DAN- Heavy globe trotters often refer to New Zealand as the most beautiful place on earth, so needless to say, expectations were running high. While this may actually be true, it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of this country.
Before visiting I didn’t really understand why they referred to themselves as Kiwis. Turns out this is a bird not a fruit. Also, these rotund, flightless birds have nostrils at the ends of their long beaks that make them pros at getting the seeds and other sustanance they need to survive. Kiwis, the people, similarly can take care of themselves, thank you very much. This is a place where people work to live not the other way around. If a place closes at 5pm, that’s it. They could have a line out the door, but there was never something more important than whatever life balance they were achieving. We met numerous “formers” while we were there. A former banker from London, a lawyer from Singapore, etc. Each had made the intentional decision that life was better living there. The financials are tough. It is easily the most expensive place we have traveled to so far. They don’t have jobs available in many areas, so each of the expats we met had to find something else to do. They all had to accept less material wealth, fewer big city attractions, and a slower pace. But, for those who can make the adjustment there is a sense of contentment that we did not find as acutely anywhere else.
On the South Island if you need new scenery just drive a little further. Sheep grazing hills turn to fern-lined cliffs into glacial-carved fjords and out to beaches of every variety. The means for exploring all of this is wonderfully simple, something we now appreciate like the fine wines they grow in this eden.
We have the great fortune of being friends with Daniel and Pip Cross. We were doubly fortunate to see them while in Queenstown and enjoyed a lovely hike with them. They coached us on both the South Island (Daniel’s) and the North (Pip’s). They also provided us with access to a beach house that was simply magic.
Travelers are typically a generous bunch sharing tips and routes and occasionally a place to recoup. The little bit of heaven they call Honeymoon Bay gave us unparalleled sunrises and sunsets, kayaking to coffee, and beach life at the pace of NZ. Daniel and Pip, your travel karma is on full!
TERESA- We Love This Place! New Zealand has it all and we did a lot of it. We landed on the South Island in Queenstown/Tahuna with my dad and niece along for the ride. Even flying into the mountainous valley, we knew we were in for a treat. Because this island is an ecological wonder, customs is no joke and be sure to declare any food in your bag. They detected the boxes of Junior Mints Ava had received as a birthday present and, if we had not already mentioned them, they would have gone through our luggage. When traveling to NZ, be safe and let them know of any food in your bag.
We rented a well loved yet sturdy mini van to lug the 7 of us on our adventures. Tip- rent early, transportation is limited and the country is expensive. Our Airbnb overlooked the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is a picturesque city with no shortage of things to do, restaurants, street artists, and shops. We were determined to pack the days with fun things for the family while we had them.
I booked three adventures through RealNZ.com.
Jet boat: we took a two hour adrenaline-filled jet boat ride that questioned my ability to make sane choices. The captain swung it around, nearly missing pylons, rocks and ground with ease, spinning us around and soaking us with river water. I am glad I didn’t look into it too much before booking it or I wouldn’t have done it.
So many sheep and deer! We drove south to Te Anau viewing the lakes and rolling pastures filled with grazing sheep and elk. The city of Te Anau itself is not too noteworthy but it is the hopping off point for the Glow Worms Cave and a 2 hour drive to Milford Sound.
New Zealand is home to multiple Glowworm Caves. It reminded me that I had a cute glowworm stuffed animal as a child and none of my family believed me. I didn’t know how weird this was until I learned more about the usual creature. Their home is a 200 meter long cave system, reached by a boat ride to another island, and was first described in Maiori stories. Rediscovered in 1948, it is filled with strange rock forms, whilrpools and waterfalls. Masses of glowworms hanging from the ceiling of the cave lure prey with their sparkle, then devour them. It was other-worldly.
No visit to Fiordland is complete without a trip to Milford Sound (Piopiotahi), the first sight of which will likely knock your socks off. The 1692m high Mitre Peak rises above the vista. We sat on the open upper deck of the boat and the ride was a gorgeous way to spend the day.
Other great things in Queenstown:
We were able to meet up with our good friends, Daniel and Pip for dinner and a hike from nearby Arrowtown the following day. They had given us so much amazing information about New Zealand and spending time in their company always makes us grateful. While my dad and I walked through the town, everyone else enjoyed a beautiful and hot hike.
Ferg’s Bakery: Best baked goods since Kansas City.
Paddle board on the lake.
Skyline Luge: take the gondola up for a beautiful view of the Queenstown Valley. There is a mountain go-cart style luge at the top. Don’t be fooled, you can dump your luge as evidenced by both Carmen and Tucker. When I get home, please don’t mention the extra gray hairs on my head.
It was so hard to say goodbye when Makenzie and Tom left. Having a little time with family made me miss everyone so much. However, I was grateful to have them come so far to see us. It is time we will always cherish.
