New Zealand Dream Trip: The Highlights

We spent three weeks traveling around New Zealand this winter and it was the most amazing trip we have ever made. New Zealand has so many different landscapes all packed together on car-drive distances, it is amazing how much we saw in three weeks. The people are extremely open and nice and everyone is so relaxed, it is not so crowded and the nature is almost overwhelming. In total we drove for 3500 kilometers, and made just as many photos (1 photo/km!), so I’m going to write several posts about our amazing trip. But first, the highlights!



We arrived in Auckland on december 18th! It was a beautiful sunny day, we strolled around the city and its blue ocean, and in the evening we went to see Star Wars in NZ’s only Imax theatre :) The day after we picked up our car to start our left-side driving adventure through New Zealand!NZhighlights-2Our first stop was Waitomo, a beautiful area that looks like Hobbiton (well, it was filmed there so duh), green hills and blue skies. But Waitomo is mostly famous for its glowworm caves! There are huge limestone caverns beneath the ground in Waitomo and we went to see these glowworms in style: floating in wetsuits in a rubber band. Not kidding! What an adventure, exploring dark deep caves floating in icecold water!!! The most scary thing was that we even had to jump from waterfalls inside the caves, backwards. Butt-first into the abyss… But then, when we got deeper and deeper and suddenly the ceilings were covered in green/blueish lights, as if you are seeing the nightsky inside a cave, I felt so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature!NZhighlights-3 NZhighlights-4 NZhighlights-1After our fantastic stay in Waitomo, we headed for Volcanic country, to Rotorua. This city permanently smells like rotten eggs, since it is surrounded by sulfuric craters and volcanic landscapes. The variety of colors and shapes in volcanic environments in jaw-dropping. As if you are on another planet. Away were the green Hobbit hills, we were now in Morder! (and well, yes, Mordor was filmed here and especially on the next location we visited, Tongariro).NZhighlights-6 NZhighlights-10 NZhighlights-7 NZhighlights-8NZHighlights-1-8 NZhighlights-5We still had not had enough of these crazy volcanic landscapes, and at our next stop in Ohakune, we prepared for one of the most amazing one-day hikes in the world: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This 20 km walk, which takes about 7-9 hours, goes right across a volcano, and the views during the hike are astounding. The volcano actually starred as mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. I think this hike is one of the highlights of our trip, I have never done such a beautiful walk in my life. It was tough, with a lot of climbing, and very cold and windy up top, but holy shit, how can there be so many amazing landscapes in one area?? Yellow deep craters filled with mist, endless steps while overseeing the valley, deep dark red craters witch cracks where smoke emerges, then blue emerald lakes with yellow borders, another climb right through the clouds and back down with the most spectacular view of NZ I can think of, back through a dense jungle forest. Back in our fantastic hotel (a sort of Swiss “Last Christmas” chalet) we had a nice lamb rack dinner and a local craft beer. Fantastic day!! (more amazing photos of this trip in the upcoming Volcanic NZ post!)NZhighlights-13NZhighlights-15NZ_Tongariro_Ward5NZ_Tongariro_Ward8 NZ_Tongariro_Ward1 NZ_Tongariro_Ward2 NZhighlights-17NZ_Tongariro_Ward4NZ_Tongariro_Ward9NZhighlights-19So leaving the beautiful volcanic landscapes behind, our next stop would be Wellington! Wellington is NZ’s capital city and also the place where Weta Workshop is located, the famous design studio responsible for the visuals of the Lord of the Rings movies and many many other amazing films. We drove through busy Wellington to visit the studio and have a look at all their work, which was fantastic!NZhighlights-22Our hotel was located next to the beach, where we watched the sunset. In the morning we went to the Wellington ferry, because our trip on the Northern Island was now over: on to the South!NZhighlights-23 NZhighlights-21The ferry trip of three hours was amazing, to make things even more magical, dolphins were swimming alongside the boat. The ferry went through the Marlborough Sound, a fantastic fjord landscape with high hills and blue water. We arrived on the Southern Island, picked up our new lovely white Toyota Corolla and drove to Blenheim, wine country, for our Christmas evening! We ordered some delicious room service and watched the Sound of Music :-). From Blenheim we drove to the Abel Tasman Park for another complete different environment. This time, it would be orange beaches with tropical jungles!!NZhighlights-26We took a watertaxi to Torrent Bay, and then walked for four hours along the famous Abel Tasman Track towards Onetahuti where a water taxi would pick us up at the end of the day. The jungles and beaches were so beautiful, there were hundreds of singing birds and the whole forest smelled like honey! Sometimes there were awesome views over the bays. On our way back we spotted some fur seals too!NZhighlights-27 NZhighlights-29 copyAfter leaving tropical Abel Tasman we headed to the West Coast through old gold mining country. The short but intense gold rush in the 19th century shaped this area and many buildings remain from that era. We passed through a canyon with NZ’s longest hanging bridge untill we reached the beautiful coastline with white waves and weirdly shaped rocks. Especially weird were the Pancake Rocks, layered stone carved out by seawater. Very unearthly!NZ_PancakeRocks_Ward1
