New Zealand is my favourite country in the world. I love it. The mountains, the glaciers, the beaches, the volcanoes, the wildlife, the fiords, the rolling hills, the friendly locals. I love it so much that I’m currently considering trying my hand at a Working Holiday Visa so that I can have a stint living there for a few years.
Here’s what made me fall in love with New Zealand.
The Glorious Weather
Before arriving in New Zealand, Dave had gone to great pains to prepare me for the bad weather we’d be encountering in the country. Even though we’d be there from January to March — the Southern Hemisphere’s summer — it was likely we’d be confronted with cold weather and rain on a near-daily basis. I rushed around Melbourne shopping malls a few days before heading to Auckland, stocking up on thermal clothes, rain jackets, thick socks and fleeces. I expected a New Zealand summer to be much the same as an English one — a pinch of sunshine and a handful of misery.
Over two months, we had two days of rain. Two! No matter where we went, confused locals spoke in awe of the incredible weather and how rare it was. Dave said it was one of the best New Zealand summers he’d experienced. Part of it was due to our incredible luck with timing — we hiked the Tongariro Crossing in gorgeous weather when a few days either side saw torrential downpours and the hike closed to visitors. Often we’d wake to rain on the day we were leaving a place but find our next destination bright and sunny. The weather gods took good care of us.
The beautiful weather enhanced my experience in New Zealand — I didn’t have to cancel any of activities I’d planned for and, when I was on such a tight schedule, a couple of days of rain could have meant no Tongariro Crossing hike, no stargazing in Tekapo, no beach day in Raglan, no paddleboarding in Abel Tasman or no glacier hiking on the west cost. When so many of New Zealand’s biggest draws involve being outside, the weather makes and breaks your experiences. I’m so pleased it made mine.
The only downside is that I’m now convinced it never rains in New Zealand and the weather will forever be incredible.
My Transformation into a Hiker
I’d always avoided exercise. Aside from a brief stint where I got into running and ran every day for three months, managing only to build up my distance to two miles before I realised I wasn’t cut out for it, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting. I therefore wasn’t planning on hiking in New Zealand until Dave made an offhand comment about how I was so unfit I wouldn’t be able to handle all the activities he was planning to do.
I wouldn’t be able to handle them? I’d show him!
From that moment, I did everything possible to build up my fitness levels. I walked everywhere. I went on hour-long walks. I bought hiking boots. I worked on the mental barriers I was convinced had prevented me from making much progress in my running career.
I arrived in New Zealand and after three days in the country, I hiked 18 kilometres in Paihia. The most I’d ever hiked before was something like six. I tripled my personal best and didn’t die! The euphoria I felt when I was finally able to ease off my hiking boots and celebrate my success was addictive, and I began to believe I could handle the next two months.
I fell and sprained my ankle a week before I was due to hike the Tongariro Crossing but lied and said it wasn’t that bad. I hiked in agony because I was determined to follow through on my plan. I then continued to hike throughout New Zealand — a three day hike on the Queen Charlotte Track that caused my calves to seize up, a nerve-wracking hike on a glacier for the first time, and countless mini-hikes to waterfalls, geysers, beaches and mountains.
Hiking in New Zealand led to me developing a love of something I’d always feared. It allowed me to see the most spectacular parts of the country — unsurprisingly they’re rarely accessible by road. It showed me that when I set my mind to something, I can do so much more than I thought.
Beaching Around in Raglan
One of my favourite memories from my time in New Zealand was the day I spent relaxing on the black sand beaches of Raglan. It was one of my first experiences of New Zealand beaches, and was so far removed from the ones I usually hang out on in Southeast Asia.
Sometimes the best experiences are the simplest. In Raglan, I could feel myself unwinding and my worries drifting away in a matter of minutes. It’s rare for me to ever experience pure relaxation so it when it does happen, I bounce around in euphoria and soak it all in. Dave and I grabbed our beach towels, tip toed across the scorching black sand, and read our Kindles as we sunbathed all afternoon. Occasional breaks were taken in the icy cold ocean, many words were spoken about how I wanted to stay forever, and lots of sunburnt limbs were soothed that evening.
