A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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New Zealand

In A Nutshell

After South America, traveling in New Zealand felt like cheating.  Everything was so easy.  The people are welcoming.  The tourist infrastructure is excellent.  And the country is extraordinarily beautiful.

I had visited New Zealand several times in the 1980s and 90s, but had never ventured far beyond Auckland and Wellington.  I wanted to see the country on this visit.

After we arrived we spent a few days in Auckland catching up with friends.  Then we took a road trip around the country, spending most of our time on the South Island.

Here, in basic outline, is the route we took and some of the highlights.

  • Auckland — During our five days in Auckland, we visited the wonderful Auckland Museum, The SkyTower, the beautifully redeveloped harbor area, and the Ponsonby and Parnell neighborhoods.  We were also able to have lunch and dinner with several friends.
  • Rotorua — We headed south to the adventure capital of the North Island, where we walked around the thermal areas, went Zorbing, did the Schweeb and Extreme Freefall at the Agrodome and caught the Sheep Show.
  • Wellington/Picton — After a brief overnight at a friend’s house in Wellington, we caught the ferry across the Cook Strait and through Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton on the South Island.
  • Kaikoura — In Kaikoura, we took a beautiful cliffside hike to see seal and bird colonies.
  • Christchurch — In the South Island’s biggest city we walked around a downtown area reminiscent of England, took in the terrific Science Alive Museum, and took in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer (17 and under) Semi-Final (USA vs. Germany).
  • Wanaka — Next stop was wonderful little Southern Alps mountain town of Wanaka, where we saw Mama Mia at Cinema Paridiso, the quirkiest movie theater we’ve ever been in.  Movie goers watch the big screen from comfortable couches – and wine, beer and dinner are available during the show.  We also had fun at Puzzling World, a museum of mazes and illusions.
  • Queenstown — In the South Island (and New Zealand’s) undisputed adventure capital, we went Jet Boating, visited the Minus Five Ice Bar, played the most sophisticated miniature golf course anywhere, and generally soaked in the scenery on several hikes and walks.
  • Franz Josef —  From Queenstown we drove through Haast Pass to the town of Franz Josef where we hiked to the glacier from which the town took its name.
  • Greymouth — After leaving Franz Josef we overnighted in Greymouth, the one and only place in New Zealand we found to be disappointing.  We expected a better tourist town instead of the industrial working town we found.  However, the drive north from Greymouth to Westport is spectacular.  Lonely Planet has called it one of the Ten Best Road Trips on the Planet – and the Pancake Rocks at Punakaki are a geological wonder.  You can also cross NZ’s longest swing bridge at Buller Gorge.
  • Pohara, Golden Bay — We made a special effort to get to this out-of-the-way beach in the northwest corner of the South Island.  It is supposed to be the sunniest spot in NZ, but it rained three days in a row while we were there (the only bad weather we had in NZ).  Still, the town had an unmistakably mellow vibe, and we can recommend it without reservation for anyone looking for a friendly place to drop out.
  • Nelson — Next stop on our South Island tour was Nelson, a cute town with a very good regional museum. However the rain followed us from Golden Bay and we didn’t get a chance to see as much as we had hoped.
  • Picton/Wellington — We crossed back to the North Island and overnighted in Wellington, where we had a marvelous lunch with a friend, then visited Te Papa, NZ’s amazing multimedia national museum.  The Smithsonian could learn a thing or two about presentation from Te Papa.  We spent a lovely evening with another friend who graciously hosted us in Wellington.
  • Lake Taupo — On our last full day in NZ, we made the long drive from Wellington to Auckland, stopping for lunch and a bit of an explore in Lake Taupo.  It’s a very nice resort town, set on a beautiful lake, and would be a nice addition to anyone’s NZ itinerary.
  • Auckland — We completed our loop and boarded our flight for Sydney.

Road Trip Recommendations

In our opinion, NZ is a country best explored by car or camper van.

We chose a car because of the added flexibility.  A camper van is a great option, but once you are parked for the night, it’s a bit of a pain to head off into town for any reason.  Still, either option is a good one.

One thing to keep in mind — though distances may not seem daunting, road conditions often are.  Two-lane roads, one-lane bridges, winding roads through mountains, and lots of road crews slow your progress.

Our advice would be to take your time, trim your itinerary and get out of the car often to enjoy the scenery and easily accessible trails and walks.

Most people would do well by doubling the amount of time they spend in NZ — or cutting their itinerary in half.

Recommended Places to Stay

We found a lot of very good budget accommodations in NZ.

There are plenty of high-quality Backpackers, hostels and affordable motels.  (The recently strengthening dollar certainly helped too).

Some of our favorite places to stay included:

  • AucklandFreeman’s Lodge — a great budget option for Auckland, a great location, and a friendly, helpful owner.
  • Rotorua Astray Motel or Treks Hostel — Two great options, both convenient to downtown and both capable of helping with bookings in the area.  Be sure to take in the Tamaki Maori Village experience and dinner.
  • PictonThe Villa or Tombstone Backpackers — Either place is perfect for a night of rest pre- or post- ferry crossing.  Either could be a base for exploring the Queen Charlotte Sound area.
  • ChristchurchThe Old Country House — A bit out of the center of town, but a great option if you have a car.  Top-notch rooms and facilities, stylish and immaculate.
  • Queenstown — If you are looking for a quasi-affordable splurge, try the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown.  We found an outstanding deal on a three night stay on the hotel web site.  Every now and then, we need a little extra luxury (and satellite TV).
  • Pohara, Golden BayThe Sandcastle — Great bungalows with views of the bay.  Steve, the expat British owner is a great guy to talk to and he can help you explore the area (even when it’s raining!).
  • NelsonAccents on the Park — Royce runs this hostel like a five-star hotel.  Outstanding atmosphere and service, a small bistro on site.  We can’t recommend it highly enough.

Our pictures from New Zealand are posted in three sets:  Auckland, North Island and South Island.

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