Traveling New Zealand

I graduated college in May of 2017, worked a season at the ranch near Glacier National Park, saved up money, and then returned home to Hawaii after my job. From October to December, I got an idea in my head to go to New Zealand. My sister Malia and I booked a flight out to Auckland. She bought a 1 week round trip flight, I bought a 3 month round trip flight with a random return date in March. I got a  'Working Holiday Visa' and have plans to work at a horseback riding farm, trail business, or a 'Workaway' in New Zealand for a month or two and could always change my return flight later. 

To sum up what actually ended up happening, I bought a Subaru car upon my sister leaving New Zealand so I could get around and work in remote areas doing horse stuff, ended up driving around, being a tourist, seeing all the sights, and not stopping until getting on my original return flight 2 months later in March.

So no work was actually done, I wasted my work visa, saw a ton of cool parts of New Zealand, and stayed in a lot of hostels with fellow travelers who were all great! 

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North Island of New Zealand

My sister Malia and I landed in Auckland and traveled the north island via bus. We bought an InterCity bus pass that included tickets to several attractions at a discounted price. Here is where we went: 

1. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

2. Matamata Hobiton Set

3. Rotorua 

4. Taupo

5. Wellington 

Auckland

We didn't spend too much time in Auckland because we were excited to get to the country side of New Zealand.

We did enjoy wandering around the city which is on the water with lots of shipping and boat activity. There are beautiful parks to explore, good seafood, and cool architecture. We went up into the Sky Tower which was really cool to see views of the city. 

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Our bus was very comfortable and drove us a couple of hours to go and see the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The drive was beautiful! As soon as you leave Auckland area, you are winding through country roads of green hills full of ranches, small towns with 2 or 3 shops, and just a gorgeous landscape. The north island has a lot of horse racing and we passed by a couple of thoroughbred farms and race tracks.

Soon we pulled into a really well set up massive tourist attraction for tourists to see the Glow Worm Caves. 5-6 other massive tour buses waited, full parking lots, tons of directing signs to check in, and then finally a little cafe and the entrance to the caves with roped lines to wait. It was weird to see so many tourists in one place, in the middle of the New Zealand countryside. It felt like we would be the only ones there driving through all the country land. But tourism in New Zealand is very strong and busy in the summer. The Glow Worm Caves were awesome! We all sat in a wooden boat being pushed along silently by our tour guide through dark caves and canals in shallow water.. We soon entered a massive cave. We turned out all of our lights and sat in silence, watching the flicker of the worms hanging from the ceiling of the cave. Really cool to see. 

Rotorua

After visiting the caves, our tour bus dropped us all off at Rotorua to spend the night. Rotorua is a known spot for thermal hot springs, a beautiful lake, mountain biking, and the origin of the 'Zorb' which is the big inflatable ball you get into and roll down a hill. It is an adventure tourism capital of New Zealand with lots of adventurous things to do!

We signed up for 'Skyline Luge Rotorua'. There is a mountain with a gondola and lifts  for mountain biking and a mountain luge course. The mountain luge is so much fun. At the top of the gondola you get a helmet and a 'luge' thing with wheels on it that you sit in. There are three different tracks of different levels you can ride your luge on. You control the breaking and steering as the luge is set on a concrete drainage type of luge course. It was SO fun and a thrill! 

Matamata Hobbiton Movie Set

We departed Rotorua and went to one of the most well known tourist attractions worldwide in New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Just the hype around LOTR made this trip thrilling and exciting, with nerves like a little kid rising up. The tour companies run the tours down to a scientific T. There is a MASS volume of people that want to see Hobbiton. Like thousands a day. It is the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand. The tour companies actually have their own tour buses that take people out to the remote country side location so the location isn't overrun with individual cars. It was an exciting bus drive out with beautiful scenery, a thrilling narration by a guide, video features to watch, and a lot of hype build up.

Once we got to the movie set, we were split up and guided through the Hobbiton movie set. It was kind of crazy because it's Hobbiton, a village set for hobbits...so it's really small. The pathways are small, the houses are tiny, and everything about it is small. Which is cool, but there were hundreds of people wandering the town at the same time so you couldn't lose your group. At the end of the tour we were all pushed into the main Hobbiton restaurant/bar and had a drink and food. 10/10 experience!

