As many of you know, New Zealand was not a major stop on my itinerary but a ‘maybe’ place to visit. I knew very little about it or what I was getting myself into. All I knew as I was standing at the Cambodia airline check in counter needing to book an exit flight out of Bali before they gave me my boarding passes. I panicked and booked my ticket to Wellington. This has by far been the best spur of the moment choice I’ve made. When I reached out to my cousin who lives in Wellington to let him know he had a visitor he convinced me to book a Kiwi Experience ticket. This was how he met some of his best travel mates and now I know why! All I can say is that I’m thankful Brett let me know about this bus tour as well as for letting me crash on his couch!
North Island Map
South Island Map
Right from day 1 on the Kiwi Experience I made friends. They were from the UK having already finished their tour heading back up to Auckland, starting in Wellington is a rarity as most people start in Auckland and work their way down and back up again. Once in Auckland, I was able to meet up with my friend Sarah I met on my LBW tour in Thailand. She showed me around the city a little bit and took me to get some food from a Canadian Deli (which meant poutine and root beer). That’s a real friend right there haha. After Auckland I then went to Paihia to do the Cape Reinga day trip. On the bus, this is where I met my travel mates for the rest of New Zealand. Dana was from London who was just as weird as me, James from Surrey (UK) – I have never met someone who can sleep as much as him, and Gordy from Northern Ireland who always had a dad joke ready to go. This is when I realized my favourite part of traveling was meeting people. I then ended up changing my Itinerary to tag along with them, I have no regrets what so ever (and quite honestly I didn’t know enough about New Zealand to make my own plan).
Cape Reinga was a very neat spot, with lots of spiritual meaning to the Maori people. It is the most northern tip of the North Island, so it was believed that the souls from the deceased travel up to this point. This was also where you could see the Tasmanian Sea and the Pacific Ocean clash together. On our day it was a little cloudy and we had to deal with rain coming in so we couldn’t see the different colours of the water, but we still got amazing views and learned lots about the Maori culture as early history of the first European interactions. Paihia was where we stayed for 2 nights to do the day trip, we ended up going on Waitangi Day which is the day the treaty was signed (also known as New Zealand day). This was cool because I was able to interact with people and learn their culture. Once we left here we stopping in Auckland again for 1 night, then we continued on to Hot Water Beach.
Hot water beach is basically what the name describes, basically you took a shovel and dug a hole in the sand on the beach to find heated water. This occurred due to the fact of the natural gases coming up through the ground (like a hot spring). At some points it got ridiculously hot and you had to watch where you stepped. Here we had on the best nights as we had awesome accommodation and because a large portion of the bus and ourselves ended up just having drinks and talking to get to know one another. The morning after was when we learned how bad Gordy’s hangovers really were…. We then went to Waitomo where we got to go Caving or Black Water Rafting in the underground caves. It was a very cool experience minus the fact I learned there were eels in all the fresh water areas of New Zealand.
We then continued down to Rotorua which was where we did an overnight stay at the Maori Village. It was a very unique experience that I recommend people do to learn the history and culture. Gordy was asked to be the ‘Cheif’ of our bus tribe by Martin our bus driver we had all the way down and back up again! Basically this entailed accepting a token from the Maori people and speaking on behalf of everyone in our tribe. We got to see cultural dances, the haka, traditional songs and eat traditional food. What I thought was neat was that they made a fried a dough similar to Bannock that we have at home (and it was just as tasty).
We then went to Taupa where we spent 2 nights and where most people went skydiving and where we did the Tongerraro Crossing which was a 21 km hike beside the Volcano and around the volcanic lakes. It was strenuous but totally worth it. It was stated that it takes 6-8 hours, I ended up clocking in around 5 hours which is pretty good for me! It’s safe to say that with all the hiking we did traveling in NZ (around 1 hike a day) I lost about 15 pounds. We went to River Valley which was another drinking get to know each other night, which meant lots of dancing. This was also where we met one of the world record holders for sheep sheering (how NZ haha)… I got to do some white water rafting that was very different from back home (Canada still takes the cake for the best white water rafting for me). We continued on to Wellington where another night out occurred, and we had to catch an early bus to get the Ferry to South Island.
South Island is very different than North Island. North Island had lots of beaches, volcanos, and farm land. South Island has lots of mountains, rolling hills, sheep, and activities.
Our first stop here was Abel Tasman, where we got a water taxi and got to see the bays from the coast line and also hike within the National Park. I think it would of been cool to do an overnight kayak camp trip though. From here we stopped in a very quite surf town called Westport where for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to surf. I have a fear of water I don’t know so this was a big step for me. However when I showed up for the class, I was told we only had to go waist deep and I was fine after that. Surfing was one of the harder sports I’ve tried you have to watch for the right wave and you have to position your body appropriately on the board. However, I am proud to say I stood up 3 times though (I believe I have snowboarding to thank for that). I could of spent an extra night here to, to try and surf more, but I will have plenty of time in Australia to do it.
We then left and went to Lake Mahinapua which was where we had the costume party (or what UK people and Kiwis call a “fancy dress party”). Our theme was any costume with the letter ‘P’. My friend Jess and I decided to go as wine bottles; Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. Which in my mind was very creative and our costumes actually turned out very well (we got nominated for onw of the best costumes but Gordy and James got the most votes for theirs). That night I decided it was a good night to drink a bottle of wine in a very short period of time… I ended up thinking I lost my phone and went on an adventure to try and find it, when we made it to the room, I laid down and decided I wanted to tuck myself into bed at 12pm so I could adult and find my phone in the morning. Turns out my phone was on one of the bunk beds in our room, but at least i had a long enough sleep that I avoided a hangover unlike the others…
Our next stop was Franz Josef. Here was very quiet but where we got to see the Fox Glacier. This was where I originally wanted to do my skydive but the weather did not clear up enough to be able to do it (some people were denied a chance to do their Heli Hike on the Glacier). I got to do a kayak trip on the lake which was a unique way to see the mountains and the black water lake.
From here we went to Lake Wanaka where I got to do my skydive! I think this was the best place for me to do it as the scenery was amazing. Tons of mountains, lakes, and rivers. For some reason I wasn’t nervous for it at all, I was just excited to finally be doing it. If you go on Facebook and we are friends you can see the video for yourself. I end up going through a cloud having troubles breathing – my face is hilarious 😂. The town itself was very quiet, it reminded me of a mountain town back home, but the scenery to me, was way more impressive in NZ than in Banff, or Golden. Here we had a relaxing family movie night, with the bus.
We left Wanaka and finally made it down to the famous Queenstown. We ended up staying 6 days here and enjoying every minute of it. It was a 6 day drinking bender basically. This is where I ran into an old track friend Ian and his fiancée as well as an old uni friend Danika. It has been amazing how many people I actually have ran into. I think it is part of what made NZ so enjoyable. Queenstown is also known for ya Bungee (134m drop). I had went to go do it but chickened out last minute and balling my eyes out when they first called my name. I can honestly say I do not regret not doing it, however I am sad that I am that terrified of heights especially when I like those adrenaline activities. I would much rather do 10 skydives over again than stand on the bungee platform ever again. One evening, we were with our friends from Germany and they decided it was a good evening for a ‘walk’ up Queenstown Hill to watch the sunset. However, this ‘walk’ was a vertical uphill hike that we completed in 50mins – it was supposed to be a 3 hour round trip hike… however the views were amazing as well as the family photos we got up top. We also did a day trip to a place called Milford Sound (it’s actually a Fjord). Basically it included a boat cruise through the mountains, that included lots of waterfalls! It was gorgeous, definitely something you have to see if your visiting NZ.
We left Queenstown to go to lake Tekapo where I got to go star gazing at a dark sky reserve. What was unique was that I got to see the Southern Hemisphere stars as well as see more stars than I ever had before. You could see the Milky Way very clearly as well as comic clouds which was a cool thing to see. We also had the opportunity to look through the telescopes and see the Tarantula Nebula, Alpha Centauri, Jupiter, the Moon, and a few other stars I can’t remember. It was interesting because I also got to learn about Maori stories when it came to the stars as well as how they traveled at see to find NZ (I can now find the South Pole; but still don’t trust myself to navigate haha). It was one of my favourite experiences on the trip as I have always been intrigued by astronomy and have even taken classes in University as my options. So it was cool to be able to understand and be able to answer questions with the knowledge I had (I know, what a nerd).
After that we went to Christchurch which is where one of the largest modern earthquakes occurred in September 2010, they are still in the rebuilding process. To me the city gave off a weird vibe, it was a laid back city but still felt abnormally quiet. Here we lost Gordy as he had to fly home. One of the worst parts about traveling is all the goodbyes. It never gets easy.
I have now just arrived in Kaikoura which is supposedly great for dolphin and whale watching. One neat thing I’ve learned so far is about how the earthquake literally caused rocks to stick out of the water and major rock slides on the coast. It’s amazing what occurs naturally by nature from earthquakes, to mountains, to valleys and lakes carved out by glaciers. New Zealand continues to astound me every place I go. It is definitely a place I recommend all nature and hiking lovers to go.