2017 is going to be an exciting year of traveling for us considering we’re aiming to beat our 19 country tour in 2016. To kick off the year we decided to explore the beautiful south island of New Zealand. Like the majority of our trips, we didn’t have much of a plan so we’re going to highlight our route and provide a few recommendations from what we learned during our short ten days in New Zealand.
We know people don’t like to read as much these days so we brought along two drones, a ground camera, two DSLRs and a 360 camera to help share our experience with you.
We’ll start with a recap video and 360 experience followed by a few recommendations.
360 VIDEO EXPERIENCE
IMPORTANT TO KNOW
APPLY FOR VISA IN ADVANCE (unless you’re flying a direct route to NZ)
As United States citizens, we take a lot of our freedoms for granted and while there are plenty of countries around the world that open their doors on a moment’s notice, others require a few days of lead-time to acquire a visa; in our case, our connecting country, Australia. That said, if you have an Aussie connection on your way to NZ, you need the ETA visa (Electronic Travel Authority subclass 601).
We’re working on a post about our experience with the ETA, but we’ll summarize it and just tell you that you need one. You can apply for the Australian tourist ETA here.
On to our recommendations…
WHEELS DOWN IN CHRISTCHURCH
We landed in Christchurch, rented a car and ventured out to Port Hills for sunset (pictured above).
Although we landed in Christchurch (the country’s largest city) to start our road trip, our recommendation is to start things off in Queenstown so our below recommendation starts there and plays our route in reverse.
Note: there’s an incredible amount to do and see in this country so if you’re only spending around ten days, we recommend spending more time in the southwest and west side of the island.
A COUPLE DAYS IN QUEENSTOWN
We loved everything about Queenstown and ended up staying a couple extra nights. We’re big into adrenaline inspired experiences and Queenstown provided more than enough opportunity during our visit. We also came across a few experiences that we’re looking forward to during a return visit.
In addition to extreme sports, Queenstown is a great place to sit back, relax and appreciate the surreal views of the city and surrounding lakes and mountains. There’s no shortage of park space or areas to sit outside and enjoy a local beer.
A few must do experiences are bungee jumping (at arguably the world’s first ever bungee location), mountain biking and paragliding. If those don’t interest you, there is a full menu of experiences around every corner so you’ll want to stop by one of the many shops downtown to find the activities that excite you the most.
The world’s first bungee location is in New Zealand so we felt that we had to start there. We loved everything about the experience and we’re looking forward to its newer, big brother jump site when we return.
Out of all the experiences we had in New Zealand, mountain biking was the most extreme and entertaining. We thought our DJI OSMO bike mounted camera would allow us to capture the experience, but there was too much movement to keep the camera steady so we don’t have much usable video content. If you’re looking for an adrenaline boosting activity visit the crew at Vertigo Bikes and rent a premium downhill bike for a half day. You’ll definitely appreciate the upgrade while speeding down one of the best trails we’ve been on.
Paragliding was fairly relaxing compared to mountain biking and bungee jumping. A majority of the experience is admiring the scenery you’re flying above, but you’ll also have moments where you can feel the increased g-force against your body. If you’re into that like we are, ask and you shall receive.
A DAY AT MILFORD SOUND
After a couple adventurous days in Queenstown, we recommend heading to Milford Sound. Driving there is going to take you about four hours but it’s a must-do experience while in New Zealand. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring places we have ever been.
We’d originally planned on kayaking but the only way to do that was to join a guided tour. We’re not really into group tours so we passed on kayaking and took a relaxing ferry ride while capturing footage on the ground cameras and 360 camera.
Half way through the ferry ride, we encountered a few playful dolphins that casually approached our boat and eventually led their way to the front as if they were asking for a race. You can watch the highlights below.
Including the drive, plan on dedicating a full day to Milford Sound. The round-trip drive from Queenstown is eight hours and after a long day on the road we decided to break it up and stay at an Airbnb in the quaint lakeside town of Te Anau for the night.
