Next Up: New Zealand, When I Close My Eyes

New Zealand at it's Best!
This is a story about faraway places and our relationship to the somewheres we dream of visiting. It’s also about the fact that we fly to New Zealand next Monday.

Some places on our planet seem to lend themselves to the imagination, that is to the image of the mind, to putting eyes closed and attempting to place yourself somewhere you’ve never been. Think about it: there are endless beautiful places on Earth that evince all manner of beauty, but among them, there are a few special places whose reputation so precedes them.

One of those places: New Zealand.

Audrey and I explained this to a friend just as we’d firmed our flights into Auckland, “…but all we know about New Zealand: beautiful landscapes, sheep, Lord of the Rings, and the Maori,” I said. And in reality and fairness, we really don’t know all of that. Much of it is preconceived notion, expectations carved of fantasy.

Turns out our friend Ralph had lived in New Zealand for 18 years and added further “…like that, plus wine and yachting.” He laughed, and knowing what else we were after, suggested a few people to contact to get to the root of what and who New Zealand is. He finished with geo-contouring, “it’s like…Hawaii down there, Wyoming around the side, Scotland over there and Switzerland in the back.

And then there are the people, the Kiwis. Even the Scots, a patriotic group intensely proud of Scotland’s natural beauty and culture, urged us to visit New Zealand. As Craig, a rugby player decked out in a kilt at an Edinburgh pub, put it: “New Zealand. You have to visit. It’s beautiful like here, but the people are even nicer.”

A group of people even friendlier than the Scots? Now this I gotta’ experience.

But New Zealand is not just about sitting back to enjoy the beautiful scenery and friendly people; it’s also a place for action and context. It’s been a while since we tackled mountains. And it’s time we get back on track.
New Zealand Landscape

Crikey dick! We’re flying to New Zealand next Monday for a month!! We’re thrilled with the opportunity to discover just a bit of what New Zealand is all about, to move it from the imagined to the real.

Before too long we’ll be wearing our togs and jandals to the beach with a chilly box knowing that she’ll be right. (Did we get that right, Casey?)

So what will we be up to in New Zealand?

G Adventures has begun offering tours to New Zealand and Australia this year. And we’ll be on one of their first. Interested to see both the North and South Islands, we opted for the New Zealand Encompassed Tour and we’ll be flying across the globe (on the longest flight we’ve ever taken!!) with Air New Zealand.

New Zealand: North Island

Our New Zealand journey will begin in Auckland where we’ll kick off the first week exploring the North Island. We’ll snorkel and kayak in the Bay of Islands while sleeping on board a houseboat. From there we’ll head to Raglan where we hope to get up on a surf board after a few lessons. Surfing? Yes, a first for us. In Rotorua we’ll learn a bit about Maori culture (which, I’m embarrassed to say I know very little about except for the haka, the Maori war dance that the All Blacks perform every rugby game) by visiting a Maori village and enjoying a hangi, a Maori barbecue where the meat is cooked in the ground.

Then we launch into trekking with a hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (including a peek at the Emerald Lakes), supposedly New Zealand’s best one-day hike.
the emerald lakes
From there we’ll continue on to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, for a taste of the urban.

New Zealand: South Island

After arriving by ferry from Wellington, we’re looking at some beach and hiking time at Abel Tasman National Park and Punakaiki. From there we’ll have a couple of days in Franz Josef for a glacier walk (of Franz Josef Glacier, of course) and a pop into the hot springs. Then comes three days in Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world.

Post-adrenaline overload in Queenstown – yes, we are thinking bungee jump — we’ll relax in Doubtful Sound with a bit of kayaking (so you’re laughing at relaxing by kayaking?). Then comes one of our favorite parts of any trip: wine tasting. How about that for balance — pump up the endorphins, then cut them with wine. We’ll spend a couple of days in Central Otago where we can bike the rail trail as we stop in wineries along the way. For us, the final stop of the tour will be in Kaikoura where we can hope to spot a whale or take the safer bet of swimming with seals.

