Rotorua might very well be the most visited attraction in New Zealand. And I can see why: there is a lot to do, both in terms of nature and maori culture, and it’s very conveniently developed. But because of that, it’s also lacking the charm of the rest of the country. We got to Rotorua after an enjoyable 2 hour drive from Waitomo Caves, most of it through endless green pastures that, for no good reason, had us screaming “burgers” every time we saw healthy-looking cows.
This was a trip that I had been dreaming about for years, one of those epic adventures on the same scale as hiking in Nepal, driving through African reserves, backpacking across Southeast Asia, or sailing in Polynesia. Landing in Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand (though not the capital, that honor is reserved for Wellington), I looked ahead to an unforgettable road trip. The plan was simple: get in through Auckland, near the north tip of NZ’s North Island, get out two weeks later through Queenstown, near the south end of the South Island.
Picking this epic list back up for 5 more breathtaking views and hikes – check out my top 5 here.
Its incredible what nature can create. More than 2,000 red sandstone arches are said to be found in this park, and although I only saw a couple dozens, these are the other bizarre geological formations make this park a natural wonderland. Two hikes that are absolute must dos: the 3-mile / 2-hour Delicate Arch hike, and the 8-mile / 4-hour Devil’s Garden hike through Landscape Arch to Double-O Arch (including a detour to get behind Partition Arch).
The Windows section was closed for road construction when I visited, but I’ve heard great things about it too. And there are a few other viewpoints that are worth stopping by: Park Avenue, Balance Rock, Fiery Furnace,… We had such a blast hiking Arches with my baby niece 🙂
I always say that for the highest concentration of breathtaking views and mind-blowing adventures one doesn’t need to look further than the West Coast of the US. Sometimes we travel far seeking picture-perfect landscapes and epic hikes, and forget to explore our backyards. For those lucky enough like me to live in the West Coast, our backyard happens to be packed with world wonders.
This is my list of top 10 sites – I tried to balance best views with best hikes, depending on what you’re looking for, you will want to prioritize differently. But you might not need to choose, all of the below can be tackled in a 3 week ultimate road trip! If you go for this, get the National Parks Annual Pass.
- Penang, its street art and food
- Diving in Sipadan
- Orangutans in Sepilok
We arrived at Mount Kinabalu late at night, in a bus from the Sepilok Orangutan Center. This was our last leg of the trip, and much to my disappointment, we had to discard hiking up the tallest peak in Malaysia (4,095m), because it required two days and MYR 1,800 ($400). The independent one day option that we had read about in other blogs was no longer permitted. We still wanted to do some short hikes and enjoy the landscape, and we had gotten excited reading about the possibility of seeing a rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, native of this area. We woke up early and surprised by the low temperatures (we were under-prepared, coming from diving in Sipadan and hiking in the rainforest), and what followed was one of those days that make me love traveling.
Seeing orangutans was one of our main goals in our Malaysia trip. We weren’t able to do it in the wild, at Kinabatangan, but the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center offered a semi-wild setting with guaranteed sightings. The reserve is a large area of protected forest, where 60-80 orangutans live free, and also contains a nursery for 20-30 orphan orangutans. It’s a great initiative to protect these extraordinary animals, which are under huge pressure due to deforestation and trafficking.
A Kinabatangan river cruise is one of the most typical activities in a Borneo trip, one of the few remaining real opportunities to experience the jungle and its wildlife. The most common way to do it, and at first glance the only one, is to join an organized tour from Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan. But we were coming from Semporna (from our diving and island hoping adventure), and we prefer to travel independently… and as cheap as possible. The basic 2 day / 1 night tour to Kinabatangan goes for over MYR 1,000 (over $300) per person! There had to be a better way.
Back from our unforgettable liveaboard in Sipadan, we found ourselves in the harbor town of Semporna, Borneo, with no specific plans. The area is known for its paradise islands, with white sand beaches and turquoise waters, but unfortunately, most of these have been taken over by all-inclusive luxury hotels, like the spectacular Kapalai. The weather was also not looking particularly good, but we were resolved to explore at least a bit of this rather unknown area.
Wow, just wow. I had heard of Sipadan as a world-class diving destination, but our 4 days there surpassed all my expectations. The amount of underwater life we were able to see was unbelievable, and the absolute highlight of our time in Malaysia.