Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands)

Tripoto
25th Feb 2018

That Wanaka Tree

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

Kia Ora!

New Zealand is usually among top 3 in the list of “Countries-I-want-to- visit” or “Countries-I-Have-visited” for many travelers. One would wonder why – stop wondering, go there and you will find out why. Fjords, glacial lakes, hills, mountains, coves, waterfalls, national parks, vineyards, sand dunes, volcanoes, forests, trails, adventure sports, Lord of The Rings locations - this country has got just what it takes to make a backpacking trip an amazing one. Kiwis are a welcoming bunch of people and the country is super traveler-friendly. There are hardly any predators on these islands – no snakes, no crocodiles, no leopards, lions or tigers – which means you can go tramping/camping in the forests without fear. Sweet as! (just add “as” as a suffix after an adjective and use “bro” many times when you speak and you are half a Kiwi already)

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) 1/5 by Vaibhav Annam
Hello Auckland!

Visa

Process of getting a Visa is pretty simple. Just apply online after creating an account (RealMe) on the following website: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/visitor-visa (list of all documents you need is on the site)

You get an e-Visa for New Zealand (take a print out and show it at immigration when you land). While I got mine in 3 days (huh!), it usually takes close to 2-3 weeks. So please plan in advance.

Transit Visa

Please make sure of the transit visa requirements on your way to New Zealand. Most flights go via Australia and for Indian passport holders, a transit visa is a must in this case. I myself had a bad experience and then got to know of another friend who had a similar one (so assuming this is something which people might tend to miss – especially those who have transited via Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur etc. which do not require transit visa for Indians)

While 2 weeks is brutally unfair for travelling through New Zealand (people spend anywhere between 6-12 months exploring the country and complain there wasn’t enough time), I tried to fit in the best possible experiences I could on my journey from North to South (some touristic, some hidden treasures, some places pretty unconventional). Here is route map that I followed:

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) 2/5 by Vaibhav Annam
Rough Plan in the North Island
Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) 3/5 by Vaibhav Annam
Rough Plan in South Island

North Island

Day 0

Accounting for around 30% of the country’s population, Auckland is by far the biggest and the busiest city in New Zealand. I landed at around 1 pm, rented a car and drove straight to my hostel (Bamber House). A good place to stay while in Auckland, very close to Mt Eden (a dormant volcano). Getting to the summit is an easy walk and if you reach there around sunset, cityscape of Auckland would be a treat (not really but whatever).

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) 4/5 by Vaibhav Annam
View of the Auckland Tower (the highest building in southern hemisphere) from Mt Eden
Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) 5/5 by Vaibhav Annam
Mt Eden - Good for a casual evening walk

Day 1

I was travelling the North Island with a couple of travel mates I met on Facebook and left to the Coromandel Peninsula in the morning (170 kms from Auckland). We reached Hahei Beach around 12 noon and after a sumptuous lunch (Fish & Chips and beverage) at “The Pour House”, we went walking to the very famous Cathedral Cove (a tunnel through the rocks near the ocean). It was a good sunny day and we were greeted by some fantastic ocean views along the trail.

The picturesque Coromandel Peninsula

Photo of Coromandel, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam
Day 1

While it looks amazing, Cathedral Cove tends to be crowded with people (yes I am from India and shouldn’t be complaining but whatever). We walked back to Stingray Bay and went snorkelling for close to an hour. Was lucky to spot a couple of Stingrays in the ocean.

Inside the Cathedral Cove

Photo of Cathedral Cove, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

The Scenic Cathedral Cove

Photo of Cathedral Cove, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

We headed to Hamilton for the night. The poor city is often butt of all jokes (ask a Kiwi and he/she will tell you loads). There is actually not much one can do in Hamilton except to head out as soon as possible.

Day 2

Day 2

I was looking forward to this day as we were to visit the film set of LOTR – Hobbiton or the Shire or the home of the Hobbits. We took the 10 am tour and while some people consider this pricey/touristy, I loved every part of Hobbiton – the landscape, hobbit houses, Bag End, the Green Dragon Inn, filming scenes, everything!

Trespassing through the Shire

Photo of Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

When I tried inviting Bilbo Baggins on another adventure!

Photo of Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

We then headed to a very beautiful waterfall called Omanawa falls. From the viewing platform (which is on top of the valley), one can see the valley covered with thick trees and an opening in the middle of nowhere from where the waterfall pours directly into a pool of crystal clear water. The approach route to go near the waterfall is closed and while almost all articles about Omanawa Falls are about how people have gotten injured trying to get there, if you are little careful, it would take you an hour to hike down to the waterfall. Standing right under the falls, one is swept away the magnificence of the place.

Splendid Omanawa Falls

Photo of Omanawa Falls, Omanawa, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

After spending some time there, we headed to Putaruru Blue Springs on our way to Taupo.

Blue springs of Putaruru

Photo of Putaruru, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 3

Day 3

Taupo is a beautiful town by the largest lake of NZ – Lake Taupo. We stayed in a hostel called the Finlay Jacks – a happening place.

What brought us to Taupo was “Tongariro Alpine Crossing”. The Tongariro mountain range is a volcanic area with alpine vegetation and stunning lakes. It has the famous Mount Doom from LOTR (actually called as Mt Ngauruhoe). The crossing is around 20 kms long and it takes anywhere between 5-8 hours to cross it (depending on how many pictures you stop to click). The trail takes you through mountains, scree, lakes, alpine trees and forests. It is best to take a shuttle bus from Taupo (around 50-60 NZD).

Alpine vegetation @ Tongariro Crossing

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Some visual treats along the way

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

The Emerald Lake looks stunning on a sunny day

Photo of Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

After returning to Taupo at around 5 pm, I thought of taking a stroll to the very famous Huka Falls (5 kms from city center). The place is certainly worth a visit. Standing on top if a bridge across the falls, one is amazed by the ferocity of mother nature.

Awe-inspiring Huka Falls

Photo of Huka Falls, Wairakei, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 4

Day 4

We took the Intercity bus to a city called New Plymouth. Located on the western coast of North Island, this is good location for surfing and attempting to summit Mt Taranaki – the lone mountain. We stayed in a hostel called Egmont Eco Leisure Lodge and it was one of the best places I have stayed in. 2 kms away from the city centre, this hostel had a sprawling lawn and spacious rooms. I bonded with other people in the hostel over football, Naruto and Boruto.

Football - the common language ;)

Photo of New Plymouth, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 5

Day 5

Mt Taranaki is one of the most conical mountains in the world. A stratovolcano, the summit is almost always covered with ice. Owing to its resemblance to Mount Fuji, it was used as backdrop during the filming of “The Last Samurai”.

The beautiful Mount Taranaki

Photo of Mount Taranaki, Egmont National Park, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

The hike to the summit is quite challenging. On a clear day, one can see almost as far as the Southern Alps in South Island. But we were greeted with clouds and rain and wind on the day we were to hike. It takes close to 8 hours for reaching the summit and back. Super fit people can complete it in 4-5 hours though. One encounters a lot of scree on a portion called the Lizard.

Trekking "The Lizard" - the slippery part with loads of scree

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

The perennial snow in the crater

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

Though there was little visibility, I was happy and proud of myself to have completed the hike.

Day 6

Day 6

We took a bus to Wellington – the capital city. With a population of mere 400,000, this city has a very different kind of vibe as compared to Auckland. Te Papa museum (free entry) is a good place to go to for a couple of hours to understand something about the history and geography of the country. Wellington has some great nightlife scene – Cuba Street and Courtenay Place are two adjacent streets where all the action happens. Pub-hopping is a great way to have a good time with friends.

The happening Cuba Street in Wellington

Photo of Wellington, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

@"Shady Lady" with the ladies ;)

Photo of Wellington, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 7

Day 7

After a hungover start to the day, I went to the Mount Victoria lookout point. One gets panoramic views of the entire city from here. I also happened to bump into my dorm-mates from Taupo (who recognized me by the German football jersey I was wearing). In Wellington, one of my travel mate had to get off.

Small world - bumping into Rose and Marcel

Photo of Mount Victoria Lookout Lookout Road, Hataitai, Wellington, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

The other travel mate and I then took the Bluebridge Ferry (one of the two companies offering ferry services to the south, other being Interislander) to the South Island. While the North Island is mostly volcanic and consists of small hills & hot water springs, the South Island is bigger and more mountainous with the majestic Southern Alps. We got off at Picton, picked up our car and two super fun hitchhikers and drove to Nelson to crash in at Bridge Backpackers, a good hostel.

Wes and Axelle - two fun hitchhikers ;)

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

Day 8

Day 8

We planned on going to the very famous Abel Tasman National Park, famous for kayaking, tramping and seal-watching. (Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to explore New Zealand). There are many different ways to explore the national park – kayaking or taking a water taxi or simply walking. We kayaked for 3 hours, spent some time swimming at the Anchorage Bay and then walked back to the starting point (Marahau). Needless to say, the park is very scenic.

Kayaking at Abel Tasman

Photo of Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Secluded beaches inside the National Park

Photo of Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 9

Day 9

This was perhaps the longest drive of the entire trip (around 500 kms). We had to reach Christchurch. We took a longer route via Lake Moana and Arthur’s Pass. An alternative is to go via Kaikoura on the east coast, which is famous for its marine life (whales, dolphins, sea elephants, sea lions etc.).

Exploring “Little High Eatery” in Christchurch is a good way to spend an evening. The place has several restaurants of various cuisines.

Like a fairy tale setting - Moana

Photo of Christchurch, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 10

Day 10

Day 10 of the trip was dedicated to southern alps and glacial lakes. We drove to Mt Cook Village via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, two of the most beautiful lakes you can find. Turquoise blue waters, pin drop silence, ducks effortlessly floating around – these lakes are idle camping/picnic spots. One can see the glaciers from the mountains behind transforming into rivers flowing through the valley before meeting the lakes.

Lake Tekapo

Photo of Lake Tekapo, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Because the place is magic (Lake Tekapo)

Photo of Lake Tekapo, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

We went on a beautiful trail called the Hooker Valley trail. It is a 10-km 3-hour return tramp. The walk takes one past alpine streams and glaciers in the shadow of Aoraki or Mount Cook. The majestic mountain (highest peak of NZ at 3,724 metres) is almost always covered in snow. The landscape throughout the route is breath-taking. After completing the trail, we headed to Wanaka.

The majestic Mount Cook

Photo of Mount Cook Village, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Hooker Valley Track (with a glimpse of Lake Pukaki at a distance)

Photo of Mount Cook Village, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

One of the most photographed locations in NZ (Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki)

Photo of Mount Cook Village, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 11

Day 11

There’s something special about Wanaka, usually considered as the quite little sister of Queenstown. Set by the side of Lake Wanaka, this little town has so much to do. Trekking, paragliding, sky diving – you got it. Lake Wanaka has the very famous “That Wanaka Tree” or “The Lone Tree of Wanaka” – one of the most photographed trees in the world.

If serenity had a visual (The Lone Tree of Wanaka)

Photo of Wanaka, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Because this is the most photographed tree in the world anyway

Photo of Wanaka, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

One of the most famous treks here is the Roy’s Peak Track. It is a 5-6 hours return trek which offers stunning views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountain range (including Mt Aspiring). One can see people paragliding all around the Roy’s peak – one day, I thought to myself.

Paragliding is common around Roy's Peak

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

View of Lake Wanaka from Roy's Peak

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

We then headed to one of the most happening towns in the South Island, the very own “Adventure Capital of the World” – Queenstown. I chose to stay in a hostel called Adventure Q2 – one of the best decisions. Right from the reception to the rooms to the facilities to the staff, everything was fantastic in this hostel. You can rent a GoPro or a cycle or loads of other stuff for free. This hostel has a special event every night. The night I went was Treasure Hunt night and the winning team would get 50 Dollars of beer money (Oh yeah!). Doing crazy activities on the streets, completing wacky tasks, eventually winning the competition and having a great night with new-found friends/teammates in a pub called the London was a great welcome in Queenstown.

Because hugging random strangers on the street was a task @ Treasure Hunt ;)

Photo of Queenstown, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 12

Day 12

Milford Sound is the most visited destination in New Zealand and the place we next planned on visiting. The place is around 3-4 hours away from Queenstown via Te Anau. We booked a 2-hour cruise through the fjord. One can see waterfalls (including the renowned Bowen Falls) cascading down the mountains and seals basking in the sun throughout the journey. After the cruise I parted ways with my travel mate as she was heading southwards to Dunedin.

The valleys on the way to Milford Sound (which were once massive glaciers)

Photo of Milford Sound, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

The beauty that is Milford Sound

Photo of Milford Sound, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Bowen Waterfalls

Photo of Milford Sound, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Day 13

Day 13

Ferburger, a burger joint in Queenstown, is famous for its yummy burgers and long queues. People spends hours at times to get their hands on the burgers of this place. I saw an opportunity in the morning around 9 30 am where I had only a 20-minute waiting time and ordered myself a “Bombay Masala” burger. Yum and totally worth it.

Proud Owner of a Ferburger burger!

Photo of Fergburger Shotover Street, Queenstown, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

Post that I headed to the famous Nevis playground – which boasts of the highest swing in the world and a 134m high bungee (highest in NZ). You have to take the shuttle to this place as private vehicles are not allowed. I went for the bungee – my favourite adventure sport. This was my second jump (first being from the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa) but the feeling was as if it was my first.

That evening I took a flight back to Auckland. Get yourself a window seat if possible for amazing views of the best that South and North islands have to offer.

Day 14

Day 14

I took a car from Auckland and headed north towards Whangarei, which is known for good beaches (Woolleys Bay, Matapouri etc.) and a pool called “Mermaid Pool”. On the way, I entered the Waipu Caves, which have loads of glow-worms and are free to enter.

Glowworms in Waipu Caves (this is a click on my phone - it looks much better in real)

Photo of Waipu, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

It takes a hike around the peninsula in Matapouri Bay to reach the Mermaid Pool. A portion of sea is trapped between rocks resulting in a stunning looking pool. While it is safe for swimming, one must be on the lookout for high tides and choppy waters. I headed back to Auckland from where I had my return flight.

Mermaid Pools

Photo of Mermaid Pool, Matapouri, New Zealand by Vaibhav Annam

My New Zealand trip has been very different from my previous trips. What made this experience memorable was the number of different people I met on this trip, picking up hitchhikers and listening to their stories, stretching myself through the many different hikes/tramps, driving almost 200-300 kms daily, discovering unconventional places and making so many new friends. New Zealand certainly deserves all the credit it gets.

Mihi Koe, New Zealand!

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam

Pro Tips:

a) Hitchhiking is legit and very safe: I have given lift to hitch-hikers and also hitchhiked, and can say with great confidence that it is a very legit way of travelling in the country as public transport tends to be expensive

b) If you are planning on a rental car, use the website https://www.vroomvroomvroom.co.nz/ to compare prices (all companies have good cars) – also try playing around with the time of pick-up/drop-off to get better prices

c) Eating out is expensive (one proper meal would cost 15-20 NZD); It would make sense to buy stuff at a hypermarket (Countdown or Pak n Save or one such shop) and cook your meals in your hostel/BnB

d) Staying in a hostel is a great and fun way to travel – you will end up making so many friends and maybe end up travelling together (you will spend between 25-30 NZD per night for a hostel dorm)(use hostelworld to make your reservations)

e) Use the website https://www.bookme.co.nz/ to get best deals on any activity you might be planning in the country (bungee or sky diving or jet boating or Sound cruising etc etc)

f) I have had good experience using the Vodafone sim card – I took the 3 GB, 200 minutes calling (within NZ or to 12 other countries India included), 200 text messages pack for around 46 NZD

g) Best time to visit would be the summer season which runs from end of October to March (unless if you want to go skiing); that said the country is prone to tropical cyclones and weather conditions tend to change in a jiffy

h) Must-visit places: Wanaka (The Lone Tree), Tongariro Crossing, Wellington (nightlife + city vibe), Abel Tasman (kayaking + tramping), Mt Cook (Hooker Valley Track), Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Hobbiton (For LOTR fans out there)

i) Optional places (for non-touristy people): Mermaid Pools, Mt Taranaki, Omanawa Waterfalls, Putaruru Blue Springs, Roy’s Peak, Waipu Glow-worm Caves

j) Do join the Facebook group “New Zealand Backpackers” for any information, tips or updates (I was able to find my travel-mates on the group); you can easily find people who might be interested in going to the same place as you are and tag along

k) Driving is on the left side of the road (meaning a right-handed drive) and similar to driving in India, South Africa, Malaysia or Indonesia

(*Do let me know if you have any specific queries; will be glad to help)

Bye Bye New Zealand!

Photo of Backpacking in New Zealand (2 Weeks in 2 Islands) by Vaibhav Annam
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