Our adventure begins as we head out of Auckland. Stopping for breakfast in a countryside café for a quintessential flat white coffee, we get the opportunity to meet our fellow traveling mates for the next two weeks.
It’s a short drive of a couple hours today to get into our destination for the night, the countryside town of Waitomo.
We are starting off the first day of the tour in a grand fashion with one of the ultimate highlights of New Zealand – underground blackwater rafting into the famed glow worm caves of Waitomo.
We dive into this underworld for an experience unlike any other. Swimming, tubing, abseiling, floating, spelunking …. we follow the underground rivers to explore the vast cave systems, all while watching the star-like sparking lights glowing above us that are the glow worms. In all my travels I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
The rest of the day is yours. We have the evening to explore the beautiful countryside or explore more caves.
Tonight we cook up a group bbq and get to know each other a bit more over a few beers or a nice glass of NZ wine.
We head out of Waitomo today and after a short drive we arrive at Hobbiton. As NZ has become famed for their Lord of the Rings movies, we spend a short amount of time here exploring the actual movie set from the films. We finish up the tour at the Green Dragon Inn for a cider or pint.
After another brief drive, we arrive at our final destination of the day in the city of Rotorua. Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity and its Maori culture
Sitting directly onto a volcanic plateau, the entire town seems to be smoking. Steam vents pour from the sidewalks and bubbling mud pools and thermal baths appear throughout the city. We spend the afternoon exploring these natural formations.
The highlight of today though is still to come. Tonight we are staying in a living Maori village.
We enjoy an afternoon of traditional Māori activities before participating in our Evening Experience and Māori hangi feast. This traditional Maori meal is essentially a feast cooked underground in an earth oven for several hours. One of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had.
Afterwards, we gather around a blazing bonfire and enjoy Māori myths and legends, and stories from our history, before relaxing in one of our private forest spa pools. We retire for the night in a traditional carved wharemoe (sleeping house).
We depart Rotorua after a wonderful hot breakfast fry up and head into the remote areas of NZ’s north island rainforest.
Time permitting, on the way through we stop and soak in some natural geothermal hot springs to break up the days drive.
We are headed to the Blue Duck Lodge – a working cattle farm who’s purpose is to “conserve its endangered wildlife, increase the health of native bush and rivers, and preserve the history of the area, while educating visitors about the endangered New Zealand blue duck, other native species and local history.”
For the visitors lucky to get this far off of the beaten path; Blue Duck is always rated as one of the highlights of their time in NZ.
After exploring his evening we are treated to some amazing bush food. Blue Ducks boasts world class chefs who specialize in the gourmet preparation of wild game and local foliage. For vegetarians, an equally exquisite meal is also available. It is truly a unique experience; finding this sort of fine dining in a location as remote as this.
After a bonfire and a few drinks, we sleep the night in cabins under a sparkling starry night.
We are up early before sunrise this morning for one of the unique highlights of our time in NZ. We are heading up to the Top of the World for sunrise. We take ATV vehicles through extremely rugged off road terrain to get to a destination where very few people have ever been.
Once atop the summit, we watch as the sun rises out of the mist covered valley floor and over the volcanic plateau, offering one of the most stunning and expansive views over the entire country.
The volcanic landscape of Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom) and Mount Tongariro complete this cinematic background.
Depending on weather and schedule this experience may be done at sunset this evening or on the prior evening; but we are hoping for sunrise.
I experienced this awe inspiring trip many many years ago and it still remains one of my favorite views in all of NZ. It took me years to finally be able to organize another expedition up to this area.
For the rest of the day, there are numerous activities to explore – horse trekking, jet boat rides, kayaking, journey to find the “bridge to nowhere”, clay pigeon shooting, ATV rides, wild game hunting for our dinner or just exploring the numerous hiking trails and rivers.
One of the main reasons we are staying two nights here is because we are getting up again very early the following morning for one of our most strenuous hikes of the trip and we want to get a good sleep and be well rested and prepared.
We leave Blue Duck well before sunrise and head to the start of the Tongariro Crossing.
The crossing is known as one of the greatest one day hikes in the world. It is a highlight of any visitor’s journey through. NZ. It is an experience not to be missed.
The crossing is a 12 mile hike, estimated to take between six and eight hours. The hike climbs up through volcanic terrain, old lava fields, past emerald pools, through giant calderas, and past an active volcano which last erupted less than a decade ago.
For those not feeling up to the long hike, there is ample opportunity to explore the surrounding national parkland. Plenty of hikes, mountain bike trails, LOTR viewing sites, and other adventurous activities can be arranged here in lieu of the hike.
Exhausted at the finish, we are in no condition for a long drive. We stay tonight in the park. We are picked up at the end of the trail before taking a short drive to our nights accommodation; just a few minutes and then directly to a welcome shower, a hot meal and possible hot tub, and a comfortable bed. The stunning volcanic mountaintops are in clear view as we watch the sun set and the stars come out.
After a much welcome nights sleep, we are making our way down to the south island today. It’s mostly a travel day … a long one, but a fun one. We drive about 3-4 hours back into the civilization and finally into Wellington. Not much scenery as we get back into city life, but we are here to catch the mid-day ferry to the south.
