Questions on our itinerary have been raised and I figured it might be nice to have a running log on what we liked, disliked, where we wished we had spent more time, and where we wished we had spent less. Also this will have mini reviews of our accommodations. This is a long, wordy one – so if you’re looking for photos, move on!
We also used a travel agent, Chrissy Sun, to come up with this itinerary, and she did almost all of our bookings (the heli hike on Aoraki-Mt.Cook being the only exception). I highly recommend using a travel agent. Everything is booked ahead, already paid for, so all you have to do is hand the proprietor your voucher. www.firstlighttravel.com
I will be breaking down reviews into “Go for it”, “Meh”, and “Skip it”.
Feb 11 – 13: Flying. We flew from RDU to Houston, Houston to Auckland. I would recommend flying direct to SFO from RDU, then RDU to AKL. The 12 hour flight from SFO really made a difference on the way back. Way less painful.
Feb 13: Land early am in Auckland
Accommodation: Waldorf Stadium Apartments Hotel- GO FOR IT http://stadium-apartments-hotel.co.nz/
The nice thing about this place was that it was a huge apartment, complete with a washer/dryer, which was good to launder our sweaty travel clothes. One minus was that parking was in a garage that was a little bit difficult to both find, and get out of. But beyond that, it was centrally located, and we found loads to do within walking distance.
Activity: Ferry to Rangitoto Island: GO FOR IT
We were a short walk from the ferry building and decided to take it to Rangitoto Island. There are plenty of other islands you can visit from here, with varying degrees hiking, activity, etc. We chose Rangitoto, because the island itself was free, and it boasted beautiful views from the top. I think the exercise was good to help with the jet lag, as well.
Feb 14: Drive to Waitomo
Accommodation: Te Tiro B&B: GO FOR IT
We wished we had stayed another night here. This place had incredible views and such a sense of serenity, I could have easily spent a week here. Wonderful host, comfortable lodging. They even have their own glow worm grotto! Can’t say enough good things. http://www.waitomocavesnz.com/
Activity: The Black Abyss: GO FOR IT
This was an amazing adventure in caving. Glow worms, cold water, waterfalls, and spelunking. You have to do this. It was incredible.
Dining: The Huhu: GO FOR IT
On our top ten of restaurants we’ve ever eaten at. If you are in this area, you have to stop by here for a meal.
Feb 15, 16, 17: Drive to Hobbiton, then Rotorua
Accommodation: Bella Vista Motel: SKIP IT
OK, the place was clean, the host was pleasant, and it had all the normal amenities. It was also close to a free geothermal park. It was in a very unattractive part of town (industrial feeling) with no air conditioning. Now, the no a/c isn’t abnormal for the area- in fact, most places didn’t have it. You simply opened the windows. But when we opened the windows here, tons of little bugs swarmed all the lights in the room and they never went away. The steam from the geothermal vents also wafted in the room, leaving you feeling sticky, sulfur-y, and just icky. This was probably the only place we really didn’t like. This is a very popular tourist area, so possibly price and availability were a factor here.
Activity: Hobbiton the Movie Set: GO FOR IT
Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, you take a bus onto the grounds. And yes, there are a ton of people in the group with you. But it IS Hobbiton. And you get a beer included with your ticket at the Green Dragon, and who can say no to that. Fun for all types of fans. It’s even more fun to check out the movies once you’ve been, so you can say “ah HA!” and point to the screen.
Skyline Rotorua: GO FOR IT
This was a fun, easy outing with a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, fun luge rides, and a scenic nature walk. Get there early and avoid crowds. We noticed most places were quiet until about 11am or so.
Polynesian Spa: MEH
There are a lot of theories as to the variety of healing you can get from these spas. It was hard for me to not feel like I was in people soup, especially as the pools got more and more crowded close to 5 pm. One nice feature we noticed on our phones, was that google will have a chart of whatever place you are at’s most active times. It helped us avoid crowds, for sure.
