Angela and I recently returned from eleven days in New Zealand with all but one day spent on the South Island. We had an absolutely fantastic trip with beautiful landscapes, exciting hiking, and exhilarating and meaningful activities.
It is hard to express just how much our plan for this journey differed from our past few itineraries. Gone were the museums and art galleries, replaced with driving, hiking, boating, and adrenaline-spiking experiences. As we approached our travel dates, I was wondering just how much we’d like it. I shouldn’t have been worried. We loved the experience so much that I’m actively planning a return to New Zealand, perhaps as early as next December.
The impetus for this trip was a fare that I have mentioned in previous trip reports. We used the first leg to fly home from Europe at the tail end of our trip to London and used the next two legs to fly round-trip to New Zealand for this vacation. With how flexible we are, and the amount of United trip credit we had accumulated, we could hardly pass up a fare at this price point to a location that is very expensive to fly to, especially in business class.
From there, we filled in the blanks based on Angela’s copious research. We went into this trip with our eyes wide open, knowing we’d only see a small fraction of what New Zealand has to offer.
Unlike most of our travels, there were no award bookings on this trip. We used United trip credit to book the long-haul flights, as previously discussed, and Air New Zealand trip credit to book the domestic flights.
- Angela and Nicholas
- 1,649.78USD (distance-prorated cash fare of 3,062.94USD for complex itinerary) per person
- LAS-SFO on UA J
- SFO-AKL on UA J
- AKL-SFO on UA J
- SFO-LAS on UA J
- 431.00NZD per person
- AKL-CHC on NZ Y
- ZWN-AKL on NZ Y
- 1,649.78USD (distance-prorated cash fare of 3,062.94USD for complex itinerary) per person
We managed to use a fair number of points on hotels in New Zealand, primarily in the major cities. For smaller towns, I chose to book directly with the lodges and motels that we stayed at and, when booking, I tried to maximize our comfort and convenience instead of minimizing our expenses.
- One room for one night at the Chateau on the Park for 30,000 Hilton Honors Points per night
- One room for one night at Stopforths Premium Accommodations for 168.00NZD per night
- One room for three nights at Fox Glacier Lodge for 215.00NZD per night (we checked out one night early because we decided to move on from Fox Glacier)
- One room for one night at The Moorings Wanaka for 185.00NZD per night
- One room for five nights at the Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa for 47,500 Hilton Honors Points per night with fifth night free
- One room for one night at the Park Hyatt Auckland for 23,000 World of Hyatt Points per night
We spent a considerable amount of money on several activities and regard each of them as worth the cost. For us, these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and we’re glad we were in a position to do all of them.
- 224.25NZD per person for the TranzAlpine service from Christchurch to Greymouth
- 599.00NZD per person for the Flying Fox Heli Hike on Fox Glacier
- 599.00NZD per person for a Milford Sound Overnight Cruise
- 330.00NZD per person for the Nevis Bungy and Kawarau Bridge Bungy Combo with AJ Hackett Bungy, including the cost of the photo and video package
We decided to rent a car on this trip because it was the only way to ensure we could have the experience we wanted. It was surprisingly inexpensive compared to my expectations. I’m glad I booked well in advance because when I tried to reprice it a week before our trip all of the availability had disappeared.
In addition, there was a fee for the visa required for entry into New Zealand. This is a multi-entry visa and I believe that we’ll likely be making use of it in the future.
- 52.00NZD per person for nzETA and immigration fees
- 933.83NZD for a mid-size rental car for nine days via Budget from Greymouth Train Station to Queenstown Airport
December 7, 2022
Our trip started the same way most of them do. We dropped Fitz off at his boarding facility after a morning of coffee and cuddles before returning home to pack our bags. For this trip, we decided to check our bags for all of our flights and our cross-country train ride, eschewing our frequent practice of using carry-on luggage only. This made it easier to bring our hiking boots, appropriate clothing for the wide range of weather we’d face, and all the toiletries we’d need during the course of our travels. In addition, the size and weight limits for carry-on luggage on the domestic New Zealand flights were lower than we’re used to and we knew we wouldn’t be able to conform to them.
We arrived at the airport about two hours ahead of our flight and ate a light lunch at The Centurion Lounge. Like most recent visits there, we had to wait in line before accessing the lounge as they have instituted capacity controls. The flight to San Francisco was pleasant, with a very friendly flight crew, and we landed ahead of schedule.
Our layover in San Francisco was long enough for us to grab dinner at the Polaris Lounge before our flight. We took advantage of the sit-down restaurant inside the lounge and our consensus was that the experience was fairly average. It wasn’t that the food was bad, but it wasn’t demonstrably better than anything they offer on the buffet and isn’t anywhere near the level of quality provided in the Qantas First Lounge, American Airlines Flagship First, or many of the business class lounges throughout Asia.
