In 2018, after a year travelling and working in Australia, I decided to pack up my life into my trusty backpack once again and try my luck in a new country.
Fresh off the plane from Tonga, I arrived into Auckland in the early hours of the morning. Due to my early arrival, I decided to stay in a hotel that night and despite the comfy bed struggled to sleep wondering what my fate would be in this strange new city.
The next day, after an overpriced and underwhelming room service breakfast, I headed on over to Oakland Lodge, a hostel in the popular little suburb of Mount Eden. Although I was booked in originally only for a week, I ended up staying for over a month. During my search for a permanent job in Auckland, I helped clean the hostel in exchange for free board. I also helped on reception a handful of times. Over this month I met and made some amazing friends from all over the world, discovered the joys of living in a hostel and made the place my home.
Although it was unexpected, I have really fond memories of my time staying at Oaklands and will be forever grateful that it gave me such an amazing foundation to my time in New Zealand.
I spent my time off from working at the hostel applying for jobs and attending interviews. I had my sights set on a travel agent or tourism sector role and applied for many of the popular chains in the city. I had a few call-backs from various travel firms and even did a few test shifts but finally got an email one day offering me an interview to work for STA Travel. This wasn’t a company I thought I’d hear back from, but as a well-known brand name from back home I was excited to try for the role.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had secured a job as a Travel Expert in the country's biggest store at Sylvia Park shopping mall. With this, I also found a townhouse around 20 minutes away from work and the city and close to the water and a beach. I really felt like I’d hit the jackpot and started my new life in Auckland.
The next few months were an odd transitional time for me as I felt a detachment from my previous backpacking lifestyle as I fell into the expat category. I often went back to Oakland or it’s sister hostel to see friends and be around a group of nomadic and spontaneous travellers again. My life in Auckland became more routine, I joined a gym, met friends for dinner or brunch and went to work. This took me some time to get used to but after I met more people in the community and got closer to my work colleagues it all fitted into place.
I really loved my job and the people I got to meet through the work. My customers were all fantastic and it was so fun to help people push themselves to try new things or simply to get from A to B. My colleagues were also all amazing and made every moment in the office fun and entertaining. Through STA I was able to get a great start in the travel industry, meet some amazing people and visit some beautiful places. It is truly a shame that due to the current pandemic the company had to close its doors but hopefully in the future, a company with the same values and beliefs will take its place.
My job helped me to visit Fiji for the second time, take a trip down to Wellington with Kiwi Experience, visit the Bay of Islands with Stray and ski Queenstown with Oz Snow. I also was able to plan a unique trip back to the UK with the expertise I gained from the job. Thanks STA for everything, I’ll always bleed blue.
I loved living in Auckland and my suburb of Point England. It was quiet but had a beach and fantastic walk and bike paths around the estuary. On days off I could catch a bus to the famous Mission Beach or head in the city to experience the bar and nightlife. I also joined local meetup groups and was able to head to areas a little further out of the city for hikes and exploring days. Meetup groups were a great way to meet new people in the city who share your interests.
My housemates were all fantastic and luckily, we all got on well. We had a relaxed sort of companionship and watched a few TV shows together and on occasion went out as well. We all had different work schedules which meant I didn’t always see them a lot, but I was glad we all got on, I really did luck out with my housing situation.
My day to day life in Auckland was quite mundane. I spent a lot of time at work, often working overtime because I loved it but because I also wanted to prove myself. To counteract the pressure of work, I spent a lot of time in the gym which was a short walk from the office. I trained at an all-female gym and although the thought of that seemed foreign to me at the beginning, I grew to love it and found it very odd to go back to an all-sex gym once again! I loved the staff and decided to take the jump of having a PT in the second half of my time in Auckland. I saw a lot of progress and my gym journey was one of the things I was most proud of during my time in New Zealand. It is also something I really miss and want to get back into in the future when our gyms fully re-open.
Of course, I made sure to make the most of my time in New Zealand and tried to get out and explore the country as much as possible! My first trip out of the city was to the Bay of islands in December. After much debate about how I should spend my Christmas, I decided to book a three-day tour which coincided with Christmas day. This trip out of the city was just what I needed and through it I met a great friend, Nickie, who experienced several events in Auckland with me. Christmas Day was an odd one as we drove back into the city under a backdrop of rain and grey skies. Our Christmas dinner that night was pasta in a hostel kitchen and champagne in a hot tub, but it was mainly nice to be with others for the day.
My next trip was in January to the Coromandel. This trip was taken with a friend I had met on my travels in Tonga. We spent three days in cosy accommodation on the peninsula and me, Natalie and her sister enjoyed a mini break full of hiking, swimming and driving around the beautiful Coromandel.
In February, Holly came to visit from Australia, and we drove to Rotorua, Taupo and Tongariro Crossing on a four-day adventure. Spending more time with my best friend was what we both needed, and we added some more silly stories to our list.
