It's true. New Zealand is basically the most magnificent place on the planet.
When we were deciding on a destination for our honeymoon, we weighed a lot of pros and cons. Our two final options were both in the southern hemisphere - New Zealand and southern Chile. They would cost roughly the same to get to, and take about the same amount of time. Both are great outdoor destinations, which was important because we're outdoorsy-types. We eventually decided on New Zealand with the promise that someday, we'll make it to Tierra del Fuego. (Perhaps when I am better at Spanish.)
To be honest, I'm not sure when we'll get to Patagonia. We might just go back to New Zealand.
There are Newfoundlands in New Zealand. We found these three (plus small non-Newfoundland) within three hours of our arrival. I'm pretty sure it's a sign that we should move there.
There are also wineries. So, so many wineries.
Let me back up.
We flew into Auckland, where we stayed for two nights. We arrived at about 6:45 am and were understandably unable to get into our hotel room. The hotel was, however, completely awesome, and gave us a key to the pool so we could shower and change clothes (use the sauna, if so inclined - we were not, let's GO EXPLORING!!) before leaving our bags with the concierge while we went and checked out Auckland.
The first thing we did was explore Waiheke Island. Waiheke is an island about a 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland, and the main features are hiking and wine. We went for a 5 mile hike, and found ourselves at a pair of wineries called Mudbrick Winery and Jurassic Ridge Winery at the end (we wound up ordering a case of Jurassic Ridge Wine. The vintner was incredibly knowledgeable and personable, answered tons of questions and stayed open an extra hour for the two of us plus the other four people who came in for the same tasting - and of course the wine was amazing).
These trees have beautiful red blossoms that only bloom around Christmas. They are called pōhutukawa, but everyone just calls them the New Zealand Christmas Tree.
Jurassic Ridge Winery
Sheep! Unsurprisingly, sheep are everywhere in New Zealand.
The amazing view back toward Auckland from Mudbrick Winery.
So to recap: Our first day in New Zealand, after traveling for 19 hours started at 6:45 am with no rest, involved a 5+ mile hike, and lots of wine. Is it any wonder we passed out around 8:45 that night?
Of course, this wasn't before we had a celebratory "OMG NEW ZEALAND WE'RE HERE" bottle of Jurassic Ridge wine and watched cricket and made up the rules. (While we were there, New Zealand and Australia, who are hosting the Cricket World Cup this year, were playing international friendlies in preparation for the cup. Cricket was on. All. The. Time.)
Our second day in Auckland started early, early, early. We had a tour lined up for Hobbiton, Rotorua, and the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, which is basically a huge, 12-hour trip all over the north island. This is where we screwed up a little. Much of our trip we reserved before we left. I'm not sure why we neglected to reserve our tour to Hobbiton before leaving, I think we just thought we'd be able to grab a bus that would drop us there, we could get out, take a million pictures, sing do-do-do style "Concerning Hobbits," have a pint or 8 at the Green Dragon, and go back to Auckland in our own sweet time.
This is not how going to Hobbiton works. No, no. You need to book an OFFICIAL TOUR. You can't just go there. Especially not three days after New Year's. Oh, no. Luckily, our hotel's concierge bent over backward and found an opening on a tour for us (after, seriously, hours of calling around) - the catch being that the tour also went to Rotorua (a large Maori cultural center), and the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (they have glowing worms in them, self-explanatory). We felt like total dolts for not arranging this beforehand, but it all worked out.
And thank god, because that's honestly not a small part of why we've wanted to go to New Zealand for a long time.
We took about a million pictures in Hobbiton. We do-do-do-style sang "Concerning Hobbits." We had a pints at the Green Dragon. It was everything I hoped, except with about 23,857 more people. (I imagine there is no day of the year you could go to Hobbiton and be the only person there. If you know when that is, please tell me. You and I can coordinate schedules so we don't overlap. That said - it is totally worth going, even with 2357 other people)
Rotorua and the Glow Worm Caves were also incredible, but it was raining when we got to Rotorua, and the Glow Worm Caves are so dark you can't take any photos, so you'll have to take my word for it that they were both well worth a visit.
The next day we headed to Wellington! Wellington was an amazingly walkable city with easy public transportation, good food, amazing views, and the best bed and breakfast on earth, ever. Also, the airport has Lord of the Rings stuff everywhere. Kiwis on Reddit would have you believe that it is embarrassing, but I will tell you right now - it is awesome. So awesome. DON'T BE EMBARRASSED, KIWIS.
View of Karaka Bay from our B&B at night.
We walked from our B&B to Weta, but the tours were fully booked for the day. :( We perused the gift shop for about an hour, though.
Karaka Bay sunrise.
This was our room at the Edgewater Lodge B&B. Seriously.
We went to a Wellington Phoenix game!
Gollum finding crunchable fish in the Wellington Airport. Which also has a sign outside that I did not get a photo of that says "Welcome to the Middle of Middle Earth."
Gandalf riding Gwaihir the Windlord through the Wellington Airport.
Best breakfast of the trip.
We repped the Highbury at the Wellington Phoenix game. This was a bit embarrassing, because the very kind fans taking our picture thought we were Arsenal fans. FALSE.
After far too short a visit in Wellington, we headed to the south island for MORE ADVENTURES!
Somehow at this point we had only been in New Zealand for three days.