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Taupo

This was personally one of my favorite places of the south island. Taupo is situated on beautiful and large Lake Taupo, a volcanic caldera. There are thermal hot springs around to swim in, beautiful lake front parks, amazing architectural buildings, a famous waterfall and river with jet boating, and a lot of lake activities. We opted to sign up for a sailboat ride to 'Maori Rock Carvings'. It ended up raining on us a lot, but being on the lake was fun and the landscape along the lake is gorgeous. There are incredible homes tucked up in the forest alongside the lake. It's a lush forest of beauty lining the lakeside. Something out of the movies! 

Wellington

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and on the southern tip of the North Island of NZ. It's nicknamed the windy city and has a lot of sailing activity. It's a beautiful, hilly, city. It's not so much a city as large town. It has beautiful architecture, lots of eateries, hiking, walking paths, and blends with the natural aspect of water and land beautifully. It's a very walk-able city and Malia and I explored most of it on foot.After a couple of days, Malia flew back home and left me for my adventures. I met up with a friend I went to high school with who was living in Wellington. It was really nice to meetup with someone who had a car. She drove me around giving me a tour of Wellington and some nicer neighborhoods along the water. It's amazing where you can go with a car! It's a very hilly city, so houses that are built up on a hill have elevators from their parking areas off the street up to their homes. Something I'd never seen before.


South Island

I continued my journey south by taking the ferry from Wellington to Picton. It was a weird feeling, being left alone with a vague idea of what I was going to do next. I booked Hostels at least 2 days in advanced so I wasn't ever without a place to stay. It was spring/summer of New Zealand and backpacking through New Zealand and staying in hostels was super popular during this time. So booking hostels at least 2 days before seems appropriate to do (later in my journey I completely abandoned that concept of planning).

Here is how I mostly traveled 80% of the time ALL BY SUBARU 

Lodging: 

--Stayed in Hostels found on hostelworld or google, checking reviews and availability

--I scored a tent and sleeping bag to camp, only camped 2x

Directions/ Where To Go:

--I mainly used google maps to find hikes/ attractions I wanted to see

--Blogs I found from other travelers

--Word of mouth (lots of travelers to talk to!) 

Food:

--Cooking in Hostels (made large portions to have lots of leftovers)

--Camp stove (on the road meals, lots of oatmeal)

--Bags of food (I had a cooler in the back of the car and bags and containers to hold my food)

--Eating out (trying local cousin)

--Sharing meals with other travelers (lots of friendly people out there!)

January 5th- March 10th

1. Picton/Nelson: Abel Tasman National Park 

2. Christchurch (bought car)

3. Arthurs Pass

4. St. Arnaud

5. Nelson Lakes National Park

6. Punakaiki

7. Franz Josef Glacier 

8. Wanaka

9. Mount Cook National Park 

10. Queenstown

11. Fjordland National Park (Te Anau, Milford Sound)

12. Steward Island

13. Dunedin 

14. Mt. Hutt

15. Christchurch (END OF JOURNEY)

I omitted a couple of places that were stayed at between driving destinations. 


My beautiful subaru and travel buddy

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Abel Tasman National Park

There are 10 Great Walks in New Zealand. These are famous 'treks' as they call hikes in New Zealand. One of them is on the northern coast of the South Island. Abel Tasman Coast Track is a beautiful track that runs along the ocean complete with rivers, bridges, lush jungle and forest, kiwi birds, amazing wildlife and fauna. What better way to start my journey than to do a part of a great trek? 

I knew I didn't want to backpack alone during my time in NZ but I wanted to experience the great treks. So I was going to try to do as much of each trek as I could without camping overnight. Also not to mention, booking a camp spot and stay at one of these treks was near impossible as people book years in advanced. So day hikes were the way to go for me. 

To get to a heart of this trek, I took a water taxi, Aqua Taxi. It dropped me off at a section that I could hike one way, then they pick you up on the beach. Being summer time, a famous great trek, and great weather, it was busy on the trail and water taxi. It was amazing though and really really cool.  The jungle and coast is BEAUTIFUL up here. Oh, and sand flies? A real PAIN.

