It took me nine and a half months to finally finish the series of posts about my trip to New Zealand. I certainly didn’t expect it to take that long, but I am glad I did it the way I did, instead of caving in to pressure from myself to just finish them. This trip was, without a doubt in my mind, the best trip I have ever taken. I usually finish the posts for each trips with a Best and Worst List or a What I Did Right and What I Did Wrong post, but in this case, I am hard pressed to find many things about New Zealand I would refer to as ‘Worst’, and I’m also struggling to find things I would say I did wrong, so I expected the ‘Best’ and Things I Did Right parts of this list to be a lot longer.
The Best of New Zealand-
Fiordland- This incredibly beautiful part of the country is best known for Milford and Doubtful Sounds. I spent three days here and could have spent a month. I cruised Doubtful Sound on an overnight cruise, one of my my favorite excursions of the whole trip, drove the Milford Road, and took a day cruise on Milford Sound. Since I went in winter, I wasn’t able to hike many of the famous tracks that snake through this region, but I would love to go back some day and do those, plus take a longer cruise into the lesser known fjords to the south of Doubtful Sound.
West Coast Glaciers- The highlight of my time here was the flight over Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, but I also enjoyed my hike on Fox Glacier. There were so many more excursions I could have done here, but I’m pretty confident I picked the two best. I still get goosebumps thinking about the helicopter flight- it was the thing I was most excited about doing when I planned the trip, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Wellington- I’d only heard good things about New Zealand’s capital before the trip, but I had no idea how much I would like it. Not only is it in a beautiful setting, it offers all the amenities of a big city without being overwhelming like Auckland can be. Throw in Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum & my favorite museum of all that I’ve ever visited, and Wellington is a great destination.
Cape Reinga– It’s a long, slow drive up to the North Island’s northernmost point, but it’s one I can’t encourage enough. As I wrote in the post, Cape Reinga is a place of great significance to the Maori, and I certainly felt that during my visit. Combining it with a visit to the Te Paki Sand Dunes and Ninety Mile Beach is a great reward for the long drive.
Dunedin– I wrote in my post on this South Island city that it was mostly undiscovered outside of New Zealand and the travel community, and it’s true. I’d heard very little about Dunedin before leaving, and that is a bit surprising. It’s a cool place, with The University of Otago located in the city’s northern section. It combines a college town atmosphere with a lively downtown area and gorgeous location. I’ve seen a lot more posts on Dunedin in the past 6 months- it won’t stay undiscovered for long.
Swimming with Dolphins– There are plenty of opportunities to do this on both islands, but I really enjoyed my trip with Black Cat Cruises based in Akaroa (1.5 hours outside Chrustchurch). We swam with the rare Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest sea dolphin in the world.
Things I Did Right-
Jucy Campervan Rental– This was the best decision I made for the whole trip. Having my own wheels allowed me the freedom to do exactly what I wanted to do, which was roam. The campervan wasn’t much more than a car rental, so I had the ability to camp whenever I wanted, but I also didn’t feel guilty about spending a little extra and staying in hostels occasionally. Having the campervan’s kitchen allowed me to prepare most of my own meals, and this saved be a ton of money.
Spent Money when an experience called for it- A couple of the things I did were a little pricey, namely the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise, my flight over the Glaciers, and swimming with the Dolphins in Akaroa. I met a number of backpackers who were doing the country on a shoestring budget, but were skipping a lot of the country’s coolest things because they weren’t going to spend the money on it. I understand that everyone has different budgets, and a fight over glaciers and mountains is a luxury item, but skipping anything that costs a little more seems unfortunate.
Research & Advice- On a lot of my trips, I come up with my own itinerary and am not very open to suggestions and advice I get. On this trip, I openly solicited advice and was rewarded by following a lot of it. I will credit my friend Andy with the suggestion to drive through McKenzie County on the way from Christchurch to Dunedin, the Shauna Roughly for her wonderful suggestions for Wellington, and Amanda Williams of A Dangerous Business for her advice to visit the Catlins.
I took a few photos- The final number ended at over 12,000. Sure, lots of them were the three & nine shot exposures I use for my HDR pics, but that is still a lot. I had a few people ask me, upon hearing that ridiculous number, if I stopped taking photos long enough to actually enjoy myself. The answer is too fold, yes, I did stop taking pictures long enough to soak in what I was doing, but I also love taking pictures and am so glad I took as many as I did.
