that we were only there for one night – although Cole and I did consider extending our stay after we fell in love with Wellington, we knew it wasn’t really possible with our tight itinerary.
Friday morning we woke up and went for a run along the waterfront. It was an absolutely stunning day with clear blue skies and the perfect temperature – “Windy Wellington” decided to hide for a day so we could fall in love with the city. After our run, we quickly got ready and stopped at Mojo, where we got our now daily order of a flat white and mocha. We walked back along the water, stopping to check out a local market and grabbing a quick bite to eat.
We decided to skip the cable car and instead head up to Mount Victoria lookout, the highest point in town which offers beautiful views of the city and surrounding landscape. We then embarked on our own mini brewery tour – starting off at the Rogue and Vagabond – this quirky bar serving up local craft beer which had an amazing garden. We then made a quick pit stop to acquire some All Blacks merchandise and then headed to Black Dog Brewery where we bought almost all the store’s merchandise to represent our love for our own black dog back, Lucy, at home.
By late afternoon, we had to pick up our luggage and head over to our ferry that would take us from Wellington to the South Island. This ferry is notorious for being one of the most beautiful in the world; sailing at sunset was a memory I will never forget.
We arrived right as it got dark and picked up our rental car from the Picton ferry station. We quickly grabbed dinner in Picton before starting the 2 hour drive to Nelson, our first stop in the South Island. There were no cars on the road and about halfway through our car ride, we pulled over to peak up at the sky. Never in my life have I seen so many stars in my life – the entire sky was literally glowing.
On Saturday, we woke up early in Nelson and grabbed some coffee and breakfast before driving west to Abel Tasman National Park. Many people book months in advance to spend a few days hiking through the coastline of the National park and sleep in the few huts on the property. Unfortunately, we only had an afternoon but made the most of it, spending a few hours walking along the gorgeous Abel Tasman Coast Track. There are plenty of opportunities to swim in the crystal clear blue water and be the only one in the ocean. We completed the hike and ended up in Anchorage Bay. We relaxed on the beach for a bit before heading back on the ferry to our car. If we had more time, I would have loved to spend a day kayaking to the nearby islands and seeing some of the wildlife.
That afternoon we still had to drive a couple hours down to our first Airbnb of the trip, a house in a small beachside town called Westport. The drive was gorgeous and gave us a brief glimpse into the stunning landscape we would see over the next week. We stopped to pick up some food to make some sandwiches in the car as we were hoping to arrive before it got dark. Unfortunately, we made it to our house right as it started raining and after sunset. It was a little spooky pulling into a house in the middle of nowhere after dark, but the beautiful home made up for it. We went to the local grocery store to get stuff to make avocado toast for breakfast and had a relaxing night in our remote home.
We woke up on Sunday and had a chance to take in the beauty surrounding the house before hopping back in the car.
We continued our drive down south – getting a chance to experience one of the top 10 coastal drives according to Lonely Planet. Cole was very patient and pulled over numerous times to let me try to capture the gorgeous views on my camera. We even stopped to search for the wild penguins but once again our search for wildlife was unsuccessful (recall our failed attempt to have “breaky with the roos” in Sydney). We made it to the famous Pancake rocks in Punakaiki a couple hours later. After a brief pit stop to explore the rocks, we headed to Hoktika to grab lunch.
Hoktika is a town that popped up back in the 1800’s during the local gold rush. It’s also on the beach so a nice stop if you’re headed further south. After some pizza, we hopped back in the car to finish the last and longest portion of our drive that day to make it down to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef glaciers. The glaciers are very unique as they are one of the few glaciers that end above sea level. In that part of the island, it had become quite overcast and started raining as we neared the glaciers. We followed the signs for a viewpoint of the glaciers thinking that would give us the best view, but after a short drive and a 15-minute walk to the viewpoint, we were disappointed in how far the glacier was. We hopped back in the car and turned back towards Franz Josef glacier. We decided it was worth the hour walk in the rain out to the closest point you could reach by foot. The glacier has decreased in size over the past 20 years due to increasingly warmer temperatures, so they now limit how far people can walk to the glacier. If you want to get really close, your only option is going by helicopter. Despite still being quite far from the glacier – it was very unique and cool to see.
