Last weekend I was supposed to attended a wedding. I was feeling pretty run down and exhausted from my crazy busy last month so at the last minute I bailed. In hindsight it was actually a really good thing as a couple significant and crappy things happened that weekend and I was able to be around and help/support my family. When I told Graham I couldn’t come to his wedding he was very nice about it and in lieu of attendance asked me for some NZ recommendations for their honeymoon. We all know that I LOVE NZ and love talking about it so I took this request seriously and put together a document that was almost for sure more than what he was expecting or wanting.
They were kind of after things that were free or not too expensive. So I kind of broke things down into how much they cost as well. I also split it into North and South Island. I only did places we actually went so I could personally attest to their awesome-ness. Also all the photos are photos I took, not ones from websites or anything. So they are pictures of the actual places we saw and that you can get to as a general tourist.
I thought that maybe other people might be interested in reading about my favourite places (that I have been so far) in New Zealand.
– Cathedral Cove (free)
This was one of my absolute favourite places. It is on the Coromandel Peninsula, which is about even with Auckland only on the East side of the Island. It is only accessible by boat or by foot. So you park in the parking lot and then walk about 40 minutes along a trail to get there. It is totally worth it. (If you have seen the Prince Caspian narnia movie – you know the scene where the train tunnel turns into a sea cave on the beach – this is that beach).
– Hot Water Beach (free – although you might want to rent a shovel)
I don’t have a good photo cause we were only there after dark. It is literally right by Cathedral Cove. Like the parking lots are maybe 10 km away from each other. There is thermal activity under the beach. At low tide if you go out you can dig a hole in the sand and it fills up with hot water. Most of the campgrounds (and maybe other places as well) rent out shovels and have the low tide times posted.
– Putangirua Pinnacles (free)
These are the paths of the dead. They were made by the dead and the dead keep them. My photos don’t really do them justice. It was near the end of our month and I was too tired to bother trying to get really good photos. They are down on the south end of the North Island, near Wellington. You drive down to the Putangirua campsite and then hike up to them. It is not a hugely long or strenuous hike. They were pretty darn cool.
– Tongariro National Park (free)
This is mordor. We did the hike to Taranaki Falls, but there are tons of hikes you can do here. It is super pretty and you can see the volcanoes, unless it is super overacst like the day we were there. They you don’t get to see the volcanoes at all.
– Waiotapu Thermal Park (not free)
So the Rotorua area is full of volcanic activity. There were tons of parks and places to see. We went to this one particular park and were pretty happy with it. There was a geyser, bubbling mud pits, green lakes, steaming craters, etc. I feel like it had a pretty good variety of the volcanic-y things in the area. I really loved the champagne pool and got some pretty sweet photos. We spend a whole afternoon there and by the end we all kind of had a headache from the sulphur smell. This whole area is pretty sulphur-y, but also full of hot springs. I looked up their website, it is $32.50 for adult admission. You might be able to find something cheaper or even free, to be honest we didn’t really look too hard. It is more that this one was close to where we stayed the night before.
– Pukaha Wildlife Park (not free)
This is a little wildlife park in the southeast of the North Island. They have quite a variety of NZ birds. There is a nocturnal house where you can see kiwis. They have a white kiwi! It is not an albino, just a recessive gene thing. So probably similar to a spirit bear type of thing. They also have eels and you can go to an eel feeding where they straight up feed this massive eels with a giant spoon. According to their website, admission is $20. So not too much.
I absolutely loved Wellington. There was TONS to do in the city and the surrounding area. I will list a few of our favourites:
– Lord of the Rings Scenery (could be free or not free)
There are tons of Lord of the Rings locations in the city/surrounding area. Instead of trying to drive around the city and find them ourselves, we just booked on a tour. We did this one: https://roverringstours.co.nz/tours/full-day-tour/ . They also have a half day option I think. It was kind of expensive, but you really do cover a lot of ground and they show you a TON of locations that you would not be able to find on your own. Lots of shire stuff, Rivendell, Isengard, the river Anduin, the quarry where they shot Helms Deep/Minas Tirith. Also your lunch is included as well as admission for a tour at the WETA workshop. For us it was totally worth it to see all that stuff and not have to drive around ourselves and try to find it. If you don’t do a tour, at least go to Mount Victoria. It is a park in the middle of Wellington where they filmed a bunch of the scenes between the shire and Bree (so the “get off the road” and the “mushrooms” scenes and all those shots of the hobbits running through the woods from the black riders).
– Te Papa (free)
This is a HUGE and awesome museum right on the waterfront in Wellington. Admission is FREE! They have a colossal squid!
– Circa Theatre (not free)
We went to a play here. It was the best play I have ever seen. It was actually directed by the actor who played Gloin in the Hobbit, Peter Hambleton. We loved it so much we went back again the next night. However, the plays change over here fairly often. So, obviously, that particular play’s run ended a long time ago. But it is a cute little theatre, right across the lot from Te Papa. If you are into theatre I would check it out. I remember it being not super cheap, but I loved it.
– The Embassy Theatre (not free)
This is the theatre that all the LOTR movies premiered at. It is just a movie theatre, but it is kind of old school and fancy. We went to a movie and it was pretty cool. It costs the same as any movie theatre.
– Castle Hill (free)
This is sort of in the middle of the island near Christchurch. It is amazing and fantastic and you HAVE TO GO. They filmed the final battle scene of the lion, the witch, and wardrobe here. I mean, it is just rocks, but it is really really cool. People definitely go bouldering on some of them. We just walked around and looked at them mostly. I wish we had spent more time here.
– Mount Sunday (not free, although maybe it could be?)
