New Zealand is without a doubt the most picturesque country we have ever visited so far! Be ready to fall in love with the most beautiful place on Earth and the word ‘beautiful’ does not do it justice. We’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand, but we never had a definitive plan in the near future… So when a travel deal popped up on my phone, we made an immediate decision to buy our plane tickets and before we knew it, we found ourselves enjoying the breathtaking views Kiwi land has to offer!
For our trip, we flew from Houston to Sydney and spent 3 days in Sydney, before traveling to New Zealand. Once we landed in Auckland, we embarked upon THE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP of our lifetime! Traveling by road is simply stunning and you just can’t have enough of it. Between chasing waterfalls, enjoying the mountains, seeing miles and miles of beautifully carved, rolling green hills with grazing cattle and sheep… we guarantee that you will enjoy this trip. You find something amazing every few minutes and you’ll want to pull over… Isn’t that what road trips are meant for?
Our first stop was Hobbiton in Matamata, which is a must see if you’re a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie fan. From there, we drove to Rotorua, which is home to volcanic landscapes, soothing thermal pools and ancient redwood forests. Rotorua is also known as the Sulphur City, and you’ll immediately notice the rather unique pungent aroma as soon as you get out of your car. From Rotorua, we drove further south to Mount Tongariro. On the way we stopped at Huka Falls and Lake Tuapo. After hiking at Mt. Tongariro, we made our way up north to Waitomo to see the famous glowworm caves then back to Auckland.
Sometimes the journey is better than the destination… And New Zealand was simple and pure beauty at its best. Mother Nature has done an exceptional job down here!
What to see and do in New Zealand?
The best way to travel across New Zealand is to rent a camper van or car and go on a spectacular road trip. To truly enjoy everything New Zealand has to offer, do not rush and give yourselves plenty of time. You will find many locations along the way that are so beautiful you’ll want to stay longer and take photos. Also, be patient as you adapt to driving on the opposite side of he road.
Visit middle-earth at the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata — If you’re fan of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, you must visit the Hobbiton Movie Set. It is an experience like none other! The movie set was initially built just to be used for the Lord of the Rings films. The area was restored to its natural state afterward. Many people visited the little farm where the shire was built, so Peter Jackson decided to go ahead and remake it with more permanent materials when they shot the Hobbit films. It REALLY feels like you are in the shire, surrounded by Hobbits in their adorable hobbit holes and walkways with cute little manicured gardens… just like in the films. It’s easy to imagine yourself saying, “I’m going on an adventure!” just as when Bilbo Baggins did running through the shire to join Gandalf and the dwarves on their quest to reclaim Erabor from Smaug.
Amongst the green rolling hills of the Hobbit shire, you’ll find several Hobbit holes in different sizes and colors. The guide points out the one where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived as well as the one where Samwise Gamgee resided. It was magical to be walking through the shire – gorgeous and surreal. Keep in mind that the tours must be booked in advance and only guided tours are allowed.
The tour ends at the at the Green Dragon Inn, which is where all the residents of Hobbiton would gather in the warm surroundings of the bar to chatter about the day’s events. Here you can get your free pint of beer or non-alcohol ginger beer.
Experience the Whakarewarewa Living Māori village in Rotorua — Whakarewarewa Māori Village will give you a cultural insight into some of the traditions and customs that date back to ancestral times. Whakarewarewa is the legacy and home of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people. The tour will take you on a journey through history that includes enchanting tales, ceremonial rituals and a delicious meal. Rotorua is also home to the famous Waiotapu – a colorful, geothermal hot pool that is definitely worth a visit while you are in the area. It was fascinating to see the Māori people cook their food in the geothermal springs. We had some fresh corn that was cooked in the spring and it was outstanding! Our guide was so very sweet and informative, we loved this tour!
Whakarewarewa Valley is an active geothermal area with hot pools, boiling mud and geysers. The Māori people have lived here for centuries, co-existing in harmony with the geothermal forces that lay beneath their feet. In Māori myths and legends it is said that when Te Hoata and Te Pupu (Goddesses of Fire) traveled from Hawaiki in the form of fire to relieve their brother’s chills, they created New Zealand’s volcanoes, mud pools, geysers and hot springs. Their path through Te Whakarewarewa Valley remains alive and visible to this day. During the tour, we also experienced the Haka which is an ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka is a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity!
Enjoy Zorbing in Rotorua — Zorbing was so much fun! Rolling down a hill in a large inflatable ball filled with water is quite the adventure. It was lot more fun when you are inside the ball with multiple people slamming into each other as you roll downhill. Zorbing was invented in Rotorua, so we definitely wanted to check this out during our trip. There are 2 locations in Rotorua that offer Zorbing and we chose OGO Rotorua based on the reviews. The rides are a bit expensive at $105 New Zealand dollars for 2 rides per person, but it is a BLAST and we highly recommend this!
Epic Alpine Crossing Hike at Mount Tongariro — Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s greatest hikes and the #1 hike in New Zealand! Tongariro National Park is the place to see the stunning landscapes of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe which steal the show with their volcanic peaks. Hiking is the best option to embrace these breathtaking views that include the red crater, vibrant emerald lake, blue lake and spectacular mountain scenery around every corner.
