Even after reading and hearing so much about New Zealand, nothing had prepared us for the amazing beauty the place has. From miles and miles of undulating fields full of autumn colors and green silken grass to omnipresent sheep and goat, to landscape which actually looked hand painted, and for which no photo shopping is required, New Zealand never fails to surprise. There are lakes a plenty with colors ranging from shimmering blue to aqua green, the terrain smooth as silk at places and vast as a desert at some. It was a road trip starting at Queenstown, covering Wanaka, Glenorchy, Arrow Town, the absolutely mesmerizing Milford Sound, Dunedin, Mount Cook, Christchurch, Wellington, Rotorua with the trip ending at Auckland. We covered around 3137 kilometeres in a Toyota Hi ace having the time of our lives.
Time to take that annual trip. Leave the worries of home and office behind and take off. Where to is the question? Mr. A wants to visit New Zealand.
New Zealand has always been on my bucket list. The images are alluring. I think about the Bollywood movies ‘I hate love storyies’ and ‘Kaho na pyaar hai’ and those stunningly beautiful images swim before my eyes. Oh, don’t I want to go!
But wait. Isn’t it far?? I do some quick research on the internet and see that the most feasible shortest flight is a 26 hour one via Singapore and Sydney (I am based in Bombay, India). And how would that be a problem, you would ask me? I must tell you that I am sceptical. This trip is not exactly an enthralling idea considering we have a hyper active kid and the journey is a long one. After all its almost the southern hemishphere and there are no direct flights. He doesn’t give in. Tries to make me see reason. After all we love travelling and those who love to travel do not look at the distance.
Confused, I discuss with R. She incidentally is a close friend and and is a Mom to hyperactive twins who are not even two. She is more excited than I am. Suggests that we do it together. I feel incredulous yet egged by her, I give it a though. I tell her its not possible. With three kids (one of mine and two of hers) and such long flights, the idea sounds far fetched. She is persistent. I give in to her and Mr. A’s demands. We decide to do this together, books our tickets and start our research. We decided to do a self drive, book a 12 seater Toyota hiace, decide against hotels, and book beautiful cottages everywhere.
New Zealand is divided into the North Island and South Island. We get a 14 day leave from our office and decide to do the trip at a leisurly pace considering the kids and promise ourselves that we would do a long long one later. Everything done, visas are applied for and received. The final hurdle is clear and now we can fly.
Day 1-The journey begins
April 26 arrives. I haven’t slept a wink. Mind is cluttered with worried thoughts. Before leaving, I do a final check. Since my kid is small, I carry the books and toys to keep him busy. R has even younger kids and she takes the stroller, and toys and books and literally a truck load of diapers. We have taken a prescription from the kids’ as well as our family doctor and have taken a truck load of medicines. In another country, its is difficult to get medicines without prescription. Plus, its always better to carry your own medicines and band-aids. After checking everything a last time, we leave for the Mumbai International Airport. R is there with her family.
The flight takes off smoothly. We reach Singapore where there is a layover of 2 hours. We do some time pass and grab something to eat from the Burger King at the Airport. Time to board the flight to Sydney where would be having a layover of 3 hours. Its a long flight, the kids are cranky and we think and rethink. Is anything worth so much trouble? We reach Sydney and then board our flight for Queenstown. By this time, not only the kids but even we are cranky and are regretting our decision of travelling so far. Wait..Queenstown is approaching. Its as if we have been hit by something surreal, its so breathtakingly beautiful. In a moment, all negative thoughts disappear as we are captivated by the beauty that is Queenstown. We have made up our minds to enjoy the place.
Immigration formalities completed, we head out of the airport to collect our car. Its actually a Toyota Hi ace mini bus. We are apprehensive as our spouses have never driven this big a vehicle. They are however excited and after initial glitches, gain control over the vehicle and pretend as if they are driving a toy. We set the GPS to our residence in Queenstown. It takes 10 minutes to reach there. The house is a two storied building right in front of Lake Wakatipu. Ah! We sigh! Life is so beautiful. We sleep early after a light dinner. I dream of blue lakes and snow capped mountains.
