lavish travel

New Zealand – North & South Islands Self-Drive Adventure

As we are not able to travel currently due to Covid-19, it’s time to throw back some of my past adventures. It was year 2015 and I was in the working force for 2 years. Therefore, I managed to save up some money to travel to New Zealand with my best buddy. After extensive research, we both were all ready and set for our New Zealand adventure.

Day 1 – New Zealand here we come

After we reached Auckland Airport, we went to collect our rental car which we booked from Ezi Car Rental.

Our first ride in New Zealand - a blue Nissan

As we have to wake up early the next day, we grabbed a simple burger dinner at BurgerFuel and call it a day. We stayed at Verandah Parkside Lodge where you can see the Auckland Tower.

Day 2 – Wai-O-Tapu, Aratiatia Rapids, Huka Falls, and Lake Taupo

We woke up at around 5.30am as we are traveling to Rotorua which is around a 3 hours drive from Auckland. We want to catch the Lady Knox Geyser which is presented daily at 10.15am only. Along our journey, we stopped by Hobbiton Movie Set to take some photos outside the set as we both agreed to skip this attraction.

The famous Hobbiton Movie SetThe population that exceeds human in New Zealand - sheep

We also saw some unique building along the way such as this:

Dog-shaped building in Tirau

Wai-O-Tapu – recommended

After a long drive, we finally reached Wai-O-Tapu.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

When we reached, there are already quite a number of people sitting patiently for the ‘show’.

People waiting for Lady Knox Geyser

After some brief intro by the employee, he then induce the eruption by putting soup into the geyser. Depending on the day itself, it can shoot up to 20m and last up to an hour.

Lady Knox Geyser's eruption

There are a lot of different colored pools there due to the presence of variety of minerals in that area.

Chocolate-colored pool in Wai-O-TapuBright green-colored pool in Wai-O-Tapu

However, the most famous pool is the Champagne Pool. This is due to its bubbling effect which resembles champagne which you can see in the photo below.

Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu

Aratiatia Rapids – recommended

While heading for the next destination, we dropped by Aratiatia Rapids. It is actually a dam that releases the water into the rapids below every 2 hours starting from 10am. Below is the timetable:

Summer (Oct to March) – 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm

Winter (Apr to Sep) – 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm

Standing there listening and watching the water gushes out gives a calm and relaxing feeling.

Aratiatia Rapids

The next stop is Craters of The Moon. There isn’t much to see here compared to Wai-O-Tapu so I recommend you can skip this place. Before we head to our final destination of the day which is Lake Taupo, we dropped by Huka Falls for some photos.

Huka Falls – recommended

Turqoise blue water in Huka FallsIcy blue water crashing to the water below at Huka FallsThe Hukafalls Jet

The sound of the water flowing rapidly downstream and the breeze created from it is really enjoyable. You can even try the Hukafalls Jet to get close to Huka Falls if you are up for it.

Lake Taupo – recommended

As it was my friend’s birthday, we decided to go for something better. While picking for a place to eat, we were sitting outside of The Steak House Taupo. After deciding to just eat at The Steak House Taupo since it is just in front of us and the rating is quite good, we went inside. After we sat down, I realized I left my cap at the place where we sat earlier. As New Zealand is the 4th safest country in the world during that year, I was very sure the cap would still be there. However, after searching around the bench and the rubbish bin, it was nowhere to be found. I guess maybe a wild animal or some foreign tourist took it away. Anyways, we ordered the special 2-course meal deal of the day.

Special menu of Steak House Taupo

French onion soup at Steak House Taupo
French onion soup
Sirloin steak at Steak House Taupo
Sirloin steak

The food is simple but cooked to perfection. If you are at this area, you can drop by this place to try their food.

Before calling it a day as we have booked an activity that requires a lot of physical strength the next day, we managed to get some nice sunset photos.

Sunset and 2 swans at Lake TaupoSunset and black swan at Lake Taupo

We rested at Tiki Lodge Backpackers Taupo which we booked earlier via Booking.com.

Day 3 – most tiring activity in New Zealand but the most memorable day at Waitomo

If you have heard of Waitomo, you would know that it is famous for its glowworm. There are various ways to see the glowworm. The most common method is via a boat ride. However, if you are the adventurous type, go for black water rafting instead for a different kind of experience. And if you are adventurous and fit, then I would suggest you to go for this 7 Hours Lost World Epic Tour.

