Hey guys, it's Jess here! For this week's blog post, we have a super exciting New Zealand travel guide from one of our super cool ambassadors, Rylee! She is brilliant, funny, and full of life. You can catch some of her second semester of New Zealand adventures at @ryleegladych on Instagram!
And now, here is a hilarious guide to traveling New Zealand from our Queen, Rylee, herself.
New Zealand: A guide that includes everything you might want to know, and most likely stuff you don’t...
Where should you even go? North or South Island?
If you are heading to New Zealand for just a week or two, chances are you are having to choose which of the islands you are going to visit. Speaking with absolutely no bias, I would choose the South Island every time. But that’s just my opinion, as someone who lived in and is obsessed with the South Island of New Zealand. But, you are not me, so for the sake of fairness I’ll tell you a bit about both.
The North Island is home to most of the major cities in New Zealand and thus most of the population. Auckland, the largest city in NZ, is worth seeing, but in my opinion not worth staying. Imagine a very generic city in the states and plop it down in New Zealand. It’s cool because it’s in NZ but there are so many other places worth more of your time. If you do find yourself spending time in Auckland though, the museums are awesome, make sure you see all the parks, and check out Ponsonby for some good food and even better drinks.
Alright, let’s talk Wellington. Wellington, my friends, is definitely a place you want to spend some time. If the fact that Wellington holds the title of windiest city in the world, sorry Chicago, doesn’t do it for you, the rest of the city will. Wellington is right on the water, which makes for a beautiful view. There are great trendy food spots, all of which are delicious. Might I suggest making Wellington the place you splurge on some good meals. In terms of nightlife, Wellington, in my opinion, is the place to be in New Zealand. There are great bars and clubs. My favorite was a LGBTQ+ club, called Ivy. They have drag shows that are apparently so fun. During the day time, there is the Te Papa museum, shopping, etc. Wellington has everything you would expect from a city. But if you hate food, partying, shopping, and harbors, then Wellington is probably not the city for you.
There are some smaller places that I think warrant a stop on the North Island. First, Napier, which has amazing art deco vibes, and you can rent old cars to drive around. It’s also a plus that the town center is literally right on the beach.
Second, The Thermal Wonderland near Rotorua. Rotorua itself smells bad and is really not that interesting, but the thermal areas are unlike anything I have seen in the states.
Third, Taupo. It is right on the water, and there are natural thermal springs you can sit in, which was soooooo relaxing.
Fourth, the Tongariro Alpine crossing, this is absolutely one of my favorite day hikes. As a Lord of the Rings fan, it also didn’t hurt that this mountain is Mt. Doom and a lot of the filming took place in this region.
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, you NEED to go to Hobbiton in Matamata. Even if you aren’t a fan, the landscape of the set is gorgeous. If you are a LOTR fan, be prepared for your head to explode.
And lastly, if you are on the North Island, you must go black water rafting at the Waitomo glow worm caves. Trust me: It’s worth the money and the hour of being chilly.
Other places I heard are amazing but I didn’t get to:
The Bay of Islands
So obviously the North Island is great, but man, the South Island absolutely blows it out of the water. The North Island is like winning Silver at the Olympics, still incredible and impressive, but there is better. If you haven’t guessed, the South Island takes the gold. The views, the nature, all of it is just unparalleled. If you like the outdoors, like I do, you will freak over the South Island. How I describe it to people is: Imagine you are walking through an art museum, and you see the most beautiful landscape painting you’ve ever seen. Then you accidentally sneeze, and that forces you to literally fall into the painting. Where you land, that’s the South Island of NZ. I don’t even know how to fully explain in words what you should do, so I’ll give you a list.
1. Dunedin (where I live(d))
Dunedin is home to some of the best surf beaches in New Zealand. The town itself is not too exciting, but the nature surrounding it is absolutely unreal. Also, some of the best breakfast I have had is at Starfish Café, and there is a great burger from ReBurger. There is decent nightlife in the Octagon. But if you come to Dunedin, you are coming to see the beautiful beaches surrounding it.
The Fiordlands is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I will ever go in my lifetime. Absolutely unreal. If you are there for just a day, the Lake Marian Hike is lesser known but open ups to a magnificent lake. The boat cruise of Milford Sound is a MUST. If you can only do one thing, that should be it.
Fergbaker (best Boston crème donut ever)
Skydive (prettiest views!!!)
1876 (fun bar)
Patagonia (get the hot chocolate)
Queenstown is hands down my favorite place in New Zealand. Granted, it is pretty touristy, but all with good reason. If you have ever been to Vail, Colorado, imagine that and then a million times better. Queenstown is right on the water and there are lots of water activities you can pay for. I mostly included food and nightlife on the list because I definitely think Queenstown is worth going to for those experiences. There is a ski mountain and hiking in the area, which I bet would be awesome. There are also loads of wineries in the area, so if you are feeling a boujee weekend, that is definitely doable here.
4. Wanaka (Wakanda as the kids call it)
Rob Roy Glacier Walk
Mt Iron walk
Glendhu Bay campsite
Wanaka is beautiful and decently close to Queenstown. There is a ski resort if you happen to be in New Zealand in the winter (June-August) and hikes that you can do in any season. Roys Peak is a must do if you are in New Zealand: again, very touristy but with good reason. Make sure you go to the peak and don’t just stop at the view point like most people do. Roys Peak for sunrise is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The Rob Roy glacier walk is cool if you want to see a glacier, it’s a bit outside of Wanaka in Mt. Aspiring National Park. Mt. Iron is a shorter walk that would also be spectacular for sunrise. I had to include the Wanaka tree because that is what Wanaka is known for. PSA: This is like a five-minute ordeal. For some reason the tree was hyped up so much for me that it was all I had planned for the entire day. If you like camping, the Glendhu bay site is one of the prettiest I have stayed at in NZ. If you are feeling hostel vibes, the Wanaka Bakpaka is my favorite hostel in the country. It’s around 30NZD a night, which is more expensive that some of the others, but worth it.
5. Mount Cook National Park
Mueller Hut Walk
Mount Cook is absolutely breathtaking. If there is only one place on the South Island where you want to hike, this should be it. Mueller Hut is the most challenging hike I have ever done, and nothing has ever been more worth it. Some people may tell you to stop at Sealy Tarns (halfway up) but don’t — the view is completely different. The view from Mueller Hut is something everyone should see in their lifetime. The Tasman Glacier walk is short but worth the 20 minutes or so. It was the first time I have seen icebergs, so that was cool. I have heard Hooker Valley is unreal. The track has been closed since I have been in NZ because a bridge went out, but it’s top on my list for walks I want to do next.
6. Other things to do
The Catlins (Nugget Point, Purakanui Falls, anything on the side of the road)
Omarama Clay Cliffs
anything else you see signs for on the side of the road
Abel Tasman (top on my list, haven’t been there yet)
There are so many other places on the South Island that I haven’t included or haven’t gotten the chance to see yet. If anyone tells you to spend time in Christchurch, don’t listen to them. Christchurch is cool to drive through, but not cool to spend time in. You can also drive up the West Coast of the South Island — I heard that is pretty amazing. Ultimately, though, when I say follow road signs, do it. Some of my favorite spots here I just found by seeing a sign for a 20-minute walk to a waterfall or something else and just deciding to pull over and do it. If you come to New Zealand, don’t be in a rush. Take the time to make these sorts of stops, and I promise your trip will be so much better.
That’s all I have for now. I stand by my South Island opinion, but it’s your trip so totally up to you. If you can do both, then even better!