Since our trip to New Zealand was EPIC in every sense of the word, there was just wayyyyyy too much goodness to pack into one blog post! If you haven’t yet, jump over to Part One to get the details on how we rented a campervan to road trip throughout New Zealand and how we lived on the road for almost two weeks! Here is what you’ve been waiting for….ALLLL the breathtaking places you’ve seen pop up on my feed every now and then (and in my pregnancy announcement post)!
What Season to Go
Since New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons are opposite of the United States. So when we went mid-October, it was spring in New Zealand and winter was just wrapping up. As New Zealand is getting more and more popular among travelers, SO many locals told us that summers in New Zealand are MEGA busy. Everything is booked months in advance, and in order to book an excursion, you have to plan ahead. Since we went in spring, nothing was booked out so we were able to plan our trip a bit more on the fly as far as what activities we were doing. In general, we planned what we were doing a few days in advance, giving us the flexibility to change our minds if another opportunity presented itself. The weather was pretty chilly in the South Island, and a bit warmer in the North Island. It was never warm enough to be in a bathing suit and swim, but I did pack sweaters and puffy coats for the South Island and lighter cardigans and shorts for the North Island. If you’re going during New Zealand’s summer, the weather will be MUCH warmer; however, be sure to plan wayyyyy in advance for any activity you want to do that requires booking a ticket.
When we were planning our trip, we initially planned to road trip North to South, starting in Auckland and ending in Queenstown. However, we ended up flipping it and going South to North because flights were WAY cheaper for us that way. We flew into Christchurch on the South Island and spent about 10 days driving around the South Island before taking the ferry from Picton to Wellington to the North Island. We finished our trip spending 6 days on the North Island. I’m actually SO glad we did it South to North, because I think we would have spent more time on the North Island before heading South if we would have gone North to South. Most everyone will tell you this and I definitely agree with them, but the South Island definitely has MUCH more epic views than the North. There’s WAY more mountains and glaciers to see on the south. Ultimately, I’m glad we spent more time on the South Island. I definitely loved some things we did on the North Island, but we definitely could have EASILY spent the entire 2 weeks on the South Island. If you love mountains, hiking, and adventure, I personally would recommend going to the South Island over the North.
Places to See & Things to Do
New Zealand is the most magical country and there is SO much to do. You could spend a year just on ONE island and never get the chance to see it all. When we were vacationing there, we went with the flow, going from local’s recommendations and things we had heard online that were incredible. So this post is only recommending things we actually did that we loved. I’m going in order of what we experienced first, so I’m starting with the South Island and then transitioning to the North.
We didn’t do anything particular or stay overnight here, but Lake Tekapo is SO flipping gorgeous that I had to include it on the list. We drove past it and stopped to have lunch and take photos because the water with the mountains in the background was UNREAL.
AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
I highly recommend checking out this incredible national park. New Zealand is flooded with so many national parks and they’re all so incredible, but Mount Cook is something else. The drive from the town of Pukaki to Mount Cook along Lake Pukaki is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever experienced. When you get to Mount Cook, definitely do the Hooker Valley Track. It’s 10 km and takes about 3 hours roundtrip, but it’s not a hard hike at all. And the views are a DEFINITE MUST. Don’t believe me? I’ll just let the photos below do the talking. ;)
If you visit the South Island of New Zealand and only have time for one destination, HANDS DOWN make it Queenstown. This small town is breathtakingly beautiful and is filled with so much adventure and outdoor activities. There’s skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, boating, kayaking, paragliding, etc.. The views of Lake Wakatipu against the mountain range known as the Remarkables is a MUST SEE. They don’t call them the Remarkables for nothing!!! Your jaw will drop. Just trust me on this one. If you love the outdoors and are adventurous, get yo booty to Queenstown pronto!
There’s a HUGE gorge near Queenstown with a dirt road that goes along it. It’s known as the most dangerous road in New Zealand, and for good reason! It’s actually one of the roads our campervan rental company told us specifically NOT to drive the campervan on. While we were staying in Queenstown, I had a mentor session with a local photographer who lived there. As a thank you for the mentor session, she drove Andrew and I around Queenstown one day showing us all the sights. We took her car down Skipper’s Canyon, and it was one of my favorite things we got to experience. So PLEASE be smart if you go, and don’t take your campervan down this road. Go with a local who knows the road if you can.
I highly recommend Milford Sound if you can go. It’s quite the drive from Queenstown, but it’s definitely worth it! We booked a ferry ride through the sound, and I definitely recommend doing that! It was about 2.5 hours and gave us such incredible views of the entire sound. It was cold and misty the day we went, but it just added to the entire experience. I loved it. I can’t remember which company we went with, but once you get to Milford Sound, there’s a building where you can book with all of the ferry companies.
MOUNT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK
This National Park is pretty close to the popular town of Wanaka (which has great food, btw!) We specifically did the Rob Roy Glacier Track, which was a fantastic hike. It’s a 10km hike that will take you about 4-5 hours roundtrip. There aren’t epic views the entire way like there are with the Hooker Valley Track in Mt. Cook, but I still recommend this hike for the EPIC views at the beginning and end of the hike. The beginning of the hike looks like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. (See me frolicking in all of its goodness below haha).
Since it was just getting into the spring season when we went, we made it to the very top of the hike and could see the snow-covered glacier which was SO COOL. The drive to the trailhead is on a gravel road through farmland, and you have to drive over a lot of water-filled creeks, so make sure your vehicle can handle it.
