That’s what they call it. New Zealand. The land of the long white cloud. I heard it a million times while working at the Mai Kai, the world’s #1 Polynesian restaurant and always thought it was a joke. Because most of what the Mai Kai does is a joke (except the rum barrels, those are no joke!) But it is, in fact, the land of the long white cloud and I have a sticker to prove it. It should be land of the long grey cloud, though, because it seriously rains there all the time. Like, constantly raining. But it’s not the rain you’d imagine, pouring down, soaking through clothes and awnings alike, leaving nowhere safe to tread dryly. Instead, it’s a lovely mist, much like Ireland, that falls softly to the earth and turns everything brown and dry to green and lush. I happily donned my rain jacket everyday to head outside and hike a mountain, raft a river, abseil into a dark cave, fly to what I was sure was my imminent death on a 500 foot canyon swing. But I survived New Zealand and let me tell you, I didn’t just get by; I love that country. I miss it already.
Why is New Zealand so easily missable? Could it be the sweet woman in the Mt. Eden pharmacy who helped me pick out a multivitamin suitable for the cold I had carried over from Fiji? Perhaps the friendly bus driver who asked us all about American current events- events we had no grasp on, because we’d been out of the country? Maybe the meat pies, topped with creamy mashed potatoes whose smells waft out of the many pie bakeries along the roadsides? Or was it that every drive we took was through the most beautiful landscapes in the world? It was probably a mix of all those things, but I digress.
We explored quite a lot of New Zealand. We started our journey in Auckland and headed down through the North Island to hit Rotorua, Taupo, Matamata, the River Valley, Bulls, and Wellington. Then we caught a ferry to the South Island, into Picton, Nelson (Malborough wine country, I love you!), Kaiteriteri, Lake Mahinapua, Westport, Greymouth, Mt. Cook, Franz Josef, Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Christchurch, and beautiful coastal Kaikoura. We climbed to glaciers, slept in glorified trailers, got inches from baby seals, had baby seals sneeze in our faces (well, just my luck, actually), and ate more ramen noodles than safe or reasonable. Adopting all carb diets because they are the cheapest and travel well, we gained fatter thighs via Fergburgers and fish ‘n’ chips, and made new friends we can’t wait to see again! (Talkin’ to you Gretch and Chardawg). So now the question is- what were my favorite things? What would I, a travel blogger extraordinaire with more than just my parents as readers (there’s gotta be like 5 of you by know, right?), recommend to a fellow backpacker in New Zealand. I’ve narrowed it down to a top five list of must see places. You’re oh so welcome:
5) Milford Sound: I guess this one’s obvious but HOLY SHIT Milford Sound was incredible. We went on a sunny day, and were told it’s even more beautiful when it’s raining. Well, I can’t imagine that. Because it was the most gorgeous place on this planet. Rushing waterfalls, giant fjords, snowcapped mountains, the calmest most beautiful water for a cruise into the Tasman Sea. It’s green and brown and white and there are seals and dolphins and rushing waterfalls and Japanese tourists pushing you out of the way to get pictures of them. It’s amazing. Plus, there was free tea and coffee- heyo backpackers I know you feel me- FREE STUFF! But free tea aside, it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on Earth and a must see destination for anyone traveling the South Island.
4) Kaituna Falls Rafting: If you are in or near Rotorua and you don’t raft the Kaituna falls you have made one of the bigger mistakes a human can make. Kaituna falls is the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 23 feet and if that isn’t a rush, I honestly don’t know what is. You’re dead inside if you don’t have the time of your life rafting these class 5 rapids. It’s nonstop fun, not as technical as you’d think, and don’t worry, you can wear a lifejacket AND the fleece of your choice. Kate got to wear a puppy fleece and I will forever be jealous. The Kaituna Falls has two mini waterfalls before it to get you stoked, and you can even jump out of the boat and hold on as they take you down a rapid. If you don’t do this option, again, dead inside. You’re soulless. I’m sorry, it is what it is. The Kaituna falls was the most adrenaline I felt second to the Canyon Swing. How could I tell? Because that water is hella cold and I didn’t feel a thing! You could have told me I was in a hot tub and I would have believed you. Powerful jets in that hot tub, though. God’s hot tub. I’ll stop with the jacuzzi analogies now but suffice it to say, Kaituna falls is EPIC.
3) Nevis Swing: The Nevis Swing is #1 for adrenaline and here’s why: it’s a 500 foot drop to your death. Just kidding, you don’t die, but I felt like I was going to! And that’s what makes it so fun. Fun? You say? Death? No, Erin. that’s is actually the opposite of fun. To you I say, strap on that harness and push yourself over the edge and tell me you don’t have the time of your life. Kate and I were nervous, of course, SUPER NERVOUS. Nervous to the point of screaming like schoolgirls while still on the platform. But by the time we were plummeting downward and subsequently swinging out over the largest most terrifying and rocky canyon probably EVER all we could do was stop screaming, start laughing, and start yelling “YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND I LOVE YOU!” in each other’s faces. That’s how we ride, y’all. The Nevis Swing: it brings people closer. Like, honestly do I want my future husband to propose to me on it? Yes. Let him know when the time comes. Make sure he ties the ring to something that won’t fall into the rocky crevasse below us, please.
2) Kaikoura: Kaikoura is a seaside town on the South Island that smells of salty air and fish ‘n’ chips. The beaches range from golden sand and sea foam to gigantic rocks jutting out of the sea with waves smashing up against them to create a sea spray like no other. It’s also home to one of the world’s only naturally occurring albatross colonies which are probably the dopest birds on the planet AND is the location of Ohau Falls, another place to check and see if you are dead inside. Because there are baby seals hangin’ out all over the place at this tiny waterfall, and you can get SO close to the point of TOUCHING THEM. TOUCHING A BABY SEAL IN THE WILD, YOU GUYS. IT’S A MAGICAL MOMENT. Just be careful if the seal is sickly he will sneeze right in your face but you won’t even care cuz he’s so cute and fat and tiny. There are baby seals playing with each other on the rocks, barking little baby seal barks, while other sleep, or lounge about all around you. They aren’t even afraid of you cuz you’re on their turf. Damn, if I didn’t want to steal one. But now that I’m in Australia I have my sights set on a Quokka. Google it.
Hobbiton: As if you didn’t know this would be my #1 spot. More beautiful than Milford Sound, more adrenaline than Kaituna Falls (because the mere though of a hobbit coming out of one of those holes is REAL THING), and more perfect than even baby seal infested Kaikoura is Matamata’s own Hobbiton Movie Set. You can tour this magical place, peering into Hobbit holes, swinging from the party tree, drinking free beer at the Green Dragon, eating steak and ale pies and holding tabby cats in front of the fire…it’s the most perfect place in the world. You can tour Mount Doom (aka Tongariro Crossing), the misty mountains, Rivendell, and the like but there’s nothing there. They’re just places you can stand and know that Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean and mothereffing Sauron stood there before you. But Hobbiton is like being transported into ACTUAL Middle Earth. Don’t get me wrong, all of New Zealand is Middle Earthy as hell, but it’s nothing like Hobbiton, where there are tiny Hobbit Holes and vegetable gardens and cider and ale on tap at the GD. If you are a LOTR fan and you miss out on Hobbiton, you’ll die with a hole in your heart. Get there. Whatever it takes.
So, there you have it. My comprehensive must see NZ guide. I suppose I’d add Waitomo Caves and Auckland and the beautiful Queenstown (where Ferburgers are MANDATORY), but if I had to narrow it down to just five places, there you have ’em. So my fellow backpackers- save up that money- New Zealand is far from cheap, but I promise you, it’s worth every penny.