The Ultimate Guide to New Zealand

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After being here in New Zealand for over two months now. I have realized how many things I actually have been able to see and done so far. I have also realized how hard it will be to write an article about every single wow-moment so far. There for, I want to do a part 1 bucket list over a couple of things you definitely should do or at least would enjoy doing here in beautiful New Zealand. My wish with this article is to inspire and hopefully answer some of your questions. I call it my New Zealand bucket list: part 1.

So if you would look up New Zealand on a map you would quickly realize that New Zealand is actually divided in to two main islands. The North Island and The South Island. It is very easy to get access to each one of them with a couple of hours by ferry on which you can take your car in case you need or want to. Another option is flight. There are quite a few airports around New Zealand. You could probably find really good tickets if you plan your trip and bookings a little bit in advance.

Hitchhike is a cool experience. Photo: Erika Kantonen
Hitchhike is a cool experience. Photo: Erika Kantonen

So first up on the list of things to have in mind coming here would be different ways to travel around New Zealand. I would really recommend to try out my first option, hitchhiking! It’s a cool experience just standing on the side of the road with your whole life in a backpack waiting for a stranger to do a kind act and pick you up. It is usually nice and very easy to talk to people who are willing to give you a ride and hopefully you can get some really valuable tips for the rest of your travel. Your plans can take a total turn right here. You might end up having a bbq at your new, awesome friends house. Another really good thing about hitchhiking is that it is really cheap. Not even cheap it is for free. It can save you tons of money that you can put in to other wicked experiences during your trip. But be prepared, in case you won’t be picked up while being in the out back. A recommendation while doing this is to always pack a small tent if you need to put up a camp for the night here and there, but that usually turns out to be a cool experience as well so don’t let that scare you off.

Another popular thing to do while in New Zealand is to rent a van to camp with and live in. A lot of tourists do it over here and I think that it’s a really awesome way to see New Zealand and it’s nature. The biggest plus must be that you are in charge of your own path on your travel. You can stop or keep going whenever you feel like it. Pretty sweet to wake up with a view over the ocean if you find a good spot to park and stay for the night. These vans can be pretty expensive though so don’t book the first deal you find. I would recommend you to plan and look around for good prices.

Public transport in New Zealand is from my perspective very poor. The best options to travel are by bus or flight. If you not planning in advance, I think this alternative can be very expensive for your wallet. One thing to keep it down would be to stay in backpackers and keep the living cost down, eat cheap and so on. Not as fun though. There are many hostels and backpackers here in New Zealand and many of them have good standard. Unfortunately you miss out on a lot of the amazing scenic views and places along the way while traveling with public transport. Some buses will give sort of a guided tour and it will stop at a couple of nice places. I still do not think it’s the same.

Next up I would love to talk about different cities, towns and places I have been to so far and what you could do while visiting them. I will start with The North Island where I have been spending most of my time so far.

Mount Taranaki in New Plymoth is 2 518 meters above sea level. Nice climbing. Photo: Erika Kantonen
Mount Taranaki in New Plymoth is 2 518 meters above sea level. Nice climbing. Photo: Erika Kantonen

New Plymouth
A fairly big town on the west coast in the Taranaki region. Offers some really good things to do as a tourist. Usually not to many people passes here though because the typical route to follow while here does not include this pretty town. Over here you can be really adventures and try to climb Mount Taranaki. It is a sleeping stratovolcano that last erupted in 1854. The mountain is 2 518 meters above sea level and depending on physical status, it will take approximately eight hours up and down without breaks. Make sure to do it on a nice and shiny day. The weather can turn quickly and being surrounded by clouds makes you pretty much blind. It can get very cold at the top where there is permanent snow all year around. Still a wow-moment and a cool thing to have on your bucket list while in New Zealand. The feeling afterwards is indescribable. It’s literally like being on top of the world.

