Exploring New Zealand

May 25, 2018

It’s true when they say that it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. New Zealand turned out to be extraordinarily unreal and magnificent. We spent endless hours on the road traveling all the way from the North to South Island; from woodlands, to snowy mountains, to coast lines to grass lands, and deep blue lakes, I think there was no other way to truly see New Zealand for what a magnificent earthly beauty it really is.

Coming from Europe’s picturesque towns and structures in the previous month, there were still countless times I found myself in great awe; New Zealand was quite incomparable to any place I’ve seen for it is was a godly testament of how truly wonderful and amazing this world and Mother Nature is.

Landing in Franz Josef Glacier
Mornings in Queenstown
How we got to New Zealand

Mari invited me along to their family trip in the winter. They had this trip planned several months back while I just decided to come with two months ago. “If not now, then when?”, is what I kept telling myself to justify coming with this trip.

They flew in with a direct flight from Manila to Auckland via Philippine Airlines. I went on Skyscanner to check airline rates and got a good deal with Airasia since a direct flight at the time I was booking would have been a lot more costly. Although I was in transit for almost 24 hours and had multiple layovers (in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia and Gold Cost, Australia) before arriving at Auckland, the flight was still bearable and I got some decent sleep.

I arrived in New Zealand around 4pm on the 25th of May. Mari and family arrived 2 hours earlier than me.

They had their whole Itinerary planned out and prepared already. Basically, we started in North Island and worked our way down to South Island exploring places along the way until we reached our final destination, Queenstown.

Checking out the geysers before a Maori cultural show in Te Puia  
Magically transported into The Shire where Hobbits roam the Middle Earth
How many days we spent in New Zealand

Here is our 2-week itinerary in New Zealand. I’ll go over this quickly here and will talk a little more about each activity or place as we go along with this post. I had 12 days in New Zealand and it was quite sufficient already. Towards the end of the trip, we found ourselves to have enough time to just relax and not rush on a schedule.

NORTH ISLAND

Day 1: Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand. Took a 5-hour drive to Rotorua where our cabin by the lake was located

Day 2: Exploring Rotorua; Te Puia Center for Maori Arts cultural experiences and geothermal geysers, then visit Lake Taupo in the afternoon.

Day 3: 2-hour drive to Hobbiton Movie Set

Day 4: Depart Rotorua for a 6-hour drive to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. We were supposed to catch a ferry to depart to South Island on the same day but due to unforeseen weather conditions, we had to stay the night in Wellington. Luckily, this gave us the chance to visit the  Museum of New Zealand and the famous Weta Cave where we got to do a 45-min the Weta Studio Tours featuring props, costume, and creative film development of famous films such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Avatar and many more.

SOUTH ISLAND

Day 5: Board the ferry for a 3-hour ride to South Island and arrive at Picton. Continue to drive to Nelson for an overnight stay.

Day 6: Depart Nelson for a 6-hour drive to Fox Glacier. Stopped by Punakaiki Pancake Rocks on the way.

Day 7: 30-min helicopter ride to Franz Josef Glacier, walk to Lake Matheson; the famous mirror lake, Fox Glacier access point for a quick view of the scenery

Day 8: Depart Fox Glacier for a 4-hour drive to Queenstown. Quick stop at Lake Wanaka for lunch.

Day 9: Depart Queenstown at 5am for a 4-hour drive Milford Sound for the Milford Sound Cruise. Best day ever.

Day 10: Explored Queenstown, and tried our luck to chase southern lights.

Day 11: Visited Arrowtown, failed to reach Coromandel Peak(because you need another helicopter ride), instead we had lunch at Lake Wanaka again and enjoyed my last night in Queenstown

Day 12: Visited the town of Glenorchy, my flight out of Queenstown and New Zealand in the evening.

Stepping into the lush pasteurs of  Hobbiton movie set located within the 12 acre Alexander family sheep farm was such a charm
There’s just something about visiting sets that allow you to experience the make-believe world of your favourite films
Disembarking a 3-hour ferry and arriving in South Island
Finding lookouts on the way to Fox Glacier
Quick visit at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks somewhere between Greymouth and Westport on our way to Fox Glacier
Our helicopter ride to Franz Josef Glacier was so surreal
Crossing bridges and doing walks in the wilderness with my @cabinzero backpack
Peaceful and perfect scenery at Lake Matheson, the famous mirror lake. 

My @cabinzero backpack all the way with me throughout the entire trip. I appreciate the heavy-duty function and multi-compartments which fit everything I need on the plane, and during our day-to-day adventures.

