Laughing All Over The World

An American’s New Zealand Roadtrip

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This is a detailed description of my solo roadtrip that allowed me to see a fair majority of New Zealand’s hotspots in three weeks. This isn’t your typical blog, but more of an outline of my adventure to share with friends (and maybe even potential future employers).

1,547 Miles (2490 Kms), 23 days, 35 hours in the car, 14 towns, 1 flat tire, 2 rental cars, 1 mountain summit, 1 bungee jump, 7 vineyards, 1 speeding ticket and countless new friends are just a few of the things that made this an adventure.

North Island Route
South Island Route

Hostel ratings: I have decided not to rate any of my hostels due to the fact that I am a brand new hostel-hopper, but I did enjoy all of the hostels I stayed in as they all gave me a good night’s sleep and were clean, well-located and safe. What more do you really need? I do recommend using Hostelworld.com to book your hostels – it will keep you organized and has a flexible cancellation policy. And bring your locks because not all had lockers.

Auckland (five nights) – You can find a summary of my 5 days in Auckland here.

Hobbiton (Did not stay overnight)

My first stop after departing Auckland was the famous Lord of the Rings movie set. I pulled up and people were totally geeking out. I was able to get on a tour within a few minutes, but as soon as I got on the bus that departed from The Shire’s Rest Cafe I realized that my Sonya6000 was dead. I had left it turned on and forgot to check the battery before leaving. I was super bummed because it was a gorgeous day and I knew we were about to be in photographer’s heaven. I immediately thought that this was just my karma for never having seen any of the movies…. but I still did a little write-up for all my LOTR fans out there.

When they first discovered this scene for the movie there were so many frogs in this pond that the frog chirping was so loud they could not even film. They ended up hiring a squad to remove all of the frogs. This immediately made me think of that one time I went frogging in Louisiana.. Removing all those frogs would have been those Cajuns’ dream jobs. Also, the tree on top of The Shire’s house (far back, top left corner) is fake and after it was put up Director, Peter Jackson, didn’t like the color of the leaves so he had a crew spray paint the leaves the exact color he wanted. They still spray paint the leaves for the today’s tours.

It really was majestic. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would have been if I had seen the movie because it really was insanely gorgeous and super cool. However, I’m actually glad I hadn’t seen the movies or else I may have never hit it off with a Canadian woman named Jane, as our conversation started due to us admitting to one another that we had never seen the movies. She was there with her two sons, Ross and Ryan, and they were all traveling together because Jane wanted to do a big trip with them before they moved to Australia. Jane and I had one of those connections where you feel like you’ve known each other for ages almost immediately and I felt very comfortable with her sons too. We realized that we were all going to be in Queenstown at the same time, so they invited me to have Easter dinner with them there. So we said our “see you laters” and planned on that!

Confession: When the tour guide asked if anyone had not seen the movies I did not raise my hand….
There was a wedding going on while we were there. I think we all know what she changed into after the ceremony…

Rotorua

Accommodation: Rock Solid Backpackers (two nights)

After I finished the tour at Hobbiton I continued on to Rotorua, also known as “Rotten-rua”. The town that is known to smell like rotten eggs due to the hydrogen sulphide emissions, which gives the city a smell similar to rotten eggs. I felt like it just came in waves, but it was still very interesting.

I’m not going to lie I was pretty nervous for my very first hostel stay, but as I entered the lobby I could start to understand the social appeal of these budget-friendly accommodations. I booked an all-female dorm and when I walked in I met my first roomie, Theresa. She was from Texas and had three Lord of the Rings tattoos. Coincidentally, it was her first night staying in a hostel as well so we immediately bonded. We decided to go eat at Pig & Whistle and both ordered the venison burger. P.S. bring your passport because you’ll get ID’d just to get in. I didn’t know this at the time, but Pig & Whistle is a well respected chain in NZ. I let Theresa know that I had a rental car and this was the first time I experienced what felt like telling someone I had a superpower. “Wait, you have a car?!” “How’s driving on the other side of the road?!” “I’ll throw you some money to jump in the car to see some sites tomorrow…” Theresa was so sweet and I was more than happy to have some nice company the following day, so we planned to get up and explore together. Surprisingly, I pretty much enjoyed my first night in a hostel. The beds were true to the name of the hostel “rock solid” but other than that it was a good first night and I slept pretty well. They even had complimentary hair dryers in the bathrooms!