After dinner, we patiently waited for boarding to start at 2205. We left the lounge a little early to circle the terminal and stretch our legs before boarding the long flight down to Auckland. The boarding process was a little stilted, but we made it on the plane and departed on-time.
Angela and I both skipped meal service and chose to get as much sleep as possible. The United Polaris seats are fairly comfortable, and the bedding is very nice. As far as I’m concerned, it is a great option for any long flight. Unfortunately, the ground crew didn’t load any mattress pads or pajamas for the flight even though United Airlines is supposed to provide them on journeys longer than twelve hours. Regardless, we both slept well and woke up ready to go once we landed in New Zealand.
After time-traveling through December 8, we landed in Auckland slightly ahead of schedule. We cleared the automated immigration gates before continuing to baggage claim where we waited twenty-five minutes for our luggage to arrive. We stood in line for a biosecurity check where we declared our hiking boots, had them manually inspected, and had our bags scanned to confirm we weren’t bringing prohibited items into the country. Finally, we made it into New Zealand proper. During the biosecurity check, the agent made a special point to thank Angela for washing our boots. I’m glad she did because we noticed that many people bringing boots into the country had not previously washed the dirt and dust off and had their items thoroughly soaked with some type of disinfectant before being allowed to proceed.
We exited the international arrivals area and walked ten minutes to the domestic terminal (the walk is outside, and there is a shuttle between terminals if you’d prefer) where we checked ourselves in, got our boarding passes, and dropped our bags for transport to Christchurch. It took twenty-five minutes to clear security after which we visited the Air New Zealand Domestic Lounge. We had access to the lounge thanks to our United Airlines Gold Status, granted through a status challenge initiated through Bilt Rewards.
The lounge was excellent, with barista made coffee (ordered via a smart tablet interface), a spread of food sufficient for a light lunch, and one of the best drinks Angela has ever had, Zeffer Hazy Passionfruit Infused Cider, consuming two cans and making a note of where we could buy it on our trip.
Our flight to Christchurch was short and pleasant and our bags arrived quickly after we deplaned. We followed the signs to the ride-share pickup area and took an Uber to our hotel. Check-in was friendly and we were each given a signature DoubleTree cookie to enjoy. When we arrived in our room, there was a small charcuterie board waiting for us. The room was clean and well-appointed for the price we paid.
We nibbled on our welcome amenity before freshening up, changing clothes, and heading into town for some dinner. We walked along the outskirts of North Hagley Park on the way to dinner. It was a very pleasant stroll, although we noticed there weren’t very many other people out on the sidewalks.
Eventually, we found the Little High Eatery, a hip food mall that was packed when we arrived. We chose to eat at Bacon Bros Burgers, an excellent decision. The burger patties were well-seasoned, and the house-made aioli and barbeque sauce were delicious. We also ordered fried cauliflower with a maple syrup glaze, an absolutely delightful side-dish.
After dinner, we continued to the grocery store where we bought some rolls, protein bars, apple sauce, and deli meat so that we could have some snacks for our upcoming rail journey. We returned to the hotel via the park and discussed our plan for the following day before going to sleep. On our walk through Christchurch, we enjoyed quite a few of the graffiti pieces randomly scattered throughout the city.
We woke up early and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. The spread was decent, especially for a DoubleTree, and we were able to make do with the continental breakfast rather than paying an upcharge for full hot breakfast. Before departing, we took a few pictures of the understated Christmas decorations and the flowers in the property’s courtyard.
After breakfast, we checked out and took an Uber to the rail station where we received our boarding passes and directions regarding our luggage before being asked to sit and wait for the train to arrive. As we neared our departure time, we passed our bags to the porters responsible for the luggage car before walking up and down the train to get the lay of where everything was.
We were assigned seats on the left side of the train in the direction of travel from Christchurch to Greymouth, but we would recommend, if possible, requesting seats on the right side of the train. In our minds, most of the scenic landscape was located to the right.
When we boarded the train, we found headphones at our seats. These could be used to consume a periodically playing audio tour of the New Zealand landscape. It didn’t seem like many other people took advantage of this, but we enjoyed it.
Once we got underway, Angela and I made our way to the open air viewing car to take copious pictures.
After a while, a substantial volume of rain started to fall and we made our way back to our seats. Shortly thereafter, we stopped at Arthur’s Pass where we were the first ones out of the train to take a few pictures in the downpour.
We continued to enjoy the view out the large windows as we consumed the snacks we purchased the previous day alongside a couple of peppermint mochas that we purchased onboard.
