Road tripping through New Zealand

January 13, 2019

New Zealand was at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit while living in Hong Kong, because I really wanted us to take advantage of living somewhat close to this mythical country. Zane and I have also both become somewhat obsessed with the van life trend, and so a two-week New Zealand road trip made perfect sense to fulfil both of those dreams.

New Zealand is probably one of the easiest countries to plan a road trip. We ended up renting a standard mini van that was converted to a sleeper-van. The back folded out into a bed, and when you opened the trunk you had a sink with water, a fridge, and a little drop-down table to prepare food. I brought some Christmas lights that we strung around the bed, which gave it a cozy, homey feel at night when we were going to bed or laying down to watch Lucifer on Netflix.

I had high expectations for our New Zealand trip, and it did not disappoint. The country is truly magical – that is the best word I can think of to describe it. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, everywhere you go. It seems surreal that so much contrasting, natural beauty is concentrated on such a tiny island in the pacific. There is everything from huge snow capped mountains with turquoise glacial lakes, to long sandy beaches hugged by steep cliffs, to moss covered forests straight out of fern gully. And you can’t forget the hundreds of vineyards throughout.

We broke up our road trip with a four day hike on the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. To be honest, this was a lot harder than either Zane or I expected – both physically and for me mentally. We had looooong days of hiking where at moments I just really wanted it to end and be over with. The nights were also a lot colder than I expected, and most nights we were in the tent and sleeping by 8 pm, partly because we were so tired but also because it was too cold or there were too many sandflies to sit outside. The ground was super hard and I would wake up multiple times a night because I needed to turn over and switch positions because it felt like my body was bruising. Our feet, backs and legs hurt, our packs were really heavy with all our food and camping gear, and we were completely eaten alive by sandflies (hot tip: if you’re going to NZ in the summer, bring bug spray!). HOWEVER, the tough moments add to the richness of the experience, right? The lows were matched by the highest of highs. We were blown away by the beauty we saw. Each day the scenery was different which made the Heaphy Track so exciting – no day was the same. We felt such triumph whenever we would reach a campsite or even a kilometre marker which meant we were closer to our destination. We got to spend so much time just the two of us, no cell phones, in nature (my favourite). On our third day we finally reached the ocean and swam in the cold but refreshing water, and it felt incredible. I don’t want to ramble too much about it and I’ll let the photos do the talking, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I absolutely loved the Heapy Track, partly because of the fact that it was hard and we did it, and also because it was so beautiful and worth it. It was an adventure for us and there’s nothing I love more than going on adventures with Zane.

Some other things we did in New Zealand that we couldn’t get photos of were a night hike to see glow worms, swimming with dolphins in Akaroa, and star gazing in Lake Tekapo, a dark sky reserve. We saw the glow worms at our overnight camp site at the western start of Arthurs Pass. Once it was dark around 11 pm (the sun in NZ stays out for so long in the summer, it’s awesome), we put on our headlights and hiked into the forest along a path the woman at the front desk told us to follow. When we reached the river, we switched the lights on our headlamps from white to red, and looked around. It took a bit for me to process what I was seeing; at first I thought, who put all those green Christmas lights up? Haha. Tiny little green lights were scattered all across the stone cliff wall next to the river. Those were the glow worms! It was amazing! I had never seen anything like that, I didn’t know something like that even existed. It didn’t seem natural, but it was and it was so cool! We didn’t bring a proper camera to do long exposure to capture it, but I’ll never forget it. It was like little green stars all along the wall of a river.

Then in Lake Tekapo, we booked a star gazing tour. Lake Tekapo is a dark sky reserve, which means there is very little light pollution and it is one of the best places in the WORLD to view stars. We actually spent New Years in Mount Cook which is right next to Lake Tekapo, and rang in the New Year under the stars, watching for shooting stars and drinking some of the wine we picked up at the vineyards. Random story but when Zane and I first started dating, we went up to his cottage and star gazed that first night. We saw so many stars and even lots of shooting stars. It’s one of my favourite memories I have of us together, so I have a sort of sentimental attachment to star gazing with him and I absolutely love whenever we are able to do it. Anyways, on January 1st we went on our tour. They took us out to a man made crater where they had professional telescopes set up. They pointed out different stars and constellations, and we got to see nebulas and stars being born through the telescopes. It was really cool! And of course the stars were amazing as well.

In Akaroa we did a morning swim with with Hector dolphins. We got into our wetsuits bright and early, and went out on the boat in search of dolphins. It didn’t take long before we started seeing pods. When it seemed like a pod was interested in hanging around, we would jump in the water with them. Hector dolphins are the smallest in the world and also the rarest, so you can only swim with these types of dolphins in Akaroa. They were so cute and friendly, it was awesome!