Below is a list of the spots we hit the following day:

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

A geothermal park in Rotorua that is a must-see. I had never seen anything like this in my entire life! Rotorua is also known as Sulfer City and is well-known for its geothermal activity. This activity is the main reason it is such a tourist hub, so if you’re going to visit this town you have to go a park like Wai-o-Tapu. There are many others you can visit, but I don’t see how they can get too much better than this one. It was only around $30 NZD and given that you can walk around for hours without seeing the same thing I would say that it’s definitely worth the money.

Redwoods Treewalk

It’s pretty much exactly what you’d think it would be and it was only a few minutes from Wai-o-Tapu. I had seen the redwoods in Cali before, so I wasn’t too excited about paying $29NZD for this, but Theresa was nice enough to cover my ticket as a thanks for driving her around. Thanks again T! I must say it was pretty cool to walk amongst them so high up because it gives you another perspective on their seemingly never-ending height. They had interesting facts about the trees, their history and their importance on different plaques along the treewalk.

Mitai Maori Village

Theresa and I had read great things about the Maori cultural experience in Rotorua, so we decided that this would be the perfect thing to wrap up our Rotorua rendezvous.

When we arrived I immediately ran into my friend Dani there. I couldn’t believe that we coincidentally signed up for the same exact “Maori Experience” because there are different tribes that have different events every night. Seriously, what are the chances? Everyone was assigned to tables that we would later eat dinner at. A Maori man named John was the main host and to open up the night he went around the large room and asked questions to figure out how many different countries were present. He was able to say something to every single person in their native tongue – it was very impressive and funny. Someone said they were from Taiwan and he said “did you hear what I said to China” and everyone started cracking up. I spoke with John after the show and he said that he knows almost 100 languages! I believe we had over 15 different countries present, so all night John referred to us as the “Tribe of many nations”. Also, turns out “chocolate cake” is almost exactly the same in every single language. We then split off into groups and my group went to see Maori men canoe down the beautiful springs while chanting in the Maori language and holding torches. This was followed by a Maori performance on stage where they explained different Maori games, weapons and fighting techniques to us. Their ancestors are known for being excellent warriors, but they let us know their tribe is now very Westernized and most of them even have Facebook. Dinner was delicious with lamb, a variety of potatoes, salads, veggies and seafood soup. We ended the evening with a glow worm tour. This was a really unique experience and a great value for the money, so if you’re going through Rotorua make sure to book this!

P.S. I would have more pictures, but it was sprinkling rain and it was dark, so I wasn’t able to get many worth sharing. It’s a shame because it was really gorgeous there! We kept referring to it as a mini-Pandora.

The night ended with meeting Dani and her new roomie, Sarah, out for one drink before calling it a night. It was a very calm night out, but it was good to catch up with Dani and Sarah. Sarah is from Scotland and I felt like we clicked right away. (Fast forward a few weeks: I stayed with Sarah when I visited Brisbane, Australia).

Tongariro National Park and Taupo

Accommodation: Haka Lodge Taupo (One night)

Mt. Ngauruhoe aka “Mt. Doom”

Theresa was pretty stoked about seeing “Mt. Doom” as seen in Lord of the Rings. I felt guilty again, but she explained to me the importance of the mountain in the movie and I tried to relate it to Game of Thrones so I could understand the hype. Coincidentally, this mountain is actually super dangerous and is now closed to all hikers now due to a few deaths that have been caused by boulders.

Lake Taupo

It was a long, scenic and tiring day, so Theresa and I just had dinner at a shwanky place called Vine Eatery and Bar. I ordered the mussels and called it a night. I was so tired that when I was driving Theresa back to her hotel I started driving on the wrong side of the road. But, my hostel here was pretty nice and I slept like a baby.

Napier / Hawkes Bay

Accommodation: An Airbnb Guest Suite (Two nights)

Napier is known as the Art Deco Capital of the World and I seriously regret not going an art deco tour while I was there. I did go on jog around the town as soon as I got in (my favorite way to scope out a new town/city).