Greater South Island:
There is so much to see in New Zealand. Luckily, we had about 45 days between the North and South to explore. There are not many major highways but the infrastructure of the country is amazing. We rented an RV in Christchurch then completed a large loop that included Arthur’s Pass Village, Greymouth, Whataroa, Fran’s Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Mount Cook, Glentanner and Lake Tekapo. There are “Holiday Parks” dotted all over New Zealand that offer camping, RV Hookups and really reasonably priced basic cabins. The areas have communal bathrooms, kitchen and play areas. They were all in amazing locations, clean and comfortable. I highly recommend them if you are looking for lower cost accommodations in New Zealand. Another bonus was that there were a lot of kids around for Carmen, Tucker and Ava. Dan was our amazing RV driver (left side of the road, stick shift, old RV, mountainous, and crazy single-lane bridges). He rocked it.
Christchurch – I didn’t really expect much from Christchurch but we ended up loving it. We happened to be there during the “Busker Festival.” One week a year, they bring in street performers from around the world. I think that KC should do something similar. We wandered between acts, ate amazing food, played at their beautiful parks and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. The local library was a favorite for a few days of school. Again, their public works (libraries, roads, parks, activities) were the best we have seen so far.
We finished up our time on the South Island at a beautiful Bach House in Honeymoon Bay, which belonged to our friend’s family. We spent time on the beach, reading, watching movies, kayaking to town for coffee and ultimately feeling right at home. We were so grateful for our time in this beautiful area.
CARMEN- When we were in New Zealand we rented an RV to travel around the South Island. The RV was small, but we made it work. It had a bed above the front seats, it had a table that could turn into a bed at night, and a seating area in the back that could also turn into a bed. In the middle the RV had a bathroom, and a fully functional kitchen, with a fridge, a stove, a microwave, and a sink. If you are wondering where we put our stuff, the answer is, all around the RV. Most of the time, to we would sleep at RV parks. My favorite ones were definitely the holiday parks. The main reason for that was that they all had bouncing pillows and more kids. At one point there were almost twenty kids on the bouncing pillow, all in a circle trying to see who we could send flying when we all bounced at the same time. The rest of New Zealand was super cool and beautiful.
TUCKER- New Zealand was one of my favorite places to travel to through this entire trip. New Zealand is a country made up of two small Islands; North and South. They are known for many things like The Lord Of The Rings, adventure sports, beautiful scenery and so much more. During our time in the South Island we had boat rides, biked, saw glow worms and had to let our family go back to the states. After they left, we went on an RV trip around the majority of the island staying at parks and having a blast. But one of the best things we got to do, was go to a city called Rotorua. In Rotorua you can visit the many bookshops, restaurants, and awesome public parks. But outside the city, you can visit the amazing Hobbitton. This is one of the movie sets from the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movie series. It includes a full tour of The Shire with drinks and food. It is the cutest little town I’ve ever seen. Another thing around the city is the fun sport called Zorbing. Zorbing is an activity in which you jump in a giant rubber ball filled with water and 1-3 people. After this they roll the ball down a large hill and viola, Zorbing. I loved it, none of us could stop laughing the entire way down. It was so fun and a must do in New Zealand. After this our time in the amazing country of New Zealand was coming to a close. We stayed a few nights in a small surf town called Raglan, and then left the country. Our AirBnb let us borrow scooters, skateboards and surfboards which made it so much fun. I loved New Zealand and I hope you will too.
AVA- The South Island of New Zealand was a point of comfort for me. We could drink the water, everyone spoke English, and we were just rolling around in our RV. While it wasn’t all sunshine, the majority of it was, and I am really happy to have had that time. It was really fun to fly with Makenzie and Grandpa to New Zealand, and the time with them was a lot of fun! We went jet boating, go carting, and saw so many beautiful views. I’m sure someone else will have already said this, but New Zealand has an almost embarrassing amount of natural beauty. One example of this is the glow worm caves. They were unbelievable. We don’t have good photos of the glow worms because you weren’t allowed to take photos. We went into the cave, and for a second we couldn’t see anything because our eyes were adjusting to the light. Then, thousands of stars appeared, glowing bright in the sky. Wait. No. It was hundreds of glow worms! They shone like stars on the pitch back ceiling, and I couldn’t believe how many there were. (Not our photo.)
We went through the cave, which reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince where Dumbledore and Harry are in that one cave with the glowing crystals, but with glow worms. It was incredible. We were also super close to the wall. Some much so that at one point I could touch the wall five inches in front of my face! Everything was dead silent. It was such a cool experience.
The funniest part was when we got out of the caves, where they give you a short 15 minute lecture to learn about glow worms! The presenter had such a funny tone, and we learned that glow worms are technically glow maggots, but that wouldn’t sell, they regurgitate their hanging sticky string that acts kind of like how a spider web does, and that they are cannibals. You heard it here first folks. If one glow worm gets too close to another territory, it will defend itself with any means necessary, including cannibalism.The presenter showed us a video on it, and gave some comical commentary, such as, “Bob is young, and doesn’t understand that Tim is much older and will do whatever it takes to protect his area. So, when Tim comes over to try to take some of Bob’s strings, Bob knocks him over! Even though Tim almost came off the ceiling, he comes back for seconds, and Bob eats him.” Yes, it was that blunt. “The saddest part is you can see Tims light slowing fading within Bob.” It was so great, and an experience I will not soon forget. I have scoured the internet for a video of it, but with no luck. You’ll have to take my word for it that it is terrifying.