New Zealand surprised me. Before going I did my research, watched videos, and looked at photos of stunning landscapes. None came even close to what we actually experienced. The mountains and countryside drives were simply stunning and beyond anything I imagined. The people seem rather chill and have an interesting sense of humor. Overall, the vibe is very relaxed and natural.
Our time was spent on the South island mostly in Queenstown, Milford Sound, and Arthur’s Pass. These areas often serve as the backdrop for ads and movies which is one reason New Zealand has a vibrant film industry going on.
Our journey starts in Christchurch were we stayed the night and then flew to Queenstown to spend several days at the Millbrook Resort. Next we drove across the island to Oamaru for Christmas to see cute, blue penguins and the Steampunk HQ. Finally, we were off to the Wilderness Lodge in Arthur’s Pass.
In total we spent about 18-hours driving which seems like a lot but it was broken up during the trip and quite frankly the drives were outstandingly scenic. One thing to mention is in New Zealand you drive on the left side of the road. Due to so many tourist there are frequent signs and reminders to stay on your side. It was a stressful at first but because of soo few people the roads were mostly empty and of course I got the hang of it by the end.
Queenstown is fairly touristy and there are tons of things to do. Plenty of shopping, restaurants, and bars all over the place. For the adventurous, there are numerous options for hiking, water sports, ballooning, skydiving, and so on.
While in Queenstown look into buying a Merino Wool sweater or the like. Merino wool is prized for it’s soft feel that you can wear without itching. Also, you should try eating farm raised venison which is not gamey at all and very delicious.
Millbrook Resort is about 15-minutes drive outside of Queenstown and walking distance from Arrowtown. We found Arrowtown to be quite nice because it’s very small but packed with plenty of very good restaurants and shopping.
One hour drive west to the far end of the lake is the small town of Glenorchy which served as an outpost for adventurers heading off into the mountains. Today it still serves that function but also has other options such as a wilderness tour and speed boats that thunder along narrow water ways. On thing that stuck out to me is how crystal clear the water is and the rich turquoise color in the deeper parts. It was incredibly beautiful.
Milford Sound is probably New Zealand’s most popular location in Fiordland National Park. Getting to there by bus is about a five hour ride from Queenstown. However, the ride itself is breathtaking and worth doing and the guides do a good job to give context and interesting stories.
Instead of riding all the way back on the bus, we elected to take a small prop airplane which only took 30-45 minutes. Yep, the plane flies over the mountains instead of going all the way around like the bus has to. Aside from the time saved, the views and experience is well worth the price.
Our stay in Oamaru was short which is fine because there’s not much really going on there. Its a port city where people live and few tourists in general. A couple of really cool things to do in Oamaru is to visit the Blue Penguin Colony * and Steampunk HQ. There’s lots more but these were our favorites.
* No pictures of the penguins because the staff forbid cameras and it was too dark anyway.
There’s like nothing here but wilderness. It’s pure relaxation at the Wilderness Lodge. Internet access is severely limited and no phone service except by slow and expensive satellite connection.
We spent several days at the lodge decompressing and simply enjoying the majesty of nature. It was exceptional. After a trek along trails or touring the sheep farm you’ll look forward to a superb meal which is nothing short of fine dining. The food at Wilderness Lodge was very well done and one of my favorite dishes was the venison steak; It was perfect.
Even More New Zealand Photos
Our New Zealand Itinerary in Brief
Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch and spend the night at nearby Sudima Hotel
Day 2: Fly to Queenstown, pickup rental car then drive 20-min to Millbrook Resort
Day 3: Day at leisure to explore Queenstown and nearby Arrowtown
Day 4: Southern Discoveries tour: coach ride to Milford Sound, Boat cruse, fly over mountains back to Queenstown
Day 5: Drive to Glenorchy for Dart Wilderness Safari and speed boat ride
Day 6: Day at leisure. Sunrise balloon ride, Queenstown activities
Day 7: Christmas Day. Drive across island to Oamaru. Stay the night at Heritage Court Motor Lodge. Visit the Penguin Colony then dinner at The Brydone Hotel
Day 8: Explore Oamaru (Steampunk HQ, shopping) then drive to Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge
Day 9: Day at leisure to hike and explore and playing card games with the family
Day 10: Day at leisure to enjoy life and lots of board games with the family
Day 11: Drive to Christchurch and spend the day exploring before flight back home