In March, my friend Steph who I met in Oakwood’s came back to the North Island and we drove up to the Bay of Islands. This was my second time and the weather was much better, meaning we had a chance to get a tan and see dolphins.
April was the month my parents came to stay, and we flew down to the South Island to have a nine-day adventure together. This was such a fun trip and I was touched that they made the trip across the world to spend time with me and explore New Zealand.
In June, I made the journey back across the Tasman to see the Austin’s and the farm. I had been badly missing stability and family over my first few months and really missed the family who had welcomed me with open arms many months before. I spent four days on the farm and was amazed at how big all of the kids had gotten, each of them older and able to do more. We had a family cookout on one of the afternoons and with my favourite dog, Sophie’s head on my lap, I was happy to have made the journey but content in the fact that I had to leave again.
In July I was lucky enough to head to Fiji, this time with Nickie. Due to an incentive at work I had earnt free flights to Nadi so took them up on the offer. We spent five days there once again exploring the Yasawa Islands and soaking up some sun and amazing views.
I quickly traded in the bikini for ski gear as a few weeks later in August I flew down to Queenstown. I went solo to experience three different ski resorts in the area and really loved this independent trip to tick off something I had really wanted to do with my time in New Zealand.
In September I made my final trip in New Zealand down to Wellington. I took the Northern Explorer train down to the capital and the Kiwi Experience bus back up with an overnight stop in Taupo. I was glad to get down to the capital to explore as well as have a final run of the North Island on the way back up. This was a lovely final round up of my time in the country.
After a full year in New Zealand, I packed up my things once again, left my job and jumped on a plane heading back to the UK. It was a bittersweet ending as I felt I was really getting in my stride in my job and my life in Auckland. However, the climate didn’t seem to agree with me over there and along with previous issues with my sinuses, I wasn’t able to smell, taste or breathe at all through my nose over the year. This uncomfortable condition made the decision for me that the best place for me was to go back home and have surgery. I was sad that it was for health reasons that I couldn’t stay longer but overall, I really grew during my time in New Zealand.
The first few weeks in New Zealand were unexpected but fun and kept the backpacking lifestyle alive. The next few months were hard as I adjusted to a new routine and lifestyle but by April I was in my stride and enjoying what Auckland had to offer. I became more confident in myself and my ability to travel alone and spend time alone as well as being proud of the friendships I made along the way.
Although my year here didn’t go as I first planned or expected, I learnt a lot and gained a lot from it, and because of this New Zealand will always hold a special place in my heart.
For anyone thinking of working abroad in Australia or New Zealand when the time comes to be able to do so again, I have posts which go into more depth of different aspects of living and working abroad.
One thing on my bucket list for my time in New Zealand was to experience skiing in the Southern Hemisphere. After lots of research of the best companies and options for me, I decided fly down to Queenstown to spend five days skiing with Oz Snow.
Oz Snow offered a five day/ four night ski package which included a stay at Reavers Lodge in a dorm room, three days ski pass to the various ski resorts in the area, transfer from the airport to the hostel, a free meal and discounted ski gear. For all of this I paid around $500 NZD which I thought was a fantastic deal. Skiing is an expensive hobby so to be able to ski three different resorts with discounted gear was a fantastic offer.
I flew down to Queenstown with Jetstar and was met at the airport by a friendly staff member. They drove me to the hostel where I checked in, hired ski gear and was given instructions on how to get my ski passes for the next few days. I made my way into town with my vouchers and headed to each ski resorts office. Exchanging my vouchers for ski passes was very easy and I was also able to book onto a transfer bus to pick me up from the end of the hostel’s road for each day for an additional fee.
I had been to Queenstown once before so knew my way around the town and where all of the main sights were.
Back at the hostel, I met my dorm mates who were friendly and headed upstairs for the free meal the hostel provided on the first night. Many of the fellow travellers in the hostel were from Australia since backpackers from further afield would traditionally stay in long term accommodation. We had a fun evening bonding and although no one was skiing in my area the next day I was happy that I’d been able to connect to others staying there.
The next morning, I had an early start - although not the earliest of the trip! – and headed down the road to be picked up by the bus transfer to Coronet Peak ski resort. This is the closest resort to Queenstown with only a 30-minute drive connecting the two. Although Coronet Peak is known for being a good beginner resort and for often having icy conditions, I was pleasantly surprised by my day here.
The weather was probably the biggest factor in that it was a clear day with a fresh covering of snow on the slopes to cover up the icy patches. I managed to explore the whole resort over the course of the day and enjoyed the variety on offer. Although there were a higher percentage of beginner slopes, who doesn’t enjoy a cruisy day? The food options on the slopes were a little more limited but I still was able to find a small café with seating outside so I could enjoy a hot chocolate out in the sun. I returned to the hostel in the late afternoon feeling excited for the next few days of skiing.
