For a long time now New Zealand has been on our bucket list but has always been one of those ‘out of reach’ places. Especially from the UK but one of the most amazing things about living in Japan is that we have been opened up to the world and as each year goes by we have become braver and smarter!
It all started when I found great flight to Auckland with Fiji Airways. The route there was a bit long with a short layover in Nadi but we used that to our advantage on the way back, planning a three day stopover in Fiji to finish our trip. The entire cost of the three flights; Tokyo to Auckland and back through Nadi, was 135,000yen for two people which equated to around £950 at the time- a no brainer really.
With that we had a lot of planning to do and after a huge amount of research we decided to spend our limited time in New Zealand as follows: 2 days in Auckland, 7 days driving in the South Island from Queenstown to Christchurch and it was busy, but 100% perfect for the time we had!
Day 1-2: Auckland
We had booked to stay in an Airbnb just north of Auckland for the first part of our trip. We were on a budget and we found the most beautiful property by the beach. It was an Airbnb Plus property owned by the most amazing host Conny. It was a private room in her home with private access, garden and bathroom. It was our first time using Airbnb and we loved it! It was the perfect introduction to New Zealand for us. Conny greeted us and showed us around our bright and airy room looking out on the private garden. She answered all our questions and even gave Rob a birthday present, which was a lovely touch. That evening she actually left us to go and visit her husband working up north at the time and so we had the whole property to ourselves for the 2 night stay. It was homely and a 5 minute walk from the beach with plenty of restaurant and food options around. I could not recommend this property enough.
We had limited time in Auckland so we chose to spend our time visiting one of the many movie sets from the Lord of the Rings called Hobbiton. It was Rob’s choice and so for our one full day in the North Island that is where we headed…
It was great visiting the homes of the Hobbits and it turns out we are just the right height to fit in! We finished off the tour with a cider in the Green Dragon- Hobbiton’s very own pub.
Day 3-4: Queenstown
We headed down to the south island for the remainder of our New Zealand adventure flying with Air New Zealand. We chose to spend two nights in Queenstown first staying in the Sherwood Hotel.
What we loved about this hotel is that everything was recycled. The furniture was made out of recycled metal, the bedding was recycled from military fabrics but most of all you could borrow a range of board games. Rob, being a fan of Trivial Pursuit was eager for a game… just a shame I won.
Queenstown is certainly a beautiful place. We decided to leave Riker (our trusty Toyota Yaris) at the hotel and walk into town as it was such a sunny day. The views are breathtaking and it actually ended up taking us 90mins instead of the 45mins it was supposed to because we had to keep stopping! Neither of us were complaining though.
Day 5: Arrowtown and Wanaka
This day was the day we packed up the car and headed on our first day of our road trip. We decided to stop on the way to Wanaka, in a small frontier town called Arrowtown. It takes about 20-30mins to get there from Queenstown and as we set off early, we managed to get a parking space with no problems at all.
It is a quiet, quaint town with lots of ‘Frontier charm’.
After some breakfast and a lovely walk around we headed over to Wanaka via Crown Range Rd which is definitely an interesting ride. The roads include some stomach churning turns if you don’t happen to be driving a 4×4 but the views from the peaks are totally worth it!
After a couple of photo stops, we arrived in Wanaka and it was perfect! I fell in love Wanaka instantly, even just the drive into this tiny lakeside town was perfect.
Wanaka is a small town that is full of eateries and coffee shops and the lake is just beautiful, perfect for a swim on a hot day.
We had booked to stay at the Ramada Resort which included a full suite and pool access. The room was huge with a large living room, kitchenette space, a separate bedroom and full bathroom. It had everything we needed for self catering which was great!
Before our trip, I had researched a really unusual cinema called ‘Cinema Paradiso’ in Wanaka. It was a local cinema that had sofas and arm chairs instead of the usual cinema seating. There were some normal seating but with cushions but the best thing about it was you could drink beer and there was an intermission where they served fresh baked cookies! Rob wanted to watch Captain Marvel so what better place to watch it than here…
Day 6: Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo
This was the day I was most excited about. We drove to Lake Tekapo with a detour up the highway 80 to Mount Cook National park and around Lake Pukaki. It is one of the most instagrammed routes and so I had pretty high expectations but it did not disappoint, even if it was a cloudy day.
Lake Tekapo was also a surprise… it reminded me of Scotland with the beautiful shaded mountains and thistles everywhere but the weather was definitely warmer… and drier. In spring the surrounding coast is covered with Lupins but as we went in autumn there was only one or two around. We found one still standing but I would love to see it in full bloom some day.
