New Zealand was the last country of our Big Trip. We had very high expectations because of everything we had read or heard from other travelers. The country majestically reached them all and even went beyond! We had an amazing time, driving around, enjoying New Zealand’s nature with plenty of hiking and other activities.
we made it!
Itinerary: Auckland International Airport – Rental Car Village – Coromandel Coastal Road – Whitanga – Hot Water Beach Holiday Park
Distance/Duration: 240 KM, 5.5h driving
- Picking up our car: our little house for the coming 25 days! Driving with automatic transmission goes really smooth, even on the left.
- Coromandel Coastal Road: peaceful beaches and picturesque bays until you reach old gold mine town Coromandel. Cross the hillside, with beautiful widespread views.
- Build our own hot pool: wait for low tide, get a shovel, dig yourself a hole and just enjoy the thermal activity of Hot Water Beach. It’s so much fun!
Itinerary: Hot Water Beach Holiday park – Tauranga – Te Puke – Lake Okareaka campsite
Distance/Duration: 245 KM, 4.5h driving
- gold sand beach time: Waganaga beach, close to Tauranga, has awesome golden sand beaches and clear ocean water. You can’t resist taking a dip (we couldn’t!)
- fresh kiwi tasting: driving through Kiwifruit fields around Te Puke. Take a quick stop and buy some fresh kiwis: there are so tasty and juicy.
Itinerary: Lake Okareaka campsite – Rotorua – Whakarewarewa – Red Wood Forest – Lake Taupo Top 10 holiday resort
Distance/Duration: 125 KM, 2h driving
- Rotorua center: it’s great to explore the town center, because there are lots of thermal activity to experience for free: around the lake, at the large city park. A MUST do
- Whakarewarewa Maori village: great way to explore Maori lifestyle and more thermal pools and geysers
- Hiking in Redwoods: we did the Pohaturoa track (8km, 2h), passing by beautiful Red Wood trees and then through stands of mature Radiata pine, Mexican pine and Japanese larch.
Itinerary: Lake Taupo Top 10 holiday resort – Huka Falls – Hot water park – Reid’s farm reserve campsite
Distance/Duration: 20 KM, 20min driving
- Huka falls: there’s a nice trail starting just outside of Taupo, taking you approx. 1h towards the Huka Falls. The white water rapids (not really waterfalls) turquoise color is astonishing. Great weather !
- Hot water park: not really a park, but a great free activity. Cold water of Waikato river (same as Huka Falls) and thermal water of a small stream meet up: perfect place for some relaxing. Bathing suit on and down you go.
Itinerary: Reid’s farm reserve campsite – Taupo – Kinloch – Waikoke campsite
Distance/Duration: 100 KM, 1.5h driving
- Lake Taupo hiking: in preparation of our Tongariro crossing (canceled for this day), we hiked around lake Taupo in downtown, but also at Kinloch. The K2K trail (CHECK) meanders through bush and forest, along the lake. Very peaceful, we did not meet anyone for 2 hours!
Itinerary: Waikoke campsite – Tongariro crossing – Puekakariku holiday park
Distance/Duration: 310 KM, 4h driving
- Tongariro crossing: superb one day hike passing by semi-active volcanoes and beautiful emerald lakes. Mount Doom: we conquered you! More on this crossing in our separate post “the day we hiked up to Mount Doom”
- Sheep spotting: we still drove further through the heart of North Island: few people, small towns but so many SHEEP! Amazing.
Itinerary: Puekakariku holiday park – Te Papa – City Center – Wellington (Tawa) Servas homestay
Distance/Duration: 0 KM (we used public transport)
- Te Papa museum: one of the best museums we visited. Lots of very interesting info and exhibitions on NZ’s wildlife, history, geology, … Very interactive, highly recommended if you are in Wellington.
- Sipping Coffee & Craft beer: Wellington is NZ’s capital of coffee and craft beer, with loads of innovative places. We really enjoyed ourselves in coffee places (including roasters) and breweries/bars.
Itinerary: Wellington (Tawa) Servas homestay – Mt. Victoria – Cook Strait – Sprig and Fern tavern parking
Distance/Duration: 200km, 4h driving
- hiking up Mt. Victoria: we read in travel books: Wellington is a lot of times windy and chilly. Not for us: for the second day, Windy Welly treated us with blue skies, sunshine and zero wind. Our early morning hike up Mt. Victoria was great, especially with the views on Wellington and the surrounding bays
- More delicious craft beer: so many places to visit (over 20), so few time… Yet, I still managed to squeeze in a visit to the Tuatara Tap Room (love the design of their bottles) and Garage Project Brewery. These guys are superb: great quality, and up to 30 different beers to taste (Umami Monster, Hellbender, you name it!).
