Even before I start, I must admit that I am a big fan of “Lord of the Rings”. I have read the book 2 times and have seen the entire series of movies about 36 times (the last time was right before going to New Zealand). It had been my dream to visit the vibrant hobbit holes since the time I got to know that the movie set is preserved for the tourists. I was jumping with joy when Akshat fulfilled my wishes by taking me to my dream destination for our 3rd wedding anniversary! Yeppieeee…
And don’t get me wrong. New Zealand has lot more to offer than the magnanimity of the movie locations for LOTR. The majestic landscapes that I drew as a kid in my drawing class, came to life when I was in New Zealand. The mountains, lakes, snow-capped peaks, lush green grass, cattle and the serenity of New Zealand made it very difficult to do anything but admire nature.
Here is the summary of our 12 days trip, I will write detailed posts on each of these very soon!
SUMMARY of the Trip
- Our Itinerary:
- Auckland (Hobbiton, Mt. Eden & Waitakere Ranges Regional Park) – 3 nights
- Te Anau (Glowworms tour, Milford Sound) – 2 nights
- Queenstown (Mt. Nicholas Farms Tour, Glenorchy, Paradise, Luge) – 2 nights
- Mt. Cook (Trek to Hookers Valley, Sir Edmund Hillary Stargazing) – 2 nights
- Christchurch (City tour, Kaikoura) – 2 nights
- All times of the year are great to visit New Zealand. The landscapes are starkly different in each season. It really depends on which weather you prefer: Summer, Spring, Autumn or Winter. As per the number of visitors, summer is the peak season and Winter is the low season. We went in winters and we loved our time there.
- Renting a car and self-driving is the best way to see New Zealand. It is my favorite road trip till date. GPS is a must. Carry snow chains and learn how to put them if you are planning to visit in winters.
- Do check for weather warnings (especially in winters) as some parts of the highway might be closed or might require snow chains.
- Days are much shorter in winters (about 9 hours) than in summers. Keep your itinerary fluid so that you can change your plans on the fly.
- Most type of cuisines are available in most cities so it is very convenient for people with dietary restrictions.
Sneak Peak Into the Itinerary
Day 1: Auckland
Auckland has all the urban amenities with a good city life, yet it maintains a small town feel. It is a multi-cultural city with fantastic restaurants, magnanimous shopping outlets and vibrant night life. We reached Auckland around 5 PM in the evening and explored Queen Street in the evening. The country’s tallest buildings run along either side of this street and is quite an experience.
Day 2: Drive to the Famous Hobbiton Movie Set
The magical world of Hobbiton at Matamata is about 2.5 hours away from Auckland, a must visit destination even if you have not watched the movie or read the book. The guided tour is for 2 hours and it takes you through the Shire, hobbit holes, gardens, green dragon and the mill which have been adorned intricately. You will hear fascinating stories about how the movie scenes were shot. Be ready to answer some of the questions from the movie or the book! The entire farm is extremely beautiful and the experience is absolutely entertaining. I recommend the early morning tours to beat the crowd. The tour can be booked here.
The round trip took about 7.5 hours for us. In the evening, we went to the Sky Tower. It is an observation and telecommunication tower that is the tallest standing structure in southern hemisphere.
Day 3: City Tour of Auckland
We saw the sun rise from Cheltenham Beach overlooking Rangitoto Island. It was mesmerizing to just sit at the beach and enjoy the sunrise. We then headed to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano whose summit is the highest natural point on the Auckland isthmus. It offers picturesque panoramic views of the city. We then drove to Waitakere Ranges. A road, aptly named Scenic Drive, runs a good portion of the length of the ranges and offers splendid sights.
This is an alternative option for YOU:
You can drive to Rotorua from Matamata instead of coming back to Auckland on Day 2 after the Hobbiton movie set trip. Rotorua has the most amazing hot water springs that will blow your mind. On Day 3, you can drive to Waitomo caves for glowworms and see another Hobbit filming location – Hairy Feet Tours which is very close to the caves. Unfortunately, we could not do this as we had pre-booked a non-refundable flight from Auckland to Queenstown. Rotorua has an airport as well with a direct flight to Queenstown. This flight will be slightly more expensive than the one from Auckland. If I were to re-plan, I will go ahead with this alternative.
Day 4: Te Anau
We took an early morning flight from Auckland to Queenstown as we wanted to spend more time in South Island. If you have a few more days, you can drive down North Island and get your car transferred in a ferry from Wellington to reach the South Island.