Christchurch: Back to the city! 

I thought I needed a car at this point, so I went to the largest/only city on the south island, Christchurch. Christchurch is a city being rebuilt after a large earthquake that devastated the city's architecture. Still in ruins, the city is rebuilding years after the quake. There was still a lot of damage to be seen. However, Christchurch is cool because it's the epicenter for travel to Antarctica. There a cool museum- International Antarctic Centre. And there's a BEAUTIFUL botanic garden that is huge and could take 3 days to explore. I stayed there for a week, bought a subaru, bought a Canon camera to take better photos of my journey, and then took off.

Arthur's Pass to West Coast NZ

I wanted to head oceanside into some tropical area, the west coast of New Zealand. I've heard raves about it and it's on the way to the famous glaciers that I wanted to hike to. A drive over the beautiful Arthur's Pass from Christchurch takes you past a couple of ski resorts, a few massive waterfalls, and then you can see the ocean, the Tasman Sea. The landscape here is dramatic with massive mountains, snow capped peaks and glaciers tucked away, remote 'stations' as they call ranches, and just a lot of open land with the ocean in the background. 

St- Arnaud to Nelson Lakes National Park

Lena my best friend growing up happened to be in New Zealand on a backpacking adventure. We were having similar journeys, both in a Subaru traveling alone, but she was overnight backpacking and getting way back in the wilderness of New Zealand. She invited me on a 3-4 day backpacking trip to the 'clearest freshwater lake in the world', called Blue Lake deep in Nelson Lakes National Park. I jumped on the idea of going, thinking I was in good enough shape and had the gear. I bought a $20 sleeping bag from the 'Walmart' of NZ and converted my suitcase/backpack to a backpacking bag (terrible idea, bruised back, so much pain...). The beauty of trekking around New Zealand is that there are backcountry 'huts' scattered throughout the land everywhere in NZ. You can stay at some for free, reserve a bed in the popular ones, and buy a pass to stay in any huts for the year. Really cool system.

Anyways Lena and I met in St. Arnaud, a tiny town void of tourists with one hostel to stay at. The hostel was a 4 or 4 bedroom hostel and had a couple of germans (they were EVERYWHERE in NZ), a couple fly fishermen (St Arnaud is a fly fishing centre), and a super hospitable kind kiwi man who owned the hostel. He invited us to a neighborhood potluck that night. We had to go to the local gas station and buy caramel treats as our 'potluck' item. The kiwis are the kindest people, welcoming us to their potluck, sharing stories, food, and laughs. It was a great time. 

We waited out rain and storms at the hostel before embarking on our backpacking trip. Then the day came. We took a water taxi from Rotoroa across the Lake to start our trip. Hiking up, up, up into the mountains we go. We made it to Blue Lake and admired the crystal clear water. We hiked up past Blue lake over a mountain pass to an incredible scene. Something otherworldly....I'll let the photos do the talking. 

Turns out I didn't have any of the right gear and my bag was so heavy and so awful. The last day trekking out of the national park was brutal. I'll never forget seeing the car and thinking oh my god I made it!!! This was the deepest I would get into the New Zealand wilderness. It was a life changing trip, amazing, challenging, and so rewarding. It felt like a real adventure! 

Punakaiki- West Coast 

After saying goodbye to Lena, I continued my journey along the infamous West Coats of the south island. It's a beautiful coast, beaches, glaciers, mountains, and the Tasman Sea. I was so excited to be on the ocean and see this Tasman Sea and infamous West Coast! 

Punakaiki ended up being an AWESOME stop and I made a good friend, Caya from Germany who I would travel with for the next week or so! 

Punakaiki is known for famous 'pancake rocks'  and blowholes. That wasn't really the highlight for me, but it was cool..kind of a tourist trap though. The highlight of Punakaiki was the hostel I stayed at, Punakaiki Beach Hostel. It's right on the ocean with an oceanfront lawn, huge beach to explore below watch the sunset over the water, and an awesome kitchen and hang out area. It was really really nice and relaxing to be on the ocean.

