As mentioned somewhere before, one of the best things about studying abroad in Australia for a year (as opposed to a semester) is that, at some point, you will get a long summer holiday where you can actually do what most exchange students come here for: travel.
Since this is my first time in the Southern Hemisphere and time and financial resources dictate that I won’t be returning all too soon, I used the opportunity to visit New Zealand which is one of the most expensive travel destinations in this region of the world. Therefore I had to make it quick and cheap without sacrificing too much of the experience. Luckily, it all worked out very well and I was bale to stick to my budget. So, before I get started here are my top tips to make your New Zealand trip a pleasurable and cost-effective experience:
- Buy a tent (and sleep in it)
- Buying a bus pass that takes you all over the country allows less flexibility than renting a car but is a lot cheaper
- Cook your own food, eat out on rare occasions
- bookme.com will get you discounts on a lot of activities
- To make it quick don’t spend more than 2 days at any place, that way you can easily fit in the must-dos in 20 days
Now that you have (and heed) my advice here is a possible itinerary that will pretty much cover the most scenic places of New Zealand. Clearly, you won’t be able to see the whole country in 3 weeks and you could easily extend this to make your trip even better, however you’ll inevitably encounter some painful trade-offs that involve spending more money.
Let me say this upfront, Australia and New Zealand cities have not been fascinating this far. Perhaps we are very spoilt as Europeans when it comes to experiencing cities and the unique cultures they offer but apart from climbing to the top of Mount Wellington, Auckland was not much more than a nice stroll through the city.
From Auckland we got on a bus to Matamata which is the main entry point for Hobbiton, a scenic little movie set village that is surrounded by endless rolling hills full of grazing sheep. This was probably one of the highlights of the North Island.
From Matamata we travelled to Rotorua which is famous for it geothermal activity. Other than that, there is not a lot to see and do so don’t plan more than a day there.
A really nice little town on a huge lake that is really nice on a hot summer day. From here you can also get a shuttle to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is apparently New Zealand’s finest one day hike. Unfortunately, we had no luck with the weather as we climbed the summit simply to see a great cloud of fog which blocked any great view there was. You can’t always win.
Perhaps a bit more interesting than Auckland but still, not really a great city to visit.
Eventually you will have to cross the high waters that separate the North Island from the South if you really want to experience the best of New Zealand. Taking the ferry is a good idea, especially since it offers great views of the Marlborough Sounds as you slowly sail into the shores of the Southern Island.
We decided to get a bus from Nelson straight to the Abel Tasman Park which would have been really, really good (it’s a nice coastal hike that takes you along lots of beaches) if it hadn’t been pouring with rain for 2 days straight. Therefore, those days go down as some of the worst of New Zealand. To avoid this kind of disappointment, check the weather before.
Franz Josef is a very small village at the bottom of a huge glacier. You can pay lots of money to get a helicopter to the top of it or also just walk to the bottom and still get a decent view. We chose the latter.
This is where New Zealand gets really fascinating. There is something amazing about huge lakes surrounded by even greater mountains and hiring mountain bikes for a day was definitely a good way to explore the region.
The adventure capital of the world – so they say – and it really is quite exciting and fun. the only downside is that it is a bit too commercial and clearly targeted at tourists that it loses a bit of its flair. Still definitely worth the visit, if only because you can do a day trip to Milford Sound including a bus journey and cruise. Also, eat the famous burger.
This was quite a shocking and surprising place, simply because the city has still not fully recovered from the 2011 earthquake. It is definitely the most “English” of places as the gardens and architecture clearly demonstrate. Worth visiting but I was quite happy to catch my next plane to Tasmania for the next part of my travel plans.
So those are 11 destinations in 20 days. It was certainly a busy time but equally enjoyable. In my next blog I will be writing about Tasmania, Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road as I explored two amazing states of Australia.