Sleep : We stayed at the Apartment Golden Views in Queenstown which was a ten minute drive from Central Queenstown. We booked through Bookabach.
Super markets : One was at Central Queenstown and the other at Remarkable Park, both a ten minute drive. We stocked up on stuff at the Remarkable Park super market.
Vehicle hire : Self drive is the best way to explore New Zealand. We used the services of Ezi car rentals and were satisfied. The other car rental agencies which are reliable are Apex and Avis.
Day 2 – Wanaka and Arrowtown
The first day at Queenstown..we wake up at 7 in the morning. Jet lag persists but we fight it vehemently. Its so much fun preparing breakfast together and then having it while having to also look after kids who threaten to turn the whole place upside down. View from our temporary home is amazing, the serene waters of Lake Wakatipu beckon. We get ready, get into our vehicle and decide to drive to Wanaka. The kids are super excited. There are three of different ages and sizes :-).
The mini bus we have hired is very handy. It has a lot of space. Kids, and especially small ones, mean lots of spare clothes, diapers, small snacks, some small toys which they love, milk, candies etc. etc.. Travelling with kids is fun. Come to think of it, have been travelling with my babies since they were like six months old-long distance, short distance, all distances, have been crossed with some cries and some smiles. Realised that kids have a lot of resilience.
The drive is awe inspiring, and we decide to lose ourselves in the beauty surrounding us.
The kids are already asleep. We choose to be quiet, drinking in the views. It is an hour and a half drive and finally we reach Wanaka.
Wanaka, is a resort town in the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand, just as Queenstown is, only less commercialised. Wanaka is famous for a lot of outdoor recreation and tourism activities like hiking, mountain biking, mountaineering, fishing, paragliding, kayaking, rafting and jetboating.
Lake Wanaka itself is popular for waterskiing, wakeboarding and sailing.
We get out of the car and can’t stand straight, its so windy. Howling winds, feel like we will be thrown around in a moment. But we are able to hold tight and then we take in the view of the stunning Lake Wanaka. Its beautiful surrounded by snow capped mountains. There is a small pier extending onto the lake and we go and spend some time there. We try to feel the water. Its insanely cold. Kids are very happy, taken in by the view of lots of ducks waddling around in the lake.
Its cold and windy, none of the adventure activities are taking place. But we are happy. We decide to walk around. Its lunch time too. We find a cosy little restaurant and have a nice meal. Its so much fun with friends. We explore the town a bit more. Its time to head back to Queenstown since night falls early here. The kids, tired and full after a heavy lunch fall asleep in the car and we can’t stop discussing about the place. We have fallen so much in love with New Zealand.
Missed going to the Mt. Aspiring National Park which is just an hour’s drive from Wanaka. The place is famous for its spectacular Rob Roy glacier. You can jet-boat into the heart of the mountains or take a stunning glacier flight.
While on our way from Wanaka to Queenstown, we decide to visit Arrowtown on a whim, since we see the sign pointing towards Arrowtown and needless to say, the place does not disappoint us. It is a quaint little historic town, just a 20 minute drive from Queenstown, nestled beneath the splendid mountains that surround the sparkling Arrow River. There are trees and trees full of leaves of different colours..Autumn at its best. The main area of the village is Buckingham Street. The place is full of galleries, restaurants, beautiful heritage buildings. There is a Lakes District Museum, which showcases the heritage of the village and also serves as the Information Centre. Arrowtown is known to be a base for walking and cycling tracks.
Time to head back home. We reach and rest a bit. Today we decide to have an Indian dinner and at night head to Queenstown Centre. We visit Freiyas Indian Restaurent and the food doesn’t disappoint us. Its very very cold and even with our layers of clothing, its difficult to move around. Happy and satisfied, we head back home. We sleep, excited about the next day.
