New Zealand is the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere and with so much to do and see you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to see it all! Fortunately, New Zealand is a relatively small country so travelling from the top to the bottom is easily doable in a 2–3-week holiday! On our New Zealand holidays with my partner, we chose to go over Christmas as it would be Summer in New Zealand!
We began our New Zealand adventure by first flying into San Francisco and spending a night in the city. We stayed in the Argonaut Hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf and our room had an awesome view of Alcatraz out in the bay! On our first night we headed into the city for a spot of shopping and a bite to eat but went back to the hotel pretty early due to jet lag. That morning jet lag worked in our favour as we were up and out of the hotel before the sun even rose! We walked along Fisherman’s Wharf and were the only two people out and about – this was an amazing experience, and I would really recommend not fighting the jet lag and walking down Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sunrise! We made the most of our 1 day in the city by hopping on two of the many electric scooters on the paths and riding all the way up to and over the Golden Gate Bridge! We rode the scooters over the bridge and down into the small, idyllic town of Sausalito where we ate some brunch and then caught the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Before leaving for the airport, we got a bite to eat in the Boudin Bakery where San Francisco’s famous Sourdough is made – this was absolutely amazing, and they have so much on offer there will be something everyone will enjoy!
After arriving in Auckland, we immediately caught a flight to Queenstown as we had decided to start at the bottom of the country and work our way up – you can plan your trip either way round, but we knew there was a lot we wanted to do in Queenstown. The flight was only around an hour, and we were able to check into our hotel, the QT Queenstown, quickly before heading out on a Jetboat on the stunning Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. The Jetboat experience is totally unique and takes you out over the canyons and through the mountains on the lake. The Jetboats go up to 90km an hour, weave through rapids and even skim over water 10cm deep! Though nerve wracking, the team are highly trained, and I felt very safe in the hands of the driver!
On our second day in Queenstown, we caught the gondola up the mountain and went Luging – this is a unique “attraction” you can only do in certain areas/ countries, and I had never even heard of it before. Think of Luging as go karting down hill with no power except the speed of gravity! The course is epic, and it has its own chairlift to take you from top to bottom where you can race your family/ friends down and do it all over again! The best value for money is the Gondola + 5 Ludge rides pass which you can buy at the gate before getting on the Gondola.
On our third day we took a day trip to Milford Sound where we took a cruise through the Sound and were treated to views of towering, jagged cliffs, waterfalls, and breath-taking views out over the water! Our trip was a pre-booked organise tour which was a fabulous way to see the countryside as the driver explained the history of the area and also took us to a great local spot for some breakfast!
Queenstown was the home of great food and every day we were treated to something new, by far the best burger place in all of New Zealand (and for me, the world) was Fergburger! With both vegetarian, vegan and meat options, these burgers were absolutely amazing! Devil burger was another superb burger experience (coming in second in the world for me). For breakfast, we went to Balls and Bangles everyday as they had the best bagels I have ever tasted – we loved to purchase our bagel and eat it sat atop the wall that looks out over the lake!
Queenstown also lived up to its reputation of having a vibrant nightlife – the bars/ clubs in the town were great fun and you have the opportunity to interact with locals and tourists alike!
By far the crown jewel of Queenstown though was its Bungy Jumping experiences! AJ Hackett is the home of Bungy Jumping in New Zealand and there are 3 jumps, a swing and catapult to choose from! The Nevis Bungy is the highest in the country, and of course had to be the one we did! The Bungy platform in 134m above a massive canyon and you can only reach it via cable car. After the Bungy we headed over to the Nevis Swing, a 300m swing that again drops you from a platform above the same huge canyon. To get to these locations we booked a tour where we were picked up from the main AJ Hackett shop location in Queenstown, leaving the whole trip to the expert guide so we could focus on what was important! This was a once in a lifetime experience that I highly recommend doing (if you are able). There’s no doubt that you will be scared but it is so worth it, and also makes for one epic story to tell everyone back home!