That evening I found my hostel room to be pretty empty so walked down to the town and found a burger joint to stop and eat at. I had annoyingly lost signal and data in a very weird blip on my first day so distracted myself in the evening with a book by the fire.
The next day I wasn’t so lucky with the weather. Again, it was an early start as I met the transfer bus for the hour drive to the Remarkables ski area. The drive up is pretty dramatic, we actually attempted it in April in our own car but the steep sides and narrow roads caused us to chicken out and turn around. This time though, I was in a huge coach and just tried to not look out the window too often as we made the hair-bend turns up the mountain. Although the drive up offered amazing, if not terrifying views of the valleys below, at the end of the road and the start of the ski resort, the mountain was shrouded in cloud. This, and the combination of high winds meant that some of the resorts lifts were closed.
Back in 2016 when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, I skied often in Snowbird ski resort. One day, I was feeling overzealous and decided to travel to the other side of the mountain by myself. On arrival, I realised that this side of the mountain was heavily clouded in, and with feet of new powder and no real sense of direction it led to a heart stopping half an hour as I attempted to make it down the slope, with only the faint shadow of a lift wire to guide me.
With this experience still firmly at the forefront of the sensible side of my mind, I chose to go carefully at the Remarkables, taking on routes I could see from the bottom of the chair lift and ones which were frequented by other skiers. After a lunch inside warming up, I decided to be a little more adventurous and try out another side of the mountain. This was a good call as the cloud has lifted here slightly, meaning I had more visibility to really enjoy the piste.
Overall, the Remarkables seems to be a good ski area with a lot of versatility and a great central bowl for ease of use. However, due to the cloudy and windy conditions, half of the resort was shut off and of the resort that was open I only skied what I was comfortable with when you can’t see what you’re doing! Weather has such a huge impact on how enjoyable a ski day is, no matter the quality of the snow or resort. Luckily my last day was a good improvement on the weather!
After a cold and wind-blown day at the Remarkables, I opted to stay in that night and have dinner once again at the hostel. We had some new dorm mates who were keen to socialise, so I spent the evening in the hostel bar sharing stories with other travellers.
The next morning was my last day skiing and the longest day of all. I had a very early start and blearily made my way to the transfer bus for the hour and a half drive to Cardrona. This was the resort I had been most excited for as I heard only good things about the quality of the snow, the extent of the slopes and the facilities. When I first got to the top of the mountain, I was disappointed to see a lot of cloud obscuring much of the resort but I quickly found a hidden gem lower down where the cloud lifted making for perfect ski conditions.
Throughout the day I followed the sun and ended up finding some great slopes with new powder and blue-sky conditions. I also spotted a lovely little café to have lunch in and enjoyed lapping up the sun whilst I could. Cardrona is quite expansive and I didn’t get to ski it all since I tended to favour the better light conditions but overall, I was impressed with the quality of the snow and the facilities on offer. It is worth the higher price tag and I can see why it is a firm favourite for the more intermediate to advanced skier with plenty of runs to keep them entertained.
After a busy day on the mountain, made even longer by the long drive back to Queenstown, I was ready for an early night. I was so tired I even missed a small earthquake in the night and woke to worried text messages from friends up in Auckland!
On my final morning in Queenstown I went for a walk around the popular gardens and also got a solution to the mysterious loss of my data and signal from my phone. On the Queenstown beach my phone rebooted and magically restored itself!
I was so glad I came down to Queenstown to experience skiing in New Zealand. I loved how I got to explore three areas in the span of just three days and fully make the most of my short time. As a solo traveller it was also the perfect amount of time for me as although I only met a few travellers in the hostel I never felt really isolated. I would recommend using Oz Snow for a solo or group ski trip for a cost effective and hassle free option for a ski holiday. They also offer ski trips in Australia, Japan, USA and Canada so are worth checking out.
Over my year in New Zealand I really embraced solo travel and found all of my trips memorable and exciting. I loved being able to do what I wanted when I wanted and the chance to meet so many people along the way. It led to a new found confidence which I brought over to my next big trip back home via LA, Mexcio, Cuba and Amsterdam.
My final journey in New Zealand was to visit the one major place I hadn’t yet explored, the capital Wellington. I researched the best and cheapest way to visit the city and chose to travel on the Northern Explorer on the way down and to take the Kiwi Experience bus back up to Auckland.
Kiwi Experience organised this whole route called the Northern Express and it made for a varied and fun few days.
On the morning of my train down to Wellington I hopped on the bus and made my way to The Strand train station, a little used station on the outskirts of the CBD and the home to this famous railway. The journey is a total time of 12 hours and takes in much of the changing landscape across the North Island. The train itself offers customers a great relaxed experience with skyroofs and large windows to offer all customers a great viewing experience.
I was sat in an aisle seat which was a shame but still got a great view of all the amazing sights whizzing by. A bonus is the open carriage which allows you to get a closer look at the scenery. I made sure to go here every so often to get some fresh air and check out points of interest along the route.