Day 3 – Glenorchy
On the third day, we decide to visit a small town which goes by the name of Glenorchy, just 45 Kms from Queenstown. The morning starts on a beautiful sunny note, possibly an indication of the way the day would turn out to be. The road to Genorchy is along the edge of the beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
When we start, we do not quite know what to expect except that it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand. I can only describe the drive as magnificent, the scenery changing with one after another awe inducing views, all the way through the winding road. There are hardly any vehicles in sight and the drive turns out to be a breeze. We stop at many places en route just so that we could feel it for real. The weather turns sunny once again as we reach Glenorchy. The little red Glenorchy Station Hut tells you that you are at the end of the road into Glenorchy and it is just at this point that one can opt for several hikes/treks. Glenorchy has quaint and charming cafes and bistros.
We stay for some time just relaxing by the lake side. The view of the snow capped mountains against the crystal blue waters with a spread of trees bearing autumnal hues here and there is so stunning that its amost unreal. The place is well known for different sports activities such as Canoeing, Fly fishing, Kayaking, Hiking etc. Though we do not attempt any trekking trips, there are plenty of hiking trails all along the journey in and out of Glenorchy, the most famous of them being the Routeburn Track which is a glorious hike that connects Glenorchy with Milford Sound, the most beautiful place on earth. Geographically Glenorchy is simply on the other wise of the mountain from the Milford Sound area; there is however no paved roads or paths for vehicles to pass therefore the only way is either by helicopter or the Routeburn Trek.
Dunedin is a small city with a population of only 1,26,000. However, its the second largest city of the South Island and is of historical importance. We know the city because of its cricket stadium which is quite famous. But Dunedin has more to it.
Its a beautiful and delightful little city.
Wanting to visit the Otago Peninsula, we go to the Information Centre. The friendly person at the desk tells us that the last ferry has already left. Otago Peninsula is home to one of the world’s rarest penguin’s the Yellow Eyed penguin. We feel disappointed at having missed the ferry. Wanting to make the most of the time left before we head back to Queenstown, we explore the other attractions for which Dunedin is famous. Our first stop is Robert Burn’s statue, a famous Scottish poet. However, we visit the Dunedin Railway Station which is also the most photographed building in New Zealand. We also visit the Larnach Castle which is New Zealand’s only castle. It was constructed in 1871. The Victorian castle is also well known for its 14 hectare garden and grounds which has been recognised as a Garden of International Significance. Our next stop is the First Church of Otago which was constructed in 1867 and has a Gothic style. We love the beautiful architecture of all these beautiful heritage buildings. Dunedin is also famous for its Botanical Gardens and Cadbury World. Since we have to drive back to Queenstown the same day, unfortunately we do not get to explore all the major attractions.
Its a 4 hour drive back to Queenstown. We have to sleep early today. Tomorrow we go to Milford Sound.
Day 5 – Milford Sound
Originally, we intended to drive to Milford Sound but research on various ‘Trip Advisor’ forums recommends a coach journey to Milford Sound citing the driving conditions as difficult. We decide to drive till Te Anau, midpoint between Queenstown and Milford Sound and book a coach from Te Anau to Milford Sound on Viator.
We wake up early in the morning, get the kids ready while they are sleeping (the tasks which mothers are capable of!), put them in the car and drive off to Te Anau. We call the Coach Operator (booked through Viator) and are shocked when he tells us that our booking is not confirmed. For a moment, we don’t know what to do. We go to the Information Centre and the check with the person there whether the road is in a drivable condition. He confirms that we can drive down to Milford Sound and it would not be very risky. We decide to take a chance, book a cruise only at Milford Sound, have breakfast at the local Subway and head off to Milford Sound. The road is a delight to drive in except that it is winding, the views are stunning and we think that we are fortunate that the Coach journey was not confirmed. This is so much more fun. We play Hindi songs and enjoy the view. Having heard so much about Milford Sound, we look forward to the views. The Milford Sound is actually a fjord within the Fiordland National Park and has been judged as the world’s top travel destination in an international survey. Rudyard Kipling, the famous author, called it as the eighth Wonder of the World.