Once we arrived in Greymouth, we disembarked, collected our luggage, and headed to the rental car counter to pick up our ride for the next nine days, a white Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid we named Lucy after Lucy Lawless, famed Kiwi actress and Xena Warrior Princess. Angela drove 99.9% of the time on this trip and she immediately adjusted to driving on the “other side” of the road.
Before departing the town, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some additional provisions because Angela had heard that the other towns we’d be encountering on our journey wouldn’t have as wide a selection.
Angela handled the drive to Hokitika like a champ and we checked in to our motel for the night. It was perfect for our purposes, with a small kitchenette and comfortable bedding. We were also handed a container of milk, a surprising but common practice throughout our New Zealand journey.
The weather was clear and it was relatively early in the day so we decided to hike at Hokitika Gorge. This was our first up-close exposure to the absolutely breathtaking landscapes we would be treated to on our trip. The water was a color that we’d never seen before and the hike was clearly demarcated and enjoyable.
After returning to the hotel, we walked into town to have dinner at Korath Thai Kitchen on the recommendation of the owner of our motel. I’m glad she mentioned it as it turned out to be a surprisingly tasty spot in what is effectively the middle of nowhere. We shared the vegetable spring rolls while also ordering the phad thai and drunken noodles. Angela also tried Monteith’s Apple Cider during dinner, deciding it wasn’t nearly as good as the Zeffer cider she had previously consumed.
We went for a walk on the shore after dinner, where the clouds over the sea made it appear quite ominous. As the weather cooled, we decided to return to the hotel for some rest.
We stopped at the local supermarket on the way back to the hotel to appraise the situation. We picked up a couple more protein bars and, more importantly, we secured some of the delicious cider that Angela had enjoyed in the Air New Zealand lounge.
Once we returned to the hotel, we took a brief nap until 2230 before walking to the local glowworm dell to see what it would look like. It was quite neat, with numerous pinpoints of light in a relatively dark enclosed area. To be considerate to both other people and the glowworms, we brought a red-light headlamp to make our way into the dell.
We awoke after a good night’s sleep to the sound of rain coming down intermittently. We made porridge and enjoyed a banana for breakfast. We took advantage of the French press available in the room for a much-needed caffeine boost. After checking out, we walked to the National Kiwi Centre. The small indoor nature park contains fish tanks and terrariums with native New Zealand species with the three main highlights being the longfin eels, tuatara, and kiwis.
After quickly making our way through all of the other exhibits, we joined a staff member at the top of the eel tank for an informational session followed by a feeding. Angela and I took turns giving the interesting creatures small strips of meat.
Finally, we walked to the main exhibit to spot a couple of kiwis. Their exhibit was dark and pictures were prohibited to prevent people from blinding them with the flash from their camera. Still, we were able to spot the little feathery bowling balls walking around their enclosure searching for food in the soil. They were quite a bit larger than we expected and are quite the interesting animals. The most surprising thing was when they raised themselves to their full height – it was such an unexpected sight.
While pictures were prohibited, we were provided with the following image taken by a staff member at the Kiwi Centre.
We returned to the car and Angela negotiated the heavy rain on the way to Fox Glacier. Because of the weather, we skipped a few hikes that we would have done in more pleasant conditions. Going in, we knew there would be days like this and we wouldn’t be able to hit everything on our list, so we were totally prepared for this situation.
When we reached Fox Glacier, we were able to immediately check in to Fox Glacier Lodge and were given access to a perfectly pleasant two-story lodging with a bedroom, kitchenette, sitting area with fireplace, and bathroom.
After unpacking, we walked to Cook Saddle Cafe & Saloon for a late hot lunch. The meal was expensive but decent tasting. I wouldn’t specifically recommend visiting, but we wanted a hot meal after driving through the inclement weather. After lunch, we stopped at the small market and bought some ground coffee to use in the French press included with our lodgings.
We relaxed the rest of the afternoon as the weather alternated between torrential downpours and brief periods of bright cloudy skies.
After a small breakfast, we walked five minutes to the Fox Glacier Guiding office. We waited ten minutes after checking in before being ushered into the boot room to suit up. We were given woolen socks, waterproof boots, waterproof trousers, and a waterproof jacket and then presented with a short safety briefing. Before long, we boarded a bus that took us to the helipad from which we would start our journey.
Our helicopter journey took approximately five minutes and, after disembarking, we were introduced to our guide for the day, Heitor. He walked us through securing our crampons, directed us to grab a hiking pole, and led us off on our hike. We pretty quickly realized we better put on our jackets to stave off the wind.
We enjoyed the experience, but it was much less active than we expected based on the description on the website laying out the required fitness level and the people on the hike, including a few young kids, were not what we’d call physical specimens. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, you may want to do the ice climbing activity or the longer 8-hour hike. All that being said, the views were quite beautiful and I enjoyed my first hike on a glacier.