Raglan was the first place I fell in love with in New Zealand, and that makes it all the more special to me.
Geothermal Fun in Rotorua
Despite Rotorua smelling of rotten eggs, I loved every moment of my time there. In and around the city, you’ll find bubbling mud pools, gushing geysers, thermal lakes, massive craters, hissing steam from the vents at the side of the road and some of the craziest colours I’ve ever seen. It was like a mini-Yellowstone without the thousands of tourists.
In Waimangu Volcanic Valley, I visited the largest hot spring in the world — the never-ending plumes of steam giving it the name Frying Pan Lake, I wandered next to a cyan lake surrounded by glowing white cliffs — colours I’d never seen in nature before, and I took a cruise across a lake to see an enormous crater in the mountains and dozens of erupting geysers. My favourite part? The vibrant mix of colours.
Seeing Glowworms Without the Crowds
I didn’t enjoy my tour I took of the glowworm caves in Waitomo, but that’s not to say that seeing the glowworms isn’t worth it. Dave and I drove down to the glowworm caves one night and crept along the hiking trails with only our phones for light. When we stumbled upon the glowworms, I finally found a distraction to ease my terror that I was going to be attacked by a madman in the bushes.
Fluorescent glowworms were scattered across the cave walls, illuminating the dirt track and tricking my mind into thinking that I was gazing up the night sky. We switched off our phones and as the darkness deepened, the glowworms became more and more noticeable, with trees and bushes looking as if they were littered with fairy lights.
It was an incredible, magical experience. Several times I had to remind myself that the lights were real, that the glowing lights were insects. See the glowworms independently — they’re worth it.
A Sense of Normality in Wellington
I loved Wellington despite not liking big cities very much, and it was mostly due to the sense of normality I experienced there. In Wellington, I got to catch up on my work, and spend my time doing as I would in a place where i lived
One particular day — our final day in Wellington — was one of those perfect days where everything falls into place and all you can do is think about how you’ve made all the right decisions to have ended up exactly where you are.
After a morning spent wandering through Te Papa — one of my favourite museums ever — Dave and I spent a sunny, wind-free afternoon strolling along the waterfront, stuffing our faces with bread and oils and mushroom soup, drinking cider and people watching. We took the iconic red cable car up to the Botanic Gardens at the top, and once we arrived, spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the gardens, watching a cricket match and sunbathing on a spare patch of grass. It wasn’t anything incredible, but that sense of normality gave me an insight into what my life would be like if I lived in Wellington. It wasn’t awful.
Driving to Mount Cook, Stargazing in Tekapo
Craving some alone time, Dave and I took a road trip to Mount Cook, one of the first sights we hit up in the South Island. The drive was spectacular — my favourite in New Zealand. The route we took was quiet, meaning we could regularly pull over and stand in the middle of the road to take photos. The scenery was all cyan lakes, snow capped mountains and yellow meadows. Mount Cook itself was spectacular, and we both wished we’d opted to stay closer by, but the drive ended up being one of my New Zealand highlights.
In Tekapo later that evening, as the sun began to set, we got in the car once more and drove to a nearby clearing where there was little light pollution. I spent my entire pre-travel life in London, pretty much on the M25, and had never seen more than about three stars in the sky. Now, whenever I visit somewhere without light pollution, I can’t stop staring at the sky in awe. Snuggling under Dave’s arm on the shore of Lake Tekapo and watching hundreds of stars twinkle above us was the perfect introduction to the South Island.
Running up the Steepest Street in the World
One of the few things I knew about New Zealand before arriving was that it was home to Baldwin Street: the world’s steepest street.. I was thrilled when Dave let me know that we’d be visiting and immediately announced that I was going to sprint up it. It wasn’t until we arrived that I realised quite how steep it was…
I huffed and puffed my way to the start of the incline with Dave creeping along beside me in the car.