I decided on Thirsty Whale for dinner and drinks and ordered mussels and garden salad. Yes, I love mussels… and muscles, but definitely mussels. Two local Kiwis, Chris and Danny, saw me eating alone and asked if I wanted some company and then sat down with me. They were your typical genuinely friendly kiwis and took immediate interest in my future plans. They then swayed me to cut my stay in Queenstown short and go to Australia’s East Coast before going to Melbourne: Gold Coast, Noosa and Moolooaba. I have since changed some of this up again, but I am still going to Gold Coast and Noosa, so I’ll have to thank them for those recommendations. I wanted to be fairly well-rested for my very first wine tour the next day, so I walked home right after dinner (even though Chris told me not to walk, I was fine).

The next morning I drove over to the other side of Napier. I ordered a soy latte and citrus slice at Six Sisters. Then I walked around and took pictures of the art deco beach area, which reminded me of Boca Raton, FL mixed with Venice Beach, CA. There were even some vintage cars parked and driving around giving tours of the city. If I ever go back, I’ll do one of those.

A local kid named Max approached me on his skateboard as I was taking the below picture and asked if I was a tourist. I held up my camera and asked “isn’t it obvious?” I could tell he was pretty young and then he started asking me about legal weed in Colorado and it made me laugh.

After a quick self-tour it was time for my wine tour. I was the first to be picked up by our guide. His name was Nigel and his knowledge about wine and Napier was spectacular. He wasn’t allowed to drink with us, but I could tell he would’ve been a fun one to have a few drinks with. We then went to scoop up the rest of the group which happened to be an English family from St. Albans. Patricia and Duncan are the parents of Amy, Esther and Elliot (ranging 19-22 years of age). They were all very impressive — Patricia is a teacher, Duncan a lawyer, Amy a journalist, Esther is in vet school and Elliot in law school. We had a lovely time touring, tasting and getting tipsy at various wineries: Unison, Trinity Hills and Moana Park. Moana might have been my favorite because we got our cheese board there. I bought a bottle of their Malbec and planned to enjoy it at the Easter dinner in Queenstown with the Canadian family I met in Hobbiton.

Moana Park Winery
More Moana … please.

That night I hung out with the local skateboarder Max in town for a little. I’m not going to lie, for a hot second I thought he was arranging an abduction, so I quickly called a taxi back to my cozy Airbnb and stress ate Dominoes while I attempted to plan my first week in Australia. I absolutely love ranch on my pizza, so it was awesome (and dangerous) that NZ has ranch dressing.

Utilizing my Hawatour clothes hanger in the background

Wellington:

Accommodation: The Marion (One night)

Marion Hostel was hands down the nicest hostel is stayed in, but I had to pay for parking which cost me the same amount as my hostel stay. It was drizzling rain and windy when I arrived, so I was bummed about that because I was dying for a fun night out after two calm nights in Napier. Per the recommendation of my hostel’s manager, I headed to Cuba Street. It was only about 4pm, so it was pretty dead. I like to sit at bars when I dine and drink by myself and it was weird to me how difficult it was to find a place where I could do this in Wellington (Picton as well). I found a bar and eat at called Grill Meats Beer and ordered an Epic Pale Ale beer and popcorn fish.

Grill Meats Beer

I watched the kitchen make an assortment of different burgers and everything looked and smelled so good. While I was here I decided to order tickets to a comedy show called the Wellington “Pun Battle” at Fringe Bar which would start at 8:00pm. I had no idea what I was going to do for the night, and I wanted to have something to do, so this seemed like a good way to break up the night. I then went to have a beer at Fortune Favours. I started feeling a little better about where the night was going once I got here because it was a very fun and busy environment. They had large brewing tanks right at the entrance and a wide assortment of different beers with fun names — I decided on an IPA (can’t remember the name). My Texas friend, Theresa, who I met in my dorm in Rotorua met up with me and we went to another bar called the Hanging Ditch. This may have been my favorite bar of the night because of the decor and friendly bartenders.

Hanging Ditch

The bartender there recommended we grab food at LAUNDRY before the comedy show, so we did. I got the veggie chili and Theresa got a burger with fries that were served with aioli. I have a weakness for good sauces, so I ate a majority of her fries — which were some of the best I had the whole trip. Then off to The Wellington Pun Battle we went! The Fringe Bar was so packed that we had to stand, but I didn’t mind that at all. The energy in the room was fantastic and I could tell right away it was going to be a good show. The host was Hugo Grrrl who, completely coincidentally, is very well known in my previous home – New Orleans. I found this out because 10 of my Nola friends were following her on IG and apparently she is known for hosting drag wrestling shows there. She was dressed up as a “drag king” (pic below) and made some hilarious jokes about how she is gay and her mum always wanted her to find a man — but turns out he was inside of her all along. Then she said “ew ew gross not in a straight way”.