Theres also an awesome forest and hillsides behind the hostel. It's a small, cute, rural town with a couple places to eat out, a brewery, and a river that runs into the ocean. 

One of the more adventurous things I did was rent a kayak and kayak up the Porarari River through Paparoa National Park. I heard from other people at the hostel that it was so much fun. So I rented a kayak, and started the journey up. I didn't realize I would be getting out of the kayak and pulling it over 2 inches of water A LOT as the river was low. But the ride down was sooo much fun!!! I was out in the river with the sunshine, warm breeze, and cool water to swim in for a couple hours. 


West Coast- Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

As the road winds up hillsides down the beautiful, rugged terrain of the West Coast, the forest and tropical hills that lined the shoreline slowly turn into bigger cliffs and the sea drops off further down the hills. Soon I took a turn inland toward BIG mountains. I could see the glacier glistening in the sun on a mountainside. This was one of the most touristy, popular areas of NZ I would go to. It was really really cool to see the glaciers, but totally touristy and I couldn't wait to get out of the 'town'.

I got some good hikes in however to see the glacier up close! I met more friends here that I would end up traveling and seeing throughout my trip. Dutch & German & Canadian. Pictured: with a bunch of europeans...I also ended up seeing glow warms hanging from dark bushes one night! 

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Mt Cook National Park

I knew about Mt. Cook because it's the 'everest' of New Zealand. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center is a museum of climbing and mountaineering that I wanted to check out too.

I also heard about a hut, Mueller Hut, that you could stay at overnight with awesome views. After doing some research on where to stay, it became apparent that reservations way in advanced, like a month or 2, were required for the Mueller hut, and for the 1 hostel in Mt. Cook. I got lucky. I found a hostel bed to reserve for 1 night. Then boom! It all lined up, a bed in Mueller hut for the next night! The weather was going to be rainy, then clear up for my hike to Mueller Hut. Perfect!

Mt. Cook is huge and the road leading you to the small town is full of views and a nice lakeside drive on Lake Pukaki. I've never been so glad to get out of a hostel during this whole trip however. Snoring, bad smelling people, noises, such awful sleep. The next night I embarked on my hike up to Mueller hut. It's not really hiking, but just a ton of stairs. But so worth the views... The glaciers and snow on the mountains were crashing and cracking, making loud noises all afternoon and night. I hiked up a little smaller mountain peak for sunset and sunrise, the first ascent Sir Edmund Hilary did as a teen. The sunrise was amazing, and the sunset was too. I went back to bed after sunrise because I slept horrible, freezing cold, and really uncomfortable. 

Here are some photos from other random hikes I did around Mt. Cook National Park. You really can't go wrong with any of them. Incredible. 

Wanaka & Queenstown

TTT=Total Tourist Trap, I'm not even going to get into it. Did 1 cool hike. 

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THE FJORDLANDS!

This was a no questions asked, I'm going no matter what, must do while in NZ, once in a lifetime thing. The fjordlands in my mind are famous and kind of a wonder of the world. It's where sky meets sea. Where all the elements of earth come together- snow, water, rock, air, mountain, ocean all convene. It's an incredible place. Hotels and lodging can be booked out up to a year in advanced.

I stayed in Te Anau, a larger town outside of the end of the road Milford sound, very hard to find a place to stay. My plan was to just stay at Te Anau and drive into Milford sound for a boat ride in the sound and then drive back to my place in Te Anau. While in Te Anau, a bed opened up at THE ONLY  hostel in Milford sound. Insanely lucky. I'll let the photos do the talking of my boat trip in Milford Sound. 

I then did a really difficult, steep, long hike to an overlooking point looking down onto the sound. It was 'short', but so steep, and took so long. Views were awesome. Gertrudes Saddle 

Routeburn Track

Another hike I needed to do: It's one of the famous great treks to do in New Zealand. I was going to do as much as I could in 1 day. I ended up coming back in the dark and was super scared, but it was really amazing. There was a massive private lodge built up for backpackers to stay at. It was a poshly done great trek for NZ.