At the access point to Franz Josef Glacier in Fox Glacier 

My Tips on Exploring New Zealand

Visa. New Zealand requires a VISA. I got mine processed by my go-t0 travel agency in Manila who has also processed my Schengen Visa in the past years; Adam’s Express Travel (+02 521 1651). I just had to submit the usual required documents for Visa application such as bank certificates, birth certificate, proof of employment, itinerary, accommodations, flights, etc.  A personal appearance was not required. It was fast and convenient; my Visa was processed within a week and the agency simply mailed me back my passport with my visa.

Pre-plan your Itinerary. Read and research about the places you really want to visit, locate them on Google Maps and plan your way from one place to another. Most destinations in New Zealand are quite far from each other that would require hours of traveling so it is important not to waste time getting lost or not knowing what to do. If you are only there for a limited amount of time, narrow down your choices and make sure your itinerary is feasible for the amount of time you are spending in New Zealand. In our case, we worked on our itinerary from North Island and made our way to South Island. I highly recommend doing this route because as you make your way down the map, the scenery just keeps getting more and more beautiful.

Take note, New Zealand is not quite like most urban countries and cities where transportation is quick, fast, and always available. So read and research also on how you are going to transport yourself around the country.

The view of Lake Wanaka En route to Queenstown; we just had to stop for this view

Getting Around New Zealand. It takes a lot longer to get to places than you think. We really dedicated a full day just to travel from one point to another. There may be several options such as bus tours, hop-on-and-off buses, planes(there are 25 domestic airports in NZ), etc. Planes are usually a quick and cost-effective way to travel long distances (usually between the North Island and South Island). There is also an option to take a train network, but it is quite limited and small thus making it an unpopular way to travel here. Your choice of transport will depend on how quickly you want to get from point to point. There was a day where we spent 7 hours on the road when we drove from Nelson to Fox Glacier.

We were a big group of 12 people including children so renting our own vehicle was ideal so we could also control and hold our time without the stress of trying to chase time. We rented a Mercedes Sprinter via www.maugers.com; they are the only specialist minivan and coach rental company in the country. It comfortably sits all 12 of us through our long hours of transport and unbelievably fit all our items of luggage. We picked it up at the airport upon arriving in Auckland and left it at Queenstown airport upon departure. Basically, this van was with us for 12 days straight and all through-out our adventures in New Zealand from North Island to South Island.

Before you set out on your New Zealand holiday, make sure you know what to expect so read and do your research! Driving in New Zealand may be different from what you’re used to, from rules and etiquette to road conditions. Mari and his twin brother took turns driving the van for the entire family.

International License? Nope, they didn’t have one. The rental company didn’t look for one but double check with your source first.

Personally, I would love to further elevate my New Zealand experience when I come back someday and try out campervans or motorhomes.

The view from Queenstown at sundown

Wifi and Internet Connection. For Google Maps to work, of course, you need portable wifi. I was a tad bit sad when my Tep Wireless device wasn’t available yet in NZ so Mari and I opted to buy sim cards at the airport upon arrival that provided a certain amount of gigabytes for cellular data. We just bought them at the airport at a reasonable price. If you opt to buy a sim card, I recommend you bring an extra phone and use it as a hotspot device so you wouldn’t have to change your existing sim card and not miss messages directed to your number. We just made sure to limit the use of data when it is not really necessary (such as viewing other people’s Instagram Stories or uploading our own) so we don’t carelessly use up our available data. Restaurants and our accommodations (except that lake house in Rotoroa, where there was zero connection everywhere) provided wifi too so this is the time when we would freely upload, post, browse, and even play PUB-G.

You may opt to rent wireless wifi as well if you find a good supplier. You really need an internet connection when traveling across New Zealand. Do not dare not having atleast 2 options; have your main source + back up.

Finding our way around New Zealand. Google Maps was a huge life saver! Honestly would not have known how we could have navigated effortlessly without Google Maps. We simply entered where we are heading next such as the name of our hotel or the town we were heading to. Probably half of the trip, I sat upfront next to the driver’s seat especially when Mari was driving and took responsibility for navigating and checking the map from time to time. It was relatively easy as the roads were spacious, had several signs, and usually we just had to keep going straight on the main road until we reached the next town.

Anywhere I go, I highly recommend using Google Maps!

Playlist. As navigator, you are also required to provide music for everyone to enjoy and keep the driver awake. lol. Have your offline playlist on standby in Spotify. Here’s one of the ones I used for our trip:

You may also find some tracks here that I used for my Instagram Stories/Highlights of New Zealand trip.