An Extra Week on South Island – What to Do?

At the conclusion of our G Adventures tour, we’ll spend another week on our own on the South Island. At this moment, we are flexible and weighing various plans and options.

We’d love your help. What are your New Zealand favorites and suggestions? If you have recommendations on what we else we should do or whom we should meet or where we should eat, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or drop us a line.

Although we may not get to everything, know that we read and factor all suggestions into our travel decision-making process. Chur bro! (How about that for some more Kiwi lingo?)

Follow along with our New Zealand adventure!

As we explore New Zealand’s outdoors, people, culture and wine, we’ll share what we find through photos, stories, updates and maybe a video or two. We will update our blog as often as we can, but we are realistic about time and connectivity constraints.

So, for real-time photos and updates of our New Zealand journey, be sure to check out our Facebook page and follow the #dna2nz and #gdaygway hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

Postscript

You know New Zealand is magical. But then you go and it’s even more magical than you could have ever expected,” Ralph concluded.

When we set down in New Zealand, we will open our eyes. And we’ll no longer wonder what we’ll see.

—–

Disclosure: Our tour of New Zealand is provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. Our flights are kindly sponsored by Air New Zealand. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this New Zealand tour or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!


Photo credits to kayadams, LadyJaws, and magtravels.

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Comments

  1. says

    New Zealand! Oh, I want to go back so badly. Just had to say – there are a lot of places to bungy around Queenstown, but I think the Ledge is the best – not a huge drop and the view is insanely beautiful.

    Enjoy! I will be sitting at my desk, horribly jealous and waiting for every update.

  2. says

    @Oliver: Thanks for the recommendations! We’re also so looking forward to this trip – been a dream destination for so long. We’ll definitely spend some time in Christchurch during the tour and after the tour (it’s our departure city) so we’ll have a chance to see the recovery efforts.

    It’s funny you mention Hobbitton, as we just saw the Hobbit recently and it’s on the brain :)

    @Sarah: Great advice re: bungee jumping in Queenstown. So nice to get a first-hand recommendation than look at a bunch of brochures/offers. Thank you!

    I know that I’m a bit biased because I’m married to Dan, but I do think his Instagram photos are pretty darn good so be sure to follow along with those as updates.

  3. says

    Hi Audrey and Scott!

    Let me be the next person to tell you that New Zealand REALLY IS THAT MAGICAL. I am so excited for you guys.

    I’ve just returned from a month there in December. I’m working on a post of tips, but for now let me share with you a few things we discovered “off the beaten trail,” if you will.

    All the things you’ve mentioned are spectacular, particularly Abel Tasman and Queenstown! You are spending the night on board “The Rock” in Bay of Islands, yes? I know you said you’ll be visiting Doubtful Sound…if you get the chance or inclination to also go to Milford there is a beautiful spot there called “Lake Gunn.” It’s also a wonderful place to camp if you’re interested.

    Another spot we discovered unexpectedly was the Tutukaka Coast, coming back to Auckland from Bay of Islands. Beautiful and not at all crowded. Whale Bay was particularly pretty and relaxed.

    Lastly, if you guys are looking for a somewhat “romantic” activity to relax together after a day of adventure in Queenstown, we loved the Onsen Hot Pools. It’s like a private spa fed with spring water (heated of course) with stunning mountain views.

    Oh! And please have a “Fat Tui” burger in Marahau, Abel Tasman. We thought it rivaled the famous “Fergburger!”

    I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have via email! Best of luck with your planning :)

    Anne

  4. says

    Ahhh I’m so jealous! New Zealand is my favorite country in the world, and I can second what the Scots told you – NZ is just as pretty (if not prettier) than Scotland, with even nicer people.

    Your itinerary sounds great (though not nearly enough time in Wellington, if you ask me!). For some of the extra time, I’d suggest perhaps spending more time in Christchurch. You guys love people and stories, and that city has had its fair share in the past few years. The stories of what people did during and after Chch’s big quakes are truly phenomenal. Such resilient, optimistic people there.