NZRiverjet (The Big Squeeze): GO FOR IT
This was an amazing tour, even in the cold pelting rain. Because at the end of the cold, but scenic ride, you walk through an amazing geothermal spring, up to a geothermal (read WARM) waterfall. Amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. A must do.
Wai-o-tapu (Thermal Wonderland): GO FOR IT
I wished we had had more time here. Also, I wish it had not been raining. But this place was massive, and filled with incredible sights. Stinky, but incredible. Such an alien beauty, that I can’t truly describe. Again, I wished I had more photos, but the rain really did make things difficult. Another must do.
Feb 17: Drive back to AKL
Accommodation: Jet Park Hotel: Meh
It was close to the airport but very difficult to get to. Clean, nice enough amenities, but definitely a conference hotel. The restaurant inside was a bit overpriced. The food was nice, but incredibly small portions. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here.
Feb 18, 19: Fly to Nelson, Drive to Kaiteriteri
I like the way they do domestic flights in NZ. You are responsible for weighing your own bag, tagging it, and placing it on the belt. Then you all wait in a communal area, with the usual cafe’s etc. You don’t go to the actual gate until it is time to board.
Accommodation: Everton’s B&B: GO FOR IT
Close walking distance to the beach, lovely hosts, and decent internet. Delicious breakfast. All you could ask for in a B&B. The hosts told us that Kaiteriteri was a destination in itself, and we should have stayed another day or so. I personally am not a beach person, so the draw wasn’t there, but I certainly see if you ARE a beach person- you might want to stay a little longer. Scenic walks and a decent cafe.
Activity: Abel Tasman Kayaks: MEH
Ok, if you’re in to kayaking, you would love this. Scenic paddle up a river inlet, past beautiful rocky islands, across the sound to see the fur seals at Adele Island, then back across the sound to eat lunch, then piddle for an hour or so. This was not our cup o tea. You couldn’t get too close to the seals, so you could barely see them. The paddle was strenuous for us, since we aren’t skilled kayakers. And after lunch, we were bored until the water taxi came for us.
I think we would have enjoyed doing one of the long hikes around the Abel Tasman Park itself. There is a ton to do here, so at the very least, don’t miss the park.
Feb 19: Drive to Punakaiki, The Pancake Rocks: GO FOR IT
A neat little side trip to see and hear (if you go a high tide) of incredible geological feats of nature. Very cool, but of course it was raining.
Accommodation: Blue Waves Homestay: GO FOR IT
Comfortable lodging, awesome hosts. They even made us dinner (for $20 NZD) and it was one of the best we had. Delicious breakfast as well. They were extremely knowledgeable about the surrounding areas, and gave us plenty to think about.
Feb 20: Franz Josef Glacier Hike: GO FOR IT
So we were originally supposed to do the heli-hike here. It got cancelled because of weather, and if you are able to go to Aoraki-Mt.Cook as well, go do the one at Aoraki- Mt. Cook. The hike at Franz Josef was great. They take you on some hidden paths and take you right up to the base of the glacier.
Accommodation: Alpine Glacier Motor Lodge: MEH
It was clean, adequate, close to what we were doing. Just nothing very special.
Feb 21: Drive to Wanaka: GO FOR IT
Accommodation: Collinson’s B&B: GO FOR IT
Here is another instance where we wished we had stayed here a few days longer, instead of heading on to Queenstown. Beautiful gardens, kind hosts, and gorgeous room. This was another place that had a washer/dryer in the room, which we were extremely grateful for. The town itself was charming and cozy- just touristy enough, but not overwhelming with people. Loved this place.
Activity: hike up Mt. Iron: GO FOR IT
One of many area hikes in Wanaka. We loved this one, but there were tons to choose from. This one had views of the beautiful lake and tons of mountains. Super nice.
Feb 22, 23,24, 25,26: Queenstown: GO FOR IT
In moderation. In hindsight, this was way too much time in Queenstown. Queenstown was very busy, tons of people and tourists from all over. It felt very much like the hub it was. But there was plenty to do and lots to see.