Propelling myself forward, I began to take large strides uphill. Bouncing and leaping like a frog in a sock, I stumbled from side to side, bumping into walls and cars, tripping under my feet.
“You’re not going to make it,” Dave said.
I clambered back in the car and we drove to the top of the road. I had half-run, half-been driven to the top of Baldwin Street. Success!
Spending the Night in Doubtful Sound, Learning How to Fish
Most visitors to New Zealand opt to head to Milford Sound — one of New Zealand’s most famous attractions, but Doubtful Sound was much more my style. We opted for an overnight cruise and didn’t see another boat for the next 24 hours. At Milford Sound, we were in a line of boats that took the same route up and down the sound, and spent zero time alone. At Doubtful Sound, we had just 10 people on the boat. At Milford, it was more like 100.
It was at Doubtful Sound that I developed a love of fishing — something I never thought I’d find exciting! I cautiously whipped my rod towards the water and eyed up Dave in a jealous rage as he caught fish after fish after fish. He even caught a shark! Eventually, my time came.
I shrieked and tried to throw the rod into the water when I felt something pulling on the line. I had to enlist the help of Dave to actually turn the… turny-handle-thing because I wasn’t strong enough. But it still counts. I caught a fish. So satisfying. That evening, we cooked up our catches and spent the night talking and drinking wine and eating so much delicious fish. Waking up early the next morning to watch the sun rise was another magical experience.
If you’re wondering whether you should visit Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound, go for Doubtful. It was far, far more impressive!
Walking on Fox Glacier
“Ouch!” I stabbed my finger with a crampon as I struggled to attach them to my feet. Why had I been excited about doing this? I was about to walk on a glacier for the first time, and it was only now that I found myself getting nervous.
Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Hiking across ice took a little getting used to, but after practicing for a few minutes, I had it sorted. Stamp with the crampons, prod with the pole. Attempt to stay upright and don’t fall down a hole. Although the glaciers look dirty from afar, up close they were an amazing shade of light blue. It was so beautiful.
My biggest highlight? Filling a water bottle with fresh glacial water and drinking it throughout the whole hike. Refreshing and delicious!
Paddleboarding in Abel Tasman National Park
I don’t know why I get so nervous before undertaking a new water sport challenge. While I have very little balance on land, on water I can balance like a pro.
Paddleboarding in Abel Tasman National Park was just as fun as I when I took my first surfing lesson. I found my balance immediately and stayed upright for the hour long lesson. The bays we paddled through had some of the clearest water I’ve seen, and you could spot stingrays swimming underneath our boards several metres down. The water was calm, paddleboarding was an amazing workout, and I got to explore Abel Tasman from the water.
Stood up at Farewell Spit
We’d been waiting for an hour when we realised our tour guide wasn’t going to be picking us up. We’d arranged to spend the day touring Farewell Spit — the spit of sand that stretches 30 kilometres into the ocean at the top of the South Island. You need to be part of a tour group to explore the spit, so we’d booked ourselves on one. That decided not to show up. Without telling us.
Still, being stood up turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. Dave and I jumped in our car and drove as close to the spit as we could. We discovered sand dunes as far as we could see, where we sat and took photos, made sand angels and sunbathed. We walked along the waters that lapped up against the sand, pointing out strange looking birds and flowers. We found a beach with ten metre high dunes and took photos of each other racing down the sand to the ocean. So, we didn’t get to walk on the spit, but we did get to discover another beautiful part of New Zealand.
The one thing that stands out to me is how my highlights in New Zealand fall into two separate categories. There were the highlights of the countries that would make anybody’s list — hiking the Tongariro Crossing, walking on a glacier, camping in Doubtful Sound, and running up the steepest street in the world. Then there are the personal moments that meant so much because I got to share a special moment with Dave — sunbathing on the beach in Raglan, drinking cider and eating bread in Wellington, spending a day exploring Farewell Spit.