    You should also definitely head up the middle of the South Island to see Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo! Gorgeous countryside.

  5. says

    @Anne: Big thanks for these great “off the beaten path” suggestions. I’m particularly intrigued by the Onsen hot springs near Queenstown. Sounds so relaxing and the perfect way to unwind. We’ll definitely have a Fat Tui for you :) Thanks for your offer for more advice – may take you up on it in these next weeks!

    @Amanda: I hear you on Wellington. We do have a friend living in Wellington, so we hope he might help us with recommendations to make the most of our short time there.

    I’m really trying to keep my expectations in check. I mean, the Scots were pretty darn friendly!

    We are thinking to spend a few extra days in Christchurch to relax after everything, so it’s great to hear your thoughts on the place and its people. Just looking up Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo now…

    Thanks again!

  6. says

    If you aren’t tired of all the gorgeous scenery by then (ha, as if anyone could be!), a day’s drive in the Catlins (between Dunedin and Invercargill) is very worthwhile. I lived in Dunedin for a few months, and there’s a few things to do there (Cadbury Factory tour, Speights brewery tour, and wildlife spotting on the Otago Peninsula come to mind). And Christchurch is indeed lovely.

  7. says

    @Rachel: Thanks for the recommendation for the Catlins. We’ve been toying around with the idea of renting a car for part of the last week. Also like the idea of the brewery tour :)

    We’re also looking forward to spending a few days in Christchurch at the end. Everyone seems to have great things to say about the place and it’s people.

  8. Louise says

    Kia Ora!
    As a Kiwi myself, I am brimming with pride over the comments people have posted about our fair land. We think it’s pretty special too.
    If you have time, I recommend any/all of the hikes in Milford Sound, and the vineyards (and a little spot called Takaka) in Marlborough Sounds. Also, Stewart Island is a real paradise for nature-lovers! Get there over a weekend and you might even be able to join a quiz team at the local pub – the best place to meet Real Kiwis.
    Enjoy our Aotearoa… Cheers bro :)

  9. says

    Yay, can’t wait to read about your trip! I’m also planning to head to NZ sometime this year, but based on our schedule, it looks like I’ll only be able to go at the end of the year. Have fun!

  10. Steve says

    In Golden Bay check out Pupu Springs and Wharariki Beach. Kaikoura has a spectacular coastal walk starting at the seal colony. Dunedin offers the albatross colony. Lake Tekapo has a beautiful milky blue lake and fabulous stars at night. Lake Matheson has the famous million dollar view, but you MUST start your walk early to see it before the clouds obscure it. Enjoy my country!

  11. says

    @Louise: Kia Ora! Thanks for all of your recommendations. We’ve heard great things about Stewart Island, too. We may just have to book a return trip to follow-up. Love the quiz team idea. Definitely going to seek one out.

    @Jam: Photos and tips on New Zealand coming up. Check us out on instagram, too. Our main instagram account is: uncornered_market

    @Steve: Thanks for all of your suggestions. Thankfully, a couple I believe are already on our itinerary. Ooh, an albatross colony sounds great.

    I’m certain we’ll enjoy your country. Big thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. Sutapa says

    Don’t know anything about NZ except tidbits from an old college friend. I would second Wellington as well since my friend lives there and thinks it is great. But good luck and looking forward to great photos!!

  13. Allison says

    Hi Dan an Audrey,

    I visited NZ a few years ago and loved it so much I’m going back there in two weeks time.

    Have you thought of doing some multi-day hikes? The routeburn track, starting a 2 hr bus ride from Queenstown, is particularly spectacular, and can be done over 2 nights. I loved this walk so much I’m planning on doing it again when I return.

    Milford sound is another great place to visit, with the ferry tours around the sound well worh it. There is also a short walk off the road to Milford (anout 2hrs rtn) that has some great views (the Summit Track).