As I am very afraid of deep waters, I checked with the company and they mentioned that light swimming is required. I do not know what was I thinking during that time, but I ended up booked for the tour. However, I can guarantee you that it is a decision that I never regretted.

Waitomo Adventures – Lost World Epic Tour – 7 Hours – highly recommended

There were 6 of us (including 2 guides) for the tour. The first step is abseiling 100m down to the cave entrance below.

100m abseiling at Waitomo

After around 20 minutes of abseiling, we grabbed some light snacks before venturing into the cave. Not too far from the entrance there are 2 deep pools that require us to swim across it which was my nightmare. Luckily, there are ropes set across the pools which essentially become my life saver as I float on my back to pull myself across the pools.

The photo below is took at the spot where the last natural light can be seen. Past that point is total darkness but each of us is equipped with a headlamp.

4 guys looking at light source in a cave

There are some tight spaces where you need to crawl and pull yourself through it.

Crawling in the cave in New Zealand

4 guys posing for a photo in Waitomo cave
A nice group photo in the cave

As most of the time we were wading through water, the boots can easily collect water making the tour a challenging one. Towards the end of the tour, I remember I was consciously controlling each of my legs to move each step instead of a subconscious task.

When we reached the highlight location of the tour, our guides asked us to grab a cup of hot chocolate and find a nice place to sit down. Once everyone is settled down, they asked us all to switch off our headlamps. The moment the lights are out, the glowworms presented themselves like glow in the dark stickers. They appear at the top of the cave and it looks as though a ‘Milky Way’ is formed in the vast cave. When you have put in so much effort just to see the glowworm, seeing them gives a sense of achievement and it will be a moment that will always be remembered.

Posing with the glowworms in New Zealand

Day 4 – back to back physically draining activity

After resting ourselves at YHA Waitomo, Juno Hall, we woke up early for Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Tongariro National Park – recommended

The start of Tongariro Alpine Crossing
A 19.4km journey starts here

Before you start climbing a flight of stairs to the top, there will be a restroom as below. I recommend that you use it as it will be a long journey before you reach the next restroom.

Toilet at base of Tongariro

Before you start the long trekking, do make sure you cross check with the questions below:

Warning sign before starting the alpine crossing

Below are some of the photos taken along the long journey:

Icy top mountain somewhere in New Zealand

Snowy mountains in Tongariro National ParkLong walk across the valleyThere's still snow at the top of Tongariro National Park

Red Crater of Tongariro National Park
Red Crater
Emerald Lakes of Tongariro National Park
Emerald Lakes
Blue Lake of Tongariro National Park
Blue Lake

View from Tongariro National Park Winding tracks of Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The trek takes about 7-8 hours with normal speed. However, there are a lot of side trekking that you can do which means the whole journey can take longer. We started off from Mangatepopo Carpark and end at Ketetahi Carpark. Most people would do a 1-way trekking which means you have to book a shuttle from either carpark to the other carpark.

As I reached the end of the trek first, I heard an uncle shouting: “Last shuttle!” but I didn’t thought much about it. When my friend joined me at the end of the trek about 30 mins later, we start searching online for transportation. That was when we realized that the uncle was indeed the last shuttle available. We called a few shuttle companies but most rejected us as they are closing. Finally we reached a number that is willing to send a person over but they are charging slightly higher. And guess what, the person who came and pick us up was the same uncle earlier.

And the story continues…

Just as we sighed a breath of relief as we were lucky to have a shuttle to pick us back to our carpark, there is another big problem waiting for us. Our car’s fuel indicator is very near to E and we do not know where is the nearest fuel station. Using Waze, the nearest fuel station is some distance away so we use our gut feeling instead. We then reached a place with some shops but they seemed closed. Trying my luck, I knocked on one of the shop and an old lady appears. She gave us direction and we finally found a fuel station.

Moral of the story

  1. if you are doing the 7 hours Lost World Epic Tour, it is best not to put Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the day before or after as both activities are physically draining
  2. unless you are doing a 2-way trekking, do book in advance for the shuttle to bring you from 1 carpark to the other. There are a lot of companies offering the service such as this
  3. fill up the tank whenever the fuel indicator is low because fuel station can be quite scarce in some areas

After we rested ourselves at Backpackers Central Hamilton, we took Jetstar to the South Island of New Zealand.

Day 5 & 6 – adventure in South Island, New Zealand

After we reached Christchurch, we collect our campervan from Lucky Rentals. However, as the previous renter was late in returning the vehicle, the company rent us a car for free to drive around town while waiting. So our 5th day is pretty much sightseeing around town cause when we reached Lake Tekapo it is already late evening.