These babies are on the coast in Paparoa National Park. Andrew’s obsessed with pancakes, and these rocks looked super cool when we saw them online, so we drove a little bit out of our way in order to see them. It was a fun stop with a nice coastal walk that allowed us to walk among the rocks and see their formations. I’d never seen anything like them. It was WILD.
TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
When we hit the North Island, we pretty much drove straight north from Wellington to Tongariro National Park because I had a couples session there. I’m not a Lord of the Rings nerd, but Mt. Doom in the LOTR movies was filmed here. Mt. Ngauruhoe is the real-life Mt. Doom, but you don’t have to like Lord of the Rings in order to check out Tongariro. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and one of the only places on the North Island you’ll experience mountains. Drive down Desert Road and you’ll see EPIC desert views on both sides and many places to stop for photos. We didn’t have time to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but I wish we would have found a way to fit it in our schedule!! It’s an all-day, 18km alpine hike that takes you up through volcanoes, lava flows, emerald alpine lakes, and steam vents. It takes roughly 8 hours to complete. The hike isn’t out and back; you end on the other side of the park at the end, so if you do it make sure you have your transportation sorted in order to get back to your car!
SPA PARK HOT POOLS IN TAUPO
If you love natural hot springs, Taupo is a MUST. There’s a park here called Spa Park with a short walk to natural hot springs where the hot springs meet a cold river. You can lounge in an area where the super hot water meets the freezing lake water. It’s such a unique experience!!!. We stayed here for only about 20 minutes because I was about 6 weeks pregnant on this trip. Since we couldn’t monitor the temperature of natural hot springs, we decided to head to Rotorua- the next town over- and splurge on an actual natural hot spring spa that had regulated temperature pools so I could dip into the less hot ones. We specifically went to the Polynesian Spa, which was incredible! While Andrew sat in the heated pools, I splurged on a massage for myself- which was excellent!! Since we were campervanning the entire trip, it was a nice break to treat ourselves to a spa day. Though had I not been pregnant, we probably would have been perfectly happy staying in Taupo at the natural hot springs in the park.
WAITOMO GLOWWORM CAVES
This was probably my favorite thing we did on the North Island. In the town of Waitomo, there are underground caves with glow worms. IT IS SOOO MAGICAL!!! We booked a tour with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co and did an underground tour where we rafted on inner tubes in wet suits and headlamps exploring caves and seeing the glowworms in action. It’s a little pricey of an excursion, but 1000% worth it. I can’t recommend this tour more.
MT. PAKU SUMMIT
This is a super short little hike up towards the north of the North Island in the town of Tairua. We stayed at a free campground in the town and read reviews that told us to hike to the summit of the tiny little mountain (more like a hill haha) of Mt. Paku. We went up to the top at sunrise and the sunrise on the ocean was SO beautiful.
This place has been on my bucket list since before we decided we were going to New Zealand. I’d always seen photos of Cathedral Cove and wanted SOOO BADLY to visit. We spent one of our last days in New Zealand checking out this gorgeous area, and it didn’t disappoint!! There’s a lot of walking involved, because Cathedral Cove is in a private neighborhood. You can pay to take a shuttle up to the top or walk up the neighborhood. But once you get to the actual beginning of the Cathedral Cove area, it’s still a bit of a walk till the end. There are a lot more stops other than Cathedral Cove to check out, and each view is so pretty. If you’re in the area of the North Island, I highly recommend adding this to your list!
HOT WATER BEACH
Andrew saw this when researching online and since it was really close by to Cathedral Cove, we made it a stop on our road trip. It’s a beach where an underground natural hot spring flows into the ocean. So during low tide, people come to the beach and start digging holes in the sand to create their own makeshift hot pools. If you come at high tide, the tide will be too high to dig in the correct spot, so make sure to google low tide and go then. It was the wildest experience to dig sand and super hot water appears. There were a bunch of people who had dug so far and wide that their “pool” was as big as a legit hot tub. It was such a unique experience, and I’m glad we checked it out.
Places to Eat
We tried to balance making our own meals (aka soup haha) and eating out sparingly. That said, we also were on vacation and didn’t shy away from eating out if we wanted to. Here’s a list of our favorite restaurants and coffee shops we went to that we absolutely loved.
FARM BARN CAFE // coffee shop // Fairlie, NZ // South Island
FERGBURGER // burger joint // Queenstown, NZ // South Island
TACO MEDIC // street tacos // Queenstown, NZ // South Island
HAWKER & ROLL // Malaysian street food // Queenstown, NZ // South Island
BOMBAY PALACE WANAKA // Indian food // Wanaka, NZ // South Island
HEAVEN WOODFIRE PIZZA // pizza // Wellington, NZ // North Island
STOREHOUSE // coffee shop // Taupo, NZ // North Island
EL MEXICANO ZAPATA // mexican restaurant // Rotorua, NZ // North Island
ATOMIC COFFEE ROASTERS // coffee shop // Auckland, NZ // North Island
REMEDY COFFEE // coffee shop // Auckland, NZ // North Island
If you made through both posts, thank you so much for reading! I hope you guys have a wild adventure of your own in New Zealand and that these blog posts helped you prepare and plan before you go! Leave me a comment below if you’ve also done anything I mentioned above or what you found most helpful! Do you guys like when I do trip reviews like these? If so, I’ll definitely keep doing them!!
Lindsey Roman is an adventurous destination wedding and intimate elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii, but she travels worldwide. She lives for outdoor adventures, intimate moments, and candid images. Her style is raw, passionate, and authentic. She believes in chasing sunsets, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.