New Zealand- Karen
New Zealand, a country at the top of most bucketlists, is situation so far down South it's one of the most difficult destinations to get to, especially if you only have 2 or 3 weeks vacation. We'd heard so many good things about New Zealand, that we wondered if it could truly be as amazing as people say it is. Well, we can now confidently agree with all those who have come before us. Pictures do not do it justice. They just can't capture the beauty of the landscape, freshness of the air, or the kindness of Kiwis. It was a tough task to narrow down this list to just a handful of spots, but here are our top spots to visit in New Zealand.
Queenstown Hill Walk
If you're up for a tough cardio workout with breath-taking views at the end, the Queenstown Hill Hike (not really a walk, but that's what the Kiwi's call it) is a must do!
We started from the edge of Queenstown, so it added a good 10 minutes of STEEP walking before reaching the base; if you want to skip the walk to the base you can also drive that part. From the base it's about 30 minutes of steading climbing to the top. But this is no leisurely climb, you'll likely need to catch your breath a time or two. It's a steep ascent of 500 meters in half an hour.
Make sure to take a picture at the Basket of Dreams before taking on the last part of this hike.
Drive to Milford Sound and Visit the Chasm
Milford Sound is a stunning destination, but the drive there is half the fun...and we actually found the journey to be even better than the destination. The morning mist, lush greenery, expansive mountains, cascading waterfalls, tropical forests, and hidden spots along the way made it an epic road trip.
We were lucky enough to have a sunny day, because it rains over 200 days a year at Milford Sound (making it one of the wettest places on earth). Rain or shine though, you have to experience the 4-hour drive to Milford Sound.
Of the several stops and lookout points, the Chasm was our favorite. A green tropical forest, that looks like something out of a Midsummer Night's Dream, leads you to a rock formation caused by a torrent river drop. It was one of the most awe-inspiring stops of our whole NZ trip. It's a short 10 minute walk, but a magical and peaceful one. There is good signage telling you where to pull over so you won't miss it. (If you do take a tour bus, pick one that stops there.)
The Blue Pools are en route from Queenstown to Franz Joseph Glacier. You may see a trend here- it's truly enjoying the journey when it comes to New Zealand not only the destination. The Blue Pools are gorgeous aquamarine waters in the midst of the mountains. It's a. 15 minute walk from the parking lot and you'll cross a suspension bridge. It's not often you find that perfect blue in nature, so don't miss this stop!
Giddy Up! Mussels in Wellington
New Zealand is famous for its green lipped mussels, and while budget traveling didn't afford us too many opportunities to eat out in New Zealand, we knew we needed to have a taste of these! We headed to Giddy Up in Wellington, a low-key, artsy mussel bar. We sat on their comfy red couches and enjoyed Giddy Up's Green Envy Mussels (Thai-style with coriander, lemongrass, and coconut cream), Chili Blast Mussels (smothered in a sauce of tamarind, chili and coriander), mussel chowder, and garlic bread. The food was finger lickingly exquisite (...and apparently too good to photograph because we scarfed it down immediately, with the exception of the soup, which we managed to take a quick snap of). And if you're up for dessert, treat yourself to their outstanding pavlova, you'll thank us later!
Abel Tasman Trek
This coastal National Park has something to offer for everyone. While we took a boat to Torrent Bay Village and then walked back to Marahau for about 14 k,, there are both longer and shorter tracks. If you're not interested in walking too long, you can have a boat drop you off at a specific point and then pick you up later. Another alternative is kayaking along the coastline. But don't be put off by the walks, because the majority is relatively flat so it's not too strenuous.
Rotioti Lake tour
Most guide books will highlight Wai-O-Tapu, a beautiful geothermal National Park, but make sure to visit Rotoiti Lake too. During the summer you can partake in all sorts of water activities on the lake. But there's options in the winter too. You can book a boat to the hot springs in Manupirua (only accessible by boat), and warm up in the natural hot pools. For some added excitement, you can take a quick and shockingly refreshing (refreshingly shocking?) dip into the icy waters of Lake Rotoiti. It's exhilarating, we promise you'll love it!
If you are a LOTR fan we really need not write further. If you aren't versed in the lore of Lord of the Rings, please hear us out. Hobbiton is the most realistic movie set ever! It's a real life fairytale land. We also booked the dinner, which was fantastic; however it is on the pricey side, so we would only recommend that for an ardent follower of the Fellowship. If you do partake in the dinner, the added benefit is that you essentially get two tours with a small crowd, once during the last hours of daylight and another at night-oh and of course, a renaissance fair style meal with a leg of lamb, whole chicken, bread rolls, tons of side dishes, and really just an overabundance of food that is only fitting of a hobbit's hardy appetite.
These were our top favorite spots, but of course the weather and the time of year (end of winter) affected our choices. So here are a few key words to look up for more to do in New Zealand: Waitomo Caves, Wai-O-Tapu, Glenorchy, sky diving, Lake Wanaka, Kitekite Falls, Nine Great Walks, Mount Ngauruhoe. Have an awesome time in New Zealand!