    The last thing I can think of to recommend is NZ’s green-lipped mussels. They are sold (live) everywhere and taste amazing.

    Enjoy your journey!!

  14. says

    @Sutapa: Thanks! We’re looking forward to sharing this journey in the moment and then afterwards when we’ve had a bit of time for reflection. It turns out that two friends of ours now live in Wellington so we’re looking forward to seeing the city through their eyes.

    @Allison: So it looks like we’ll be in New Zealand at the same time! There are a couple of multi-day hikes as part of our G Adventures tour, but don’t believe that the Routeburn track is one of them. I’ll take a look to see if we can manage it either during the tour or to come back after.

    Green-lipped mussels – sounds awesome!! Thanks for the advice!

  15. Margot says

    I am sure your wellington friends will take you but Te Papa museum is a must…… allow min of few hours + Cuba St & surrounding areas….. there is also a great yacht/surf club cafe/restaurant(forgotten name) ….round a bendy road to sw of airport…… I find Wellington great food destination! have fun

  16. says

    @Margot: Wellington…a great food destination. Sounds terrific. Maybe our friends will take us to Te Papa, but we’re so glad you took the time to comment and share your recommendations!

  17. Judith says

    Hope you have an amazing time in New Zealand! I will be heading there in March for my Working Holiday for 6 months at least. Looking forward to it as I have been waiting for a year to go now.

  18. Meghan says

    I was in NZ in November, 2012 and it was absolutely beautiful! If you have an extra week on the South Island I strongly recommend a day trip to Milford Sound (the drive there was incredible, but if you have a clear day I suggest the scenic flight back to Queenstown through the Fiordlands, worth every penny!). Also, swimming with hundreds of wild dusky dolphins in Kaikoura was in my top three NZ experiences (take the sunrise boat, calmer waters, beautiful sunrise and the dolphins are more interactive at that time!) have fun!! (And don’t skip Hobbiton!)

  19. says

    So exciting! We’re heading there ourselves on Thursday for a few weeks. Maybe we’ll cross paths. We’ll be the ones eating cheese in an old VW campervan. (What can I say? 6 weeks in Asia and we’re having cheese withdrawal!)

  20. says

    @Judith: How wonderful to be able to spend 6 months in New Zealand and work along the way. Do you know what type of job you’ll take for your Working Holiday and where you’ll live?

    @Meghan: Our tour ends in Kaikoura so we were thinking to spend an extra day there to see if we can swim with dolphins – thanks for the tip on the early morning boat ride. Milford Sound keeps coming up as well. Looking forward to it!!

    @Paige: Love the description of you guys being the ones eating cheese in an old VW campervan. Having spent 18 months in Asia a few years ago I can definitely understand the obsession with cheese right now! Perhaps our paths may cross…it’s a big/small world!

  21. Vaniah says

    Can’t believe that you will only be spending a month in NZ – we spent 4 weeks there and it was just enough for us to realise that we would love to spend at least 6 x that just to really appreciate it. Enjoy your time there and looking forward to seeing what you think of it!

  22. says

    @Vaniah: We completely understand. It’s funny the difference in perspectives. I can’t tell you how many people have said, “Wow! One month. That’s a lot of time.” Of course, they don’t know how big New Zealand really is and how much there is to do and see. We’ll consider this a taste, an exploratory trip. Invariably, we’ll need to return. Glad to hear that you had such a great time.