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Egmont National park. Photo: Erik Kantonen
Egmont National park in New Plymoth. Photo: Erik Kantonen

Over here you have what is described to be one of the best coasts to surf in New Zealand called Surf Highway 45. A lot of locals and people traveling come here just for the surfing that always keeps a good standard. Down here you have a couple of small islands in the ocean close to the beach, you can swim out to one of them and go for a nice dip in a lagoon, it requires a little bit of climbing but nothing to advanced. If you are a good swimmer, a fun thing to do is to swim around the island and catch crabs. Perfect for the bbq to cook over the fire with family and friends. Look out so you don’t crash in to a seal since they are pretty common here and like to swim between the islands aka shark alley.

In New Plymouth I was also able to experience my number one on my bucket list. And that was seeing Orcas aka. Killer whales in the wild or in their natural habitat. Me and my boyfriend were following them for hours along the coast. There was five of them, one male, one female and three juveniles. They were hunting for food and in this case stingrays which New Plymouth have plenty of. While slowly swimming the coast they also made sure to play with some people in kayaks and on surf and paddle boards. If you are lucky and here at the right time, you will be able to see them around New Zealands coast all the way from down south and up to the north.

Another thing to do in New Plymouth that is just magical during the summer is to visit the Festival of Lights This really cool culture attraction is taking place every year between mid-December to early February. It is for free and they have band playing pretty much every night on different stages which is perfect for a picnic with your date, family or just friends. During the night the whole park lights up in many magical colors and pretty much transforms the park into an illuminated wonderland. You won’t regret this awesome experience.

Taupo
This pretty town is one of the most scenic places of The North Island and attracts a lot of tourists every year. They have the biggest lake in New Zealand, called Lake Taupo. Bigger than Singapore in size. Lake Taupo sits in a caldera, or a large hole, created from a super volcanic eruption. From the small beach in town you have a very nice view over the lake and one of the largest volcanos here called Ruapehu. This mountain you can actually climb as well or if you are in to winter sports it is one of the most popular places for skiing or snowboarding during the winter.

Beautiful sunset over Lake Taupo with the volcano Ruapehu in the background. Photo: Erika Kantonen
Beautiful sunset over Lake Taupo with the volcano Ruapehu in the background. Photo: Erika Kantonen

Taupo is also known for their Thermal springs and hot spa pools. There is really good ones for free but also nice spas if you are willing to invest some money in to this experience. It is a very nice thing to do while you are here and the fact that it is all natural and warmed up and produced by the emergence of geothermal heated groundwater that rises from the earths crust is very cool.

Huka Falls is a beautiful attraction for everyone who just loves the power of the water. A big set of waterfalls that rush before your eyes in a crazy speed and with the volume of water flowing through often approaches 220,000 liters per second. It looks baby blue and white as a pretty summer sky with small fluffy white clouds. With some extra money you can book a boat trip up the river and get really close infront of the waterfall.

Rotorua
aka. The smelly town, but still worth a stop in my opinion. Your number one to do here would be to explore the geysers and the mud pools. Same here if your want to keep it down, cash wise, there are pools you could look at. If you are ready to spend some money there are mud spas that are supposed to be really healthy and cool. Rotorua also happens to have some of the best trails for mountain biking in the world. They organized the world cup in 2006.

Waitomo
The home of the glowworm caves. This place should without a doubt be on your bucket list so if it is not already just put it in there. You can choose to go for a short guided tour approximately 45 minutes and you will also see them from a shorter boat ride. This is a spectacular adventure and being in the dark caves and see the ceiling looking like a massive heaven full of stars and still knowing it is not. You will also get a lesson in how the caves are getting the amazing shapes and forms that they have. If you are ready to spend some extra money on a once in a life time adventure there are several tours you can get which is called black water rafting and they are approximately around 5 hours and also include climbing and some more advanced things. You will get photos from your adventure compared to the shorter tours where is it also forbidden to take your own photos. Don’t be afraid of looking at the pictures at google, then you will understand what I am talking about.