Lake Tekapo – recommended

Our second ride in New Zealand - campervan

You can cook and there is a makeshift bed for 2 person

We were greeted by the beautiful lake view in the morning as we booked a spot at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park.

Beautiful relaxing morning in New Zealand

We spend some time in the morning to take some photos of lupins and Church of the Good Shepherd.

Beautiful lupins at Lake TekapoLupins and icy top mountains in New Zealand

Church of the Good Shepherd
Church of the Good Shepherd
Inside of Church of the Good Shepherd
If you walk nearer to the cross, you will see a scene like the photo below
Unreal beauty of New Zealand
It looks as though it is a drawing or poster

After we are contented with our photos, we move on to our next destination.

Mount Cook – recommended

Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. There’s a few places that you can hike at Mount Cook which you can refer to here. However, we took the most common route which is the Hooker Valley track.

Alpine memorial shrine at Mount Cook
Alpine memorial shrine

Highest mountain of New Zealand - Mount CookThe magnificent Mount Cook

New Zealand - Land of the Long White Cloud
New Zealand – Land of the Long White Cloud

After that, we drove to Queenstown and have the must-try burger in New Zealand – Fergburger.

Fergburger, a must try in New Zealand

There was a queue but not too long when we were there. I tried their Sweet Bambi but felt it was so-so. Maybe I should try their beef burgers instead.

Day 7 – luge and the leap of faith

The next day, we went to Skyline Queenstown in the morning. As my friend went up and tried the luge before, he pass this attraction so I went up alone.

Skyline Queenstown

Gondala at Skyline
You can bring your bike up together
Queenstown from Skyline
The scenic Queenstown from above
Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar
You can also dine at the Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar overseeing the amazing view
The luge track at Skyline Queenstown
The luge track

Luge

Next up, the scariest activity that I dreaded for in New Zealand – the bungy jump.

AJ Hackett Bungy – recommended

In the car while my friend is driving, I visualize in my mind countless times on how I will approach the jump later. I imagine myself standing at the edge of the board and a guy gave me a countdown and off the board I go.

AJ Hackett Bungy

Girl doing bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge
The final wave to the camera before the leap of faith
Girl doing bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge
Here goes nothing!
Girl doing bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge
She did it!

When it’s almost my turn, the employee wraps a cloth linked to a half-body harness around my leg above my feet. However, he unwraps and re-wrap again several times and it makes me worry. I asked the person if my leg is too small but he said don’t worry but he doesn’t sound convincing and it makes me worry even more.

After many tries and I do feel the cloth is wrapped tightly, I wave to the cameras before making small jumps to the edge of the board. The guy told me I can jump anytime but it’s different from what I had visualized. Therefore I asked him to give me a countdown. “3, 2, 1, bungy!” and off I go as per my visualization. When the rope stretches to its maximum and pulls me back, I can feel the cloth got pulled off a bit. My heart skipped a beat and I immediately curls in my feet to hold the cloth just in case if it really got pulled off from my leg.

79th jumper and weighs 60kg
I was the 79th jumper of the day and my weight was 60kg

After the jump, you will get a certificate and a t-shirt. I also bought the video at a cut-throat price but I think doing bungy jump once in a lifetime is enough for me.

Kawarau Bridge Bungy t-shirt

Here’s the video where I screamed at the top of my lungs:

Day 8 – 8th Wonder of the World in New Zealand

On the way to Milford Sound, we saw people moving house – literally. After seeing this, I understand why it is coined the term – move house.

Moving house in New Zealand

We also saw some kea along the way while we stopped to take some photos.

Kea in New Zealand

Milford Sound – recommended

We booked a tour with Jucy Cruise for the Milford Tour.

Jucy Cruise for Milford Tour

Depending on the weather of the day, you can see Milford Sound in a different way. When we visited Milford Sound, it was a clear sky thus Milford Sound presented itself thoroughly without veil. If it was misty, it can give a mysterious yet magical feeling.

Waterfall at Milford Sound
You can do kayaking here

Mountain at Milford Sound

Sea lions sunbathing at Milford Sound
Sunbathing sea lions

We were lucky to see a few Fiordland Crested Penguins which were spotted by the captain.