  23. Lisa says

    Welcome! A few more tips to add to the good ones others have given you. I’ve just moved home to New Zealand after five years living in Scotland, so I kinda know where you are coming from!
    Since you’re finishing your tour in Kaikoura, I would recommend a wee waterfall walk near Ohau Point where there are often seal pups playing in the stream. They are usually there in the winter but you might be lucky. It’s a lovely walk anyway.
    Someone mentioned wineries in the Marlborough Sounds – I’m not sure there are many (if any) in the Sounds but there are a lot in Marlborough itself (I live here!). Also, Takaka is in the Tasman district, not the Marlborough Sounds.
    Fergburger in Queenstown – best burgers ever.
    The Catlins are beautiful and wild but that would be quite a hike from Christchurch if you only have one extra week.
    Maybe head up towards Arthur’s Pass and do a day walk near there. I can recommend Mt Bealey. And/or check out Castle Hill which is on the way.
    If you’re going back to Christchurch a day trip to Akaroa is also nice.
    I could go on! A couple of linguistic points to finish. We call the islands THE South Island and THE North Island, and talk about being ‘in’ not ‘on’ them. I don’t know why. And it’s a chilly BIN not box. Otherwise – good stuff! Have a fabulous time :-)

  24. Gretchen Ludders says

    Hi, I just got back from New Zealand on Monday. Everyday I said Wow at least 3 times. I went on the jet boat on The Dart River and then went hiking in the Beech forest. Please include Mt. Cook . We were there during the full moon, spectacular.
    Great wine, delicious food, cherries the size of plums.
    If you have time visit the Botanic Garden and Zealandia, the wildlife preserve, in Wellington. You won’t be disappointed.
    Gretchen
    And the Kiwi’s(human) are the best. And the bids are pretty okay too.

  25. says

    @Lisa: Terrific, particularly the perspective on Scotland v. New Zealand.

    Thanks for the great suggestions. Hoping we can at least take advantage of Ohau Point and a few of the trips in and around Christchurch, including Akaroa.

    Fergburger, I’ve heard great things. Though I’ve heard even better things about Fat Tui.

    Finally, thanks for the linguistic tip. Chilly bin. Love it.

    Thank you for taking the time to share all your thoughts and suggestions.

    @Gretchen: Great to hear from you! Cherries the size of plums, and kiwi birds are OK, too. Love it. Thanks for all the suggestions. Am so glad to hear you had a great time in New Zealand.

  26. says

    Lovely shots of a land that seems to haunt my imagination more and more these days. It almost seems as if N.Z. is calling me to it’s shores, wherever I turn it keeps popping up at me, on the internet, in conversations, a book at the library…too bad it’s so darn far and away, but someday…someday.

  27. says

    @Greg: I suspect you are not alone. Based on our experience in New Zealand so far, there’s good reason (plenty of them, actually) why people find themselves drawn here.

  28. Vicky says

    I had 3 weeks in December in NZ and loved every minute! Like you it was one place I always wanted to go to. It didn’t disappoint!

    As mentioned the 5:30am dolphin swim is a must! We swam with a pod of 150+! Also check out Nins Bin for fresh crayfish.

    Mount cook area – lots of short (and long) tramps (that’s hiking in NZ speak). Sealy Tarns can be done in an afternoon and you will be rewarded with spectacular views.

    Hokitika Gorge – the most turquoise river you will find anywhere! About 30 mins off main highway between Punakaiki and Franz Josef.

    Queenstown – canyoning, Shotover jet, luge – all good fun! Fergburger is a must. Flames is a good meat restaurant if you like a good steak!

    Abel Tasman – wilsons do a good kayak / hike trip if not already sorted.

  29. says

    Hi Audrey and Dan. Just wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences in New Zealand. Your pictures are stunning. I have recently just been on safari to a place called Gondwana private game reserve. I think you two would love it.

  30. sophia says

    if you are still in north island as of the mo, drop by at taupo too. its so beautiful there. all what has been said above are true. theres so much to do here, people are so sweet and nice and the scenery is magical

  31. says

    @Vicky: We weren’t able to do everything on your recommended list, but did love swimming with dolphins and some of the Queenstown fun. We’ve already developed a list of things we want to do and places we want to hike next visit!

    @Dana: Hope you enjoyed following along on our trip through New Zealand and got some ideas for your own trip. Such a stunning place.

    @Sophia: Taupo was one of the places we missed, unfortunately. Have heard great things about it, and hear that the skydiving there is also good. Next time!

    @Ellie: We also preferred Wellington to Auckland. Just wish we had more time there :)

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