On our climb we witnessed several rockfalls, each producing a very distinct and interesting rumble as the debris tumbled down the side of the valley. We also drank meltwater streaming off the glacier. Finally, we found some bones, including intact vertebrae, from an alpine goat. Our guide said that the animal probably fell into a crevasse while trying to cross the glacier and died while it was trapped.
One of my favorite moments from the hike was when Angela looked at a kid, who had just bumped into me for the dozenth time, and said “bro, I’m going to need for you to chill.” He got in line after that. We hiked down and helicoptered off the glacier after around three hours of exploration. When we returned to Fox Glacier, we quickly stripped out of our provided equipment and walked back to our lodge. Angela will forever remember when Heitor told her she was “amazing” in her climb down the glacier.
After resting for a bit, we drove to Lake Matheson for a hike around the most photographed lake in the country. On a clear day, the lake’s surface provides a perfect mirror for the Southern Alps. Unfortunately for us, it was starting to rain as we commenced our hike and, while the rain stopped shortly after the first bend in the trail, the clouds never cleared. The trail was still beautiful and we enjoyed our time walking around it.
We returned our car to the lodge and then set off on foot for dinner at Betsey Jane, the unanimous choice for best restaurant in town. We would agree as our dinner was quite delicious, starting off with a Thai pumpkin soup followed by salmon with a potato salad for Angela and a rib-eye steak for myself. We each had a tasty affogato for dessert.
After dinner, we decided to skip our last night in Fox Glacier and depart the following morning. We originally booked three nights in case the weather turned out poorly on the day we were slated to do our helicopter hike. As this did not happen, we had exhausted our activities for the location and chose to move on. After the decision, I found and booked a hotel in Wanaka for the following night.
We slept in a bit and left the hotel around 0900, filling up before departing Fox Glacier. Our first stop was Bruce Bay where we stopped at a coffee trailer for some delicious flat whites and a lengthy conversation about American hot dogs.
Next, we stopped at Lake Moeraki. The smooth surface of the lake created an incredible landscape, showing off the surrounding forest and mountains. We were also lucky to see a brown trout jumping out of the water to catch some bugs.
After a few pictures, we parked at the Monro Beach Track carpark and headed out on a hike to the sea. The walk was beautiful on a clearly compacted and demarcated trail. The beach at the end was gorgeous with several massive rock formations.
Our next stop was the Knights Point Lookout where we took pictures of a beautiful bay before continuing on our way.
We stopped at Ship Creek and took the Swamp Forest Walk where we admired the tall birch trees undisturbed by civilization. I also enjoyed learning about the fate of the SS Schomberg from which the creek derives its name.
After walking through the swamp, we emerged onto the beach where we took the opportunity to settle down and eat a snack while listening to the crash of the waves.
We crossed the Haast River Bridge before stopping at Depot Creek Falls. The turnoff was so sudden and hidden that we missed it the first time. We considered continuing on without stopping, but we decided to turn back and pull into the small parking area. We could hear the falls, but we couldn’t see anything, so we set off on an unmarked trail to discover the source. Before long, we were treated to a stunning site and, essentially, got to enjoy our own private waterfall.
Our next stop was a small trail leading to the Haast River where you can view the Roaring Billy Falls across the way behind a forested expanse.
We next stopped at the Haast River Lookout where I decided to wade out into the river. It was cold and the current was strong, but I had a good time and was glad to have entered the water when I did. Angela also got in the water, but only ankle deep. The views from this particular lookout stop were stunning, with mountains all around and the river running swiftly past us.
Our next two stops were Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls. Each stop had a short walk on a well-maintained trail to a lookout point where you could watch a thunderous waterfall roar down the mountain.
Finally, we arrived at our second major hike for the day, the Blue Pools Track. At the end of the track is a small set of pools that you can swim in. They are fed directly from a beautiful set of waterfalls and there’s a suspension bridge nearby that gives you a top-down view of some of the bluest water you’ll ever see in your life.
It took us half an hour to walk from the carpark to the suspension bridge above the pools where we confirmed that they were, indeed, very blue.
I decided to jump in so we made our way down to the gravel-covered beachhead where I stripped down, got attacked by sand flies, and then dove into the water. It was so cold that it literally shocked my system and I forgot to look up at Angela as I frantically tried to exit the water.
When I regained my footing on land, Angela informed me that I needed to dive back in given that I hadn’t looked at her for a single photo. After a moment to catch my breath, I re-entered the water. It was just as bad as the first submersion, but we managed to get some pictures as my calves and ankles started to go numb.
Angela, wisely, abstained from entering the Blue Pools.
As we neared Wanaka, we stopped at several lookouts near Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Again, the landscapes we looked out on were just unbelievably beautiful.