If you’re interested in group tours at Milford Sound you’ll have to arrive pretty early so we recommend staying in Te Anau the night before you go. If you go this route your early morning drive will only be two hours instead of four. When you’re done at Milford Sound you can decide to stay an extra night in Te Anau or make the four-hour drive back to Queenstown.
STOPPING IN WANAKA
Wanaka is about an hour away from Queenstown and is a great little town to post up and relax. There are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from that are located across the street from a very photogenic lake. If you’re into photography you have to stop by the most photographed tree we’ve ever seen; The Wanaka Tree. We expected it to be in a difficult spot to find, but it’s an easy walk from downtown right on the lake. You’ll know that you arrived when you see dozens of other people with cameras taking pictures of something in the lake. Check out our 360 time lapse of our experience.
DECISION TIME ON WHERE TO GO
Depending on the number of days you have left you can choose to continue up the west coast or head to Mount Cook after Wanaka. We’re pretty bummed that we missed the Mount Cook area, but now that we know a better route, we’ll be visiting that area during our return visit.
The drive to Mount Cook from Wanaka is 2.5 hours. To get back to the west coast you’ll need to backtrack 2.5 hours to Wanaka and then another two hours to reach the west coast in Haast. From Haast, you’ll have another two hour drive to our next recommendation, Josef Franz.
A DAY IN JOSEF FRANZ
Josef Franz is 3.5 hours from Wanaka and a small town with glacial activities. The main attractions in the area are the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. We decided to spend a couple hours hiking the trail to Franz Josef but found out you can’t actually walk on the glacier unless you take a helicopter tour.
We spent a few hours on a glacier during our road trip through Iceland so we opted out of the $450 helicopter experience. Even though we were looking forward to walking on the glacier, the valley walk was still a great experience. The trail is along a roaring river with lush forests on each side and a couple waterfalls. The actual hike is quite short, but we decided to take our time throughout the walk to sit down and talk. We’re all about those mind hikes!
After a day of exploring, make sure to check out the local hot pools.
Two hours north of Franz Josef is one of the most majestic places in New Zealand. The Hokikita Gorge has the most vibrant blue water we’ve seen. The short hike through the forest provides stunning views of the gorge and even a swing bridge that adds to the visually stimulating experience. If your road trip has you going up the west coast, this is a must do.
DECISION TIME ON WHERE TO GO, AGAIN
Our favorite part of the west coast ends at Hokitika Gorge. There are other popular areas to explore to the north of Hokitika, like Pancake Rock and Arthur’s Pass to the east on your way to Christchurch.
If you’re looking for a little variety then we would recommend flying to Auckland from Hokitika. We really enjoyed Auckland and can see why Monocle named it the 22nd most livable city in the world. Another advantage of visiting Auckland is the ability to explore Hobbiton. If you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan this might be your main stop while visiting the north island of New Zealand.
A COUPLE NIGHTS IN AUCKLAND
After a short flight from Queenstown, we decided to explore the nightlife in Auckland. While we were out, we met a group of locals who graciously took us around to a variety of bars downtown. Some were well-known bars and others were hidden gems, but the highlight of our evening tour was chatting about their favorite experiences while living in New Zealand. It’s easy to fall in love with a country you haven’t been to before, especially one as beautiful as New Zealand, so it’s always nice to hear opinions of locals.
After a couple nights in Auckland, we departed New Zealand with an even greater appreciation of the outdoors, our freedom to explore it and a handful of new friends who live 7,300 miles away from us. It’s safe to say that our first trip of 2017 dominantly set the bar for our remaining experiences of the year.
One of our favorite spots that we stayed was the Hilton in Queenstown. Nothing beats being adventurous all day and then returning to where you’re staying to relax. We only planned on staying at the Hilton for one night but ended up staying an additional two nights because we liked it so much. Below is a little 360 experience from our favorite part – getting ready for the sauna and then a little hot tub action.