I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking for now. First, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, our first big day hike in NZ. This is where Mount Doom was filmed in Lord of the Rings.

Mount Doom volcano in the background, also known as Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s still an active volcano. I love the reds that come out in the rock.

Definitely a huge highlight of the hike is the Emerald Lakes, which you get to after you hike up and over the volcano. The clouds you see in the background is actually steam being released from the volcano. It’s like a whole different world up there!

After we hiked the Tongariro Crossing, the rest of of our time on the North Island was dominated by some heavy rain. We made the most of it by doing wine tastings on Christmas Eve day, as we were staying in the Hawkes Bay area, a known wine region. We had a delicious lunch at Craggy Range Vineyard, which was also my favourite wine tasting we did thanks to the amazing sommelier who guided us through it and answered all of our questions. Then on Christmas day we drove to Wellington to hop on a ferry to the South Island. When we arrived we were welcomed with this absolutely gorgeous sunset over the vineyards in Marlborough, complete with a rainbow.

That is our lovely camper van in this next picture, and me packing up the last of our stuff right before embarking on the Heaphy Track.

I swear I saw ferries fluttering around this fern gully-like place.

Rinsing off the all the sweat and dirt accumulated over the last three days. This was at the point where the fresh water Kohaihai River meets the Tasman Sea. It was cold but really refreshing, and just felt so amazing and rejuvenating.

We had overcast skies and some light rain on our hike out, but we didn’t mind. We hiked along the coast, across beaches and along seaside cliffs.

What you don’t see in this picture is me scrambling to quickly snap the photo before the sandflies consumed me for breakfast.

We were both a little nervous at the start of our drive along Arthurs Pass, because it was super cloudy and foggy and we literally couldn’t see more than couple metres in front of us. I tried not to let it get to me but I was feeling rather disappointed to be missing the views I had heard so much about. Then Zane said “I think it’s going to work out for us” and honestly within minutes the clouds lifted and we got to see ALL the views! Sometimes I think he’s psychic.

Taking in the views while hearing the hundreds of sheep baa’ing around us.

Arriving in Akaroa! Probably one of my favourite places we visited. A quaint small seaside town on the eastern coast.

Doesn’t it look like something out of a storybook?

This was our favourite winery! If you’re ever in Akaroa, or even in New Zealand, I highly suggest visiting Meniscus winery. It is owned by the loveliest older couple, and sits right atop a vineyard overlooking the bay in Akaroa. Their wine is amazing – best Riesling we’ve ever had, we still talk about it. The wife also breeds monarch butterflies and took Zane and I into their home to show us. She has a little green house room in the back where she takes care of the caterpillars and nurtures them until they turn into butterflies, and then she sets them free. The whole thing is just so beautiful.

The brilliantly blue Lake Tekapo – the lake was actually this colour, can you believe it? My eyes could barely believe it.

Call me basic but I was SO excited to see all these wild lupine’s in NZ!

Starting of New Years Even by watching the sunset with a bottle of rose at Mount Cook.

First hike of 2019 – the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook.

The famous Lake Wanaka tree.

We hiked to a vineyard overlooking Lake Wanaka. Beautiful hike, beautiful vineyard, but terrible wine haha.

On our last morning at Lake Wanaka we hiked up to Roy’s Peak. Zane and I both agree that this is the hardest hike we have done, ever. It is literally 2.5 hours up a straight incline. It was HARD! When we were about 3/4 of the way up, I slightly lied to Zane about what time it was to put some extra pep in our step (because I just wanted to get it over with, and we had a lunch reservation at a vineyard to make). When we reached the top I told Zane what time it really was. He just looked at me, smiled, and calmly said “I hate you” hahaha.

Hard, but these views made it all worth it.

Lunch at Mount Difficulty winery. Much less difficult that the hike up the mountain we just did 😉

We started our last full day in New Zealand by kayaking around Milford Sound. We got lucky and saw some blue skies which is pretty rare for the area, and even a small seal!

Afterwards we drove to Queenstown and had a delicious steak dinner. The next day, Zane’s nephew Levon was born! It was a joyous morning… so we celebrated by visiting two more vineyards before heading to the airport 😉

If I haven’t overstated it enough, I loved New Zealand. And I loved our van life. I loved getting to spend so much quality time with Zane just exploring. We talked so much about our future dreams during this trip and it just got me so jazzed for life. One of them being to own our own vineyard one day, and also our own van one day so we can do more van trips around North America.

New Zealand was truly a dream come true and a huge tick off the bucket list. I really hope to be back someday, because there is still so much beauty to explore in that country!

If you have any questions about New Zealand, whether you’re thinking of planning a trip or just curious, leave them in the comments below and I’d love to chat about it 🙂