New Zealand is a country I’ve been fascinated by ever since I sat in the midnight showing of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You better believe I watched it on the flight over, undoubtedly giddy as Frodo Baggins filled my screen with all of his glory. But also, I WANTED TO SEE THE SHIRE (located on the North Island). Middle Earth looked unreal (probably because it is), and what an incredible tourism boost for New Zealand for years to come. I can imagine the many ohhhhs and ahhhhs from the cast and crew as they filmed day in and day out. What I can’t image are the many pains of filming in a country where the weather is so unpredictable. Mother Nature can be ruthless. It’s imperative to remember that flexibility is key, and that the sun will come out tomorrow (or in a couple of days at least…)
There’s nothing else to say other than we got unlucky, and the weather sucked. That can happen when you travel, and the probability only increases the more you travel. I was overdue. The fog and precipitation rained on my New Zealand parade. There’s a fix for this kind of situation. It’s called staying longer.
We started our NZ adventure in Christchurch, flying in from Australia just after midnight. We hit the road 8 hours later after some mediocre sleep in a queen bed with three girls. There are worse things in life, but it sure didn’t provide the best night sleep when you have a road trip in front of you. Keep in mind we were driving on the other side of the road, which required heavy concentration, I was putting all trust in our beat-up Ford Focus. Eshhhhh.
Day 1 – Drive from Christchurch to Awatuna
Stop 1 (estimated drive time: 4 hours) Punakaiki – See the pancake rocks and blowholes (or don’t, it wasn’t incredibly exciting). It was a very meehhhhh activity, mostly due to the heavy fog and the fact that I though I was going to see rocks in the shape of pancakes…not the case. I should also mention it’s free. Once you’re there, you’re on the west side of New Zealand. The drive down the coast should be stunning, assuming it’s not overcast and grey (still stunning).
Stop 2 (estimated drive time: 1.5 hours) Hokitika – This hippie-esque beach town hosts an unreal sunset from the sand. The Hokitika gorge is about 20 minutes from the city center (there are probably 4 blocks so you can’t miss it), but we opted for a different activity. What sounds cooler than a glow worm cave?!? NOTHING. So we sought out to find it and came up empty handed. It straight up doesn’t exist anymore, so don’t waste your time. We then bought a few bottles of wine and drove 30 minutes to our BnB in Awatuna.
Day 2 – Drive from Awatuna to Wanaka
Stop 1 (Estimated drive time: 4 hours) Franz Josef Glacier – Screw the glow worm cave. I think I’d opt for a heli ride to the top of the glacier with Fox & Franz Heli-Services any day. Well whadduyaknow. It was cancelled due to weather. I’d suggest the 30 minute Twin Glacier Ride if timing doesn’t permit for the two hour heli-hike.
Stop 2 (Estimated drive time: 30 min) Mirror Lakes near Fox Glacier – This is about a 20 minute walk from the car where you’ll see mountains reflected on a lake. We didn’t bother since our weather didn’t allow for any kind of reflections.
Stop 3: Knights Point (on the side of the highway with an amazing scenic overlook should it be a clear day) – Many waterfalls can be seen on the side of the road, and don’t worry – you’ll see signs for them.
Stop 4 (Estimated drive time: 2 hrs) Blue pools – Had the sun been even a little bit shining, we would have most certainly stopped to look at the Blue Pools (which are pretty self-explanatory). Due to cancelled heli-hikes and bad weather, we ate our feelings instead.
Stop 5 (Estimated drive time: 30 min) Wanaka – This small city is ridiculously good-looking and tucked away among the mountains on New Zealand’s South Island. It hasn’t been overrun by tourists (cough, Queenstown) and has so many kind, laid-back Kiwis (locals from NZ, not fruit). When we woke up the next morning in Wanaka, we finally found the sun! T’was about time, Mother Nature.
Wanaka Activities: Skydive Wanaka, kayak on the lake, Rob Roy Glacier Hike, Lavender Farm
Day 3 – Drive from Wanaka to Queenstown
On the Crown Range to Queenstown (Estimated drive time: 1hr) – Queenstown is the Queen of New Zealand. She is beautiful, jaw-dropping, and in a way, she looks fake. The sunsets I witnessed here produced an entire portion of the color wheel.
Queenstown Activities: Trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound via helicopter with Heliworks (or the estimated drive time is 4 hours).
Bars: Rhinos, Buffalo Club, Bungalow, Cowboys, Redrock, Searle Lane. I cannot attest to any of them. I simply added suggestions for my study abroaders and bar hoppers.
Hotel Suggestion: The Rees Hotel is beautiful and situation directly on the water providing unreal, real views.
If you have any suggestions for New Zealand, list them below! Someday, I’ll be returning for more than just four nights on the South Island.