- Sailing through Cook Strait: the 4 hour transfer to South Island (Picton) was a beautiful sightseeing trip by itself. Not a single wave, light breeze, the perfect moment to go on deck and check out the bay, the ocean and of course: Marlborough Sounds. Really amazing!
Itinerary: Motueka Sprig and Fern Tavern – Abel Tasman National Park – Renwick city parking
Distance/Duration: 200km, 3.5h driving
- Sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park: our first full day on South Island started with a great amount of sunshine. We were lucky to be heading to the Abel Tasman National Park for some sea kayaking. It’s a great way to explore the golden desolate beaches and see marine wildlife. We had a blast!
- Hop fields: NZ is known for as one of the New World hops providers. Their hops can give beer especially a citrus aroma and taste. It was nice to drive through all the hop fields in Motueka and Nelson area. Drop by Hop Federation (ADD LINK), we bought some nice bottles for later that evening.
- Real fruit ice cream: this is a real thing in NZ. Imagine: fresh fruit (strawberry, blueberry, …) on the spot blended with tasty ice cream. Our first, but we had many more on South Island ha!
Itinerary: Renwick city parking – Marlborough wine area – Murchison campsite
Distance/Duration: 175km, 3h driving
- Wine tasting: Marlborough is the most known NZ wine area in NZ, and the rest of the world. This day was all about tasting Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and many more of different wine houses in the area (well, Ms. Rice did, I sipped at some). There are some great bargains on bottles, most tastings are free. Beer fans: head to Moa Brewery, also worth a stop.
Itinerary: Murchison campsite – Pancake Rocks – Hokitika Gorge – DOC Lake Ianthe campsite
Distance/Duration: 350km, 5h driving
- Pancake rocks: this natural rock formation on the West Coast is a major stop. Really nice to see the effect of gushing water at high tide with sunshine (creation of rainbows). There’s also a small walking track a few kilometers before. The Truman track is also worth a stop.
- Eating a stack of pancakes: it was February 14th, nothing beats sharing a stack of pancakes with chocolate sauce in the Pancake Rocks café 😉
- Great Coast Road: firstly, you’ll see quickly the only 2% of NZ population in this area. It’s amazingly desolate. Every corner gives you another beautiful scenery. We took plenty of small stops on this scenic drive, for pictures, taking in the moment to feel alone in this beautiful country. Be happy if the sun shines, because there’s a great chance of rain on the West Coast.
- Hokitika Gorge: usually this should be turquoise blue, yet, we think the greyish colour was predominant due to some light rain in the afternoon.
Itinerary: DOC Lake Ianthe campsite – Franz Joseph & Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson – Knights Point – DOC Boundary creek campsite
Distance/Duration: 350km, 5.5h driving
- Hiking to Franz Joseph & Fox Glacier: 2 nice easy hikes (first one 40minutes one way, second one 20 minutes one way) to get close to the glaciers. You can hear and see chunks of ice breaking off! Unfortunately, these glaciers have been shrinking a lot over the years. You’ll have to go to Argentina for some close up pictures of a massive glacier (Perito Moreno).
- Hike around Lake Matheson: 1.5h hike around the lake through lush forests. THE spot to make mirror pictures of Mt. Cook in the background.
- Knights point: One of the last major viewpoints on the West Coast before heading back inland. We spotted 2 humpback whales swirling close to the shore. An awesome moment!
Itinerary: DOC Boundary creek campsite – Wanaka – Roy’s Peak – Lake Wanaka – Kiwi Holiday Park Wanaka
Distance/Duration: 40km, 45min driving
- Hiking up Roy’s Peak: there are lots of adventure activities to do in Wanaka, quite similar to Queenstown. Yet, we hiked up to Roy’s Peak (3h up, 2h down) and did not regret at all. The scenery of this area is what made LOTR so famous. Once you’re at the top, it’s truly jaw dropping. We spend an hour just enjoying the sun (good weather helps with the views 🙂 ), eating our packed lunch and taking loads of pictures of Lake Wanaka and surrounding mountains. One of the best hikes of our entire Big Trip!
- Swimming in Lake Wanaka: Wanaka’s small town vibe is wonderful. On a sunny day, people just casually stroll along the lake or do some sun bathing. Even though the water was colder than 20C, I still went for a dip. Nice refreshing after such a day hiking.
- BBQ time: With all that tasty lamb, veal and beef in NZ, we decided to have a small BBQ at our campsite. Delicious, especially when sharing some craft beers with fellow travellers. That’s what travel is all about!
Itinerary: Kiwi Holiday Park Wanaka – Arrowtown – DOC Lake Gunn
Distance/Duration: 310km, 5h driving
- Chinese settlement: Arrowtown is a nice little town worth a stop on your way to Fiordland. There’s a historical site dedicated to the first Chinese settlers in NZ. Some of the stories were pretty interesting to learn about.