Coromandel
I believe this is a beautiful places which deserves to be discovered. So far I have only had the opportunity to explore The Hot Water Beach Peninsula. This is a really intimate and nice beach. During the day you can see everything from laid back surfers to junior kids practicing their life saving skills. The biggest attraction is probably same over here as in Taupo, hot water spa pools. Only difference here is that during low tide there is a special line you need to follow under the sand out to the sea, so people bring their own shovels and dig their own pools. Last time we went here low tide was at 12 am and without even knowing it turned out that probably around hundred thirsty teenagers had the same idea as we had. It was a really amusing night with pools everywhere and with a bright sky full of stars and a beautiful moon right over our heads. A recommendation is to sleep in the car and make sure you wake up with a sweet view over the ocean from your bed.

Wellington
The very relaxed and cool capital of New Zealand. Many people probably still believe that Auckland is, wrong my friends. Wellington is located as south as you can come on The North Island. The big ferries over to Picton and down to The South Island goes from here. This city has a laid back and really chilled out attitude. Almost like a cool and unpretentious hipster town. Here you could walk around for hours and do some really nice shopping and eat some great food. Probably enjoy way to many cold and tasty beers as well.

Te Papa museum. Photo: Erika Kantonen
Te Papa museum. Photo: Erika Kantonen

I think number one for me during the stay here was the Te Papa museum, which is New Zealands national museum. Here you have the chance to see a skeleton of a blue whale, or why not see a giant squid probably on the top of being the biggest one every caught. There are also a lot of information and facts about New Zealands native animals such as the famous Kiwi bird. Also one of the reasons why the people of New Zealand are called Kiwis. You can also be inspired by the ground shaking, really interesting history and culture of the Maori people. First people to live in this country until the British empire came and took over with Captain Cook on the front deck.

Or why not spend quality time in the space area. Here you get to learn a lot of mind blowing fun facts about space you never knew before coming here and also in really cool ways. So a visit to this museum is for me definitely a thing worth to put on your bucket list. And a super big plus is that it is for free. I love free stuff by the way if you haven’t already noticed. Perfect for any age too.
If you still have some time to kill I would recommend a lunch at one of the restaurant down by the water on a nice sunny summer day or why not take a free guided tour in New Zealands Parliament or take a ride up the hill with the funicular railway. A fun thing to know about Wellington is that the famous New Zealand filmmaker of Lord of the rings, Peter Jackson lives here and also is one of the co founder of a company called Weta Digital which is a digital visual effects company.

Time for some super advice about The South Island.

Picton
Let us jump starting straight in to this charming little city just infront of the bay where all the ferries pick up and leave people traveling back and forth. This is actually a really small town but a nice place to kill some time if you are waiting for the boat. There are a couple of cute cafes and it is also surrounded by big green hills that help the sky and the stars look amazing during the night. There is a little museum by the small harbor you could take a look at while waiting. It is the largest town in the Marlborough Region even if the population is around 4 000 people. But since you are in this district make sure to go to a nice wine tasting. New Zealand is a part of the New Wine World and have some amazing things going on down here. Why not enjoy a glas of wine? Maybe a bone
dry or a lushly sweet riesling or why not a nice floral Sauvignon Blanc. A great way to start your trip down south if you ask me.

Kaikoura
New Zealands number one when it comes to whale watching. Like I wrote before this is the place to be if you are keen on some ocean animal action. Here you can see everything from seals, albatrosses, sperm whales, orcas, many different type of dolphins and one of them are the worlds smallest marine dolphins called hector dolphins and they are to be seen here in the inshore waters. So if you are a big fan of the marine life this is the place to be. You can probably pay different amounts compared to what you want to do. There is an option to swim with dolphins in the ocean but you can also see the animals from the air in a helicopter. Look up the price range before arrival is to recommend.
 

