ChristchurchOur first stop was Christchurch known as the Garden City and the gateway to the stunning Canterbury region. It’s a beautiful city in the South Island, despite the havoc and devastation caused by two earthquakes in 2010/11.
We joined a city tour and were able to see many of the crumbled or completely destroyed buildings and houses. It was a depressing sight, indeed. However, after seeing new buildings rising up from the grounds we felt elated. The positive signs of renewed hope for a new life are truly visible in this resilient city.
The expansive grounds of the Botanic Gardens are also worth visiting. The Gardens have an impressive display of trees and colourful flowers and other floral wonders from around the world. Punting is a popular activity along the Avon River. It reminded me of our last trip to Cambridge in the UK.
The following day we went to the outstanding Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.
There we were able to see some of New Zealand’s lovely birds and animals like its iconic but largely nocturnal bird - the Kiwi, the noisy and very curious Kea and Kaka, the rare bush parrot.
After this very informative tour, we became enthusiastic and active participants of the Kotane Maori cultural show and afterwards dined the famous Hangi (cooked in the ground) meal. It was a fun-filled evening and we met other visitors who shared their experiences and impressions of New Zealand. Some were excited to see places others had already been and some were sad to be leaving, but promising to return one day.
Alpine Safari Tour
Our next adventure was the Alpine Safari Tour, a spectacular one day tour into the breathtaking Southern Alps of New Zealand. We boarded a 4-wheel-drive vehicle driven by John who bore a striking resemblance to Prince Charles. I’m not joking, he really looks like Prince Charles.
The first time I heard him talking, and the way he smiles reminded me of Prince Charles. I even mentioned this to my husband who shared the same observation.
When mentioned to him, he smiled shyly and said he had been told by many about this resemblance, but could not explain why.
Our safari tour took us to one of the oldest sheep stations in Springfield (the town name from The Simpson’s TV Cartoon series).
I was pretty excited because I saw a lot of sheep – now my favourite animal, as validated by many sheep photos taken during the entire holiday in NZ.
The thrill of the day was the jetboat ride along the snaky Waimakariri river coursing through the canyons. The complete 360 degree spin-turns professionally executed by the driver reminded me of some action-packed scenes in the movies. He pointed out many interesting facts about the canyon including where scenes had been filmed for Lord of the Rings and one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies.
Lastly, we boarded the TranzAlpine train in Arthurs Pass. The scenery was fantastic! Majestic mountains, blue lakes and pristine waters – Mother Nature’s best zooming right in front of us!
Canterbury/ Mackenzie DistrictStill in the Canterbury region, we headed to Lake Tekapo. Here the scenery is worth dying for!
For me, it has arguably the most dramatic landscape in NZ. The turquoise lake, snow-capped Southern Alps and the clear night sky made this place our top favourite.
The water really is bright blue and the sunlight so bright you are squinting if not wearing sunglasses.
There are two most notable landmarks in Lake Tekapo – the Church of the Good Shepherd that was built in 1935 and the bronze collie dog statue.
The Church recognizes the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country while the collie dog statue is a memorial to working dogs that provided much needed help to sheep farmers in the region’s grazing land.
We also joined the midnight-guided tour of Mount John Observatory with NZ’s largest telescope. Since it was a bit cloudy, viewing the majestic night sky through their powerful telescopes was limited. However, we saw the Milky Way and the Southern Cross.
Did you know that New Zealand’s flag features the Southern Cross?
On our way back to the Holiday Park where we had a pitch, the roads were lined by dozens and dozens of wild rabbits. As if they were out there to party; you can see them hopping along leisurely or frantically or just sitting by the roadside. Also, their eyes seem to glow red in the dark- a bit spooky.
Another spectacular sight in this area is Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3754 meters. Here you’ll be stunned to see the tussock grassland, big river valleys, glacial lakes and tallest mountains.
Day 6 to 13: Akaroa, Rakaia, Burkes Pass, Lake Tekapo, Timaru Botanic Gardens, Pareora River Road, Kurow to Otematata, Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, Mount John Observatory, Lindis Pass, Old Cromwell Town.
In the Banks Peninsula you can find Akaroa, a seaside village where you can see signs of a French settlement – the only one in New Zealand. This is evident by the street and shop names, as well as its architecture. Many tourists stop here because of its famous wildlife. Sailing adventures where sightings of dolphins are one of its popular attractions.
Central Otago with the main towns of Alexandria and Cromwell. Cromwell is the Fruit Basket of New Zealand with a compact modern shopping center, hospital, golf course and its own world class Motor Sport racing track the longest in NZ at 4.5km. There is also a well preserved Old Cromwell town where buildings and stores from the former 19th century town have been relocated and restored.
Day 14 to 18: Mount Pisgah, Waikouaiti River, Dunedin City, Dunedin Chinese Garden, Seals basking at Fort Taiaroa, Paua shells at Molyneux Bay, Purakaunui Forest and Water Fall, Tautuka Beach, Oyster Bay, Porpoise Bay, Catlins Conservation Park, Cosy Nook at Ta Waewae Bay, Brunel Peaks, Manapouri.
Day 19 to 24: Fiordland National Park, Lake Manapouri, Mackay Creek, Eglinton Mountains, Lake Gunn, Hollyford Valley Gorge, Mount Christina, Milford Sound, Lake Te Anau, Lake Wakatipu, Bayonet Peaks, Queenstown, Glenorchy, Tooth Peaks, Pigeon Island, Pig Island, Lake Wanaka, Makarora Blue Pools, Franz Josef Glacier, Hokitika River Gorge, Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki Beach, Charleston Adventure Caving, Seals at Tauranga Bay.
Day 25 to 33: Kohatu - Kawatiri Highway, Takaka - Abel Tasman, Pohara Beach, Te Waikoropupu Springs, Havelock Mussel Capital, Marlborough Wine Region, Blenheim, Drylands Vineyards, Picton Harbour, Interislander Ferry, Wellington, Taihape Gum Boot Throwing Capital, Tongariro National Park, Mount Ruapehu, Whakapapa Hills, Taumarunui - Te Kuiti Hills, Otorohanga, Hobbiton Movie Set.
Day 34 to 38: Hamilton Gardens, Piha Beach, Auckland, Skytower - Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Kuaotuna Beach, Simpson’s Beach, Hot Water Beach - Tairua, Whanganui Beach, Waihi Beach, Katikati Wall Murals, Papamoa Beach.
Day 39 to 41: Kiwi Fruit Centre, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Waikato River Rapids, Lake Taupo, Te Ponanga, Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, Flight over Mountains.
Day 42 to 49: Patea, Mount Taranaki, Stratford, Whanganui, Virginia Lake, Interislander Ferry - Wellington to Picton, Blenheim Vineyards, Hanmer Hot Springs, Christchurch.
New Zealand Tour in 49 days