- Mirror lakes Fiordland: be lucky with sunshine and no wind. We were, so it was awesome for some picture-taking. This area of New Zealand is really out of this world…
- Lake Gunn hike: The last official campsite before reaching Milford Sound also offers a small hike towards Lake Gunn (1h). We did not meet anyone in the forest or at the lake. Wonderful spot to enjoy the solitude of Fiordland, and for some swimming!
Itinerary: DOC Lake Gunn – Milford Sound – Key Summit Routeburn track – Lumsden motor camp
Distance/Duration: 250km, 4h driving
- Milford Sound Cruise: Our Jucy morning cruise could not have been better: first day with no rain, in a month! Blue sky, sunshine, calm sea. Milford Sound is truly breathtaking, with Mitre Peak, countless waterfalls (which you can touch/shower in on boat), lots of marine and bird wildlife to spot. It’s for sure worth the drive.
- The Chasm: nice small stop returning from Milford Sound: loads of water gushing through naturally formed waterfalls
- Kea spotting: if you haven’t seen them yet, in this area you’ll definitely find some. We stopped at one of the major tunnels, and a lot of them came checking us (and the car) out. Be aware of your food, they tend to be quite naughty ha!
- Routeburn Track hike: such a beautiful day demanded for another hike. We hiked the first part of the famous Routeburn track, up to Key Summit (3h return). The views on the summit were, once again, beautiful…
Itinerary: Lumsden motor camp – Queenstown City – Bendigo campsite
Distance/Duration: 185km, 2.5h driving
- N-Zone Skydive: Queenstown is the adventure city of NZ. Ms. Rice decided to do a skydive. “It’s CRAZY!” and “I did not get sick!” say enough I guess? 😉 It’s really a once in a lifetime to do a 12,000 feet skydive above beautiful Lake Wakatipu
- Queenstown city center: it was the first place where we actually saw some tourism. The town is really focused on any type of adventure, with loads of backpackers and seasoned travellers. The center is really delightful to walk around, with nice views on Lake Wakatipu. Lots of places for food and drinks as well.
- Fergburger: always people standing in a line for a burger shop, worth the buzz? Hell yeah! I had a Big Al’s burger, and I must admit: it’s freaking tasty, even though it’s so big with so much meat. Don’t miss out on this one. You can read about in this great article!
Itinerary: Bendigo campsite – Lake Pukaki – Mount Cook – Tasman Glacier – Lake Poaka campsite
Distance/Duration: 180km, 3.5h driving
- Feeding salmon: on the way to Mount Cook, there’s a fresh salmon farm (claiming to be the highest altitude on Southern hemisphere) where you can buy fresh salmon or sashimi. But more fun: you can feed them!
- Lake Pukaki lookout: after already seeing so many beautiful lakes, you would think: can’t be better. Lake Pukaki is top 3! Beautiful blue/turqoise color, far stretched with Mount Cook/Aoraki on the background. The entire scenic drive (50km) is stunning, worth every minute.
- Hiking Hooker valley track: perfect easy hike (3h return) which takes you to Hooker cabin. There are swing bridges, glaciers on mountain sides and of course, the Mount Cook look out (practically 50% of the hike) as grande finale.
- Hiking to Tasman Glacier: short but quite steep hike (40min return, quite some stairs) towards view-point of Tasman Glacier. Decreased in size even more compared to other ones: so devastating!
Itinerary: Lake Poaka campsite – Twizel – Lake Tekapo – McGregor campsite
Distance/Duration: 80km, 1h driving
- Picnic at Lake Tekapo: one of the other top 3 lakes of NZ. It’s difficult to describe Lake Tekapo’s blue color… We bought some groceries, picked a nice peaceful spot and had a picnic at the shore of the lake. Sometimes, you don’t need more in life. Or maybe some swimming ha! It got pretty warm this day, and the lake is really refreshing.
- Church of the Good Shepherd: this must be the church with one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It’s picturesque (yes, really small), but it matches the scenery and the general NZ feeling.
- Stargazing at camp McGregor: the area around Lake Tekapo is known for stargazing: high chances of clear skies on higher altitude, very few light pollution. We took a blanket, lay ourselves outside and watched the stars… We were reliving our stargazing experience of South America :).
Itinerary: McGregor campsite – Peel Forest – Akaroa Peninsula – Waihora campsite
Distance/Duration: 400km, 6h driving
- Hiking the Big Tree walk: there are several hikes in the Peel Forest. We did the Big Tree walk (1h return), eventually leading you to an enormous tree. It’s really huge!
