When you think of New Zealand, you think of a road trip amidst some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever find. And yes, New Zealand is absolutely fantastic to see by road. But what if you’re one like me – you don’t enjoy driving and / or don’t want to give up enjoying your wine? Fret not, for Kiwi land can be enjoyed equally well with someone else at the wheel. And I don’t mean a chauffeur. Here is a glimpse of our trip and suggested itinerary which can help you.
Our trip to New Zealand was just under two weeks long and covered both the North and South islands. We started by landing in Auckland in the middle of the night. And we didn’t have to take an expensive cab to our hotel. Because New Zealand has this wonderful, super-reliable, bang-on- time service called SuperShuttle, which specializes in airport pick-ups and drops, and is available in every major city. You could book your shuttle online on their website (Supershuttle.co.nz) or find one right outside the airport arrivals.
Cities in New Zealand are much smaller in size than those in the US or even Europe, so traveling around isn’t difficult. Plus they have a robust public transport system of buses in every city, supplemented by cabs and Uber. Uber in NZ is far cheaper than getting a regular cab, and if you’re two or more people, practically the same (or cheaper) than riding a bus.
Auckland has a number of lovely places to visit. Stop off at Mt. Eden for a scenic view of the pretty city It’s a bit of a hike up a hill, so make sure you have your walking shoes on. Auckland has many parks that are perfect for a leisurely stroll or a scenic run – take your pick. Other stops in the city include the lovely Auckland zoo, where animals aren’t caged but rather have huge spacious enclosures to themselves – even the birds. As a rule, I don’t visit zoos, but the elusive Kiwi can only be seen in captivity, so I picked a place where the animals are well cared for and loved.
For adventure enthusiasts, downtown Auckland is the place to be – you can either take a bus, or an Uber. Jump off the Harbour Bridge straight into the sea, or off the SkyTower into the streets below for a more ‘urban’ setting. If walking around the SkyTower on a transparent platform gets your goat, you could do that too. Much like any other metropolitan city, downtown Auckland has a rich and vibrant nightlife. Reserve an evening to soak in an after-dark view of the lovely city from atop the Skytower or at the Harbour.
Keep a day to visit the lovely sun-kissed island of Waiheke. More on that later in the post.
Queenstown, located on the South Island, is by far the prettiest town in New Zealand. The flight into Queenstown itself is very scenic – you fly over the Southern Alps and over quite a few ‘fjords’ before landing amidst the mountains in what’s one of the prettiest airports ever. Pay the extra $10 NZD for a window seat – you won’t regret it!
Again, Supershuttle came to our rescue and dropped us off, hassle-free, to our motel which gave us the most scenic view of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown doesn’t have Uber, but the town is all of 5 sq.km. in size, so you can pretty much walk around if you’re reasonably fit. And that’s exactly what we did.
Walk to the Skyline Gondola (which is a cablecar, not a Venetian boat) to head up the hill for a stunning view of the lake and the town. Once you’ve had your fill of the mesmerizing view, you could while away time lunging down the hill (trust me, it’s addictive!) or bungee-ing into the forest below. ‘Central Queenstown’ is a short walk away. Walk around the lakefront or take the popular Catamaran cruise. And do not miss out on this lovely little place called Fergberger that serves the best burgers in town.
A short (and cheap) bus ride away from Queenstown is an absolute darling of a settlement called Arrowtown. There are buses every hour each way, and the road, like most of suburban NZ, is spattered with stunning landscapes and sheep farms. Sheep are everywhere in NZ. Four times as much as humans, to be precise! Once you’ve had your fill of the Chinese settlement, hitch a bus back and head off for your adventure activities. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world – you can bungee jump, skydive, go kayaking, take a jet boat into the canyon. Most places offer a free pick up and drop if you book in advance, so no transport hassles! If adrenaline is not your thing, book a wine tour to one of the famous vineyards of the Otago wine regions – they are famous for their crisp Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs.
Keep a day to visit the absolutely stunning Milford Sound – it’ll be a long day, but something you cannot miss. I strongly recommend the BBQ Bus – the only tour that provides a hot barbeque meal, along a stream in the middle of nowhere! The tour is not your typical sightseeing tour – it’s more like a friend showing a small group of 10-12 his favourite spots. You pass the small city of Te Anau and the Fjordland National Park before you get to the Sound. The route itself is absolutely stunning and there’s a photo op around every corner. So don’t fall asleep. Milford Sound is a beauty that transcends worlds – the hour long cruise had me mesmerized for the entire duration.
3. Franz Josef
We took the state-run InterCity bus from Queenstown to the glacier town of Franz Josef. The bus takes one of the most gorgeous roads in New Zealand – the West Coast road. It’s a 7 hour drive, but the bus is extremely comfortable, has Wifi and there are bio-breaks almost every hour. And it stops for photo ops along lakes, waterfalls – you name it! You’ll get dropped off at your hotel in FJ – it’s all of 2 streets big, a 7 min walk from one end to the other and a population of 300.