Throughout the long journey, the staff keep you informed of interest points and where you are on the map. The first few hours are rolling hills as you go past Hamilton and Taupo. The landscape then drastically changes to marsh and rugged hillside as you enter the National Park. You also get an amazing view of the various volcanos dotting the landscape. This part of the journey is also home to the popular and impressive Raurimu Spiral which allows the railway to make a 139-metre ascent on to the National Park plateau.
After this exciting part of the journey, you continued south past several small towns and over huge viaducts which all overlook beautiful rivers and valleys. As you approach Wellington, the train comes to skirt the coast, giving views of Kapiti Island which is mainly uninhabited to preserve the fragile ecosystem on the island. You approach this part of the journey around dearly evening which in the winter means you get amazing views of the sunset.
Finally, the train arrives in Wellington at approx. 7pm. I walked from the station to my hostel, The Marion which was around a 20-minute walk. There are plenty of taxis and buses in the area though for those who don’t fancy the trek! I stayed in Te Aro, just off Cuba street in a modern hostel. The accommodation looked amazing on Hostelworld and was just as impressive in real life. It seemed to have a few long-termers staying there due to the nice furnishings and social areas.
I stayed in a 10-bed dorm which was unique in that it offered full privacy for all guests. I think this style is becoming more popular now, but the luxury of having a curtain to shut off your bed from the room is great! The downside of this is that people do tend to keep to themselves more in the dorm and not socialise. I didn’t mind this too much and spent the evening relaxing before getting an early night.
The next day I had a relaxed wake up, I was on a little holiday after all! I planned to visit the National Museum, Te Papa and was told this would take up most of the day as there was so much to see. The Museum is free to enter and has some amazing exhibitions to appeal to all ages.
The exhibitions ranged from interactive displays of the country’s formation and geography to Maori history and artefacts. There is even a giant squid! Te Papa is renowned as one of the best museums in the world and is a must-see attraction when you visit New Zealand. I ended up spending around four hours in the museum, but you could do less or more depending on personal preference. I also didn’t visit any of the paid exhibitions.
I then headed back to the hostel to relax a little, finding a cosy spot to chill in one of the social hubs on each floor of the hostel. That evening I had arranged to meet up with a traveller I had met all the way back in December on my tour of the Bay of Islands. Michelle was living in Wellington and we had a lovely night catching up and eating in an amazing Mexican place which served fantastic cocktails.
On my final full day in Wellington I had a planned a busy day. First up was a tour of the Beehive, New Zealand’s parliament. These tours are free but need to be booked in advance. As a lover of history and politics, this was a fascinating insight into other countries politics and how it compares to other nations. I was impressed with their handling of party power and the general success the current political party was having in New Zealand. Sadly, Aunty Jacinda was not in the building but I have since seen her at an All Blacks game in Auckland (from a distance!)
Next on my itinerary was to take the famous Wellington Cable Car and explore the gardens above the city. The cable car is an old staple of the city and although was used for some residents to access their homes on the hill, was mainly created as a Victorian tourist attraction. At the top there is a cable car museum showing this Victorian history, a café and restaurants and many other attractions on the hill. After a bite to eat and a drink in the sunshine I visited the small museum and started my walk through the gardens.
Although the sun had been shining when I first got there and ate, I noticed a band of dark clouds coming in my direction. Making a spontaneous decision, I decided to make a detour to the Space Place Carter Observatory and spent the next two hours exploring the exhibits and watching the impressive light show and cinema story about the Maori story of creation. (I’ve written about this in my previous post on the Bay of Islands)
It was a good thing that I decided to explore the observatory as the weather turned drastically to heavy rainfall giving me an excuse to really explore the Space Place. Once the rain slowed down, I walked back down to the city, abet slightly soggy. I detoured through the botanical gardens which were impressive and varied. In better weather I would have spent more time checking them out, but I was more focused on getting back to the hostel and getting dry! That evening I got comfy and got some pizza from one of my favourite pizza chains in New Zealand, Sals.
I didn’t manage to meet many people in my hostel and as such had very relaxed evenings in but I didn’t mind that after two long days filled with sights. The next morning, I checked out of the hostel and made my way to the Kiwi Experience bus pick up point. The journey back up North took two days as we stopped off in Taupo. This made for a scenic ride back with good company.
I was glad I made my little trip down south to Wellington and was even happier that I did it with Kiwi Experience and not by plane. It isn’t the traditional Kiwi Experience one usually seeks out, but I enjoyed the journey by road and rail and the added bonus of a stop off at Taupo.
Wellington was vibrant and I really enjoyed my time there. Part of me wishes I had explored New Zealand before I settled so I could have got a flavour for all parts of the country but as I headed back up to my little home in Auckland’s suburbs I realised how lucky I was to have the opportunity to explore so much of what new Zealand has to offer.