The journey is beautiful, the road passing through stunning landscapes. We finally enter the famous 1.2 Km Homer Tunnel which leads to the Sound. We park our car at the parking and proceed to catch our cruise liner. Its a short walk to the dock from where the cruise liners depart. We board our cruise liner and brace ourselves for Milford Sound. As we soak in the views, we feel at peace with the world. Its so beautiful. The cruise is just wonderful… fabulous views, mountains, waterfalls…close ups of seals. In two words, picture perfect. The cruise lasts for two hours. We return to Queenstown, still in awe of the Sound.
Sleep : Our stay at Queenstown has been great. We have made it a base and have enjoyed driving to different places from here. Now it’s time to move on to Christchurch.
Day 6 and 7 – Christchurch
Today, we drive to Christchurch. Its a long drive. We decide to take the scenic route to Christchurch. We pass through a stunning landscape, myriad colors of the trees pleasing our senses. Sheep graze in the meadows, looking like a disciplined army. We stop to soak in the scenery.
We reach Lake Tekapo in Mackenzie District and boy, is it beautiful? A lovely lake with waters so clean, you can see your reflection. We spend some time there.
From Lake Tekapo, we decide to visit Mount Cook. The drive is beautiful. After stopping for a while, we continue on our way to Christchurch.
We reach Christchurch in the night, have a dinner at Pizza Hut, check in our apartment and hit the bed. We are here for only for two nights out of which one has already gone and we want to make the most of it. The apartment is in Pacific Tower and we have booked it through Amazing Accom.
We plan to visit the International Antarctic Centre to experience the snow and to see the famous blue penguins. We reach there at 11 and stay there till 1. The Centre is both a museum and an amusement centre which focuses upon antarctic conditions and activities. The little blue penguins are a delight to watch.
The kids have a gala time, their receptive minds taking in the news things they see every day. We end up experiencing Antarctic like hailstorm and watching Happy Feet in 4D. The visit is enjoyable.
We use the Christchurch Tram to visit the tourist attractions. Its kind of a hop on hop off tour. We visit the beautiful Avon river, the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, The Canterbury Museum, the Roman Catholic Cathedral which got damaged in the earthquakes which had hit Christchurch in 2010 and 2011 consecutively, the Canterbury Art museum etc. Christchurch is also known as the Garden city because of the innumerable gardens throughout the city. We spend sometime at the Botanical gardens and near the Avon river. The day ends on a satisfactory note.
We catch a flight to Wellington. Its a short 45 minutes flight.
Day 8-9 – Wellington
We reach our cottage which is slightly far from the centre of Wellington, at Lower Hutt Valley. The cottage is beautiful, with lots of space for kids to play and for us to sit and savour the moment.
The next day we explore the city. Wellington is clean and trendy, it is New Zealand’s capital as well has the distinction of being the world’s southernmost capital city of a country.
Notable Wellington attractions are the Wellington Zoo and the Te Papa Museum. We also take a ride in the Wellington cable car which is one of the tourist attractions.
After having a good time in Wellington, we move to Rotorua. We reach Huka falls and take a break. The Huka falls is beautiful.
We reach Rotorua at night, a small city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua. The first thing which hits us is the smell of sulphur and its something which one can’t escape from in Rotorua.The city is famous for its geo-thermal activity and has a lot of geysers and hot thermal pools. After having a good night’s sleep, we leave to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt at 10:15 AM (a daily occurrence) in the Wai-O-Tapu area. To get a taste of the Maori culture, one must visit place is the Te-Puia. Later we see the Geyser Lake and the Rotorua Government Gardens which are all breathtaking in their own right.
Towards the evening, we go to the top of Rotorua by the Skyline Gondola. We also try the Luge activity and enjoy it thoroughly.
Day 13-14 Auckland to India
The time to say goodbye to New Zealand has come. We have a return flight from Auckland. We reach Auckland in the evening and stroll around near the iconic Sky Tower. Auckland is like a business city, crowded and vibrant. Alas, we do not have time since we have an early morning flight to catch.
The trip is the best we have ever had. A good time spent with friends amongst the most scenic country in the world. I have made myself a promise, that I will go back again to explore and enjoy it in its full glory. I need more time here, just to make sure that I am able to breathe in the freshest of air of the greenest of surroundings and remember it for the rest of my life.