New Zealand

Kia Ora! Hello, New Zealand, we finally meet! After almost a year of booking and planning, I have arrived in the beautiful “Kiwi” country.

My time in New Zealand was spent on a Kiwi Experience bus tour. My tour in the big green coach bus started in Auckland, spending 22 days driving around the North and South Islands.

I was immediately impressed by the gorgeous landscape surrounding me each day. Rolling green hills, farms with fields full of cows and sheep and stunning snow capped mountains and crystal clear blue lakes fit for a postcard.

Our green bus consisted of 45 backpackers aged 18-30 from The U.K., Finland, United States, Norway, Wales, Germany, Scotland, and South Africa. Our driver Scotty grew up on the North Island and he had plenty of insight on the best activities to do and places to see. My tour started and finished in Auckland. 1/3 of New Zealanders call Auckland home so as you can imagine it was quite a big and busy city. Going down the North Island we spent time in the towns of Hot Water Beach, Waitomo, Rotatua, Taupo, River Valley and Wellington. We then took a 3 hr ferry ride to the South Island where we visited Abel Tasman, Westport, Lake Mahinapua, Franz Joseph, Wanaka, Queenstown, Lake Tekapo, Christchurch and Kaikoura before looping back through to the North Island and ending in Auckland. I won’t go into too much detail about what I did each day. Instead I’ll tell you about a few of my favourite days and activities and share my pictures from each city.

I’ll start off telling you about Hot Water Beach. This was where we stopped for our first night. The beach is famous for it’s hot thermal natural spas. Volcanic activity dating back to 20 million years ago is the catalyst for the hot springs that are a feature of Hot Water Beach. Water seeping through fissures in the base rock leach down to the hot molten magma many thousands of metres below the earth’s surface, only to be sent back to the surface as hot water exiting through the hot springs on the beach and in the Te Waiwaiwe Creek which runs alongside the beach. At low tide the hot mineral water seeping up through the sand attracts large numbers of visitors who dig their pools in the sand and enjoy their natural spa. I and several of my new tour friends had such a fun time digging small holes in the sand and dipping our feet in the hot water.

One of my favourite activities was an overnight stay in Maori village in the city of Rotorua. Maori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand more than 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Maori people make up 14% of the New Zealand population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity. Once at the village, we were welcomed into the marae, where we heared Maori speeches and singing, saw carved meeting houses, met the local people and enjoyed a hangi feast cooked underground in earth ovens. One of my favourite activities was watching and learning the famous Haka traditional war cry dance, performed by Maori Warriors before a battle. Today, this dance is performed by the New Zealand All Black professional rugby team before each match. Our tour group stayed overnight in the village, socialising until 3 am in hot tubs and by a campfire. What a fun night it was!

In River Valley, we spent the night in a secluded lodge deep within the valley. It reminded me of a ski lodge with stuffed deer heads hanging on the walls and a fireplace in the dining area. Here I went on a 3 hr white water rafting trip through a 12 km section of the Rangitikei River. Our Canadian guide took our boat of 5 girls through ten grade 4-5 water rapids for 2 hours. The grading scale of rapids is used to describe the difficulty of the rapids. To put the rapids I was going through in perspective, grade 6 rapids are the highest classification of rapids and described as “very confused and violent water so difficult that controlled navigation by raft is virtually impossible. Significantly life threatening if swimming and unrunnable by all but a few experts”. As a result, I was rightfully terrified at times of falling out of the raft but did manage to enjoy it towards the second half of the trip and enjoyed the beautiful blue water deep below mountains and green farm fields. An experience I’m glad I did (once safely back on land of course).

Another terrifying experience began a few days later when we were in Lake Mahinapua. Here, our tour bus had an ‘ABC’ party, standing for “Anything But Clothes”. Having an excuse to dress up, each traveler on my tour bus got all decked out in homemade outfits. For my costume, I decided to buy multiple rolls of toilet paper and wrap myself up like a mummy. My costume was a hit with everyone. Some of my favourite costumes were a shark made out of cardboard & tin foil, a grapes costume made from purple balloons, the boy who cut a hole in the bottom of a giant Christmas stocking and wore it as a dress and bumble bees from garbage bags and yellow tape.  Here’s where the terrifying part comes in. I ended up winning best dressed and won a free canyon swing voucher. As excited as I was to win a prize valued at over $200, it meant I had to do something I was hoping to avoid in upcoming Queenstown (known as the adventure capital of the world). But not wanting to let my new friends down, I decided to go ahead with the canyon swing a few days later in Queenstown. This swing is the highest in the world, consisting of a 60 meter free fall before a 200 meter swing ride over a rocky canyon below. Having only a harness and two workers who seemed to have too much fun scaring me made the experience nerve wracking but worthwhile. Here is a link for the video for those interested in seeing what my canyon swing consisted of.