This is also right in the middle of the island, close to both Christchurch and Castle Hill. This is where they built the temporary Edoras set. It was absolutely amazing. This was the place in NZ I was most excited about and had decided I definitely needed to see. I wasn’t disappointed. We did some research to find out if we could get there on our own. We found conflicting answers but it seemed to be that you could get 90% of the way there on your own, but the last little bit was on private property. So we played it safe and just booked on a tour that had permission to cross onto that property so that we didn’t trespass. We booked with this company: https://hasslefreetours.co.nz
– Lake Tekapo (free but also options to pay to do cool stuff)
This place was amazing. There was a hot spring attached to our campsite. The lake was beautiful. And there is an observatory overlooking the town. It is an astronomy research centre for one of the universities. All the lights in the town are shielded from above. Apparently they have one of the most ‘light-pollution free’ night skies in the world. You have to pay to go up to the observatory at night, but it is free to go in the day. We went in the afternoon and the view was incredible. Like maybe the best view we had anywhere in New Zealand. If I ever went back I would probably do a night tour.
– Lake Wanaka (free)
Another super pretty lake town worth checking out.
– Moreaki Boulders (free)
These are on the Southeast coast. They are pretty darn cool. Basically just a whole bunch of spherical boulders on the beach. Nearby there is a lighthouse (Moreaki Lighthouse) where we saw some yellow-eyed penguins, which are a super rare type of penguin apparently. Also seals.
– Kaikoura (free but also options to pay to do cool stuff)
This is one of the coolest little towns ever. There are hella seals everywhere. Things may have changed a bit since the earthquake. This area was pretty heavily affected. When we were there before the earthquake, there were a lot of seals along the coast north of the city. There was also a little inland waterfall (Ohau waterfall) that was basically a nursery for seal pups. The adults would leave them there when they went to sea to hunt. It was a little walk off the highway inland and it took you to a waterfall where there were probably close to a hundred seal pups swimming/playing in the pool. The town is super cute and if you go out along the point there are more seals. There are lots of ocean-based options. You can go whale watching, dolphin watching, seal watching, you can swim with the dolphins, go sea kayaking, etc etc. Rachel and I went kayaking. It was pretty great. We went with this company: http://www.kaikourakayaks.nz It was kind of the offseason when we were there, so the tour didn’t fill up and it ended up being just me and Rachel and the guide. It was super great. We also went to a sheep shearing show. Which sounded like a kind of a weird thing to do, but ended up being super fun. There is a guy out on the point who shears two sheep everyday. This is his website: http://pointbnb.co.nz/sheep-shearing/ if you want to learn about sheep, see one sheared and hang out with a pretty funny dude, I would recommend him. It’s pretty cheap and he teaches you quite a bit, lets you feed his ram, and lets you take pictures with his amazingly well trained sheep dog.
– Pancake Rocks (free)
Super cool rock formations. They are along the West coast. Sometimes the highway along the west coast closes due to bad weather. It is pretty narrow and windy and prone to large storms. So definitely check the weather report before you set off.
– Cardrona (highway between Queenstown and Wanaka) (free)
Cardrona itself is a ski resort. We took the secondary highway (maybe not even an actual highway) from Queenstown to Wanaka instead of taking the regular highway. It takes you through the Cardrona pass. It is one of the most memorable drives for me, it was super beautiful. In Cardrona there is this super rustic little hotel ( http://cardronahotel.co.nz ) that looks like something right out of Lord of the Rings on the inside. We stopped and had lunch. It was really great. I think this route would be much less awesome if it was winter or the weather was bad, so again, probably check the road reports before setting off.
– Hamner Springs (not free)
The drive to Hamner was super pretty. We decided to go because the Hot Springs looked pretty amazing. They were. There are like at least ten different hot spring pools. We went in the evening and just did the hot pools, but I was looking on the webiste and it looks like they have a whole other area that has a waterslide, cold pools, a lazy river, etc. It was super great and the website says it is $24 for a single entry or $29 for a single day with a return entry. So you could make a pretty great day of it if hot springs appeal to you.
– Wharariki Beach (free)
This is way up at the very top of the South Island. It is on the tip of Farewell Spit. It is an absolutely beautiful beach. You drive up as far as you can go and then park and walk a bit to get to the beach.
Queenstown is super cute and has a lot to offer. It is a little Banff-y. We stayed in a hostel by the lake and it was fantastic. There are a few really great places along the lake:
– Twelve Mile Delta (free)
I think that those scenes where Frodo and Sam are with Faramir are filmed around here. You know that part where they climb up the bank and look over at the armies of mercenaries with the oliphants. I think we found that bank.. Glynis though that the shore was the place where Frodo leaves the Fellowship. I don’t think it is, I think that place is a little lake south of Queenstown, but it does look pretty darn similar. We did a hike/walk through the area and it was pretty great.
– Paradise (free unless you get stuck and have to get towed)
So when you venture past Glenorchy, it is probably best not to do so in your rental. There are some roads in NZ that are uninsured. Turns out this is one of them. Or at least there is an uninsured road up there and if you end up getting pushed off the road by a camper van and need a tow they will probably just assume you were on an uninsured one and make you pay for the tow. But it is very very pretty. There are lots of tours that go up that way. A guy named Alan from this company stopped to help us twice while we were waiting for the tow truck ( http://www.glenorchyjourneys.co.nz ). He stopped on his way back with his tour to see if we needed help. Then he drove back out later on his own time in his own vehicle to make sure we were okay. He was amazing, so helpful and gave us his card and I still have it in my wallet. That’s how great he was. If you are thinking of taking a tour, I would 1000000% recommend you book with Glenorchy Journeys.