I almost have to pinch myself that I’m able to write a blogpost about this destination, but after 60 hours of roundtrip travel, I earned it. New Zealand is a place that once you leave, is hard to imagine actually exists. The turquoise-blue water. The air that’s so fresh that spas are begging for it to be shipped in bottles just so people can inhale. The grassy mountains covered in fuzzy lambs. The scenic drives where you’ll go around a curve and be faced with a mountain swallowed in clouds. New Zealand’s really got it going on.
Thanks to my little sister, Sydney, who prudently decided to au pair in this beautiful country. Thanks to her, and my mom and hours of researching this itinerary which I am now happy to share with you. Read below for 14 days of my life that were spent gallivanting around New Zealand’s North + South Islands.
A few things you should know before you go:
- If you’re from New Zealand, you are a kiwi. Yes, the fruit, but also the bird that hangs around the national parks.
- You will need to rent a car if you want to see any of the country – get ready to drive on the other side of the road.
- The best fashion accessory here is a good pair of walking shoes, comfortable running shorts or leggings and lots of sunscreen.
- When entering customs, be prepared for strict regulations about what you can bring in. New Zealand maintains a wonderful ecosystem where there are no snakes, poisonous creatures, bees that sting, etc. They want to keep the yuck out and keep the amazing in. (Some hiking trails even require you to wash your sneakers before entering the trailhead.)
- Don’t be surprised to find yourself in motels as you are driving around the country. These motels are surprisingly well-appointed, with kitchenettes, showers, and a clean place to lay your head. If you are traveling in peak season, be sure to book far in advance, as we saw many neon “No Vacancy” signs.
Day 1 – You’ve landed in Auckland!
Welcome, or kia ora. Spend the day exploring the cafes and treating your senses to the New Zealand flat white – a velvety smooth latte beverage. Walk down Queen Street and enjoy the shops before making your way to the Auckland Art Museum where there is a great mix of contemporary and indigenous Maori art. Have dinner at Amano and enjoy native dishes such as lamb, fresh crudo and local cheeses.
Day 2 + 3 – Lake Taupo
Today you are driving 2+ hours from Auckland to New Zealand’s largest lake. For Lord of the Ring fans, you will be driving through Hobbiton, so be sure to add this as a stop if that’s your kind of thing. Be sure to pack your bathing suit as you will absolutely want to stop and swim in the geothermal pools. Enjoy a soak before finishing the drive to Taupo, where you will enjoy the sunset, preferably with a room overlooking the grand lake.
The next day, take a short drive to Huka Falls – the #1 tourist attraction in New Zealand, known for their turquoise blue rapids that lead into a cascading waterfall. There are several hikes around Huka Falls to choose from.
Day 4 – Hawke’s Bay
Wine, anyone? How about a visit to New Zealand’s oldest winery? Head to Hawke’s Bay, one of New Zealand’s famous wine regions to enjoy Syrah paired with lunch at Mission Estate. Make a stop at one of the other vineyards around Hawke’s Bay – we suggest Craggy Range.
Day 5 – Coromandel
This quaint beach town will have you feeling Beach Boy vibes in no time. If you aren’t already used to seeing Kiwi’s walk around in public without shoes, now is the time – in coffee shops, grocery stores, the works. The blue water here will leave your jaw on the ground. Be sure to try Coromandel mussels – they are huge and meaty with rainbow shells. Head to Cathedral Cove where you will hike 2 hours RT to discover a rock formation on the beach which can be carved in your memory for years to come. After the hike, take a short drive to Hot Water Beach, where you will see beachgoers hard at work digging holes in the sand to sit in homemade hot tubs. The heat rises from the geothermal activity underneath and people often dig pools to sit in, relax and enjoy the stars.
Day 6 – Waiheke Island
One of my favorite days in New Zealand was spent on this island, just a 35-minute ferry from downtown Auckland. This island is full of vineyards, and even if that’s not your thing (which I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be), it’s worth a trip alone just to see the color of this water – noticing a theme? No, but seriously – words can not describe this water. It’s basically what Disney tries to emulate at their theme parks or what you would imagine in heaven, or the crayon you would grab when coloring the ideal ocean. It’s stunning and it blows the Caribbean away.
Anyway, Waiheke is like Napa, but dare I say better. You will need a car, so if you planned this portion of the trip on a whim like my mom and I, you get on a hop-on hop-off bus, which is actually ideal – you have a designated driver, no need to worry about directions, and it comes every 30 minutes, leaving you time to enjoy your tasting and work your way around the island. The bus stops at all of the island’s wineries so plan accordingly! My mom and I opted to stop at the Goldie Estate and Stonyridge wineries. Before heading back to Auckland, we made a stop for oysters at the former Creative Director of Louis Vuitton’s Oyster Inn to taste one of oyster enthusiasts favorite types of oyster, the Te Matuka.