I could say something sappy here about how travelling with Dave makes me… somethingsomethingsomething
But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll just say that New Zealand is the best, and I love it.
I can really only speak for Auckland – but summers are usually pretty good! The one exception I can think of is the summer of 2011/2012 (if I remember right) when it literally rained almost every day and we all felt really cheated. It does rain quite often here and winters are really wet, but summers can be glorious (if not as hot as in most of the rest of the world – European couchsurfers I’ve hosted in summer often find it colder than they’re used to).
I’ve heard that Auckland does have some of the best weather in the country — I think it’s worse on the South Island. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Everywhere had amazing weather to me! :-)
The colours on that photo of the Queen Charlotte Track actually made me gasp out loud. Beautiful.
The image of you trying to sprint up Baldwin Street with Dave slowly edging alongside is hilarious. You might not have conquered that challenge, but I’m so impressed with the other hiking and things you embraced. I’m definitely not a hiking person, but maybe I’ll take a little inspiration from you in future and give it a go- just need to find somewhere as rewarding as New Zealand on the scenery front! Well done!
Definitely hike somewhere that’s incredibly beautiful — I’m sure I would have been less motivated to transform into a hiker if I’d just been walking through a flat field the whole time! :-)
YAH! Move to New Zealand!
I’m working on it! :-)
Going to New Zealand is such a dream for me… I am very keen on hiking myself, so it would the perfect country for me to visit! And what splendid weather you had!
I am slightly jealous of your two months there! Beautiful photos: I think you have managed to capture NZ’s essence through them! It looks like such an other-worldly country!
Thank you so much, Olga! New Zealand is a fantastic place to do some hiking — each hike I did had amazing scenery, and was so different to the others.
Whenever I see people blogging about New Zealand, I always get excited – the photographs of the scenery are always inevitably stunning, and yours are no exception! The picture from your hike on the Queen Charlotte Track is just gorgeous. I can definitely tell why you love New Zealand so much!
Thanks, Laura! It’s tough to take an ugly photo in New Zealand :-)
Wow those photos are amazing! Good on you for conquering all those hikes. Question: Did you really go to all those place marked on the map? If so, was two months enough or did it feel too rushed?
Yep, we went to all those places and yes, two months felt very rushed, especially as we were trying to work at the same time. Having said that, I still left the country feeling like I needed another two months of travel at the same pace to see all the places we missed. So many incredible things to see!
New Zealand looks incredible and the more you tell about it, the more I want to go! What an astonishing nature and landscape!
Incredible is the perfect way of describing it. It has so many unbelievable landscapes.
wow you got to see a lot in 2 months! I’d love to go rent a car and explore.
We were definitely racing around! Exploring by car is one of the best ways to see New Zealand — so many amazing stops at the side of the road that you’d never even know were there.
Wonderful recap. For a country like New Zealand, two months might just be enough to see much of what you want to see. And nothing like novel, inspiring experiences to bring you and your significant other closer together. Don’t ever settle for a boring life!
I felt like two months was far too little, even though we got to see so much!
This post really makes me want to visit New Zealand. Fortunately I already live there! You must have been lucky with the weather as I’ve seen some terrible days here in Wellington. Plus its windy as anything! Can’t wait to visit the South Island and do some hiking.
Ha! I was expecting to get blown around all over the place when we visited Wellington but it was surprisingly calm :-)
Ahhhhh I’m so excited to be going back for a month in November!
I’m so excited for you! :-)
I live in Christchurch, and it struck me that I haven’t done any of the things you have in New Zealand. Not one! How shameful. Need to get out and explore more! Great post :-)
Ha! I think that most people don’t explore where they live in great depth. I lived in England for over 20 years and essentially never left London! :-)
I SO WANT TO GO!! How stunning!
You totally should! :-)
Wow, I can totally see why you want to live here, it sounds amazing. I always wrote New Zealand off as being the same as Australia, but it looks like I was totally wrong, it seems to have so much to offer. Love the story of you trying to run up the steepest street in the world too, that’s hilarious!
