While we were in Queenstown, we were contemplating whether to take the East Coast or the West Coast as we head up north. Online reviews tell us that the West Coast gives tourists a gorgeous view of the Tasman Sea, but a local we talked to advised us to take the East Coast because of the rainy weather that poses danger to motorists. Sadly, there’s nothing to see in the East except small towns.
We threw caution into the wind for the chance to see the other beautiful parts of South Island, so we stuck to the original plan and took the West Coast. And I’m glad we did, else we would have missed a lot!
The three-day drive we took from south to north was a total of 811 kilometers, and this slick Mitsubishi Lancer was our ride for five days from the time we arrived in Queenstown. Not too shabby!
Wanaka was our first stop where we saw the Wanaka Lake and visited Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World. We jokingly tagged the Puzzling World as “Crazy House” because the things you will see inside, such as the “Ames” False Perspective Room you see above, will really make you go crazy! Haha!
We also made a quick stop in Fox Glacier to take some pictures. By nightfall, we have reached Franz Josef and checked-in at Montrose Backpackers. After walking around this small town to get dinner (and meeting a kababayan at the supermarket), we retired back to the inn for a nice sleep before a very early rise the next morning.
The following day, we hiked to see the Franz Josef Glacier, stopped by Lake Lanthe, and planned to have our lunch and tour the Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. But the brewery was closed that day, much to our despair.
Punakaiki was probably the most interesting place we saw on the second day of our drive because it is where the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes lie. The Pancake Rocks are an eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through vertical blowholes during high tides. It was quite fun to watch and take videos of the blowholes!
And finally, after days of gazing at them from afar, we pulled over to the side of the road to take close-up pictures of the BIRCH TREE COWSSS. In the picture above, you will see that they were looking back at us, with disdain, as if knowing with absolute certainty that we are third-world tourists! LOL.
Next stop: Nelson
The places we’ve been to in New Zealand are ALL beautiful, but it was in Queenstown where we kept saying “Ang ganda! Ang ganda! Ang gandaaa!” the moment we touched down and as we turned every corner in this little town. It’s like a big theme park come to life! It’s almost too good to be true. Lol.
Queenstown is a resort town situated by the lake with a spectacular view of the mountains, which makes it the perfect tourist destination in New Zealand. It is where most backpackers fly to directly to experience not only the scenic views but also extreme activities such as skiing, bungy jumping, sky diving, river surfing, para gliding, etc. Sadly, trying out these activities will make a third-world tourist like me consume all of my pocket money on just the first few days of the trip, so we had to choose only one activity, and that is sky diving — but I’ll save this for another post!
We stayed three nights in Nomads Backpackers (because we’re cheap like that), and the highlights of our stay in Queenstown were: strolling around town every night (because you just have to), trying their local food (fish & chips, pies, and NZ burgers), sky diving at the NZone, and a day trip to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound, a 4-hour drive from Queenstown, is said to be New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. On a whim, we booked our tour with Jucy Cruize which was the cheapest one we found at $113. Since we’re already in the area, we had to see what the fuss is about.
To be honest, the place looks somewhat like our very own Palawan, but what makes it more interesting is seeing the big mountains, vast lakes, and lots and lots of waterfalls! It’s raining 180 days a year in Milford Sound so that gave us a 50% chance of visiting the place on a sunny day, but no, it was raining hard!
Half the fun of the Milford Sound Tour is on the journey going to the place where we stopped every few kilometers to capture the great outdoors. And of course, we passed by thousands of sheep and cows as we have almost everyday during this trip. Not that I’m complaining, they’re so adorable! Haha :)
If you’re going to New Zealand and you have to choose just one place to see, I highly recommend Queenstown! As we have observed though, commodity prices are higher there compared to other places in NZ. But the breathtaking views are so worth the extra bucks. <3
Next stop: The West Coast
Prior to our two-week New Zealand trip (May 22-June 2), I had little idea about what kind of adventure we’re gonna be embarking upon. After the numbing cold we experienced in our China trip, my focus before this trip was mostly on how to stay warm. Thankfully, the weather in NZ wasn’t as cold as it was in China back in February (lowest temp was only -3ºC, I think), but it’s good that I came prepared.
Our trip was, once again, planned out by our couple friends: Jeff and Van. I tell you, they can very well start their own travel agency! We booked our flights back in May 2011 (yep, one year in advance!) and, surprisingly, getting our tourist visas was a breeze. The original roundtrip flight was KL-Christchurch-KL. However, about a couple of months before the trip we were contacted by AirAsia that our CHC-KL flight was cancelled and we need to either rebook or refund it. Refunding was not an option since we got the tickets on sale, and if we had to get regular tickets it would cost A LOT. So we took the reroute option. What we thought was a hassle at first was actually a fortunate thing! AirAsia changed our return flight to Sydney-KL so we only had to worry about flying out of New Zealand and we will get the chance to visit the beautiful city of Sydney on our way back. A blessing in disguise indeed!
Since we no longer had to fly home from Christchurch, we had the freedom to plot our itinerary in a way that we will be able to see more of New Zealand than originally planned. The two islands of NZ (North and South) are vastly different that the chance to see both sides is just awesome. Even the locals in the North were telling us that we’ve been to more places in NZ than they have! The North Island, having its own share of beautiful scenic views, is where most people are residing in big cities like Wellington and Auckland; while the South Island is all about the great outdoors, extreme activities, and breathtaking scenery. Below is a rough diagram of the route we took:
The places we stayed overnight in NZ are the following: Christchurch, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Nelson, Wellington, Hamilton, and Auckland. In between those, we also passed by Milford Sound, Te Anau, Wanaka, Haast, Punakaiki, Greymouth, Picton, Matamata, and some little towns in between. You can say that we had a pretty good look around the country.
First Stop: Christchurch
In Christchurch, we stayed one night at this quaint backpackers hostel called Haka Lodge. A fond memory that took place in this city is when we were walking with all our luggage from Point A to Point B, and then a bus driver stopped on the road to call our attention. We didn’t realize at first that he was trying to help us (let’s face it, this kind of thing rarely happens here in the Philippines). Apparently, the walk we were taking was a very long one so the driver thought of bringing us to our destination, free of charge! That was the first of a series of times I thought “Oh wow, Kiwis are so nice!”
It is unfortunate that when people hear Christchurch the first thing that comes to mind is the February 2011 earthquake, which was tagged as the nation’s deadliest disaster. From our very short visit in Christchurch, I can tell the place does seem pretty sad still. There are a lot of houses in the neighborhood but you will see by nighttime that most of the homes have been (probably long) vacated already.
Christchurch, as I learned from the Kiwi locals, is still recuperating until now. The New Zealand Parliament has been allotting more budget to help out this city get back on its feet. I pray it will soon.
Oh yes, I’ve really grown to love their country! <3
Next stop: Queenstown and Milford Sound