We arrived in Wanaka and made our way to our lodgings. The small apartment we rented was fairly spacious and nicely appointed with everything we needed for the night. Unfortunately, we had some issues with the smoke alarm chirping from 0030 to 0830 which greatly impacted our sleep. We would have been quite happy with our choice if we hadn’t experienced a night of restlessness.
After dropping our suitcases, we made our way to Big Fig, a casual restaurant serving up delicious helpings of slow-cooked meats, vegetable salads, and rice dishes. We were quite happy with our pomegranate beef cheeks. The place was quite busy so we took our food back to our apartment and had a delightful dinner on the patio.
We then stopped at the grocery store to refill our stock of oatmeal and grab a bottle of L&P, a famous New Zealand soft drink. It is somewhat hard to describe the taste beyond “what if something tasted like Lysol smells?”
After breakfast, we walked along the lakefront to That Wanaka Tree, snapping pictures along the way.
Leaving the lakefront, we walked to The Coffee Shack for flat whites. The drinks were quite tasty and we enjoyed checking out the pictures of dogs on the wall, including quite a few dachshunds.
We packed up and checked out to make our way to Queenstown via Cardrona on the Crown Range Road. Along the way, we stopped at the Crown Range Summit Lookout where we walked towards the peak from the carpark and were able to take a few beautiful photos.
Our next stop was the Arrow Junction Lookout Point where we admired the beautiful vistas (you may notice a pattern here) and took some more photos.
We reached Lake Hayes next where we admired the reflective beauty of the smooth water, watched some ducks get in a fight, and decided to push on to the hotel.
We were able to check in before the official check-in time when we arrived at the hotel. After getting a rundown of breakfast service and the hotel layout, we unloaded our luggage and then parked underneath the DoubleTree located in the same development. Self-parking was 16NZD a day, well worth the price compared to the hassle of attempting to locate an open spot on the curb or parking up on the main road close to the hotel.
With the sun shining and the weather report indicating that would change in the coming days, we decided to take the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. First, we made sure to put on matching outfits.
We drove through the Central Business District before turning onto Glenorchy Road and making a number of stops on the way to our destination. Our first stops were Wilson Bay Reserve and 12 Mile Delta.
Then, we stopped and hiked the Mount Crichton Loop Trail. The trail is well-compacted and chock-full of beautiful scenery, including an old hut used by a miner during the boom times in the area. It felt like we were continuously walking uphill for the first hour and fifteen minutes of the hike, but the payoff was totally worth it.
We had read some things about the trail and how it wasn’t a terribly difficult hike, but we were definitely breathing hard at points. It was only when we departed the trailhead at the end that we realized we effectively sprinted the entire loop, taking fifteen minutes less than the signposted minimum time to traverse it.
Our next stop was Bobs Cove Track, a short thirty minute walk through the woods with some understated views over Bobs Cove.
We took some pictures at the Bennetts Bluff Lookout Track.
Finally, we made it to Glenorchy. We stopped at the wharf to take some pictures and saw quite a few people jump from the wharf into the sparkling lake below. The views were just stunning.
Our journey wasn’t finished, however, as we headed up the Road to Paradise, crossed the Rees River and traversed some backcountry roads, passing a number of farms along the way. To complete our drive from Queenstown, we stopped at the Diamond Lake Area to take in the landscapes before turning around and heading back to the hotel. I was very proud of Angela and Lucy for getting us so far off the beaten path.
As we returned to Queenstown, we stopped to capture a few photos as the sunlight changed. While there was some rain on the return journey, it was very light compared to what we had expected.
When we arrived in the city, we parked in a garage and walked to Ferburger to see if it could live up to its claim as one of the world’s best burgers. Angela ordered the Ferg Deluxe while I chose the Big Al, an absolute monster of a sandwich. We found a bench and, after chowing down, can definitely confirm that Fergburger lives up to its billing.
Returning to the hotel, we were surprised by a nice gift from the property of wine, chocolate, and a handwritten note.
Our first morning at the hotel we decided to upgrade to the hot breakfast from our provided continental options for 10.00NZD per person. We pretty quickly discovered this was a bad deal as the hot options are severely lacking and the eggs in warming dishes were legitimately cold. The remainder of our stay we opted to partake of the continental breakfast only.
After packing a bag, we drove to The Remarkables Ski Area, paid 10.00NZD for entry, and drove up the steep winding (and partially unsealed) road to the lodge carpark. The views from the road on the way up were quite stunning.
After parking, we set out in search of the trail to Lake Alta. Luckily, the hike was clearly demarcated with orange hiking signs.
While the initial third of the hike was somewhat steep, it started to level out as we moved from off the road under the chairlifts to the smaller hiking trail. We encountered some snow along the way to the lake and Angela took this opportunity to throw a snowball at me.
