3 years ago, I went to Tonga for one of the most epic experiences of my travel life – swimming with humpback whales – and I ended up suffering my biggest disappointment – there were no whales to be seen. I still had an amazing time in Tonga, exploring its gorgeous landscapes and unique culture, and I promised myself I would come back one day. A couple of weeks ago, when I saw that the whale swimming season was in full blow, I didn’t think it twice, and I booked a flight to Vava’u over Labor Day weekend. As I fly back home, I can’t erase the smile from my face, it’s been such a dream come true.
- Waitomo glowworms
- Tongariro Crossing hike
- Abel Tasman beaches and hike
- Cook National Park hike and the views from Lake Pukaki
- Road trip, and stop in so many great spots: lush hills in the North Island, Huka Falls, Punakaiki pancake rocks, Blue Pools, Lake Tekapo, etc.
At the end of our 2 week road trip around New Zealand, we spent 3 days in Queenstown. To be honest, it was one of the least impressive parts of the trip, it just couldn’t compete with the natural wonders of Tongariro, Abel Tasman or Mt. Cook. But it was a good point of entry/exit, and there was enough to do to keep us entertained, so sharing our favorites here:
And just like that, after 10 unbelievable days driving across New Zealand, we were entering the final leg of our trip: Queenstown and Milford Sound. For this part, we were going to meet up with an old Spanish friend of mine and her kiwi husband, making it extra special!
Sometimes being stubborn pays off… who am I kidding, it always pays off 😉 We woke up in Wanaka, knowing we only had one day left before we needed to drive to Queenstown to meet up with our friends. We wanted to check out the Mt. Cook National Park and the lakes around Tekapo, but hadn’t planned this part of our route, and didn’t know if we would have time for it.
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.