What I learned from my time in New Zealand
Lessons Learned from my brief seventeen days spent on the South Island of New Zealand:
- New Zealand roads are different, believe what they say. Things take time to get to and every road has about a dozen more turns than it most likely needs to. Plan time accordingly and don’t gauge the time off of the said distance. Leave early and drive safely.
- Learn to love Espresso, everyone and their cousin orders a "Long Black" or a "Flat White" one being the darkest of the dark espressos and the other being a simple milky creation. The Americano coffee is laughed at in this country.
- There are in fact more sheep than humans on the islands. Driving around you will be excited to see these large flocks, but as your time on the islands increase they will become just another feature of the scenic landscape.
- Consistently remind yourself where you are and love and enjoy every minute of it. Smile and take in each and every moment. New Zealand is an incredible place and will change how you view the rest of the world.
- It is a very expensive place, make your own food and be sure to close your eyes when you check out at the grocery store. Things add up very quickly over here, so if you plan a visit make sure you budget accordingly and don't blow all of your coin simply on one bungie jump or boat tour.
- Wake up early to beat the flood of tourists, the earlier hours will be worth it.
- The West Coast, Hokitika in particular is the place to buy and love the New Zealand Greenstone or Jade. The Jade is mainly found in the West flowing river beds, but can only be collected by the native people who own the rights to the land. Check out Mountain Jade a museum / retailer for a mini lesson and tour about Jade and Jade carving.I recommend purchasing a piece to take home with you, after leaving Ryan had regretted leaving a piece behind.
- If you're looking to save money you can surely live in an SUV, you don't always need a camper van, although if you plan on staying longer than two weeks we advise spending more and getting a campervan, don't get a Jucy brand one as those look ridiculous. If you do sleep in the car you will have more opportunities to get caught less in areas where Freedom Camping is prohibited. Don't let anyone know I advised you to do so, as it was impressive we didn't get caught a single time during peak season.
- Climb Roy's Peak in Wanaka because anyone and everyone does it, well we didn't technically do this. We sunrise summited the peak right below Roy's and it was well worth. Be prepared to bushwhack, dress in layers, and take allergy medicine if it is the summer and you have allergies. I was sniffling for the remainder of the day.
- We recommend going to Milford Sound one of the top destinations in New Zealand, but again leave early to beat the tourist buses and caravans. Make sure you fill up your tank of gas in Te Ano the last town before a two hour drive through Fiordland and into the sound. If you go to the sound be sure to sign up for a Sound Cruise. We went on one through Southern Discoveries which provides a smaller boat and prides itself on natural encounters and up close glacial facials with the waterfalls.
- WiFi is very difficult to find on the island and expensive, so a good rule of the thumb is the more commercialized (i.e. Starbucks or McDonalds) the better chance they will give you more WiFi. We frequented Starbucks for our internet planning periods, but also found out that grocery stores occasionally provided 45 minutes of internet daily.
- Always pack in layers and bring waterproof shoes, like Colorado, New Zealand can also experience all four seasons in the span of a morning and you never really know what you are going to get. I didn't invest in good gortex lined hiking boots before and I wish I had done so.
- The sun is incredibly bright in New Zealand, so pack quality eyewear and ALWAYS have them with you. Also, sunscreen is a must. Thirty minutes out in the sun could have you fried.
- Chocolate and most sweet treats are particularly delicious in New Zealand. Because of the proximity of goods everything seems tremendously fresh and "local" which has become synonymous with "good." Whittakers Chocolate which comes in a big bar with a gold wrapper is delicious, everyone must try it.
- New Zealand does not have any of the creepy crawly critters that are found across the Tasman Sea, the only pests they do have are sand flies and the Australian Possum. Wear bug spray or tough it out, but be warned that these bites turn into dark bruise like circles on your legs.
- For our two week stay we focused our time and energy on the South West part of the Southern Island entertained by a loop from Queenstown up to Christchurch through Arthur's Pass and then down the West Coast. We felt that we had enough time to see what we planned for, but could have benefited with another three months on the island. It is even better than you imagine.
- I loved the esthetic of Queenstown, but hated the level of tourism it was smothered by
it was extremely busy. There is a lot of expensive activities and shops that will gladly suck your money.
- If you're interested in a scenic view take flight out of Wanaka (just north of Q Town) to see a birds view of Mount Aspiring National Park. It will take your breath away for a full 60 minutes and some of your best photographs will come from this. We went to Learn to Fly and Ryan was able to use his own Pilot's license to take the metal bird up.
- If you have time plan on doing one of New Zealand's great walks. Ryan and I did half of the Routeburn Track a three part trek through Fiordland National Park. We started at the great Divide and then made it to Ocean's Peak just above the MacKenzie Hut. We completed a whopping 23 miles that day, but was not too difficult with the amazing views. Remember to bring lots of water and snacks although at the huts along the route you can replenish your water supplies.
- New Zealand is a very casual place, don't even bother packing nice outfits or clothing, all outdoor wear will be better for the activities anyways. All of the towns have laundromats as well, if you're willing to pay $10 a load you can bring half the amount of clothing that you think you need.
- If you looking for a serene and peaceful environment visit Akaroa Harbor an unbelievably beautiful French town famous for the dolphins that swim there. It's a great little town wish flourishing rose gardens and bakeries that would make the streets of Paris proud.
- I didn't particularly love the city of Christ Church. Having been dismantled in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes its dilapidated nature made me feel sorry for the loss of the city. It is reinventing itself and I am sure has its wonderful parts, but I would not choose to spend the majority of my time in this city. The same goals for Auckland it is just like any other city and not particularly special.
- Car fresheners are essential if you will be living in a car, you can also totally use baby wipes for more things than you think and a small can of camping propane (used wisely) can last two weeks. Instant coffee is useful, cheaper, and can put hair on your chest if you use more than the suggested amount.
- If you have time and love to hike challenge yourself with Avalanche Peak a tremendous hike right off the road. It is difficult and gets cold at the top, but the wide views are spectacular from the top.
- Don't waste your time and skimp with 3mg of Melatonin I recommend Tylenol PM it will knock you out and certainly let you catch some zzz's when you are squished in the back of car. Also, cracking a window at night will helpful the car from getting less humid (ew I know, but important to state).
- Going to New Zealand is certainly a big trip and it is advised to plan your route before you go. If you are like us and go for things on the whim you can plan as you go, going every three to four days and then planning the next stage. It keeps things exciting and fun if you don't entirely know what the future lies. If you plan as you go, WiFi will be your new best friend.
- Mount Cook National Park was one of my favorite spots and I highly recommending doing at least one of the walks in the park. The Hooker Valley Walk is very popular, so start early to avoid the crowds. This walk is beautiful when you are make the first turn to face Mount Cook your heart will flutter and your jaw will drop. Be sure to check of the glacial lakes of Tasman Valley and the museum at the Visitors Center is pretty spectacular as well. We stopped to watch one of the films playing there and thought it added to the experience of viewing Mt. Cook in all of it's glory.
- The blue water is not photoshopped. The glacial water melt is immaculate and incredible to say the least. It. Is. Really. That. Blue.
- Tekapo Springs is the best place to take a relaxing break, shower, bathe, soak, and WiFi. You will be happy you did we could have easily gone for two days in a row, but one day was enough to treat our feet and take a break.
- If we had more time and planned earlier we would have booked a bunk in one of the huts on one of the Trails, just because and evening up at higher elevation would make for the best views in the early morning light.