Hugo Grrrl in the middle of two contestants

There were good and bad puns, but in this competition a bad pun is still a pun. Basically the contestants get up on stage two at a time, Hugo Grrrl gives them a subject and then the two go back and forth with puns related to said subject until one chokes. For example, “how you like your sex partner” was one subject and one contestant said “I like my sexual partners like I like my healthcare, expensive when I was in America”, or “….like I like my vaccinations — previously checked by a doctor”… the laughs were amplified in person after a few drinks, obviously.

Once the comedy show was finished we walked outside to find that the city had erupted while we were in the show. Wellington has more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita that New York City and now it was really showing. There seemed to be a never-ending sea of bars that I had not even really noticed until they had come alive. Every single place was packed and it was pretty cool. The rest of the evening consisted of bar-hopping and we even met up with my friend Dani, so this was officially the third city in NZ that we had unintentionally been in at the same time.

The Horn Bar aka El Horno Bar
Me and Theresa at El Horno Bar

The next morning I woke up to a gorgeous day, which was very unlike the day before. I really didn’t want to leave, but I had already booked my ferry ticket out for that day and I could not change it because I had to purchase a vehicle ferry ticket (which was also around $250 NZD). I walked around the Harbour and just took in as much as I could in the few hours that I had left. They even had a Saturday underground market that I went to and purchased my Maori bone necklace. My best friend had given me $100 before I left to put towards something special on the trip, so I thought it was appropriate to use that to buy the necklace that symbolizes the bonding of friendship and love for eternity. I okay-ed the eternity thing with her before buying and she said she’d love that – love ya Catherine! 🙂

Maori bone necklace

I also ate at a cool restaurant called Karaka Cafe before I left. You can sit on bean bags outside, so that’s why I chose it, but it is also known for having some traditional Maori meals.

Wellington the day I had to leave

Ferry from North Island to South Island:

I booked myself and my vehicle on The Interislander. If you have a vehicle make sure to book further in advance, because there aren’t as many of these tickets available on each ferry. I paid an extra $50 for the “first class” ticket and all of my food and drinks were included. I did not take advantage of the free drinks due to having to drive off the ferry, but a group of men in my cabin really tested the “unlimited” guarantee and the staff never shut them down. I wanted to join their party, but unfortunately I had to sit this round out.

one of the many gorgeous views of the Marlborough Sounds from the ferry

Picton:

Accommodation: Piwaka Lodge & Backpackers (One night)

It was Saturday night in Picton, but due to it being such a small town I knew I would need to go out of my way to have a good night. Once I checked into my hostel I saw a couple young guys in Hawaiian skirts walking towards the exit. I hollered “where’s the party at?” to them and they responded with “at Oxley’s – it’s a bar around the corner. Come join us.” I let them know that I would be right there and met them there not 15 minutes later.

I mean, if it was Saturday night and you wanted to know where the party was wouldn’t you ask a guy dressed like that?
A view of Oxley’s Bar and Kitchen the following morning

Oxley’s Bar and Kitchen was very close to the water and seemed to be filled with mostly locals. I even ran into the guys that I envied on ferry! They approached me and we ended up having a few drinks together, so I got my wish. And I was right, they were very fun.

Me and the guys from the ferry at Oxley’s.

Before I left Picton the next morning I went on a jog and soaked up my last views of the stunning marina by the Marlborough Sounds. I stopped for a soy latte at Le Posh Patisserie before heading out and was pleasantly surprised when it came with a sugar covered bread puff.

Kaikoura:

Accommodation: Albatross Backpacker Inn (Two nights)

I was about an hour outside of Kaikoura when I saw an adorable restaurant sitting on a gorgeous coast line, so I decided to stop there for lunch. It was called “The Spot” but I cannot seem to find it online for the life of me. I am determined to find it and will continue to search. However, if you’re driving from Picton to Kaikoura you can’t miss it and you should definitely stop as it was one of my best dining experiences in NZ. I ordered the fish and chips and the fish was so light and flaky that it literally almost blew off my plate. It was SO good and everything from the service to the ambiance was just delightful.

