A whirlwind New Zealand tour

New Zealand is an action sports enthusiast and adrenaline junkie’s ideal playground, as well as a nature-lovers heaven on Earth.

Rachel and Jim left their jobs in San Diego, USA to travel the world. They spent nineteen days in New Zealand.

A19-day trip to New Zealand, to most people back in the US, sounds like an amazing, long vacation. For Jim and I, our recent trip was definitely amazing, but it sure didn't feel too long. Jim and I spent a lot of time planning our trip. What we realized was that in order to do it all, we would need to visit thirteen cities over the course of nineteen days in the North and South Islands. We hopped on Magic Bus and were off.

We drove from Auckland with Magic Bus, through the Waikato region to the Shire’s Rest Home (the movie set for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy). There were lots of sheep! We learned that there are approximately 40 million sheep in New Zealand, but only 4.4 million people.

We then arrived at our beautiful, new hostel, YHA Rotorua (highly recommended), for a late afternoon nap. We then trekked across town to the local grocery store for supplies to cook up some dinner at the hostel. The next day we headed to Hell's Gate Geothermal Park and learned about Maori culture before taking a dip in the mud baths and sulfur hot pools.

Wai-O-Tapu, Taupo

We took in some more geothermal activity and bubbling mud pots at Wai-O-tapu before watching speed-seekers on jet boats at Huka Falls Park and then we swam in a natural hot spring that flows into the Waikato River.

We arrived in Taupo late and unfortunately had to continue on with our journey very early the next morning. If we were to visit the North Island again, we would be sure to add more time to explore Taupo. Oh, we ate at Best Kabob in Taupo, and it literally was the best kabob we’ve ever had (ask for hot chili with garlic yoghurt sauce, yum)!

Waitamo, National Park

Some people on our bus chose to do the black water rafting at Cave World in Waitomo. Jim and I chose to do the walking tour of the underground glowworm caves (glowworms are actually maggots, but they can’t call them that because ticket prices would plummet). We drove through National Park Village and viewed dramatic volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe before taking a leap of faith off of Tawhai Falls, into freezing, heart stopping water.

We checked in at YHA National Park and got some rest before our planned 1:30 AM sunrise trek through Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Unfortunately, heavy rain and 65 mile per hour winds prohibited our hike. We were so disappointed, the early morning views from Red Crater are supposed to be amazing, and it has often been reviewed as the #1 day hike in the world… Bummer!


Despite our disappointment in missing the Tongariro Crossing hike, we had to keep moving. After a few hour drive we finally found some sunshine (and wind) in Wellington. We took in a quick tour of the Beehive (New Zealand’s Parliament House) and a panoramic view of the coastal city from a blustery Mount Victoria. Rachel found a hot yoga class just down the street from our hostel, YHA Wellington, and we went out for more kabob (not as good as Best Kabob in Taupo).

We loved our room at YHA Wellington! Easily the nicest hostel either of us have ever stayed at. Ultra-comfy beds, very new and clean, complimentary ground coffee beans and coffee press, chocolates, and earplugs.

Picton, Nelson

We crossed Cook Straight via a 3-hour cruise on the Interislander Ferry (equipped with café, cinema, WiFi, a magic show for the kids, and reclining lounge chairs) and caught up with Magic Bus at the Picton terminal on the South Island. We played with our camera in rows of vineyards before arriving in the artsy town of Nelson. We sweated in the infrared sauna at YHA Nelson before calling it a night.

Cape Foulwind, Greymouth

We walked Cape Foulwind coastal trail to Tauranga Bay, and visited the Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes before stopping at YHA Greymouth for the night. Jim was bummed that he didn’t get his tour and beer tasting at Monteith’s Brewery because it was closed for renovation.

Franz Josef

Franz Josef Glacier was next. We climbed up a slippery gravel trail which dropped off into icy glacier caves below. Waterfalls plummeted from vegetated canyon slopes on each side of us, funneling glacier run-off down into valley. The town often floods because of the glacier water and rainfall. Franz Josef Glacier was definitely a highlight of our trip!

Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson and Wanaka

We drove past the towering Fox Glacier and hiked to Lake Matheson in the morning for views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. We slept at YHA Wanaka, overlooking the impressive Lake Wanaka.

Arrowtown, Queenstown

We visited the birthplace of bungy, the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy—home to the original 43 meter jump. After a quick stop in the charismatic, little village of Arrowtown, we arrived in Queenstown. We hiked up the Tiki Trail (under the Gondola on Bob's Peak) and I practiced with a local yoga studio while Jim visited Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park, taking a cruise through the fiords where he saw glacier valleys and thunderous waterfalls.


We arrived in Dunedin and almost immediately went back out for our 7-hour tour with Elm Wildlife Tours. Our guides, John and Sean, took us to the Otago Peninsula where we viewed Royal Albatross, sea lions, New Zealand Fur Seals and Yellow-Eyed Penguins (found only in New Zealand). We spent the night at YHA Dunedin (a charming, historic, and supposedly haunted converted hospital nursing home).

Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo

Another early morning departure and long day of driving before stopping at Lake Pukaki for a photo of the turquoise water. We took a dip in Lake Tekapo when we arrived, before heading to bed at YHA Lake Tekapo.


Our stop in Christchurch was short, but sweet. We saw the Botanic Gardens and celebrated my birthday, enjoying a yoga class together before getting to bed early. Woke up the next day and took the bus to the airport for our next round of adventures, in Southeast Asia and Indonesia!

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