New Zealand is primarily made up of two main islands, the North Island and South Island. It was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893. There is so much to see and do in New Zealand that no matter how long you go for, it still wouldn’t be enough to see all that the country has to offer.
I was fortunate enough to visit last year with my boyfriend towards the end of November. However due to limited vacation time our trip only lasted 7 days. It took some time to create the ultimate itinerary for our visit to New Zealand, however I am very excited to have accomplished everything we set forth to do. We chose to focus on the north island due to our stay lasting only a week. Of course, we plan to return in the future to spend more time exploring the beautiful country along with the southern island that we have yet to see. Our itinerary is shared below and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have!
We had a nonstop flight overnight and were extremely tired when we arrived as neither of us caught much sleep on the plane. Due to traveling often I know that its always nice to have a day of rest on arrival, which is what I planed for. I had booked the Hilton Auckland hotel right on the water as the pictures online were stunning. Upon check-in we were told that our room was not ready yet, however the kind gentleman said he could upgrade us to their nicest suite if we were able to give them about an hour to get the room ready. Not a problem at all – as we were starving so we went upstairs to eat lunch in their restaurant. The food at the restaurant was mediocre however the view of the water was breathtaking! We finished eating and went up to our beautiful room which was far more stunning then either of us could have ever imagined. Most of the day was spent taking a nap until we woke up for dinner and decided to walk around the city a bit. The view from our balcony is pictured in the panoramic below.
The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. We knew we wanted to see the capital city even if it was for a day trip, so we woke up early in order to take a flight down to Wellington. Once we got into the city center of Wellington we wandered around the streets and found a place to enjoy a nice lunch. The city center was filled with a lot of cute cafes and shops. We finished up lunch in perfect time for the 2pm sightseeing tour we had pre-booked. We located our guide and were told it was just going to be us along with one other couple. That was pretty great as the driver was willing to alter our stops to our preferences whether we wanted to stay longer or shorter in one place or another. Our tour guide was extremely friendly and did a fantastic job pointing out all the highlights, historic landmarks, and iconic buildings.
We explored the 62-acre Botanical Garden which also has a beautiful Rose Garden inside. Next we drove just a few minutes to get to the bottom of the Historic Wellington Cable Car. We were given the option to either ride the car up or stay on the bus and drive to the top. Of course we chose to take the cable car. The views at the top were surreal! You could see the city along with the ocean. It was so peaceful and such a beautiful day. We then drove along the coast admiring the beauty until we reached Mt Victoria lookout. The lookout was out on the entire city so the view was magnificent, however it was extremely windy up there. That is when we learned that Wellington is nicknamed the windy city as there are hardly any days of the year the city doesn’t get wind at all. Overall I was very pleased with the three hour sightseeing tour as it gave us a great overview of Wellington, New Zealand’s dynamic capital. It was a great introduction to the city as we were short on time. We then head back to the airport in order to return up to Auckland.
Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton
We were up extremely early this morning in order to hop on a bus down to Waitomo Caves. The morning drive gave us a beautiful sight of the countryside. Today was probably the day we were most excited about on our trip as we were planning to see two of New Zealand’s top attractions. There are three caves available to visit in Waitomo however we chose the Glowworm Cave as it had always fascinated me. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but thanks to Google I have included a picture below. The glowworms light up the caves when it is pitch black and it is an incredible sight to see. Inside the caves we first did a short tour followed by a boat ride to see even more of the Glowworms. The outside of the caves are very green and tropical as you can see in my photo above.
From Waitomo we drove towards Matamata, home of one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, the Hobbiton movie set! It is built on a family’s private farm. Peter Jackson thought this particular farm would be perfect when they were scouting locations for the film, so he approached the family and was able to build the set there. I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan (I honestly have never seen the movies), but I absolutely loved visiting the set. It’s such an incredible place and I found the amount of work and detail that went into building it was fascinating. The whole set has been left intact since filming, and you feel as though you’ve stepped into some sort of magical place. You are required to book a tour in order to explore inside however it is well worth it! Most of the hobbit houses you are not allowed to go into, however there are a few you can. The tour gives you lots of information about the land, the building, and the movies. We then went to the Green Dragon, where we were offered ginger beer, cider, and a few other drink choices. I chose to have some cider (freshly made there, I believe) and it was DELICIOUS. Following drinks we were escorted up to an enjoy a wonderful feast. Following the conclusion of the tour we hopped back on the bus in order to head to Rotorua.
Rotorua is the city to go to if you want to see New Zealand’s geothermal activity and learn about the Maori life. We were greeted with the overwhelming scent of sulphur. Rotorua is home to steaming hot springs, impressive geysers and mud pools amongst other attractions. This morning we woke up in order to go ATV Riding. I’m someone who loves adventure and adrenaline so the moment I heard you can go quad biking in New Zealand, I already had my heart set on it. It took a little convincing to get my boyfriend to join, but he had a great time as well! We were the only ones that morning so it was a very private ride with two tour guides. We rode up a huge mountain and into the forests on the other side. The scenery was stunning as on one side was Lake Rotorua while the other side was forests and mountains.