Frosty mornings on the way to Milford Sound

Arriving at Milford Sound My favorite day yet was cruising through cascading waterfalls and towering icy peaks in Milford Sound[/caption]

Lookout for lookouts. This is one great and cost-free way to witness the countless breathtaking sceneries New Zealand has to offer. If you are on Google Maps, it usually lets you see if there are nearby lookouts that you could pass while you are driving to your next destination. Lookouts also give you a chance to stretch those legs after hours of being on the road.

Best time to visit. First, it would be best to consider what your agenda is into visiting this country. 

We visited New Zealand in the winter and take note that their winter season is from June until August. Coming from a tropical country, the cold temperatures definitely added that extra touch of fascination for us Filipinos as mountain ranges and some areas became snow-covered. I mostly also miss being warm and bundled up with the entire family inside our wooden lodges and how it was also sometimes a struggle to stay warm when we are outdoors. I personally enjoyed making myself a cup of hot chocolate every night. 

New Zealand’s summer months are December to February, bringing warm temperatures and a lot of sunshine. Days are long and sunny, nights are mild. Summer is an excellent time for outdoor activities such as swimming, sunbathing, surfing, boating, and camping.

New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly. Because of this, you should be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you are planning on hiking or doing outdoor activities. Because New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, the average temperature decreases as you travel south and we really witness this as we went on with our itinerary. 

What to pack. Regardless which season you intend to visit, your luggage must contain convenient and practical clothing such as a warm jacket, comfortable footwear for the outdoors, and pieces you can use for unexpected temperature change such as raincoats, thermals, and what not. Consider your itinerary as well and always check the weather prior to your trip.

Since we were traveling in the winter, I had the following items with me:
-two pairs of Uniqlo Heattech for my base layer
– two thin turtleneck tops
– 2 knitted sweaters
– a lightweight cotton jacket, to keep me warm even when indoors or inside the car
– a parka jackaet
– a quilted jacket
– a bubble jacket
– three pairs of jeans
– gloves, beannie, sunglasses
– warm socks, they also come handy even when we were just inside our lodge
– 1 pair of sneakers to stay comfortable during long drives
– 1 pair of knee-high boots for dressier settings
– 1 pair of Palladium boots for hiking and walking in the snow

The view of charming little Queenstown behind me


We didn’t intend to go hiking or do other outdoor activities but if we spontaneously planned on doing so, at least I was prepared. I brought a variety of items because the weather wasn’t consistent. There were some days I could just wear a few layers of thin clothing

How many days? Whatever season you decide to go, there is so much to see and visit in New Zealand. I would highly recommend you visit and stay no less than a week’s time. If you could do two weeks in New Zealand, that would be more than sufficient already but refering to our itinerary, 9-10 days is already enough to travel from North Island to South Island. 

Pre-plan your accommodations because it saves you time and cost. We rented homes/cabins that provided enough space for the family. As a huge group, we highly needed a kitchen so we could cook breakfast and dinner at times. We only spent one night at a hotel, and this was only because our ferry’s trip was canceled in Wellington. Most of our accommodations were homes or cabin houses which were mostly pre-booked via Booking.com. I loved the charm of our accommodations as they featured something unique about staying in New Zealand.

10 Days summarised in a few minutes. Sharing the beauty of New Zealand through this short video of our trip.

Where We Stayed

1. 6496 Rotoehu Holiday Haven – Our first home where we spent 3 nights. Getting here took a while as it was almost like going up the mountain. Unlike the rest of our other accommodations, this one was quite isolated in the woods and overlooking Lake Rotoehu and the only one that had a fireplace which was a great touch because it was cold in the winter. The downside was that this place had no wifi connection, even our cellular data and signal was at zero.

2. Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park, 10 Fearon Street, Motueka, 7120, New Zealand – We only had one night here but we loved the modern amenities yet cozy feel of this 3 bedrooms wooden apartment. The kitchen had great amenities and I appreciate the common/dinning area we had which allowed us to bond over Monopoly at night. You can also find parking space outside for camper vans which I found cool.

3. Fox Glacier Lodge, Fox Glacier, 41 Sullivan Road, PO Box 22 Fox Glacier, 7859, New Zealand – My personal favorite. We had three individual cabins, so 4 people shared one Cabin.  The place was so cozy yet it had all the amenities. I really enjoyed the wooden and rustic feel of the cabins, something like straight out of a movie. We had a common kitchen/dinning area outside where we grilled steak and prepared breakfast; you would just have to step out in the cold for a while to get to this. Best part? The mountain view towards the glacier valley was the first thing you see when you step out in the morning. I also enjoyed the heated mattress feature which was great because it was so cold.