When we reached the top, we were treated to crystal clear waters surrounded by large boulders. It was a startlingly pretty area and we enjoyed our time at the terminus of the trail.
We returned to the parking lot and drove back to Queenstown where we parked and walked to Vudu Cafe for flat whites and tea cake. The coffee was delicious and the lemon and blueberry cake was absolutely scrumptious.
After our snack, we decided to walk around Queenstown a bit to get a feel for the city. This only took fifteen minutes given how small the Central Business District is, so we headed back to the car and drove towards our hotel in search of a grocery store and some food at a more local restaurant. We settled on Giovi Fine Food where we ordered a pair of delicious pizzas and took a piece of chocolate cake back to our hotel for dessert to have later.
We decided to spend the rest of the evening relaxing after our early dinner. We had a very long drive ahead of us the following day and wanted to be fresh for it. This night highlighted one of the reasons I like staying in nice hotels. It is nice to take a break and enjoy your surroundings. We spent the early evening on our balcony where a bird impatiently grabbed a piece of pizza from Angela. Later in the evening, we read in front of the fireplace as the sun started to dip and the weather cooled off.
After breakfast, we packed up for our overnight cruise and started our drive to Milford Sound. It took us five and a half hours to reach Milford Sound from Queenstown and we made quite a few stops along the way for pictures.
Unfortunately, our drive turned wet and rainy as we departed the city and the poor weather persisted until we reached Milford Sound. That being said, the views were still breathtaking, just in a different way than we were expecting. Every mountain seemed to have a cloud sitting halfway up its height, obscuring the peaks and creating an extremely dramatic landscape.
Our first stop was Te Anau where we filled up our tank, grabbed some coffees, and prepared for the second leg of our journey. From there, we stopped at quite a few spots to take pictures. We visited many of these locations the following day with the sun out, so in cases where this is true I’ve posted pictures both from our trip to and our return from Milford Sound.
First, we stopped at the Mirror Lakes Lookout.
Next, we turned off the road to view Lake Gunn from two different viewpoints.
Pop’s View Lookout was next up on our list.
We took in the view from the Gertrude Valley Lookout. Here, we met the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, for the first time.
One of the most interesting parts of the drive to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel, a long one-way passage at a steep angle straight through a mountain. We had to stop at the entrance to wait for oncoming traffic to clear, so I took the opportunity to snap some photos before we headed into the tunnel.
Immediately after the tunnel, we stopped at the Milford Valley Lookout. Because of the cloud cover, we weren’t really able to see much, but the waterfalls cascading out of the low-hanging clouds were pretty awesome.
We accidentally passed by our last stop of our journey, the 1855 Lookout, so when we reached Milford Sound the first time we turned around and returned to the viewpoint.
Finally, we stopped at the Tutoko Suspension Bridge to take pictures of the raging rapids immediately before returning to Milford Sound.
Once we returned to Milford Sound, we temporarily parked in the paid parking area while I checked in for our cruise at the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal. We were quite early, so I asked where we could park for free. We were directed to Deepwater Basin Road where there is a free carpark. We parked and snapped a couple of pictures before returning to the car to avoid a horde of sand flies.
An hour before boarding time for our cruise, the weather cleared up and the sun came out, providing us an absolutely gorgeous day. At 1530, we drove up to the coach parking lot where our car would stay overnight and, at 1545, we boarded our ship, the Milford Mariner.
Once we were underway, we were given a brief tour of the Milford Sound including many of the beautiful temporary waterfalls caused by the rain earlier in the day. One of the highlights was passing very close to Stirling Falls and enjoying the mist from the cascade as it pattered off our raincoats.
After our circuit of the fjord, we were invited to enjoy afternoon tea snacks (coffee, tea, and a muffin) before the boat moored in Harrison Cove and water activities started. There were two options in terms of water activities and each individual could choose from paddling a one-person kayak or transport in a fifteen-person tenders. We chose to ride in a tender with the onboard nature guide, learning interesting facts about Milford Sound and its inhabitants.
After returning to the boat, we were told we could go swimming in Milford Sound before dinner was served. I hemmed and hawed and, eventually, decided to jump in. While it was cold, it wasn’t nearly as cold as the Blue Pools had been and I’m glad that I opted to take the plunge.
After drying off, Angela and I dined with two English couples on extended vacations in New Zealand. We enjoyed pleasant conversation and good food. After dessert, we were surprised by some bottlenose dolphins breaching the surface near the boat. We observed the dolphins until they left the immediate vicinity and then were treated to a presentation by the onboard nature specialist who showed us some beautiful photos and videos of both the daily conditions in Milford Sound and the wildlife that inhabits the area.
