So let me start out by saying how embarrassed I am for just now posting this recap. We went down under back in October. Let's leave it at that.
But in our defense, life hit us at a million miles per hour as soon as we returned to the States, the details of which I shall spare you. In any case, after much contemplation, we decided it’s better late than never to post our recap of the amazing 2 weeks we spent in New Zealand.
We traveled in an APT tour group, an Australian owned and operated tour company. There were several reasons why we decided to go this route. The biggest reason was that this was a pretty last minute trip (yay to us for living spontaneously..hehe), and we just didn’t have the time to do our usual in-depth research and planning. New Zealand is also a HUGE country (huge in terms of things to see and do, not so much the size), and we wanted to explore both islands and had to do so in a fairly short amount of time. So having a tour guide and traveling via coach, where we could actually pay attention to the scenery and hit up the must-see areas, were very appealing.
Here’s a short and sweet overview of our unforgettable trip with lots of pictures (consider this your warning) and a video at the end (so proud of the Hungryman for pulling it off!). Sure, this will be a post the Hungryman and I come back to over and over again for memory's sake, but I hope this will also serve as a great resource for those who wish to visit the country in the near future.
Travel day. Drove from Austin to Houston --> flew from Houston to LAX --> 13 hour flight via Air New Zealand (highly recommend)
Arrived in Auckland early morning. Conquered my fear of heights with the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb. Explored the city on our own and met up with our group for dinner.
Left Auckland and traveled to Waitomo where we explored the underground limestone and glow-worm caverns. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but the glow-worms, unique to NZ, lit up the otherwise pitch dark caverns. It was as if I was looking at stars in the night sky. Seeing the hundreds to thousands of years old stalagmite/stalactite formations was amazing too!
Afterwards, we traveled on to Rotorua, the geothermal capital of NZ. In the evening, we visited the Tamaki Maori Village. Tim was chosen as the chief of our group, and you can check out the video below to see what that entailed. I thoroughly enjoyed this evening. The tour of the village, performance of song and dance, and the traditional Hangi feast were all so incredible. We really connected with our group members after this evening so that made us very happy. For days following, everyone called Tim, "Chief."
Second day at Rotorua. It was a rainy day so we were a bit bummed, but thankfully when we went to the Hobbiton movie set, the weather cleared briefly. We thought about visiting the Te Puia Thermal Reserve afterwards but decided to take it easy and just walk around the town.
A long drive to Wellington, the country’s capital city. Traveled through the gorgeous countryside with many short stops along the way:
- Wairakei Steam Valley where the world’s second largest geothermal power plant is located
We arrived near dinnertime and ate at the Hummingbird Eatery and Bar (featured in the video down below) to celebrate Tim's birthday. This was one of our favorite meals on the trip! I ordered the steak and he ordered the salmon...which NEVER happens. But boy, I fell in love with NZ grass-fed beef during this journey. You can definitely taste the difference!
Second day at Wellington. I enjoyed this day because there was no agenda. As we ventured off on our own, we quickly felt and embraced the eclectic and charming vibe of the capital city.
Every morning, throughout the entire trip, started out like this... I heart breakfast. Note: I LOVE NZ dairy! I'm pretty sure I had yogurt everyday.
Honey - it doesn't get any fresher than this...
We were allowed to explore and do our own thing. It was a nice break from being on the bus all the time. In the morning, we rode Wellington’s Cable Car (built in 1902) and walked around the beautiful Wellington Botanical Garden...
visited NZ's national museum - Te Papa Tongarewa...
walked around the harbor...
and at night, we went to the Wellington Night Market...
We said bye bye to the North Island and boarded the Interislander ferry. It took us across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough and Queen Charlotte sounds to Picton. Despite the fact that I suffer from motion sickness (wasn’t so bad thanks to Pam and her ginger tablets!), it was a beautiful crossing.
Our final destination - Christchurch
Took the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass National Park. I could see why it was ranked as one of the top six train journeys in the world. We passed by the farmlands of the Canterbury plains, river valleys, across the Southern Alps, and continued into Westland National Park, home to the Franz Josef Glacier. We stayed at Te Waonui Forest Retreat - one of my fav places we stayed at.
The glacier helicopter ride at Franz Josef Glacier - totally worth every penny!
Traveled along the West Coast to Queenstown. This was my favorite scenic route. We passed by the little lake town of Wanaka, which also happened to be the home of our tour guide, Jan. It was not too far from Queenstown, and we've already decided that when we return to the country, this will be the area we want to explore further.
What we did during our typical potty stops ;)... (Meat pies are quite popular here.)
In the evening, we boarded the TSS Earnslaw steamship which took us to Walter Peak High Country Farm. There we enjoyed a gourmet BBQ dinner and got to see the sheep getting fresh haircuts and being herded by sheepdogs.
Second day in Queenstown. I had heard so many wonderful things about this city, and normally I get disppointed when things are overly hyped up. But guess what? Queenstown totally lived up to my expectations and more! What a quaint yet vibrant town surrounded by mountains and lakes.
There are sooo many fun and daring activities you can do in this city. We decided to do the Dart River tour, which took us on a jet boat ride, a walk in an ancient beech forest, and a 4x4 ride to a famous movie backdrop! Any LOTR fans out there? How about X-Men's Wolverine?
Then we had some Fergburger...
and said goodbye to our team members. We found out that morning that we’d be on our own for the next couple days as they continued on with their trip. Why can’t we Americans get 3 dedicated weeks of vacation?!?! It was actually a very sad day as we had really gotten attached to our sweet, sweet group.
We took the Great Sights bus to tour Milford Sound.
Along the way..
The fiord surrounded by native forests, valleys, and waterfalls..
We finally arrived at Milford Sound and boarded the Southern Discoveries Scenic Cruise to explore the region called the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling.
The final stretch back home began. We traveled all the way from Queenstown to Christchurch, which honestly was quite brutal. Along the way, we stopped by Aoraki/Mount Cook (NZ’s highest mountain), a most welcomed break.
(Mt. Cook in my hands)
Then we continued along the shores of Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo with a brief stop at the Church of the Good Shepherd. This was a long day on the coach. However, the view was spectacular, and i couldn’t click my camera fast enough. I kept myself quite entertained, indeed.
Bye bye, NZ! We took a plane to Auckland —> LAX —> Houston —> then a 3-hour drive back to Austin.
Felt good to feel our legs again.
As we looked through these photos once we got home, we couldn't help but thank the Lord for such an unforgettable experience. We were blessed with gorgeous weather (for the most part), no hiccups at the airport or throughout the trip in any way, and most importantly, the oh-so loving and beautiful group we had the privilege of traveling with. Funny story: we learned toward the end of the trip that many of our group members thought we were on our honeymoon! Ha! Let's add about 9 years ;).
Before embarking on our adventure, we were told that we had made a poor decision in joining a guided tour because everyone would be around our parents' ages or older, and it just wouldn't be exciting. I can say with the utmost confidence that we made the BEST decision. With so much love, wisdom, and genuineness, everyone in our group touched us in ways we'll never forget. Not to mention their undying sense of adventure! Tim and I could barely keep up ;). And seeing all the couples who've been together for 30+ years and still deeply in love reminded us that that's where we want our relationship to be headed. We cherish all the conversations and memories shared with every single one of the members on this trip.
We miss you all!
On the very last day - So hard to leave behind this majestic view...