The first place we went on the south island was Christchurch. We wound up flying directly into the city - this was not the original plan. The original plan was to take the ferry from Wellington to Picton, then catch the bus from Picton to Christchurch (an all day trip). We got to Wellington, couldn't book a bus from Picton, or a train, or a car... and decided just to take the 40 minute flight. Hey, we were on our honeymoon. Ask me about domestic Air New Zealand flights sometime, because seriously, it was like Midwest Express used to be. Fast (we got to the airport, no kidding, 20 minutes before our flight - we were too early), super kind staff, comfortable... the only difference was the view and the accents. They even gave us cookies.
The ferry we would have been on passing our B&B.
You may recall that a few years ago there was a massive earthquake in Christchurch that destroyed a lot of the city. They are still rebuilding, nearly every block had at least two buildings that were either being supported by heavy scaffolding or had been completely razed after the earthquake. It is, however, still an awesome place to visit.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The George Hotel Christchurch left us a teddy bear, which I naturally named George. I took pictures of him for the rest of our trip, because that's how I do things. Also, the night we spent in The George there was an earthquake. Probably a 4.0 on the Richter scale. Apparently since the huge earthquake they've had something like 18,000 littler earthquakes. Holy crap.
We returned to Christchurch later in the trip, on our way home ( :( ), but on our way down the south island it was more of a little stop on our way to our first camping adventure... at Mount Sunday.
You may be familiar with Mount Sunday. If you have ever seen The Two Towers (of course you have), this is Mount Sunday:
Meduseld and the other buildings are no longer there, but... Edoras. WE WENT TO EDORAS. We climbed up on top of it. That big hill is Mount Sunday. It is surrounded by sheep and cow grazing land and New Zealand Department of Conservation land (and Rohan, obviously). It seriously is a big hill in a valley surrounded by mountains that rise straight up out of a glacial plain. That crap is no CGI.
One of the coolest things about New Zealand is their Department of Conservation. We stopped at a DoC office in Christchurch because I didn't believe this could possibly be true, but unless posted otherwise, you can camp pretty much anywhere on Department of Conservation land.
Any. Where. For free. No permit. Considering how much of New Zealand is conservation area, this is just insane to me. Insane and amazing and awesome. (If you bring camping equipment, they're going to comb your luggage, but WORTH IT.)
The beautiful thing about Mount Sunday is that it is enough off the track that we didn't see another human for 24 hours. Just sheep and cows doing each other (I mean, cows doing each other. Not sheep doing cows oh my god moving on). We rented a car (the only way to get there, unless you hitchhike) and set out on the left side of the road for Rohan.
Oh my god, I seriously can't explain how incredible this place is.
The morning after camping on one of the mountains surrounding Mount Sunday we took a little hike up Mount Sunday itself.
After kind of the most awesome nerd/outside thing ever, we went to Queenstown! Home of adrenaline activities and the home of the very first bungee jump! (We did not go bungee jumping.)
Queenstown is very cool.
This is actually Mount Cook, on the way to Queenstown. The water is seriously that color. It has to do with mineral deposits in the glacial water that melts on the mountain to form the lake.
From an awesome spot called the Atlas Beer Cafe.
Queenstown, ordinarily, has no open liquor ban. People go down to the beach with their six-packs or bottles of wine and chat and watch the lake, and listen to the bagpipes at the war memorial. HOW DO I NOT LIVE HERE.
We left Queenstown for Milford Sound, one of the most spectacutlar drives I've ever been on. I am not kidding when I say my mouth was literally hanging open for much of it. I realized it, and shut it, and then would realize in two more minutes I was gaping at stuff again.
You can drink straight out of the streams. No giardia. (Trust me, this is exciting.)
Milford Sound is a completely gorgeous place. We spent two nights there before our backpacking adventure.
The first day, we went on a dawn kayak trip of about 15 miles, out to the Tasman Sea.
(This one is my favorite picture I took that day.)
We stayed at a place called the Milford Sound Lodge for both nights (they have camping, caravan spots, hostel-style group bunks, and something called "Chalets" where we stayed the second night). It is, literally, the only place to stay in Milford Sound that won't cost you $2000 a night (there is one place in Milford Sound besides the place we stayed. It was not in our price range, by any stretch of the imagination). There isn't much in Milford Sound. I'd totally be a bartender there - there is a bar. We found it. The bartender knew about the Packers. It went well.
The first night, we camped on a very comfortable tent pad at the Milford Sound Lodge. The second night... oh my.
We stayed several places which were really remarkable. This might have been my favorite. Maybe.
The thing about Milford Sound is that it is super windy most of the time. It's quite
exposed, almost the only thing directly east from the southernmost tip of South America is the west coast of New Zealand, so it gets crazy weather. The day after our kayak trip, the next morning's trip was cancelled because the winds were so strong and it was storming so strongly.
Luckily, we'd already gone on our kayak trip! We met friendly seals!
Of course, we were leaving on a three-day backpacking excursion that morning through Fiordland National Park. Which gets something like 325 days of rain per year.
It rained for 20+ hours, while we hiked 8 miles over a mountain range. This does not sound far, but please recall it was STRAIGHT UP. Also, it was about 40 degrees. Fahrenheit. And we were soaked. We didn't have much time to stop for pictures, for fear of hypothermia. (That said, there are people who are incredibly fit and fast and likely live in New Zealand so they don't need to stop and stare at things who do this whole Great Walk in one day. We were not those people. I am totally fine with that.)
Part 2: Forthcoming.