Accommodation: Autoline Motel: GO FOR IT
This place was well located- near enough to town to walk to, but not in the middle of the stressful hub bub of town center. Clean, super nice bathroom, and pay laundry facilities. Also had a decent kitchenette. Almost everywhere we stayed had a mini fridge for milk (for tea- they aren’t monsters!). Only downside, it was at the top of a fairly steep hill, that we eventually got used to.
Activity: Skyline Gondala & Luge : GO FOR IT
This one had a much more fun ride on the luge, and you can’t beat the sweeping views from the top.
It was a GOOD burger. The best burger? Meh. I don’t think it was worth the 25 minute wait in line to place the order, then another 25 minutes for the burger to get to you.
Shotover Jet: GO FOR IT
This was like a roller coaster in the most scenic, turquoise water you have ever seen. We thought about going for another ride (you get discount second time) but their time slots were pretty full.
Bungy Kawarau Bridge: GO FOR IT
Will I ever do this again? Absolutely not. But this is where it all started. Certainly a bucket list kind of thing. And they were super good at talking you off the ledge. It took about 4 minutes before I finally jumped, but I’m glad that I did it. You will be, too.
Lord of the Rings Tour: SKIP IT
To be fair, our guide Bob, brought an amazing amount of enthusiasm to the table. But at the end of the day, it was pretty lame. A van took us to nondescript places and were typically shots that were either 20 seconds long or cut from everything but the extended. Our tour got cut short because of the rain, and we weren’t even sad. The weapons were replicas, even if they were limited edition replicas. Don’t waste your time.
Horseback Riding: GO FOR IT
Incredible scenery, great horses, and an unforgettable experience.
Feb 27, 28: Drive to Te Anau
Accommodation: Te Waka Lodge: GO FOR IT
This was the strangest experience we had with B&B’s. We never saw our host. Never. There was sign, our key was in the door, and breakfast was in the fridge. Very nice rooms, close to town. The town itself, I didn’t care for. Kinda eery. Didn’t enjoy the scene there, and ended up buying stuff to cook in our room.
Activity: Milford Sound: GO FOR IT
Whatever you do here will be amazing. The drive up alone is spectacular.We did the kayak and trek, which was wonderful.
Feb 29, Mar 1: Drive to Aoraki-Mt.Cook: GO FOR IT
Accommodation: Aoraki Court: GO FOR IT
Very nice! Large rooms with great views, full kitchen. We ate in the village, which was fine, nothing spectacular. Great spot to go on any of the adventures in the area, be it treks, hiking, kayaking, or more.
Activity: Tasman Glacier Heli Hike: GO FOR IT, omg DO IT
Amazing and incredible guides. Words can’t describe. If you can make it happen, do it.
Glacier Kayaking: SKIP IT
This was in the silt-y runoff of the glacier. If you want to get an extra paddle in to look at dirty glacier rocks, then have at it. It was something to do, but I think I would have rather done one of the area hikes.
Mar 2, 3, 4: Drive to Christchurch: GO FOR IT
We had a unique advantage of having friends here that showed us around to all sorts of cool places. Put the Botanical Gardens on your list, and we wished we had been able to take in a rugby match.
Accommodation: Lilac Rose B&B: MEH
OK, the home was beautiful, with beautiful gardens. They had a nice dog, and gorgeous eat in kitchen, for when they made us breakfast. Unfortunately, our room was the Attic Room. We had to hunch over in the room because of the sloping ceilings, and it was at the top of some extremely steep stairs. The rooms were clean, and nicely furnished, but we stayed hot. There was also no parking for the car, other than on the street.
Activity: Botanical Gardens: GO FOR IT
Taylor’s Mistake: GO FOR IT
A great hike that had incredible views and rather dangerous footpaths. One of our very favorite ones we did. The beer at the end of the hike at The Twisted Hop was incredibly tasty. Highly recommend.
And that’s it! As I said before, I highly recommend using First Light Travel. They book everything for you, get you better deals, and really help you tailor your trip to your needs. I will definitely be using them for my next trip to New Zealand. Check out these places on Tripadvisor as well. They have great pictures and descriptions. E noho rā!