In April 2019, my parents made the trek across the world to come visit me in New Zealand. The excitement I felt when I made my way to their hotel lobby to have a tearful reunion was immense.
After they spent some time on the North Island, we met back up to fly down to Christchurch and start a 10-day adventure on the South Island.
The flight to Christchurch from Auckland was just over an hour and I was amazed by how flat the landscape was around Christchurch as we landed. This area of the country is also known as the Canturbury plains and has very few hills or elevation. This made for a very dramatic landscape difference over the span of the 10 days.
We stayed in a sweet air bnb in Christchurch which was only a short walk away from the main city area. As we approached autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, the change was more apparent on the South Island with beautiful turning trees and a clear temperature difference! I was freezing with only a light coat on me. My first task was therefore to find a suitable coat to last me the next few days. I found this quickly on Regents Street, which had several boutique shops and restaurants.
The city is compact and had a British feel to the numerous parks. Of course Christchurch suffered earthquakes in 2011 and the damage is still evident to see. Many buildings have external damage and some are even held up by storage containers. The Christchurch Cathedral has a lot of damage and is a clear reminder for the city of what happened nearly a decade ago.
We made a visit to Quake City, Christchurch’s museum all things earthquakes. The museum had some great scientific info and demonstrations of how earthquakes happen and are formed but the main takeaway for me from this experience was the staffs real life experiences. Every one of the staff had a story to share and it made the facts and information that much more real.
For a day trip out of the city, we decided to spent the day in Akaroa, a small community which is located in the crater of an ancient volcano. Much of the crater is filled with water with the town sitting on the shores of this dramatic scenery. The town has French colonial history and therefore had a lot of French inspired shops and restaurants.
We didn’t have the best weather when we went so chose to not head out onto the water in search of dolphins. Instead we walked up the lighthouse and a waterfall near the town centre. This was a nice day out but the weather was a shame as it limited what we could enjoy in this area.
After three nights in Christchurch we continued our journey south. Orignally our plan was to drive to Greymouth on the west coast of the south island. Here we would have continued down to Fox Glacier and then onward to Queenstown. However, a few days before our trip, a bridge near Fox Glacier collapsed. This bridge was crucial in allowing us to continue driving south and without it meant retracing our steps in a drive over 10 hours long.
This didn’t sound too appealing and we decided to change our plans and instead stay in Wanaka for three nights before going onto Queenstown. This meant we had the chance to visit Mt Cook and the famous Hooker Valley Track. Driving out of Christchurch we noticed mountains start to appear on our right with the ocean on our left. As we turned into the Southern Alps and made our way towards Mt Cook we came across Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. These lakes are supplied with glacier water and are the most incredible colour. We drove all the way along Lake Pukaki to the head of the Hooker Valley Track. Along the way I was desperate to stop off and take in the view of this amazing lake.
Once at the Mt Cook car park, we realised that the Hooker Valley track was sadly only partially open due to maintenance work on the three bridges on the trail. With no other alternative tracks we chose to walk what we could of the route and enjoyed a slightly closer view of Mt Cook and the glacier lakes.
We also drove a little further on to a viewpoint of the glacier. Since it was only just autumn, the glacier had melted slightly into a lake and photos showed how the ice had reduced in the past few decades. Although this sobered the view a little knowing that one day it wouldn’t exist, we still enjoyed getting as close as we could to the highest peak in New Zealand.
After our quick journey to Mt Cook, we drove onto our second stay at Wanaka. This town is on the shores of Lake Wanaka and is a real beauty spot. Our last minute accommodation here was lovely and was a house close to the lake and town.
During our time here, we went to the famous ‘That Wanaka Tree’ which is a natural phenomenom of a tree which sits in the middle of lake looking very picturesque. We also hired bikes to explore the lake side, and a few of the other towns around the area. Hiring bikes was a great way to explore and I loved cycling along the river which was flanked by beautiful autumnal trees. We cycled to Albert Town where we had the BEST donuts of my life at a local bakery called Pembroke Patisserie.
Our last big outing in Wanaka was to hike Mt Iron, a small mountain on the outskirts of the town. This was the best compromise to hiking the formidable Roy’s Peak Lookout which was at least a day long and was known for being an extreme hike. Although it has amazing views which I’d seen all over social media, my parents weren't as keen to try it so this was the next best option.
The hike was gentle but gave us good views of Wanaka and the lake. We also took a walk through the Highstreet after this hike. The Highstreet is small but I was able to find some good hiking books for any treks I would be doing in New Zealand and beyond.
Wanaka was our favourite collective destination and there was a lot to do here over our three day stay. On a rainy day, the Puzzling World of Wanaka is a popular tourist stop. In the winter there is also the famous Treble Cone ski resort. We drove past this and were amazed at how out of the town it is but Wanaka is the best base to visit this resort.