After the sun set, we headed to the top deck. With the lack of light (other than from the boat), I saw what a night sky could look like full of stars for the first time in my life. It was absolutely gorgeous and like nothing I’d ever witnessed before. We retired to our cabin after clouds rolled in and slept like babies on the open water.
We were served breakfast at 0645 including yogurt, granola, and some hot options. Afterwards, we sailed out of the fjord and into the Tasman Sea. As you pass out of the fjord, the water gets noticeably choppier. It is somewhat surprising how quickly things change.
While we were on the boat, we took a ton of pictures. It is hard to narrow them down, but we’ve tried to do so in order to share our favorite shots of Harrison Cove, Mt Pembroke, the Pembroke Glacier, and the rest of the sound.
At 0900, we docked at the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal and started our journey back to Queenstown. Because the weather had changed so drastically, we decided to revisit almost every stop we’d made on our journey to Milford Sound the previous day. Where applicable, I’ve posted pictures from this return journey in comparison to the outbound on the previous day. We did stop at a few new places on our drive back to Queenstown, though.
Because the weather was so beautiful, we decided to hike the Lake Marian Track. It is a moderately steep hiking trail (definitely bring your hiking boots) through varied terrain requiring some agility. At the end is a beautiful alpine lake. When we got to the top of the trail, we were fairly exhausted. It turns out we accidentally speed-hiked to the top.
Our ascent and descent took roughly the same amount of time, being ever-so-slightly faster on the way down. We would highly recommend doing this hike if you’re fit enough to be able to do so. The payoff is definitely worth it.
Our final photo stop before the long drive back to Queenstown was the Eglinton Valley Lookout. We skipped this stop on the outbound, and I’m so glad we stopped on our return because the view down the valley is absolutely phenomenal.
We stopped at the Sandfly Cafe in Te Anau for some flat whites before continuing back to our hotel. They were fine.
As we neared Queenstown, we stopped at quite a few scenic viewpoints overlooking the nearby lakes.
For dinner, we chose to eat at The Meat Preachers. It was a really casual restaurant located in a small shopping center and we didn’t really know what to expect, but the reviews were great and we gave it a chance. This was a great decision. We each got a pulled pork sandwich and shared an order of fries. Everything was absolutely delicious.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the night relaxing and reflecting on the previous two days of absurd beauty.
Our twelfth anniversary started off with a small breakfast before we took the water taxi, which conveniently stops at the Hilton complex, to Queenstown Bay. We were a bit early for our activities for the day, so we stopped at Vudu Cafe for flat whites. At 0930 we walked to the AJ Hackett office where we checked in.
The staff member confirmed our booking combination, weighed us, and wrote details about our activities along with our weights on our hands. We sat in the waiting room briefly before being collected and loaded onto the bus that would take us to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. On the way there, we watched a short briefing video and listened to a carefully curated playlist that including House of Pain’s Jump Around.
We were met by a staff member once we arrived at the bungy center who explained how everything worked and where we should go when we were ready to jump. After a brief stop at the restrooms to clear out last-minute jitters, we headed out to the bridge. Once there, we were harnessed up and asked to wait in line for our turn. It was cold and rainy and fairly unpleasant.
Ten minutes before I was set to jump, I got very nervous. My stomach turned and my jaw clenched a little bit. However, I steeled my nerves and got in line to patiently wait for our opportunity. Angela decided to jump first since she said she wasn’t sure she could jump after watching me.
Once she got to the front of the line, Angela scooted down onto the lower platform, was outfitted with her gear, and waddled to the edge of the jump platform. The staff member gave her a quick countdown and off she went. While she dove off leaning forward, her body rebelled against her conscious mind and pushed her upright as she dropped.
At the bridge, you are pulled into a raft floating in the river rather than being pulled back up to the jump platform. As soon as she was brought onshore, Angela raced up to the viewing platform so she could watch me jump.
By this time, I’d resolved not to look down until I started my dive. For me, this worked pretty well. I was never scared after my earlier nervousness and was able to leap clear of the platform without any nerves.
We met up on the viewing platform after I’d been pulled onshore and talked about our experience. Angela immediately said “wow, I hated it” whereas I had the exact opposite feeling. With another jump ahead of us, Angela asked the staff if she could switch away from the Nevis Bungy and opt to do the Nevis Swing. They were extremely accommodating and agreed to make the change if we were OK with waiting an hour before heading to the Nevis jump center.
We prepaid for our photos and videos from our activities, and they were in our inboxes within 15 minutes of jumping off the bridge. AJ Hackett really does an excellent job of producing content that preserves the memory of your experience. While we waited for our bus to Nevis, we watched our jumps again and again and discussed our experiences.
Finally, we departed for Nevis. While you can drive to the bridge yourself, the Nevis jump center is only accessible via the AJ Hackett bus. This is for good reason as the bus drives up a winding unsealed road that is clearly only good for a single vehicle at a time.
