New Zealand is an amazing place with far too much to be seen in just two weeks – I just wish someone had told me!
Sitting by the pool at Brisbane City Backpackers Hostel and feeling like a change of scenery, a few days in NZ seemed like a great idea.
It had been months of sunshine and parties and I was starting to crave skiing, woolly hats and mulled wine. It was flight booked and feeling excited until bemused mates started saying that I’m “more Fiji than Fjords.” “NZ is for people who are ‘outdoorsy’, like sport or at least don’t get bored after 30 minutes in the countryside.”
Sitting on the flight and less than overwhelmed, I finally bothered to check Lonely Planet to get an itinerary together – mainly for the benefit of customs’ officers who had been grilling me every time I came in or out of Australia.
Non-smiling officials wanted specifics down to details of – What sights I planned to see (Pass – I usually decide that while sitting in Starbucks at the other end); What transport I’ve booked (None. I like to be spontaneous); Who I knew in the country (No one. I’m from Norwich, UK, and, yes, I fully expect you’ve never heard of it); And, my personal favourite, “Can you tell me a fact about New Zealand?” Well, I can barely scrape together facts about where I was last night – has the concept of ‘backpacker’ and it’s associated connotations escaped customs and excise altogether?
Anyway, for the benefit of the tape, I planned as follows:
- 2 nights in Queenstown with a visit to Milford Sound so I can provide evidence for my friends that “I enjoy fjords.”
- 3 nights in Wanaka so I can ski at Mount Cardrona
- 1 day climbing the Franz Josef Glacier to show I can be ‘outdoorsy’ (+ 1 day to recover)
- 3 days in Christchurch…. *And, no, I did not realise this was still a no-go area following an earlier earthquake and, no, this oversight did not impress the customs troll. Fail.
- Flight to the North Island – Christchurch to Rotorua
- 2 nights in Auckland
- Return to Brisbane poolside armed with evidence of being cultured, outdoorsy and sporty. Done.
Best NZ fact? 30% of the population is obese. *fact donated courtesy of the Glaswegian peace-campaigner in the seat next to me.
I wasn’t convinced it would be the geographical snippet customs would be expecting… but I accepted it graciously.
So, 14 days, here’s what happened:
Milford Sound was absolutely stunning. Well worth the five-hour coach trip from Queenstown with some impressive stop-offs including Te Anau and plenty of mirror-lake photo opportunities. Lunch on-board, countless dolphins swimming alongside the boat, seals sunbathing on the rocks and incredible waterfalls and scenery. Freezing cold but at its most stunning in the middle of winter (July/August). Absolutely worth a trip.
As soon as I arrived at Nomads Backpackers in Queenstown, I knew my itinerary was destined to be trashed. This is one of the hardest places to leave, it was just too beautiful and way too much fun. Try Minus 5 Ice Bar, drink cocktail teapots in Word Bar, party in Cowboys and make sure every night ends in Fergburger!
Lake Wanaka feels almost magical in the right light. I stayed at Base Hostel and used Wanaka as the best point to get out to the ski resort of Cardrona – about an hour away by coach. Good, open ski runs with relatively few people but extremely limited if you’re used to the skiing in Europe.
You can do a half-day or full day hike but you can not afford to miss a stop in Franz Josef. Spectacular scenery in winter but be prepared to squeeze and slide through very small cracks and tunnels. Scary but well worth the effort and the tour comes with free access to the hot springs spa pool you so you can relax afterwards in thermal baths of over 35 degrees. I stayed in Glow Worm hostel which I would recommend as central and friendly with a free evening meal.
I took the Naked Bus around both the north and south island – it’s billed as a no-frills service but I found all buses to be very clean and reliable for a really good price. Nomads backpackers in Auckland was a great location to explore the city and meet new friends.
New Zealand was an incredible place. Had I got a clue/planned better/had more time, I would have loved to have seen Wellington, Lake Taupo, New Plymouth and the bays of the far north. I would have missed out Rotorua because I have nothing good to say about it and I would recommend spending at least 5 days in Queenstown if you like beautiful scenery, mulled wine and great backpacking nightlife.
Definitely one to go back to but I suggest you research your own ‘NZ fact’ to save embarrassment and/or offence on arrival.