We stayed the night at Lake Tekapo in what Rob and I dubbed ‘the pod’. It was a little cabin on a hill near the lake which was spacious and full of all the amenities you would need as well as being beautifully decorated. You can book it via Booking.com called ‘Simply Stunning Studio 2 Apartment’.
Day 7: Springfield
This day was a travel day, used as a stopover on the way to Kaikoura. We chose this spot with the intention of going to Arthur’s Pass but it turns out Riker was not that great going up hills. If you are going to hire a car in the South Island and plan on taking the scenic routes, get a car with a bit of power… just a tip. In the end we used it as a rest night in a place that was quite literally a street in the middle of absolutely nowhere except for a few motels, a cafe/shop and a park with a Simpson donut. Yes you heard me correctly, a very, very random tribute to the Simpson’s.
We stayed in our first motel this night, locally run by mum of four Amber which was creatively called ‘Springfield Motel’. She was so welcoming, making us feel right at home straight away and the room was perfect with a spa bath… bonus. There may not be much there, but Springfield scenery is still not half bad.
Day 8: Kaikoura
After our random night in Springfield, we headed north to Kaikoura finally making it to the coast. Kaikoura is famous for its nature, particularly for seeing seals, whales and albatrosses. Unfortunately it was really cloudy but we tried to make the most of it.
We even tried to get some picturesque shots of ourselves but it didn’t quite go to plan.
After a much desired and much enjoyed fish and chips, we headed to our B&B called Te Mahuru Retreat where we had a private hotel room with a shared kitchen and lounge area. It was a little out of town but perfect if you have a car.
Day 9- Whale Watching and Christchurch
We woke up bright an early to get ready for our 10am whale watching cruise for our last full day in the South Island. It was cloudy again and we weren’t feeling too optimistic but we headed down to find out if it was still going ahead! It was an adventure to say the least and an adventure we will never… ever repeat. Look out for the blog post all about that but let’s just say that before we set off on our last drive to Christchurch, we had to stay still on solid ground for about an hour just to recover.
We finally arrived in Christchurch around mid-afternoon and had just enough time to check into our motel room at Arthur Court’s Motel and Lodge before meeting some of Rob’s family for dinner. We forgot to take some photos of it but we highly recommend this place, it was beautifully decorated, extremely cheap, well located and the staff were really helpful.
That evening we went for a Sunday roast with Rob’s cousin Paul and his wife Andrea who he hadn’t seen for 17 years and I hadn’t met at all. They used to live in the UK but emigrated to New Zealand and he hadn’t seen them since. It was so nice getting to know them and hopefully we will stay in touch.
Day 10: Christchurch and Auckland
This day was our last day on the South Island. We had a 3:00pm flight back to Auckland so we spent the morning exploring Christchurch. After the earthquake the town was badly affected and even after 8 years, it has still struggled to rebuild itself. It is a pretty place though and the range street art across the city is worth walking around for alone.
We walked around, enjoying the sights like Regency street and punting down the river, then finishing off in the botanical gardens where we had parked the car.
As we headed over to the gardens, we happened to come across rows and rows of flowers, cards and dedications to the people who lost their lives in the mosque attack that had happened on March 15th. It was purely accidental that we came across it but it was incredibly moving and inspirational to see how such a small city could send such a powerful message across the world about unity and peace.
The feeling around the whole city echoed the memorial with some beautiful posters…
With that we finished off with a stroll around the gardens before heading to the airport for our flight to Auckland.
For our last night in Auckland we decided to stay in an airport hotel called Naumi Airport hotel. It is a really funky place!
With the best signs…..
And it was the perfect end to our New Zealand adventure. A tip for anyone who wants to stay book a stay here, if you book direct with the hotel, you get free airport transfers and breakfast.
We had the most amazing time on our New Zealand adventure for a number of reasons. First New Zealand’s scenery is unparalleled and can only be seen with your own eyes to believe it. The first 3 days of driving, I literally had my camera glued to my face and my mouth wide open. Secondly, it was just nice to drive again and have the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted again. Thirdly the people of New Zealand are so laid back and chilled making it such a great place to relax and explore. We will definitely be planning to come back some day to visit the rest of this beautiful place. We had limited time but we achieved what we set out to achieve and we have no regrets.
Before heading back to Tokyo, we had a three day layover in Fiji but that’s for another post so I’ll leave this post here with some left over more personal memory pictures from one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Bye for now.