Book the lovely Glacier Valley Ecotour for your hikes to the glacier valleys of Franz Josef and Fox plus the picturesque Lake Matheson which gives some stunning ‘mirror’ photos (weather and ducks permitting). You need a guide to hike in the valleys anyway, and these guys take care of every need – food, hot drinks, even rain wear – we hiked all day in the rain and were bone dry. We were the only two people on that day, so it was a private tour! Our guide drove us off into a field into the countryside and we had lunch with an unobstructed view of Fox Glacier – could you ask for more?
The three trips together is about 16km of walking, so you could split the hikes across 2 days if you wish. Remember that the hikes do not let you walk on the Glacier – you need to take a heli-tour for that, which is much more expensive, and weather dependent.
Once you’re done for the day, you can walk to the Glacial Hot Springs in FJ to soak off the day’s exhaustion, or just crash in to your motel’s ‘spa bath’. Save a tiny bit of energy to do the Terrace Walk at night – it’s 2 mins away from the last shop, and a 10 min walk, to see some glow worms for free!
4. TranzAlpine to Christchurch
We took an Intercity Bus to Greymouth to catch one of the best train rides in the world. The bus will pick you up from your accomodation and takes a little over 3 hours to get to Greymouth, well in time for the train. You get a short break in the gorgeous seaside village of Hokitika for breakfast. Make the most of it, because you’ll spend most your 4 hour train ride with your jaw dropping to the floor. The TranzAlpine to Christchurch is an absolutely stunning train ride that’s worth every penny. You’ll cross rivers, mountains, fields and more. There’s even a ‘viewing carriage’ purely for photography. I spent 80% of my time there, coming in only for some hot chocolate and wine.
Once the train docks into Chirstchurch, Uber to your acco. Ensure you stay in Central Christchurch, which is the heart of the quake-ravaged city and walking distance from everything. Check out the unique Re:Start mall that’s made entirely of shipping containers; the Cardboard Cathedral, which is exactly what it’s sounds like; and 185 White Chairs, a memorial to the victims of the 2011 quake. You could also walk to the lovely Botanic gardens and spend a leisurely 2-3 hours admiring nature permed to its finest. Hitch an Uber back. Spend some time walking around CBD because you’ll find some lovely street art around every corner.
The lovely coastal city of Kaikoura, famous for whale watching, is a 2-hour Intercity bus ride away. The bus station is in central Christchurch – easily walkable if you’re located centrally. The bus drops you about a kilometer away from WhaleWay Station in Kaikoura where you need to report for the activity (our tour was cancelled since the whales played spoilsport and went off deep into the ocean). You could also take a scenic Kiwirail from Christchurch to Kaikoura.
Take a flight from Christchurch to Rotorua, the Maori and geothermal hub of New Zealand, and also LOTR town! We ‘SuperShuttled’ to our acco. Walk into the city (about 2km) to check out one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand – the Rotorua museum, and other local attractions and go for a Hobbitton tour – they pick you up from the city center and drop you off too.
Book a shuttle to the Wai-O- Tipu thermal wonderland the next morning. They’ll pick you up from your motel. Mornings are a must to catch the Lady Knox geyser that goes off at roughly 10.20am each day. Spend a couple of hours soaking in some unreal scenery of the mud baths and geothermal activity before heading back to the city. You can choose to also take a mud-bath here. After lunch, take a bus to the Skyline Gondola to get a view of lake Rotorua and a couple of hours of luging and zip lining. You can walk to the Mitai Maori village next door at about 6.30pm for a fun-filled evening learning about Maori culture, watching the Haka and feasting on a Hangi meal. The family will show you to their sacred fairy spring and show you some glow worms. They’ll drop you off at your hotel.
7. Waitomo & Waiheke
For the last leg of our trip, we took the Intercity bus to Auckland via Waitomo. It’s an 8 hour journey inclusive of a two hour break in Waitomo and will drop you off to your accommodation in Auckland if requested in advance. Waitomo Caves are home to thousands of glowworms that can only be seen in absolute darkness and silence, on a boat ride. Imagine a sky full of blue stars – that’s what it feels like. Photos are not allowed, but it’s a truly unique experience.
We spent our last day on the lovely Waiheke island famous for its beaches and wines. Take a bus/ Uber to the Auckland Ferry Terminal where you can buy a pass for a round trip to the island plus a bus pass for the island itself. Once on the island, you can explore wineries and tasting rooms at length, or head to one of the various beaches. The island is about 10km long and the bus goes from the ferry terminal to the last beach. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend our last day in NZ that with the sun and sea with some fine wine.
So there you go, NZ is absolutely doable without a car without compromising on the experience.
There’s a lot we didn’t do, thanks to having only 2 weeks off. But then, NZ, or Aotearoa as it’s called in Maori, meaning the land of the long white cloud, is a place where you could spend a month or even a year. What’s definite is it’s one of those trips you absolutely should take, no matter what kind of traveler you are. NZ has a lot to offer, and even more memories to take back home.
Note- This blog post is by our Guest Contributor- Bhavana Jaiswal. Bhavana is a digital marketer by profession, and a wanderer at heart. She loves travelling to new places, cooking world cuisines, wines and reading. Her preferred way of exploring a new city is to walk around & try out local food. Her favourite destination till date is Prague.