The year of our wedding was a little crazy. My husband, Jay, learned he had an extra semester of grad school, which is devastating enough, but it also quickly dissolved our original honeymoon plans of back-packing across Europe right after our June wedding. We both envisioned being in our 70’s, telling our grand-kids how we got married on a Sunday and went right back to work/school on that Monday. Sounds awful, right? Thankfully, this story has a silver lining.
The change in graduation date gave us an extra month before he would be able to take his boards and get a job. My job is very flexible, so without question our trip shifted from across "the pond" to across the largest ocean in the world. Jay is a red-head, so he is not too keen on tropical beaches, and I figure we can do a cruise when we are older and ready to be pampered. We want to do exciting, action/adventure trips now while we’re young and "able-bodied." The only question left became this: Where do we go and how long do we actually take?
With almost a month of leave, we decided to take advantage of the time and travel to a place neither of us had ever thought would be a reality: New Zealand. As we were planning and researching flights, our trip quickly snowballed into an adventure that took us to Los Angeles, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia and lasted from August 16 to September 11.
We started our trip in Los Angeles to visit friends and cut down on the amount of time we were in the air. We knew the flight was long especially from the east coast of the US, so it was nice to spend a few days in LA sightseeing and visiting friends. After two days in LA we boarded our flight to New Zealand. I really enjoyed the long flights over the Pacific Ocean. I legitimately enjoyed the food they gave us and fell in love with a new show (to me), Downton Abbey. When the stewardess announced that it was 8 PM in NZ and time for bed, I made a cozy bed for myself, popped a sleeping pill and fell right to sleep. Jay watched 15 hours of movies and didn’t sleep once.
When we arrived in New Zealand, we have 17 days to cover the country. Our goal was to experience as much as we could possibly see. We rented a campervan called a Spaceship, which was literally a mini-van with a bed in the back. We loved it because it was basically like taking our hotel room with us; we unpacked once and didn’t touch our suitcase again. This was especially important since our bag was just barely under the 25kilo flight limit. Our campervan was smaller than most, but it worked because all the campgrounds in New Zealand have full kitchens and nice bathrooms. It is literally a camper’s paradise.
We flew into Auckland, but only stayed there long enough to get our van and attempt to sleep. Even though our eyes were telling us it was 11pm, our bodies were telling us that it’s 5 AM; we usually get up right now! Let’s go run, jump, play! After that first night in a strange van under a sky with strange stars, we really didn’t feel too jet-lagged. Maybe we woke up earlier than we normally do, but it really wasn’t that bad.
So, slightly bleary eyed but too excited to care, we headed to Cathedral Cove and Hahei Beach. Once we arrived at Hahei Beach we took a short walk to the cove. We were there pretty early as we were still adjusting to New Zealand time, but this was perfect because we had the beach all to ourselves. Naturally, we were so enthralled in the natural beauty that we didn’t notice the tide rising and had to wade through the water to get back! After lunch we wadded in the springs of Hot Water Beach. It was really cool to see the sand literally boil! This was one of my favorite days on the vacation because we saw a lot and it was virtually free.
After conquering the Coromandal Penninsula, we headed to Waitomo Caves. Waitomo Caves is absolutely a must-do in New Zealand. We went with the Kiwi Cave Rafting Company and loved it, ok correction: we were both scared out of our minds the entire time, but were glad we did it. We abseiled down a rock cliff, rode inner-tubes down a rushing under-ground river, spelunked (spelunk?) through the caves. Most of this was in pitch black and had constant warnings of what could happen if you fell through.
The next few days went by really quickly as we visited Hobbiton, did a Maori Experience and saw Tongariro National Park. We were off itinerary at this point because of the volcano that had erupted a few months earlier. We wanted to hike the Tongariro Crossing but fate had another plan for us. Instead we enjoyed driving through the southern part of the North Island, visiting little towns and watching Rugby in a local pub.
Seven days after landing in New Zealand we were boarding a fairy to the South Island. We were told by many that the South Island was so much more dramatic and beautiful than the North, so we should plan extra time there. We crammed a lot into the North Island in just a few days so we found that both islands were equally exciting.
Upon arriving on the South Island we started driving into the dark rainy evening toward Richmond. The only thing that Jay was dying to do was very simple: Fly a stunt plane. He had been talking about it for months before our trip. The weather did not cooperate with us for the morning flight as planned. Instead, we checked into our campervan site in Motueka and planned our next day’s excursion. We also grabbed lunch at the best fish and chips place I’ve ever had… ever. Thankfully at this point the weather cleared and Jay could check flying a stunt plane off his bucket list.
The next day we stayed around Motueka to Kayak in Abel Tasman. On this excursion, we kayaked with frisky seals who were not afraid of us at all. Our group was small that day and only included the two of us and a lad from Scotland. We hiked with our new friend for the second half of the day to meet our ferry out of the park.
That evening we continued on our way driving half way to our next destination. Unlike the North Island, things on the South Island are further apart and less populated. We spent the next day driving to Fox Glacier, stopping here and there to take in the sheer beauty of New Zealand’s West Coast and visiting some attractions like Pancake Rock.
Fox Glacier is another must-do activity in New Zealand. We spent the day hiking the glacier with a big group of other Americans, most of who were studying abroad. It was a lot of fun to catch-up with fellow Americans and to hear about their travels. We quickly learned we were all on the same route and planned to meet up once we all reached Queenstown.
Queenstown (the adventure capital of the world) is simply the coolest town in existence. This is one of the few places we spent multiple nights at. We parked our campervan at Lake View Holiday Park and never really moved it. In the course of three days, we bungee jumped twice, went jet boating, ate at Fergburger, had pizza at Winnie’s and saw Milford Sound. This is the only aspect of the trip that we would change. If you have chains, drive yourself to Milford Sound (heck even if you don’t have chains and it’s snowing) trust us, the bus tour is not worth it!
At this point, we only had a few days left in New Zealand, so we hurried over to the East Coast to see some wildlife. We saw a blue penguin colony, swam with the world’s smallest dolphins and dropped in on some wallabies. Feeling satisfied with our visit we headed up to Christchurch to catch a plane to our next adventure in Sydney, Australia.
After 17 days in a campervan, we were very excited to take a proper, hot, long shower at the Sydney Harbour Bed and Breakfast. Our friend recommended the place and we are so thankful she did. This little bed and breakfast was located right in the Rocks District, steps from everything with a killer view of the opera house (hence the name, so creative).
We spent our four days in Sydney seeing as many sights as possible. We took the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus to Bondi Beach, rode bikes all over the city with Bike Buffs, took a tour out of town to the Blue Mountains, visited the Opera House and climbed the Sydney Bridge. Ironically after all our adventure in New Zealand, Jay HATED the Sydney Bridge. He said he never felt safe and was terrified the entire time. I had a field day with this considering he bungee jumped twice in New Zealand.
Before we knew it, we were getting back on a plane for our long flight across the Pacific Ocean. I once again settled in and finished season two of Downton Abbey while Jay enjoyed unlimited beverages. Needless to say we love long flights and can’t wait for our next one.
We would definitely recommend New Zealand to any couple who has at least two weeks to spend on their honeymoon. We loved the flexibility of having a campervan and changing our itinerary as we pleased. While it was a little chilly visiting New Zealand in the winter, it made spontaneous changes in plans easy and was nothing a little snuggling couldn’t fix. In the end, our 27-day trip cost almost $14,000. Yes, this is a lot of money, but with Traveler’s Joy and the generous help of family and friends we only had to pay for our plane tickets out of pocket. A sweet deal for a very memorable trip!