Tramping in New Zealand

by Anna Parsec
Updated: November 29, 2023
12 minute read
Nice rainbow in New Zealand near Wanaka
Out of 15 countries that we had planned to visit, New Zealand had been my number one priority. I definitely wanted to see its natural beauty because so many people told me that it was exceptional and one of a kind. I definitely wanted to see it for myself. I don’t think I wanted to make sure it was in fact as fascinating as people were saying. I believed in that fact. However, I did have lots of expectations.
Wanaka walk in New Zealand
Wanaka hike in New Zealand
Lake and mountains near Queenstown airport New Zealand

We are not such extensive travellers but we keep feeling spoiled when we visit other countries. We compare them with what we’ve seen before, evaluate whether there is some place or county that is closer in distance to England but offers something very similar.

Countryside in New Zealand

With New Zealand we finalised our impression of the country as a blend of Scotland and the Alps which we can visit more easily because we’re based in the UK.

Mount Cook scenery New Zealand

For James it was not the country he wanted to see. He actually was persuading me to skip it but I was determined. That’s why when we arrived in gloomy, rainy Auckland I experienced quite a challenge of persuading James not to scratch our 2 weeks in this country. In fact it was an empty threat from his side because our outbound flight was booked for 25th October while we arrived on 12th October.

Puppy at Mount Cook in New Zealand

From our experience 2 weeks to see New Zealand is more than enough. Here is our itinerary and we think it is absolutely sufficient to see the major beauties of the country:

  • Day 1 – Auckland (renting a car for 3 days)
  • Day 2 – Rotorua
  • Day 3 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Day 4 – flight to Queenstown
  • Day 5 – Queenstown
  • Day 6 – Queenstown
  • Day 7 – Manapouri/Te Ano (renting a car for 6 days)
  • Day 8 – Milford Sound/Dunedin
  • Day 9 – Mount Cook
  • Day 10 – Mount Cook
  • Day 11 – Lake Tekapo
  • Day 12 – Wanaka
  • Day 13 – flight out of Queenstown
Nightsky in New Zealand

It would be nice to see Franz Joseph glaciers or Abe Tasman National Park in the South Island but it would require much more driving and I am not sure it was essential. You get the idea from seeing this circle. Can we call it a golden circle? There is a silver circle in the North Island then.

Anna cooking at Adventure Queenstown Hostel New Zealand
James cooking in New Zealand
Milford Sounds road New Zealand
In the end, we were pleased with the visit and decided that some day we’ll organise a family trip there for a row of hikes. I already can’t wait. But let’s start from the very beginning without jumping to conclusions.
Flags of the world in New Zealand
We flew out of Brisbane on 11th October first to Sydney for a couple of hours and then to Auckland and arrived at 1am. We went for the cheapest flight and consciously decided not to book any accommodation for that first night in the country because it was so late.
James in Aukland New Zealand
As soon as we stepped into the airport, we saw a room full of comfy business lounge style chairs and decided not to leave that space until it was time to leave the airport. That meant that we hadn’t crossed the immigration control but we hadn’t thought that would be a problem.
Queenstown restaurants New Zealand
We slept from 2am until 7 or 8am when I woke up and started checking out all our options: where to stay on that day, how to get from the airport, what to do in New Zealand, how to get from North Island to South Island and other things like that.
Mountain ridge New Zealand
Once we’d booked everything (it was done by 11am) we proceeded to the immigration control. We were the only ones in the whole border space, and none of the officers could comprehend where we were and why we arrive to the border 10 hours after the arrival. After lots of confusion with some very bemused airport customs and security officers we started our walk to the car rentals.
Anna at a lake in New Zealand
The first day we spent looking around Auckland, popping into the Auckland Art Museum which had a good collection of international and national art. I was also keen to acquire some warm clothes in the charity shops for all our hikes but it turned out that prices are comparable to regular shops. Plus it created some very gloomy feelings for our day, especially coupled with our lack of a good impression with regards to the first hostel we were staying in as it seemed fairly unwelcoming and a bit edgy. James especially didn’t enjoy walking from one charity shop to another and even found a picture on an item of clothing that summed up our very first initial impression of New Zealand.
James in Aukland Art Museum New Zealand
I definitely think Charity Shops in London are much nicer! That torture lasted a maximum of 20 minunites so I think it was survivable. However, no purchases were made and I was concerned how we (I?) would endure our hikes because usually I do those in gloves and a hat. Jumping ahead: I’ve been collecting warm items in various hostels so by the end I’ve actually gained 2 warm hoodies and 2 hats and a blanket for multiple picnics we had in the mountains. We did purchase 2 identical sweatpants which were a good deal and we absolutely love those. Pretty much in them every day.
Anna at Lake Wakitupu New Zealand