We have a three-hour boat journey across the channel, which is often a very cruisey affair. Outside of trains, my favorite form of travel is by boat and I find myself out on the water any chance I get. These large ferries have a cinema inside, as well as multiple restaurants and bars. So it’s just an afternoon of hanging out and relaxing, napping, drinking, eating, and walking around the open decks, taking in the wonderful ocean air as we cross the channel.
As we cross the Cook Straight and enter into the south island; we cross through the stunning Marlborough Sounds and watch the scenery slowly pass by.
We end up in the charmingly quaint port town of Picton.
Time permitting we may be able to dive into some of the wines that this region of NZ is famed for. We enjoy the early evening relaxing in this scenic setting and prepare for our next days adventure.
We awake in the beautiful wine region of New Zealand. It’s a stunning early morning drive through wine country.
We are headed to the east coast town of Kaikoura, which is famed for it’s sea life. New Zealand Fur Seals dot the coastline. Orcas, Humpbacks, and Blue Whales migrate closely to the coastlines and Giant Sperm Whales call this area home year round due to the abundant feeding opportunities found here. But the dolphins here are the main attraction
We arrive by noon for our whale watching and dolphin encounter/swim. The Dusky Dolphins here swim in giant pods and are also known as “hyper-socialized”. They love to swarm visitors in the water, swimming in fast circles around you and jumping into the air, spinning over your head. It’s a wildlife experience unlike any other.
We spend the night on the coast and enjoy the incredible fresh local seafood and coastal beauty found here.
This is our longest and most arduous leg of the entire journey. Though it is a huge travel day, the hours slip by quickly as we are immersed in such beauty throughout day.
We are crossing from the east coast to the west coast; across the Southern Alps and their spectacular national parks. We get lost in the incredibly beautiful scenery and we stop when possible to take short hikes, stretch our legs, and make photo stops as we go through the famous Arthur Pass or Lewis Pass.
Arriving in Franz Josef we check in for tomorrow’s helicopter hike and then get checked into our nights accommodation. We certainly will be exhausted but a nice warm shower, a hot tub, a few pints and a good feed await us as we put our longest journey behind us and look forward to the exciting things coming next.
Today we are heading up on a helicopter to explore and hike the famous Franz Josef glacier. It’s another “must do” activity in NZ.
The glacier used to be accessible on foot. We would take an hour hike to the base of the glacier then climb up from the bottom. Over the years though, due to the natural retreat of the glacier, it is now too dangerous and it is illegal to climb up from the bottom. The only way onto the glacier now is via a short helicopter ride that puts us right into the heart of the glacier.
We spend 2.5 hours hiking through caves, crevasses, and icy terrain, led by professional glacier guides who direct us through the constantly changing ice.
This activity is heavily weather dependent for safety. The weather changes frequently and often here and we need to be available throughout the day to be able to give us every possible opportunity to experience the activity.
For those who do not wish to do the hike, it’s an uniquely beautiful part of the NZ rainforest and there are numerous hikes and places to explore outside of the glacier as well.
We stay the night again here in the rainforest and get a good rest for another big hike ahead of us tomorrow.
We have another big hike ahead of us at the end of the day; but we start off with a few hours of driving out of the rainforest. Time permitting we stop at the photogenic mirror lakes of Lake Matheson as well as the possibility of a stunning swim in the Blue Pools outside of Makarora.
Our destination today is Lake Wanaka and we want to get here early enough so we can tackle the insta-famous Roy’s Peak.
Lake Wanaka in itself is one of NZ’s most beautiful little cities. It’s a short distance from its famous neighbor Queenstown, but it is just as spectacularly nestled along a beautiful lake and surrounded by magnificent mountain peaks. The beauty of Wanaka also lies in that it is far less crowded than it’s world-renowned neighbor.
For those not wishing to undertake the hike, there are numerous beautiful shorter hikes to explore, plenty of activities to get into, or just the beauty of walking and resting along this beautiful lake. It is also home of the famed Wanaka tree. You’ll find this tree surrounded by a ring of photographers almost throughout the day.
We want to arrive in Wanaka with plenty of time to make the Roy’s Peak hike. The hike is one of the most spectacular hikes in all of New Zealand. The hike here is about a 5 – 7 hour return journey and we are aiming to make it up well before sunset to catch the late afternoon lighting. The views and photographs from this peak are some of the most recognizable images from NZ these days.
It’s an exhausting hike and we will be well tired when we return into town that evening but a nice meal and a drink will be most welcome.
For those not doing the hike, Wanaka is also a great little party town for those who would like a little nightlife and might want to take a break from the hikes.
Today will be one of the favorite days of the entire trip and a favorite experience in all of New Zealand.
We are heading from Wanaka down into the Fiordland National Park and into the remote Doubtful Sound.
While Milford may be more famous and crowded with tourists; Doubtful Sound provides the highlight of NZ to those few that make the long journey to get there. There are no roads here so we make our journey by boat.
We are picked up by a beautifully crafted luxury sailboat where we will be spending the rest of the day aboard.