It’s so, so different to Australia! The scenery, the people, the culture… I much preferred New Zealand.
You are making me homesick! I totally agree that Doubtful Sound is more impressive than Milford (although Milford is still exceptionally beautiful too), we also didn’t see another boat when we were out there on a sunny day in Winter and even had a pod of dolphins swim but the boat for about an hour. Glad the weather was amazing for you, summer is usually pretty incredible with lots of sunny days – not sure what everyone is going on about when they say it rains all the time because I have never found that living in Auckland and Tauranga. We spent a month in the South Island in winter 2009 and it was sunny nearly every single day which was a very pleasant surprise for winter.
Sorry for making you homesick! Writing this post made me long to return, too :-)
As for the summers, I think Auckland has the best weather in New Zealand? In the South Island it felt like everyone was expecting rain all the time — and I know the bad weather, even in summer, was part of what drove Dave to leave New Zealand in the first place! :-) Still, I’m not an expert. Maybe one day if I can convince Dave to return for a long-term stay! :-)
I don’t usually comment on Lauren’s posts (let’s face it, we talk all day as it is!) but… yeah. South Island summers were sometimes great and sometimes terrible for me, and seemed to be getting worse as the years went by. While my childhood memories were of long, hot days down by the river, my adult experiences were anything but. Living in Christchurch definitely didn’t help — those glorious summer mornings would invariably turn into a cool, cloudy afternoon as the nor-easter blew in and ruined damn near every BBQ or after-work drink I ever went to. I didn’t really realise how much of an impact it had until I moved to Sydney for a few years, then back home… and then it hit me like a (cold) slap in the face.
If you lived in Auckland and Tauranga, I totally get how you’d think Kiwi summers were awesome — Tauranga especially has some of the best summer weather in the country. I guess the thing is that NZ is an island surrounded by an awful lot of ocean, and has the microclimates and weather patterns to go with it. Predictability isn’t its strong suit! If we do happen to move back, it won’t be to Christchurch.
Those blue-sky winter days are pretty great though, if you don’t mind the cold. After you’ve scraped an inch of frost off the windscreen, at least. ;-)
I have actually never been to Christchurch in summer, only winter, so I had no idea that the summers there aren’t the best. Guess I was pretty lucky in Tauranga and Auckland! I have heard that Nelson has a lot of sunshine hours too. I am living in Sydney at the moment and the weather here is pretty awesome (most of the time), I guess its all comparative too really as after living in London and Vancouver for a number of years, pretty much anywhere now would seem less rainy compared to them!
Oh my, this makes me miss NZ SO much! I absolutely fell in love with everything while I was living there for a year. I love Wellington and could totally live there. It’s a funky city that is big enough, but not too big. I also became a bit of a hiking addict while I was there. I think getting out into the countryside on foot is one of the best ways to see New Zealand. There are just soo many hidden gems, you could travel it for years and not see them all!
I agree — I thought that we’d see *everything* with two months in such a small-ish country — instead, I felt like I needed five years to see it all.
I have to say I have always known that NZ is one very underrated country but your photos sure remind me of that! NZ would be awesome to move to
So underrated! It’s the most beautiful country I’ve visited.
Spent 4 weeks in New Zealand and it’s, indeed, the best place I’ve been. This reminds how good it was. Landscapes, people, food and flightless birds. The weather was awesome and it was spring time.
Definitely believe I’m going back one day.
I can’t wait to go back!
My girlfriend and I have planned almost 7 weeks there, starting in 3 weeks time, Feb 10th, arrive in Auckland fly to Christchurch, hire a car, then Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford/doubtful, Routeburn track over 5 days, glacier coast, wellington, tongariro (aslo staying in Skihaus), Matamata, northtland and back out of Auckland… CANNOT WAIT!
Nice! Sounds like an amazing trip!