Following our morning ride we decided to go up to Skyline Rotorua. On arrival you purchase tickets to take the gondola to the top and choose whether you want to Luge your way down. We were both starving and wanted to get some food up there so we figured doing Luge after eating may not be so great. The views of the lake while going up the Gondola are stunning. You are able to see the entire city on your way up. At the top they have two options for food – a full service restaurant or a cafeteria with plenty of different food stations. We opted for the cafeteria as there was quite a bit of variety. We ate our food at one of the tables outside while enjoying the scenery. It was such a calm place and made a great afternoon to relax. After a few hours we went back to the hotel in order to get ready for our night activity.
Several years ago there was a rift within the main Maori tourist attraction, which resulted in it being split in two. On one side is Te Puia and on the other side is Whakarewarewa Village. We chose to go to Te Puia as many people recommended it and they had a free shuttle from hotel. The villagers showed us around and told us about their way of life and the significance of all the thermal activity. We were able to see a kiwi bird, which is the national emblem of New Zealand. We were then brought to Pohutu, a geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day. Upon arrival it had just started erupting which was pretty interesting to watch and take pictures. Following the activities we were invited to see Maori cultural performances, featuring traditional storytelling and entertainment. My boyfriend even went on stage to learn the Haka! We were then escorted to a dining room where we were able to taste an exquisite Maori feast prepared in the traditional Hangi style.
The following day we woke up early to take a morning cruise on the Lakeland Queen. It is the only stern wheel paddle boat and large cruising vessel on Lake Rotorua. Upon boarding we noticed that we were the only ones that were not part of a large group of Chinese tourists. We were given our own private area and sat separate from the large tour group. We thought this would interfere with our experience as their guide was not speaking English however the captain came over to great us and told us he could answer any questions that we may have. He also provided all the commentary for us in English. Since we did the morning cruise, we were provided with a breakfast buffet. It was a very nice and enjoyable way to experience Lake Rotorua.
Following the cruise we decided to go explore the Redwood Forest. We got quite a bit lost on the way there and wandered around through several restricted areas. Eventually we found a sweet guy that told us to hop into his car because he could give us a ride there. The redwood forest itself was beautiful though once we finally made it. It was a lot cooler than the hot sun we had been walking in, which was very nice. We managed to find our way to the Redwood Tree Walk which is what initially brought us to the forest. It is suspended from 100-year-old majestic redwoods and features a series of suspension bridges and decks, elevated from 6-metres to 12-metres. We did the entire walk which is 553-metres. It was fascinating being so high up without the necessity of any harness or gear. Even more of a bonus is that it is eco-friendly. In the evening we flew back up to Auckland. Since it was Thanksgiving Day back in the US we decided to go out to enjoy a nice dinner. We found a Michelin-star restaurant and had a very luxurious dinner.
We decided to do a city tour since we had yet to discover what the busiest city in New Zealand had to offer. Unfortunately it started raining, which was a bit of a bummer – however it did not stop us from exploring! We visited the Auckland Domain which is the oldest park in the city. We then stopped by the cute village of Parnell which had lots of little shops and cafe. Moving forward we came to explore Queen Street, which is probably the busiest shopping area in the city. There were many stores, restaurants, and hotels all along Queen Street. We found a cute little cafe and enjoyed an afternoon snack.
Our last day of the trip we decided to have a nice and relaxing time unwinding. We woke up early in order to explore the island of Waiheke. It was a short ferry ride from Auckland (about 30 minutes). Waiheke is known for its fantastic local food, dozens of vineyards, and beautiful beaches. On arrival we hopped on a city bus in order to tour the island. The bus made many stops along beaches and vineyards. A few of them we got off at in order to absorb the beautiful scenery. After a few hours we decided to head up to a vineyard called Wild on Waiheke. It was a huge place that was near two other vineyards (forgot their names). Once you enter their vineyards you instantly see all the amazing activities they offer. They have archery, clay shooting, giant chess, a trampoline, volleyball, and a playground for kids amongst other fun things. We got a cute little table and decided to have some lunch. Their fish and chips was outstanding. One thing we loved about Wild on Waiheke is not only is it a vineyard but it is also a brewery as well. They have a huge selection of drinks including some delicious cocktails
Overall we had an incredible vacation visiting New Zealand, even if it was just a short week. Some things to take note – yes, having a car is more convenient but it is also more costly and you lose the opportunity to mingle with other people on the bus. For our trip we went with the Intercity bus, which runs frequently and is great on getting you to your destination fairly fast. There is also another service that runs less often (but is cheaper), the NakedBus. The locals of New Zealand are some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on my travels. They go above and beyond to welcome everyone to their remarkable country. I cannot wait to return to one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited!