New Zealand has always been a dream for us. We fell in love with the landscape in Lord of the Rings (and so many other films and tv) and the Hobbit. As photographers and cinematographers we knew we had to go there to film. When we got notice our air miles had to be used or would expire, we discovered we had enough saved to go to New Zealand. So we began planning!!
We flew for over 24 hours. We went Philadelphia to LAX to Bisbane to Christchurch! Once we arrived in the South Island, we picked up our camper Van. This is what we traveled in and stayed in for our two weeks
There are so many things that are unique from our perspective as Americans in New Zealand. The first is you have to cross the international dateline. It is a 17 hour difference (16 after daylight savings). This is also cool when you look up at the stars and realize they are upside down from the view we are used to seeing them. Seeing the Milky Way so clearly and then Leo completely upside down was awesome. It's also helpful to remember that they drive on the left side of the road .Really one of the most unique things about New Zealand is just how stunningly beautiful it ALL really is. There just is not a bad view in the whole country.
Where To Stay:
Since we had a camper van we stayed in a variety of holiday parks. And we loved them. you could also often rent rooms, bunks, and cabins as well)They are much nicer than the ones here in the US. Our favorite thing about them was that they had community kitchens. This allows you to go to the grocery store and be able to cook your own meals without always having to do it in the camper. Also we found that people leave leftover items that they can no longer use especially in the towns where people fly out of. So there is a nice free box to help pick up supplies. Just remember to leave behind what you can't use as well. While we did score some salt-and-pepper and a great water bottle, we wish we had seen this before we went to the grocery store lol!
Here is the list of the holiday parks loved it the best and why.
- Camp Glentanner Park- This holiday park is based at Mount Cook.It is absolutely amazing. The view is fantastic. And there are rabbits everywhere. We even took a 15 minute (or so) walk down their path to the river to watch the sunset and then the sunrise the following morning.
- Queenstown Creeksyde 10-This camper park is so centrally located in Queenstown. It's just a five minute walk into the hub of the town, had a couple fantastic kitchens, clean bathrooms (with a jacuzzi bath), super helpful staff, and a dumping station. If you're planning to stay at several Top 10 Holiday Parks you might want to get their discount card. We got one and saved money on campsites as well as free (or extended) Wi-Fi. There's a lot of places you can use the card as well for food and activities.
Lake Outlet Holiday Park (Wanaka)- This location was beautiful. It was quite large and set on a lake and offered some great views. The drawback about this holiday park was the kitchen was small, not very clean, and didn't have any extra amenities.
Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park-This was based right in the heart of the town. This made it very convenient. It also has fantastic kitchens and I was very excited to find ice lol!! One thing that made this spot extra special was we rented a hot tub with the the view of the lake as the sun was setting.
Rain Forest Retreat Holiday Park-This holiday Park located at Fox Glacier in Franz Joseph was probably one of our favorites. It was nestled in a rain forest environment and had a lot of privacy despite the fact that it seemed to have a full house. It had a fantastic community kitchen that even had free tea and coffee. And also it had dishes and pots and pans there to be used so we didn't have to drag everything from the camper. That small convenience was great! It was just around the corner from town so you could go to the grocery store as well. The showers were clean and there was a hot tub although it was too crowded with young backpackers for us to enjoy. We also used this spot to do laundry as well.
Lake Nelson at Rotaiti Lake- This was the one DOC (Department of Conservation) site that we stayed in. It was Located at a lake surrounded by beautiful forest. We were able to do a fantastic hike in the morning. It didn't have electric hookups but it did have a community kitchen although we didn't use it.
Camp Takapuna-The Promenade, Takapuna, Aukland-For our last night in the camper van we wanted to stay in Auckland but not in the heart of a too busy an area. So we stayed here. It was a wonderful location. The promenade had all kinds of restaurants to choose from and we had a fantastic dinner that night. While this holiday park is a little older and pretty basic it had a fantastic view of the lake. and you could rent old campers to stay in. The kitchen and bath area were pretty rundown and not nice as most of the other holiday parks we stayed at.
