2 years ago, before starting university, my boyfriend and I spent 6 weeks travelling around New Zealand. We had the most incredible time visiting this amazing country. The trip was jam packed meaning we saw so much of this beautiful place, spending time on both the North and South Island.
We booked our trip with the Kiwi Experience, a bus company specialising in tours of New Zealand. They are super popular with young travellers so are a great way of meeting people and making friends. They also partnered up with loads of the tour companies at each stop, meaning you get discounted rates at loads of activities and hostels. Seemed like a winner to me!
Going with the Kiwi Experience honestly was the best decision. They have buses running every day in the summer and every other day in the winter, so you can hop on any bus you like and see the country at your own pace. The driver would book ahead for the days activities and the evenings accommodation so everything was stress free. While this structure may not be for everyone, for us as newbie travellers it was perfect, and clearly was with others too!
I honestly think it is the best route for seeing New Zealand’s best bits, whether you go it alone in a camper or decide to go with the Kiwi Experience too, I’ve decided to share the route on here, alongside the best bits at each site too!
Auckland is most likely the destination you will fly into. It’s quite a small city but there’s lots to do, whether thats wandering around the harbour, sitting in coffee shops trying to get rid of jet lag or hiking up Mount Eden.
Hot Water Beach
On the way, stop off at Cathedral Cove, a beautiful beach that actually features in Macklemore’s ‘Can’t Hold Us’ music video.
Hot Water Beach is a must see. You have to get the tides right, but if you do, you can dig your own personal hot tub in the beach as the hole fills with naturally hot water.
Waitomo is famous for it’s lime stone caves hidden beneath the countryside. The caves are also famous for glow worms, which line the walls like stars in the sky. You can go tubing through the caves to really get the full experience, although me being the worrier I am, opted for a walking tour!
Rotorua is a place we didn’t actually see that much of as we didn’t stay in the town. Instead we did an overnight maori experience, where we stayed in a traditional maori village, ate traditionally cooked maori food and watched traditional maori dances. It was such an interesting evening and I would 100% recommend going!
Taupo is the adventure destination of the North Island. We opted to go skydiving here as it’s the cheapest place to go in New Zealand, although unfortunately our dive was cancelled due to weather! However there are loads of other things to do like bathing in the geothermal heated streams or visiting Huka Falls.
River Valley is a hidden little gem that we only had access to due to being on the Kiwi Experience. Its a small lodge that just feels like home. They have a big roaring fire and serve up roast dinners, the perfect taste of home that any traveller craves!
Wellington is where you come to catch the ferry to the South Island but it is also a destination to be explored in its own right. It is such a culturally rich city filled with museums but also beautiful walks like Mount Victoria.
After a long walk in Abel Tasman’s National Park, we stayed in Kaitiritiri which is worth a visit for the beautiful beach alone!
We stopped in Westport after spending the day at Lake Nelson, one of New Zealand’s many lakes that you must visit!
Lake Mahinapua was possibly one of my favourite destinations of the trip, it was so simple yet so beautiful. 5 minutes down one country road was a lake surrounded by huge mountains, and 5 minutes the other way was a beautiful beach. We ran between the two and managed to catch the sun set at each!
Franz Josef is the place to go glacier walking. You HAVE to go. We were taken up to the glacier in a helicopter and then spent 3 hours hiking on the glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Wanaka is a stop on the way to Queenstown but again it’s a destination to explore in its own right! There are beautiful lakes to admire, a cute little town to get lost in and a crazy optical illusion museum to explore.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and the place EVERYBODY visits. There are endless activities to get involved with, all year round. My absolute favourite though was luging – racing down the hillside in a little kart trying to be the first to the bottom (just one tip – if you go in the winter take gloves or your hands will freeze!).
In Dunedin, we watched the jaffa race which is a crazy tradition in which jaffas (little chocolate sweets) are thrown down the steepest street in the world, all in the name of charity. While this doesn’t happen all year round, there’s loads of other stuff to do like the chocolate factory or exploring the cities incredible street art.
Invercargill (& Milford Sounds)
Invercargill is the place to explore Catlin Coastal Heritage Trail which is a walk full of waterfalls and lighthouses and even the search of sea lions and penguins. It is also the most southernly point in New Zealand which is closer to the South Pole than the Equator.
Milford Sounds is a fiord which features in almost all New Zealand travel photos. We had a two hour boat trip through the glacier valley to the Tasman Sea and back and were even lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins.
After visiting Milford Sounds, it was back to Queenstown for more exploring and eating fergburgers, the famous New Zealand burger that you have to try (these were in my pre-vegetarian days don’t worry). The queue is long but it’s so worth it.
Lake Tekapo is another New Zealand lake to discover, it is as beautiful as all the others and soooooo blue.
Next stop was Christchurch which is the final stop for those who don’t wish to travel back up to the North Island. It’s an amazing city to see, especially to see how they have overcome and adapted to the recent earthquake!
Kaikoura is a quaint little seaside town that is famous for its fish and chips. It is also famous for its whale watching boat trips, although unfortunately these were cancelled due to weather when we were there. Although there were plenty of other things to do like hiking or hanging out with baby seals.
Following Kaikoura, the rest of the trip was about getting back up to Auckland to make our flight home. We didn’t visit any new destinations unfortunately but our last stops were…
So that was our route to travel New Zealand. We had the most jam packed, but incredible trip and I would go back to do it all again today if I could. We could possibly have squeezed in the Bay of Islands too although we decided not to, though this just gives us another reason to come back!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and find it helpful. Keep your eyes peeled for a more detailed post about the destinations themselves coming soon (you can subscribe to get notifications of these). If you have any questions relating to my trip let me know in the comments down below! Similarly comment if you’ve ever visited New Zealand! Where was your favourite place? I’d love to chat.
Lots of love, as always,
Amy N x
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