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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Discovering the Best of New Zealand: A Journey from North to South

New Zealand is a country we've been inspired to explore for a long time. We toured the Auckland Botanic Gardens before we left for our first basecamp in Hamilton at Shailer's Bed & Breakfast, a working dairy farm. We even had the opportunity to milk some cows! We visited the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which is a great place to see and learn about local wildlife including the famous kiwi bird.

New Zealand travel map
Our bases to explore New Zealand

The Waitomo Caves - Lost World 4 Hour Tour, operated by Waitomo Adventures, was the thrill of a lifetime! It includes a 100 meter abseil (rappel) down in to the mouth of the cave, 350 meters of hiking through boulders and along rocky cliffs, and approximately 50 meters of climbing slippery, muddy steel ladders. All to see glowworms! It wiped us out, but we felt like we'd accomplished a marathon once we completed it. We also witnessed Marokopa Falls, which is so perfect it looks like a theme park built it, and the Mangapohue Natural Bridge.

abseiling waitomo caves

caving with headlights

glowworm cave

Farmers markets are always a favorite of ours, and Hamilton Farmer's Market was no exception. We also explored Hamilton Gardens, and took a tour followed by a high tea at Zealong Tea Estate, where we learned much about tea, sampled choice teas, and discovered I prefer green tea over black. But the biggest event of the day was definitely the Hobbiton tour and evening banquet in Matamata! It included a full tour of the Hobbiton filming location for J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, family feast at the Green Dragon Inn, and walk through Hobbiton at night by lantern light. My inner geek was absolutely thrilled! Woo hoos!

hobbiton bilbo baggins house

hobbiton green dragon inn feast

Te Urewera Treks on the North Island took us hiking through lush podocarp rainforest with a local Maori guide. The New Zealand tree ferns were amazing, making the entire forest glow emerald green! New Zealand has over 100 species of ferns, and the silver fern is their national emblem. We also went on the Redwoods Treewalk - a suspension bridge network through the Redwood forest near Rotorua, and visited the thermal hotspot known as Wai-O-Tapu.

new zealand rainforest

wai-o-tapu wai o tapu hot springs

Tamaki Maori Village gave us a glimpse into the beautiful Maori culture, native Polynesians who are descendants of Hawaiians. The village is a bit touristy, but since we didn't know any local Maori, it's the only place we could see and learn about them. While in Rotorua, we stayed at Judy's Airbnb, which we highly recommend. She makes an absolutely scrumptious breakfast!

maori chief

learning haka tamaki maori village

On the South Island, we stayed at Larnach Castle Lodge, a Scottish castle and the only castle in New Zealand, with beautiful grounds and gorgeous views of the Otago Peninsula. We spotted little blue penguins and royal albatross at The Royal Albatross Centre, and yellow-eyed penguins and fur seals at Penguin Place. A local tip lead us to Allan's Beach, where we were able to safely approach fur seals and sea lions. Glenfalloch Gardens is a wonderful place to rest and eat or have tea. And Nugget Point Lighthouse wasn't too far away and definitely worth a visit for its scenic ocean views and the "nuggets" or rocks.

larnach castle scottish

yellow-eyed penguin

nugget point lighthouse

In Te Anau, we were overwhelmed with the beauty and majesty of Fiordland National Park with a cruise through Milford Sound by Southern Discoveries. Huge green mountains jetting up from the waters edge, and waterfalls everywhere! We also spotted seals and dolphins. Trips & Tramps took us into the rainforest with an excellent day hike along the Milford Track to Giant's Gate Falls. Te Anau also has it's own glowworm caves. And we stayed at Te Anau Lodge.

milford sound

Giant's Gate waterfall

Our final base camp was in Queenstown, where we enjoyed a scenic dinner and Maori cultural show at Skyline Stratosfare. Kiwi Birdlife Park is another great place to witness native wildlife, and Queenstown Gardens is a beautiful place to escape town and enjoy scenic lakeside views. Paragliding over Queenstown with Gforce Paragliding was absolutely breathtaking! The lake and mountains make for an awesome view. And since bungy jumping was invented by a New Zealander, I of course had to try a jump at The Ledge (the shortest bungy jump I could find) with AJ Hackett company. It was a unique experience, freefalling with nothing to hold on to. But I'm never doing it again. lol

paragliding queenstown

bungy jumping queenstown

From scenic beauty to endemic wildlife to thrills of a lifetime, New Zealand has something for everybody. If you love the great outdoors, you absolutely must explore these magnificent emerald isles! "Kia Ora Aotearoa."


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