Hiking through the Franz Joseph Glacier was another amazing experience for me. Franz Josef Glacier is a 12 km long glacier located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. From its origins high in the Southern Alps, the Franz Josef Glacier descends deep into the lush rainforest of Westland’s National Park, from a height of 2700 m above sea level to only 240 m, making it the world’s steepest and fastest flowing commercially guided glacier. The glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions of the West Coast, with around 250,000 visitors a year. Guided walks on the glacier require a helicopter flight past the unstable terminal face. Due to the need of a helicopter and often rainy or cloudy weather conditions, glacier walks are often cancelled. I was extremely lucky to be able to go on the tour as it had been raining the days before and following day after, requiring all those tours to be cancelled (thanks for the special prayers for good weather mom!) After our 5 minute scenic helicopter ride, I was in amongst the blue ice covered snowy glacier. Our guide Nathan took us on a 3 hr hike through the broken ground atop the glacier. Due to the glacial landscape changing almost daily as a result of the glacier’s unusually fast flow, Nathan used an ice axe to carve a path and steps for us as we navigated through the glacier and ice tunnels. The views atop the glacier were spectacular! What an amazing experience that I was so fortunate to participate in and one I will never forget.

My final experience I will share here is one I will always treasure. I had the opportunity to swim with Wild Dusky Dolphins in the small fishing town of Kaikoura. To ensure optimal sightings, our tour began at 5:30 am. With a wet suit consisting of a jacket, gloves, a hood, socks and flippers, our group braved the frigid waters. Due to the nature of the tour, we started off on a boat ride out through the ocean in search of some friendly wild dolphins. Luckily, about 10 minutes into our boat ride, our guide spotted a group of 5 dolphins who were more than happy to play with us. We were told that the dolphins love sounds and if we spin around in circles. So looking silly, we swam around spinning in circles and singing our favourite songs. For me, singing “here Mr Dolphin, hereeeeeee Mr Dolphin” repeatedly seemed to work quite well. The dolphins loved swimming with and around us so much that we stayed together for over 40 minutes. They even brought a friendly seal over for a quick visit at one point. On our ride back to land the boat was surrounded by hundreds (I’m serious !!) of dolphins. Dolphins were swimming quickly along the front of our boat, jumping in the distance and just watching the boat pass from nearby. It was a truly incredible experience to watch from the front of our boat.

I hope reading about my New Zealand adventures make you consider taking your own trip there one day. New Zealand is truly a beautiful country full of beautiful people. I was so fortunate to spend so much time there and look forward to my next adventure.

Along with the pictures below, I’ve added a link for a video I made with several highlights from my 3 week adventure 🙂

Walk up Mt Eden my first day in Auckland gave great views of the city. Can you spot the Auckland Sky Tower ?
our big green tour bus


Beautiful views on my walk in Hot Water Beach
The famous Cathedral Cove. My friends who know the singer Macklemore, this is where the “Can’t Hold Us” music video was filmed!


Tourists digging pools at Hot Water Beach
It felt like a hot tub !!
What a fun afternoon exploring Hobbiton, the set of the Lord of the Ring and the Hobbit movies
These cute small houses looked perfect for a Hobbit



Maori men dressed in traditional tribal outfits. These face tattoos are fake but in the past many permanent tattoos were placed on the face of Maori warriors telling the story of the wearer’s family and tribal affiliations, and their place in these social structures.
Joining in on the fun
The famous Huka Falls are a set of waterfalls on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo. The thundering turquoise waterfall flows through 220,000 litres per second. To put that into perspective, it would take only 11 seconds for the falls to fill an Olympic size swimming pool!


