Hi everyone! We are baaaack!!
This September, BF and I went on a two-week vacation to the Middle Earth (New Zealand) and Australia. It was one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever had. We had a blast! I cannot wait to tell you the details!
Are you ready?
After our fantastic Spain and Italy Trip last year, just a day after our trip, we already started the planning stages of our NZ and AU trip. As you can tell, we are early planners. It’s part of the fun!
We’ve always wanted to see the scenic locations of the Lord of the Rings, and the iconic Opera House in Sydney. So, we planned on how to get to these two countries using a combination of points, miles, and cash. Before 2016 ended, we were already booked… for everything. As usual, since it is an international trip, our budget was $2,000 per person for the entire trip – flights, hotels, tours and activities, food, transportation, gifts, etc. After coming back and balancing our books, I am proud to say that we were only $300 over our budget. More importantly, everything is paid off, too. 🙂
Let’s go to the details, shall we?
We flew to 5 beautiful cities /towns, and it is but right to give a rundown of the highlights of each city/ town.
Just to give a background, New Zealand has two main islands: the South and the North. Our first stop was in the South – in Christchurch. Although building and road constructions were everywhere (some parts of Christchurch was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 – 2012), that didn’t hinder us from enjoying this beautiful city.
Chateau on the Park by Double Tree Hilton Christchurch – This was our hotel in Christchurch. It is located just across the Hagley Park, which houses Christchurch’s awesome botanical garden, and a twenty-minute walk to the city. I love the Baronial design of the hotel. They also gave us warm chocolate cookies upon arrival. Now, who wouldn’t want that after a grueling 14-hour flight from Hawaii? One point for Double Tree!
Hagley Park – New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere of the globe – meaning, the season is reversed. So when we went in September, it is their Spring. And you know what Spring means – blooming flowers everywhere! It was just beautiful. It was relaxing to stroll around the park. If you ask me, that’s what vacation is all about.
Hokitika / Franz Josef Glacier
We arrived in Hokitika in the morning. This small town in the South Island is the gateway to the Franz Josef Glacier. This leg of the trip was particularly exciting because we drove on the left lane of the road for the very first time!! It was scary and thrilling at the same time. Hans was the driver, and I was the navigator. A couple of times, Hans drove on the right! OMG. I was panicking, alright!! Good thing, there weren’t any cars around.
Jade Country – Hokitika is dubbed as New Zealand’s Jade country. Hans and I actually tried our luck. We went to the ocean side to look for Pounamu (jade). It was cold, but it was fun. We found some jade-looking stones, so went back to the Jade Store to have them confirm that what we found were jade stones. Unfortunately, they were serpentine stones – somewhat similar to the jade, but not the “real” thing. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience.
The Drive to Franz Josef – This was the most scenic two-hour drive of our lives thus far. It’s what I’ve always envisioned of how New Zealand will look like – snow-capped mountains, verdant fields, flocks of sheep, mirror lakes (Lake Ianthe), and Lord of the Rings rivers (Whataroa River). Just beautiful.
Franz Josef Glacier – I left my heart in this small town, and I want to go back! The town has that “homey” feel to it. Aside from this vibe, we also enjoyed the food over there. Maybe it’s the elevation? Alice May Restaurant serves the best food in town. Of course, the highlight of this leg of the trip was the 4-hour helicopter hike on the glacier! We’ve built the excitement for this hike for months, and we were not disappointed. It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences. It’s basically food for the soul. After the hike, we went to the hot pool to relax.
This is the third leg of our trip, and our last stop in the South Island. Queenstown is dubbed as the “Adventure Capital” of New Zealand. Yes, it is. You can ski, bungee-jump (a.k.a. Oh Hell to the No!), sky dive, raft, and do other adrenaline-inducing activities in this town. We passed on those. We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Queenstown in Kawarau Village.
Milford Sound – The trip to the South Island would not be complete if you didn’t go to Milford Sound in Fiordland. It’s basically an ocean with cascading mountains plus amazing waterfalls in the background. We did the bus tour on this one. Our tour included the bus tour and the ferry ride to the Milford Sound. We did a lot of pit stops, including Te Anau and Knob Flat. It was just picture-perfect everywhere!
Queenstown – This city is for the rich and the adventurous, and I am neither. It is an expensive town. One burger alone costs $12 NZD at the Fergburger! It’s totally worth it, though. Also, one way fifteen-minute taxi ride cost us $50 NZD! What made Queenstown a highlight of this leg of the trip is its sheer, natural beauty. To be honest, Queenstown trumps all the towns / cities we’ve ever been to (including Auckland) in terms of natural beauty. We were just mesmerized. Pictures (we took like gazillions) don’t even give justice to the beauty of this place.
I will talk about Auckland and Sydney on the second part of this blog.
Meanwhile, you can enjoy these photos from our trip 🙂