Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn (aka dirty human), Sam, and Legolas (well that’s all the LOTR characters that I can think of) had it special when they were travelling through Middle Earth. Now I didn’t do a LOTR tour, but totally not necessary as every place we went to looked exactly like the set. NZ really is a stunning place, filled with 100s of waterfalls, glaciers, cloud-piercing mountains, and sheep (lots and lots of sheep).
A few things about NZ:
- New Zealanders are called Kiwis (too cute!). There is also the Kiwi bird and Kiwi fruit (tasted so much better in their own land).
- Kiwis are not the same as Aussies. Don’t make the same mistake that Aziz made here.
- Aotearoa, ‘land of the long white cloud,’ aka New Zealand was first inhabited by the Maori people, who travelled from French Polynesia about 1000 years ago.
- NZ is rugby country. If you’ve never seen the All Blacks perform the haka, it’s chilling.
- Keas, a native parrot, is a vicious bird. Do not feed it. It will attack your car trying to get food
Kea attacking! I was eating a cookie at the time.
- Kiwis are outnumbered by sheep; the ratio stands at 1:9.
- Tramping, aka hiking, is a common activity.
Here are my highlights of our NZ trip:
Day 1: Akaroa & Bains Peninsula
Who knew we’d find France all the way in NZ? Akaroa is a cute seaside French town, complete with Frenchies and all! The views around Akaroa were amazing, definitely a good hideaway from Christchurch.
Day 2: Christchurch & Arthur’s Pass National Park
Christchurch was demolished in the 2011 earthquake and has yet to recover. The entire downtown is closed off with a wire fence and you cannot enter. Buildings are have there. Very sad that it’s taking them so long to rebuild. They do, however, have a really cool mall called the ‘Restart Mall.’ It takes old shipping containers and reuses them as buildings!
Restart Mall in Christchurch
Day 3: Arthur’s Pass National Park & Franz Joseph Glacier
Morten and I camped in Arthur’s Pass Natl. Park which was freezing! We did the Otira Valley tramp, which ends at the footbridge but you can continue if you’re mountaineering.
Enjoying the walk through the Otira Valley
Otira Valley walk
On our way to Franz Joseph Glacier, we picked up some hitchhikers, Mike and Steve, from the US. They were WFA-ing (pronounced woofing), which is short for Working for Food and Accommodation. Apparently that’s the best way to do NZ, as it’s free and you get luxurious meals and digs at the homestays.
Franz Joseph Glacier
Mike and Steve from the US
Day 4: Fox Glacier & Wanaka
Starting to get tired on our long drives, we didn’t get up to Fox Glacier but did manage to do a walk around Lake Mattheson. Lake Mattheson has stunning views of Mt. Cook in its background and it a very well-maintained track. It is only 1.5 hours return, which we did in 1 hr.
Circuit loop around Lake Matheson with Mt. Cook in the background
Enjoying Lake Wanaka
Wanaka was gorgeous, probably one of my favourite spots. The residents are seriously spoiled by the views they have on their lake.
Day 5: Te Anau
Gateway to the Fiords and at risk of being totally bypassed by the proposed underground trainline from Queenstown to Milford Sound, Te Anau was gorgeous and the people were even friendlier.
Day 6: Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Parks
Before heading into the sound, we did a 4hr return walk into Gertrude Saddle. It was a challenging walk since I couldn’t tell where the trail was and it was pretty rocky. We stopped right before the saddle since we knew we still had a full day ahead of us in the Sound and needed to conserve some nergy.
Just out of LOTRs, there is an air of eerieness to the sound. We caught it on a good day, which is rare, but our photos didn’t come out as amazing as we’d hoped. On our way back, we picked up more hitchhikers, Magnus and Mads from Denmark. Nice dudes and Morten got on very well with them since all they could do was talk about cycling the entire 2.5 hours back to Te Anau.
Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park
Day 7/8: Queenstown
I didn’t know what to expect in Queenstown, adventure capital of the world. Seriously, this place was bumping. Everywhere you went, there were backpackers, young and old, signing up for jet-boating, skydiving, bungy-jumping…you name it. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like going fast and I’m a big ol’ scaredy cat so there was no way I was doing any of those things. Probably better for it as it cost over $150 to do any of that. Morten and I were content enough to hang out around town, drink some Montheiths (their west coast brewery is here), and enjoy some Ferg Burger. Our kiwi housemate gave us a few recs before we came to NZ and one of them was to try Ferg Burger. Hailing from the land that brought us burgers and all of its glory, you can sense my skepticism of any other burger joint. Well, well, well…was I put in my place! Now let’s relish in these glorious, mouth-watering photos of the ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ burger that nearly ended my NZ trip (I was pretty much bed-ridden with a food baby after this beast).
Mr. Big Stuff = mouthwatering
Day 9: Mt. Cook Aoraki National Park
Mt. Cook or Aoraki or ‘cloud-piercer’ is 3,754 metres (12316.273 feet) and is the tallest mountain in NZ. One of the best things about Mt. Cook Village was the visitor’s centre, which carefully details all the history about the mountain, the region, the first glacial expedition, the first female mountaineers to climb it, the way it was formed and so much more! It was a mini-museum dedicated to the region. Very cool and a definite must if you’re interested in learning. We had gorgeous weather and rushed to climb up the Mueller Hut Hike because the next day was supposed to be rainy and windy. This was my first over-night hike.
Just look at this!
Mt. Cook and Mt. Sefton
Mt. Sefton and Mt. Cook
Sunrise over Mt. Cook
Day 10: Lake Tekapo
After spending the morning enjoying Mt. Cook, we headed to Lake Tekapo. It was absolutely gorgeous, aside from the fact that it was so packed we couldn’t find a bed in any hostel! We ended up camping another night, but I didn’t mind since we had a view like this.
Day 11: Back to Christchurch
Our last night in NZ was spent driving around for about 1 hr trying to find a place to sleep. There’s an accommodation shortage due to the 2011 earthquakes. We pretty much gave up on finding a place and met up with Morten’s friend, Cyril, who he met during his North American adventure earlier in the year.
After a good night of catching up with Cyril, we ended up camping at the holiday park for our last night and managed to camp next to Magnus and Mads, the Danish hitchhikers we gave a ride to in Milford Sound! It’s a very strange thing to see people you’ve met traveling on the other side of the planet, where you plan it or not.
All in all, NZ is amazing place, which is unrivaled in its beauty. At any one time, you can be surrounded by mountains, lakes, creeks and dense old growth forests. Even if you aren’t doing anything but driving, it’s still more beautiful than some of the places I’ve seen around the world.