New Zealand is simply spectacular, even just driving between the top spots you get to see so many breathtaking landscapes. After hiking in Abel Tasman, and sleeping in Nelson one last night, we picked up a rental car and hit the road down the South Island’s west coast for a couple of days. These are the places we stopped at along the way:
We had wrapped up the North Island on a very high note with the Tongariro Crossing, and after a short flight from Wellington to Nelson, were ready to kick off the South Island with another epic hike: the Abel Tasman Coast Track. We had originally planned to do 3 days / 2 nights from Marahau to Totaranui, but the weather forecast for our first day was so terrible, that we shortened it to 2 days / 1 night. We spent the extra day in Nelson, chilling and preparing for the hike, and we were very glad we did so, because: (1) all the hikers we met who had been in the park that day were soaking wet and miserable, and (2) we were able to arrange the perfect logistics.
I’ve hiked in epic places: the Himalayas, the Grand Canyon, Patagonia,… and yet, in my mind, there is no doubt that The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in New Zealand’s North Island, is the most amazing day hike in the world. The fact that we got to experience it on a perfect sunny day also contributed to making it our favorite experience in this whole trip.
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.
- Sydney and its beaches
- Diving in the Great Barrier Reef
- Whitsunday Islands
- Uluru and the Red Center
For diving lovers like us, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had always been at the top of our bucket list. We are usually economic travelers, staying in backpacker hostels, taking public buses, and eating street food as much as possible. But when it came to the GBR, we knew it was time to splurge. We booked ourselves on a 4 nights / 14 dives liveaboard with Mike Ball Expeditions, one of the most prominent scuba operators in the world. And the trip was nothing short of perfect.
Our last days in Australia had been sour-sweet… the terrible weather we experienced in Fraser Island and the fact that we had to cancel our attempt to dive the Yongala shipwreck, had been partially compensated by some epic New Year’s Eve fireworks. We were flying back home to LA on the morning of January 2nd and hadn’t planned anything for the 1st, thinking we would wake up late and maybe make one last trip to our beloved Bondi Beach. But as we walked back to our hotel from the NYE party, we wondered… what if we could have one last adventure? The idea of going to Jervis Bay came up immediately. We had looked into this perfect white sand beaches before, but hadn’t been able to make the trip for one reason or another. Being about 3 hours south of Sydney, we thought that you needed multiple days to visit Jervis properly… but why not try to do it as a day trip, and end our time in Australia with a bang?
Fraser is the world’s largest sand island, and one of Australia’s premier adventure destinations. Accommodation on the island is very limited (and quite expensive), and roads are almost nonexistent. So the most typical way to visit is on a self-driving 4WD camping trip, be it as part of a guided group (in which case you are clustered with other travelers), or on your own. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll know which option we chose.
One of the things we really wanted to do in our time in Australia was interact with the autochthonous fauna. We wanted to spend time observing koalas and kangaroos, beyond our brief encounters in Hamilton Island and the Red Center, respectively. And we wanted to get close and touch the animals, if possible. A bit of online research showed us that Queensland was the best state to do so (koala cuddling is not allowed in Sydney / New South Wales, for example), and that the Cairns Tropical Zoo was the perfect place.