Fish & Chips at The Spot
The “backyard” of The Spot
A view of The Spot from the beach

I made way into town and it wasn’t time to check-in so asked a young local, named Cowen, where I should go. He suggested The Strawberry Tree and The Whaler, but it started to rain so I ducked into The Whaler for a drink because it was closer. On the walk there I had stopped at the helicopter tours to see about scheduling something the next day, but they said to check back in the morning because the weather might not be good and they can only go out in the same weather that boats can. The Whaler had just opened, so it was kind of empty, so had one cider while utilizing the wifi then went back to the hostel. I met my British roomie, Ellen, and I immediately knew we would get along. Ellen let me know that she and some other girls from the hostel were thinking about going on a hike the next day, and because of the possible bad ocean conditions, I told her that I could be down. She mentioned that it would cost $40/person to get to the trailhead, so they might not go because of that. And then this was the second time I utilized my for rent super power and let her know that IF I decided to go that I’d drive us all. Ellen seemed pretty happy about that, but I told her I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit (honestly, summiting a mountain isn’t on my list of dream activities, but I knew I needed to do that before I left NZ). Long story short, I went back to the Strawberry Tree for a glass of vino and a nice mussel dinner (I eat these a lot, but these were the best I had had the whole trip) and then went back to the hostel to catch some Z’s. I woke up around 8am and let Ellen know that I was all-in for the hike. The weather was actually pretty good, but the thought of paying for a whale watching experience didn’t sit well with me. I was just in Mexico in February and had a once in a lifetime whale-watching experience on a sailboat about 30 feet from a mother humpback whale and her baby. If I had had more time, I would have made time to do a fishing excursion with Jerry — Ellen said that she only had to pay $70 and they caught multiple crayfish, went back to the fisherman’s house to cook and eat them AND got unlimited wine there. Just to put it into perspective on how food of a deal this really is: I paid $60+NZD for half of a crayfish at the Strawberry Tree on my last night. It was super good and came with augratin potatoes and a salad, but still…. You can reach Jerry at 033193003 or 0274441584.

I completely underestimated how strenuous this hike would be. It was a total of 11 miles, but after about 2 miles of serious incline I would have been happy to turn around. But, I had committed to these girls and I drove everyone, so I was not going to bail. We summited in about 3.5 hours which is very fast. These girls were tough, in-shape and straight up impressive. The two girls, Sarah and Sabrina, that joined Ellen and I were from Switzerland and are very accustomed to mountain hiking. Many people in the U.S. couldn’t believe I was traveling on my own at 28 years old, but Sabrina was only 19 and had already been on her own traveling for over two months! Overall, it was a challenge and I couldn’t walk without pain for about a week after, but I am proud and glad that we did it!

Two Swiss, a Brit and a Yank went on a hike… and summited!
Bottom left is in the hut that we stopped to each lunch in on the way down.

After the hike we had some much deserved drinks and food at The Strawberry Tree. We sat next to their cozy fireplace to warm up and I ordered the crayfish dinner that I had sooo been looking forward to. It did not disappoint. Cowen, who suggested I go here, even walked in before we left! The girls were buying me drinks as a thanks for driving and Ellen even bought me a chocolate bar across the street. It is a delicious New Zealand chocolate company that has been in biz for over 110 years called Whitakker’s and you need to buy it anytime you see it. Thanks Ellen!

The Strawberry Tree
Whittaker’s – some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had

After dinner we went back to the hostel and streamed the first episode of Game of Thrones. I did not know how to watch it in NZ because HBOgo did not work there, so I called Mike in Auckland and he let me know that subscribing to NEON is the best option. It worked very well – thanks Mike!

Christchurch:

Accommodation: Foley Towers (One night)

On my way into Christchurch I decided to stop at Silverstream Alpaca Farmstay for an alpaca tour. I have always wanted to see alpacas in person and I was missing my dog, so I didn’t think twice about how this was a good use of my time. I completely lucked out and was the only person on the tour that day, so I got lots of extra time with the alpacas and I even got to bottle feed a premature baby that was living in the owner’s house. Sarah, a 19 year old Dutch girl, was my tour guide and she was there doing a work to live program on the farm. I really enjoyed talking with her and she was nice enough to take some pictures of me with the alpacas! The entire experience was great and I highly recommend this place! If you have the time, maybe even look into staying the night because it is so peaceful and beautiful!