Landing into Queenstown was a heavenly experience as we could see ourselves landing amongst snow-capped mountains. We took our car from airport and drove straight to Te Anau. We were just in time for the Te Anau Glowworms tour.
Day 5: Trip To Milford Sound
The drive to Milford sound is absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy the views at Eglington River, Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, lake Gunn en-route to Milford Sound. The scenic beauty of the entire stretch will mesmerize you. Various locations on this stretch has been used for filming of various Hollywood movies. Once you reach Milford Sound, take the cruise to get real close to the nature.
This is a whole day trip. Check the weather forecast and take a call whether you want to drive to Milford Sound or take a coach. The coaches have glass top so you don’t really miss the mountains, glaciers and lakes.
Day 6: Queenstown
We drove back from Te Anau to Queenstown. Due to an early start, the scenery was completely different than the one on our onward journey from Queenstown to Te Anau in the late afternoon. It was hard to believe that it was the same highway that we covered 2 days back. Most trees today were covered with ice crystals and it was an incredible site to watch.
We reached Queenstown at about 12:30 PM, just in time for the 1 PM tour for Wakatipu and Mt. Nicholas Farm Experience. It takes about 3.5 – 4 hours for this tour and is absolutely worth it. The guide walks you through the entire sheep shearing process and explains everything about Merino wool manufacturing process. This is the most expensive variety of wool which is incredibly warm and in high demand across the world. The tour also includes a short bus ride up the grasslands, to a very scenic point offering close views of Mt Nicholas & Walter’s Peak.
Day 7: Drive to Glenorchy
The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy along lake Wakatipu is recorded as one of the most scenic road trips in the world. This 45 Kms drive has incredible views; the highway running parallel to Lake Wakatipu with the snow capped southern alps in the backdrop. Continue further up from Glenorchy to see Diamond Creek, Diamond Lake, Mt Alfred & Routeburn Flats. The location near Mt. Alfred is where Isengard of Lord of the Rings was shot! Once you are back, keep some time for Luge. It is a super fun activity.
You can decide to ski at ‘The Remarkables‘ as it is a very famous skiing site. However, this is in opposite direction and makes sense if you keep 1 additional day in Queenstown. Alternatively, if you are going to Mt. Cook via Arrowtown, then you can consider skiing at Coronet Peak as it will be en-route to your destination.
Day 8: Drive to Mt. Cook
The drive from Queenstown to Mt. Cook is about 270 Kms and can take anywhere between 4 – 6 hours depending on the number of stops on the way. We took stops at Arrowtown, Wanaka, Lindis Pass, Omarama Clay Cliffs & Lake Pukaki. It roughly took us about 8 hours as we took our own sweet time to embrace nature. I don’t think, my words will do any justice to the nature’s beauty enroute this drive. These few clicks will give you an idea, why we took 8 hours for this 4 hour journey! Personally, I liked this part of the road trip better than the one towards Glenorchy.
Day 9: Mt. Cook
This was an impromptu plan for us. We added this day because 1 night was just not enough for this heavenly National Park. We trekked to Hookers Valley and did Sir Edmund Hillary Stargazing in the night. It was absolutely phenomenal and I highly recommend it.
Day 10: Drive to Christchurch
Half-heartedly, we started our journey to Christchurch. I still remember turning my head around to see what I was leaving behind: the grandeur of these mountains and the frozen lake Pukaki. En-route to Christchurch, take stops at Lake Tekapo, Church of Good Shepard, Fairlie and Geraldine.
Personally, after being to all these beautiful places I was disheartened to come back to the city life of Christchurch. The city is still coping up with the devastation caused by the earthquakes in the last few years. At Christchurch, we saw Sign of the Takahe & Cardboard Cathedral. Quake City was under renovation but I highly recommend a visit if you get a chance.
Day 11: Kaikoura
Kaikoura is an overkill if you don’t stay there for at least 1 night. It takes about 8 hours just for a round trip from Christchurch. You will need additional 4-5 hours for the whale watching cruise and to see around the place. Hence, a day trip might become very hectic and is not advisable. So my recommendation would be to either add 1 more day or remove this from your itinerary completely.
This is a long post but a short summary. Haha! 😀
I will soon be publishing detailed blog posts of where to spend your time and how to maximize your experience in New Zealand. Do let me know in the comments below if you have been to New Zealand or are planning to visit soon and have some questions for me!