- Feeling French in Akaroa: maybe it were all the French sounding names of shops, or the pancakes, but the Akaroa peninsula is genuinely a nice place for a small stop. Don’t forget to use Summit Road, by which you will have beautiful sights of the ocean (one side) and the bay (other side).
- Cooking atop Summit Road: because of the freedom we had with our camper van, we decided to make a stop atop Summit Road to cook a nice seafood pasta dish with a beautiful view. Sometimes, you don’t need a lot in life to enjoy…
Itinerary: Waihora campsite – Waipara valley – Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park
Distance/Duration: 200km, 3h driving
- Waipara Valley wine tasting: Between Christchurch and Kaikoura lies the Waipara Valley, a wine region which has seen considerate growth throughout the last fews years. We made a few stops (Waipara Hills, Grey Stone and Waipara Springs for some (free) tastings: great Sauvignon Blanc! We also had a very nice lunch at Waipara Springs. This cosy wine region is highly recommended for a small visit.
- Ocean swimming: we camped literally 10 meters away from the ocean, the weather and waves made it really tempting for a swim… so we did! Great preparation for our activity on the next day.
Itinerary: Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park – Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura – Kean Point – Culverden Domain Camp ground
Distance/Duration: 245km, 3.5h driving
- Wild dolphin encounter: We booked a Dolphin Encounter tour in Kaikoura, taking us to the ocean to potentially spot wild Dusky Dolphins and swim/interact with them in the water. This was by far one of our best experiences of our trip! Difficult to describe all our feelings, but we tried to make a small post on it. Read here.
- Hiking at Kean Point: You can hike the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway, starting at Kean Point. The impact of the November 2016 earthquake is very obvious there. It’s a nice hike, we spotted some albatross and seals. One seal was laying underneath a car on the car park, ha!
- Sheep shearing show: a last minute decision, as we saw the sign of a sheep shearing show on our way back from Kean point. We saw so many sheep all across New Zealand, we thought this would be fun. And it was! Pete explains about sheep farming, will shear a Drysdale sheep and you can feed the sheep as well. Highly recommended for a small price.
Itinerary: Culverden Domain Camp ground – Hanmer Springs – Christchurch – Chamberlains campsite
Distance/Duration: 200km, 3h driving
- Relaxing at hot springs: after such an activity packed day 21, we were set on some relaxing time at the Hanmer Springs. Sulphur pools, mineral pools or just normal swimming. It’s a perfect place for a time out. Top tip: use the ARRIVAL magazine voucher for a 30 min private pool.
- Watching a rugby match: sport in New Zealand equals rugby: practically everyone is crazy about it or plays it. It was the start of the new Super League rugby season, so we decided to catch a game of the Christchurch team. The Crusaders won hurray, though we still don’t know all the rules of the game haha!
Itinerary: Chamberlains campsite – Rental Car Village – Christchurch city center – Airbnb accommodation
Distance/Duration: 40km, 1h driving
- Returning our campervan: after 4675km and a nice car wash, we’re set to return our beloved Nissan micro campervan. For the last 3.5 weeks, our fellow was our bed, our kitchen, our bathroom, our vehicle, yes, our home. For us, this was truly the best option to explore the country!
- visiting Canterbury museum: the city center slowly but steady is recovering from the 2010-2011 earthquake. Besides the remains of the Canterbury cathedral, ReStart mall and Botanic gardens, is the Canterbury museum a must visit. Different exhibitions on NZ Maori culture, geography, history and even a temporary one on 75 years Air New Zealand. Museums in New Zealand are highly recommended for its interactive way.
- experiencing NZ hospitality: we must admit: NZ people are really one of the most friendly bunch we ever met: from day 1 until 25! They’re proud about their beautiful nation and always offer a helping hand. We got in touch with a NZ-UK couple at Pomeroy’s Inn (great craft beer bar) and we got offered a ride to the airport the next day. We were so grateful, thanks Sally and Keith!
Itinerary: Airbnb accommodation – Christchurch airport – Auckland city center – Columbia Apartments
- visiting Auckland city center: Auckland is huge, yet the city center is still very walkable. We checked out the Sky Tower, wandered around the upscale docks area (some nice seafood), did some final NZ craft beer shopping (go check out Brothers Beer). We even went to the movie! A nice relaxed last full day in this urban place.
Itinerary: Columbia Apartments – Auckland Airport – home
No highlights anymore, as we took the SkyBus to the Auckland airport for our in total 36h flights and transfers (via Guangzhou and Amsterdam) back to Belgium. After 5 months of travel and visiting 13 countries, our Big Trip came to an end. Our dream of living a time full of adventures came true. We ended our Big Trip with a grand finale, our 25 days in New Zealand!