4. Pinewood Lodge, Queenstown – A village of houses big and small, nestled into the mountain side, surrounded by stunning vistas, grand pines, and open grassy areas, yet it was just seven-minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. The rooms were a bit small though and we didn’t have enough space for our luggage, nevertheless, it was a good place to stay in.

Having Mixed Berries Pancakes at Pancake Rocks Cafe

Food. Meals are quite pricey in NZ considering they don’t really taste much. Quality and size are great but I can’t really pinpoint what was so unique and distinct with their “cuisine”. Maybe this also had something to do of me being such a foodie where local dishes really make up my experience. You will although find good coffee! I always find myself looking for a cup of warm mocha every day to keep me warm and awake as well especially when I was navigating. Most of the time, we just stop to eat where it is convenient. I think we only had the luxury of time to pick and explore where to eat when we arrived in Queenstown, but even then, I wasn’t able to really remember how something particularly tasted.

When we can, we would usually do groceries in Countdown( you will find this almost in any town, as well as Warehouse beside it; our personal fave to find anything and everything at good rates from clothing, home accessories, beauty products, souvenirs, etc. I personally hoarded stationary, they were just too cute!) and opt to cook breakfast our dinner when we can. There were several nights where we cooked steak or roasted chicken, I enjoyed this very much too as it gathered us well in the kitchen and helped in whatever way we can to prepare our meals.

After all, I don’t think you mainly go to NZ to eat.

Having a mix of fresh seafood from a restaurant by a yacht club on our way to Nelson

Although there were a few places that I did enjoy such as the following:

  1. Patagonia Ice Cream, Queenstown. This is the place to go to for handcrafted chocolates, mouth-watering ice cream, and decadent desserts. We ate here thrice because we loved the Ice Cream so much. I honestly enjoyed their ice cream more here than the Italian Gelatos I had in Italy for some reason.
  2. Jervois Steak House, Queenstown. Mari and I decided to have date night alone from everyone at this authentic and premium fine dining steak house. I forgot which steak we had exactly but we ordered truffle fries and JSH creamed spinach with it. Oh, and we also had fresh oysters. Awesome.
  3. Fergburger, Queenstown. This well-known busy joint is world famous for high-end, inventive burgers made with beef, chicken & other exotic proteins was always packed and had a waiting line night or day. We tried to see if the hype was really about these being one of the best burgers ever. Our verdict? It was okay. Itt was juicy, tasty, and satisfying but I wasn’t just blown away. It was worth trying though or maybe I should have tried something else but how can you go wrong with a classic choice of a hamburger “The Fergburger”? Quite memorable allo as we just had a bunch of these for taking out when we were so hungry and ate it in the car as we tried to chase some Southern Lights. I would have to say that their fries and hand-cut onion rings were awesome though paired their aoili sauce.
  4. Pedro’s House of Lamb, Queenstown. They say this place is one of the best to get roasted lamb in town. You can enjoy this slow cooked lamb with scalloped potatoes. This is only for takeaway so we had this for one night at our lodge paired with self-roasted chicken wings.
  5. Pancake Rocks Cafe, Punakaiki. You can’t visit the Pancake Rocks and not eat pancakes, right? They also have good pizza and coffee! You’ll find this cafe just right at the main road, across the entrance to Pinakaiki Pancake Rocks.
  6. Alchemy Cafe, Wine & Bar. This charming cafe with a lake-front view of Lake Wanaka has a great selection of coffee, pastries, and breakfast. You can also enjoy wine and tapas here at night, I bet it would be a lovely setting to watch the lake at night. We stopped here on our way to Queenstown. The boys were glued to watching an NBA game on the bar next door so I stumbled upon this cafe to get coffee to warm me up. What I loved about this was their use of local ingredients, fairtrade coffee, a friendly atmosphere. The interiors are quite cozy as well.
  7. Subway, anywhere. Not sure why I greatly enjoyed having Subway in NZ. We find them in almost any town and it was convenient. I’m not usually the type to order from a fast food chain especially when you can find this back home in the Philippines but for some reason, I kept ordering salami + ham + 2 kinds of cheese + Italian Sauce even after we had Turkish kebabs in Wanaka for lunch.
Getting mud all over our feet at Lake Wanaka. The view was worth it though.
My last day in New Zealand, we stopped at this view on our way to Glenorchy from Queenstown.

It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough—to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go. — Anthony Bourdain.

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