If Bungy isn’t really your cup of tea though, Queenstown is also home to one of the most beautiful and breath-taking experiences I have ever had: Onsen hot pools. Onsen Retreat and Day Spa is home to the most stunning hot pool experience – the outside cedar hot pools are located atop the cliffside overlooking the magnificent Shotover River canyon below with the alpine trees and mountains as a backdrop. The scenery really looks like a photograph come to life and it is the perfect couples or family experience!
After our epic week in Queenstown, we hired our car from the airport and made our way up to Lake Tekapo. We opted to drive ourselves as it was much more convenient, and they also drive on the left in New Zealand which was handy! Lake Tekapo is famous for its amazing star gazing and for this reason we opted to stay at Galaxy Boutique hotel in the village as the rooms had amazing views of the glacial blue lake and a glass panel in the roof for night-time stargazing! Whilst in Tekapo we booked a stargazing tour that took us to the Mt John Observatory at the summit of Mt John where we could see the night sky with amazing clarity and expert guides showed us stars and galaxies through the extremely powerful telescopes. One tip I have for this experience based on a mistake we made ourselves, but they told us is made by many others, is to really make note of the date and time! The summit trips begin at 2am (so you’ll have to set your alarms) but visitors often come the day after their trip is actually booked, for example: if a trip is booked on Saturday 7th at 2am, guests will often show up on the Sunday 8th at 2am as they associate the trip being with Saturday night when it is fact Saturday morning. Though as this happens so often, there are often spare slots on each trip and the team will slot you in if they can (which they did with us)!
Lake Tekapo is also home to the Church of the Good Shepard which you can walk to from most hotels, though I recommend getting here early as it is a hot spot for tourists! Also, Tekapo Springs is a great way to spend the day – these are pools filled with naturally heated water that you can relax in – be sure to wear sun cream though as the ozone is thinner in New Zealand and you will burn faster (as we learned the hard way!). Tekapo Springs also has a star gazing experience where you get to look through telescopes at the night sky then relax on your back in the hot pools and gaze up at the stars. This is another unique experience I really recommend doing as though it isn’t as informative as the summit tour it is unbelievably relaxing and stunning.
The final activity we did in Tekapo was hiking up Mt John to the summit café where we stopped for some food and drink before making the decent! The hike was about an hour each way and a steep uphill incline, but many tourists were making the hike, so it is doable for most! The views from the summit were insane and you could see the entire town and lake – it made for a great Instagram spot! Another iconic Instagram spot that is a little less well known are the Tekapo lavender fields – just a short walk out of town you will find the picture-perfect lavender fields where you can take some amazing scenery or profile picture shots!
Next was on to Christchurch where we stayed in the Sudima Christchurch City 5* hotel. This hotel was in an excellent location for the city, and we again used the electric scooters to get about! We walked around the botanical gardens which where vibrant with all types of flowers from rose gardens to inside greenhouses filled with tropical plants. After a morning of this, we hopped on an electric scooter and made our way across the city to Westfield Riccarton where we did some shopping and got a bite to eat! Getting around the city on the electric scooters was so handy as it was cheap and also a great way to get panoramic views of the streets and gardens we went through – cities in New Zealand are also generally quieter so it felt very safe too.
By now it was Christmas Eve, and we made our way to Kaikoura – a small coastal town with excellent food and whale watching! We checked in to our hotel, The Pier Hotel, as soon as we arrived and made our way into town for some lunch. That afternoon we were off on a whale watching adventure, where we were warned we may not see any whales, but it must have been a Christmas Miracle because we saw 5 whales, 2 pods of dolphins and an albatross landed on the boat! This was the most memorable Christmas Eve I’ve ever experience, and though the weather was warm it still felt amazingly festive and fun.