In Hokitika we stayed at a motel near the beach where we had a beautiful sunset and also another glowworm cave nearby where we made some awesome shots of these magical creatures.NZhighlights-1-3NZhighlights-31NZhighlights-32From Hokitika, we drove south and noticed the mountains getting bigger and snowier! We headed towards the famous glaciers, the Franz Joseph and Fox glacier. Alongside were the Southern Alps, with the amazing Mount Cook in the middle. We visited lake Matheson, a famous spot for photographers to get a perfect shot of mount Cook reflected in the water (alas it was a bit windy when we were there, but not less beautiful!). It is amazing how there can be snowy mountains with glaciers, right next to a jungle, that is right next to a beach and the ocean!NZhighlights-39 NZhighlights-35 NZ_Foxglacier_Ward2 NZ_Foxglacier_Ward1NZhighlights-34As the new year got closer, we then headed to Wanaka where we would spend New Years Eve. We drove through a long, lonely canyon with beautiful waterfalls, then past huge ice age formed lakes towards the lovely village of Wanaka that is perched on the edge of a massive lake and surrounded by amazing snow-capped mountains. We made some pictuers of the famous Wanaka tree, a lonely tree that grows in the lake, and then went for a wild ride on unpaved roads and through small fords (all with our little white Corolla!) towards the beginning of another awesome hiking trail: The Rob Roy Glacier Track.NZhighlights-46Starting out in meadows with cows and sheep, we crossed a hanging bridge and walked for 2 hours through a dense forest to suddenly come to a clearing and have one of the most spectacular views of a glacier yet. What an impressive sight! huge waterfalls surrounded this massive glacier. We heard a deep rumble, and saw an avalanche coming down from the glacier! No worries, the avalanche was huge but also far enough away for us to be safe :-) Amazing!!NZ_Robroyglacier_Ward1 NZhighlights-42 NZhighlights-43We spent New Year sitting on the beach watch the fireworks on the lake and gazing at the beautiful starry sky. NZ has so little light and air pollution that you can see so many stars and also and endless flow of falling stars! I made many wishes that night.NZhighlights-2-2The first day of 2016 (Happy Newyear!) we travelled further south to Te Anau, leaving the awesome alps behind but welcoming the beautiful fjords. From the little lakeside village of Te Anau, we left early in the morning for the two hour drive to Milford Sound, one of NZ most famous fjord areas. The road towards is was already spectacular with mirroring lakes, field of purple flowers, snowy mountains and long tunnels. We took a boat that showed us the beauty of Milford Sound and its waterfalls and wildlife. This place has over 200 days of rainfall a year, but somehow we were lucky again and the weather was absolutely beautiful.NZ_MillfordSound_Ward1NZ_MillfordSound_Ward2NZhighlights-49After our adventure in Milford Sound and Te Anau, we drove further southwest towards a big city, Dunedin, and its nearby Otago Peninsula, a nature area that reminds a lot of Scotland! There, we went on a fantastic wildlife tour, where we saw huuuuge albatros birds, the almost extinct Yellow-eyed penguins (with babies!), little Blue penguins, some lazy sea lions and a huge colony of fur seals (also with babies!) in one evening. Wow! So much wildlife in one place, it’s almost unbelievable. Especially when you see a couple of penguins, next to a sheep and a rabbit on a green hill :-pNZhighlights-1-5NZhighlights-52 NZhighlights-51 copyNZhighlights-54Leaving Dunedin behind, we drove our final long drive towards Christchurch, where we would take a plane back to Auckland and back to Japan. We made a couple of stops to see amazing sights such as the Moeraki boulders, huge perfectly round stones that are shaped by minerals over the course of millions of years.NZhighlights-56And then, we flew back to Auckland, seeing all the sights we visited by car now from the air. In Auckland, we strolled around the city once more and took our plane back home in the late evening. What an adventure! How can a country have so many beautiful landscapes in such a small area? And so many birds and wildlife? The people were so relaxed and nice! New Zealand really is a little paradise at the end of the world.NZhighlights-20

These were “just” the highlights of our trip and I will be posting a little more in depth about some areas with more awesome photos! Coming up are: Volcanic NZ, the Tongariro Crossing, NZ Wildlife, Milford Sound, Beaches of NZ, Mountains and Glaciers.