Fun fact: New Zealand surprisingly only produces 1% of the world’s wine, and Waiheke produces 1% of that 1%.
Read more about the island from a native, my friend Amy’s article in Vogue here.
Day 7 – South Island bound – Nelson
The easiest domestic flight you have ever been on awaits you this morning. Check in, and sit at your gate. No showing your id, no security, no nothing. I don’t remember if I even showed my ticket.
After a quick flight from the North to South Island you will find yourself in Nelson, a beach town known for their craft beer scene. Spend the day visiting craft breweries like Spring & Fern or McCashian’s and laying by the beach.
Day 8 – Abel Tasman National Park
Lucky you. Today is a feast for the eyes. There are many things to do at Abel Tasman – kayaking, wind surfing, parasailing, etc. My family opted to take a few hour’s sail and then hike back to where we parked our car. The hike was 12 km and takes 4 hours, or if you’re like me and every turn takes your breath away, more like 5 after all the photo-taking. This is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on – and you will want to stop at the crystal clear beach access points to cool off every hour or so.
Day 9 – Haast
Drive through Franz Joseph Glacier and stop for a quick hike if you’re able – unfortunately it was raining the day we made it to the glacier, but we stopped in the town that feels like Everest Base Camp for lunch. Many people were getting ready to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier, the best way to see it. After, we were on our way to Haast. They told us not to go to Haast – they said don’t waste your time, it’s in the boonies. We didn’t have a choice as we made our way toward Queenstown. We happened to be there on New Year’s Eve and had an amazing night at the local bar, dancing the night and year away with local Kiwi’s. Kiwi’s like to have fun – that’s for sure. Think people of all ages on table tops. Young men chugging champagne from the bottle and suddenly appearing naked to dance to their favorite song. New Year’s kisses from the locals. Give Haast a chance, it might surprise you – and it happens to be a naturally good stopping point on your way to Queenstown.
Day 10, 11, 12 – Queenstown
The scenery in Queenstown will take your breath away. The lakes are clean enough to drink from. The town is quite touristy, but you can find some great restaurants and shops which is a welcome change after you’ve been in small towns for the last few days.
Queenstown is home to adventure sport and it’s where bungee-jumping was invented, but offers something for everyone. My sweet sister treated me to a trail ride, which was absolutely lovely – riding through the mountains with fields of deer and bunnies hopping all around. There are also plenty of vineyards in this area, so if you haven’t had enough wine, you can fill your glass here.
Be sure to take the Skyline Gondola to dine, get cocktails, or partake in bungee jumping, lugeing or mountain biking all while taking in the sweeping views of the town.
One day will be completely devoted to driving to see the 8th Wonder of the World, Millford Sound. The drive is a scenic 4 hours from Queenstown (which is crazy because it looks like it would only be a 20-minute drive) Many people contemplate doing this day trip, but trust me, it’s worth it. Here you will take a ferry around the fjord and really let New Zealand seal the deal that it’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been. Take a few extra deep breaths as you watch the seals lap up the water or watch the 450 ft. waterfall pour over the mountain top.
Day 13 – Dunedin + Omaru
Dunedin is a town with heavy Scottish influence, and one of the largest in New Zealand. Stop here for lunch and to soak in college vibes in Oceania.
Make your way to Omaru before dusk – when you’re in for a treat. If you find yourself near the ocean, and look closely you will see blue breasted penguins making their way from the sea to the shore. Quietly watch them waddle into the forest. You can’t help but smile watching these little guys go.
Day 14 – Say goodbye!
Never easy to leave vacation – but New Zealand is especially hard to let go of. Don’t worry – it won’t leave you. Your mind will thank you for years to come that it has this euphoric place to escape to.
- Photos! You can’t put your camera down here.
- A sheepskin rug. If only I didn’t pack in a carry on.
- Possum-wool scarf/gloves. They sell this everywhere – not sure but maybe I’m missing something. The new merino wool?
- Manuka honey. Manuka is the flower that grows on tea tree plants, and the bees go crazy for this stuff. It’s also the only known cure for stomach ulcers.
- Wine Bags. Enough said. Use these handy bags to transport it safely back. Thanks for introducing me to these, Mrs. E!
Is New Zealand on your 2018 bucket list?