It took us 9.5 hours to hike the 19.4 km trek across the mountains located at an altitude of 6,188 feet. This is one of the hardest hikes we’ve ever done! Once you get to the top, the views of the Red Crater, Emerald Lake, Blue Lake as well as ‘Mt Doom’ from Lord of the Rings (Mt Ngauruhoe) are truly inspiring. Just be sure to take plenty of snacks, water and easily removable layers. Nothing will beat the sense of accomplishment you feel after you finish this epic hike! This trek takes a lot of planning and we highly recommend reading the following blog before you attempt this amazing journey. — Tongariro Crossing Hiking Guide.
Be amazed by the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo — Experience nature at its best by exploring these 30-million-year-old caves on the North Island of New Zealand. You will not believe your eyes when you see the scintillating glow that emanates from the darkness, all thanks to these tiny little bio-luminescent worms found exclusively in New Zealand. The Glowworm Grotto’s river meanders through the limestone structures, revealing an endless light display that leaves the entire boat speechless, simply taking in the surrounding awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Where to stay?
As we were planning our New Zealand trip, we realized very quickly that we had to cover ~200 km on road every day after the planned sightseeing activities. So that meant a daily road trip of 2-3 hours at the end of a long and tiring day. It also meant that we had to check into a new hotel every night. We were basically using the hotels to crash for the night, and pack up and leave the next morning. We picked decent yet affordable places to stay since we weren’t going to get the enjoy them much anyway. Needless to say that this was one of the most exhausting and amazing trips at the same time!
We made an exception in Waitomo and stayed at the Woodlyn Park hotel, which is listed as one of the 50 most unusual hotels in the world. So we had to check it out! We stayed in the plane unit, which was a Vietnam era Bristol freighter that was converted into a hotel. The plane still has the original engine, props, wheels etc. They also had a couple of very cool Hobbit Hole units, a train and a boat hotel… a pretty cool place for sure!
When is the best time to visit?
The seasons in New Zealand are completely opposite to North America. So if you are looking for a perfect vacation during the winter months in the United States, you don’t have to look any further.
- Spring months are from September to November, and it would be ideal to time your trip towards the end of Spring, so it is warm. Plus, you can get the off-peak season deals on airfare and hotels which also means there are fewer tourists.
- Summer months are from December to February and the temperatures are in the mid 70’s (77°F is ~ 25°C), but it is also a very busy time due to the holidays and warm weather, so expect a lot of tourists! We visited in late November just before the peak season and high prices, and we highly recommend this time of the year.
- Autumn months are from March to May and you’ll find fewer tourists. New Zealand is beautiful this time of the year, but it can start to get a bit cold.
- Winter months are from June to August, and it does get really cold, so it would be perfect for skiing. However, we don’t recommend this time of the year, if you are planning on spending a lot of time outdoors enjoying the beautiful scenery.
How to save money?
- Travel at the right time — This tip applies to most locations in general. New Zealand’s seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere, so the summer travel season runs from December through February. This is when you see a lot of travelers visiting this country and the prices rise for both airfare and accommodations. Consider a trip during the shoulder seasons, which is what we did. We visited New Zealand towards the end of November and we got a good deal on the airfare.
- Limit the scope of trip to the must-see destinations — New Zealand is a big country and if you want to cover major sightseeing locations on both islands, a week or two just won’t cut it. If your time or budget is limited, concentrate on either the North Island or the South Island, not both. Staying focused will also save you money on transportation.
- Keep an eye out for airfare deals — Airfare to New Zealand is pricey from most countries due to its location, so monitor prices before you book your trip. We always check for prices on Momondo.com, .
- Buy essentials at the grocery store — Buy food and water from a local grocery store, so you can eat at least one meal per day that’s less expensive than a restaurant. Grab some bread, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, hummus, yogurt and fruit for a quick breakfast or lunch.
- Avoid currency exchange at the counter — Plan ahead and convert currency at your local bank or use your ATM card to make a withdrawal from your bank. This gives you a better exchange rate. Don’t forget to check if your bank charges a fee for withdrawals. If so, you might want to get a good amount of cash to minimize fees charged for each transaction. We always exchange currency using our bank (before the trip) for emergency purposes. Use a credit card that does not charge transaction fees when used outside the country. Call the credit card company in advance to inform them about travel plans. Make sure you carry more than one credit card when you travel in case your credit card company blocks your card.
May we recommend?
Here are our recommendations for anyone hoping to travel to this magnificent destination. New Zealand, one of the most isolated countries location-wise, is also one of the great tourist destinations of the world. It does take some planning to visit this country, but you’ll be so glad you made that choice.
- Plan on spending a minimum of 2 weeks (or longer) in New Zealand so you can visit both North and South islands during one trip and save money.
- Activate an international plan on your cell phone or get a SIM card as soon as you land in New Zealand. You can get SIM card at Spark Mobile stand right in the Auckland airport. We paid $10 per day for the international plan and used the phone as a hotspot when needed.
- Remember that the sun is powerful and we found this out the hard way. While the temperatures don’t go up very high, the burn times in New Zealand are very short. Put your sunblock on regardless of the weather.
- You’ll need a travel adapter depending on which part of the world you are from. We bought a universal travel adapter from Amazon which worked well during our trip.
“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” — Samwise Gamgee
So what are you waiting for? New Zealand is all about the journey! Are you ready?
Everywhere you turn in New Zealand, there’s something exciting to do and see. The great thing about Kiwi Land is its natural beauty. With its dramatic landscapes, friendly people and a lot of fun experiences, you will fall in love with New Zealand just as we did.
As we always say… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!