Our final destination was Queenstown. This is where I was most looking forward to visiting before our trip. The town is a backpackers paradise with many high adrenaline activities on offer as well as a thriving pub and bar scene. Of course, it was a little more relaxed going with my parents but we still made sure to try out lots of things that were on offer.
The first thrilling experience we tried out was a speedboat experience on Lake Wakatipu. This was a freebie I managed to score from a coupon for our Milford Sound trip. The speedboat ride was short but a lot of fun and was a great and fun start to our time in Queenstown. It also gave my parents the adventurous bug and they were more open to other thrilling activities over the next few days. So much so that they signed us up for zip lining at AJ Hackett. Not quite the bungy jumping I tried to convince them to do nor the canyon swing I was hoping to do but it was something!
This was still great with them and it was nice that we could do it all together at the same time. We took the time to watch some bungy jumps and despite my encouragement, neither of the parents were sold on the idea.
One thing I had signed up to do whilst in Queenstown was a skydive. Each morning I anxiously headed to the skydiving shop wondering if today would be the day I would jump out of a plane. Since skydiving requires exact conditions, I couldn’t jump unless there were few clouds and little wind. This took three mornings to make happen and by the time I could finally do it I was a nervous mess!
I jumped in Glenorchy, the town over from Queenstown and connected by a stunning drive. Once at the small runway, we were shown the safety video and waited our turn to jump. I chose to jump from 15,000ft and was told I may need to take oxygen at the top altitude since in reality you are more like 16,000ft in the air due to not being at sea level. This is one of the hidhest skydives you can commercially do in the world and didn’t help with my nerves!
Luckily I shared my experience with a lovely fellow backpacker and we were able to hype each other up as we waited. Both Mum and Dad came to watch and even Mum was tempted to give the 9,000ft jump a go!
It finally came time for me to go up. My skydiving instructior started an introductory video and we were then seated in the small plane. I really got 2 in 1 with this experience as the plane ride was incredibe. It was a true scenic flight and my instructor pointed out various peaks, even Mt Cook out the window. Taking oxygen at the top wasn’t as scary as I thought and next thing I knew I was on the edge of a plane ready to jump.
I have done a bungy jump and now a skydive and can say a skydive is a lot easier. Whilst with a bungy you have to jump yourself, with a skydive you don’t have to do anything. My bungy jump was a real physiological challenge as you have to go against all natural instincts and jump. With the skydive I let the instructor tell me what to do and had no say as to when we left the plane. Before you know it, you’re in the sky and experiencing amazing G Force. I free-fell for around 60 seconds and loved every second.
My worry of the parachute not opening was unfounded as it all happened without a hitch. The time in the sky with a parachute is arguably the most relaxing part. Being in the air and just floating is so relaxing and allows you to really take in the amazing scenery. My instructor allowed me to try steering us and doing a turn is the most intense but fun thing to try. I was elated as I touched solid ground once again and was so happy I had done it and was still standing!
I think my parents were equally relieved and thankful they didn’t have to worry about it anymore!
After an eventful morning, we chose to stay in Glenorchy and try out some of the local walks in the area. We found one which ended at a lake with the path going through the forest. After getting slightly lost in the forest we found the hidden lake and reflected on where we were in the world and how stunning and varied this part of the world was.
Heading back to Queenstown, other notable activities we did during our time were visiting the Kiwi Birdlife Park close to the cable car. This was my first time seeing Kiwis and it was great to see how well they were looked after. They were part of a breeding programme and we could view them in a special ultra-red room. They are bigger than I thought they would be and a given activity to do whilst in New Zealand.
After our speedboar trip in the lake, we then tried out the Shotover Jet, which jets you over a river which winds through a tight canyon. It’s thrilling and amazing how well the drivers of these vehicles can control their movements.
Our final big activity in Queenstown was a trip to Milford Sound. This is a long day out as the journey to the Sound is an eight hour round trip. As we got on the coach for the day though, I soon realised this wouldn’t be so bad as our driver and guide was well versed in how to entertain a bus load of people for eight hours.
She first started by telling us some more of the history of Queenstown and the Milford Sound area. This included Moari tales of the landscape and the human history of the land. Midway through, we stopped at Te Anau for a coffee and break and then continued on where we were treated to some amazing scenery through impressive mountains. This even consisted of an epic tunnel which came out at the crest of a mountain, the view of untouched forest and mountains was spectacular. On our way to the sound, our bus also stopped off at Mirror Lakes and a few other points of interest.
Finally at the sounds themselves, we settled onto our cruise where we had a light lunch before we headed out to the mouth of this famous area. Milford Sounds is a beautiful location with mountains on either side. Waterfalls adorn these cliffs and are particularly prevalent after a heavy rainfall. The cruise takes you along the large estuary to the mouth of the sound which opens to the Tasman sea. At this point the cruise turns around and allows you to enjoy the pristine scenery for a little longer.