Fiordland Crested Penguins in Milford Sound

The 8th Wonder of the World in New Zealand - Milford Sound
The photo in a photo photo-ception

We ended the night by sleeping in the campervan at Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels. The first night, me and my friend woke up at around 3am as it was too cold. So we started the car to on the heater for a while before going back to sleep. However, we woke up again around 5am and we gave up going back to sleep. The second night, I wear my socks to keep myself warm but still we woke up at around 3am due to the coldness. There was a tent beside us and we wonder how do they keep warm in the tent. The answer will be revealed in Hokitika.

Day 9 – Hydro Attack and Puzzling World

The next morning, we stroll along Lake Wakatipu before going for our first activity of the day – Hydro Attack. Basically, you will sit inside a shark looking machine.

Hydro Attack in New Zealand

Then the driver will speed around the lake up to speed of 80km/h.

Hydro Attack in New Zealand

He will also bring the machine down into the water so you can view the clear blue water from below.

Hydro Attack in New Zealand

And then he will bring the shark out and up from the water.

Hydro Attack in New Zealand

Although it’s quite pricey for a short ride, but it’s a fun and thrilling experience to try in New Zealand.

Puzzling World – recommended

The next stop is Puzzling World at Wanaka which is a fun place to be at.

Puzzling World in WanakaLeaning Tower of WanakaHall of following faces

Ames room
Ames room
Ames room effect 1
From a mini me and a huge friend
Ames room effect 2
Body enlarging and minimizing in process
Ames room effect 3
I became huge and my friend shrank
Optical illusion in Puzzling World
What do you see?
Creepy starer in Puzzling World
A creepy man staring at you
Infinity phone box
Infinity phone box
Rubin's vase in Puzzling World
Rubin’s vase
Teach or learn?
Teach or learn
KNIT = MC2
KNIT = MC2
KNIT = MC2 revealed
Sometimes you have to see things in other angle or perspective

There is a maze outside where you can challenge your friends and family.

The Great Maze at Puzzling World
Me and my friend finished the classic challenge for fun

Day 10 – Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach Walks

The next morning, we had breakfast at South Westland Salmon to try whitebait fish. This is because we read some guides that it is a must try food in New Zealand.

Smoked salmon Whitebait fish toast

However, after tasting it, it’s just like ikan bilis (anchovy) but white in color.

Lake Matheson – recommended

On a clear beautiful sky, you can see a scene like below.

Lake Matheson, New Zealand

However, when we were there, it was cloudy so the scene is less spectacular. But as there was no wind, the lake is still and it reflects perfectly for some nice photos.

Lake Matheson, New Zealand

Gillespies Beach Walks – not really recommended

The rocks here are rounded and flat. You can write notes or your wish on it, but other than that, there is not much to see or do here so you can skip this location.

Gillespies Beach Walks, New Zealand Gillespies Beach Walks, New Zealand

Day 11 – flight cancelled so change of plan

We booked a Heli Hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides via Bookme. But due to the bad weather, the tour was cancelled and the company issued a Refund Authority Request letter to us so we can claim from Bookme. I sent an email to Bookme on the 15th and received an email the next day saying that our refund is being processed. Kudos to Bookme for the fast action.

As we felt that there were not much things to do in Franz Josef, we decided to forfeit our night there and went to Hokitika instead.

Hokitika – recommended

Hokitika is a small town that don’t get much spotlight in guidebooks or on the internet. However, it became me and my friend’s most favorite town in New Zealand. We feel that the people here are very warm-hearted. No matter which shop you go into, you can easily have a long conversation with them.

Hokitika, New Zealand

We stumbled upon Sweet Alice’s and I tried the pumpkin ice cream with cinnamon which was recommended by the owner. I tell you, it was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. If you are in Hokitika, I recommend you drop by and try their ice cream selections.

Sweet Alice's in Hokitika

Remember the incident in Te Anau where my friend and I were awaken by the cold? We had a chat with other guests in Mountain Jade Backpackers where we are staying. These 2 ladies from Switzerland is traveling around the world to work with non-profit organizations. We told them about our experience and they told us that we will actually need cold weather sleeping bags. Coming from a warm country, I didn’t know it can get so cold in a car and there are special sleeping bags for cold weather.

Day 12 – Punakaiki

The next morning, we went to Punakaiki to see the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

Punakaiki, New Zealand

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Pancake rocks
Double rainbows at Punakaiki, New Zealand
At a certain angle, you might be able to catch 2 rainbows

Punakaiki, New Zealand

Punakaiki, New Zealand
What do you see?

We then drive around 3 hours to stay at Alpine Adventure Holiday Park at Hammer Spring as we are going to Kaikoura for whale watching the next day.