The next day we set off to Rotorua. As much as I wanted to see Hobbiton (I was watching Lord of the Rings to immerse myself into New Zealand), I was quite alright without visiting it. In general, you get a sense that you are in the Lord of the Rings film pretty much in any natural places in New Zealand so I didn’t feel that an organised tour was required. I tried to find some specific locations but they were either a bit off our route or the location was too vague for us to track it down quickly.

along the road -New Zealand

Rotorua, or how some of the locals say, ‘stinky town’, was a curious place to visit. We headed straight to the Polynesian Spa Pools where we spent 2-3 hours soaking in 38-41C mineral waters overlooking some fairly nice scenery in a relaxing environment. Sulphur was what gave the stinky smell to the whole town.

Polynesian Spa in Rotorua New Zealand

The next day we headed towards Turangi near lake Taupo where we hoped to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a challenging hard track for 8 hours that requires all sorts of planning and booking. However, due to the weather we were unable to do that hike that day or the next day. We were there before the summer season (which starts on 20th October) so it was a usual situation for those days.

Huka Falls in New Zealand
We tried to attempt another hike to some waterfall but we saw Huka Falls earlier that day and it started raining really heavily so we decided just to spend a quiet day in our hotel. It was a lovely place actually. Spanish traveller David (hi David!) made fire, had some wine to share and lots of stories from his life and earlier months of travel in South America.
David our Spanish friend in New Zealand

The next day all three of us set off early for a 4.5 hour drive back to Auckland where James and I took a flight to Queenstown. David was travelling via bus but as we realised from his and many travellers stories, buses in New Zealand are expensive, slow and don’t run very often.

North island scenery of New Zealand

The North Island left a bit of a gloomy impression on us and we hoped that the South Island would be what many people were impressed by so much. Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely place but it didn’t feel like it was worth the trip when you can get very similar views in the Lake or Peak Districts or the Highlands.

Book in a service station cafe in New Zealand
Queenstown was a bliss. Snowy caps, green trees, the vibe of the skiing resort, lots of English and European travellers. We had such a lovely time. The first day was rainy but we had an invigorating walk, made delicious risotto, and I finally finished watching the Lord of the Rings (I thought it was appropriate to refresh my memory so that I could recognise locations if we come across any).
Cup of tea in New Zealand
View of Queenstown in New Zealand

The second day in Queenstown was super sunny, so we attempted a hike to Ben Lomond which is a mountain right next to the town. However, the tramping path (that’s how kiwi call hiking) was closed due to recent flooding. We consulted a couple of locals on whether to give it a go and they sort of said yes and we really wanted to do it so we risked it. We walked for 1.5 hours into the track (the return time was meant to be 6 hours) but it felt pretty slippery and complicated. We didn’t know whether to expect any complications farther so we thought that we had enough fun and made a loop track as soon as we had an opportunity. It was enjoyable!

James hiking in Queenstown New Zealand
Lord of the Rings like forest in New Zealand

The third day in Queenstown was also sunny and we made a plan to do wine tasting. We did look into the Cycle & Wine tour but after a couple of recent organised tours I’m so wary of those that I felt really reluctant to do that. We settled on a winery that was very accessible by bus (we purchased Bee Cards for buses for all our trips before we rented a car). The sommelier Alexis, French winemaker in the third generation, was introducing us to 5 wines from the winery Amisfield while telling us lots of interesting stories about his family vineyard in Champagne (hi Alexis!) which he planned to take over from his father in a month’s time. We look forward to visiting that place!