On the way back from the sounds, our guide put on a Kiwi movie and allowed us to take a little nap and relax. A trip to Milford Sound or Doubtfall Sounds is a must-do on any trip to Queenstown and although may sound like a daunting long day, is surprisingly enjoyable and very well planned.
Finally, we made sure to check out Queesntowns expansive high street and the various shops. There is of course a lot of tourist shops as well as traditional clothing stores, many activity stores and some great food options. One of these is Fergbuger which is a cult classic in Queenstown. The queue was large as it always is but was well worth it as the burgers were indeed very good.
On our final day, Easter Sunday, we had a nice breakfast, complete with a little kiwi Easter egg and took the flight back to Auckland. The weather was clear the whole way ansd made for an amazing view of Fox Glacier and Southern Alps. I was very glad I got the window seat!
Our trip of the South Island was really memorable and was made better in that I was able to experience it with my parents. This route is a very popular one and allows you to explore a variety of landscape and many activites.
Of course, the South Island, being the larger of the two islands, has so much more to explore than what can be done in 10 days so there is definitely unfinished business.
Over my year in New Zealand, I made sure to make the most of days off to explore the amazing scenery and attractions that the country had to offer. One area that I spent some time in was central North Island, including the popular areas of Rotorua, Taupo, the Coromandel’s, and National Park.
Rather than speaking about each individual trip, I thought I would instead talk about each area, where there is to see and do there and my thoughts.
Situated in a peninsula east of Auckland, the Coromandel’s are technically not in central North Island but I decided to include it because… why not? The area is known for its amazing beaches, spectacular views and laid back lifestyle. I visited for three days and was able to visit the two most popular attractions here as well as a few more.
The first is Cathedral Cove. I had seen this beach on many Instagram feeds and knew it was somewhere I wanted to visit. The walk to the beach itself is surprisingly long and full of up an dows making for quite the trek. There are a number of smaller coves to visit along the way though, including some great spot for snorkelling.
When you finally make it to the beach, it is quite busy but with enough room for everyone to spread out. The famous archway and rocks are all on display and make for a great photo backdrop. The highlight for me was the walk to the cove as the beach was little to busy to fully enjoy.
If the walk isn’t suitable for you, there is a boat which you can pay and reverse which will take tourists back and forth to the beach. We didn’t account for how long the walk would take and with it getting later in the afternoon and not fancying the long walk back, we decided to take the boat back to the starting point. Make sure to book it in plenty of time though as you will not be the only one having this idea!
Hot Water Beach is also another popular spot along the Coromandel’s and is famous for the hot spring running directly underneath it. In a certain spot along the beach, you’ll know it when you see it, you can dig a hole and enjoy a DIY bath. Be careful to not choose a spot that is too hot though or dig too deep, you might find yourself getting burnt! You can bring your own spade or hire one from the local café. However, if you prefer, you can hop in a previous visitors make shift bath and borrow another groups spade to reinforce if needed. We went here in the evening and loved watching the sunset as we relaxed in our little spa.
The Coromandel’s is also home to many more amazing beaches, some so white that I was amazed we were still in New Zealand! The peninsula is full of fantastic rainforests to hike through as well as a number of scenic drives complete with twisting and turning roads. Be careful to not drive too fast on these! The area also has several sweet towns which cater for the tourists as well as locals. Thames, the main town of the area, is a fantastic example of an old colonial settlement and has a lot of interesting whaling and logging history.
This part of New Zealand is a must see and well worth a few days to week of your itinerary. It can get very busy and crowded in the summer months so do be prepared to join the crowds. It’ll be worth it though!
This popular tourist destination situated in the North-east of the North Island is an adventure playground. The area is renowned for its thermal activity with a number of spas and attractions all allowing you to experience the magic of the earth yourself. As well as this, slightly obvious attraction to Rotorua, you also have an abundance of adrenaline activities to try out including zorbing, ziplining and skydiving. The area surrounding Rotorua is also beautiful, with clear lakes (free of sulphur) to swim in the popular Bay of Plenty not too far away.
On the one occasion I explored this part of New Zealand, we stayed one night and two days and tried to fit in as much as we could into our time there. We first went zorbing. This adrenaline activity is unique to New Zealand and I believe was founded in Rotorua. They have three different routes you can take with your zorb ball, the straight and relaxed, windy route and finally the extreme route which includes a jump with a decent amount of air! We decided to be brave and try out all three.
Since we went in summer, our zorb ball was filled with a small amount of water and once in the zorb, you are zipped in and pushed down the hill. It is a unique feeling and very fun! I’d say the windy route was the most dramatic as you are being tossed from side to side and have no idea which way is up or down. The zorb company even has a hot tub which you can relax in after your turns are up. I would recommend this unique thrill to those seeking something new.
The town of Rotorua is very touristy and has a lot of gift shops and fun bars. The town also has a popular park which features some of the thermal activities underground. The smell of sulphur is prevalent throughout the town but after a few hours you’ll get used to it. The lake which Rotorua sits on is very sulphuric and is not safe to swim in. A quick walk around the river front will show you why as you’ll notice mud bubbling away a short distance from the walkway.
The area is also well known for it’s Maori heritage and culture. There are a number of culture shows to attend in the area but we chose to visit Tamaki Maori Village. You are first greeted by the chief of the village, your tour groups chosen leader sent to demonstrate you that mean no harm with the offering of a fern leaf. Once welcomed onto the land, you follow a series of short demonstrations which show the various ways of life still adopted by Maori people. This part was really interesting and we also got to try the Haka and other dances. What made this portion a shame for us was that our tour group happened to have a large number of German tourists. This wasn’t a problem, but due to things having to be translated into German, our group often overran the time allotted for each demonstration which meant we missed quite a bit of information.
After the demonstrations, you are invited to watch a cultural show which included the haka and other native dances. It was great to see and really is so important in keeping the culture alive for more generations. After the show you are treated to a feast which we happily indulged in. This evening is a great way to experience the culture of the Maori people and help connect to those who keep New Zealand as culturally vibrant as it is today.
Around an hour away from the town is a series of freshwater lakes all surrounded by amazing rainforests. We decided to drive to one of these on a hot afternoon and enjoyed a sunbathe and swim. There are quite a few to chose from so you’ll hopefully not have any trouble finding parking.
The highlight of our stay in Rotorua for myself was our trip to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. This attraction showcases the huge array of thermal activity in the Rotorua area and allows you to watch a geyser erupt, walk alongside the famous thermal lakes and take in some of the more unusual sights such as a bright green pond! We spent most of a day here and loved the well-marked route around the attractions.
I would have loved to have stayed another day in this part of the North Island, mostly to try out some of the other attractions on offer in the town such as the cable car and zip lines. I would have also maybe have been tempted to try out a spa which are popular for the healing properties of the mud used. Overall, Rotorua is a great and varied destination with something for everyone and a must do in New Zealand.
Located slap bang in the middle of the North Island, this small town and its magnificent lake are well worth your time. I have been able to visit here twice but felt that I didn’t make the most of my time here each time I visited. Both trips to Taupo were fleeting but I was able to visit the popular sights such as Haka Falls and see the lake. Lake Taupo was formed by a huge volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. This left a large crater which over time filled up with water creating the aquatic playground we see today.
The lake is huge and is perfect for sailing, kayaking or simply swimming in. You can find hundreds of spots to relax in around the lake, make sure to hire a car to get the most out of the area or hire a boat and explore the lake this way.
The popular sight of Haka Falls is also close to Taupo and is a great stop for a photo and a walk. This impressive waterfall rushes along at a huge speed and the colours of the water are fantastic. The falls are free to visit and have a series of walks alongside them to explore the surrounding area. If you want a slice of adrenaline, there is a jet tour of the falls which gets you crazy close to them, some might even say too close!
The town of Taupo is very touristy and is home to a few shops and fun restaurants and bars. It is also the home of the only McDonalds in the world which has an airplane one site, which you can sit in! I mainly ate and slept whist in the town of Taupo itself, but it is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore the lake, skydive, or make a worthwhile stop on your trip.
The final area of central North Island which I was lucky to visit is the amazing National Park. After driving past the majesty of Lake Taupo the landscape changes, with flatlands making way to awesome mountains and volcanic peaks. This area of the country has seen a lot of volcanic history and was the setting of the mighty Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.
We stayed in this area for two nights in a rustic hostel. The temperature dipped when we entered the National Park and we swapped our shorts for fleeces and long leggings. The purpose of our trip to National Park was to hike Tongariro but it is also popular for skiing in the winter months. The mountain Whakapapa is well known for having some of the best skiing conditions in New Zealand and is another volcano.
Our full day in National Park was spent hiking. Tongariro is a famous 19km hike which crosses varied terrain to the peak of the Tongariro volcano. We walked past flatlands, marshes, craters and finally at the peak were rewarded with the amazing view of the volcano’s lakes, all with their own unique colour. Next to these lakes rises puffs of steam from thermal vents. The walk is challenging at parts but was so worth it. The worst part was the walking down as it is very repetitive and made our legs very shaky by the end. As soon as we got back to the hostel we went straight to sleep and left early in the morning for the long drive back to Auckland.
If a 19k walk doesn’t sounds appealing to you, there is a large variety of walks available in the National Park area and it is well worth a stay to take in the amazing volcanos, especially in the shoulder seasons as they often have snow covered peaks.
As you can see, Central North Island has something for everyone and is varied from its beaches to its volcanos. Although some may be tempted to fly from Auckland to Wellington before heading to the South Island, I urge you to spend some time in central North Island to discover some real hidden gems.