So now you have been to New Zealand ,do you still think that tasmania is beautful.It is a shame that travellers think that New Zealand has more natural beauty than Australia .New zealand isn’t as massive as Australia and you can see a viriety of natural beauty in such as a short distance .Believe it or not Australia has a total of 685 national parks and that is not counting all the state forests that Australia has.People don’t get the chance to see them.If people think that New zealand is underrated,your wrong.So many tourists are now visiting New Zealand and find it the most beautiful country on Earth.All countries have their own beauty and just because New zealand is a very stunning country,it doesn’t mean other countries are not worth visiting .I will always travel my home country ,Australia and other countries other than New Zealand because every country has something special to offer.Otherwise stay at home and don’t travel.
Um, New Zealand was definitely more diverse in my opinion. And yeah, it was definitely much prettier. But that doesn’t mean Tasmania isn’t pretty.
How can you judge Australia when you you only seen a small potion of it?I know New Zealand is one of the most scenic countries on earth and people think that New Zealand has more natural beauty than Australia .That is not true .Australia has a total of 685 national parks and that does not include the amount of state forests.The problem with Australia it is massive and most people can only get a chance to see the touristy places and never get to see off the beaten path places.New Zealand being alot smaller you can see alot of beautiful places in a short distanceBefore anyone should make a judgement ,he should travel Australia extensively.Every country has it’s own beauty and if a person can’t appreciate that then don’t travel .Stay at home
What are you talking about? This is a post about New Zealand and doesn’t mention Australia once. Perhaps you should stay in Australia seeing as you love it so much.
I love this blog. I’m looking into a 2-month stay in NZ. It’s me, my husband and 2 sons (10 & 8). Anyway, I loved your writing and I’ll be doing some follow up research on your recommendations.
Thanks! Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions :-)
My husband is a kiwi and we’re moving to NZ in December – and I can’t wait! Which tour company did you go with for your Doubtful sound cruise? I’m sure you’ve mentioned it before but I can’t seem to find it!
Oh, that’s so exciting! Yay! :-) We went with Real Journeys: https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/experiences/cruises/doubtful-sound-overnight-cruises/
Due to ill health i am unable to travel much ,but was well enough to finally visit New zealand and loved every minute of it .not only did i love the natural beauty of it ,but the people and how peacefull it is.Then again i love every country that i visited .I am very sorry i upset you in the past .The problem with me is that i tend to find something outstanding about every country that i visited and never could understand why some people like a country or dislike one.You are a good travel writer and please continue them.
That’s great! I’m not sure I’ve ever said I’ve disliked a country, but okay. I accept your apology and thank you for your compliment.
Very exciting to read your blog.
I am thinking of travelling to NZ January, February.
I would be traveling alone so happy to buddy up with others if that’s possible.
Any suggests how to go about this?
I’m also considering hiring a campervan but may be to lonely.
I’d be coming from London.
Look at the Kiwi Experience or Stray buses and stay in hostels! That’s the best way to meet people in NZ :-)
New Zealand has been a wonderful country for me .. So glad you loved it ?
Yes! I’ll be heading back next month, actually :-)
Thank you for this! I’ve read this post a few times over the last year. And now I’m finally a mere week away from a three month trip in NZ, freaking out about a variety of things… and (much like all of your posts!) this article is wonderfully calming. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be far better than okay in fact :)
Awww, that’s so kind to say, Amy! I hope you have an incredible time in new Zealand — I know you’re going to love it!
Do you have published your full day by day itinerary?
What a fantastic post! I am totally in love with the places in New Zealand which are serene and peaceful.
I have also visited many places in Auckland and found a perfect mixture of life trends. Somewhere I could find extreme calmness and somewhere I could not even sit for a moment to grab a breath. I also love hiking and exploring places. One of the pictures which you took while hiking, it’s awesome.
Didn’t you visit much places in Auckland?
Not really. I’ve only spent a couple of days there. It’s probably due to my South Island boyfriend’s bias, but I tend to think the joys of New Zealand are outside of Auckland. Hopefully I’ll get to head back there in the future, though, and set about changing my mind :-)