Wine tasing in New Zealand
It was time to start our road trip. We rented a car from the Queenstown airport and headed towards Manapouri lake where we stayed for the night. We spent some great time having an evening picnic and wine by the lake and did all sorts if you know what I mean. We left the lakeside when the stars and moon were shining very bright.
Anna at a Queenstown Lake in New Zealand
On the way back to our cabin we saw a small house on a piece of land that looked very artistic and modern. Someone told us that it was built very recently by a National Geographic photographer. We are now curious to track him down and see what kind of stuff he shoots. It’s all we know though.
National Geographic photographers house in New Zealand

On 20th October we drove to Milford Sound first and really enjoyed the views along the road. It felt like I am Arwen racing through the hills and forest to save Frodo. Very funny comparison but that was the feel I was getting because of the Elf-like river that we were driving along next to.

Mountains on the way to Milford Sounds New Zealand
Anna on a walk in Queenstown New Zealand

James bravely suggested that Hailong Bay in Vietnam was much more impressive so we decided not to pay for the parking and boat cruise but turn back (James hates using the same way back – he prefer loops to everything but there was no other way – good thing it was that picturesque) and did a quick Key Summit hike nearby which took us about 2 hours (it was meant to be 3 hours but we needed to set off at 5pm to drive to Dunedin so we had to cut it). It was like being in Fangorn forest and I think I did read somewhere that the area was an inspiration.

James at Milford Sounds New Zealand

On the way we were passing Gore,  James and I remembered that someone made a note in our last accommodation that Mr Chippy in Gore does the best burgers in New Zealand. It was really good indeed! Best chips I’ve had in a long time too and I am usually not craving those.

Anna at Key Summit New Zealand

We arrived to Dunedin at 22:02 so pretty much on time and rushed to our room. We had a client call that night and needed to prepare. We work while we travel which means that we explore new places during the daytime and work at nighttime. No wonder I am so knackered! Travelling is more than a full time job – it requires overtime because you do not only do lots of planning and exploring but also travel lots (driving, flying, walking) which is very draining at times.

Walking up Key Summit in New Zealand
Anna and James in Manapouri New Zealand
Friends in Queenstown New Zealand on a tree
Dunedin was very Scottish in many things. We wandered through its streets and kept saying which areas of the world the houses reminded us of: England, Scotland, Australia, USA.
Mountains of New Zealand
One of our favourite activities is going to different supermarkets. We do that in London, in England, in Scotland and in other countries. Our least favourite supermarkets are in France (they stink! All of them) Our favourite supermarkets are in the UK. We split our ways – I always spend lots of time in the fruit section, James – in the snacks, crisps and orange juice section. By the way, I’m pretty sure that I ate 5 golden kiwis a day every day while I was in New Zealand. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. We went to the supermarket every day and each time I would buy 5-6 kiwis. I now know the kg price for those all over the country and select the supermarket based on this knowledge.
Anna eating Kiwis in Rotorua New Zealand
Long story short, we popped into the supermarket in Dunedin. We had a very good reason for that though. We were heading to the Mount Cook area to stay in a very remote cabin where the nearest shop is 1.5 hours away so we needed to stock up for 2-3 days.
Supermarket in New Zealand
The drive was 3-4 hours (typical for New Zealand – it was our usual length of a car ride). When we reached Lake Pukaki we needed to drive around it from the eastern side towards Mount Cook. All the tourists drive from the western side. We had a gravel road all to ourselves and had to take it at a speed of 30 km/hour which is very slow as you can imagine. I was falling asleep and even the majestic view didn’t shock me enough. I had a brilliant suggestion of swapping the seat and driving myself. James and I were very awake for the next hour (I do not have a driving licence so I needed to be watched and focused).
Anna sat on a hill in New Zealand
We arrived at the location and quickly figured out that we wanted to stay there until we needed to check out 2 days later. It was too beautiful to be going anywhere else and the drive would take too much time. Why bother?
Wine at Mount Cook New Zealand
On Sunday 22nd October we spent tramping around. Kids from the owners’ farm showed us millions of animals they hold: chickens and their chicks, pet rabbits, dozens of dogs (Kenny the retriever was a pet dog and was treated accordingly where the other dozen of dogs were shepherd dogs and were in cages and seemed to accept their role in the pyramid), and deers. Peter, 9-year-old, insisted on showing us lamb and we just needed to walk to the back of his parents house but something told us that it was a bit intrusive despite his claim that he was the boss.
Anna sunbathing near Mount Cook New Zealand
On Monday we headed towards Lake Tekapo which is famous for its colour. We hoped to swim but then didn’t feel like it. Just had a picnic and drove to the cabin we rented along the road towards Wanaka, our next destination.
Lake Tekapu New Zealand
In the morning of 24th October we briefly looked around Wanaka (looked like Queenstown but not as big and not as breathtaking) and had our only full hike in New Zealand. It was Diamond Lake + Rocky Mountain Summit track. We thoroughly enjoyed it and saw the best rainbow in our lives. We managed to have a couple of grumpy moments though.
Anna hiking in New Zealand

Episode no. 1: It started slightly raining and James stopped and said ‘What a shame! We will be soaking wet on the day we don’t want that. What a shame! How annoying!’ I didn’t know what exactly he wanted.

I really didn’t want to return back so I said that I would prefer to keep walking regardless. ‘Of course, we’ll keep walking!’ to my great surprise. I still don’t get why he was so emotional and what I needed to do with that.

James on the way to Milford Sounds New Zealand

Episode no 2: James points at the rainbow on the right. When I turned my head, I saw the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen.

After a couple of moments of admiring it, I hurried to take pictures, selfies with James. We decided to set a timer on our camera and take a good picture together with that rainbow in the background. ‘It is disappearing!’ – acclaimed James.

I kept setting the camera as soon as I could, I knew exactly what to press but I needed a couple of moments to make sure that the shot I’ll time will capture us and the rainbow. ‘It is disappearing! Oh no! It is disappearing! – kept saying James. ‘I know but it would still be nice to give it a go if possible. We’ve already taken some other pictures’ – I replied.

I kept doing my thing and we took the picture. After that, when I finally had a spare second I was puzzled about what James wanted me to do after his acclamations. Stop doing that? No. Do that faster? I was doing my best. I couldn’t and still can’t comprehend.

Probably, I shouldn’t have bothered with the picture but I wanted it. If he wanted to enjoy the moment, he should have been doing that. If he wanted a nice moment together then he should have said that. Anyway, like I am expressing it here, that was my puzzle until we reached the summit. Mystery!

Rainbow with James and Anna in New Zealand

The evening we spent in Wanaka and then searched for a place to sleep. It was a very adventurous one. Probably most adventurous yet. We wanted to sleep in our car in a remote location so that we could see the night sky (apart from one night in Mount Cook it was pretty cloudy otherwise) and see the sunrise in the morning overlooking the rock mountains (all for free).

We succeeded in our mission and it was a curious experience. I would do that again but would wrap my feet very thoroughly beforehand. Otherwise, it’s absolutely fine even without any specially equipped car. We got what we wanted!

Scenery of New Zealand

Our last day in New Zealand we spent in Queenstown just wandering around, shedding our warm clothes in our favourite hostel (that’s where I got the majority of items in the first place so I thought it was very fitting to put them back on the free shelf for the next people who need those) and swimming in our favourite location. It is quite remote and secluded enough so I swam naked which was very liberating. The water was freezing cold but we loved it.

We flew from Queenstown at 8pm on 25th October after having spent pretty much 14 full days in New Zealand.

Cecil Peak Lake Wakatipu New Zealand
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