New Zealand is the New York of the South Pacific — it’s a place where anything is possible. As my limo driver concludes, ‘where else in the world did they decide it would be an ingenious idea to strap an elastic cord around your waist and jump off a ledge?’ Riding in an ex-Kiwi prime minster’s limousine and giddy with wine from a tour of local vineyards was just one of the many mini adventures New Zealand has to offer.
Only a 2.5 hour plane hop from Sydney to Christchurch, the islands are perfect to explore with friends after your study abroad semester, and self-drive is definitely the way to go.
Since the 2011 earthquake, Christchurch is now largely under construction and tourism has taken a tumble, but you can take a jaunt on the Trans Alpine Express, a train line that travels from Christchurch on the East coast to Greymouth on the west. Each carriage is equipped with wide windows to enjoy the panoramic mountainous views, sky lights on the roof, and even an open-air carriage which is perfect for taking photographs.
The full journey is an eight-hour round trip, but I would recommend getting off at Arthur’s Pass National Park where you can spend an afternoon exploring walking trails, the visitors centre with a full sized old-fashioned stage coach and lunch at the Wobbly Kea, before the train picks you back up at 4:40pm.
Before you arrive at the jewel of the south island, Queenstown, I would recommend an overnight stop at Lake Tekapo to watch the sun set over Mount John. Only 30 minutes away in the town of Fairle where Carnegie’s is a home-away-from-home Hillhead Book Club-like restaurant. The sunrise over the lake is equally spectacular and enjoy it with French Toast on the decking of Reflections restaurant in the centre of Tekapo.
Snuggled into lake-side surroundings, Queenstown is like a mix between Portland and Canada.
It has something for everyone: Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie into bungy jumping and paragliding; or you can simply admire the view from the hillside gondolas; or see the national bird of New Zealand the Kiwi in make-shift nocturnal surroundings at the Kiwi Bird Life park.
A visit to Queenstown’s famous Ferg Burger is a must, and no trip to Queenstown is complete without a trip to Milford Sound. An organised coach tour will take you through the quaint town of Te Anau, a stop at Mirror Lakes and glide over green waters on the Milford Sound cruise, where you can spot seals and witness waterfalls cascading down King Kong-like surroundings.
Stop over at the glacial town of Franz Josef when on a clear day you can take a heli-hike to land on a glacier, unwind in the thermal hot pools and have dinner at the uber-delicious Asian restaurant Snake Bite.
Get rested as it’s a six hour drive to Nelson, the overnight stop before travelling a further two hours to the ferry port of Picton, crossing to Wellington on the North Island. The ferry journey over the Cook Strait is 3.5 hours long; however, the Blue Bridge Ferry has an on-board bar, restaurant, comfortable seating, a charging table if you need to re-fuel and even an inbuilt cinema playing a current film.
Alternatively, you can enjoy the stunning views at any time of day (Blue Bridge do approximately three crossings each way per day). I would recommend booking the earliest ferry slot you can as heavy seas can cause cancelations to your journey and referral to the next safest booking. Hold onto your hat as you enter into Wellington as things are about to get a little bit blustery!
Every town I went to had backpacking places (my cousin camped out in Queenstown for $20 =£11 a night) and all restaurants had vegetarian and vegan options.