What To Do:
What you do in New Zealand all depends on how long you can stay and what you want to see. We had a limited time and so hit the ground running (and did more than most do in 2 weeks). We knew what we wanted to explore nature and do several hikes but we also knew we didn't want to do all day or overnight treks. We mostly went for beautiful scenery for photos and video. We also love the the Lord of the Rings and you could say our time pretty much centered around that. We actually did a LOTR Tour as well went to Hobbiton. There are hidden gems just every where (especially the South Island where we spent most of our time).
We were always open to just pulling over at some Park area we saw or were told about to hike around for a while. We came across rain forest, beautiful views of the glaciers, and waterfalls.
We didn't do much eating out. We found the food to be much more expensive than we had planned. We also knew we would most of our meals at the holiday parks. We did have a couple meals worth mentioning however. In Queenstown we had a fantastic dinner at Finz.The highlight was awesome and silver trumpet fish and chips. And of course Al had to have a Ferburger. I don't eat meat and don't like veggie burgers so passed on that one. We had been told to check out Francesca's in Wanaka and it didn't disappoint. It was nice to sit down and have a relaxing meal and glass of wine. Even though this was more the off-season we were definitely glad we had a reservation as we watched many people turned away. While in Austin we had 2 fantastic meals.For lunch we had the freshest fish and chips at the wharf.It had just been caught that day and was delicious and affordable. ($20 for 2 and sodas vs $55 in a cage in Hokitika. And for dinner we had when the best meals we've ever had anywhere at Tok Tok At the Promenade. But the food that stands out the most and what we have missed most are the Awesome MSG free barbecue kettle chips and of course Tim Tam cookies. lol!!
There just isn't ONE favorite one thing to do in New Zealand. Instead here are a few highlights.
-Mount Cook-It is worth doing the stargazing tour. This area is an international dark sky reserve and we've never seen so many stars in our whole life. Also we definitely recommend doing the 3 hour Hooker Valley Trek around the Tasman Glacier
-Queenstown-Definitely take the gondola to the top and do the luge ride. It is so fun!
-And Milford Sound- take a boat tour- it is gorgeous. And if you're able to do a super splurge we can't recommend the helicopter ride that lands on the glacier enough. Absolutely stunning. We did a small group tour out of Te Anau with Trips n' Trams and it was fantastic. It is definitely worth not having to do all the driving yourself and just sit back and have a tour guide. We also learned so much about the area this way.
-Lake Matheson- Is a must see for all photographers who love great reflections! and the hike through the rainforest around it spectacular.
-Waitomo Glow Worm Caves- We did the Spellbound Glow Worms Photo Tour and recommend it for any photographer who wants to get great photos of the glow worms. The owner of the company does this tour himself and we can't recommend enough
-Hobbiton Movie Set Tour-You don't have to be a big fan of The Hobbit to enjoy this great attraction. But if you are, it is a must. It was such a beautiful setting and it is just like being in the Shire. Not to mention we finished the tour drinking ginger beer in the Green Dragon Inn!!
Seriously you cannot take just one picture .Even if you aren't professional photographers like we are. I took over 500 photos " On my real camera-Nikon D810) and hundreds more on my phone!!
5 Word Travel:
I think the number one travel tip is to know things are more expensive than you think they are going to be. It costs a lot more for food and supplies than we thought. We were prepared for gas to be more. And beware of the extra "Diesel Tax". This was a tax that cost us over $160 dollars to use diesel for the van-which was a MUST. It has to do with how many miles you go. But don't be cought off guard by it like we were!!
We were bummed we didn't get to go to Abel Tasman National Park. We honestly didn't know in the planning how beautiful it was. We did a lot of research and used Lonely Planet and it had the worst picture, Not inspiring at all. And nothing like what we later saw in pictures from talking to people we met along the way. Oh well…Next time!