Once we reached Nevis, we stored our belongings in a cubby and then harnessed up. Angela accompanied me to the Nevis Highwire Platform for my bungy jump. To get to the platform, you have to take a cable car attached to the guide wires.
I was geared up after arriving at the platform, including a spat in what seemed like a modified barber chair. After that, there wasn’t anything left to do but jump. I walked to the edge, waited for my countdown, and dived off the edge. The feeling was absolutely exhilarating. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as free as I did in the eight and a half seconds I was falling before the line became taut.
After the second bounce, I pulled the foot release, bringing me to a seated position so I could get winched back to the platform in comfort. Getting pulled up, as opposed to exiting at the bottom, was awesome because I could relax and look around at the surrounding beauty that I’d just rocketed past.
We took the cable car back to the side of the canyon and walked to the Nevis Swing. You have to cross a long narrow bridge in order to get to the jumping off point. We waited patiently while a few other people experienced the swing ahead of Angela. You can choose from a number of different positions, but Angela opted to swing in a traditional manner, facing forward.
The person immediately before Angela backed out of the swing, but that didn’t deter her at all. She was excited she had to wait for one less person.
After a countdown, off she went on a thousand-foot arc across the canyon after dropping forty feet. She swung so far that I could not pick her out against the side of the canyon.
We walked back to the jump center, viewed our photos and videos on the monitors that they make available, and received our free swag for doing bungy jump and swing. After that, we waited about fifteen minutes for the bus to take us back to Queenstown.
Once in Queenstown, we decided to eat at Public Kitchen & Bar where we enjoyed kingfish ceviche, focaccia that wasn’t really focaccia, roasted salmon, and pork belly. The meal was tasty but certainly not exceptional.
After dinner, we went to Patagonia Chocolates & Ice Creamery for a single scoop of ice cream each. I opted for dark chocolate and Angela chose mascarpone and mixed berries. Both were absolutely delicious.
We stopped at Cookie Time Cookie Bar to grab a small variety pack of cookies for Angela to take home. We had them at Stopforths in Hokitika and Angela says they’re the best store-bought cookies she’s ever had.
We then stopped at Global Culture to buy a cute kiwi shirt to take home as a souvenir. Finally, we returned to our hotel where we spent some time in the hot tub before packing up and reflecting on our experiences from the day.
After breakfast, we walked along the lakefront, soaking in our final views of Queenstown.
We checked out, stopped at a gas station to fill up our rental, and then returned it to the Budget lot. We entered the tiny Queenstown airport, checked our bags for our flight while talking to a very friendly airline agent, and then cleared security in a few minutes. There isn’t currently a lounge available at Queenstown airport, so we spent ninety minutes in the concourse reading while we waited for our flight.
After an hour and a half flight, we arrived in Auckland. We retrieved our bags and then walked to the rideshare pickup area where we embarked on a thirty-minute ride to the Park Hyatt Auckland. When we arrived, we were informed we’d been upgraded to a Park Suite, an absolutely beautiful room. We were also given a delightful welcome amenity of toasted bread and whipped cheese.
For dinner, we walked to Arbung Thai Street Food, an absolutely delightful local eatery. We ordered phad thai, basil chili duck, and vegetable spring rolls and every dish was delicious.
After dinner, we walked to Island Gelato where we each enjoyed an absolutely delicious single scoop, Angela opting for mango-lime-passionfruit while I chose darkest chocolate.
We walked around, retreating to the hotel to narrowly avoid an absolutely wicked downpour.
Breakfast at the Park Hyatt Auckland was on another level. The buffet was extensive and delicious and our a la carte items were absolutely scrumptious. It was a far cry from the poor showing at the Queenstown Hilton.
After breakfast, we walked to the end of the Auckland shoreline heritage trail before walking back along it to the hotel. We made it as far as the Victoria Park stops and resolved to complete the walk the next time we’re in Auckland.
We took an Uber to the airport, checked in, checked our bags, and walked to the Air New Zealand Business Lounge where we enjoyed a delightful meal before our flight home. We boarded the flight about an hour in advance of departure time and had a nice time on the way home. Fortunately, United Airlines remembered to load pajamas, so we were able to get some comfortable sleep on the way home.
Once we landed in the United States, we cleared immigration and walked to our departure gate, arriving as the plane started to board. From there, it was a short flight to Las Vegas where we picked up our car, retrieved Fitz from boarding, and drove home.
In all, we had an absolutely wonderful trip. We loved New Zealand from the very start. We appreciated the people, the landscapes, and all the adventures in which we partook. We can’t wait to return in the future and explore the rest of the South Island and, if we’re lucky, parts of the North Island.