A good meail in Wellington. Photo: Erika Kantonen
A good meal in Christchurch. Photo: Erika Kantonen

Christchurch
A city very well known for earthquakes here in New Zealand. Five years ago there was a really big one that killed 185 people and destroyed pretty much all suburbs and infrastructure. Arriving here today you can still see cracks and the affects from the disaster back in 2011. But I still want to give this city and the people living here a high five for the hard work to get back on their feet again. There was a lot of good graffiti artist that came down to voluntarily spray masterpieces here and there over the whole city to encourage people to stay and rebuild their homes. Today it looks like a modern and really nice place to be again. There are still risks and small earthquakes but all the new buildings are constructed to stand tall even if it gets bad. This is a popular city for students and you also are really close to the water which is nice and make bigger cities feel more alive. Go fishing or maybe wind surfing? Why not have a nice ramen soup at one of the really good Japanese restaurants around.

Taylor's mistake, Christchurch. Photo: Erika Kantonen
Taylor’s mistake, Christchurch. Photo: Erika Kantonen

Queenstown
My biggest crush in New Zealand so far. And I strongly doubt that I am the only huge fan of this lovely big but also small town. Surrounded by big mountains that is perfect for snowboarding or skiing during the winter or hiking or mountain biking during the summer. In the middle you have a pure crystal blue lake called Wakatipu where you during the summer can do heaps of cool water sports or go for boat rides. Another popular thing to do here is to take the gondola up to the top where you have an amazing view over the whole town and while you are here sipping on a nice sangria make sure to go for a couple of heats in the Luge. Best way to describe it must be like a funny downhill version of go kart but instead of a steering wheel you have handles like on a bike. I really enjoyed the ride.

View in Queenstown. Photo: Erika Kantonen
View in Queenstown. Photo: Erika Kantonen

You have a lot of cool trails for horse trekking where you can have guided tours and ride to places where they were shooting scenes for the movie Lord of the rings. Kayaking is also a very popular activity. Here you have the worlds first bungyjump and also another bungy that is New Zealands highest one at the moment.

During the night this is probably the city to be in if you are keen on a good night out on town. A lot of young people live and travel down here. It is also very popular to come down and do season work. Everything is very pretty and you also have a nice little harbor with some nice restaurants. But if you are not looking for something too fancy or maybe fancy is the right word for it, New Zealands best burger are to be found right here in Queenstown called Fergburger. Don’t be a stranger to stand in line and wait with patience for your turn. I promise you it is worth every second and penny. This is a place I would not want to miss out on if I came to New Zealand to travel.

View in Milford Sound. Photo: Erika Kantonen
View in Milford Sound. Photo: Erika Kantonen

Milford Sounds
This place once again leaves me breathless. It is probably one of the most majestic places earth has ever created. If you decide not to come here during your travel you are as Gandalf would say fools. The scenic view from either one of the guide boats, kayaks or from the air in a plane are just stunning. If you arrive on a lucky day you can see seals play, kilometer high mountains and mesmerizing blue water. Some people have seen dolphins and orcas here as well. A girl we met in Queenstown showed me a video on her phone from a private boat ride in Milford Sounds where the orcas was jumping, playing and chasing their boat just for fun. It was truly magical to watch. As I think I have mentioned before in my texts you also will be able to see big, bold and beautiful waterfalls here. At one point our boat drove so close we could almost touch it with our fingers if we put out our hands. And we also had a lunch infront of another one on land. This place are also supposed to have amazing hiking trails if your are willing to stay for a couple of days. I would recommend to plan your trip down here a little bit since it is pretty far away from civilization.

I hope this little guide will fulfill some kind of purpose for someone out there.

So dear readers. I want to thank you once again for supporting me by reading my work and looking forward to your questions or feedback. The reason why I called this Part 1 is because I still have a long time to go here in New Zealand and you can count on a Part 2 in the near future when I have a couple of more sweet adventures in my pocket ready to share with you.

Keep enjoy life and remember it’s never too late to go out there and strive towards your goals. The only thing stopping you is you. Set yourself free to live the life of your dreams without limits. If you can not or do not want to let go of your life back home, at least make sure to always have a vacation or a travel to look forward to. Even if you book the ticket one year in advance just make sure you continuously have something fun ahead of you that makes it worth the hard work. I promise you that life will be much easier and will make you feel more alive.

And if you are keen to follow my adventures around the world you find me on Instagram under the name; @mybucketlistchallenge

Cheers guys!

erika

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