Stewart and Ulva Island 

The shuttle from Invercargill, the southern most town in NZ to Stewart Island was INTENSE. Like waves and swells bigger than the boat, every one puking in bags, boat stewardess running full and empty puke bags back and forth to their station. I had no idea what I was getting into. I don't get sea sick, but seeing everyone else puking made me sick. It was awful and intense. One cool thing on the boat ride is we got to see a ton of Albatross, the largest seabird in the world. 

Stewart island is known for seeing the native NZ Kiwi bird, and....I think that's it... The hostel I stayed at was beautiful and I made some friends who were so fun to hang out with. We all took a boat ride to Ulva island together to just wander around the 'bird' island and bird scout. We went hunting at night for Kiwi birds, following their weird noises, and we waited out a gnarly rain storm on Stewart Island binge watching 'Prison Break'.

I finally saw a kiwi bird too, which was super underwhelming because it was uncalled for. You are supposed to see them at night and follow their sounds, no flashlights... an adventurous hunt. We didn't see any when we hunted for them at night, but saw this one on the beach. Really underwhelming and a bummer as he might be sick.

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Lake Tekapo

I almost started working for a horse trekking business on Lake Tekapo, but they ended up not needing me. However they gave me a discounted horseback ride so I made the trip over to Lake Tekapo. I camped out in the lakeside campground near the hot spring pools. I met a nice guy from the US hiking the Te Araroa trail, the backpacking trail that crosses the entire NZ.

I enjoyed the hot springs and spa, did a couple hikes, and had a nice horseback ride! I was really in the groove of traveling around at this point. 

Mt. Hutt

I had a nasty cold in Mt. Hutt and had a nice hostel with my own bedroom so I stayed here for almost a week waiting out my cold and being lazy. I drove around to a couple of LOTR shooting locations in the mountains. It was underwhelming and in the middle of no where. Which is very LOTR I guess. Mt. Hutt is known for it's ski resort and mountain biking.

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Dunedin & Oamaru

Someone recommended going to Dunedin and said it was a super fun awesome town, kind of like a college town. My hostel was in an old castle style building as Dunedin is infamous for its victorian architecture. I made fiends here and we enjoyed the college student life of Dunedin. Theres lots of hiking, surfing, a beach boardwalk, restaurants, and fun things to do as Dunedin is NZ's second largest city on the south island, and right on the water!  We went to see some good live music and discovered Dunedin has an awesome underground music scene. Dunedin also claims to have the worlds steepest street. 

Next stop heading back to Christchurch to sell my car and end my trip, Oamaru! I heard Oamaru was infamous to see famous little blue penguins, native penguins of NZ. I was in! I found out upon arriving to Oamaru that it's also famous for being a steampunk town. Whaaaaaattt? I didn't know anything about that. It's kind of weird, kind of cool, but the town was mainly just lots of metal art and arts creative people. Another girl my age at the hostel was determined to see the little penguins so we braved 40 mph wind and sideways rain to go out in the dark of night and find the penguins. We found them on an ocean boardwalk, shivering, freezing, about to blow away. 


Back to Auckland to Fly Out


Leaving New Zealand

I bought a Subaru Outback to travel and 'work' in New Zealand, but upon realizing I would catch my flight back home in March.. I had to sell the Subaru. I bought it from a nice local kiwi man who owned a used car dealership in Christchurch who said he would buy the car back from me if I couldn't sell it, of course with a huge price cut so try to sell the car on my own first. After advertising on the local New Zealand 'craigslist', called TradeMe, a laid off businessman downsizing his expensive car bought my car for pretty much my asking price! Meaning I made all of my money back. That's lucky, if you ask me, with only 3 days to spare until my flight back home.

I flew out feeling accomplished, really tired, but with a huge sense of relief. I not only survived New Zealand, but thrived! I made friends from all over the world who were also travelers, met up with old friends from high school who were traveling or living in New Zealand, and was leaving twice as strong as I was when I got there. I had hiked hundreds of miles, went on the longest and hardest backpacking trip of my life, survived the so called roughest strait crossing, Foveaux Strait, saw a Kiwi bird, hiked to the glaciers, saw the glow worms in caves and in bushes, and had a sense of independence and strength from this trip that I won't ever forget. I was strong, mentally, physically, but still a feather in the wind. What next? 


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