NEW ZEALAND | The Most Epic of Epic Places
‘New Zealand can be mellow or action-packed, but it’s always epic.’ (Lonely Planet)
That pretty much sums up New Zealand perfectly. No matter if you’re skydiving or walking along a beach, strolling through Redwoods or hiking a glacier, it’s always epic.
It was always one of my bucket list destinations, something about it’s cacophony of landscapes and otherworldly nature had always drawn me to it despite only seeing photos and hearing stories. The best way for me to describe it is ‘fernweh’.
‘Fernweh (German): Feeling homesick for a place you have never been to.’
My brother had a similar sort of yearning for the land of the kiwis and so when it just so happened we were both free for 2 months, we booked our plane tickets and off we went.
The plane journey itself from the UK was something like 30+ hours which is less than desirable, but my God does the country make up for it. We flew into Auckland and spent a couple of days there just having a gander around the city and some of the suburbs around it. If you’re going to Auckland do not, I repeat, DO NOT skip on the parks. Sounds a bit weird, but they’ve got some really nice parks. Both in and around the city.
But like anywhere, just strolling around the place will create a trip in itself – you need to need to have a million and one things planned out, sometimes you just have to go with the flow, you know?
Saying that, the majority of our trip revolved around the ‘Kiwi Experience’. A big green bus that roams around the North and South Islands that you can hop on and hop off of, it was pretty handy really because it gave us a basic framework but still enough freedom to make the trip are own. Henceforth, it’s something I would definitely recommend especially if you’re on a slightly restrictive schedule or want a bit more guidance for your trip.
New Zealand isn’t really the type of place to go halves on, as we’ve discussed it’s an epic place, so I see it as more of a go hard or go home. I think I took this rather literally as within 5 days of me being in the country I decided to do a skydive.
In my defence, I had been told by my other brother (who had already been to New Zealand) that if the opportunity came up to do a skydive do it and don’t hesitate. Due to the weather and conditions, especially around the time we were out there, skydives can be pretty hit and miss and I was more concerned about doing a skydive rather than where to do said skydive. So I arrived in Paihia (Bay of Islands) jumped on a plane and jumped right back out of it. As you do.
It was, possibly, one of the best things I have ever done.
So I will pass on my brother’s advice to you when it comes to skydiving: do it and don’t hesitate.
After what I think was the most appropriate way to start a ‘Kiwi Road Trip’ we headed around the rest of our Kiwi Experience bus route. Depending on the ticket you buy you can go almost wherever you want, so we stuck on the loop and began to make our way through the North Island.
I could go on and on about everywhere we went and everything we did, but that would make an extraordinary long blog post. So you get a general idea, we got the ‘Whole Kit and Caboodle’ ticket and did almost every ‘activity’ at every stop along the way – like I said, go hard or go home.
Saying that, I will briefly summarise what happened in between the skydive & Hobbiton – you read right, Middle Earth here we come. Anyways, Hot Water Beach at sunset is a MUST (it doesn’t get much better than a natural hot tub on a beach at sunset), in Waitomo you HAVE to – and I mean HAVE TO – go to the Glom Worms Caves. Really, really amazing and very fond memories. Just as an FYI, Rotorua smells weird (its because of the geothermal activity), but it’s were you can have a Tamaki Maori Village Encounter which, again, I would thoroughly recommend. And now on to Hobbiton.
A little fact for you, I have never seen ‘The Hobbit’ and only seen small glimpses of Lord of the Rings (don’t judge me). However, my brother has and he wanted to go and I couldn’t go to New Zealand without going to Hobbiton, so I tagged along. As you may have guessed, I was the only one in our tour group that had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Even still, I had a great time! It was a lovely day, the Sun was shining we got to go inside some of the holes and have a drink at the famous pub which I can no longer remember the name of – but if you’ve seen the films I’m sure you can fill in the blank. It was a slightly bewildering experience due to my lack of knowledge but it was really fascinating listening to the tour guides and witnessing the whole thing. So even if you’re not a fan of the films I would still recommend going, because it’s a lovely day out.
More on the theme of Lord of the Rings, we also did the Tongariro Crossing which I’m told part of featured at some point in one of the films. A very long day but 100% worth it for the views, they are truly spectacular.