Day 13 – whale watching and sea lions watching

The next morning, we start off by going for whale watching with Air Kaikoura.

Aero Club at Kaikoura, New Zealand

As the whales are wildlife animals, you might or might not be able to see it. At first, we thought we might not be able see it this trip as there is a time limit and there is no sign of it. However, just as we were about to leave after doing a few circles, the pilot received news that there is a whale appearing so the pilot fly us nearer above the whale. It is a spectacular view although we are far from the whale and we were lucky to be able to see it.

Here’s a video that I managed to get where the whale comes to the surface of the water to breathe.

Ohau – recommended

After whale watching, we went to see sea lions in Ohau. There are 2 spots that you can see the sea lions. The 1st is Ohau Point Seal Colony where you can see them sunbathing by the sea.

Sea lions at Ohau, New Zealand

The 2nd point which I would recommend is Ohau Stream Walk. You would need to walk a little bit but you can get nearer to the sea lions. However, do keep some safe distance as they are wild animals. Below are some cute photos of the sea lions:

Sea lions at Ohau, New ZealandSea lions at Ohau, New Zealand

Sea lions at Ohau, New Zealand
Doing some stretching

Here’s a video of 2 sea lions fighting/playing with each other:

After that, we have a quick lunch before going to Christchurch.

Air Force Museum of New Zealand – recommended

If you are into aircraft, this place is a must-visit as there is a wide array of aircraft on display.

Aircraft at Air Force Museum of New Zealand Aircraft at Air Force Museum of New Zealand Aircraft at Air Force Museum of New Zealand Aircraft at Air Force Museum of New Zealand Royal New Zealand Air Force

We then checked in to Jailhouse Accommodation which is an interesting place to stay. This is because it is a refurbished jail which is now a backpacker hostel.

Jailhouse Accommodation in Christchurch
The exterior of Jailhouse Accommodation
Jailhouse Accommodation, Christchurch
The hallway
Jailhouse Accommodation, Christchurch
The clean room

Day 14 – Christchurch animals and church

The first activity of the day is visiting Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. I would highly recommend this place as you can catch sight of kiwis which can be hardly seen in the wild. Besides that, there are a lot of animals left to roam here where you can take close shots of them.

Ducks at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
I’m wondering what are they checking out?
Duck at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Oh I see, if this is a female, then the 2 ducks above must be male
Animals at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Collective napping
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
I guess it’s really napping time for the animals
A duck and its chicks at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Family bonding time with the chicks
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
That’s some fancy eyebrow styles you got there. I think they have professional eyebrow stylist here
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb your lunch time
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Guess the animals here do not like their photos to be taken while they are eating
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand
Hi, you sneaky little thing

Here’s a video where I managed to get a nice view of 2 kiwis in the dark:

Transitional Cathedral/ Cardboard Cathedral – recommended

Before going to Transitional Cathedral, we dropped by Cathedral Square which was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake.

Cathedral Square after 2011 earthquake Cathedral Square after 2011 earthquake

The Cardboard Cathedral which was previously known as Transitional Cathedral is a calm and relaxing place to be at. Besides that, both the interior and exterior of the cathedral is worth taking some nice colorful photos with the colored glass panels.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

Day 15 – Skycity

The next day, we walk around town before going to SkyCity where we will have dinner with a friend nearby.

Sky Tower, Auckland

Here are some photos of Auckland taken from Sky Tower:

Auckland from Sky Tower, New Zealand Auckland from Sky Tower, New Zealand Auckland from Sky Tower, New Zealand

You can do SkyWalk which you can see the city without the glasses blocking your view. If you are up for challenge, you can even do SkyJump where you jump off 192 metres from above.

Day 16 – see ya New Zealand

On the final day, we went to University of Auckland to take some photos before going to the town for more photos.

University of Auckland University of AucklandGreen building at Auckland, New Zealand Auckland, New Zealand

My final lunch in New Zealand at a food court which costs NZD11 but it was one of the nicest food I had here.

Lunch at New Zealand

All in all, New Zealand is a very beautiful country to visit. The scenery are all so picturesque that a simple point and shoot would create a nice postcard-like photo. However, it can be quite tiring as well. As me and my friend packed a lot of places and activities into our itinerary across different places, we have to travel a lot. Each of us easily rack up mileage of more than 1000km per person. Besides that, we have to wake up early most of the time and there are some places that we did not sleep well such as in Te Anau.

Have you been to New Zealand? Which is your most favorite location? And what is your most memorable experience in New Zealand? Feel free to share us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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