Celebratory drinks in an Irish pub after our friend Laura completed (and survived) a bungy jump in Taupo. Alice is from England, Laura from Finland and Heather is from Scotland
Sailing trip around Lake Taupo. The lake is so large that the entire country of Singapore can fit in it! It was cold, so we were given large winter ponchos to keep us warm.


Walking through Taupo with my friends Lauren (from England) and Eva (from Germany)
Beautiful sunset in Taupo
Our walk around Mount Ruapehu in the North Island ended with lunch at this amazing waterfall
Our hostel room in River Valley. We had bunk beds with 32 of us sleeping in one room- lots of fun!
Our River Valley hostel felt just like a cozy ski lodge
River Valley Rapids. This is where I did my White Water Rafting
Enjoying the views at the Wellington Harbour
I quickly learned why Wellington was called the “Windy City”
Myself and only one other girl on our tour bus were the only ones brave enough to jump in the frigid Lake Nelson, apparently full of eels.
I quickly found out why so many choose not to jump- absolutely freezing!!
Pancake formed rocks made for a nice stop during a long day of driving
Ellie and Francesca (from England) and I completed a 4 hr walk to the bottom of the Franz Josef Glacier. The following day we would take a helicopter ride to the top.
we made it!
All geared up (and very excited) for our trip up the Franz Josef Glacier. Saskia and Liz, both from England became great friends of mine
Helicopter ride up to the Franz Josef Glacier. The scenic ride took approximately 5 minutes each way


the colour of the glacier ice was incredible!
Once on the glacier, our guide Nathan took us on a 3 hour hike through the remarkable Pinnacles area of the glacier.
Using his ice axe he would cut out a path for us to walk through. We had special “crampon” grips on the bottom of our boots (similar to soccer cleats) that would allow us to have a good grip on the ice below our feet.




We had to crawl through tunnels on many sections of our walk



snow capped mountains were all throughout the South Island of New Zealand
Said to be the most photographed tree in all of New Zealand. This solitary tree has grown up all alone on Lake Wanaka, backdropped by the beautiful Southern Alps.
These views in Wanaka were the reason it was one of my favourite towns that I visited
I loved the beautiful town of Wanaka and spent as much time as possible at the water, enjoying the spectacular and breathtaking views. Unfortunately I only had time to spend one night here.
my winning costume. This was before my arms and legs were completely wrapped in toilet paper
Moments before my scary Canyon Swing


Mirror Lake- located just outside of Queenstown


Milford Sound is located in the south west of the South Island. This fiord was carved by glaciers during the ice ages and was breathtaking despite the rainy weather. It was rated the world’s top travel destination in 2008 and has been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world, with an annual rainfall of 6,813 mm on 182 days of the year. The rainfall create dozens of temporary waterfalls (as well as a number of major, more permanent ones such as the one here).
The cliffs of Milford Sound rise vertically from the dark waters and mountain peaks scrape the sky. Waterfalls cascade downwards with some as high as 1000 meters. The rain causes those waterfalls to multiply with magnificent effect.
Our 2 hr boat cruise through Milford Sounds was a great way to see the beautiful scenery and stay dry.
our bus driver spotted some lamas on the side of the road
pretty views outside my bus window
Our gang had to try the famous Fergburger Hamburgers. According to the staff they make over 2000 burgers each day and often have customers lining up the street and around the corner waiting to try one. We all approved and loved them! (with me are my friends Georgie, Liz, and Saskia from England and Craig from Wales).


stunning views above Queenstown
Liz and I on our way to try luging
incredible views surrounded our luge track
to give you an idea what the luges looked like. you could control the speed of your luge by pulling the handle bars towards or away from you. Several tourists were on the track at once, making it fun to race against others.
the beautiful and incredibly blue Lake Pukaki. The lake’s distinctive deep blue tones are from finely ground minerals carried in the glacier-fed waters.
What an amazing view! This is from the top of Mount John overlooking Lake Tekapo


Our hiking gang from Ireland, Wales and Germany. We all agreed that the sore legs and complaining on the way up the mountain were completely worth it.


The Cathedral in Christchurch- a reminder of the damage and heartache many New Zealanders endured after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2011, killing 185 people. Many buildings around the city are still being rebuilt.
My wetsuit for swimming with the dolphins. As you can see I was well covered- wetsuit, jacket, socks, glove and a hat


trying to stay warm and spot some more dolphins.


We even spotted a seal !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s