On Christmas Day we caught the ferry from the South Island at Picton to the North Island early in the morning, the terminal was nearly empty, but we had our Christmas hats on and kept up the Christmas cheer! The ferry was 3 hours long and the departure out of the South Island is through a Sound and is thought to be one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world! On the ferry we bought a turkey sandwich each to get the taste of Christmas Day, played cards and walked around the boat! When we arrived in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, not much was open (we knew this would be the case) and we made our way to the QT Wellington Hotel. We checked into our room and headed down to the leisure area where we were able to use the pool, sauna, and gym. As it was Christmas Day, we were the only ones in there which was lovely, and we got to enjoy a warm and sunny Christmas Day! For food, we skipped the traditional Christmas meal that was on offer in the hotel and opted for a room service steak dinner – which was actually one of the best steaks we had ever eaten! All in all, it was a fun and memorable way to spend Christmas Day and I didn’t miss the traditional style day at all!
On Boxing Day (which is only celebrated in the UK, so everything was open) we carried on our journey up to Lake Taupo where we stayed in the Hilton Lake Taupo. In Wellington we’d been lucky enough to speak to someone who recommend we go ‘tubing’ down the Waikato River to the natural hot springs. This isn’t a commercial activity so in the town be purchased some inflatable ‘tubes’ and followed directions to an inlet in the river where canoers and kayakers also set off from. The river is big, and we floated down it for a good couple of hours before reaching the hot springs – this was an unforgettable day, we were the only two people on the river and the peace and quiet was something I have never experienced before. The river was lined with lush greenery, towering cliffs and plenty of birds flying about. We floated under a bungee jump, past beautiful houses, and scenery. The water was very blue and clear, and the hot springs were easy to spot as there were lots of other people enjoying them, so we hopped out and made our way over to them and enjoyed the pools before walking back (it was a long walk back but certainly worth it!). Further on from the hot springs the Waikato River leads to the Huka Falls which is an amazing sight to behold on a day trip from Taupo. If river tubing is not your cup of tea, in Taupo you can also Bungy Jump, Skydive, enjoy water sports, see Maori rock carvings, or just explore the quaint town.
Next was on to Rotorua where we visited Rainbow Springs Nature Park to see New Zealand’s national bird, the Kiwi, in person! We got to see where the wild Kiwi’s we cared for, rescued, and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. This was also a great location for picking up some Kiwi souvenirs. Lord of the Rings lovers will want to make the most of the Hobbiton movie set daytrips from Rotorua and thrill seekers may want to go white water rafting and zip lining! Before making our way up to Auckland we also spent an afternoon relaxing at Hell’s Gare Mud Bath and Spa where we soaked in the natural hot waters and rejuvenated our skin with the amazing natural Mud!
When we arrived in Auckland we checked into our hotel, the Sky City hotel at the Sky Tower, and quickly made our way to Westfield to do some shopping. I particularly loved shopping in New Zealand as they have the big brands we have, but also different ones – in fact I purchased some lovely boutique items! After a day of shopping, we headed back to the Sky Tower for dinner at the Orbit restaurant which offered 360-degree views over the city from the top of the tower. After dinner we went up the Sky Tower to look out over the city – this was great even as night fell as Auckland was lit up and you could see over the entire city.
On our final day in Auckland before catching our plane home we drove out to Karekare Falls and Piha Beach. The drive was stunning, and you could really feel the Polynesian/ island atmosphere. Karekare Falls was a natural waterfall with a pool at its base and even though the pool was freezing we sawm out to the bottom of the waterfall – it was totally worth it! After walking back to the car, we headed to Piha Beach, famous for the iconic Lion Rock just offshore. This is a picture perfect, quiet beach with towering cliff headlands, large black sand dunes and a powerful surf that make the beach so stunning.
On our journey home we stopped for a 2-day layover in Los Angeles where we spent the day at Disneyland California before heading back to London! We love Walt Disney World Orlando so knew that even though our time in LA was short we had to visit Disneyland! Travelling to the other side of the world and seeing almost all of New Zealand in just under 3 weeks was an epic experience that I will never forget, it took some planning (which is why I’m so glad we had the help of Charter Travel) but made for an amazing adventure!