This afternoon we sail through the fiord exploring its natural beauty, spotting sea life, wildlife, and watching the waterfalls cascade down towering mountainsides. It is so remote and untouched here, it will appear pretty much as it did when the first Maori settlers lived here ages ago.
We have the option of going for a swim in these pristine waters or taking a kayak through the bay or taking one of the skiffs around through the sound.
The late afternoon golden hour greets us as we exit the fiord and sail briefly out into the great ocean waters. With cocktails in hand, we watch the setting sun sink into horizon; before turning back into the fiord and finding a sheltered harbor to anchor and stay the evening.
We are treated to a gourmet group dinner and then spend the evening sleeping on board, gently rocking under vibrant stars.
The ships engines wake us shortly before sunrise as we head back into the fiord. Once under way, the sails are raised and the engines silenced. We move through the water in eerie silence, drifting slowly through the mystical fog as towering mountain walls gently reveal themselves as we approach. We watch the sun rise above the mist and mountain peaks that surround us as the sound awakes and starts the day anew.
After a hearty cooked breakfast we slowly head back into civilization where our bus awaits us.
We are then back on the road and into Queenstown for an early afternoon arrival.
Queenstown likes to call itself the adventure capitol of NZ, if not the world. It is home of the bungy jump, as well as endless other types of activity that will be the delight of any adrenaline junkie. Skydiving, bungy jumping, white water rafting, mountain bike, paragliding, canyoning, jet boats, scenic flights and helicopter rides and plenty of other mad activity inventions for those that wish to partake.
There also another world class hike up to Ben Nevis above Queenstown for those who prefer to get out of the city.
Not only is Queenstown the activity center of NZ, but also it is known for the craziest nightlife. Twenty four hours of bars and clubs, 7 days a week, for those that want to explore this side of NZ … especially as tomorrow is a free day. Queenstown will be what you make it.
Today is our free day in Queenstown.
For those of you wanting to experience Milford Sound, this is your perfect day to make that happen. You have the option of taking a day trip by coach or take a shortcut and go by scenic flight or helicopter. The drive into Milford is one of the most majestic drives that you will find anywhere.
For the rest, there are endless activities available to satisfy all your needs. Or for those that just want to enjoy Queenstown; it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s a great place to just wander around and spend an afternoon in the park by the lake or enjoy it’s fine coffee shops, have a glass of wine, or visit the exquisite eateries that flourish here (including the best burger I’ve found anywhere in the world).
Without a doubt Queenstown is a place that nobody ever wants to leave … you will make a note to make sure to come back here another time and get to know the city a lot better.
It’s a sad day indeed when we must say good-bye to our beloved Queenstown (and their burgers). But we must move on and we head north up into the Mount Cook National Park. It’s an incredible day of scenic beauty as we drive by lake after lake of glacier filled turquoise colored waters until we see the enormous peak of Mount Cook slowly rise in the distance.
Mount Cook is the famed peak that Sir Edmund Hillary summited frequently in preparation for his Everest expeditions. The landscape here is truly amazing. We can explore the valley floor with mountain bikes or hike up into a glacier filled lake (nature permitting). For those a little more adventurous, there are helicopter tours that will take you around the mountain peaks and drop you down onto a mountain top for an unbeatable view.
We spend the night in a beautiful lodge at the heart of the Mount Cook glacial valley.
It’s a short day today but a beautiful day to explore the stunning natural landscape. The area is filled with turquoise glacial lakes reflecting stunning snow-covered mountain peaks. Catching the sunrise over these areas is well worth getting up early to experience.
We are headed to the glacial waters of Lake Tekapo today where we will spend the afternoon exploring the area here. One of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a perfect spot for that postcard picture at sunrise or sunset.
We are in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, where light pollution is strictly controlled in the area. It is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world.
The clear skies found in this part of the world are like nothing else in New Zealand. Very limited light pollution means the views of the night sky seem to stretch on as far as the eye can see, making this ideal for astro-photogrpahy and star gazing. If we are lucky enough to get some solar energy; the Southern Lights have also been known to be frequently visible here as well.
We spend the night in comfortable little cabins right on the shores of the lake.
It’s a sad day as it’s our last together … for now … but it
will be a great day.
For those of us who want to; we rise early, well before the breaking of the dawn. We step outside our front door on this frosty final early start to see the morning mist ascend over this magnificent lake, right on our doorstep. A few steps away is the famed Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the most photogenic buildings in the country. It’s just majesty to be in this setting at this time of day. It’s a painted memory that will never be lost.
After a leisurely morning, we take our time to get back into Christchurch.
It’s not far to Christchurch, but we have one last surprise adventure for you before you go.
New Zealand is famed for so many things, and we have seen and experienced a good taste of many of them; but NZ is also an amazing white water rafting location. There are many world-class rafting locations in NZ and on our last day in NZ, we go to conquer one of them.
After a day on the river, it’s time to finish things up. We head into Christchurch for our final destination.
There is so much more to come after this; weather it be further adventure in NZ – if you want we can help you carry on and explore much much more; or more travel through the world or simply to keep in touch …. our adventure does not end here. There will be more, this is just the beginning …