Sarah helped me catch upper the little guys on the upper left and lower right.
Silverstream Alpaca Farmstay B&B Accommodation and Farm Tour

Once I got to my hostel I saw that there was a health food store called Piko Wholefoods right across the street, so I figured it was time to get over my fear of hostel kitchens and start cooking some of my own meals. I bought enough food to get through the next day and a half. I then did some laundry before taking a Lime scooter to happy hour at Smash Palace. Here they served drinks and food out of a giant bus and they had a lot of lights and fire pits everywhere. I really liked this place and heard it’s best for happy hour. The Smash Palace bartender recommended that I go to eat across the street at Little High Eatery, so I did (money saving via cooking started the next day). This place is a giant food hall with various restaurants to chose from. I picked the Mexican place and enjoyed a veggie burrito.

The temperature had dropped a lot, so I took a freezing scooter ride back. I stopped when I heard organ music playing at Oxford Terrace Baptist Church which was directly across from a giant clock that had “Peace” engraved on it. It was just one man playing an organ in an empty room, but it sounded very nice and I stayed there for a bit to listen. The Christchurch mass shooting had happened just a month or so before I was there, so the combination of the music and the Peace clock felt somewhat spiritual.

I got back to my hostel and met my roomie who was very talkative and energetic. I really wanted to do some planning and possibly write a little, but she wanted to tell me all about her trip. She had been summiting mountains and camping in tents for almost 3 months! It was her last night in NZ, so she was staying at the hostel before flying out the next day. I kept wondering how much energy she had BEFORE she did all of this… geez.

The next morning I cooked at my hostel for the very first time! I don’t know why I was so nervous about doing this, it was completely fine and easy and pretty much like cooking in your own kitchen (with a few others also cooking in your kitchen). It may even save you time as compared to going out to eat, but it definitely saves you money. After I packed up I hit up the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on my way out of town. If you go to Christchurch, make sure you do this. It was stunning and the best botanic gardens I’ve ever been to.

Tekapo:

Accommodation: Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers (one night)

I made a trip to Tekapo solely to see the stars. It is part of the Mackenzie Interntaional Dark Sky Reserve, so you are able to see the milky way with the naked eye. It was a hostel in a residential neighborhood with chickens running around and the hostel’s neighbors had two pet sheep in their front yard just hanging out like they were dogs.

The guy who checked me in at the hostel told me where to go to see the stars best and then said to not go to the golf course because that’s where all the tours go and you’re not allowed to go there unless you’re on a tour. So, of course, that’s where I went. First, I went to take pics at the lake and then after sunset I made my way the “forbidden” golf course. The stars were clearer than I had ever seen before, but apparently it’s usually better because the moon was so bright that night it made it harder to see the stars. Luckily, I love the moon too. It was a little freaky walking all the way out into the middle of nowhere by myself in the pitch black, but I found a nice area behind a hill where I laid down a blanket and was able to stay somewhat hidden. I had studied up on how to take pictures of starts with my Sony a6000, so I stayed out there doing that and using my Star Walk app until I started to get cold. The only truly frightening moment was when a giant dog came charging down the track and ran up to me. I just stayed very still and he sniffed me and kept running. I left the course and went to The Church of the Good Shepard. My pictures would have been great, but there were a dozens of ignorant people gathered around shining their lights, so I left after a quick snap or two.

Lake Tekapo at sunset
The Church of the Good Shepard
Lake Pukaki (outside of Tekapo)
Pukaki is a Maori term meaning “bunched-up water”
One more of Pukaki

Wanaka:

Accommodation: Wanaka Bakpaka (didn’t end up staying there, but seemed pretty nice and had a killer vew – walking distance to town center)

I stopped here because Dany and Chris from Napier recommended that I spend some time there, but realized it was too low-key for me to stay the night, especially with Queenstown being so close. I forfeited my hostel payment because I knew I had my Canadian friends offering me a free couch in Queenstown. I stopped at the famous Wanaka tree on my way out. I had heard it would let me down, but I would have to disagree. Even with all of the tourist’s annoying children throwing rocks into the lake around me I still very much enjoyed it. I literally got a whiff of children (a.k.a. wet Cheetos and Play-Doe) and thought to myself, “Yup, still not even closely ready for kids, but wow this weather sure is just splendid.”

Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka

I then jumped in the car and drove another hour or so and finally arrived in the destination I had been the most excited for: The Town of Queens!

Queenstown: (6 nights total)

Accommodations:

1st Four Nights: Stayed with the Canadian family I met at Hobbiton at an incredible luxury apartment just 2km from the town center.

Last Two Nights: Jucy Snooze

The couch was my bed for four nights, but I would’ve taken this “room” over any hostel! There were little luxuries I didn’t even realize I missed, like having two towels and being able to shower without shower shoes on.

On the way into town I stopped to load up on wine and groceries so that I could contribute something to the generous family that was hosting me.

My Canadian fam was out doing activities in town, so I just parked my car on their street (their apartment was #7 on the street – my birthday is 7/7 and this is an extremely justified lucky number for me). I then took an Uber to bar 1876 (which is famous for their cheap drinks and packed with young backpackers). I met and had a drink with three Irish guys – 2 of them are now living in Auckland and the other is working on moving there. I told them I had driven from Auckland to Queenstown in 11 days by myself and they were super impressed. We all walked to Lake Wakatipu, then I left them to meet up with my Canadian fam at The Pier. We had some fairly strong mojitos before heading to book our bungee jump with a tour company in Queenstown called i-centre at 35 Shotover Street. Ask for travel agents Ryan and/or Dan if you book here, (or email the store’s manager at danielmc@happytravels.co.nz and tell him Kasey sent you). When I told our agent, Ryan, I was nervous he had a perfect response: “Good, you’re supposed to be nervous.” Good point. After we booked our tour for 3:20pm the following day we were immediately nervous. Well, Ryan seemed pretty damn calm right up until he was getting strapped in for the jump. The jump was $275NZD and came with 10 free ice bar tickets.

That evening Jane treated us to a nice dinner at the lux apartment – lamb, salmon, veggies, baked brie, red wine and apple cider. Apparently bars were closing at 12:00pm for “Good Friday”, so we went to bed instead of heading out, but that was okay with me because I was tired from the drive. Also, the following day was a massive day with bungee jumping. I’m actually catching up on this blog right now, as I cannot sleep thanks to the nerves. Seriously thinking about going to whisper “don’t jump” in Ross and Ryan’s sleeping ears…

Bungy Jumping day: We decided on The Nevis Bungy which is the tallest bungy in New Zealand and the fourth tallest in the world. It is ran by a very reputable company called AJ Hackett and they have a 100% safety rating, but that may have made me more nervous. But I figured that if I was the one to screw up their perfect record, I might not live to tell it, but my story would never die. The morning of the jump I walked through Queenstown botanical gardens with Jane and Ross. Was trying to keep mind off of what was happening in just a few hours, but I was also so grateful that I was going with my new friends.

Once we got to the store they checked us in and then tagged us like cattle with our weight on one hand and our bus number/order on the other. We got loaded into the bus and our bus driver attempted to make some jokes about how we all needed to get better at life decisions – tough crowd. I brought a bottle of Maker’s Mark in my backpack for the bus ride to the canyon. I’m not sure if this was technically allowed, (probably not), but I highly recommend trying to get away with it. The bus was totally silent due to nerves and again I got the feeling of being solemn cattle led to slaughter. But thanks to the Maker’s Mark I was quickly becoming one of the least nervous people on there. I saw a young and pretty girl sitting by herself and asked her if she was going to do this all on her own. Turns out she was. I felt for her because I knew that that would’ve been me if I hadn’t met Jane, so I asked if she wanted some Bourbon. She replied “yes please” without hesitation. Her name was Paula and she was Brazilian but currently living in Sydney. The jumping order was determined by weight, so her and I were the last two to jump, so we comforted each other for quite awhile.

Top picture is a human dangling after their jump. Paula and I on the bottom left and bottom right was our view for the 30 minutes or so that we waited and watched others jump.

I completed the 8.5 second free fall and loved every half second of it. I honestly would have done it every day after that if it was free. You can see the full video on my Instagram (@KaseyEckstein), or Facebook. If you’re wondering how I look so happy before I jump it’s because I was doing my best to channel all the feels from my childhood obsession with Peter Pan.

