I finished a punishing degree in May 2016, and in celebration of the fact that I hadn’t disappeared into a black hole of essays and technical plans, my best friend and I embarked on a ten day self-driving tour of New Zealand. Both islands!
Starting in Auckland, of course we had to take a selfie with the Dwarf king…
before we were on our way down the road to Matamata.
We hired a little Fiat from Jucy Rentals that had all the engine power of a remote control car and it had the weirdest gear box I’ve ever come across; a hybrid automatic/manual. There was also a problem with the volume dial on the sound system, so as soon as I started the car we were deafened by the radio. I jumped so high in my seat that I nearly hit my head on the roof of the car while trying to claw my way through a closed window to escape. But we loved our little eggplant zoom zoom.
With our ears still ringing we set off.
Matamata is, of course, the home of Hobbiton, and we deliberately stopped here for a couple of nights to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves. We stayed at a lovely little AirBnB called the Wash House and explored the little town and areas before taking ourselves off to Hobbiton for the night tour and dinner. I highly recommend doing this tour as opposed to the day one, if you have the time and budget of course, because not only do you see this amazing place in the late evening night, you also get to experience The Green Dragon and a eat feast befitting a Hobbit.
An hour and a half drive from Matamata you will find the Ruakuri Caves, and they are well worth the journey to see incredible glow worms, stalactites and stalagmites. It is sacred to Māoris because it is an ancient burial ground, so be aware of that when you are walking through the caverns.
We sadly departed Matamata to continue our adventures further south to Napier. On our way we stopped off to do the Redwoods Tree Walk…
and to see Rotorua’s hot pools…
before arriving that afternoon in lovely Napier…
an incredible city on the east coast of New Zealand that is a monument to art deco architecture. In 1932 the city was nearly completely razed to the ground by an earthquake, and was then rebuilt in the architecture style of the time. It is well worth a visit as Napier is the gateway to the wine region of the Island.
Filled with cafés, shops, the beach, food trucks, wineries, arts, culture and art deco architecture, Napier is well worth a visit. I also bumped into a couple who were having a coffee and they had their Blue Heeler dog stretched out in the sun at their feet. We used to have a Blue Heeler before he died a few years ago, and I couldn’t resist asking for a pat and cuddle.
Next stop – Wellington, the windy city.
Cafés, vintage, vinyl, films, artistic endeavours, studios and workshops, museums, harbour and hills – Wellington has it all!
First stop of the day was the Weta Workshop, but on the way we had to take a stop off at Park Road Post Production, something to feed my inner audio nerd.
Now, to Weta! This is where all the maps, costumes, figures, pieces of armour and weapons, jewellery – everything you saw in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were made by the talented people at the Weta Workshop. All the tours are conducted by people who work at Weta, and we were led around by a very enthusiastic and engaging young man who’s passion is moulds. It was great to be right there, watching these artists work, being told interesting facts that you could only learn from someone who spends their days and nights in this inspiring place! I want to take a friend of mine there – a fantastic animator-to-be, and if you have even a passing interest in the art of film, take yourself to Weta.
Our guide recommended we go to the Te Papa museum on Wellington Harbour, so after brunch and a visit to a vinyl store, we went! Did you know there is such a thing as a giant squid? At Te Papa they have one. It’s dead and preserved. No photo I’m afraid – I felt a little queasy looking at this giant piece of calamari in a shallow pool. But they did have an exhibition about World War One, models made in partnership with Weta.
We then decided, because we were pretty tired, to take ourselves to the movies to see the New Zealand film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It is absolutely fantastic. Before the film began we took a walk up Mount Victoria – a perfect way to say goodbye to Wellington before we flew to Christchurch the next morning.
Waiting at the airport for our early morning flight to Christchurch, we met Gandalf riding an eagle. Our island hopping flight wasn’t as epic as this, but not bad either.
Christchurch after the earthquakes is utterly heartbreaking. I’d been to Christchurch in 2005 and 2009. In 2017 the city is now a shadow of its former self: flattened areas, rubble and white dust, and a confronting art instillation of chairs, even a baby carrier, dedicated to those who died. We left the city quite quickly, but not before stopping off at the new cathedral, made out of cardboard.
We spent the afternoon and night at Lake Tekapo. Pronounced Teka-po, not Tek-APO as we were saying it. Not as embarrassing as my pronunciation of Dunedin as DunE-din, but that’s another story.
Our first bite of winter was bracing to say the least. Lake Tekapo is an amazing little town, set on the banks of the lake (it’s in the title isn’t it), surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The next morning we took ourselves to the hot pools for a bit of pampering. I don’t know why I do it, but I insist on having massages when I don’t even like them. I realised too late that I had booked an hour of pain and embarrassment, not half an hour an originally thought. Mich enjoys massages and liked hers. Me on the other hand? Never again. Never again I say!
After the ‘pampering’ and hot-pool-ing, we intrepid explorers drove the long, windy mountain roads to Queenstown! All we could do that night when we arrived was find a parking spot for the car (harder than you may think because of the high number of tourists per year v available space), find some dinner and book the next day’s activities then collapse.
Queenstown Day One – a.k.a. the day I was talked into jumping off a cliff. But before we did that we had a win by getting a parking spot in the hostel’s car park. We stayed at the Haka Lodge, and if you’re looking for good, clean, comfortable and thoughtfully designed accommodation in Queenstown, they’re your best shot. Don’t book if you have mobility or knee issues – there are lots of stairs.
No matter how hard I tired, and I tried hard by filling myself with lots of delicious New Zealand food, I was not too heavy to partake in the Canyon Fox, Queenstown’s newest adventure activity.
Up and running for only a couple of months, it was surprisingly Mich’s idea to throw ourselves off a cliff. You are strapped into a harness and let to a platform on the edge of a cliff. (See above). Then you’re attached to a cable and told to run straight down the middle of said platform and jump. After you jump, you fall for a little bit before your harness and the cable you are attached to snaps into action and instead of falling you are whisked over the valley to the other side. Repeat but in a sitting position for the ride back.
I was up for it, and it only took me four or five minutes after being strapped in to run off the end of the platform. I’m proud to say that I was the first of our group to go. One big Australian guy in the group, all bravado and coolness, said, when the group was asked who would go first, “ladies first!” Wasn’t about to let some guy get the better of me, so I. Went First. Mich went second. #friendgoals
You know when you are so in your head that you can’t hear what’s going on around you? Instructions go in one ear, swish around your fuzzy head for a second, then slip out the other ear? That was me. Eventually I got myself together enough to jump. We loved it so much we went again.
Queenstown Day Two – first day of the winter festival.
I am not a hiker. Going on overnight hikes with school for Duke of Ed. was about as far as I got. So when it was suggested that we go to the top of the mountain overlooking over Queenstown the next day I was totally against it. But, lo and behold, there’s a cable car!
At the top you get to see views like this. And you can see the hiking trail up the mountain as you sail to the top with ease. You get your photo taken as well. I’m not allowed to post that one, as it is rather unflattering. Fair enough. So here’s a pretty one of me!
You can also take a relaxing walk around the lake.
As it was Queenstown’s Winter Festival kick off there were fireworks and live music. A perfect way to say farewell to New Zealand.