So the crossing is near(ish) Taupo, it’s where we were based when we did the Crossing, and Taupo is amazing – another place I would 100% recommend. Very chilled out and good vibes, and skydiving there is supposed to be insane. Continuing on with our brief interlude, River Valley was our next stop and its in the middle of nowhere and it was honestly one of the best nights of my trip. Then Windy Welly, which again, is amazing (I’m sure you’re beginning to realise a theme), really good restaurants and museums and a really, really cool cinema. When we crossed to the South Island, we pretty much skipped Nelson and headed straight to Abel Tasman so that’s what I’m going to do now.
If you’re in Abel Tasman and the weather’s good and you’re feeling a bit adventurous, go and do the Kahu Kayaks. They take you in and around islands just off the coast and you get to see puffins (I think they were puffins) and seals – if you’re really lucky you get to see the seal pups who are ADORABLE – and some other wildlife which varies a bit trip by trip I’m sure. But the guides are awesome and it’s a really really great trip. While we were doing that I was reliably informed by our other friends that there’s some great walks to do as well – we actually ended up running into them whilst we were on our kayak trip.
The West Coast of the South Island was a particular highlight of mine. The landscapes across the South Island are so dramatic and you start to wonder how it all happens in such close proximity. In Westport there’s a lot of beaches, similar to Abel Tasman, and it’s great for surfing then you start to drive South and you find ‘Pancake Rocks’ and these really dramatic cliffs. Then you head through Greymouth and Lake Mahinapua which is a completely different visual, much more barren (if that’s the right word to use, it might not be but we’ll go with it) and then you get to Franz Josef. This place is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Where we stayed kind of reminded me of Center Parcs in a way, if Center Parcs was in a frozen over Jurassic Park (the frozen bit being the glacier). It was insane. And it is also the place I hiked a glacier.
This easily makes my top 3 New Zealand experiences.
It started with a helicopter ride, and I had never been in a helicopter so that alone made it a pretty epic day. They take you from their base which is in the Center Parcs type situation, you go up and start the flight and it’s full of epic views and then you come around the corner of one of the mountains and you see the glacier and it’s actually breath taking. It genuine felt like I was in a movie. Unbelievable.
By the time you’re back in reality, they’ve landed the helicopter and you need to get off said helicopter. So everyone waddles off and stands in the ‘safe zone’ to put the crampons on while the helicopter disappears into the distance. And then you start the hike. They guides lead you in and around, and because we were the first group of the day they had to make a lot of the paths as we went. Due to the fact the glacier is constantly moving, the routes change day to day which was something I did not know. So like I said they take you in and around, up and down through caves and crevasses and it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.
Now from one exciting thing to the next. Bungy Jumping.
I was not planning on doing a Bungy Jump, I had previously won vouchers to do a Canyon Swing and thought that would be enough. And I stood by that until we got to the AJ Hackett HQ just outside Queenstown.
Some may say I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky, and I can (apparently) be easily swayed by a good promotional video. If you put a clip of someone jumping off a bridge with an intense, epic song in the background in front of me, I will give you all my money. And you guessed it, that’s exactly what happened at the AJ Hackett HQ.
Now if I was a normal person, I would’ve booked in to do the 40m or 43m bungy jump. However, as I said earlier this was a go big or go home trip. So, I booked the Nevis Bungy Jump which, if you didn’t know, is 134m. That’s an 8.5 second free fall over a very, very deep canyon.
I did the other Canyon Swings (in Shotover Canyon – different location to the Nevis Bungy) before this bungy jump as a warm up, you know, I though it would ease the pressure of the Nevis Bungy. It didn’t.
Nothing will prepare you for it.
But it’s one of the best things you’ll ever do. I promise.
My brother gave me the same advice for the bungy jump as he did for the skydive, do I’m going to do the same to you.
Do it and don’t hesitate.
Everything else about Queenstown you’ve heard is true, go to Fergburger, do all the crazy stuff that is just normal when you’re there. Play frisbee golf in the park, do the hikes. Just do it all.
The same goes for the rest of New Zealand really, I could sit here for another 2000 words telling you where to do and what to do in even more detail. But I won’t, I will however leave you some pictures below to have a browse through just in case you needed anymore tempting.
All I will say is, if you ever get the chance to go to New Zealand, do it and don’t hesitate.