Published: April 9th 2010March 28th 2010 Check out the pix by clicking on the first one to enlarge it and browse through the rest. As I lost almost all pix I took in the North island due to memory card crash, most pix show the South island.
Sheep at viewpoint
Hill-top view point with view on Akaroa, banks peninsula
New Zealand really has got it all: volcanos, mountains, glaciers, lakes, beautiful beaches, fjords, rain forests, great diving, surf spots, lots of extreme & outdoor sport opportunities and great natural wild life. The best part is that the country is very compact and the scenery constantly changes. Driving by car or camper van, which is an absolute must, is a dream as the roads in this scarcely populated country are almost empty (especially in the South island), so you can drive at your own speed and have lot's of opportunities to stop, get out of the car and get blown away by the scenery.
Apart from that locals are very friendly and traveling has never been easier due to a very well organized information network: in every little town there is an extremely helpful i-SITE visitor center which provides you with all the information you need. Furthermore you can find all relevant information including weather forecasts on the
handy DOC site (department of conservation: http://www.doc.govt.nz/).
Due to its compact size both the North & South island can be done within 3-4 weeks. However as weather is quite unpredictable here it pays off to plan in some extra days. The majority of travelers prefer the less populated & more 'touristy' South island, blessed with high mountains and beautiful lakes. However for me, an Austrian guy who has seen a lot of mountains and lakes already, the volcanic landscapes of the North island are much more exotic. Therefore I would say both islands are equally stunning. If you are on a tight time schedule I would still split my time between North and South by 40/60. The fact that I almost only uploaded only pix of the S-island is only related to the fact that I lost all my N-island pix when my memory card crashed suddenly. The must do's on the North island are the Tongariro Crossing (the world's best one day walk on volcanos) and Roturua (geothermal wonderlands). On the South island the highlights for me were the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound (liked it better than the cruise itself), stargazing at Mt John observatory at
Lake Tekapo, swimming with dolphins at Kaikoura, walking on ice at Franz Josef glacier and hiking around mount Cook, NZ's highest peak.
North Island Auckland
We stay a couple of days in Auckland mainly to arrange our trip for the next weeks and get a rental car. After having seen so many (big) cities on our trip so far, we are not so keen on staying in another one for too long, but Auckland is quite enjoyable and is blessed with a lovely scenery: it is surrounded by volcanic cones and green farmlands. Goat Island/ Leigh
Only a one hour drive up North from Auckland enables you to do quite decent snorkeling. Visibility that day was poor (<5m), but within only 10 minutes we already see a big stingray. Poor Knights / Bay of Islands
We skip a sailing tour at the bay of islands, as we have had our overdose of beautiful islands & beaches already in Asia. Instead we dive at the Poor Knights, one of the world's top 10 diving sites according to Jacques Cousteau. Especially the kelp forests you can dive into makes this site quite different and unique from previous sites we dove in
Asia and therefore was worth the 2 hours drive from Auckland. We stay at the lovely & very relaxed Little Earth Lodge in Whangarei, a 40 minutes drive from the dive operators (http://www.littleearthlodge.co.nz). Hamilton
Not much to do there, but we visit relatives of Els there, who immigrated to NZ in the 50s. Rotorua
Rotorua is known as cultural and geothermal hot spot. We skip the Maori culture experience, as I am not so into tourist entertainment shows with dressed up locals performing dances. However one of the highlights of the North island can be found at the geothermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu, 27km south of Rotorua: at this geothermal wonderland, you can see outer space kind of landscapes with an erupting geyser, bubbling mud, mineral terraces, and boiling volcanic pools with unreal kaleidoscopic colours (http://www.waiotapu.co.nz/). Tongariro
The Tongariro Crossing is the highlight of the North Island and apparently the best one day hike in the world. Unfortunately we do not see any of the craters or beautiful lakes at the craters, as despite of good weather that day, the top was covered by a big fat cloud. The hike can be done in 5-7 hours. Starting quite early in
the morning (round 6am) allows you to avoid the crowds and finish of round noon. Due to poor visibility we didn't have to stop for taking pictures and complete it in 4h 50min. Pretty disappointed we stay another day to do a scenic flight (http://www.mountainair.co.nz) above the crossing so we can finally see it, but again bad luck: the clouds are gone, but the wind is too strong for the small airplane. Sadly after 3 days we have to leave without actually having seen it, at least I take a picture of a picture. To avoid disappointment, it's best to plan in plenty of buffer time there (+3 days) to allow for bad weather. Checking the weather forecast upfront can help, but is no guarantee either, as forecasts often are wrong and the weather often changes. Wellington
We only stay there for a day to drop our car and get the ferry to the South Island. As far as we can judge from only one day, the city with only 160.000 inhabitant has a relaxed feel and we sense an artistic/ alternative vibe.
South Island Kaikoura
This little town is worth a stay over due to its scenery (mountains
close to the sea) and for its wildlife: whales, dolphins, seals, albatross and penguins. Main tourist attraction is whale watching. Instead of spending 140 NZD for waiting to see a tail of a whale, we go snorkeling with approximately 300 wild dolphins in the open water, a really amazing experience I definitely can recommend (check dolphin encounter @ www.dolphin.co.nz). On the shore you can observe seals from close by. In Kaikoura there is also some surf going on, but we skip it this time. Dunedin
The main purpose of our stay there is to observe the yellow-eyed penguins at Otago Peninsula. The scenery there is nice and we enjoy the ride down there as well (have a short break to check the moeraki boulders on the way down). The Catlins
On our way to Milford Sound we take the scenic route through the Catlins, where you pass by coastal cliffs, waterfalls and forests. This longer route is definitely worth the extra miles. Milford Sound
The scenery at one of NZ’s top attractions is stunning. We drive from Te Anau to Milford sound by car and take a 2hrs cruise there. The 2hrs drive by car is amazing
and on the way there are several viewpoints to enjoy the landscapes. You can do several short walks on the way there (10 min- several hours). When going on a cruise, it’s best to avoid the crowds between 10am and 2pm. The MFS 4 days walk needs to be booked weeks - months in advance, especially during summer. Instead of staying in Te Aneau or doing the MFS cruise in a one day tour from Queenstown, we stay at Manapouri (20km from Te Anau) at the lovely Freestone Backpackers, a couple of rustic looking cabins with kitchen and veranda nestled on the hillside with magnificent views. There are no room keys, but theft is not a big problem in this little town with 200 inhabitants only. Queenstown
The scenery of this popular town is quite spectacular: its situated on a lake and surrounded by mountains. On a clear day the view from the top of the cable car (aka Gondola) is really worth the ride. Queenstown is mainly known as the capital of extreme sports: bungee jumping, sky diving, rafting, you name it. Having done sky diving already and not understanding the fun of bungee jumping, we go hang
Flying like a bird
hang-gliding in Queenstown
gliding instead: not as adrenaline pumping as sky diving, but still a great experience and we enjoy the bird view on the mountains from 300 meters above the ground. Mt Cook / Lake Tekapo
We use the beautiful Lake Tekapo with its striking light blue colour as base for our excursions to Mt Cook, NZ’s highest mountain (3755m). Furthermore Lake Tekapo is one of the world’s best places for stargazing thanks to clear skies and the distance from big cities. Apart from Mongolia, I have never seen such a clear night sky with so many stars and galaxies. Therefore the stargazing tour at the observatory on Mt John was definitely a highlight for me on this trip (check @ www.earthandsky.co.nz). With the help of a astrology photographer, you are able to shoot your own photos of the amazing night sky during a tour. At Mt Cook there are several short walk options with the hooker valley walk (3hrs) and the Mueller hut (7hrs) as the most popular ones. Due to bad weather we can only do the short one and watch a 3D movie of Mt Cook on a rainy day instead of another hike. Christchurch & Banks Peninsula
We stay a couple of days in NZ's second largest city. We mainly stay there to do some travel arrangements, as the city does not offer many special things to do. However the drive on the summit road on the banks peninsula to Akaroa was already worth the trip to Christchurch. A highlight for us was our late lunch at the hill top cafe on the banks peninsula overlooking Akaroa and the harbor surrounded by a dramatic volcanic landscape, one of NZ's best views. The food is great there as well, which also the New York Times has realized (http://www.hilltopcafe.co.nz/). On a night out in town we go to a concert to Minuit, a great kiwi band, I've seen already in Berlin, and very likely to be much more internationally known in the near future. Definitely worth checking them out http://www.minuit.co.nz. Franz Josef glacier
A guided glacier tour enables us to walk on the glacier and go into ice tunnels. As we have never walked on a glacier with crampons, the tour is an amazing experience. Due to bad weather we only do a half day tour, otherwise I would recommend a full day tour and ice climbing,
a more expensive alternative. It's wise to plan in some extra time, as the West coast gets a lot of rain and glacier tours are canceled in case of heavy rain, as we had to realize on our first day there. Great Alpine highway & West coast route
The drive from Christchurch to Franz Joseph is spectacular and the West coast offers also stunning views. On clear days you can see beautiful mountains on one side and the coast on the other. A worthwhile stop and highlight on the west coast is Punakaiki
with its fantastic pancake look a like rocks and blowholes which have been formed by a layering-weathering process. On the way to Franz Josef we also have at little stop at Pukekura
, probably the world's smallest town with a population of 2 and its well known road grill restaurant where you can eat road kill animals like possums. Their slogan is: 'you kill em, we grill em'.
There are more photos below