We then ate dinner in the cute town of Franz Josef at Snake Bite Brewery – this pub with an Asian twist was a delicious find before we headed back to our home for the night. Our Airbnb this night was actually located on a small dairy farm in the tiny town of Whataroa. It was pretty cool to have fresh milk in the fridge from the cows right outside our window. That night we watched Pitch Perfect on TV while I kicked Cole’s butt in gin rummy 😉
We had decided to stay in the tiny town of Whataroa since early Monday morning, we had our white water rafting trip with Eco Rafting Adventures, which started in the nearby river. We woke up early and headed to the meeting point nearby where a helicopter would pick us up and take us a few kilometres up the river to raft in the glacier water! Despite a small issue with our guide getting into a car accident thanks to some tourists running him off the road – we were strapped into the helicopter and ready to go a couple hours later. The helicopter dropped us off and we proceeded to inflate our own raft and prepare for the journey back down. The experience was unbelievable – since the water is from the nearby glaciers, it’s this incredible blue color, plus you are rafting through these incredibly large gorges, jumping off boulders, and occasionally propelling down the rocks via rope, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The water is also freezing, so we had to wear two fleeces in addition to a wetsuit hence we looked a bit like big marshmallows. Unfortunately, the water levels were at some of their lowest in years, but we were still exhausted by the time we made it back to the starting point 5 hours later. Here’s a video of the experience our rafting partner, Jasper (ironically also from the Netherlands!) filmed and shared with us!
After we finished rafting, we changed out of our wet clothes and headed back in the car to drive down to our last stop before Queenstown, another tiny town called Haast Pass. This was probably my favorite B&B experience of the trip – we stayed in this quaint lodge surrounded by the mountains ,which was owned by the local school bus driver. It was right next to the town’s general store where we ate dinner and drank some beers, hanging out with the few locals.
Tuesday was the final day of our road trip – we checked out of our B&B and headed to see the Blue Lagoons in the outskirts of Mount Aspiring National Park. After the water we saw the day before, this paled in comparison but since it was just around the corner from our lodging, we weren’t too disappointed we spent the time checking it out.We then drove the hour down to Wanaka where we grabbed a delicious Mexican lunch and checked out the lakeside town. This part of NZ had a very distinctly different vibe than what we had seen before, reminding us a lot of Boulder, and it was a nice taste of what was to come in Queenstown. We loved our brief time in Wanaka, but were excited to make it to Queenstown – we opted for the scenic and a bit longer drive and we were so glad we did. The views driving along the lakes and into town were incredible. Despite a few days of already scenic vistas, this surpassed all of them. We arrived in Queenstown early afternoon and were surprised at how many tourists were there. For a week, we had felt like (and sometimes were!) the only visitors in the various towns of New Zealand. In Queenstown this is definitely not the case, but it was easy to see why it was so popular as you looked out over the picturesque lake and mountains. We grabbed a drink out on a bar located on a boat in the lake before heading to an Italian restaurant for dinner which was recommended by some locals. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with a few too many bottles of wine.The next day we were supposed to drive down to the Milford Sound to see the infamous fjords. This turned out to be another once in a lifetime experience and I feel like it deserves its own post so look out for that one separately.
Thursday morning we only had a couple hours in Queenstown before catching our flight to Auckland. We went for a run on the trail surrounding the lake and quickly packed up before returning our rental car and making our way to the small local airport.
A few hours later, we made it to Auckland, our final stop in New Zealand 😦 We had the majority of the afternoon to explore the town – we spent most of our time walking along the waterfront, which has been massively developed in the past few years and grabbed some drinks and an early dinner.A few weeks before our trip to NZ, we were inspired by Adele’s Grammy performance and bought tickets for her show in Auckland somewhat on a whim. I am so glad we made that decision as it was honestly one of the best concerts of our lives. Not only was her vocal performance incredible, she was hilarious! She had us in tears laughing so hard at the “New Zealand wildlife” attacking her on stage (e.g. beetles). It was such a perfect ending to an amazing two weeks down under.Turns out, our adventure wasn’t quite over yet. We were connecting in Pisa to make it back home to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, our flight from Doha to Pisa was delayed over 5 hours due to a terrible thunderstorm (who knew those happened in the desert) and we missed our connection in Pisa. We ended up having to rent a car to fly out of Florence, but after my poor navigation combined with terrible Florence airport signage made us just miss the morning flight, we had the chance to explore Florence for a couple hours before catching a flight out that evening.
We had one of the best trips of our lives and I am so glad we were able to do something so special to celebrate Cole’s 30th birthday!
Lastly, we owe a huge thank you to Drew, our kiwi friend from Amsterdam who provided some amazing recommendations for New Zealand! For anyone looking to explore the South Island of NZ by car – I thought I would share a map of our itinerary: