New Zealand Highlights
Expedition: The Great Escape: 2014-15
Adventure Time: 8 Weeks
From Fiji we flew to New Zealand and visited Seamus’ hometown of Palmerston North in the North Island where we spent a few weeks meeting family and friends. We then took a ferry from Wellington to Picton and travelled around the South Island in the family van.
Below I’ve listed highlights of everywhere we visited in the North and South Island including:
Wellington & Weta Workshop
Kaponga – eating a Hangi & hiking Mount Taranaki
Waitomo – Glow worm caves
Matamata – Hobbiton movie set
Arrowtown (instead of Queenstown – passed by in surprise and decided to stop here instead)
Marlborough (didn’t stay – would definitely go back to)
Quirky New Zealand
When you first pull out your map of New Zealand and plan your road trip, make a point of noting the locations of 22 GIANT sculptures dotted around the two Islands. It definitely makes for a more interesting road trip! Click here for a full list and locations:
I loved Wellington. A small, beautiful city nestled at the bottom of the Cook Strait, encompassing a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, surf, and a working harbour. It has that industrial-meets-art-meets-nature feel to it, and I was so impressed at how the city had managed to fuse into its natural surroundings so beautifully and creatively.
Hands down my favourite city promenade. Plenty of places to eat and drink and the artwork is fantastic. I recommend eating at Wagamama, especially on a weekday when people are at work. Yes, yes – it’s a chain but the views are spectacular, it’s very peaceful and the food is gorgeous. Stop off for drinks on the terrace at the Foxglove or grab a beanbag outside the Crab shack.
Weta Workshop is a special effects and props company based in Miramar producing effects for television and film including titles such as The Lord of the Rings, Hellboy, King Kong and Mad Max: Fury Road (to name but a few).
You can visit the workshop garden and shop where you’ll see a few models and props exhibited, free of charge. However, I would recommend taking a tour of the workshop itself. You’ll meet some of the artists and learn about the workmanship behind 20 years of award winning film-making. You’ll even have the opportunity to handle some of the models and props! Check the website for available tours, prices and details of how to book. When we went it was about $25 NZD.
Surf Watch (and celebrity spot) and Dine at Spruce Goose
Sitting by the window watching surfers and tucking into some great food. It was our first celebrity sighting as well – All Black Rugby Player Ma’a Nonu had just had his lunch when we arrived. Also look out for Wellingtons very own windy 'Wellywood' sign nearby. Great spot.
Mount Victoria Lookout
Get your city bearings and some of Wellington’s best views at the Mount Victoria Lookout. Though sunny and mild most of the year, strong winter winds through the Cook Strait give Wellington the nickname “Windy Wellington.” You’ll definitely feel the breeze up here.
Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa)
Always an interesting exhibition on at this museum. We had arrived during the 100th Anniversary of Anzac Day so we got to see WETA Workshop’s The Scale Of Our War – Gallipoli Exhibition.
Cuba Street District
Cuba Street is the liveliest street in Wellington where you’ll find most of your bars, restaurants and entertainment.
We are headed to New Zealand for Christmas 2016 where I’ll report back on new places to eat, drink and be merry!
Exploring the North Island
We travelled the North Island for 6 nights in a van. We didn't get past Rotorua due to time/cost but I would definitely recommend venturing to the top of the North Island if you're keen to see a bit of beauty. It's on my wish list
Day 1-3: Palmerston North to Kaponga (Mount Taranaki)
We travelled from Seamus’ hometown to Kaponga, just south of Mount Taranaki (2.5 hours 190km)
DON’T MISS: The giant loaf – Manaia
We stayed on the family farm and I experienced my first Hangi, a traditional New Zealand Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. If you get the opportunity to eat a Hangi meal – take it. This method of cooking is also popular on surrounding islands such as Fiji. There are some great surf spots in this area, if surfing’s your bag. Treat yourself to a decent leg stretch across Egmont National Park. The trails are quite easy, well marked and the scenery is beautiful.
Day 4: Kaponga to New Plymouth
(1.25 hours 90 km from Kaponga)
New Plymouth is another great surfing location. The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a 13 km promenade with stunning views!
Day 5: New Plymouth to Rotorua
(6 hours, 453 km from New Plymouth)
Waitomo caves (2.5 hrs drive – 181 km from New Plymouth)
Waitomo is known for its extensive underground cave systems where thousands of glow-worm light up the inside.
Allow 45 minutes for your tour and check the website for details. Tours run daily, usually every half hour between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. There is no ‘best time’ to see the glow-worm, you're guaranteed to see thousands. However, if you want to avoid queues get there early or as things are winding down. The tour includes a boat trip through the caves. It's an absolutely stunning sight and the guides are wonderful.
Hobbiton Movie set, Matamata (1.5 hrs drive 90 km from Waitomo)
This was an amazing tour – well worth the money and if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’d be a fool to miss this. At the time we paid $75 NZD. Allow 2 hours for the tour plus a little extra for the bar and gift shop.
Aim for booking a tour towards the end of the day or at the beginning. It’ll be less busy. You must book in advance.
Rotorua (1 hr drive 69 km from Matamata)
We arrived in Rotorua a little late and tired so finding so many bars and restaurants around was a welcome relief! Also goes to show how touristy this part of the North Island really is – and for good reason.
Unfortunately we had just a day the next day and it was absolutely tipping down with rain, so knowing that we would one day return, decided to take our soggy selves back to Palmerston North.
What we missed:
Wai-O-Tapu Champagne Pool
Hotpools and natural spas
Luging – apparently if you want to luge, this is the best place in the country according to locals!
Tauranga beach town
DON’T MISS: The BIG Apple statue in Waitomo, where you can also stop off for some BIG AZZ ice cream and the Otorohanga kiwi statues