Easter in Queenstown: Queenstown does not sell alcohol in stores on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. You can purchase alcohol at restaurants if you order food, but they still have stipulations on how much alcohol you can buy per meal. This means that on Thursday night the bars closed at midnight and then re-opened at midnight on Friday night. Then closed again at midnight Saturday night. This made me that much more grateful that I was staying with Jane, Ross and Ryan. I was in a foreign country by myself, but I had a home, family and home-cooked meals every day. Thank you Jane!

I just kept thinking about how my old home of New Orleans would not let this fly. Especially when most New Orleanians end their “no drinking for lent” on Easter.
Easter Day:
(top pic from left: My friend Dani, Ross, Ryan, Me and Jane)
(bottom left: Jane and I at Lake Wakatipu after free morning yoga at Lululemon)
(bottom right: Jane’s delicious Easter feast!)

Highlights of Queenstown:

Boutique Wine Tour: Dani arranged this activity and let me tag along with she and her friends from the Contiki Tour and I’m very glad I did. We were able to see and taste at three pretty vineyards and even visited a town called Old Cromwell Town that looked like it could have been used as an old Western movie set, (pic below).

Atlas Beer Cafe: We heard $21NZD for a nice steak dinner, so we went after our bungee jump. It tasted much better than $21 and here’s what you get…

Rump steak and house cut fries with mixed green salad, served with demi-glace 
and Café de Paris butter $20.9
Want more? Add extra: 
Bread $1 | Egg $2 | Demi-glace $3 | Café de Paris butter $3
Roasted Mushroon $4 | Grilled Prawns $6

The Bathhouse: This place caught my eye on the very first day, so Jane and I grabbed coffee and some date balls here after our Easter Sunday morning yoga. It was an adorable cafe and below you can see the view of Lake Wakatipu from our table. This place remains special in my memory because on Easter morning Jane told me that if she could have picked a daughter, or sister, she would have picked me. Again, love you Jane! 🙂

Devil Burger: I heard a lot about going to Fergburger, but they had a very long line that wrapped around their restaurant every single day I considered going there. I had heard that Devil Burger was similar and it had great online reviews, so I went there instead. I got the venison burger (added Brie and extra side sauce) and enjoyed it next to Lake Wakatipu. I am a harsh critique when it comes to venison burgers, as I like to think that I make the best, but this one may have rivaled mine.

This was the Fergburger line that I refused to wait in…

1867: A bar where you get drinks for almost half the price of any other bar in town. It’s known for being a backpackers bar, but you’re not going to get chased out if you’re not one. They had nice fireplaces and heaters outside on the front deck and the food didn’t look too shabby either.

The World Bar: I went here for a drink and ended up meeting many fun people. I even ended up running into Sarah from Scotland who was there with her friends from Brisbane who had just gotten into town. I hadn’t been in this country for even a month and I was already running into people! What is life?! Once I ran into Sarah I joined her crew and we continued on bar hopping together. We went to a few places, but I would have to say that the most fun was Cowboys.

The World Bar

Te Anau

Accommodation: Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers (one night)

I did one night in Te Anau solely to break up the eight hour roundtrip to Milford Sound from Queenstown. Te Anau is about two hours from Queenstown, so this was the halfway point. If I could have booked a stay closer to Milford I would have, but everything was already booked up. So book early if you want to sleep close to Milford Sounds, or do an overnight cruise.

Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers (you have the option to stay in a dorm, but I chose the tent for the experience. And I’m glad I did! I was even able to stream Game of Thrones in there.

Milford Sound:

“The eighth wonder of the world”

I booked a cruise with Real Journeys on the Milford Mariner. I loved the boat that we were on it was very nice and even had coffee and tea included.

Milford Sound is not a sound. It is actually a fiord. It rains over 180 days a year there, dropping more than 268 inches a year making one of the wettest places on Earth. It rain so much sometimes that tree avalanches occur when the trees lose their grip on the soft ground along the hills. Therefore, if you schedule a tour and the predicted weather is rain don’t bother trying to reschedule. On a positive note, I had phenomenal weather conditions, especially for a Milford Sound, but one of the tour guides told me that it’s even prettier and more surreal when it rains there. So no matter what it’s a win/win.

That’s the summary of my New Zealand trip. The Kiwi people were the nicest people I have ever met and the countrysides are so incredibly gorgeous that you have to remind yourself to keep your eyes on the road. I fully intend on returning to this amazing country to see a few sights that I missed and to spend more time in a few I visited on this trip.

Next up: Australia!

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