Made New Friends- I met so many people along the way. Two people stand out in my mind. First is Andy, who is a mutual Facebook friend of a person I went to college with, who saw a post on the friends wall the night I booked my ticket last January where I put the New Zealand flag up as my profile picture. He sent me a friend request, and we corresponded in the months leading up to the trip. He was kind enough to give me the insider’s tour of his adopted hometown of Dunedin, and to treat me to an excellent lunch. I enjoyed meeting him and am sure I’ll return to Dunedin on my next trip to New Zealand specifically to visit him. The second person is Philip, a bartender at an excellent Wellington pub called The Brauhaus. I was beginning to think I’d never find good, Kiwi-brewed beer, and in those few short hours, he opened my eyes to some excellent brews. We’ve remained friends on Untappd since the trip. I met so many more people who were awesome, some Kiwi and some from the amazing assortment of other nationalities visiting at the time. What’s most amazing is that I liked everyone I met. I can’t recall one time where I sat down and had a conversation with someone and ended up disliking them. Maybe it’s just that all the people I met were as equally under the spell of this magical land as I was.
Epilogue-I had the idea to have my last post be a long letter to New Zealand. I wrote five different drafts of this and ended up scrapping them all. In the end, they all had one central theme- I have never been more in love with a place as I am with New Zealand. I was filled with excitement every morning to be able to continue this amazing trip. Even the few days where the weather didn’t cooperate, I still had a great time, always seeming to find those moments of wonder. Nine months later, I still find myself getting lost in the memories provided by my photos. It was a constant struggle to sit down and write blog posts because of the time spent my wandering through the photos, living those experiences all over again. I scrapped the letters to New Zealand because I didn’t feel like any of them adequately expressed my feelings. I’ve given up on trying to do that. If my true feelings about New Zealand aren’t conveyed in the 60 posts of this series, then I should just quit blogging now. There is only one downside to the trip- now, for the rest of my travel life, every trip will just be battling to be the second best trip ever. Thank you, Aotearoa, and your wonderful people. I’ll be back, someday, that’s a promise. Erik Smith March 30th, 2013
The New Zealand 2012 Series:
- New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
- Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
- Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
- Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
- Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
- Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
- Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
- Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
- Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
- Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
- Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
- Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
- Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
- Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise
- Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.2)
- Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.3)
- Photo Essay- The Two Faces of Doubtful Sound
- Chapter Nine- The Milford Sound Road
- Chapter Ten- Milford Sound and The Hollyford Road
- Photo Essay- Milford Sound Cruise
- Chapter Eleven- Onward to Queenstown
- Chapter Twelve- In, Above & Around Queenstown
- Photo Essay- Queenstown Flight
- Photo Essay- Sunrise over Queenstown
- Chapter Thirteen- A Soggy Drive to the West Coast
- Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.1)
- Photo Essay- Glacier Scenic Flight
- Chapter Fourteen- Above and On the Glaciers (pt.2)
- Chapter Fifteen- Meandering Up the West Coast
- Chapter Sixteen- Through the Buller Gorge to the North
- Chapter Seventeen- The Longest Short Walk in Abel Tasman NP
- Chapter Eighteen- We’re Looking for the Whales
- A South Island Podcast & Video
- New Zealand’s South Island in 10 Words
- Photo Essay- Boarding the Interislander Ferry
- Photo Essay- Scenic Views from the Interislander Ferry
- Chapter Nineteen- The One that Ends with Good Beer
- Photo Essay- Wellington from Mount Victoria
- Chapter Twenty- Wonderful Wellington
- Photo Essay- The Wellington Zoo
- Photo Essay- Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
- Chapter Twenty-One- The Desert Road to Taupo
- Photo Essay- The New Zealand Army Museum
- Photo Essay- Sailing Lake Taupo aboard the Barbary
- Chapter Twenty-Two- From Taupo to Rotorua (pt.1)
- Photo Essay- The Wairakei Terraces
- Photo Essay- Huka Honey Hive
- Photo Essay- Huka Falls Cruise
- Chapter Twenty-Two- From Taupo to Rotorua (pt.2)
- Chapter Twenty-Three: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.1)
- Photo Essay- Te Puia, Rotorua
- Chapter Twenty-Three: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.2)
- Photo Essay- The Te Awamutu Museum
- Chapter Twenty-Three: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.3)
- Photo Essay- Kawhia Sunset
- Chapter Twenty-Four: Two Long Drives and Glowworms
- Chapter Twenty-Five: Waitangi, The Hokianga & Rain
- Chapter Twenty-Six: Cape Reinga & The Spirits of the North (pt.1)
- Photo Essay- Cape Reinga
- Chapter Twenty-Six: Cape Reinga & The Spirits of the North (pt.2)
- Chapter Twenty-Six: Cape Reinga & The Spirits of the North (pt.3)
- Photo Essay- Te Paki Sand Dunes and Ninety Mile Beach
- Chapter Twenty-Seven: All Roads Lead to Auckland
- Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Auckland/New Zealand Dichotomy
- Chapter Twenty-Nine: All Good Things…
- New Zealand Idiot Photos
- New Zealand- The Places I Stayed
- My Jucy Campervan- The Perfect Way to get Around New Zealand
- The Best of New Zealand Signs
- On the Road in New Zealand- A Photo Essay
- Epilogue: Best Trip Ever